India and China are the home to the most polluted cities in the world. China tops the list with 11680.42 Million tons of carbon waste. And, India at the third place with 2411.73 Million tonnes. But, between these two nations is a small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan which is carbon negative.
In 2016, Bhutan had the prestige of becoming not only the first carbon neutral country but also the world’s first carbon negative country. It means that Bhutan absorbs more Greenhouse gases than it produces.
What is Carbon footprint?
Every human action in someway or the other produces greenhouse gases. Through these actions or activities, carbon emission takes place. These combine in various forms to produce to greenhouse gases. And the amount of greenhouse gas produced by an individual, is known as its carbon footprint.
Burning of woods and fuels, shipping, industrialisation, eating meat and even during breathing, we leave carbon footprints.
Greenhouse gases (GHGs) are gases that increase the temperature of the Earth due to their absorption of infrared radiation. Although some emissions are natural, but the rate at which they are being produced has increased due to human activities.
How did Bhutan achieve the status?
Renewable energy sources & Forest Cover
The Constitution of Bhutan makes it compulsory for the countries to have at least 60% of the country’s land as forest. Above that, about 51% of forest is legally protected. Currently, the country has 71% of its territory under forest.
From 2009, Bhutan introduced a series of policies to ensure the country stayed carbon neutral. For example, a constitutional amendment to guarantee forested areas would not fall below 60%, and free hydroelectric power generated by Bhutan’s many rivers was prioritised over fossil fuels and export logging was prohibited.
Bhutan generates all electricity from renewable sources and Bhutanese Government provides free electricity so no citizen burns firewood.
The first carbon negative country gives subsidies in LED lights and has partnered with Nissan to replace all petrol and diesel cars into Electric Cars.
Bhutan is “on the path of green and low-carbon development”, thanks to government initiatives on making the country zero waste by 2030.
Bhutan is a small country and it had to form a sustainable tourism policy and it did. Restrictions on the number of visitors entering the country. In addition, the visitors have to pay a daily fee of up to US$250 per person, is also a great way to ensure the environment is not damaged by mass tourism.
At the 2015, COP21 conference in Paris, Bhutan pledged that its greenhouse gas emissions would not exceed the carbon sequestered by the country’s forests.
Gross National Happiness (GNH)
Bhutan has been following the philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH) instead of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
GNH is built on four pillars:
- Sustainable Socio-economic Development
- Good Governance
- Environmental Conservation
- Preservation and Promotion of Culture
The addition of the environment, GNH helps Bhutan to make policies around the environment in such a way that nature is not harmed.
On top of that, the Environment Assessment Act (2000) ensures that the government should confirm that environmental issues and challenges are fully taken care while formulating, modifying, renewing and implementing any policy, plan or program. So, that the development or implementation of any kind of rules will not affect the environment.
Other Carbon Negative Countries
Suriname, a small South American country with 94% of tropical rainforest, became the second carbon negative country.
In 2019, Tuvalu achieved zero metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. This nation continues the switch from fossil views to wind and solar power. It’s not industrialised, which increases the chance of permanent zero emission levels.
More small countries like Niue, Nauru, Kiribati are next in line to become Carbon Negative countries.
But, Bhutan’s achievement does demonstrate what can be achieved when environmental sustainability is at the forefront of the political agenda.
Being a carbon negative country Bhutan, the country isn’t untouched by climate change. Bhutan has over 2700 glaciers and they are melting very fast. Other environmental problems like flash floods due to lakes and glacier bursts are common. The entire country produces about 2.2 million tons of carbon dioxide each year but the forest takes in more than three times its production. But, the countries policies and intentions are in the right place.
Now, the intention and action have to be in unison. While Bhutan is the first carbon negative country, India can’t have such carbon emission, and most polluted cities in the world. That defeats the entire intention. Not just India, large developed and developing countries should follow this Bhutanese model.
Not just big countries, or industries, individuals should take in their hands to reduce our carbon footprint.
Simple Tips to reduce Carbon footprint
- Choose organic and local food available in the season. So no watermelons in winter.
- Compost degradable waste and recycle whatever can be.
- Buy Energy star products, which are certified to be more energy efficient.
- Use LEDs instead of CFLs.
- Switch off lights when not in use.
- Walk more. Use bicycles, carpools and public Transportation.
This is a high time to take action against climate change and reduce our carbon footprints by improving our lifestyles.
- List of Carbon Neutral Countries, How they achieved this?
- Which countries are working better in achieving climate goals?