Bhutan; Worlds first carbon-negative country

Bhutan, a beautiful country on the eastern edge of the Himalayas is the world’s first carbon-negative country.

Despite many counties making commitments of being carbon neutral, no one has achieved the goal till now. Now leading the race to no emissions, the Kingdom of Bhutan has gone one step further by becoming carbon-negative. Let’s understand; what does this carbon negative mean and how did Bhutan achieve this goal? 

The main driver of drastic climate change is the greenhouse effect, and CO2 (carbon dioxide) is the primary greenhouse gas, other greenhouse gases include; NH4 (Methane), N2O (Nitrous oxide), and other industrial gases. 

A carbon negative place acts as a carbon sink i.e. it absorbs more greenhouse gases than it generates because of the activities of humans living in that area. Bhutan is the same place where the amount of greenhouse gases absorbed is more than the amount emitted by human activities.

In this fast-growing world even imagining a small carbon-negative area is a bit difficult then how did the people of Bhutan achieve this impossible-looking reality? Let’s understand, how did it begin?

In 2009, Bhutan had made a promise to remain carbon neutral at the 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNCOP 15) held in Copenhagen. In 2016 at COP 21, Bhutan repeated that same promise and became the first country on earth to be carbon-negative.

There were some strong steps taken by the Government of Bhutan like; 

  • A total ban was placed on log exports
  • A constitution amendment was adopted to ensure “forested areas didn’t drop below 60%”
  • Rural farmers were provided with free electricity to lessen their dependence on wood stoves for cooking. In fact, Bhutan achieved 100% electricity access in 2016.
  • Bhutan started using hydroelectric power generated by its many rivers, instead of less environmental-friendly fossil fuels. There are at least 5 operational hydropower plants that generate 1600+ MW power. Hydroelectricity also accounts for 27% of Bhutan’s revenue and 14% of Bhutan’s GDP.
  • Bhutan set a world record of planting 49,672 trees in just one hour in June 2015. Today, around 72% area of Bhutan is covered by forests.
  • Instead of using GDP or Gross Domestic Product Index to measure development, Bhutan uses Gross National Happiness Index (GNH) to measure development. GNH aims to improve the well-being and happiness of the citizens environmentally, economically, and socio-culturally. 

All these strong steps of government were made possible by the strong efforts of the people of Bhutan and an impossible-sounding task was achieved.

Today, when billions of tons of CO2 is emitted each year by other nations, only 1.1 mm tons of CO2 is emitted by Bhutan each year.

By 2030, Bhutan plans to produce zero waste and reach zero net greenhouse gas emissions. This includes increased reliance on renewable energy sources like biogas, wind, and solar power.

In a 2016 TED Talk, Tshering Tobgay, former PM of Bhutan, ended with a beautiful message: “I invite you to help me, to carry this dream beyond our borders to all those who care about our planet’s future. Because the reality is, we are in it together.”

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