The Kingdom of Bhutan is one of the few carbon-negative countries in the world. It managed to do something unimaginable. Being called ‘a dark horse’ on the international level, the Kingdom of Bhutan is a leading state in the field of environmental protection and biodiversity conservation. 70% of its land is covered by forests, which enhances the country’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen instead. It absorbs around nine million tonnes of carbon dioxide while producing only two million tonnes per year according to data from 2020. This is mainly due to the fact that the country’s underdeveloped economy depends particularly on two sectors – agriculture and forestry on which more than 60% of the population relies.
Figure 1 – Mullen, T. (2018). The Tiger's Nest Monastery, or Paro Taktsang, is located outside the city of Paro. Forbes. Retrieved from
The Kingdom of Bhutan’s status as one of the few carbon-negative countries in the world is not the only thing that makes it unique. While most States measure progress by estimating Gross Domestic Product, Bhutan’s government places a great emphasis on Gross National Happiness. In 1972, the first declaration on the matter was made by the fourth King of Bhutan, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. He stated that Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product, which accelerated the progress made in the field of sustainable development.
The Kingdom of Bhutan now recognizes four main pillars of such an approach: good governance, sustainable socio-economic development, cultural preservation, and environmental conservation. The country is aware of the necessity to protect its rich natural environment. It is stated in its constitution that a minimum of 60% of the Kingdom’s total land should be preserved under forest cover at all times. Moreover, protected areas cover more than 42% of the Kingdom currently, which clearly shows how holistically and progressive the country’s understanding of sustainable development is. Bhutan’s government strives to assign equal importance to non-economic aspects of citizens’ well-being while still bearing in mind the importance of economic growth.
Figure 2 – Westberg, M. (2022). The village of Jakar, best seen from above on the Kiki La pass in Bumthang’s Chokhor Valley, is one of the many areas still largely unexplored by tourists. The TCT trail may change that. National Geographic. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/article/trans-bhutan-trail
In order to enhance progress towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals, Bhutan promotes the concept of eco-tourism while closely managing the flow of tourists wishing to visit this utopian country. As of September 2022, the daily visa fee needed to enter the Kingdom of Bhutan is 200 USD per person per night, which ensures a limited number of tourists who put a strain on the country’s resources. Such an approach might seem controversial, but its aim is noble. It is no surprise that tourism threatens the environment as it is often associated with the exploitation of natural resources that could be already scarce in the area. Not only is over-consumption an issue itself, but it also leads to numerous negative consequences, including soil degradation, increased pollution, and natural habitat loss.
Using economic terminology, a negative externality of consumption occurs when society – the third party that unintentionally is affected by the consumption of tourism – benefits less from tourism than the consumers themselves. If the tourism industry is not managed well and this externality is not properly addressed, it puts at risk the inhabitants of visited places, as well as the flora and fauna, which is something Bhutan has not only realized, but also taken active action on.
Figure 3 – Sales, E. (2014). In generating clean, renewable energy from mountain streams, the run-of-the-river Dagachhu hydropower plant in southwestern Bhutan will reap benefits for the local community, neighboring India, and the South Asia region. Asian Development Bank. Retrieved from https://www.adb.org/features/bhutan-s-hydropower-sector-12-things-know
Moreover, Bhutan is committed to ensuring clean energy sources which are a key component of sustainable development. As much as 99% of the total installed capacity comes from hydropower plants. Bhutan produces such a great amount of hydroelectricity that it started selling it to neighbouring countries, including India.
Bhutan implements a balanced approach towards sustainable development that puts an emphasis on citizens’ well-being and socioeconomic growth. The Kingdom seeks to slow down the rate of climate change, however, it is only a drop in the ocean. Other countries should strive to learn from its example because there is not much time left and as Bhutan has shown, caring for the environment, economic growth, people and preservation of culture is possible all at once.
Bhutan: Committed to Conservation | Projects | WWF. (2018). World Wildlife Fund. Retrieved 2023, January 24 from https://www.worldwildlife.org/projects/bhutan-committed-to-conservation
Climate Council. (2017, April 2). Bhutan is the world’s only carbon negative country, so how did they do it? Climate Council. Retrieved 2023, January 24 from https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/bhutan-is-the-world-s-only-carbon-negative-country-so-how-did-they-do-it/
Mullen, T. (2018). The Tiger's Nest Monastery, or Paro Taktsang, is located outside the city of Paro [picture]. Forbes. Retrieved 2023, January 24 from https://www.forbes.com/sites/tmullen/2018/02/27/why-bhutan-is-still-out-of-this-world/
Nguyen, L. (2022, August 18). Bhutan: The First Carbon Negative Country In The World. Earth.org. Retrieved 2023, January 24 from https://earth.org/bhutan-carbon-negative-country/
Sales, E. (2014). In generating clean, renewable energy from mountain streams, the run-of-the-river Dagachhu hydropower plant in southwestern Bhutan will reap benefits for the local community, neighboring India, and the South Asia region [picture]. Asian Development Bank. Retrieved 2023, January 24 from https://www.adb.org/features/bhutan-s-hydropower-sector-12-things-know
Tutton, M. (2018, October 11). Bhutan is renowned for its rich Buddhist culture. CNN.v Retrieved 2023, January 24 from https://edition.cnn.com/2018/10/11/asia/bhutan-carbon-negative/index.html
Tzung, S. (2022, September 12). Carbon Negativity In Bhutan: An Inverse Free Rider Problem. Harvard International Review. Retrieved 2023, January 24 from https://hir.harvard.edu/carbon-negativity-in-bhutan-an-inverse-free-rider-problem/
Westberg, M. (2022). The village of Jakar, best seen from above on the Kiki La pass in Bumthang’s Chokhor Valley, is one of the many areas still largely unexplored by tourists. The TCT trail may change that [picture]. National Geographic. Retrieved 2023, January 24 from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/article/trans-bhutan-trail
Yeginsu, C. (2022, July 5). Famous for Happiness, and Limits on Tourism, Bhutan Will Triple Fees to Visit. New York Times. Retrieved 2023, January 24 from https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/05/travel/bhutan-tourism.html