The developing country who is carbon-negative

Written by Bianca Thiglia 

I first heard about Bhutan’s sustainability when its population planted 108000 trees to celebrate the birth of the firs son of the royal couple. I thought it was nice, not realizing that this was just a small implication of the country’s unique system.

Bhutan is seeking growth. It officially recognizes it needs it and fosters it. Only, not at the condition of growth undermining its culture and environment. For this reason, GNH (Gross National Happiness) is valued more than GDP. Economic growth positively influences GNH but it is just one side of it. And this evaluation method is increasingly being adopted by other countries, from France to China.

The safeguarding of its environment is one of the milestones of the Bhutanese metrics. 72% of the country is covered by pristine forest and the Constitution mandates that a minimum of 60% of national land shall remain under forest cover forever. Its natural lung makes Bhutan the only carbon-neutral country in the world.

But Bhutan is not just carbon-neutral, it is carbon negative. Its forests absorb three times what the country emits and the country exports renewable energy to foreigners, planning to offset through this more than the annual New York emissions by 2020. The government also provides free electricity to rural households to decrease the need for firewood.

This environmental richness turns the country in one of the last remaining biodiversity hotspots. Paradoxically, Bhutan is greatly suffering from climate change, something it has never contributed to. Global warming is melting its glaciers, leading to disrupting floods. To voice its commitment to tackle these issues, the country pledged to be carbon neutral forever during COP15. The declaration went unnoticed. Until COP21, when it was renewed in the occasion that produced an agreement that –if fully respected- will not be able to prevent an environmental crisis.

But it is not just about formal commitments. National programs, such as Clean Bhutan or Green Bhutan, are operative and a huge share of the national territory is now protected. The Bhutanese system of Parks is connected through biological corridors that enable the roaming and thriving of wildlife. But resourced to protect these areas are lacking. It will take 15 years for the government to ensure them.

But the government decided that 15 years of absence of care cannot be afforded. So Bhutan For Life ( was launched. It is a funding mechanism to look after parks until the State will be able to take over the matter independently. It is based on the Wall Street model of PFP (Project Finance for Performance), following a conservation plan based on goals and financial plans to achieve them. Possible sources for future autonomy are a green tax on vehicles import, revenues from eco-tourism and payments for ecosystem serviced by hydropower.

Funds will be raised from a variety of stakeholders to supply the transition period to financial independence. To provide guarantees to funders, the system is multi-party-single-closing, so subjected to conditionality and making resources accessible only when the whole sum will be gathered. And it looks like Bhutan is fulfilling all the requirements to succeed in its strife fort sustainability: the deal is soon to be closed. The hope is for it to be a model for many other countries to follow.