Anyone who decides to visit my country, Bhutan, will undoubtedly admire its unique flora and fauna. Bhutan’s virtually untouched forests are located at a wide variety of altitudes and climatic areas. Travelers visiting Bhutan are often guided through mountainous hiking trails that stretch throughout these forests and along the most beautiful rivers. But breathtaking views are not the only reasons why Bhutan’s forests are so treasured.
Protecting Bhutan’s forests
Located between China and India, Bhutan is the only country whose forests fully manage to keep the country carbon neutral. With a total population of only about 800,000 people, we place environmental conservation and sustainable energy efforts at the heart of our national identity. The former Prime Minister of Bhutan, Tsering Tobgey, giving a TED talk in 2016, said: “Our enlightened monarchs have worked tirelessly to develop our country, carefully balancing economic growth with social development, environmental sustainability and cultural preservation. All within a framework of good governance.” This logic is spelled out in the Constitution of Bhutan. By law, at least 60% of the country should be covered by forests. It comes as no surprise that Bhutan embraced the idea of REDD+, given its huge potential to complement the efforts of the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGoB) in conservation and sustainable management of our forest resources.
Bhutan’s REDD+ journey
Bhutan’s REDD+ program started in 2010, with support from the UN-REDD Programme. Since then, several seminars and workshops have been organized at both national and local levels, helping with the delivery of our REDD+ message to relevant stakeholders. In December 2010, with technical assistance from SNV Netherlands Development Organisation, a scoping study for REDD+ was carried out to address the feasibility of REDD+ activities. In 2013, Bhutan prepared its REDD+ Readiness Preparation Proposal (R-PP) with support from the UN-REDD Programme, which was then submitted to, and approved by, the FCPF in December, 2013.
The main outcome of the REDD+ readiness programme was identified as Bhutan’s National REDD+ Strategy and Implementation Framework, including the National Forest Monitoring System (NFMS), its Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV) function, the Forest Reference (Emission) Level (FREL/FRL) and the Safeguard Information System (SIS). Bhutan is continuing its journey through the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) of the World Bank Group, and in this framework – through a technical collaboration with UN-REDD – also developed a National Forest Monitoring Action Plan.
RGoB has also successfully completed its first full National Forest Inventory (NFI), supported by SNV, Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation, European Union, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and FCPF. NFI results were presented in two reports: NFI Report Volume I and Volume II. The National Land Use and Land Cover map was also updated in 2016. Additionally, a study of drivers of deforestation and degradation was completed in 2017.
Since forests remain crucial for the rural communities of Bhutan (for timber, fuelwood, grazing fodder and vegetables), all REDD+ efforts in the country have been implemented with a strong community-based forestry approach. We constantly seek to strengthen the link between people and forests in order to contribute to livelihood improvements, environmental conservation and sustainable use of forests.
Currently, Bhutan has a forest cover of 70.77%, 3.39% of alpine scrub and another 9.74% under shrubs, with 51.34% of the total area under Protected Area management. This is mainly attributed to Bhutan’s enabling environment for conservation and sustainable forest management. With support from various partners, we are eager to move forward in our REDD+ ambitions and conserve our forests for many generations to come.