H.E. Maj. Gen. V. Namgyel
Ambassador of Bhutan to India
Protecting the Environment for a Better Future
The message of the sacred Vedas “Bhumi mata, putro eham prithvay” is indeed very profound and takes on greater meaning today as the health of our planet comes under serious threat from increasing environmental degradation. The Earth is our Mother and we humans are her children. The mother will nourish and nurture her children and we the people of this world will flourish if we in turn look after Mother Earth and allow her to sustain us in a clean and healthy environment.
It is no coincidence that almost all countries have mythologies and cultural beliefs about the close connection between humans and nature. Mountains and forests, rivers and lakes, the sky and the oceans, the wind and the rain, the sun and the moon and the planets and stars all had their gods or protective deities. This instilled a sense of awe, fear and respect for nature in the hearts of humans, the only species on the planet that has a latent inclination to consume more than it needs. For a long time, man lived in harmony with nature, enjoying its bounties without causing harm to Mother Earth. This went on until advances in science and technology which brought many benefits to man also began to damage the environment.
Medical advances saved lives and increased our population manifold. Scientific inputs increased agriculture’s capacity to feed more people than it was thought to be possible. Technological advances made life more comfortable and convenient but the change in lifestyle unleashed the latent desire in the human species to consume more than it needs. With rising living standards leading to higher consumption, the carbon footprint of individual consumers kept increasing to the detriment of the natural environment. Global warming and climate change are no longer just contentious issues under discussion in meetings and conferences. The vast polar icecaps are reducing in size every year and glaciers are melting away in the Karakoram Range and the mighty Himalayas. Weather patterns across the world have also become more erratic. The dangers from global warming are real and effective measures must be taken before it is too late.
If mankind does not act together to lower carbon emission and mitigate global warming, nature may strike back with her own corrective measures against man’s assault on the environment. Are the recent outbreaks of various diseases like Covid-19 a sign of nature’s protest against man’s destructive impact on the environment? Is nature trying to reduce carbon emission by reducing the human population or sending out a warning to us to desist from harming our natural habitat? After lockdowns were imposed in many countries last year, we heard reports of clearer skies and improved air quality across the world. Mountain ranges that had been shrouded from view by hazy skies for many years became visible again to people who had missed seeing these joyful sights. Should we not pause for a while and give serious thought to finding a right balance between our consumer-oriented lifestyle and the need to protect our natural environment?
Climate change has become a big international issue and many summits and conferences have been held with the United Nations playing a central role. However, the developed countries that have been responsible for global warming in the first place have not been willing to pay more for mitigation measures but want the developing nations to cut back on their carbon emissions. Developing countries point out quite justifiably that they will not achieve their economic goals if they have to make equal cuts in carbon emission. Despite this, compromises have been made, resolutions have been passed and agreements have been reached but implementation has been minimal. Meanwhile, the emission of greenhouse gases continues to increase.
Our planet has reached a critical threshold for its continued existence as a safe and healthy habitat for man and other living species. The time to take concrete steps to protect the environment has long been overdue.
Respect for nature is part of our tradition and culture in Bhutan. Environmental protection is enshrined in our Constitution which declares that every Bhutanese is a trustee of the Kingdom’s natural resources and environment for the benefit of the present and future generations. The Constitution further mandates that a minimum of 60 percent of our total land cover must be maintained under forest cover for all time. Bhutan has also declared its commitment to forever remain carbon neutral. We are doing our best to contribute to environmental conservation and our policies and efforts have been recognized. However, while we are able to set a good example and send out a positive message, the physical impact that small countries like Bhutan can make is at best very modest.
The commitment and contribution of every country to protecting the environment is necessary and important but effective results can be achieved only when big countries join in the effort and play leading roles. This is where India with her huge size and potential as a rising economic and political power can play a defining role in saving Mother Earth and her Children from the destructive effects of global warming and climate change. Reflecting the traditional respect accorded to the natural environment, India has played a constructive role in the efforts to deal with climate change. Under Prime Minister Modi’s leadership forest cover has increased in India and renewable energy capacity has been ramped up. With clean cooking fuel provided to 80 million rural households, large scale use of LED lights and far-sighted initiatives like the International Solar Alliance, India has become a Climate Champion.
If the big countries of the world shoulder responsibilities commensurate with their size and all nations join together in a collective effort we can still succeed in stemming the tide of global warming. This is the only way to ensure that Mother Earth will continue to provide a safe and healthy habitat for the benefit and wellbeing of our future generations.