Keynote address by Jigmi Y.Tthinley prime minister of the kingdom of Bhutan at 4th Asian ministerial conference on disaster risk reduction in cheon, republic of south Korea, 26 October 2010

October 27, 2010


Distinguished Delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our world is changing, as it must, both as a human society and as a physical space and ecology. Evolution continues and we know that earth has endured cycles of cold and warmth bringing profound changes. Death and decay for all forms of life are the essence of nature and man too can only aspire for immortality. But as inevitable as these cycles may be, it is disconcerting when scientific evidence makes clear that unbridled human activity, of the kind driven by our obsession with endless growth in a world of limited natural resources, is dangerously accelerating global warming. This is evident in the steady loss of biodiversity making human extinction imminent. Alarm bells are ringing an impending climate disaster.

The world is getting warmer. Nowhere is this more visible and consequential than in the vulnerable ecologies of the small island states, the low lying coastal areas and indeed, the fragile mountain regions such as the high and young Himalayas. The poor and climate-exposed millions in other regions are no better off. We are equally troubled by how climate change is already reversing years and decades of development efforts to eradicate poverty and to fulfil the basic survival conditions in pursuit of the millennium development goals.

History speaks of great civilizations having fallen prey to natural disasters, population explosion, wars and collapse of ecosystems. But primitive as our ancestors may have been, they had the option to migrate – to spread to greener and safer sanctuaries of a vast and unexplored world. Today’s shrinking and ailing planet offers no such luxury. Moreover, in today’s densely populated world, the occurrence of natural calamities anywhere, indeed, with greater frequency and fury, means more destruction of life and property. And even as the richest and the powerful nations explore the inhospitable polar regions, the dark ocean depths and the infinity of space, the promise of a new destination remains elusive.

Although, necessity created laws and regulations to halt cross-border migration, there is a rising tide of illegal and high-risk-taking movement. But the most aggressive and endless migrants are yet to come in the form of those compelled by the devastation of climate change. Driven by the desperate instinct to survive, no walls erected by the less affected will keep them out. Already, in the face of such early trends and amid economic gloom, xenophobia in some of the developed countries is on the rise, causing strains on the fragile stability in a world of inequities.

A question that begs that begs to be answered is: should mankind continue, knowingly and mindlessly, with its irresponsible ways to further accelerate the cycle of doom?

The failure of the COP 15 speaks of our obstinacy against moving away from the delusion that the rich, the not so rich and the poor can live apart in this village that we call earth. Ours is a common future. COP15 showed little evidence of a civilized community as we mocked each other in a blame game and haggled over who should pay and how the invisible money should be divided. In the meanwhile, the shamefully inadequate pledges made thus far, clearly sets the world to become warmer by almost 4 degrees celsius, against the need for a minimum of two degrees. Leaders showed lack of courage to do what is necessary fearing the backlash of public opinion back home where they are too fearful of telling the truth. Against such lack of will on the part of leaders, prospects for the next Conference of Parties do not appear bright.

Unless we get away from the mockery we make of our genuine need to slow global warming, move away from the moral and political platitudes, and stay away from raising historical and psychological barriers or whatever else it is that divides us, we will not even be able to agree on a clear nature of the threats, much less arrive at a consensus for urgently needed solutions and their financing.

Let us, at this conference of our region, try and demonstrate a greater sense of responsibility and solidarity. Let us agree to :

1. Adopt the Incheon Declaration on Disaster Risk Reduction and the Action Plan for the Incheon Regional Roadmap on DRR through CCA in Asia and the Pacific.

2. Be unequivocal on the reality of climate change with all its attendant problems.

3. Reaffirm our commitment to a world that must not grow any warmer than by 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius.

4. Pledge to build a national public will to halt global warming so that we can act with confidence at such meetings. We must be able to go beyond the safety of making demands on others while remaining unwilling to be more responsible in utilizing fully our own capacities, minimal as they may be. While noting with disbelief how, in some of the richest countries, there are people who see global warming as a hoax and feel threatened by any move to cut carbon emissions, we cannot wait for global agreements alone. There is also the need to recognize and encourage sub national governments and entities that are taking positive steps.

5. Agree to make a collective and concerted push at COP16 for a definite decision on financing the costs of mitigation and adaptation for developing countries in equal measure of approximately $100 billion each per annum to be raised through clearly identified sources in the absence of precise cost estimates. We should consider seriously the various formulas and solutions suggested so far and, perhaps, more could be proposed by a panel of experts (not government functionaries) at the earliest opportunity to be agreed among ourselves. In this regard, the soon to be released report of the “UN Secretary General’s High Level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing” would be most timely and opportune.

In my capacity as the current chair of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, I would like to avail of this opportunity to inform that our association will undertake a number of initiatives including a study on climate risks in the region and ways to comprehensively address the related social, economic and environmental challenges as well as a climate related disasters initiative. Further, we have also finalized a common position to be presented at the COP16.

Bhutan, on her part, will continue to be guided by the holistic development paradigm of Gross National Happiness (GNH) to promote a green and sustainable economy and strive to mitigate and adapt to effects of climate change through our limited resources and by making best use of the token assistance we have thus far received. We are doing what we can at the cost of higher material and economic growth. Our forest cover has expanded to 72%, natural mineral resource use is being done with intergenerational equity in mind and we have vowed at the Cop 15 to remain carbon neutral for all times. In addition, Bhutan will be hosting a Climate Summit in 2011 of the four countries of the Eastern Himalayan Ecosystem. These are compulsions prompted by the need to protect our future generations and ourselves as part of a larger human race. It would be a good gesture on the part of the international community if such initiatives were to be rewarded as voluntarily as the endeavours in themselves.

Ladies and gentlemen, the increase in frequency and magnitude of disasters are the signs of a planet reeling under the pain of human abuse. They are the signs of a dying organism. Unless human society changes its way of life to one that is responsible and sustainable, the diminishing capacity of nature to support life will lead to the demise of the human race with all other life forms. Limiting our actions to dealing only with the symptoms of a deeper malaise can never be adequate. Our attempts at mitigation and adaptation will, in the end, be futile and we can only expect bigger disasters.

Without a serious reflection on the purpose of life and its relationship with material wealth, we will find no durable solution. Without choosing a holistic development paradigm in place of the conventional GDP led models that compel ever higher growth to satisfy our insatiable consumerist greed, we will only make more certain a speedier end for mankind. I urge you to engage in some serious reflection on how a more holistic, sustainable and indeed happy life can be achieved without pushing nature beyond her capacity to give.

Thank you, Tashi Delek.