Big emission lessons from a small country

Dec 11, 2015
By Annette Dixon
The mountain kingdom of Bhutan may not seem an obvious place to look for lessons on addressing climate change. But on a recent visit here, I was impressed with how much this small country has achieved and also with its ambition. Bhutan has much to teach South Asia and the wider world.
These lessons are especially relevant as the world negotiates in Paris a new pact on climate change at the International Climate Change Summit, known as COP21, which we all hope will move the global economy to a low-carbon and more resilient path.
The talks aim to agree this month on a way to keep global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees celsius from pre-industrial era levels. There is widespread agreement that going above this threshold would have serious consequences.
South Asia is among the regions of the world that is likely to be most affected by climate change. We are already experiencing this. There is increasing variability of the monsoon rainfall, more heavy rainfalls such as those that caused the recent flooding in India, and an increase in the number of droughts.
A World Bank report in 2013 predicted that even if the warming climate was kept at 2 degrees this could threaten the lives of the millions of people in South Asia. The region’s dense urban populations face extreme heat, flooding, and disease and millions of its people could be trapped in poverty. Droughts could especially affect north-western India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
These are big problems. They may look much bigger than anything Bhutan, a very small country in a populous region, can teach South Asia and the world. But I see three lessons.Firstly, a commitment to ambitious goals will be critical to save the world from climate disaster. To stop the world from warming too much, climate experts estimate that global greenhouse gas emissions must be cut by up to 70% by 2050. Carbon neutrality (zero emissions) must be achieved within this century.
Bhutan declared in 2009 that it would remain carbon-neutral and has made the most ambitious pledges on cutting emissions at COP21, according to Britain’s Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit think tank. It is carbon-neutral already because of its vast forests absorbing carbon emissions. But staying neutral as emissions from industry and transport rapidly rise will not be easy. It will require aggressively maintaining its tree cover and finding ways to grow economically in a carbon-neutral or reduced way. To achieve this, the Royal Government of Bhutan has embedded its commitment to maintain its forest cover at more than 60%.
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Financial Express, December 10, 2015

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