Keynote Address by Tshering Tobgay, Prime Minister of Bhutan At the Opening Ceremony of the Himalayan – Third Pole Circle Meeting Hotel Taj Tashi, Thimphu 5 February, 2015

Your Royal Highness, Ashi Dechen Yangzom Wangchuck,

Your Royal Highness, Ashi Kezang Choden Wangchuck,


Ladies and Gentlemen.

I have the honor of conveying the greetings and warm wishes of His Majesty, King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, to Your Excellency, Mr Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, President of Iceland and all the distinguished delegates to the Himalayan Third Pole Circle Meeting.

On behalf of the government and people of Bhutan, I also have the privilege of extending a very warm welcome to all of you to our country. I hope you have successful discussions. But I hope you enjoy our country too. Please bear in mind that you are not just visitors here; you are our guests. And as our valued guests, we insist in getting to know you. So do your work. Have your discussions. But please make some time for us: to get to know our people, to get to know our culture, to get to know our country.

I am especially happy to welcome His Excellency President Grímsson to our country. His Excellency has an accomplished track record in fighting climate change, especially in the Artic. He is the architect of the Third Pole Circle, and as its chief driving force, he has personally steered the world’s attention to the risks of climate change in our region.

Our region, the Hindukush-Himalayan region, now called the Himalaya-Third Pole Circle, is special. It’s special for many reasons, and special differently for 2 different people. And so it is for me. Here then are my top 10 reasons why I find our region special.

Number ten: We are the ‘roof of the world’. We have the world’s tallest mountain, Mt Everest at 8,848 meters. We also have the world’s second tallest mountain, K2. And the third tallest, Kanchenjunga. In fact, we have every peak in the world that is above 7,200 meters. And there are 108 of them. Put simply: we stand head and shoulders above the rest of the world.

Number nine: We are growing. Our mountains may be the tallest, but they are still growing … by about 5 millimeters each year. We are growing even as mountains elsewhere are eroding. We are still growing because we are young. Our mountains were formed just 55 million years ago – 55 million years may seem like a long time, but it is a fleeting moment relative to the age of the earth, which is 4.5 billion years. So as I was saying, our mountains were formed just recently, when the Indo-Australian tectonic plate crossed the Tethys Ocean to slam into the Eurasian plate. That intercontinental collision is why we’re still growing even today.

Number eight: We have virgins, virgin mountains. And tall ones at that. Bhutan alone has 20 unconquered peaks. The highest of them, and the highest unclimbed peak in the world, is Gangkar Phuensum on the BhutanChina border. It’s a wonder that, in this age of unbridled consumption, we have managed to keep people from defiling this 7,570-meter mountain.

Number seven: We have Shangri-La. In 1933, when James Hilton described Shangri-La in his book Lost Horizons, he was inspired by our region. Eight decades on, much of our region – our land, our people, our values, our traditions – is still timeless, is still the Shangri-La that James Hilton had celebrated.

Number six: We are home to the gods. Thousands of gods and goddesses, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, deities and spirits have taken up residence in our region. Consider Mount Kailash, which thankfully is also left unconquered. 3 Mount Kailash is revered equally by Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and the Bon alike. And two influential gods have made this sacred mountain their home – the powerful Lord Shiva and the blissful Buddha Chakrasambava.

Number five: We have good treks. In fact, we have the world’s best treks. Our region offers a range of treks through some of the world’s most spectacular landscape. This is a trekker’s paradise. We have everything – from mild day hikes in our valleys to moderate excursions along our rivers to mad, mindblowing treks in our mountains.

Number four: We have hotspots. Four of the world’s biodiversity hotspots are in our region. But because our elevation ranges from 60 meters all the way to above 8000 meters, and because we are so close to the tropics, the entire region has been blessed with an abundance of natural resources. Our rich biodiversity ranges from hot, humid tropical jungles through cool, temperate forests to frigid alpine pastures, sometimes all within a distance of just 25 kilometers, as the crow flies.

Number three: We have the yeti. I haven’t seen it. And those who have seen it have not been able to provide credible evidence. But the yeti really does exist – take my word for it. Elephants, rhinos and buffalo, on the other hand, roam our lands freely. And so do large cats, primates and bears; and blue sheep, takin, and red panda. Our tigers have been spotted in lush, low plains as well as high mountain pastures, as high as 4,300 meters. If you go above that, you’ll find the elusive snow leopard. And if you venture above even that, you may find that extremely elusive yeti!

Number two: We are Asia’s ‘water tower’. Our region stores more snow and ice than anywhere else in the world outside the polar regions. Our 46,000-odd glaciers feed precious water to the 10 biggest river systems in Asia. Together, these rivers provide food and energy for over 1.3 billion people that is 1/5 of humanity.

