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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

we will make our position very clear and unless we send this message through, it will be difficult for us to mobilize international support

As the 17th Conference of parties (COP17) approaches, the National Environment Commission’s Secretary, Dr. Ugyen Tshewang, who will be participating at the summit, talks to Business Bhutan’s Dawa T Wangchuk on Bhutan’s stand.

bhutan to seek a definite time line for emission cuts by developed countries at cop17

Bhutan will be looking forward to a meaningful commitment for emission reductions and implementation of the agreements from Cancun towards supporting adaptation at COP 17 in Durban, South Africa, later this month.

green spending equals 2.9% of gdp

Bhutan’s spending on environment has increased in the last fiscal from that of the year before and is described to be relatively better than other countries

transport sector to go green

Green House Gas (GHG) is one of the major contributors to climate change and the transport sector is also one of the sources for GHG emissions.

Emissions have been growing mostly in the energy and industrial sector. Emissions were most significant from agriculture sector due to methane and nitrous oxide from livestock management.

Between the first GHG inventory of 1994 and 2000, emissions from energy grew at a rate of 21.4% a year, mostly due to transport and industrial growth.

Apart for mitigation options for other sectors, the transport sector also has various options. The second national communication report which will be presented at the 17th Conference of Parties at Durban in South Africa includes theses options.

The report says that transport demand management which includes proper design of urban areas and promotion of non-motorized transport are seen as an important mitigation measures for the transport sector.

“Some of the management strategies explored in the surface Transport Master Plan for Bhutan provide various options for mitigation in the transport sector,” states the report.

The report says that improving efficiency of petrol and diesel vehicles are important.

For this, vehicle emission standards have been established and import duties removed for spare parts that are essential in engine exhaust control.

Other measures taken include the check on quality of fuel imported after vehicle emissions monitoring revealed that fuel quality was one of the major causes of vehicle pollution in Bhutan.

“The import of old and second hand vehicles are prohibited in Bhutan and so far prevented the dumping of old and inefficient vehicles in the country which can increase green house gas emissions,” says the report.

The report also suggests other options like promotion of alternative fuels, electric and hybrid technologies and mass transport options.

“Vehicles running on alternative fuels are becoming reality in many countries often with less or practically zero pollutants and there are various options for reducing transport emissions in Bhutan,” states the report.

Some of the options are compressed natural gas as these gases are safe, clean and cheaper fuel for transport which will reduce GHG emissions and other pollutants.

The report says that compressed natural gas filling stations are more complex than regular fuel stations as high pressure, high cost of compressors, storage and dispensers are involved. “And so lack of reserves, infrastructure and difficult terrain may be barriers,” states the report.

Another option is the liquefied petroleum gas which is superior o petrol and diesel in terms of vehicular emissions. The emissions of vehicles running on LPG comprise 75% less carbon monoxide, 85% less hydrocarbons, and 40% less nitrous oxide. “These results in 87% less ozone depletion as compared to vehicles running on petrol,” says the report.

Bio-fuel is another efficient, environment friendly and natural energy alternative to petroleum based fuels. “Ethanol and bio-diesel can be used with a certain percent of blending in petrol and diesel vehicles respectively and can reduce emissions and improve urban air quality,” says the report.

The report also says that with abundant and cheap hydroelectricity, use of electricity for mass transport and electric vehicles for personal transport are viable options.

There are other options for mass transit such as electric trolley busses and light rail transit which are being explored through the Bhutan Urban Transport Systems Project as alternative transport systems.

“Mass transportation systems must be promoted to tackle congestion and air pollution in the major urban areas of Bhutan,” states the report.

Bhutan has been seeing a rapid growth of vehicles year after year. Today, Bhutan has over 53,382 vehicles.

good weather helps meet the set target and medical transit camp saves a life

This year the team reduced the water level by 1.45 meters taking the total to 3.68 meters. It is now left with 1.32 meters to meet the overall target.
Around 40 women were also hired to reduce the water level at the Thorthormi lake. Pic: Karma Toeb

This year, a little more than half the number of required workers, hired to reduce the water level of Bhutan’s most dangerous glacier lake, Lake Thorthormi, met the 1.4 meters set target.

The 209 workers including 40 women were able to bring down the water level by 1.45 meters.

The team leader, Karma Toeb, said it was all due to good weather. “We had no difficulties of any kind and we didn’t lose any single day of excavation due to bad weather,” he said, adding that the weather was on their side this year.

Compared to last year, a little more than half the number of workers required were on the site. The number of people who turned up at Thanza was only 131, but managed to recruit local residents as time passed by. The required number of workers was 360. “We did a good work this year compared to last year. Last year, there were many workers but this year despite less workers and shorter period of excavation we managed everything well,” he said.

“We will need at least one more year of working season to complete the project,” says Karma Toeb.

