Bhutan in a conundrum

As Bhutan’s graduation from the Least Developed Country (LDC) group approaches, an issue that the country would face is Bhutan’s position as a member in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiation groups. Bhutan will no longer be negotiating in the LDC Group. This concern was raised during the Bhutan Climate Roundtable, held on 24-25 May, 2023, at Thimphu.

Bhutan will quit the group of the world’s poor countries, becoming only the seventh nation to graduate from the band of LDC set up by the United Nations (UN) in 1971. However, LDC special circumstances and support in obligations and reporting won’t apply post 2026.

The state of play at negotiations for Bhutan post 2023 should be sorted out. There should be clarity on the alliance or group Bhutan would consider or propose to join. Bhutan will also have to strategize for COP28 and set out its priorities.

Bhutan will have to explore in which group it will fit in. For example there are many groups, such as, the Small Island Developing States (SIDS), the African Group, LDCs, G77 & China, Independent Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC), Like-Minded Developing Countries (LMDCs), Arab Group, Environmental Integrity Group (EIG), Umbrella Group and the European Union (EU) party negotiation groups.  

How do Bhutan should maintain visibility/presence vis-a-vis avail support required?

Presenting on International Climate Negotiations and Governance and Bhutan’s priority/position after LDC graduation, an official from the Department of Environment and Climate Change, Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources (MoENR) said, “Bhutan is in a tight situation.”

Though Bhutan is a member of LMDCs, the official said it may not be appropriate to join LMDCs and negotiate from this bloc with some developed member countries. The LMDC is a group of developing countries who organize themselves as a block negotiator in international organizations such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organization (WTO). This group represents more than 50% of the world’s population from Asia and other regions.

The member countries are Algeria, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bhutan, China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe.

While there are opportunities to join the bloc with mountainous countries, it was found that it is also not feasible due to differences in “considerations”.

The possibility is to represent from the G77 & China negotiation group, according to the Department of Environment and Climate Change, MoENR.  The G-77 and China is a diverse group with differing interests on climate change issues, where developing country parties generally work to establish common negotiating positions. The G-77 was founded in 1964 in the context of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and now functions throughout the UN system. As at May 2014, there are 135 members in the Group, including one (1) observer Party.

Bhutan till now has been a LDC. 49 Parties are LDCs, and are given special status under the treaty in view of their limited capacity to adapt to the effects of climate change.

The Royal Government of Bhutan committed to remain carbon neutral at Conference of the Parties (COP15) of UNFCCC in 2009 and reiterated the commitment under its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the Paris Agreement in 2015. It was to contribute to keeping the planet safe for the benefit of present and future generations. Bhutan is a Non-Annex I party member of UNFCCC and ratified the Paris Agreement on 19 September, 2017. The Kyoto Protocol was ratified on 26 August, 2022.

COP Presidencies have set up a multi-layered approach to their work, with engagement at the ministerial, head of delegation (HoD) and technical levels to identify and test solutions to key topics along the way. As a way forward to COP28 in Dubai, Bhutan needs to look at its political track, informal technical dialogues and multilateral consultations with Group Chairs and HoDs.

Sangay Rabten from Thimphu