Bhutan Should Come Clean on Hydropower Megaplan

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The tiny nation of Bhutan might enjoy world renown for its environmental record, but it is overlooking concerns being raised by environmentalists over the country’s plans to construct large hydropower plants to generate 10,000 megawatts of surplus electricity for export to India.

Climate Action Tracker, an independent group, rated Bhutan’s pledged contribution to the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris as “sufficient,” a rating accorded to just five countries. Soon thereafter, the carbon comparator tool of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit praised Bhutan for being an unparalleled carbon sink, absorbing three times more carbon dioxide emissions than it produces.

A nation of about 750,000 people perched between India and China, Bhutan deserves the accolades. It measures national progress in terms of Gross National Happiness, a policy that seeks to balance economic growth and environmental conservation, and not Gross Domestic Product. Bhutan’s constitution mandates that its territory be at least 60 percent covered by forest.

The world’s only Mahayana Buddhist country, Bhutan also has huge tourism potential, but it restricts the number of tourist arrivals by imposing a mandatory tariff of $200 per person per day, a measure to protect its rich culture.

Meanwhile, Bhutan aspires to become a world leader in the use of electric vehicles and thereby reduce fossil fuel imports by 70 percent, as well as to make its agricultural system 100 percent organic by 2020.

However, 2020 is also the deadline for Bhutan to increase the generation of electricity from its current installed capacity of 1,400 MW to more than 10,000 MW. According to a 2009 protocol to a 2006 Bhutan-India agreement, New Delhi will provide grants and soft loans to Thimphu to produce 10,000 MW by 2020 and import all the surplus electricity.

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