The project was to be completed within four years of working season which ends this year and reduce the water level by 5 meters. But in 2008 when the project started no excavation work was done due to various technical reasons. Instead of four working seasons the project had to do with only three working seasons.

The project manager, Dowchu Drukpa, said one more year of working season will be extended. “Even with less number of workers, we managed to meet the target this year. With another working season and good weather we might be able to complete the project,” he said.

Not only the excavation work turned out well this year but one of the workers also ducked the unfortunate incident that occurred last year. After the three unfortunate deaths last year, the project initiated various programs of which one was to set up transit medical camps at two different locations.

One transit medical camp was set up at 3,900 meters before the highest pass toward Lunana and the other after the highest pass at around 4,100 meters. And this helped save a life. While the team was about to reach the highest pass, one of the workers developed serious altitude sickness. He could not move any further. “He could not even descend back so a medical team was mobilized from the first transit medical camp to come and get him,” said karma Toeb.

The medical team arrived at the right moment and he was taken back. “The medical camps helped a lot. It saved one human life,” said the project manager, Dowchu Drukpa.

In 2009, the workers reduced the water level by 86 centimeter while last year they achieved 1.37 meters. This year the team achieved 1.45 meters taking the total to 3.68 meters. It is now left with 1.32 meters to meet the overall target.

agriculture can be the solution for its own climate change problem

The implementation of climate smart agriculture practices will reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Even though agriculture is most vulnerable to climate change, it is also one of the major contributors to climate change. Yet, agriculture itself can be a part of the solution.

And the only way to tackle climate change while producing more food to feed the world’s growing population is climate smart agriculture.

At one of the side events of Bhutan Climate Summit held in Thimphu, an international development organization, SNV, held a session on Climate Smart Agriculture ‘Building Resilience through Organic Techniques’.

Speaking at the session, Climate smart agriculture expert, Dr. Thimmaiah, said agriculture with modern inputs like synthetic agro chemicals are one of the major causes of climate change because it contributes a significant proportion of greenhouse gases.

He said the use of these chemicals constitutes about 15% of greenhouse gases. “If you get back and see the production of these fertilizers, then it accounts to nearly 30% of green house gases. So to a large extent synthetic agro chemicals are the main reasons for the climate change in agriculture,” he said.

He said that while agriculture is most vulnerable to climate change, agriculture can also be a part of the solution.

“Farmers face challenges due to climate change, but they could also play a major role in addressing it,” he added.

He said other greenhouse gas emitters are rice cultivation where there is a flooding condition. “When you have the flooded condition it releases methane gas which contributes to around 10% of greenhouse gas,” he said.

Industrialized farming also contributes to greenhouse gas emission. Industrialized farming is when there are large number of cattle in confined places and are being fed.

“But in Bhutan we don’t have this problem since the cattle our farmers keep are the local ones and also not in large numbers,” said Dr. Thimmaiah, adding that in Bhutan cattle are not kept in confined areas but grazes freely.

Dr. Thimmaiah said there needs to be transformations in the management of soil, water, landscapes to ensure sustainable higher productivity and resilience while reducing the carbon footprint.

He said by increasing the organic content of the soil through conservation tillage, its water holding capacity increases, making yields more resilient and reducing erosion. “Agriculture can absorb carbon into the soil rather than emitting it. Soil can store three times more carbon than atmosphere and five times as much as forest,” he said.

According to some estimates, soils under eco-friendly farm practices can sequester 14% of the current annual CO2 emission.

Climate smart agriculture also gives attention to landscape approaches, for example, integrated planning of land, agriculture, forest, fisheries and water to ensure synergies are captured.

This will prepare grounds for organic production and improved market linkages, which can increase people’s ability to adapt to potential changes in climate, both for subsistence farming and for greater market orientation.

The session highlighted SNV’s support to agriculture value chains in Bhutan (supporting the national organic standards, promotion of low-cost agriculture technologies).

Dr. Thimmaiah said climate change will affect agriculture through various unusual outbreaks of pests and diseases, erratic rainfall, windstorms, droughts and flash floods.

For example, in 1996 rice blast epidemic caused around 80-90% crop loss while in 2007 50% of maize production was destroyed due to corn blight disease.

Climate smart agriculture is important for developing countries to meet the challenges of food security and climate change.

Adaptation and mitigation based on organic agriculture can build on well established practices of organic agriculture as a sustainable livelihood strategy.

Dr. Thimmaiah said climate smart agriculture can increase agriculture productivity, agro-ecosystem resilience, reduce greenhouse gas emission and facilitate carbon capture. “It will also enhance the achievement of national food security and development goals,” he added.

