Opening Remarks by Prime Minister and Chair of NEC High Level Opening Session on 18 May 2015 “Dialogue on Climate Resilient & Carbon Neutral Development” 18-20 May 2015 Venue: Le Meridien, Thimphu

Ladies and Gentlemen, a very warm good morning,

It gives me great pleasure to be among this august gathering of leaders from all levels of the government and other non-governmental groups, dedicated to fighting climate change, and its adverse effects.

As you are all well aware, climate change is now one of the biggest challenges confronting the whole world, and the science says its impacts are manifesting faster than anticipated all around the world.

We, in Bhutan, are located in the fragile Himalayas. Plus we are a poor country, an LDC with limited financial and technological resources. That makes us very vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change. More so, our small economy is highly dependent on climate sensitive sectors like hydropower and agriculture. This makes us even more vulnerable to a changing climate and we are already witnessing increasing extreme events like windstorms and flashfloods.

Climate change affects the livelihood of people from all walks of life. But it is the poorer sections of our society that would be the worst hit. So this calls for more real and practical action to adapt to climate change at all levels.

2015 is a critical year for climate action.  The world anticipates a new climate agreement from Paris in December this year, an agreement that will help prevent dangerous levels of global warming.  Working towards this new agreement requires all countries in the world to take on their fair share of commitments to fight climate change.

These eventual commitments are presently termed as “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” to be submitted by all parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change by October this year.

Bhutan will also have to make known our intended contributions to address global climate change.

Bhutan is a responsible member of the global community, and we are famous for our exemplary actions on environment and sustainable development. Our beloved Kings have exercised visionary leadership for environmental stewardship and sustainable development. This has left us a natural environmental heritage that is still intact and pristine, one that now provides us tangible and practical basis for our contribution to global climate action.

This natural heritage of 70% forest cover, and our Constitutional mandate to maintain a forest cover of 60% for all times to come, serves as the cornerstone of environmental conservation and climate action from Bhutan. Our forests not only provide global services as a sink for Greenhouse Gases but are also part of a healthy natural ecosystem from which we derive many benefits such as fuel wood, clean water, tourism and other resources.

Our forests also reduce risk of soil erosion and landslides. That said, rapid urbanization and increasing pressures on our forests mean that we have to put in place measures to adapt to a changing climate.

Our emissions are presently net zero. We are one of the few countries that can claim to be carbon neutral. Yet, there is no room for complacency. Increasing emissions not only adds to global warming but it also means increased local air pollution with adverse effects on human health and our own wellbeing.

In Bhutan, the industrial and transport sectors are the main sources of GHG emissions and local air pollution. Growing emissions from the transport sector also leads to high dependency on imported fossil fuels that seriously affect our economy.

Bhutan is carbon neutral and we have already committed to remaining carbon neutral for all times. Therefore, even though further climate mitigation — that is reduction in GHG emissions– from Bhutan might not have significant climate benefit globally, it provides a very good opportunity for us to ensure clean growth for the benefit at the national level.

Assessments of mitigation measures means increasing efficiencies in energy use, production, increased energy security and reduction in pollution and out-flow of foreign currency.

Strengthening climate mitigation within the country would also entail and ensure a clean and healthy local environment. We must therefore, commit to reducing GHG emissions from all the sectors through promoting efficient energy use, encouraging other renewable energy sources and adopting more climate friendly modes of development.

There are already numerous assessments within sectors that point towards strategies and policies for clean and green socio-economic development in Bhutan. Examples include green transport and clean production in industries, along with capacity building provided to both government and private sector stakeholders. However, we can do more to translate strategies and trainings we develop to real, concrete action. It is now the time to implement the various actions that have been identified in our numerous existing policies and strategies.

Climate change is a reality and an enormous environment and development challenge. But global efforts to combat climate change also provide opportunities. We now have the opportunity to leapfrog from conventional way of doing business in our economy, so we must be forward looking to take advantage of new opportunities while taking account of the potential impacts of climate change.

We must grab the opportunity for improving energy efficiency and reducing the dependency on fossil fuels and unsustainable consumption of firewood.

Therefore, I urge all of you gathered here for this dialogue to seriously consider the issues and challenges we face, and work towards ensuring a coherent and comprehensive way forward for climate action in Bhutan. I look forward to a very fruitful and comprehensive outcome from this important dialogue.

Tashi Delek.

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