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HIS EXCELLENCY JIGMI Y. THINLEY
PRIME MINISTER OF THE
KINGDOM OF BHUTAN
Closing Session of the 2012 Conference of the International Society for Ecological Economics
5 pm, 19 June, 2012, Guanabara Palace Hotel, Candelária, Av. Presidente Vargas, Centro, Rio de Janeiro.
Thank you Bob. After having listened to Dr. William Rees and Mathis Wackernagel, I don’t know if I have anything to offer. But we must not give in to despair. Society is addicted to bad ways, but we must and will get out of this addiction.
My friend and colleague, Dr. Bob Costanza, and esteemed scientists, economists, scholars and other respected members of the International Society for Ecological Economics.
Allow me to begin by offering my most profound congratulations to Dr. William Rees and to Global Footprint Network President Dr. Mathis Wackernagel ― co-creators of the Ecological Footprint (applause). I offer my congratulations to them for their receipt here in Rio of the 2012 Kenneth E. Boulding Award, the world’s top honour in ecological economics. This award means a lot to me personally, as I have known Mathis since 2005 when he presented the pivotal Ecological Footprint work to the Second International Conference on Gross National Happiness. And he joined us again to present the Footprint at a meeting we hosted at the United Nations in April this year about which I’ll say more.
A special ISEE release states that the prestigious biennial Boulding award honours “outstanding individuals who have contributed original and seminal approaches that have furthered our understanding of the interfaces between the social, ecological, ethical, economic and political dimensions of our world.” That statement perfectly expresses the admiration I have long felt for the pioneering and ground-breaking work of Drs. Rees and Wackernagel.
The Ecological Footprint is certainly one of the most important and influential measurement and communication tools of the century. I regularly use the Footprint results in my own statements, and indeed rely on that information to understand and communicate the devastating impact of current consumption patterns on the world’s limited resource base and to urge more sustainable policies. It is without question one of the most powerful ways to put the responsibility for sustainability firmly on all our shoulders through awareness of every resource we consume and every nuance of our behaviours and lifestyles.
But more than that! I can think of no instrument that more effectively joins the social and ecological dimensions of reality. By demonstrating the disproportionate contribution of wealthier consumers to current global overshoot, the Ecological Footprint is also one of the clearest ways to make the case for fairer distribution and greater global equity.
Indeed “brilliant” would be an understatement for the discovery, development, and use of this extraordinary tool! Congratulations Bill and Mathis on this vital achievement, and my gratitude to ISEE for acknowledging that splendid contribution through this year’s Kenneth E. Boulding Award! Once again, congratulations. (Applause).
Indeed, it’s my appreciation for the contributions of so many of you here that makes me truly delighted be with you all this evening here in Rio. I would go so far as to say that your work as ecological economists should actually be the primary reference point for the Summit that is about to start. (Applause). I do pray that the Summit beginning tomorrow will produce the innovation, vision, clear thinking, and decisive action needed to save life on this precious planet that we have inherited from past generations. But I think we know that, in practice, the real action, innovative thinking, and outstanding scholarship has come and will continue to come from you and from other great scientists, progressive economists, thinkers, and civil society groups like yours.
Indeed, what I find most encouraging in this moment of life-threatening planetary crisis and malaise is the powerful surge of brilliant ideas and pioneering activity from great minds and civil society movements around the world ― taking the lead where governments fear to tread, and giving courageous expression to humankind’s basic goodness and inherent wisdom. This wisdom and energy will and must generate the political will to act.
And so it is to you that we look to continue taking the lead and to continue your superb and vital research, teaching, and writing in the field of ecological economics that has revolutionized the field of economics. You have demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt that it is absurd to isolate economic systems from the encompassing ecosystem that provides the life support and resources these economies need to survive and function, and which absorbs their wastes. More than that, your research has convincingly scotched the alleged dichotomy between jobs and environment, and proved that ecologically responsible behaviour makes economic and business sense, and creates good jobs.
Indeed, I can think of no field of study that has greater capability of persuading and cajoling governments to act responsibly than your own, and that’s why I am so honoured to be with you today. I would go so far as to say that we politicians can’t act without you! Your work is literally the ground and credibility on which we need to stand to make the economic case for environmental protection, to demonstrate the inestimable value of our scarce resources, and to highlight the true benefits and costs of economic activity.
And in listening to Dr. Rees, I couldn’t help but thing how wonderful it would be for Dr. Rees to come and lecture the Summit tomorrow. The first speech tomorrow should be his.
