Bhutan is the world’s first carbon negative country. Mainly because of its extensive forests, covering 70% of the land, the Kingdom is able to absorb more carbon dioxide than it produces. How did Bhutan get here and how can the country be an example for the rest of the world?

Bhutan is both the happiest and also the greenest country in the world. In the past 50 years, the Bhutanese government chose to measure progress beyond Gross Domestic Product (GDP), by focussing instead on the Gross National Happiness (GNH) and placing emphasis on environmental protection. 

GDP, a measure of an economy’s growth, is the standard unit to measure a nation’s economic strength between years. While traditional development models emphasise economic growth as the ultimate goal, the Gross National Happiness notion is based on the idea that human societies grows when material and spiritual development take place side by side to complement and strengthen one another.

Bhutan, officially the Kingdom of Bhutan, is a landlocked country in the eastern Himalayas of South Asia. The small nation shares borders with China in the north and with India in the south, east, and west. Located between China and India, it stretches approximately 38,000 square kilometres. Forest land covers about 70% of the country and acts as a natural carbon sink, capturing and storing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. 2017 statistics show that Bhutan generates 2.2 million tons of CO2, but large tracts of Bhutan’s forests have the potential to sequester nearly three times that amount. 

In addition, Bhutan exports most of its renewable energy generated from fast-flowing rivers. Thanks to that, they can also offset about 6 million tons of CO2 emissions.

carbon negative country

Image 1: Greenhouse gas emissions by sector, Bhutan, 2018

Which Nations Produce The Most Carbon Dioxide Emissions?

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the largest human-produced greenhouse gas, accounting for about 80% of carbon emissions, and the main factor contributing to climate and environmental changes worldwide. To put it simply, carbon emissions trap solar energy in the atmosphere, causing global temperatures to rise.

The main consequences of carbon emissions are an increase in the likelihood of extreme weather events, food and water shortages, and insecurity due to temperature increases, ice melt, and sea level rise.

Most countries in the world generate more carbon than they can absorb, posing a great risk of world climate change. According to estimates, the top 5 emitting countries in 2020 were China (31% of global emissions), the US (14%), India (7%), Russia 5%), and Japan (3%). 

How Did Bhutan Become A Place With Negative Carbon Emissions?

Strict conservation is essential for Bhutan to control the level of carbon in the nation. Their constitution stipulates that at least 60% of Bhutan should be covered by forest. More than half of the country is covered by protected national forests, nature reserves, and wildlife protection areas. The government also creates good conditions for people living in protected areas, both to protect the forest and to prevent hunting, mining, and forest pollution. National resource protection programmes such as Clean Bhutan or Green Bhutan are very active.

Bhutan is also fiercely protective of its own biodiversity in the following ways:

So Why Not Globalise Bhutan’s Strategies?

What Bhutan has done is truly amazing, and other countries can learn from it. But bringing global carbon to zero is indeed very difficult.

Gas discharge will only be smaller than typical in any nation that has hydroelectric power (like Portugal), geothermal power (like Iceland), a well-built electricity network, a reduced reliance on fossil fuels, and favourable policies to minimise carbon emissions. 

Any country that owns hydroelectricity (like Portugal), geothermal power (like Iceland), a well-built electricity network, less dependence on fossil fuels, and preferential policies to reduce carbon will all have emissions that are smaller than usual. However, it is important to take into consideration that not every country in the world has such easy access to renewables.

Bhutan is a very small area in the mountains with only about 800,000 residents. Moreover, since it is not an industrial country, the energy demand in this country is much lower than in many other countries. Although investing in a clean electricity system on a global scale is also possible, there are still many problems to bring carbon emissions to zero. Because clean energy that is strong enough to supply all could only be atomic electricity – which is relatively dangerous

What Does The Future Hold for Bhutan?

At the 2015 COP21 conference in Paris, Bhutan pledged that its greenhouse gas emissions would not exceed the carbon sequestered by the country’s forests. Despite projections suggesting its emissions could nearly double by 2040, the country will remain carbon negative if it keeps current levels of forest cover. Maintaining negative carbon is extremely important to the South Asian country as environmental consciousness and appreciation of the natural environment are immensely valued here. 

Bhutan is “on the path of green and low-carbon development” thanks to government initiatives on making the country zero waste by 2030. Restrictions on the number of visitors entering the country, who also have to pay a daily fee of up to US$250 per person, is also a great way to ensure the environment is not damaged by mass tourism. 

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