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Bhutan, Gross National Happiness and Sustainable Development (fascinating!)

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Published on Sep 5, 2012

Bhutan, a small country enshrined in the Himalaya's leads the way in the pursuit of holistic, inclusive and truly environmentally sustainable development.

This commitment emanates from the visionary statement in the early 1970s, of His Majesty, the Fourth King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who said that Gross National Happiness was more important than the Gross National Product.

This Sustainable Development philosophy has its roots in the Buddhist belief that there is more to life than material development. According to beliefs, true development happens when spiritual, social, environmental, and economic developments occur in harmony with each other.

Since then all policies and laws in Bhutan need to be in line with the four pillars of Gross National Happiness, which are: Equitable socio-economic development, Preservation of culture, Conservation of the environment, and Good governance.

This has become Bhutan's central development philosophy, and has made the country a champion in the pursuit of Sustainable Development.

The joint UNDP-UNEP Poverty-Environment Initiative, PEI, is supporting the Royal Government of Bhutan's efforts in ensuring this greening effort is reflected in its development plans, programmes and budgets. In 2010, a Joint Support Programme with the Gross National Happiness Commission as the lead agency was implemented to enhance capacity of central and local government functionaries and officials including CSOs/NGOs to make sure that any development decision taken, contributes to achieving environmentally sustainable development.

One of the key achievements has been the "greening" of the eleventh Development Plan of the Kingdom of Bhutan which starts implementation from July 2013 to June 2018. This Plan will guide any decision taken in the following 5 years. It includes a series of Key objectives set out for each of Bhutan's sectors together with indicators to monitor its progress.

The Plan is coupled with training to public officials, decision makers and planners, which help them, take better development decisions both at the central and at the local levels.

A Reference Group to Green Government's work has been created. It has already contributed to helping a number of Ministries, agencies and sectors making their procedures and work environmentally sustainable.

In terms of macro-level policy, Bhutan has decided to become a carbon neutral nation and the a totally Organic Country.

It has equipped itself with a Policy screening tool, which rejects policies that do not contribute to Sustainable Development.

In terms of regulations, the environment is enshrined in the Constitution. For example, the Constitution requires Bhutan to preserve 60% of its territory as forest for all times to come.

On the basis of interventions on the ground, a good example is roads, where construction has to comply with strict environmental standards and projects cannot be undertaken without the consent of the Community.

To reduce carbon emissions, a green tax on private transport has been approved, and a study on eco-efficient public transportation has been conducted in Thimpu. Every Tuesday has now become official "walking/pedestrian day" where no private transport is allowed in urban areas except for city buses.

The Kingdom and the people of Bhutan can consider themselves as an example to follow in the effort of successfully combining the country's right to development and environmental sustainability.

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