In this era of fiscal restraint and economic crisis that has narrowed horizons to panicky and short-sighted stimulus, bail-out, and deficit reduction schemes, our natural world gets increasingly shorter shrift and diminishing policy attention. Especially now, your work is an even more timely reminder to expand our horizons and think long-term to enhance wellbeing.
You have pointed to innovative solutions that can stabilize both the economy and the climate, to job creation through conservation and efficiency, and to ways that shorter work time and more equitable distribution can conserve resources while improving both productivity and quality of life.
I am deeply grateful to you for your extraordinary service to humankind, to our planet, and to all its inhabitants. You are literally planting the seeds of the new and sane economy and society of the future, and certainly helping us realize that we are addicted to the wrong things.
But you didn’t invite me here to sing a paean of praise to ecological economics. You’ve undoubtedly heard enough of that in your last four days of deliberations and sharing knowledge. And you already know the extraordinary value and importance of the work you do, or you would have not been drawn to this field in the first place. Rather, you invited me to say a few words about some actions we in Bhutan are taking at home and promoting here at Rio.
None of those actions, nor my people’s deep commitment to ecological conservation, can be understood outside the context of our Fourth King’s proclamation three decades ago that “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product.” With those words, he set Bhutan on a unique and holistic development path that seeks to integrate sustainable and equitable socio-economic development with environmental conservation, cultural promotion, and good governance.
Indeed, the happiness of which our King spoke has nothing to do with the common use of that word to denote an ephemeral, passing mood ― happy today or unhappy tomorrow due to some temporary external condition like praise or blame, gain or loss. Rather, he referred to the deep, abiding happiness that comes from living life in full harmony with the natural world, with our communities and fellow beings, and with our culture and spiritual heritage, ― in short from feeling totally connected with our world.
And yet our modern world, and particularly its economic system, promote precisely the reverse ― a profound sense of alienation from the natural world and from each other. Cherishing self-interest and material gain, we destroy nature, degrade our natural and cultural heritage, disrespect indigenous knowledge, overwork, get stressed out, and no longer have time to enjoy each other’s company, let alone to contemplate and meditate on life’s deeper meaning. Myriad scholarly studies now show that massive gains in GDP and income have not made us happier.
But even the best philosophy is not enough. And so, we do our best to put Gross National Happiness (or GNH) into practice. We have a long way to go. But we do place the natural environment at the very centre of all our development policies. Our Constitution mandates that at least 60% of the Kingdom of Bhutan remain under forest cover in perpetuity. But in fact, we have now reached 80% forest cover, having started initially with no more than 60% some 50 years ago. This, in turn, protects our rich biodiversity, safeguards watersheds, and expands wildlife corridors. Indeed, more than 50% of our country is now under full environmental protection in national parks and wilderness areas. We vowed at COP15 in Copenhagen always to remain a net carbon sink. We are now about to introduce a green tax on certain goods. And we are working towards becoming the first country in the world to be 100% organic (applause).
These policies to protect nature have not come at the expense of human and social development. Our life expectancy has literally doubled in the last two generations. Health care and education are free. Rural health clinics and schools are sprouting throughout the land, with 99% of primary-aged children now in school. Our Tenth Five-Year Plan is sharply reducing poverty, and our 11th Plan will focus on rural prosperity.
In the most practical ways, we have discovered that caring for our natural world actually enhances social wellbeing. On “Pedestrian Tuesdays,” which we just started recently, when private cars are banned from Bhutan’s urban centres, our people not only cut their greenhouse gas and pollutant emissions but socialize and enjoy each other’s company as they walk to work. (Applause).
And in the midst of our rapid development, we are doing our best to maintain our ancient wisdom traditions and to strengthen our cultural values, principles, bonds, and practices. Those values find expression in our deep respect for all life and in our strong family and community bonds.
In all this, we are acutely aware that what we measure is what gets policy attention, and that what we count signifies what we value. And so, we now assess progress in the Kingdom of Bhutan according to nine domains: These are ecological integrity, living standards, health, education, culture, community vitality, time use, good governance, and psychological wellbeing. Since 2007, we have administered two national GNH surveys, and these measures now guide our policy.
From the GNH survey results, we create a GNH Index, and we use these indicators actively as a policy screening tool. Indeed, no major policy is implemented in Bhutan if it fails the GNH indicator test. That is why, for example, Bhutan has not joined the World Trade Organization (applause) ― it failed the test.
But we have also learned that, to measure progress accurately and properly, indicators are not enough. GDP, as you here know better than anyone, is not an indicator, but an accounting system. To challenge the continued dominance of narrow GDP-based measures, we are therefore building a new holistic accounting system that accounts for the value of our nation’s natural, human, social, and cultural capital ― and not only the manufactured and financial capital that is currently counted.
