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Champion of the Earth

April 12, 2005

Druk Gyalpo - Dragon King - Jigme Singye Wangchuk of Bhutan
Bhutan, a kingdom under the reign of Druk Gyalpo (Dragon King) Jigme Singye Wangchuck, has the environment as the centrepiece in its constitution and all of its national development plans. Bhutan has an excellent track record in the field of environment - more than 74% of its land is under forest cover and 26% of this cover is protected areas.

The Paro Resolution on Environment and Sustainable Development, declared in May 1990, states that Bhutan's natural resources base is central to a sustainable and prosperous future of the country. The development of a National Environmental strategy that will ensure the careful stewardship and sustained use of these natural resources was urged. Development should be pursued on a middle path thus ensuring that new industries, new agricultural markets and new forestry products will be carefully developed with respect to their broader environmental ramifications.

Bhutan's success in preserving its natural resources has been possible because of the country's recent entry into the economic development process, as well as the Buddhist faith, an important factor in all aspects of Bhutanese life.

Bhutan is developing a National Environment Secretariat and an Environmental Trust Fund, as well as new legislation and policies to ensure sustainable utilization of resources, promote community involvement in environmental activities, improve land use planning, and integrate traditional with modern natural resource use practices. Additionally, Bhutan will attempt to base economic growth on environmentally sound technologies, expand environmental education, and develop a family planning policy.

Bhutan boasts the most varied habitats and a rich array of animal and plant species. Under Bhutanese law, 60% of the kingdom will remain forested for all time. There is currently an astonishing array of plants - more than 5500 species, including over 300 medicinal strains. There are 165 species of mammals, including many rare and endangered animals such as the golden langur, the snow leopard and the red panda. To date, 770 species of birds have been recorded, including the rare and endangered black-necked crane.

A progressive integrated conservation and development programme reconciles the needs of the community with environmental protection, the foundation of Bhutan's entire economic ethos. National parks sustain important ecosystems and have not been developed as tourist attractions. In many cases one would not even be aware that one is entering or leaving a protected area.

Bhutan ranks in the top 10% of countries with the highest species density on earth, and it has the highest fraction of land in protected areas as well as the highest proportion of forest cover of any Asian nation.

Development in Bhutan is guided by principles that emphasise preservation of both natural and cultural heritage, as well as sustainability from subsistence to a more modern economy. Renewable natural resources remain the most important sector, and in 1998 contributed 36.1% of the Gross Domestic Product. Thus, short-term profit at the expense of long-term loss of natural heritage is not for Bhutan. Its cautious approach puts conservation first and relegates economic benefits to a secondary role.

By the late 1970s, Bhutan had established an extensive system of protected areas. Since then, among other actions, the nation has:

Established the Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation to provide long-term financing for conservation;

Revised and identified nine protected areas representative of Bhutan's diverse ecosystems, comprising 26% of land area;

Established the Nature Conservation Division within the Department of Forestry Services, with a mandate to oversee and manage protected areas;

Pledged to maintain, in perpetuity, at least 60% of land as forests;

Enacted the National Plant Quarantine Act (1993) to control the movement of diseases, insects and other pests;

Included provisions for establishing protected areas and conservation regulations in the Forest and Nature Conservation Act (1995);

Ratified the international conventions on Biological Diversity and Climate Change (1995);

Adopted the National Biodiversity Action Plan (1998);

Adopted the Middle Path, a National Environmental Strategy (1998);

Initiated a National Biodiversity Programme to oversee ex-situ conservation and sustainable utilisation of biodiversity (1998);

Legislated environmental assessments for all development and industrial activities (2000);

Guiding principles for the future development of Bhutan are complemented by a unifying concept the distinctly Bhutanese notion of Maximizing Gross National Happiness (MGNH). The aim of MGNH is to promote important values and to provide direction to the Kingdom's long-term development, and the concept must be translated into tangible goals. Towards this end, five themes are identified and provide powerful objectives for steering the process of change: human development, the promotion and preservation of culture and heritage, balanced and equitable socio-economic development, good governance, and environmentally sustainable development.

Source: UNEP's Division of Communications and Public Information
NEW YORK/NAIROBI, 19 April 2005
External links
UNEP: UN Environment Programme
UNEP: Champions of the Earth
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