‘Car­bon sink’ Bhutan counts cost of plans for green fu­ture

Muscat Daily - - WORLD -

Pu­nakha, Bhutan - The gen­tle whirring of the wind tur­bine speaks vol­umes of Bhutan’s record as the world’s only car­bon neg­a­tive coun­try, but ma­jor chal­lenges stand in the way of the Hi­malayan king­dom’s de­ci­sion to fol­low a green path over ram­pant eco­nomic ex­pan­sion.

The moun­tain­ous state, hold­ing only its third elec­tion on Oc­to­ber 18, ab­sorbs three times more CO2 than it emits, thanks mainly to the lush forests cov­er­ing 72 per cent of its land.

Famed as the ‘last Shangri-La’ for us­ing hap­pi­ness as a mea­sure of suc­cess, Switzer­land­sized Bhutan has been care­ful to keep its en­vi­ron­ment pris­tine, often by sac­ri­fic­ing prof­its.

The na­tion of 800,000 has re­stricted tourist num­bers with a daily fee of US$250 per vis­i­tor in high sea­son, help­ing keep at bay the kind of boom that has rav­aged other scenic hotspots.

In May, Bhutan opted out of an In­dia-backed re­gional road con­nec­tiv­ity project mainly over con­cerns that trucks com­ing in from other coun­tries will pol­lute its air. The con­sti­tu­tion stip­u­lates that at least 60 per cent of Bhutan must be cov­ered in for­est, putting a brake on farm­ing and a po­ten­tially lu­cra­tive tim- ber in­dus­try. “There was a great temp­ta­tion to dig into our for­est wealth but we thought of the longer term,” said Dasho Paljor Dorji from Bhutan’s Na­tional En­vi­ron­ment Com­mis­sion.

Un­der its 11th five-year-plan, Bhutan aims to re­duce ‘sub­stan­tially’ its fos­sil fuel im­ports by 2020. It has just 100 elec­tric cars so far but wants to in­crease num­bers and plans to in­tro­duce a na­tion­wide net­work of charg­ing sta­tions. In 2016 it in­stalled its first wind tur­bines.

In Pu­nakha district earth- movers and bull­doz­ers are chug­ging away at a hy­dropower project. It is one of the ten the coun­try aims to build as part of its plan to re­main car­bon neu­tral. All ex­ist­ing and fu­ture hy­dropower projects are fi­nanced by its friend and big­gest part­ner In­dia. Hy­dropower was also Bhutan’s largest ex­port in 2016, ac­count­ing for 32.4 per cent of the coun­try’s to­tal ex­ports and eight per cent of its GDP, ac­cord­ing to Asian De­vel­op­ment Bank.

But con­cerns have been grow­ing over the im­pact of dams on bio­di­ver­sity es­pe­cially as Bhutan shifts from low-im­pact ‘run-of-the-river’ dams, which do not re­quire large reser­voirs, to larger-scale bar­ri­ers that do.

And be­ing able to af­ford stay­ing on a green path de­pends on Bhutan re­ceiv­ing out­side fund­ing, some­thing in doubt since Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump an­nounced last year that the US would with­draw from the 2015 Paris cli­mate ac­cord.


A wind tur­bine in Rubesa vil­lage in Wang­due Pho­drang, Bhutan

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