In February this year we released the first natural, human, and social capital results of our new National Accounts, which will be the foundation of the new economy we seek to build. Thanks to the superb work of Dr. Costanza and Dr. Kubiszewski here, we discovered that our forests in Bhutan provide more than 14 billion dollars a year worth of ecosystem services – four times more than our whole GDP. Of that value, they found that 53% accrues to those beyond our borders, as our forests regulate the climate, store carbon, and protect watersheds from which others benefit. We suddenly realized that we were a donor country. (Applause).
You can see that the principles of ecological economics are deeply penetrating our national fabric in Bhutan. Not only have Drs. Costanza and Kubiszewski and their colleagues started to train our national statisticians, Finance Ministry officials and many others in the new methods, but we see our emerging full benefit-cost National Accounts literally as the foundation of the new development model we are determined to build.
The new accounts will change the way we present our annual budgets, as we account for the health of our forests, water sources, communities, and a wide range of natural and social assets. For example, we’ll figure forest losses due to fire as a depreciation of our natural capital, and preventive expenditures to reduce alcoholism, smoking, and teenage pregnancy as investments in human capital. And the new accounts will make our policy making much more informed than it can possibly be when we rely on narrow market measures alone.
And yet, for all our efforts to build the new development paradigm at home, Bhutan simply cannot go it alone. Even if we were to do everything right ― which we certainly do not claim ― greenhouse gas emissions in Chicago, Beijing, London and here in Rio would still melt our glaciers, flood our valleys, and cause severe water shortages downstream. Nor is our economy isolated from the global GDP-based system that feeds consumerist and materialist temptations among our own people as much as anywhere else.
We have learned the hard way that we can’t build a GNH society on a GDP economy, and that our own capacity to practice what we preach at home cannot be separated either from global economic forces or from our own global responsibility. That’s what brings us to Rio, and that’s what led us to host a major high-level meeting on 2nd April at the United Nations, where Dr. Costanza and Dr. Wackernagel and others here joined us in an ambitious effort to launch the new development paradigm globally.
That seminal gathering on 2nd April, attended by more than 800 distinguished participants, acknowledged human happiness and the wellbeing of all life on earth as the core goal of development. The planet is not ours alone. It recognised ecological sustainability, fair distribution, and the efficient use of resources as essential conditions towards that end. And it saw a healthy balance among thriving natural, human, social, cultural, and built assets as the key requirement of the new model.
And that day at the United Nations, it was crystal clear to all present that what we were talking about had nothing to do with tinkering with the present system, such as characterizes so much of the mainstream dialogue on the so-called ‘green economy.’
On 2nd April at the UN, we were talking about a real and viable alternative to our present system, which ― fuelled by mindless consumerism ― has depleted resources, degraded ecosystem services, accelerated greenhouse gas emissions, diminished biodiversity, and now threatens the survival of humans and other species on the planet. That system has also created yawning inequities, and is generating global economic insecurity, indebtedness, instability, and conflict.
What we were taking about that day at the United Nations ― and what we will continue to talk about till it happens ― is what the Tellus Institute calls The Great Transition to a new system, based on different premises, values, goals, and understanding.
We were deeply honoured on 2nd April to be joined by the President of Costa Rica, which has accomplished some amazing achievements on the ecological front particularly, the United Nations Secretary-General, and ministers and diplomats from around the world. But it was also quite clear that day that the real energy, dynamism, vision, clear thinking, and heart-felt will to act emanated from the hundreds of civil society leaders and brilliant scholars and analysts present, including ecological economists.
And we will continue to need you and to draw on your expertise as we move forward. In fact, despite the extraordinary success of the 2nd April meeting at the United Nations, and despite the dynamic and buoyant spirit of that day, I cautioned there that it was far too early to celebrate. Our work has only just begun. And so, His Majesty the King of Bhutan is now convening an international expert Working Group to elaborate the details of the new development model over the coming two years, for consideration by the 68th and 69th United Nations General Assembly sessions in 2013 and 2014.
That Working Group will prepare detailed documentation, including thorough literature reviews and examinations of existing best practices, on how the new paradigm can work in actual practice. What are its potential accounting and measurement systems, regulatory and financial mechanisms, and trade, governance, and other institutions? We politicians, and certainly my own tiny country, have neither the knowledge nor the capacity to undertake this huge work. We will clearly need your hands-on help and expertise, and I am deeply grateful to those in this room today who have already kindly offered to contribute to this major effort.
