The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has made the world’s most far-reaching climate promise to the Paris climate summit, according to new analysis from a respected climate change think-tank.
Almost three quarters of the mountainous nation is covered in forests, often watered by snowmelt rivers, and Bhutan has pledged to reforest its land even further. Last summer, it set a world record for the most trees planted in one hour – nearly 50,000, The Guardian reported on Thursday (3 Dec 2015).
According to the ‘carbon comparator’ tool developed by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), the country is now an unparalleled carbon sink, absorbing three times more CO2 emissions than its 700,000 population produces, mostly through hydropower. A substantial portion of the country lacks access to the electricity grid, however.
Richard Black, the ECIU’s director, told the Guardian that the country’s push on agroforestry made sense because of its acute vulnerability to climate change.
“As a small state high in the Himalayas, Bhutan faces disruption to water supplies, extreme weather and impacts on ecosystems as a result of changes to the climate, so it is in their interests to address the problem both domestically and through the UN climate process,” he said.
Bhutan, which tests all policies and projects against a Gross National Happiness index, has promised to keep at least 60% of its forest cover “in perpetuity”.
Beyond agroforestry, the country is planning steps to combat the regional growth of ‘car culture’ including heavy automobile taxes, public transit systems and greater use of electric vehicles.
Thinley Namgyel, the country’s chief negotiator in Paris, said public concern about climate change had been a key policy driver, in a country dominated by small subsistence farmers.
“People are already noticing the temperature changes,” he said. “High mountains which should be closed for months are now open year-round. Monsoon rains are not arriving on time, and then appearing when we don’t need them, destroying crops.”
Many water sources outside forest areas were drying up for reasons unknown, Namgyel said, while flash floods were intensifying.