Climate smart agriculture is also a farming system approach that fosters sustainable agriculture environment, builds resilience in farming practices, and reduce dependency on external inputs.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

countries most vulnerable to climate change to meet ahead of cop17

As the global summit for climate talks approaches, vulnerable countries make a point to form a united voice

A group of 32 vulnerable countries, which created the Climate Change Vulnerable Forum, including Bhutan is set to meet in Dhaka, two weeks ahead of UN climate talks (the 17th Conference of Parties) in Durban, South Africa, to forge a common agenda for the negotiation.

The Climate Vulnerable Forum includes countries from Africa, Asia, and the Pacific, representing some of the most vulnerable countries to the adverse impacts of climate change.

The secretary of the National Environment Commission of Bhutan, Dr. UgyenTshewang, said it is good to have a single voice and partnership in coming out with a common position.

“If leaders come together and come out with a strong common position it will benefit everyone,” said Dr. Ugyen Tshewang.

He also said the developing countries have been active and participatory and it is now the time that developed countries take part in it.

Speaking at a press conference in Dhaka, the Bangladesh State Minister for Environment and Forest, Dr. Hasan Mahmud, said the forum is to forge a united voice to raise the vulnerable countries’ concerns for release of green climate fund and fast-start fund for adaptation and technology transfer without condition for mitigation measures at Durban.

The Bangladeshi foreign minister, Dipu Moni, said the forum meeting aims at creating public awareness of the vulnerability issues and challenges globally and take those to the climate negotiations.

“It is expected to forge an opportunity for the vulnerable countries to take the momentum of Cancun negotiation further for global support to combat climate change,” she said.

The forum was founded at the initiative of the Maldives when eleven vulnerable countries from across the world met in Male in November 2009 to highlight their challenges and seek international assistance.

These countries include the Maldives, Kiribati, Bangladesh, Barbados, Bhutan, Ghana, Kenya, Nepal, Rwanda, Tanzania and Vietnam. The first summit of the forum adopted a declaration which expressed alarm at effects of human-induced global warming and sought international assistance to combat the dangers of man-made calamities.

The report published by the Climate Vulnerable Forum in 2010, titled ‘Climate Vulnerability Monitor 2010 – State of the climate crises’ placed Bhutan in the severe countries category. Severe countries category include countries which are the second most vulnerable to climate change.

“Severe countries are facing challenges that would place heavy additional stress in any given impact area. The majority of Severe countries will become Acute by 2030 unless action is taken to counteract the growing impact on these countries,” says the report.

The delegates of the participating countries are expected to issue a declaration from the vulnerable countries for action by industrialized nations and urgent support while they are also expected to affirm their determination to pursue green and low carbon growth development.

The objectives of the Bangladesh Climate Vulnerability Forum is to increase the level of awareness, identify and develop areas of common interest, build an enhanced understanding among observer state parties and other international actors, clarify climate change mainstreaming, and maximize clean development mechanism potential.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

regional climate summit won’t wait for a global agreement

Facing common challenges and concerns, four eastern Himalayan countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal – are now a step closer to the region’s own climate summit.

A high level policy meeting between the four countries was held in Thimphu last week which further fine tuned the framework of cooperation.

The delegates of the four countries further discussed the areas of cooperation on the four themes of water security, biodiversity persistence, food security, and energy security identified by the expert groups. The document will be presented to the ministerial level meeting on November 18.

It was also decided that the countries will hold its own national discussions on the implementation arrangement model and come up with feedbacks and suggestions.

Speaking at the meet, the agriculture minister, Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho, said the journey to the summit had been inspiring in spite of the inherent difficulties faced from time to time.

“The process is unique as it is entirely driven by the four countries and that the issues discussed and emerging results are in line with their own needs and priorities rather than those of external agency or agencies,” said Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho.

The summit will be limited to adaptation measures to climate change and more complex issues like green house gas (GHG) mitigation measures will not be pursued.

The four countries also agreed that bilateral issues related to any of the themes will not be discussed as they are clearly within the domain of the parties concerned and not a regional issue.

In July this year, these countries had an expert group meet on the four themes. Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho said the expert group meet revealed that the countries shared common challenges and concerns and to address this effectively increased cooperation was needed.

“If we are to achieve meaningful results, we have to think like citizens of this common eco-region and not just as citizens of our own countries,” said Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho.

Lyonpo said the four countries together have a better chance of securing a brighter future for the millions of people in the region by ensuring food, water, and energy security and by conserving the rich biological diversity.

He reminded that the Eastern Himalayan region cannot wait for a global agreement on the level of emission of GHG reduction or controlling the global temperature rise.

He said the glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, rivers drying up, crop yields decreasing, and people are already suffering from increased frequency of natural disasters like floods and droughts.

“We cannot simply wait till disasters happen, we must act now for the cost of inaction and indifference now would spell unimaginable scales of loss and destruction in future,” he said.

There will be a ministerial level meeting on November 18 while the summit will take place the following day.