Transcript: This Country Isn’t Just Carbon Neutral – It’s Carbon Negative by Tshering Tobgay

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.

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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.

By the way, I’ve requested the TED organizers here to turn up the heat in here by two degrees, so if some of you are feeling warmer than usual, you know who to blame.

It’s crucial that all of us keep our commitments. As far as Bhutan is concerned, we will keep our promise to remain carbon neutral. Here are some of the ways we are doing it. We are providing free electricity to our rural farmers. The idea is that, with free electricity, they will no longer have to use firewood to cook their food. We are investing in sustainable transport and subsidizing the purchase of electric vehicles. Similarly, we are subsidizing the cost of LED lights, and our entire government is trying to go paperless. We are cleaning up our entire country through Clean Bhutan, a national program, and we are planting trees throughout our country through Green Bhutan, another national program.

But it is our protected areas that are at the core of our carbon neutral strategy. Our protected areas are our carbon sink. They are our lungs. Today, more than half our country is protected, as national parks, nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries. But the beauty is that we’ve connected them all with one another through a network of biological corridors. Now, what this means is that our animals are free to roam throughout our country. Take this tiger, for example. It was spotted at 250 meters above sea level in the hot, subtropical jungles. Two years later, that same tiger was spotted near 4,000 meters in our cold alpine mountains. Isn’t that awesome?

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We must keep it that way. We must keep our parks awesome. So every year, we set aside resources to prevent poaching, hunting, mining and pollution in our parks, and resources to help communities who live in those parks manage their forests, adapt to climate change, and lead better lives while continuing to live in harmony with Mother Nature. But that is expensive.

Over the next few years, our small economy won’t have the resources to cover all the costs that are required to protect our environment. In fact, when we run the numbers, it looks like it’ll take us at least 15 years before we can fully finance all our conservation efforts. But neither Bhutan, nor the world can afford to spend 15 years going backwards.

This is why His Majesty the King started Bhutan For Life. Bhutan For Life gives us the time we need. It gives us breathing room. It is essentially a funding mechanism to look after our parks, to protect our parks, until our government can take over on our own fully. The idea is to raise a transition fund from individual donors, corporations and institutions, but the deal is closed only after predetermined conditions are met and all funds committed. So multiparty, single closing: an idea we borrowed from Wall Street. This means that individual donors can commit without having to worry that they’ll be left supporting an underfunded plan. It’s something like a Kickstarter project, only with a 15-year time horizon and millions of tons of carbon dioxide at stake. Once the deal is closed, we use the transition fund to protect our parks, giving our government time to increase our own funding gradually until the end of the 15-year period. After that, our government guarantees full funding forever.

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