Is this the cleanest and happiest nation in the world?


Bhutanese people engage in the traditional Cham Dance. Source: Shutterstock

DESPITE global warming and climate change, there is still a country on Earth that has a negative carbon rating. 

To be carbon negative means producing less the amount of carbon your environment is able to absorb. And considering how focused much of the world is on progress and development, this is no small feat.

But the Kingdom of Bhutan has this achievement under its belt and is first in the world to do so.

Thanks in large part to its massive forest cover, Bhutan reportedly absorbs more than six million tonnes of carbon annually and produces only 1.5 million.

Nestled between India and China, two of the most populous nations in the world, this tiny landlocked nation can be found wedged into the Himalayas, with a population of just over 800,000 people.

With super clean and fresh air, blankets of lush emerald forest and a bright and vibrant culture, it is easy to see why the government is so bent on maintaining nationwide happiness among its people to match the untainted natural beauty.

The Gross National Happiness Index in which the tiny Buddhist nation’s well-being is measured on was developed by King Jigme Singya Wangchuck.

The index is an attempt to bring the nation into the modern world but without losing its spiritual soul and deep-rooted culture. The philosophy of The Gross National Happiness Index drives the government of Bhutan and has influenced nations around the world.

In 2011, the United Nations General Assembly called happiness a “fundamental human goal” and urged member nations to use the example set by Bhutan and measure happiness and wellbeing.

The happy-o-meter is based on four fundamental pillars: sustainable development, environmental protection, cultural preservation and good governance – most of which Bhutan carries off seamlessly well despite an increase in tourism.

The country’s focus on “low impact” is the reason for this. Tourists were not allowed to enter this sacred nation until 1974 and camera crews weren’t allowed to capture Bhutan’s beauty until 1999.

So, how does Bhutan maintain this green and happy status?

What better way than to make sure the pillars of the Gross National Happiness Index are enforced than by writing them into the Kingdom’s Constitution? This is exactly what Bhutan has done.

The Constitution also requires Bhutan to preserve its protected forest, which accounts for 60 percent of the entire countries landmass.

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So, this means no sprawling mall complexes, hotel chains or plantations to infiltrate the negative carbon reading.

“Our enlightened monarchs have worked tirelessly to develop our country, balancing economic growth carefully with social development, environmental sustainability, and cultural preservation, all within the framework of good governance,” Bhutan Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said at a 2016 TED Talk.

How can you see this Kingdom for yourself?

Even though Bhutan is open to travelers, you can’t stroll in without a visa, and then there’s the Daily Package requirement. But it is all necessary in order to preserve Bhutan’s happiest and greenest nation title.

With the exception of visitors from India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives, all other nationalities must first obtain a visa before entering Bhutan. The visa is a reasonable US$40 and can be processed online, so no long embassy appointments.

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However, something you may have never come across before on your trips across the globe is a “Minimum Daily Package”.

This will cost around US$200-250 per person, per day, but it provides guests with at least a three-starred accommodation, all meals, a licensed Bhutanese tour guide, all internal transport and camping and trekking equipment.

Perhaps most importantly, however, is the US$65 sustainable development fee that the package covers. This goes toward free education, free healthcare, poverty alleviation, and infrastructure.

In the same TedTalk, Tobgay explained, “Our entire country generates 2.2 million tons of carbon dioxide, but our forests, they sequester more than three times that amount, so we are a net carbon sink for more than four million tons of carbon dioxide each year.”

A “carbon sink” is anything that absorbs more carbon than it releases as carbon dioxide.

Bhutan can rejoice in its fresh air as the rest of Asia, and the world, express an almighty guilty sigh as the realization that cutting down huge amounts of rainforest and building sprawling, carbon-churning cities may have prevented everyone from being as happy as the Bhutanese.