Keynote Address by Hon’ble Lyonchhen Jigmi Y.

Thinley, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Bhutan, at the Tenth Delhi Sustainable Development Summit February 5-7, 2010

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, My flight to Delhi took the usual scenic route along the entire range of the Himalayas between Nepal and Bhutan. The first time I gazed at these mountains was in 1989. It was breathtaking. I was awed and inspired by the majesty and grandeur of this unbroken range of snow-clad mountains. Interspaced with some of the highest mountains in the world, they looked so powerful, pure and pristine. It was easy to believe then that these were indeed the abode of the Gods. Dubbed the third polar region of the world, they symbolised nature's supremacy and its power to sustain life with more than one-tenth of the world's population directly depending on its waters. My flight along the same route, after a stretch of absence from the region, have not been as evocative. And the pilots who fly the route share my experience. Yesterday was the worst. There appeared to have been no snowfall in the Himalayas this year even at these heights and the Tibetan plateau beyond. If there were, the rising temperature has not only melted the fresh snow but stripped further layers from past centuries. Much of the range looked like a high wall of grey and jagged outcrop of rocks. The gods seem to have abandoned their home. An ominous blanket of brown haze threatened to break across the protective line of clouds. Even the mighty Everest and the beautiful Kanchenjunga, the third highest peak in the world, looked fragile and crestfallen with profusive patches of grey and brown. Some of the great glaciers that were clearly visible appeared so very exposed. to conjure the image of the brevity of the life of icicles that, not so long ago, used to hang from the eaves of our roofs in the Thimphu winter. All I could feel was a great sense of guilt and sadness that took me to the thought of my six-year-old granddaughter. I decided that I must, very soon, take her on a flight to Nepal just so that she could witness this dying and disappearing wonder that may not even survive until her adulthood. Those who took delight in chastising IPCC for its mention of 2035 as a possible year by which all the Himalayan glaciers could disappear at the current rate of rise in temperature, missed the point. They take undue comfort in the imperfect,
1

underdeveloped and sometimes, dishonest science of climate change. High in the vulnerable mountain Kingdom, my fellow citizens and I live, see and feel the disconcertingly rapid changes. Climate change, I believe, is not only about what scientists report, it is as much, if not more, about what we actually experience and from which we suffer. It is about the need for nations and their leaders to take strong and responsible measures. Let me be honest at the very outset. The kind of development we have embraced particularly in the last one century has not been of the kind that has advanced human civilization. It has not refined human behaviour by employing the finer senses. Ours is a world driven by the raging greed of a society obsessed with an excessive desire to consume. The insatiable nature of this obsession is evident in the way we have adopted the GDP based development model that promotes “limitless” economic growth and expansion as the means to human well being and satisfaction. It is evident in the way we have employed our genius to develop an amazing array of science and technology to exploit and abuse our planet. Growth is the imperative and for too long we have pursued it without being clear about the purpose and end state of development. No limit is set on how much and for how long growth is to continue and whether such a continuous process is sustainable in a finite world. That any kind of growth according to natural law must lead to maturation and succumb to decay has been brushed aside. Further, we have been unmindful of the reality that our planet is no longer as large or as bountiful as the one that was the inheritance of our ancestors. From a population of two billion in 1900, it is now home to 6.7 billion people who will number 9 billion in just a few more decades. As each human being inherits less and less space and resource, technological advancements continue to shrink distance and time. And having reduced our planet to a village with diminishing commons, we continue to consume more to waste more by extracting more resources with greater efficiency; by poisoning the very air, water and soil that are our sources of sustenance and being. All the while, the weakening capacity of earth to support life is becoming increasingly clear. How then can we, the dominant being, along with all other life forms whose survival is conditioned by our actions, expect to live on and endure? Surely, it is our survival that we should speak of at such an occasion. But since it is the subject of sustainable development that has brought us together, we must dwell on it if only with a full consciousness that our survival must not continue to be jeopardized by baser human instincts. We need to change and mend our ways. We need to begin by acknowledging the truth that life as we live it is propelling us toward self destruction in more ways than one. We need to open our eyes to the high price of social dislocation and environmental devastation that has been paid to achieve GDP targets. Let us
2

accept that this powerfully dominant indicator is based on the seriously flawed belief that unlimited economic growth is necessary to promote human well being. We have wilfully deluded ourselves by misusing GDP which was designed only to measure the volume of goods and services transacted in the market at a given time. We desperately need to arrive at a true understanding of the meaning of wealth or prosperity in relation to human well being, and develop a more holistic model and indicator to set human society on a sustainable path. This raises the question of political will and courage to undertake a paradigm shift that will upset not only the global economic arrangements but bring about fundamental changes in the way international and national security, finance, politics and power are structured and conducted. And then, there are unfathomable social ramifications arising from such a shift. Are we as nations, economies and as individuals, prepared to face uncertainties of such nature and magnitude? Are we capable of grasping the reality that much of the wealth we have accumulated is, in fact, illusory as made so lucidly clear by the Great Depression, the recent Asian financial crisis and the global economic recession that we think we have just overcome? It is, of course, far more convenient to forget how many so called rich people saw their balloons of wealth burst into nothingness, just as life savings and security of a home and job disappeared overnight for millions of ordinary people across the world. Life must go on. and what better way to do so than to put the wayward cart on the same old track even though past events suggest that the next time the cart goes off track, it may destroy both the cart and what is in it. The risks are too high for those whose concern is for the immediate and for whom the future is for others to care. And so, the billion-dollar bail-outs and stimulus packages to continue with more of the same toward a final catastrophe from which the pain of recovery and reconstruction will be far greater than the pains of a planned and gradual paradigm shift. The worrying thing is that there are many among us who think we still have the luxury of time to wait and see. It is heartening to note that there are various attempts at developing alternative approaches to guide our future. Among these, perhaps, the most comprehensive is the ecological footprint analysis to track and measure the integrity of our ecology or sustainability of development practices. Using some 5,000 data points for each country per year to produce an annual global footprint called the Living Planet Report, it compares earth’s biologically productive capacity (includes resources such as cropland, forest, pasture and fisheries, as well as land to absorb CO2) with the resources consumed or demanded in terms of global hectare per person, per year. According to this analysis, global ecological footprint was roughly half the regenerative capacity of the planet in 1960. By the mid 1980s, it crossed the critical threshold. In 2005, it was estimated that demand exceeded supply by 30%. This means our generation has consumed its share of the planet's resources and capacity and has already begun depriving the future generations of their share of resources and chances of survival. The Living Planet Report 2008,
3

