The best practice is the contribution of protected areas to Gross National Happiness.
Thoughout the centuries, the Bhutanese have treasured their natural environment and have looked upon it as a source of life. Living in harmony with nature has been a way of life in Bhutan. As a landlocked country wedged between the two biggest Asian countries of China in the north and India in the east, west and south, Bhutan does not have much competitive edge other than its unique culture and pristine environment. Therefore, sustainable management and utilization of biodiversity resources will be the most rational strategy to position Bhutan on a sustainable growth path.
The relatively intact ecosystem of Bhutan and its services play a major role in promoting the wellbeing of Bhutanese people. It is a source of livelihood for more than 60% of its people. The overall contribution of ecosystem services to human wellbeing when monetized, is estimated at approximately USD 15.5 billion per year, about five times the Gross Domestic Product of USD .5 billion per year.
Gross National Happiness commonly referred to as ‘GNH’ is put-forward by His Majesty the 4th King in 1972. Since then, GNH has been pursued as a Bhutan’s alternative development model and, has inspired and guided Bhutan’s normative development approach. The philosophy squarely places human happiness and holistic well-being at the centre of the development equation. It is based on the premise that true development of human society takes place when material, spiritual, emotional and ecological wellbeing occur side by side to complement and reinforce each other.
In order to translate the multi-dimensional concept of GNH into core objectives for a more focused direction for the country’s long term development, four priority strategic areas were defined - sustainable and equitable socio-economic development; environmental conservation; preservation and promotion of culture; and good governance. They constituted the broad strategic framework through which national development processes are to be actualized for the maximization of GNH. To ensure alignment of the philosophy to development planning, indicators that capture the essence of GNH have been developed. These indicators are being broadly classified into various domains relating to the areas of psychological well being, cultural diversity and resilience, education, health, time use, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience and, living standards.
Protected areas contributing to hydropower:
Bhutan’s fast flowing river offers opportunity for hydropower development. All these rivers originate from one of the parks. A preliminary assessment conducted in 1990s estimated 30,000 MW of hydropower potential in Bhutan. With India offering a ready market, hydropower is going to be main economic sector driving Bhutan’s economic development. About 1460 MW of hydropower has already been harnessed and about 8500 MW hydropower projects are planned for completion by 2020. Significant portion of the Government revenue comes from the sale/export of Hydropower.
Protected areas contributing to tourism
Besides Hydropower, sustainable tourism will be one of the main economic backbone of Bhutan. Tourism in Bhutan is driven largely by Bhutan’s unique culture and pristine environment. It is one of the main source of foreign exchange, employment and income generation for Bhutan. The gross earnings from the tourism increased from USD 45 million in 2011 to USD 64 million in 2012, generating USD 17 million revenue to the Government.
The core principles of Bhutan’s development planning have essentially focused on fulfilling the fundamental objectives of achieving the broad based and sustainable growth, improving the quality of life, ensuring the conservation of natural environment, preserving the country’s rich culture and promoting good governance. These principles have permeated the spirit and content of all our development plan undertaken since its inception and brought Bhutan to the 21st century with its natural environment still in its pristine state. Bhutan has recognized its natural environment as a strategic resource and will continue to pursue a development path that engenders environmental conservation as one of its core principles.
Because protected areas are firmly embedded in national development priorities, they are also prioritized for management and investment by the government.