How Bhutan is tackling climate change

Thinley Namgay from the National Environment Commission (NEC) speaks to Business Bhutan reporter Kinley Yonten on the effects of climate change and how the country is trying to cope with the challenges that accompany it.

Q. How is climate change affecting Bhutan?

Rise in temperatures, especially in winter and less snow, water sources drying in most parts of Bhutan, extreme events like heavy rains and windstorms are increasing in frequency. These are all impacts of climate change. Climatic events affect water availability for drinking, agriculture, and hydropower. Likewise, extreme events affecting infrastructure like roads, settlements and windstorms are among others. The glaciers are retreating fast, causing flash floods. We no longer find snow on our mountains that used to be there around 10 years ago. We have had two devastating flash floods so far: this is a clear sign of danger to nature and humans. Species are also getting lost. Sub tropical diseases which were unknown to us are beginning to emerge in the temperate climate of Bhutan.

Bhutan always had clear four seasons but now weather is quite unpredictable. There are very clear signs of cyclones and mini-cyclones, which were unheard of earlier because we are far away from the sea. All this is because of climate change.

Q. What adaptation or mitigation measures is Bhutan taking to deal with these challenges?

The NEC teams are working on the Third National Communication (TNC). The TNC has a chapter each on adaptation and mitigation. In terms of energy, 99% of energy in Bhutan is renewable coming from small hydropower plants. For agriculture, we are researching and promoting resilient seeds. We have also identified six lakes which are in danger. We are working to save them. As the ecosystem of Bhutan is very fragile, we have some non-negotiables which we cannot trade off with anything to stay firm on our goal of staying carbon neutral. 

Bhutan also has strong laws on combating climate change. We have National Environment Protection Act that covers climate change. And we are drafting a National Environment Impact Assessment law.

Q. Most developing countries say that they have no money to implement adaptation and mitigation measures. What about Bhutan?

There are several projects funded by various donors. The European Union provides support to the Agriculture sector, World Bank supports forests, transport and infrastructure sector. UNDP assists in several sectors. A lot of funds come from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and also the Green Climate Fund (GCF). Bhutan has been very fortunate.  We are getting money from United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). We have already implemented the first project on adaptation—adapting to the climate change impact—with a fund of US$6 mn from UNFCCC. We are now in the process of starting another project on early warning signals. UNFCCC has committed US$ 12mn for this project.

Q. Is it true that all the policies and projects in Bhutan have to pass the happiness test before they can see the light of the day? What is this happiness test?

There is a GNH policy screening process instituted by GNH Commission in its role as the planning agency. I don’t think it is a happiness test. In Bhutan, we have Gross National Happiness (GNH). The idea is simple: happiness is governed by many factors including psychological well-being, culture, environment and time value. Life is about balance. There are around 70 such variables that are strictly adhered to while framing any policy or passing any project. We have a panel of experts who ensure that every project that comes on the soil of Bhutan passes the happiness test.