states that, “If we continue with business as usual, by the early 2030s we will need two planets to keep up with humanity’s demand for goods and services.” The central issue in sustainable development is how can we reduce production and consumption levels to stay within the limits of biologically productive capacity of the planet? How can we ensure that in so doing, we will not lower or reverse the level of our well being? This begs for an alternative development model based on a correct notion of what constitutes human well being. As we reflect on this, we need to be mindfully clear that the planet simply does not have the capacity to sustain life for much longer if developing countries, with their larger populations, were to tread the same path that brought the North its level of affluence and lifestyle. Sustainable development, as expressed in the ecological footprint account, is a model for equilibrium between the supply and demand of resources. It is also about inter-generational equity in terms of resource distribution. But it does not, at least in conceptual terms, explicitly address in a holistic way, the issue of what really constitutes human well being which, in its highest state, has got to be happiness. We in Bhutan believe that happiness must be the purpose of development. In this regard, Bhutan has been guided for several decades now by the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH), which, while being consistent with the sustainable development concept, goes beyond it to actually relate development to contentment and happiness. Conceived by our Fourth King, it is based on the belief that happiness can be best achieved through development that balances the needs of the body with those of the mind within a stable and sustainable environment. It stresses that material enrichment must not lead to spiritual impoverishment and that it must address emotional and psychological needs of the individual. Above all, GNH requires that since the single most important desire of all citizens is happiness, the endeavour of government must be to create conditions that would enable its citizens to pursue happiness. Even our Constitution holds the state as having the responsibility of promoting GNH as an arbiter of public policies and plans. Accordingly, the Royal Government has undertaken this responsibility through a four-pronged strategy popularly referred to as the four pillars of GNH. All development policies and programmes of the Kingdom must serve to strengthen these four pillars. These are:

a) b) c) d)

equitable and sustainable socio-economic development, conservation of the environment, preservation and promotion of culture and promotion of good governance.

These four pillars are elaborated into nine domains, namely: living standard, health, education, time use, psychological well being, culture, community vitality
4

and ecological integrity. The 72 variables that determine the status of each of these domains are given equal weight in their measurement and can be aggregated into a single indicator to reveal a more truthful and reliable assessment of a country’s progress and well being. Full cost accounting shall be our next endeavour. Sustainability, under GNH, assumes a broader meaning and frame to include ecological, cultural, social, psychological and political as well as economic development. We have begun piloting a screening process by the planning commission, known as the GNH Commission, whereby every policy, programme and project will now be assessed in terms of its negative, positive or neutral GNH value. Some of the results of having been guided by GNH in our development, to name a few, are: • A constitutional requirement that our country must always have a minimum forest cover of 60%. Presently, our forest cover is more than 72% with 51% of our land falling under parks and protected nature reserves. A policy that values the forest for its ecological value above that of its commercial worth. A voluntary pledge that Bhutan will always remain carbon negative, meaning that its carbon sequestration capacity will exceed the amount of GHGs it releases. A tourism policy that emphasizes high quality, low impact (volume). Stringent environmental laws governing industrial licensing.

• •

• •

We are now in the process of formulating policies that will require the construction industry to employ green technology and practices. At the same time, a policy decision has been taken and a process is underway to augment our school curricula promoting eco-literacy among our students within zero-waste and green schools. I have spoken very briefly of my country’s development philosophy to humbly suggest that as we search for a truly holistic and sustainable development paradigm, there might be virtue in considering the GNH inspired development model. I have also taken the liberty to submit to the august gathering that, despite its limitations as a least developed country, the kingdom of Bhutan, a country most vulnerable to climate change, is doing its part to protect and save our planet. The importance of this Summit and its subject is evident in the level and diversity of participation that it has attracted. My hope is that having come to this great city with high expectations, we will achieve something remarkable and truly satisfying of the nature that can only come from courage to reconcile with the truth that the very survival of mankind is threatened not by external forces but by its own foolish actions. The destruction of earth and with it our own extinction is
5

not inevitable. We have a choice. The power to exercise the right choice lies in our ability to transcend narrow and short-term national interests and fears. I urge this most distinguished gathering to exercise wisdom so that we can together set ourselves on an irreproachable path to Mexico and hence to a safe and secure future for mankind. As I take my return flight across the Himalayas, I would like to be able to dream that the gods will return to their abode and that my grand-daughter will, some day, delight and inspire her own grandchild with the view of the majestic grandeur of the great Himalayas. Tashi Delek !

6

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful