A milestone in Bhutan’s journey to adapt to climate change

October 12, 2023

Bhutan's National Adaptation Plan represents its unique ethos, deeply rooted in the philosophy of Gross National Happiness.

Photo: UNDP Bhutan

Bhutanese officials, development partners and journalists gathered together to officially launch the country’s National Adaptation Plan (NAP) last month in the capital, Thimphu. It was a momentous occasion, abuzz with anticipation and optimism, with the country joining 16 other Least Developed Countries in achieving this milestone. 

It was celebratory because in the fight against climate change, National Adaptation Plans are vital. They provide a comprehensive and strategic framework that guides a country's efforts to prepare for and adjust to the impact of climate change, safeguarding both people and nature.

For Bhutan, however, the National Adaptation Plan represents even more than a roadmap for climate action. It reflects our unique ethos, deeply rooted in the philosophy of Gross National Happiness. In essence, a vision to create, a prosperous, resilient and carbon neutral Bhutan where the pursuit of gross national happiness for the present and future generations is secure under a changing climate”.

It is no small feat. It marks the culmination of several years’ meticulous planning and rigorous consultation with government agencies, regional and local planners, civil society, academia, and the private sector. 

Bhutan is remarkable because it is one of three countries in the world that's carbon negative. Its forests absorb more carbon dioxide than the country emits. At the same time, the country remains incredibly vulnerable to climate change. 

Rapidly melting glaciers are magnifying the risk of glacial lake outburst floods and disrupting the annual flow of water to communities. Increasingly unpredictable rainfall is causing landslides and flash floods in some areas of the country and drying up water sources in others. The impacts of climate change extend to the hydropower and agriculture sectors that help drive Bhutan’s economic development. 

To address the challenges, in 2019, with support from the Green Climate Fund and UNDP, the Royal Government embarked on a US$2.9 million project to formulate its National Adaptation Plan

The journey began with taking an in-depth look at the country’s priority sectors – water, agriculture, forests and biodiversity, energy, and human health – the current and future climate risks, and the skills required for effective adaptation. The regions most vulnerable to climate impacts were also pinpointed, along with their capacity to adapt. 

Four years later, we have a truly comprehensive, integrated plan. One which encompasses efforts at national and local government levels, while also mainstreaming adaptation across the main sectors of the economy. It is the product of a collective endeavour that has engaged all of society, with efforts made to foster awareness and buy-in from the national down to the community level.

It is transparent, inclusive, and wide-ranging, with consideration of the disproportionate impacts of climate change on vulnerable groups, communities, and ecosystems. 

The National Adaptation Plan does not stand alone but builds on Bhutan’s past and ongoing efforts to identify and respond to climate change. This includes a comprehensive National Adaptation Programme of Action, Bhutan’s Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement, and its current Five-Year Plan with a focus on climate and disaster resilience.        

It is also closely tied with our national Climate Change Policy. Adopted in 2020, this policy calls for building resilience and reducing vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, with an emphasis on “ecologically balanced sustainable development” and remaining carbon neutral. 

To ensure accountability and effectiveness, robust monitoring and evaluation mechanisms have been baked into the National Adaptation Plan at three levels. First, in assessing progress in implementing the NAP’s adaptation priorities; second, looking at the adaptation actions at the national level to ensure they are aligned with Bhutan’s National Climate Change Policy 2020; and third, to support international reporting commitments under the global Paris Agreement. 

Our National Adaptation Plan journey, years in the making, reflects a collective endeavor, uniting diverse stakeholders from all walks of life to create a transparent, inclusive, and far-reaching plan. 

We are already seeing momentum grow. The findings and recommendations outlined in the National Adaptation Plan have already given rise to two new climate projects, one focusing on building climate resilience in the water sector and the other seeking to build urban resilience in the face of the climate crisis. 

While we celebrate this moment, the launch signifies not the end, but a steppingstone on our adaptation journey, ensuring the health, wealth, and wellbeing of generations to come. 

Now, it's time to turn the plan into action.