29 October 2020: Amid the global coronavirus surge, the silver lining- if there can be said to be one- is that the global slowdown has led to clear skies, lower pollution and rejuvenation of biodiversity. Yet as countries reopened and economies picked up pace, emissions quickly surged back, putting the world back on the pre-COVID unsustainable development path.

Going back to ‘normal’ is NOT an option. Returning to the way our world functioned before or simply reviving the ‘brown’ economy is embracing the world characterized by unemployment, climate crisis, biodiversity loss, unchecked environment damage and pollution.

The COVID-19 crisis presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reset and redesign our battered economies and societies. It’s a chance to build forward better, greener and bolder.

In Bhutan, thanks to the visionary leadership of its monarchs, the country has and continues to prize environmental conservation over economic gains. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on Bhutan’s vulnerabilities. Bhutan must rethink and redesign its fragile economy, food system, energy and transportation sectors to put itself on a transformational development path.

The pandemic has provided the country an opportunity to strengthen its resolve and focus on promoting low-carbon development by upscaling investments in advancing nature-based solutions, such as eco-tourism, renewable energy, electric vehicles, clean industry and circular economy.

The investments made in recovery and policy decisions taken now will shape the way the Bhutanese live their lives, work and consume for years to come.

But many questions remain. What are the sectors that have potential to drive low-carbon development? How can effective coordination in the construction, transport, agriculture, waste and industry sectors help advance sustainable ‘green recovery’? How can Bhutan leverage green finance and investments? How can the country rebuild in ways that align with the objectives of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals? 

UNDP-BCMD Conversation Series on ‘Green Recovery’ discussions held on 29 October 
revolved around these questions and explored possible transformational policy choices and investments that can and must be made to boost Bhutan’s economy while also cutting emissions in the wake of COVID-19 crisis.

“Along with the COVID-19 crisis, climate change is another defining feature of our generation. While the year 2020 was meant to be a super policy year on climate change and biodiversity in view of some of the planned global summits, the pandemic has taken over our lives and we have almost forgotten this perhaps much more urgent and long-term crisis,” said UNDP Resident Representative Azusa Kubota.

“Against odds, remarkably, due to changes in the way we work and travel, we expect the largest annual fall in greenhouse gas emissions ever recorded. This situation presents a historic opportunity to pursue a green recovery and to build more sustainable and climate-proof society,” she added.

The Executive Director of BCMD, Chencho Lhamu said Bhutan is on the right path thanks to the visionary and farsighted leadership of our monarchs. “Securing a sustainable future remains at the heart of our development philosophy of Gross National Happiness. Perhapswe now need to put in more concerted efforts with strategies and actions that are in sync with green recovery and sustainable living,” she said

The discussion on ‘Green Recovery’ was the third of the UNDP-BCMD Conversation Series titled Reimagining Bhutan: Building Forward Better Beyond COVID. For this series, UNDP and BCMD collaborated with the Bhutan Ecological Society (BES), a non-profit organization that connects science, business, and policy with the goal of building and sustaining resilient communities and functional landscapes. 

“For BES, this Conservation Series is timely and vital, and helps bring into sharp relief the many structural weaknesses Bhutan faces. Most importantly, it compels us to re-examine and seize the opportunities provided by nature and innovative technology, which can be harnessed to continue remaining on a low carbon trajectory while ensuring wellbeing, employment, sustained development and ecological resilience,” said Nawang Norbu, Executive Director of BES. 

“Given that BES has been championing many of the ideas which are being discussed, both within this dialogue series and outside, we welcomed the opportunity to collaborate with UNDP and BCMD. And of course, we remain eager to support and collaborate in the initiatives which transpire from the recommendations.”

The next Conversation Series, scheduled on 13 November, will tackle ‘Social Protection’. The pandemic has magnified the important role of social protection systems in protecting populations from falling back into poverty and in supporting economies and societies build back better.

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