Green Travel Magzine

This One Small Country In Asia Is Beating Climate Change

Can you believe there’s a country so dedicated to sustainability that its core philosophy is to preserve the earth? Welcome to Bhutan, a pristine paradise tucked away on the eastern side of the Himalayas. Ancient Buddhist temples like the Paro Taktsang line the kingdom’s rugged cliffs and forests, while local farmers collect their fresh harvest from the fertile plains below. Often referred to as the happiest country in the world, the Buddhist Kingdom is a place where its citizens’ well-being comes first.

Aside from its gorgeous sites and happy people, Bhutan’s leadership has been proactive in making their country more sustainable. In fact, it made headlines by being the first country to officially become carbon-negative! The question is, how did they make it happen? From government policies to community initiatives, Bhutan has become a beacon for sustainability worldwide. 

colorful dragon sculpture curls around pole indoor sculpture swirl designs orange yellow blue red
Source: Raimond Klavins

A Quick Overview of Bhutan’s GNH Index

Most people, let alone entire countries, rarely concern themselves with the planet above profit, especially in a global system where making money is seen as the bottom line. However, Bhutan is the exception to that rule. Since the kingdom’s fourth king, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, created the government’s Gross Happiness Index (GNH) concept, people’s happiness and coexistence with nature have been the state’s priority.

The late king’s idea went against what was considered a “successful system” in most of the world. Unlike raw profits, GNH measures how development affects people and the planet. During a time when many countries are experiencing more climate catastrophes than ever before, GNH has helped Bhutan prioritize the planet’s health and meet its environmental goals. Not only have they been successful at beating climate change, but this philosophy is also making the locals feel heard–this is probably why 91% of people consider themselves happy living here!

How Did Bhutan Become Carbon Negative? 

Before discovering how Bhutan made this happen, you need to know what being carbon negative means. Simply put, when a country becomes carbon negative, they absorb more carbon dioxide and similar greenhouse gases than they produce. Since carbon dioxide is one of the biggest contributors to climate change, Bhutanese leaders determined a system to offset emissions as early as possible. 

While most countries around the world produce greenhouse gases, Bhutan’s policies have been so successful that it’s one of the few countries worldwide that’s reversed this trend. The kingdom has banned log exports, provided free hydroelectric power (the world’s largest renewable energy source), and made a constitutional amendment ensuring the country’s forests wouldn’t fall below 60%. As a result of Bhutan’s hands-on approach, the country has become one of the few nations to achieve this level of sustainability.    

stone buildings in forest children walking along stone path wire fence
Source: bradford zak

Bhutan’s Sustainable Solution to Mass Tourism

Being the breathtaking place it is, you’re probably thinking that millions of people flock here every year. Bhutan’s government has found a balance between preserving their natural environment and benefiting from the tourists visiting their kingdom, despite receiving its fair share of visitors. Due to its strict regulations, Bhutan received only 41,000 tourists in 2010. Although the number has increased to 319,000 tourists in 2019, the government has still maintained its restrictions. The kingdom’s tourism has evolved in a way that aims for a ‘high-value, low-volume’ model offering quality experiences over the mass tourism that often plagues other countries.  Apart from preserving the environment, this tourism model has helped thousands of Bhutanese out of poverty and contributed almost $90 million to the economy.    

If you’re planning on a trip here, know that you’ll get to experience a green mecca with untouched nature and cultural sites, but it all comes at a price. The Bhutanese government will charge you a daily tourist fee of $200 to $250 USD, and it may be even higher if you’re traveling solo or as a couple. Although it’s not a cheap backpacker destination, your fee covers your accommodation, visa fee, food, and guides, among other things. The government also ensures that tourism revenue goes towards education, health, and infrastructure projects, so you can rest assured that your money goes right back into the local community! 

How Other Countries Can Use The Bhutanese Model For Future Sustainability

Bhutan may be a small country with a unique environment, but other countries can use it as a learning tool and inspiration for their own carbon-negative efforts. Embracing greener energy sources, replanting trees, or even the simple acts of recycling and composting more can be effective, straightforward methods to reduce a nation’s carbon footprint. 

Bhutan’s model can be adapted and replicated by other countries based on their climates and natural resources. Governments, businesses, and organizations can also take a more proactive approach.  With countries like Suriname and Panama also becoming carbon-negative, it’s more than possible to make it happen in other places. As long as governments and people are willing to put the planet’s health first, a carbon-negative future can be a reality anywhere.   

flowing river shore with rocks trees and buildings mountains in distance rock wall
Source: Tanay Dedhia

Bhutan and its Sustainable Future

Bhutan’s a place that’s following a path dramatically different from most other countries, and seeing how the world’s evolving on an environmental level, their system’s only going to keep evolving over time. In 2015, the kingdom became one of 150 countries worldwide to adopt the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, with climate change and resource conservation as one of their top medium-term goals. 

When more countries see what this tiny kingdom has accomplished in the fight against climate change, maybe they will be inspired to rethink the status quo. While economic growth is essential for a country’s development, why does it have to be at the expense of our planet and deprive future generations of resources? Like Bhutan, countries worldwide can create a sustainable future that prioritizes quality development over short-term gains. 

 

ecomadic is a sustainable tourism brand that empowers travelers to make more conscious decisions. By curating a marketplace to easily find and identify responsible businesses to support, and providing educational publications through our online green travel magazine, ecomadic is committed to helping empower travelers make responsible choices throughout their journeys.


Want to learn more?

Bhutan is The World’s Only Carbon Negative Country, So How Did They Do It? – Climate Council 

HISTORY OF GNH – GNH Centre Bhutan 

Unhappy? Welcome to Bhutan – the nation of 90% joy | Tim Dowling | The Guardian – The Guardian

What Does It Mean to Be Carbon Negative? – Terrapass

Bhutan: the world’s first carbon-negative country – Climate Action – Climate Action 

Bhutan: A model for sustainable tourism development – International Trade Forum

Explained: What Bhutan’s new tourism fee means for Indian travellers – Indian Express

Four strategies to tackle the carbon footprint of plastic – Anthropocene Magazine

A Small Group of Countries Are Actually ‘Carbon Negative’. Here’s How They’re Doing It. – Global Citizen

Sustainable Development Goals and National Development Agenda – Druk Journal

Gus Gonzalez
Gus is a content writer and who helps brands bring their stories to life. Since 2018, he has been traveling as a digital nomad around the world. His mission is to inspire digital nomads to design their dream lifestyle while exploring the world sustainably, one country at a time. When he’s not typing away from his favorite cafés, Gus is busy honing his travel photography skills and exploring a country’s culture, food, and history. You can find more of his work at gusthefreelancewriter.com.