In short, the time has come for governments to listen, learn, and turn into practical policy outcomes at the systemic, national, and global levels what you are demonstrating in the realm of impeccable scholarship, research, and analysis. To that end, I promise you today that the Kingdom of Bhutan will do its utmost to promote and realize the vision and understanding that we share, in the great transition to a new global order that genuinely promotes wellbeing and happiness.
Just four days ago at the United Nations headquarters in New York, I personally delivered to the UN Secretary-General a full report of our 2nd April landmark meeting, which he will now distribute to all UN member states. You can see the report on our meeting website at www.2apr.gov.bt.
Separately I have also written to all Heads of State or Government asking them to consider adopting and implementing the twelve specific policy recommendations that the 2nd April meeting suggested to begin moving actively towards the new system. I would like to list some of those policy actions explicitly here, because you will immediately recognize their roots in your work in ecological economics. Here, by way of example, are twelve specific actions my country has asked all governments to consider on a voluntary basis:
1. In order to move towards sustainable production methods, governments should first remove perverse subsidies for fossil fuels, chemical inputs in agriculture, and other activities that are harmful to the economy and environment. (Applause).
2. They should reinvest those subsidies in green technologies, poverty alleviation, and sustainable infrastructure, such as renewable energy, energy efficiency, public transit, watershed protection, and green public spaces.
3. They should move rapidly towards sustainable agriculture, supporting small-scale local farming, training farmers in organic methods, and drawing on traditional knowledge.
4. They should declare oceans, water resources, the atmosphere, biodiversity, forests, coastlines, and cultural and sacred sites as common assets, and create trusts to manage and govern these common assets for the equitable benefit of current and future generations. (Applause).
5. In order to dismantle incentives to excessive consumption, they should ban advertising to children (applause), and eliminate perverse tax deductions by businesses for advertising.
6. They should support local economies, with all public institutions procuring their food, goods and services from local, organic, and fair trade sources.
7. They should reduce systemic inequalities by capturing unearned income from land and currency speculation, making tax systems more progressive, and instituting work sharing policies that reduce overwork, increase leisure time, and prevent layoffs. (Applause).
8. They should measure progress and wellbeing more accurately and comprehensively, value non-market assets and services in their National Accounts, and ensure that prices reflect the actual social and environmental costs of production. They should confine GDP to its original purpose of measuring market activity, stop using it to measure progress, prosperity, and wellbeing ―which it was never intended to do and can never do ―, and educate the public on its flaws and shortcomings. By the way, the World Bank has just announced that they would like to support 50 countries and 50 corporations to develop full-cost natural capital accounting. Bhutan will be one of those countries. Of course, Bhutan has already started. This is very encouraging.
9. They should reward sustainable actions through “payments for ecosystem services.”
10. And they should penalise unsustainable behaviours through ecological tax reforms that tax pollution, carbon, and the depletion of natural capital, and which use the resulting revenue to reduce burdens on low-income groups.
11. They should increase financial and fiscal prudence, penalize speculation, ensure equitable access to and responsible use of credit, and require financial instruments to contribute to the public good.
12. And they should collaborate actively and in good faith to attain international consensus first on measures of progress, wellbeing, and full-cost accounting, and by 2015 on formal adoption of the new development paradigm as a whole.
You can clearly see the extraordinary and powerful influence of ecological economics in producing both these specific policy recommendations and in providing the profound thinking, research, and understanding on which they are based. From a policy perspective, as I said at the start and repeat now, I literally cannot think of a more influential field of study in the world today than your own. You can see that we in Bhutan have come to rely on your work in the most practical ways.
In fact, it is clear that ecological economics is a core foundation of the new global development paradigm that the world so urgently needs and that my country is now actively promoting. I would like to reiterate that without your outstanding research, we could neither demonstrate the practical viability of the new model nor make a credible economic case for adoption of policies like those I listed. Our best intentions would remain theoretical.
And so I extend my country’s sincere gratitude to all of you working in the field of ecological economics for your pioneering work in developing the methodologies, data sources, and models that we need in our shared endeavour. Your brilliant and tireless work is the essential empirical foundation for a decent and sustainable world that fully respects and cares for all life on earth, and which thereby promotes true human happiness. Rio must pay attention to what goes on here among you!
My warmest congratulations on the successful completion of your 2012 ISEE Conference here in Rio. May you spread the knowledge you have shared in your last four days together far and wide for the benefit of all beings and for posterity.
Thank you very much. TASHI DELEK!
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