Bhutan’s climate ambition: showcasing leadership, delivering inclusive action

Bhutan has taken bold, progressive action – while adopting a highly inclusive approach – to chart a path towards a climate-resilient future for all its citizens, setting an example for others to follow.

Tshering Yangzom's picture
Guest blog by
8 March 2022

Tshering Yangzom is senior environment officer, climate change division, National Environment Commission Secretariat (NECS), Royal Government of Bhutan

A women wielding a hoe tends to her crops before a spectacular background of green hills

Bhutan is leading the way in taking climate action and preserving its environment, while using a whole-of-society approach (Photo: Asian Development Bank, via FlickrCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

As with all the least developed countries (LDC), Bhutan grapples with tackling poverty in the face of escalating climate risks such as flash floods, glacial lake outburst, floods, windstorms, forest fires and landslides.

As a landlocked country with a fragile mountainous ecosystem, we are highly dependent on climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture, hydropower and forestry.

Despite our vulnerabilities, we are doing more than our fair share in taking action to mitigate climate change and adapt to the impacts.
As part of the LDC climate negotiating group, we have committed to the 2050 Vision (PDF): for LDCs to be on climate-resilient development pathways by 2030 and deliver net-zero emissions by 2050.

The vision sets out LDCs’ ‘offers’ – action we will take to deliver this vision – and our ‘asks’ of the international community on how they can play their part to deliver a shared LDC Vision.

The offers and asks will be delivered through the LDC Initiative for Effective Adaptation and Resilience (LIFE-AR). We in Bhutan have put ourselves forward as a front runner country under LIFE-AR to showcase our work to the global community on how to fasttrack just and inclusive climate action.

As part of this we are championing a ‘business unusual’ response to the climate challenge. This calls for a shift from one-size-fits-all to context-specific solutions; from short-term thinking to long-term planning, with a priority to get at least 70% of finance to the local level.

Under this approach, individuals, communities and local institutions lead the design and delivery of adaptation solutions. This whole-of-society approach ensures no one is left behind.

High ambition based on four progressive principles

1.  Setting the bar high on emission reductions

More than a decade ago, the Bhutanese government raised the bar by pledging to remain carbon neutral. Many developed, high emitting countries have still not committed to this target.

We reiterated our carbon neutral commitment, and plan to achieve it, in our first and second Nationally Determined Contributions submitted in 2015 and 2021.

In our third National Communication to the UNFCCC, our carbon budget balance showed we have not only achieved net zero but are actively reducing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. We are immensely proud of our contribution to keeping the planet safe for present and future generations.

2. Horizontal collaboration

The Constitution of Bhutan was adopted in 2008 through a ‘whole-of-society’ approach, consulting all citizens in its formulation. The constitution mandates ecologically balanced and just economic and social development. Strong legal and institutional arrangements have been put in place to deliver on this target.

Bhutan’s National Environment Commission (NEC) acts as the coordinating body responsible for efforts to mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts. The commission is an independent authority and the country’s highest decision-making body on all matters relating to the environment and its management.

It is chaired by the Hon’ble Prime Minister, or his nominee, with representatives from government agencies, NGOs, civil society organisations (CSOs) and the private sector. Operating at the highest level as an autonomous body, the commission has convening power to bring together a range of stakeholders.

Bhutan also acknowledges that collaborative structures, including partnerships and alliances, are crucial for reinforcing capacity to implement climate solutions.

To promote joined-up efforts and address siloed responses, we deployed horizontal collaboration across sectors, government departments and jurisdictions. To support this approach, the NEC created a high-level Climate Change Coordination Committee (C4) to serve as the technical body for coordinating Bhutan’s climate change activities and ensuring smooth implementation of climate change policies, projects and programs.

3. Vertical integration from national to local levels

To deliver long-term climate resilience, climate change planning and financing must be integrated into government systems from national to local levels. Bhutan’s whole-of-society approach is rooted in its decentralised structures of governance. These structures empower poor and marginalised communities to have a voice in decision-making.

Bhutan’s development philosophy is to provide an environment in which all Bhutanese can be happy. Accordingly, Bhutan’s Five-Year Plan − including climate action − is guided by the Gross National Happiness (GNH) framework. GNH adopts an inclusive top-down and bottom-up approach, supporting involvement of all citizens in planning processes.

At national level, development and investment priorities are defined by the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) through extensive consultation with sectors, CSOs, private sector, political parties and other relevant agencies.

While development priorities are defined at national level, investment planning is carried out at local level. Local level funding plans and priorities are developed by the local government through extensive consultations with communities and sectors under the local government administrations.

4. Promoting gender equality and social inclusion

Reducing long-term vulnerability will require more inclusive governance of climate decisions, centred on gender equality and social transformation. This is crucial given historical marginalisation of certain groups.

We must ensure women and men have equal rights and opportunities to access economic resources and benefits, promote capacity building and provide gender-relevant technologies.

Over the course of implementation of LIFE-AR, the NEC recognised the links between women’s empowerment and resilience building. NEC appointed a representative of the National Commission for Women and Children as a member of C4, giving them voice and space to discuss issues related to the nexus between poverty, gender and climate change.

Leading, learning, sharing

Lessons from Bhutan adopting a whole-of-society approach are still emerging. But already the value of this approach is clear: helping to avoid policy conflicts within ministries, greater coordination which helps minimise duplication of efforts, efficiency and effectiveness in managing climate risks, and leveraging much larger financial flows in sectors affected by climate risks.

I am sharing these lessons with our fellow LDCs and the world, to work together to collectively address the risks of climate change.

About the author

Tshering Yangzom (tyangzom@nec.gov.bt) is senior environment officer, climate change division, National Environment Commission Secretariat (NECS), Royal Government of Bhutan

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