World Environment Day is very important for Bhutan. We take advantage of it to further enhance awareness of environmental conservation and to bring together communities from all walks of life to show solidarity towards keeping our environment beautiful and healthy. Our small Himalayan kingdom, while pursuing economic development, has taken strong steps to maintain our environment for this and future generations.
His Majesty the Fourth King of Bhutan bestowed on us ‘Gross National Happiness’ as the country's development philosophy. This has guided us in maintaining our country’s environment, and in keeping about 71 per cent of it covered by forest. It is a precious gift both to Bhutan and to the global community.
Our culture and traditions have also played a major role in conserving our natural resources. Collecting of broad leaves for livestock, for example, is commonly practiced in almost all the nation's villages. Some experts have expressed concern about it, taking the view that it has effects on soil erosion, water and the environment – but it seems that our villagers have learned through age – old traditional practices how to manage the forest and the ecosystem for maximum benefit. The collections have helped reduce the hazard of forest fires feeding on dry leaves.
The government has taken several initiatives to protect our forests, including community forestry. This was originally debated within government agencies, but introduced in recognition of the economic benefits it could bring to villagers – and is gaining popularity among them. The concept is simple. Areas of forested government land are allocated to groups of villages. They maintain them and harvest the forest products from them in accordance with management rules and regulations. The economic benefits reduce rural poverty. So the government has been promoting community forestry strongly and villagers are also adopting it on their own initiative.
If Bhutan had wanted, it could have pursued rapid economic development, but our kings realized the negative impacts this would bring not just to Bhutan, but to the global community. Their vision has now been translated into plans and the government is trying to follow and implement sustainable economic development. Our constitution, a gift from the Throne, has a full article on the environment (see box) clearly mandating not just the government but all citizens to protect it.
Though a small country, Bhutan can show the global community how to support the environment. It declared it would remain carbon neutral at the 2009 Copenhagen climate change conference, a huge commitment for a small nation pursuing economic development.
I take pride in describing my country's commitments and their implementation on the ground and am honoured to be working for the National Environment Commission Secretariat which coordinates environmental conservation with many relevant agencies. We commemorate World Environment Day annually with many events both in the capital city and in all the country's 20 districts, with support from different institutions. Since 2013, the secretariat has been observing the event on 4 June to coincide with the birthday of Her Majesty the Queen, the patron of the environment, as well as on 5 June. This year, the celebrations will include:
1. A cleanup campaign in all twenty districts;
2. A ‘Pedestrian Day’ in city centres in all twenty districts, when no vehicles will be allowed in such areas;
3. Launching green hotel guidelines in collaboration with the Tourism Council of Bhutan;
4. The adoption of streams in the districts by different interested agencies to keep the watercourses clean.
We are working hard to protect and conserve our environment, not in order to gain recognition but to show that we can truly live in peace and harmony with nature.