Planning and Building Infrastructure that is Smart and Green: A Report from Bhutan
Practitioner workshop participants in Thimphu
On May 31, His Excellency, Lyonpo Dr. Pema Gyamtsho, the Honorable Minister of Agriculture and Forests of Bhutan, endorsed the Thimphu Recommendations as a “good start to walk the talk and the path we must follow to conserve tigers, and with them, all the species in the food chain and their ecosystems.”
These recommendations were crafted and adopted by a group of more than 80 representatives from diverse government ministries, civil society, and the private sector of Bhutan, national experts from India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, and Thailand, together with international experts from the World Bank, the Smithsonian Institution, and the US National Park Service at a meeting in Thimphu. The forum considered how to privilege tiger conservation amid accelerating development pressures in tiger conservation landscapes in the Tiger Range Countries (TRCs).
The meetings in Bhutan’s capital covered the theme ‘Smart Green Infrastructure in Tiger Conservation Landscapes.’ The goal was to address the multi-sector implications for planning and implementation of smart green infrastructure (SGI) principles with application to roads, hydroelectric projects, ecotourism development, and land-use planning that can potentially impact the tiger conservation landscapes. Operationalizing SGI by design across the four sectors in Bhutan is the ultimate goal of the recommendations, and in fact may be applicable to the other TRCs. The final Thimphu Recommendations will be forwarded to Ministers in other TRCs.
Honorable Minister of Agriculture
and Forests of Bhutan,
endorses the Thimphu
The Hon. Dasho Paljor J. Dorji, Special Advisor and Deputy Minister of the National Environment Commission, set the tone for the workshop by reiterating the Royal Government of Bhutan’s commitment – as one of only 13 custodians of the last remaining tigers in the wild – to manage their growth to protect a stable population of tigers that will co-exist harmoniously with their people and their rural livelihoods.
Bhutan has long given priority to green growth to ensure that conservation is mainstreamed into development. It has committed to maintaining 60 percent of its land area permanently under forest as part of its Constitution. This is unique among countries of the world, and it has also pioneered the idea of measuring the nation’s progress through ‘Gross National Happiness’ instead of traditional economic indicators, GNP or GDP. For the Bhutanese, biodiversity and a healthy environment are critical components of Gross National Happiness. The Thimphu Recommendations build on Bhutan’s experience with safeguarding its forest cover and implementing green land-use planning with its system of protected areas connected by green corridors.
GTI and World Bank promote principles of SGI for conservation
the St. Petersburg Declaration on Tiger
Infrastructure development looms as a serious threat to the remaining habitat for wild tigers in Asia. Roads, hydropower, tourism facilities, and other bricks-and-mortar projects can degrade and fragment larger tiger landscapes and even impinge on national parks and other protected areas that have been set aside to conserve tigers and other biodiversity.
At the same time, infrastructure development is essential to meeting the aspirations of tiger range countries for economic growth and prosperity and for alleviating the poverty that is still a fact of life in these mostly still developing nations.
Since its founding in 2008, the Global Tiger Initiative has been promoting a paradigm for tiger conservation that applies the tenets of “smart green infrastructure” (SGI) in tiger landscapes to give tigers the space and seclusion they need and give people—especially the mostly poor rural communities that live near tiger habitats—the sustainable economic and social benefits they need. SGI provides principles for building human capital and technical capacity, coordinating across public and private sector, and leveraging financial resources to prevent infrastructure from adversely impacting and impairing tiger landscapes on which rural livelihoods and national growth ultimately depend.
Jigme Yoser Thinley, Prime Minister of Bhutan,
on the Smart Green Infrastructure principles
For tigers, SGI can be defined as infrastructure that avoids tiger habitats; minimizes and mitigates adverse impacts through tiger-friendly design; and compensates for any remaining damage to have a net positive impact.
Tiger range countries have committed to implement SGI into policy and planning in the St. Petersburg Declaration on Tiger Conservation: TRCs will strive to do “everything possible to effectively manage, preserve, protect, and enhance habitats, including a. mainstreaming conservation in planning and development processes in tiger habitat; [and] b. making critical tiger breeding habitats inviolate areas within the larger tiger conservation landscapes where no economic or commercial infrastructure development or other adverse activities are permitted; and maintaining the landscapes and creating corridors around and between them where all permitted development activities are tiger- and biodiversity-compatible.” Applying the principles of SGI is also a tenet of the Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP)—the plan developed by TRCs to double the number of wild tigers by 2022.
TCL master plans encompassing core
habitats, buffer zones, corridors and wider
The SGI workshop brought together representatives of diverse sectors to the tiger conservation table. GTI Program Director Keshav Varma remarked, “We will not succeed in saving tigers if we talk only to the converted; a country’s minister of environment or minister of forestry alone cannot do all that must be done to protect biodiversity.” Other public sectors as well as the private sector have an important role to play in safeguarding tigers and their habitats. Taking on this responsibility will help to ensure the future integrity of the ecosystem services—from carbon storage to watershed protection and food security—that tigers and their rich habitats provide.
The Thimphu Recommendations cover several infrastructure sectors, including:
• Land-use planning, Roads, Hydropower, and tourism.
See the complete Thimphu Recommendations.