And number one: We are a wonderful people. There are 210 million of us who 4 call this region home, spread over 4.3 million square kilometers. We are the handsome Afghans and sturdy Sherpas, we are the wise yogis and wizened monks. Our diverse people, who still live in ethnic communities and, together, speak more than 600 languages and countless dialects, is my number one reason why I find the Third Pole region very special.

Our region is indeed special. So we must protect it.

Look … I live in this region. I was born here, I grew up here, and I’m happy here. So I have a vested interest in protecting it. Protecting it for myself, my children and their children.

But we have challenges, challenges that threaten our region, challenges that threaten our existence. I see three types of challenges. The first is socioeconomic challenges. Illiteracy, unemployment, poverty and poor healthcare are some of them. These are big challenges, but they are local in nature. And, as such, if a country is determined, that country can sort out these problems quite easily.

We are fortunate in Bhutan. Our benevolent kings have used our limited resources wisely to ensure that our economic growth is careful, deliberate, and in our own terms so that it does not interfere with the unprecedented social progress that we now take for granted.

The second type of challenge is ecological. Deforestation, pollution, desertification and habitat loss are some of them. These are bigger challenges, but they too are largely local in nature. As such, if a country is determined, very determined and prepared to make immediate sacrifices, that country can overcome these problems too.

Here too we are exceptionally fortunate in Bhutan. Our enlightened kings have religiously implemented a policy that strives to carefully balance material growth with social progress, inclusiveness, sustainability and good governance. This is the essence of what we call Gross National Happiness.

This unique development philosophy has ensured that our environment is still largely pristine. 72 per cent of our country is under forest cover. More than half our country, 52 per cent of it, is protected as nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries. And we have pledged to the world that we will remain carbon neutral for all time to come.

The third type of challenge is climate change. Floods and drought, diseases and famine are just some of the effects of climate change and extreme weather. These are huge challenges, and they are international is scope. No one country can fight climate change by itself. To fight climate change, we have to work together.

We have to work together … because the international community can’t even agree on how climate change will affect our region. One report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that our glaciers would disappear by 2035. But shortly after that, another report, this one by the University of Colorado in Boulder, claimed that our region has not lost much ice and that some of our glaciers are actually growing.

We have to work together … because regardless of what these pundits say, the fact of the matter is that in Bhutan, our glaciers are retreating. They are retreating so quickly that we have had to literally claw our way through rocky moraine, to lower our glacial lakes, to prevent them from breaching their dams and flooding our valleys.

We have to work together … because regardless of what these pundits say, the fact of the matter is that in Bhutan, temperatures are rising. Our valleys are noticeably warmer and the snow on our mountain tops noticeably absent. We have to work together … because “thinking globally, acting locally” is not enough. We’ve tried that in Bhutan. We’ve made tremendous sacrifices to “act locally”, but it’s clear that individual efforts, while they are important, cannot 6 stand up to the onslaught of climate change. To stand up to climate change have to work together, we have to “think globally, act regionally”. The entire region must come together, to work together, to be heard together, to fight together. Only then will we be able to stand up to climate change. Only then will we be able to control temperatures from rising in our region.

It’s easy to control my temperature. If it increases by 1 degree centigrade,I feel uncomfortable. But I don’t need to do anything. But if my temperature increases by 2 degrees, I have high fever. All I need to do is pop a paracetamol and, voila, I’m better, my temperature is back down. We may be resilient. But our planet is not.

Once temperatures increase due to climate change, there’s no easy way of bringing them down. There’s no paracetamol for climate change. An overall increase of 1 degree centigrade will make us feel very uncomfortable. But an increase of just 2 degrees will be disastrous – our glaciers will melt, cause massive flooding and destroy our ecosystem. In the process, hundred of millions of people will suffer hunger and disease.

Climate change is not like fever. It’s like a slow poison, a condition that’s almost impossible to reverse. To fight the slow poison of climate change we must act now. We must act now, and act on a war footing. And we must act together. We must, as we say in Bhutan, “think and act as one!” The status quo is not an option. So I implore the distinguished delegates here to think and act as one – to think globally, act locally – to force your individual countries to do their individual parts to protect their individual ecosystems. The status quo is not an option. It is dangerous. So I urge the distinguished delegates here to think and act as one – to think globally, act regionally – to 7 join forces as a Third Pole bloc, to work together, to speak together, to demand action together.

To fight together to save our region, to save Shangri-La, to save the roof of the world.To fight together to save our people, to save our gods … to save the elusive yeti.

Thank you. Pelden Drukpa Gyalo!

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