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Establishing An Inter-Ministerial Committee To Ensure Synergies With All Sectors: The Case Of Bhutan


In Bhutan, synergy and coherence among existing biodiversity policies and acts was identified as a serious gap in the implementation of previous NBSAPs. Therefore, the National Task Force was established to develop the new NBSAP, to oversee liaison with National Focal Points of the other Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs), including the biodiversity-related conventions. In particular, a mapping exercise was undertaken to show the relevance of national targets across the MEAs. To strengthen collaboration for the future, the finalized NBSAP also recommended setting up a coordination platform for different MEAs.

Problem, challenge or context: 

Parties have committed to the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2012-2020 and its 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets as part of global efforts to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity for the benefit of all. The global Aichi Biodiversity Targets set out a flexible framework for countries to establish their own targets and to develop appropriate implementation measures. National implementation, to be successful, requires a diverse set of instruments which work with and improve existing national legal and policy frameworks. Laws can play an important role by providing the certainty and incentives for governments, the private sector, civil society and individuals to work together to conserve biodiversity. However, inadequate attention has been paid to the importance of legal planning. Bhutan provides an interesting example of a successful approach.

“Biodiversity laws” have been traditionally used for conservation purposes, focused on the protection of plant species, wildlife and national parks, and were typically based around environmental ‘command-and-control’ (CAC) regulation. However, CAC often fails to reflect the value of nature and promote incentive dynamics addressing direct and indirect causes of biodiversity loss.

By contrast, “biodiversity laws” can play a much broader role by addressing the underlying causes of biodiversity loss and mainstreaming biodiversity values across economic sectors. Other types of instruments are increasingly used and encouraged, including additional financial resources and involvement of public and private sectors. They can therefore provide the legal basis to establish such incentives at the national level, including Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) schemes, offsets, green markets and green fiscal instruments.

The creation of an enabling legal environment, underpinned by strong institutions and good governance, can be an essential step for countries to effectively achieve their biodiversity goals and targets. However, no one-size-fits-all solution exists on legal reform for biodiversity, rather countries need to develop regulatory and institutional frameworks tailored to local contexts and priorities.

Specific elements of components: 

The Kingdom of Bhutan is a landlocked country with an area of 38,394km2 situated on the southern slope of the Eastern Himalaya, bordering China to its north and India to its south, east and west. The country has 70% of its total land area under forest cover, and over half of the total area is secured as protected areas and as biological corridors. Bhutan’s farmers, estimated at around 69% of the total population, are mostly engaged in mixed farming for their livelihood, and play a central role in the management of the country’s protected area network.

Article 5 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan states that “The Government shall ensure that, in order to conserve the country’s natural resources and to prevent degradation of the ecosystem, a minimum of sixty percent of Bhutan’s total land shall be maintained under forest cover for all time”, in addition to “securing ecologically balanced sustainable development while promoting justifiable economic and social development.” The priorities and strategies of the 11th Five-Year Development Plan (2013-2018) are guided by the country’s development philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH) with the aim of strengthening its four pillars: i) promotion of equitable and sustainable socio-economic development, ii) preservation and promotion of cultural values, iii) conservation of the natural environment, and iv) good governance. Four of the sixteen National Key Results Areas for the 11th Five-Year Plan are dedicated to the environment pillar: i) carbon neutral & climate resilient development, ii) sustainable utilization and management of natural resources, iii) water security, and iv) improved disaster resilience and management mainstreamed. Furthermore, there is an understanding within government that moving towards sustainability requires more than safeguarding, with regards to integrating environment and other cross-cutting issues into all policy making and planning processes of government. 

Despite this, there was limited political engagement in the previous NBSAPs of Bhutan. The NBSAP development process was led by consultants, supported by technical working groups composed of various stakeholders. These NBSAPs tended to end up with low ownership, poor coordination mechanisms for resource mobilisation, and they were not mainstreamed with other national strategies (e.g., economic development).

The action taken: 

For the latest NBSAP for Bhutan, a National Task Force (NTF) was created to bring together the various departments and agencies in the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, the National Environment Commission, representatives from conservation NGOs and donor agencies. A key task of the NTF was to review and assess gaps of previous action plans, set targets, develop indicators, outreach to other stakeholders (local government, private sector etc.) and promote education and awareness related to the final NBSAP.

Based on assessments of the implementation of the previous NBSAPs, synergies and coherence among existing biodiversity policies and acts was identified as a serious gap. In response, special attention was given towards communicating with other MEA National Focal Points (NFPs). Members of the NTF liaised with NFPs in their respective departments, ensuring that the synergies between the different MEAs were captured. To ensure that implementation of the NBSAP is also harmonized, the NBSAP recommended that a coordination platform for different MEAs should be set up. A mapping exercise (Figure ) identified potential synergies between national biodiversity targets and the objectives of the biodiversity-related MEA’s, thereby providing a common ground for enhancing coordination, communication and cooperation between NFPs.

A National Environment Commission Committee comprising of high-level representatives from key sectors, and chaired by the Prime Minister of Bhutan, oversees the implementation of the NBSAP in line with obligations under both the CBD and other MEAs (Figure 2).

Key lessons learned: 

Effective environmental management was already recognised as an important issue in relation to sustainable development in Bhutan, in particular in relation to its GNH approach, and an appropriate legislative framework is seen to facilitate it. The resulting checklist has been developed by the GNH Commission in Bhutan to facilitate effective mainstreaming, of which #5 is particularly relevant in this instance:

  1. Ensure that a wide menu of solutions is considered, in particular outside of the proponent sector.
  2. In the case of environment mainstreaming, put in place a comprehensive strategy, including possible solutions and actions to address environmental issues, instead of just acknowledging the impacts.
  3. Ensure proper indicators are set up. It might be necessary for example to collect data by wealth quintiles to be able to track the impacts on the poor of projects, programmes and plans.
  4. Ensure that the complementarity of the sectors is not only recognized, but integrated into the design of the interventions, with the various sectors working together and complementing each other.
  5. Ensure that the responsibility and accountability of the implementation of the interventions is clearly defined.
Impacts and outcomes: 

As reported in Bhutan’s 5th National Report to the CBD, the 11th Five Year Plan (FYP) (2014-2018), which is the main development planning framework of the Royal Government of Bhutan and with an underlying objective to achieve “Self-Reliance and Inclusive Green Socio-Economic Development”, recognizes conservation of the natural environment as a means to sustainable economic development and improvement of resilience to natural disasters. Out of the 17 National Key Result Areas (NKRA) identified for the 11th FYP under the GNH four pillars, four NKRA under the pillar of “Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Environment” are identified to contribute to overall achievement of the national goals of 11th FYP.

The Economic Development Policy (EDP) 2010 formulated with the vision “to promote a green and self-reliant economy sustained by an IT-enabled knowledge society guided by the GNH philosophy” also ensures biodiversity conservation with some of its key strategies:

  • Diversifying the economic base with minimal ecological footprint;
  • Harnessing and adding value to natural resources in a sustainable manner;
  • Promoting Bhutan as an organic brand; and
  • Reducing dependency on fossil fuel especially in respect of transportation.
Contact details: 
Tristan Tyrrell
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