Carbon Neutral? Try Carbon Negative

Bhutan

For many it seems like carbon neutral - offsetting all carbon emissions so that the net output is zero - is the holy grail. But what about going carbon negative? Achieving “neutral” status is a worthy enough goal, let alone surpassing this to actually remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than you produce, but one small country in Asia is already there: Bhutan.

Carbon Neutrality in Bhutan

Bhutan, a tiny country to the East of the Himalayas with a population of less than a million people, is not only carbon neutral; it is carbon negative due to the fact that its vast forests have the capacity to absorb over four times the amount of carbon dioxide the country emits annually.

72% of the landscape is forested, with rules in place that state that at no point can the country’s forests dip below 60% land coverage. Thousands of new trees are planted every year to replace those lost, whether for fuel or products or due to natural causes.

Access to clean electricity is 100% in urban environments (94% in rural regions) and Bhutan currently exports around 75% of their power to India due to high levels of hydroelectricity supplies.

Fighting Climate Change

The Bhutanese consider themselves to be highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Extreme climate events could adversely affect much of their infrastructure, particularly due to their high reliance on agriculture and hydropower, and cause irreversible damage to forestry, biodiversity and fragile mountain ecosystems.

Despite having already attained carbon negative status, Bhutan has high ambitions to make the country even more sustainable and kind to the environment; they aim to achieve zero net greenhouse gases by 2020 and zero waste by 2030. Their goal of becoming wholly organic by 2020  largely helps with the latter as farmers learn, through free organic farming training courses as part of a government program launched in 2011, that what was once waste can now become compost.

Teaching organic agricultural practices also allows the rural people of Bhutan to move away from being subsistence farmers to becoming successful business-people, in turn reducing the country’s need to import as much food as they do and leading to better self-sufficiency.

What can we learn from Bhutan?

Perhaps summing up this country’s positivity, in a place that is landlocked and comparatively poor, GDP (gross domestic product) is not the Bhutanese measure of success. Instead they use the Gross National Happiness index, placing a higher value on the wellbeing of its people rather than their wealth. Coined by the Bhutanese ruler in the 1970s, this concept dictates that factors other than economic ones should have equal importance when measuring the success and progress of a country’s people.

Their positive environmental attitude is also admirably reflected in their constitution where it states that “Every Bhutanese is a trustee of the Kingdom’s natural resources and environment for the benefit of the present and future generations…”, something we should all take heed of.

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