There is growing momentum leading up to the UN Climate Action Summit, scheduled for 23 September
Despite the historic Paris Agreement and commitments made by nations in the form of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), global greenhouse emissions have reached record highs. A UN-supported group of scientists concluded that even if all NDCs are implemented in full, the temperature rise is likely to surpass 1.5 degrees Celsius. In Bhutan, the temperature rise is expected to be 1.8 degrees Celsius before the turn of the century. The current level of commitment is simply not good enough.
The UN Secretary-General sees the upcoming Summit as the last chance for humanity to make commitments to reduce carbon emissions, to stop climate disruption, and reverse its impact. Time for speeches is over. He expects nations to come forward with concrete solutions and actions.
The Summit is not only about curbing carbon emissions because climate change is already happening. Disasters are more frequent and intensified and have increased global inequality. We must build resilience and adapt to the hard realities of climate change.
What does this mean for Bhutan as a carbon neutral nation?
Bhutan has a lot to share with the world from having pursued a development path which recognises the inseparable relationship between environment and human wellbeing. At the same time, Bhutan has a lot to lose if others do not honour their commitments or raise their ambitions. Although small in size, Bhutan is home to over 11,000 species, accounting for almost five per cent of the world's total biodiversity. This wealth of life is now under threat. While visiting five Dzongkhags last month, I saw how farming communities are affected by diminishing rainfall. This change in climate has been proven by data collected over many decades. Natural disasters have become part of our day-to-day lives. I also saw how vulnerable rural and urban communities are affected by floods and landslides.
Bhutan should continue to convey the collective voice of the Least Developed Countries - countries that are typically the lowest emitters, yet tend to be among the hardest hit by climatic impact. Bhutan should also be a voice of mountainous countries with fragile ecosystems. When I worked in the Pacific, I saw how the Pacific Small Island Developing States (P-SIDS) got together to fight for the survival of sinking and disappearing island populations. A similar dynamic alliance is needed for mountainous nations.
A recent ICIMOD report said that in the best-case scenario, the Hindu Kush and Himalaya region would lose a third of its glaciers by the end of the century. This will have significant implications for the livelihoods, economy, ecosystems, food security, and everything that touches our lives here in Bhutan. I sincerely hope that Bhutan will continue to engage actively with the global community and demonstrate how we humans can become part of the solution to the apocalyptic plight that we have created for ourselves.
Climate Change and Youth Action
In marking this year’s World Environment Day, I wish to draw attention to the role that young people have played in protecting our environment and slowing down climate change.
Here in Bhutan, many young people care deeply about the environment and are doing what they can to protect it. They have chosen not to be spectators. I have seen young Bhutanese pick up rubbish from rivers and forest trails. In our newspapers and on social media, they demand action to control air pollution from construction sites and roads, and they participate in efforts to preserve their rich biodiversity and pristine environment. Sustaining the carbon neutral status will require tremendous efforts, investments and conscious policy choices. While a heavy burden of responsibility falls upon leaders, we all need to do our share if we want to, not only keep Bhutan pristine and climate resilient but also if we want our planet to remain habitable. I am sure through the energy of young people and the leadership of the country, the unique and credible voices of Bhutan, as a Gross Happiness Nation, will be heard loud and clear at the upcoming UN Climate Summit.