A look at Bhutan’s carbon-negative economy

An introduction to Bhutan

Bhutan is a small country in the Himalayas, located right in between India and China. It is a bit ironic that India and China are two of the most populated countries on Earth, but there are less than one million Bhutanese. A Buddhist country by constitution, Buddhism plays a central role in Bhutan. Healthcare and education are completely free, and although Bhutan is officially a democracy, the King — who is required to retire at the age of 65 — still plays a central role in Bhutan. These things all make Bhutan unique, but the way in which Bhutan’s economy is structured is also very unique.

What it means to be carbon-negative

Bhutan is the only country in the world that is carbon-neutral. Actually, Bhutan’s economy is carbon-negative, which means that the forests in Bhutan absorb more carbon dioxide (around seven million tons of carbon dioxide a year) than the country of Bhutan produces (only around two million tons of carbon dioxide a year). In fact, over 70% of Bhutan is covered in trees, and their constitution demands that at least 60% of Bhutan’s land will always be covered by forests, making Bhutan a “carbon sink.”

In addition to mandating that 60% of Bhutan will always be covered by trees in the constitution, Bhutan has taken a series of other steps to ensure that its economy will remain carbon-negative, to keep the promise Bhutan made at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in 2009. These steps include banning log exports, providing free electricity for rural farmers, and using Bhutan’s many rivers to generate hydroelectric power, which is exported to Bhutan’s neighboring countries. This means that Bhutan is not only promoting the use of renewable energy sources within its own borders but also in its neighboring countries.


Bhutan’s GDP was roughly 2.5 billion US dollars in 2019, but this is not the most important indicator for the Bhutanese government. Instead, Bhutan focuses on “Gross National Happiness,” GNH for short, which is defined as “development with values.” Although economic development is important to the Bhutanese government, sustainable economic growth and ensuring the happiness of their population is equally, if not even more important to Bhutan. With mental health issues on the rise around the world, introducing the concept of GNH to other countries could be an important step. 


Bhutan is unique in many different ways. Although it is a very small country and actually one of the smallest economies in the world, Bhutan has big ambitions for the future. Bhutan is hoping to produce zero net greenhouse gas emissions and to produce zero waste by 2030 and was aiming to export enough electricity produced by hydropower to offset 17 million tons of carbon dioxide. If you are interested, I strongly recommend you to watch the TED talk at the link below (the second source).