By Tashi Dendup
Bhutan is the world’s only carbon-negative country.
Having centered its development philosophy on collective well-being and public good, Bhutan is already ahead of the 2030 agenda on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and just two years away from graduating from the UN’s list of Least Developed Countries.
Azusa Kubota, the UNDP Resident Representative in Bhutan talking to foreign media outlets said many of these achievements are due to Bhutan’s ‘visionary monarchs’.
Talking to a DevelopmentAid South Asia journalist, Azusa Kubota said she has served many countries around the world, but believes that Bhutan is a very special place for development practitioners working for the United Nations.
“The development philosophy of Bhutan valued under the Gross National Happiness (GNH) concept is very much aligned with the ethos of the SDGs. I would even say that the GNH preceded and has surpassed the SDGs because it goes into the area of spiritual contentment and time used that are not covered in the SDGs,” Kubota said.
She added that Bhutan is already ahead of the 2030 agenda and acknowledged that UNDP finds itself in a very privileged situation in Bhutan to advocate the SDGs, policies, and programs that make sure no one is left behind.
The UNDP RR said over the last four decades, they have supported the foundation of the modern nation in Bhutan starting from the establishment of the airline and environmental trust fund and we are now working on accelerating efforts to strengthen the climate agenda and recovery from the COVID-19.
“Our recent launch of the Accelerator Lab in Bhutan is very timely because it offers different platforms for the government to try new ideas in the risk-sharing environment and to accelerate the rate of learning to keep pace with the world,” she said.
She said that in Bhutan, notably His Majesty’s Kidu (welfare) program to ensure that no one suffers from the sudden loss of income and economic downfall.
Kubota said UNDP’s support in Bhutan is very much aligned with and focused around supporting the country to attain the SDGs which are all interconnected. She said UNDP have to press several buttons to meet the ambitions of the Paris Agreement as the global climate champion and, obviously, these goals and targets are infused in the country’s Five-Year Plan.
Talking on Bhutan’s graduation from LDC, Kubota said Bhutan is firmly committed to graduating from the LDC category according to the agreed timeline of 2023.
“I think for Bhutan to ensure a smooth transition depends on how wisely it uses the available resources. This is an opportunity for Bhutan to take a bold and innovative decision that matters for the future,” she said.
She said Bhutan needs to invest in long-term gains such as the green economy, reforming the education system to build skills for young people, and engaging in economic activities. It is difficult for the government to make decisions yet this is the right time to make the right decisions.
Kubota also added that this is really the time for Bhutan to realize the catalytic impact of the return of investment such as innovation and investing in technology.
“Bhutan has already been a global climate leader by being the only carbon-negative country in the world. A lot has been achieved, all thanks to the visionary monarch,” the UNDP RR said.
Presently, she said, UNDP has been working with the government to look at the extent of climate change and some of the modeling for the near future. This already indicates that, with rapid urbanization and the growing number of cars in cities, the transport sector, in particular, requires bold investment right now.
Between 1994 and 2015, the country’s greenhouse gas emissions increased by 126% with a significant rise in the energy sector comprised of 86% from transport and 79% from the manufacturing sector.
“We cannot be complacent; we are supporting the introduction of electric vehicles for instance and the long-term roadmap is being formulated but it does require a review of the system for incentives,” she said.
She told DevelopmentAid that the United Nations’ partnership in Bhutan is at a crossroad, in a way that they are often seen as an institutional financing donor.
Kubota said the nature of UNDP’s partnership has to be really changed, and must continue to ensure that UNDP can offer what the country needs, and also UNDP’s partners need to think through how they would like to be made more aware using the UNDP’s vast network of knowledge and experiences.
“I just want to say that this is also time for both parties and for all of us to reflect how UNDP can continue to be of relevance at this time of critical juncture for Bhutan,” Asuza Kubota said.