Bhutan is a small, land locked country located in the fragile eastern Himalayan ecosystem for which climate change is not just an environmental problem but a serious challenge to sustainable development and the livelihoods of its people. However, the environment in Bhutan is one of most pristine in Asia with clean air, water and primeval forest. Around 70 per cent of the country is forested (much of it primary forests), and approximately 80 per cent of the country’s population depends on subsistence farming for their livelihoods (RGB, 2006). Bhutan’s hydropower production—much of which it exports to India—is described as the backbone of the country’s economy, and there are early concerns that this resource may be adversely impacted by climate change (RGB, 2008).
With high growth rates in population, unchecked rural to urban migration, increased population density in the towns and cities, rapid increases in imports of cars, and rising demand for fuel wood, roads and building construction, the future suggests many negative effects on environmental assets, which can further expose the population to climate change vulnerabilities. Some of Bhutan's adaptation projects include: a disaster management strategy, a weather forecasting system, landslide management and flood prevention and community-based forest fire management and prevention.
Bhutan’s development is highly dependent on climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture, hydropower, and forestry. The most significant impact of climate change in Bhutan is the formation of supra-glacial lakes due to the accelerated retreat of glaciers with increasing temperatures. The risk of potential disasters inflicted by Glacial Lakes Outburst Floods (GLOFs), which pose new threats to lives, livelihoods and development, is mounting as the water levels in several glacier lakes approach critical geostatic thresholds. Although current disaster management policies, risk reduction, and preparedness plans in Bhutan are able to address recurrent natural hazards in the country, they are not yet prepared to deal with the new GLOF threat. Bhutan’s entire northern region has glacier/snow-fed lakes near its mountaintops. With a majority of Bhutan’s population and infrastructure development concentrated in large river valleys, climate-induced GLOFs could cause significant human and economic devastation. Rising mean temperature, attributed to climate change, are the main cause of glacial retreat and are correlated with faster rates of glacier melt. The result is that glaciers in Bhutan are receding at a rate of almost 30-60 meters per decade. The melting ice from these receding glaciers is increasing the volume of water in glacial lakes, and the melting of ice-cored dams is destabilizing them, pushing the hazard risk for GLOFs to critical levels.
- Drought combined with more frequent lightning may cause greater risk of forest fires;
- Possible loss of endemic plant and animal species;
- Change in migratory pattern of transboundary wildlife, which may result in loss/degradation of forest ecosystems and reduction of alpine range lands; and
- Possible increase in vector-borne disease in wildlife due to warming.
- Possible crop yield instability, loss of production and quality (due to variable rainfall, temperature, etc.), decreased water availability for crop production, and increased risk of extinction of already threatened crop species (traditional crop varieties);
- Loss of soil fertility due to erosion of top soil and runoff; loss of fields due to flash floods; and loss of soil and nutrients;
- Crop yield loss (flowers & fruit drop) to hailstorms; deteriorated produce quality (fruit & vegetables) due to unanticipated heavy rains and hailstorms;
- Delayed sowing (late rainfall), as well as damage to paddy and potato crops due to sudden early and late spring frost respectively; and
- Outbreak of pests and diseases in fields and during storage where they were previously unknown.
- Debris-covered glaciers forming huge moraine dam lakes that ultimately lead to GLOFs (i.e. flash floods and landslides, heavy siltation of the rivers, and other geotechnical hazards);
- GLOF will affect “essential” infrastructure, namely: (1) Hydropower systems (generation plants, transmission and distribution infrastructure), Bhutan’s main export product; (2) industrial estates/infrastructure; (3) Human settlements: urban, suburban and rural settlements; (4) Historical and cultural monuments: dzongs, monasteries, chortens, etc.; and (5) Public utilities: roads, bridges and communication systems
- Temporal & spatial variation in flow, notably affecting electricity production/exports due to disruption of average flows for optimum hydropower generation;
- Increased sedimentation of rivers, water reservoirs and distribution network, affecting notably irrigation schemes’ productivity/ agricultural crop yields;
- Reduced ability of catchment areas to retain water/increased runoffs with enhanced soil erosion (deterioration of environment); and
- Deterioration of (drinking) water quality.
- Loss of life from frequent flash floods, GLOF and landslides;
- Spread of vector-borne tropical disease (malaria, dengue) into more areas (higher elevations) with warming climate; and
- Loss of safe (drinking) water resources increasing water borne diseases.
Islam, Faisal; Hove, Hilary; Parry, Jo-Ellen. (2011) “Review of Current and Planned Adaptation Action: South Asia.” Adaptation Patnership/International Institute for Sustainable Development, pp.75-85