Mr. Sonam Tobgye
Deputy Chief Program Officer
Office of the Prime Minister
Royal Government of Bhutan


I’m going to share two important items of information on many efforts that the Government of Bhutan has been doing for the past few decades.

So as I mentioned in Day 1, 72.5% of our entire kingdom is under forest cover and the scientifc management of forest started way back 1965. Now, although our country is 73% under forest cover, we also have Protected Areas. We have five national parks, four wildlife sanctuaries, and one nature reserve, which constitutes about 43% of Bhutan or 16,396 sq km.

In addition to the protected areas, 3307sq km has been designated as a network of Biological Corridors linking all the nine protected areas, putting 52% of the country under some form of protection.

The Government of Bhutan continues to make efforts toward the preservation of the environment. In 2015, Bhutan was on the Guinness World Record for planting trees (49,672 trees in 1 hour by 100 volunteers). Hence, the forest cover continues to grow (BBC World 2015).

Protected areas are very interesting because we have two climatic zones: down south subtropical and temperate (middle), and subalpine in the mountains up north. It ranges from 100 meters to 7500 meters above sea level. Temperatures range from 35°C to -10°C.

So, as I mentioned in Day 1, Bhutan is among the top biodiversity hotspots in the world. Therefore, in these protected areas, we have all kinds of animals like elephants, Himalayan black bears, golden langurs, water buffalo, leopards and snow leopards, tigers, and Bengal tigers, red panda, musk deer, and rhinoceros. We have over 400 species of birds, including the endangered black-necked cranes and over 130 species of butterflies.

For plants, trees, and medicinal herbs, there are 46 species of orchids, 46 species of rhododendrons, as well as 200-plus tree species including medicinal herbs. The country has been called the “Land of Medical Herbs” by the Chinese before the name Bhutan became official.

I’m saying this because these protected areas are home normally to these animals, birds, and plants. These are our natural parks in color. We have nine natural parks. The white patches are biodiversity corridors. What gets interesting is that the nine national parks are connected by these biodiversity corridors. The animals can actually roam around freely from one park to another park.

We have Community Forests (CF) programs. These have benefted our rural people. These are for rural people—they have community access to construction timber and fuelwood that does not require permits or going through bureaucratic procedures. They are allowed to sell excess products—both wood and nonwood like bamboo and mushrooms, and all kinds of fruits—that they get from the forest. These have contributed to poverty reduction as communities receive direct income and economic empowerment. This has also given a greater sense of collective responsibility to preserve environment. The community protects the forest both from within and external threats such as poachers. This has promoted a greater sense of community vitality around a common cause.

Despite the continued efforts, however, global warming is a reality in Bhutan. We have a very fragile mountain ecosystem. We now live in fear. In the mountains, we have over 2,674 glacial lakes feeding our ecosystem. As a mountainous country, our rivers are a lifeline for agriculture, livelihood, and, of course, hydropower.

Hydropower is the backbone of development in Bhutan. Out of these glacial lakes, 24 are potentially vulnerable to glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF).

How are glacial lakes formed? Because the earth is heating up, the mountains are heating up from climate change and global warming. The glaciers have been up in the mountains for centuries intact. But now, because of the heat, they are melting—snow is melting. As snow melts, it forms glacial lakes. The volume of water in each glacial lake is also rising. That is not good news. The number of glacial lakes is increasing.

The melting of glaciers and snow exerts pressure on the lakes, which now have more water. Over time, because of so much pressure, the glacial lake could burst and create floods.

The Himalayan Range is also called the Third Pole, in addition to the North Pole and South Pole. Studies say that 2/3 of Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2100 if global warming continues at its current rate. This is a serious concern for us.

In 1994, we had a major flood because of GLOF from one lake up in the mountains. It caused havoc, putting an entire valley under water. Imagine, that’s just one lake. And there are thousands of lakes up there.

Every year since 1994, the government has been sending hundreds of people up the mountains to do mitigation work. I had the opportunity to walk there on foot. It takes nine hours of walking to the mountains at that height. We send people to physically bring down the level of water.

Climate change has affected our crop patterns. All kinds of diseases, some of them viral, have been affecting our crops. Harvests have been extremely unpredictable.

We continue to do our part. Bhutan faces the brunt of climate change despite our sincere efforts, despite the fact that we are a carbon-negative country. We still face climate change. But we continue to do our best.

We are sharing few of our efforts in hopes that these might make sense to our friends not only here but across the world.

Thank you!