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Bhutan is the only carbon negative country in the world

By Tyler Protano-Goodwin 11 months ago

Majestic fog-enshrouded temples nestled in mountainous terrain is often the first image that one conjures up when thinking of Bhutan. That is if one is able to conjure up an image at all.

Bhutan is a seldom travelled destination. A visa costs 200 GBP per day, making it a bit of a mystery in the minds of many travellers.

However, despite being a bit of a social recluse (or perhaps because of it), Bhutan has emerged as a dark horse in both political and environmental progression.

Bhutan has long based their political decisions on a Gross National Happiness (GNH) index, abandoning economic growth as their compass. It’s the only country in the world to make such a switch and the world’s first country to become carbon negative.

Coincidence? Not a chance.

Read more: The Guardian further explains Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index


bhutan is the only carbon negative country

Carbon dioxide is the leading greenhouse gas emission produced by humans. So it contributes most dramatically to worldwide climate change. Most countries produce far more carbon dioxide than they are able to absorb. This means they are unfortunately contributing to the amount of unwanted carbon that makes its way into the atmosphere.

Read more: Six animal species and how they are affected by climate change

Bhutan, however, is an anomaly. Thanks to Bhutan’s massive tree cover, 72% of the country is still forested. The country has become a carbon sink. Being a carbon sink means that Bhutan absorbs over six million tons of carbon annually while only producing around 1.5 million tons.

Bhutan also exports most of the renewable hydro-electric power they generate from their rivers. This offsets millions of tons of carbon dioxide. By 2020, Bhutan aims to export enough electricity to offset 17 million tons of carbon dioxide.

Go ahead, smile, this kind of accomplishment deserves it.


bhutan is the only carbon negative country

The condition of our environment will always be a central component of humanity’s happiness. Because Bhutan’s political agenda is based on their GNH index model, environmental protection quickly became a top priority.

It started with a promise made back in 2009 during COP15 in Copenhagen, to remain carbon neutral for all time. At COP 21 in 2016, Bhutan reiterated that promise.

Here are some of the ways Bhutan became carbon neutral:

  • A ban was put on export logging.
  • The constitution was amended to include that forested areas would not drop below 60%.
  • Free hydroelectric power generated by Bhutan’s many rivers was utilised over environmentally devastating fossil fuels.
  • Free electricity is provided to rural farmers.

It’s quite simple really: Bhutan stopped destroying their environment and started protecting it, something every country and individual has the power to do.

Find out more: Environmental Conservation the Bhutanese Way


For a country that has already gained the world’s respect and attention, Bhutan has a big reputation to uphold, and luckily even bigger plans to do so.

By 2030 Bhutan plans to reach zero net greenhouse gas admission and to produce zero waste. This means putting a comprehensive plan of action into place, with items such as increasing its reliance on renewable energy sources like wind, biogas, and solar power.

bhutan becomes first carbon negative country

Other creative environmental initiatives include a partnership with Nissan to provide the country with electrical cars with the intention of eventually changing all vehicles to electric. The government has also started providing rural farmers with free electricity in order to lessen their dependence on wood stoves for cooking.

Plus, even more trees have been planted. In June 2015, volunteers set a world record by planting 49,672 trees in just one hour.

Every year, the government of Bhutan sets aside resources to conserve parks. This includes prevention of hunting and poaching, and to help communities who live in parks to manage resources.

In his 2016 Ted Talk, “This country isn’t just carbon neutral – it’s carbon negative”,  Tshering Tobhay, the Prime Minister of Bhutan, illuminated the country’s innovative strategies.

His talk ended with a message: “I invite you to help me, to carry this dream beyond our borders to all those who care about our planet’s future. After all, we’re here to dream together, to work together, to fight climate change together, to protect our planet together. Because the reality is we are in it together.”

Progressive, mindful, considerate of others, and impressively creative: If Bhutan were a person, they would be easy to fall in love with.

volunteer in conservation and climate change with GVI

Are you ready to contribute to environmental conservation as a volunteer? GVI offers programs all around the world, such as a climate change and coral bleaching program in Seychelles. You can join a global network of people who want to be part of making a difference. Check out our volunteer abroad programs.