Bhutan, a small country with a big example of sustainable socio-economic development in harmony with nature

Bhutan Monestry
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By Blerina Gjeka, Programme Associate and Gender Focal Point, BIOFIN 

The Kingdom of Bhutan is a small country nested among the Eastern Himalayas. A place of unparalleled beauty and rare encounters with endangered Bengal tiger, the mythical Takin – Bhutan’s national animal, the park of the Yetis, the amazing Tiger’s Nest monastery hanging at the edge of giant cliffs.

The country pursues the Gross National Happiness (GNH) philosophy which considers the level of happiness of its citizens as an indicator of prosperity and progress rather than the GDP. Based on the four GNH pillars: sustainable and equitable socio-economic development, environmental conservation, good governance, and preservation and promotion of culture, this small country is showing the world a big example of sustainable socio-economic development implemented in harmony with nature.      

Nature and biodiversity are not only a source of food and economic benefits in Bhutan, but also important cultural and spiritual values. The Bhutanese people’s love and respect for nature is deeply embedded in their culture driven by Buddhist traditions of respect for all forms of life. 

These values are at the same time reinforced by the Constitution requiring the country to maintain 60 percent of its forest coverage at all times and other commitments to remain carbon neutral and pursue an environmentally friendly development path. Several initiatives like the Bhutan for Life, Brand Bhutan and the Ecotourism programme contribute in putting the country in the global map of high interest for tourists, investors, trading and development partners. 

For a small and mountainous country, the development path has its own challenges. Bhutan is not immune impacts of climate change with flash floods and severe storms causing human and economic damages. Despite very good progress in lowering poverty rates in the past years, this continues to remain a high priority in the country’s development agenda, along with capacity building, promotion of gender equality and infrastructure development.

The Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN) is working with different government agencies and other country partners to develop sustainable finance strategies for biodiversity conservation and climate change action which also contribute to poverty reduction and social progress.

In the case of Bhutan, the BIOFIN team partnered with several other related initiatives to integrate biodiversity, climate change and poverty elements into their work in line with the three SDGs prioritised in the country: SDG1 – Poverty Reduction, SDG13 – Climate Action, and SDG15 – Life on Land.

BIOFIN National Coordinator, Ngawang Gyeltshen is confident that BIOFIN results in Bhutan can demonstrate results that will not only yield positive outcomes on biodiversity and climate change, but help connect conservation with the happiness of the Bhutanese people in their mountain stronghold.

"Our integrated approach to financing across sectors to tackle large challenges we face in preserving our biodiversity, mitigating and adapting to climate change and poverty alleviation, we believe, may be a beacon of good sustainable development practice to the rest of the world." he said. 

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The cooperative programme has produced several integrated reports analysing and providing recommendations on biodiversity and climate expenditures, policies and institutions reviews, and is now finalizing the Finance Needs Assessment report culminating with the Green Investment Plan. This plan provides a set of finance solutions to offer a clear path in the resource mobilisation efforts of the country, inform country policies, and provide useful data to the design and implementation of the 12th Five-year National Plan.

By working with other similar initiatives, such as PES, Bhutan for Life, ecotourism programmes, and REDD+, BIOFIN attempts to maximize synergies of isolated interventions on biodiversity, climate change and poverty reduction, contributing at the same time in enhancing collaboration and coordination among these sectors. The work contributed to other cross-cutting activities as well, such as capacity building and gender equality which are both important elements in the BIOFIN strategy. 

Women and men are important agents of change and key stakeholders in managing forests, ecosystems and biodiversity in Bhutan. There is a low level of participation of women in higher management and governing bodies past cultural practices which favored the education of men over women.

The draft 12th National Plan includes the promotion of gender equality and women and girls’ empowerment as one of its 16 national key result areas. The achievement of this important objective would depend among other factors by a well-coordinated inter-sectoral cooperation. At the same time, it will be important to mainstream and monitor gender perspectives in all the other priority areas (e.g., gender sensitive indicators: disaggregated number/percentage of men and women participating in forestry management training courses; or number of jobs created for men and for women in protected areas). Awareness raising and capacity development would also be necessary tools to support women participation and engagement in management structures at local and national levels. 

BIOFIN is working with different similar initiatives to promote and implement gender-responsive Finance solutions contributing to biodiversity management that targets women’s grassroots enterprises. In addition, BIOFIN will explore ways to address gender issues throughout its steps – engaging multi-stakeholder consultations with women’s groups, and supporting capacity development of women and vulnerable groups. Several areas of work have shown high potential for positive change in this aspect, such as bioprospecting, PES schemes and the ecotourism sector. 

BIOFIN in Bhutan proposes an integrated financing framework that encompasses an analysis of current policies, institutions and processes; building partnerships and coalitions among sectors; and financing through a common resource mobilization plan. This provides a unique tool to develop a resource mobilisation strategy which would attract internal and external financial resources from public, private and the donor community.

In the coming years, BIOFIN Bhutan will continue its work through the implementation of several priority finance solutions at national and local levels. The initiative will continue to work closely with government partners, other similar initiatives and most importantly with representatives of local communities, indigenous groups, and women organizations. Doing so will not only inform financing for the three priority SDGs but broader financing for development as they permeate multiple SDGs.