Here is the full transcript of Prime Minister of Bhutan Tshering Tobgay’s TED Talk: This Country Isn’t Just Carbon Neutral – It’s Carbon Negative at TED 2016 conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: this-country-isnt-just-carbon-neutral-its-carbon-negative-by-tshering-tobgay
In case you are wondering, no, I’m not wearing a dress, and no, I’m not saying what I’m wearing underneath.
This is a gho. This is my national dress. This is how all men dress in Bhutan. That is how our women dress. Like our women, we men get to wear pretty bright colors, but unlike our women, we get to show off our legs.
Our national dress is unique, but this is not the only thing that’s unique about my country. Our promise to remain carbon neutral is also unique, and this is what I’d like to speak about today, our promise to remain carbon neutral.
But before I proceed, I should set you the context. I should tell you our story.
Bhutan is a small country in the Himalayas. We’ve been called Shangri-La, even the last Shangri-La. But let me tell you right off the bat, we are not Shangri-La. My country is not one big monastery populated with happy monks. The reality is that there are barely 700,000 of us sandwiched between two of the most populated countries on earth: China and India. The reality is that we are a small, underdeveloped country doing our best to survive. But we are doing OK. We are surviving.
In fact, we are thriving, and the reason we are thriving is because we’ve been blessed with extraordinary kings. Our enlightened monarchs have worked tirelessly to develop our country, balancing economic growth carefully with social development, environmental sustainability and cultural preservation, all within the framework of good governance. We call this holistic approach to development “Gross National Happiness,” or GNH. Back in the 1970s, our fourth king famously pronounced that for Bhutan, Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product.
Ever since, all development in Bhutan is driven by GNH, a pioneering vision that aims to improve the happiness and well-being of our people. But that’s easier said than done, especially when you are one of the smallest economies in the world. Our entire GDP is less than $2 billion. I know that some of you here are worth more individually than the entire economy of my country.
So our economy is small, but here is where it gets interesting. Education is completely free. All citizens are guaranteed free school education, and those that work hard are given free college education. Healthcare is also completely free. Medical consultation, medical treatment, medicines: they are all provided by the state. We manage this because we use our limited resources very carefully, and because we stay faithful to the core mission of GNH, which is development with values. Our economy is small, and we must strengthen it. Economic growth is important, but that economic growth must not come from undermining our unique culture or our pristine environment.
Today, our culture is flourishing. We continue to celebrate our art and architecture, food and festivals, monks and monasteries. And yes, we celebrate our national dress, too. This is why I can wear my gho with pride.
Here’s a fun fact: you’re looking at the world’s biggest pocket. It starts here, goes around the back, and comes out from inside here. In this pocket we store all manner of personal goods from phones and wallets to iPads, office files and books. But sometimes — sometimes even precious cargo.
So our culture is flourishing, but so is our environment. 72% of my country is under forest cover. Our constitution demands that a minimum of 60% of Bhutan’s total land shall remain under forest cover for all time.
Our constitution, this constitution, imposes forest cover on us. Incidentally, our king used this constitution to impose democracy on us. You see, we the people didn’t want democracy. We didn’t ask for it, we didn’t demand it, and we certainly didn’t fight for it. Instead, our king imposed democracy on us by insisting that he include it in the constitution. But he went further. He included provisions in the constitution that empower the people to impeach their kings, and included provisions in here that require all our kings to retire at the age of 65.
Fact is, we already have a king in retirement: our previous king, the Great Fourth, retired 10 years ago at the peak of his popularity. He was all of 51 years at that time.
So as I was saying, 72% of our country is under forest cover, and all that forest is pristine. That’s why we are one of the few remaining global biodiversity hotspots in the world, and that’s why we are a carbon neutral country. In a world that is threatened with climate change, we are a carbon neutral country.
Turns out, it’s a big deal. Of the 200-odd countries in the world today, it looks like we are the only one that’s carbon neutral. Actually, that’s not quite accurate. Bhutan is not carbon neutral. Bhutan is carbon negative. Our entire country generates 2.2 million tons of carbon dioxide, but our forests, they sequester more than three times that amount, so we are a net carbon sink for more than 4 million tons of carbon dioxide each year. But that’s not all.
We export most of the renewable electricity we generate from our fast-flowing rivers. So today, the clean energy that we export offsets about 6 million tons of carbon dioxide in our neighborhood. By 2020, we’ll be exporting enough electricity to offset 17 million tons of carbon dioxide. And if we were to harness even half our hydropower potential, and that’s exactly what we are working at, the clean, green energy that we export would offset something like 50 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. That is more CO2 than what the entire city of New York generates in one year.
So inside our country, we are a net carbon sink. Outside, we are offsetting carbon. And this is important stuff. You see, the world is getting warmer, and climate change is a reality. Climate change is affecting my country. Our glaciers are melting, causing flash floods and landslides, which in turn are causing disaster and widespread destruction in our country. I was at that lake recently. It’s stunning. That’s how it looked 10 years ago, and that’s how it looked 20 years ago. Just 20 years ago, that lake didn’t exist. It was a solid glacier.
A few years ago, a similar lake breached its dams and wreaked havoc in the valleys below. That destruction was caused by one glacier lake. We have 2,700 of them to contend with. The point is this: my country and my people have done nothing to contribute to global warming, but we are already bearing the brunt of its consequences. And for a small, poor country, one that is landlocked and mountainous, it is very difficult. But we are not going to sit on our hands doing nothing. We will fight climate change. That’s why we have promised to remain carbon neutral.
We first made this promise in 2009 during COP 15 in Copenhagen, but nobody noticed. Governments were so busy arguing with one another and blaming each other for causing climate change, that when a small country raised our hands and announced, “We promise to remain carbon neutral for all time,” nobody heard us. Nobody cared.
Last December in Paris, at COP 21, we reiterated our promise to remain carbon neutral for all time to come. This time, we were heard. We were noticed, and everybody cared. What was different in Paris was that governments came round together to accept the realities of climate change, and were willing to come together and act together and work together. All countries, from the very small to the very large, committed to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change says that if these so-called intended commitments are kept, we’d be closer to containing global warming by two degrees Celsius.