Disaster, Duty and Destiny: The Decision is Ours

Date: 22 September 2019

By Sonam P. Wangdi

Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, surrounded by wispy clouds and ancient forests that go on for miles, there lies my home country of the Kingdom of Bhutan. A small, pristine oasis of only 800,000 people, well known for its Gross National Happiness Index, Bhutan ranks highly in economic freedom, ease of doing business, and peace. Even more, the independence of Bhutan has endured for centuries and it has never been colonized in its history.

We have been in control of our destiny for time immemorial.

Yet, it now seems my country – and our fellow 46 Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in the world – is at a crossroads where we will either thrive or soon see our demise. And the direction we take depends a great deal not just on our own actions, but the actions of the entire world.

The greatest threat facing the world today is climate change. As Chair of the negotiating bloc of LDCs in the UN climate negotiations, I represent the poorest 1 billion people in the world who, despite contributing the least to the climate crisis, suffer the most from its impacts.

Over the past 50 years, while only 18% of climate-related disasters occurred in LDCs, a whopping 69% of deaths from climate-related disasters were in LDCs. In the first 6 months of 2019 alone, drought, floods, landslides and storms have killed over 1,200 people in LDCs and affected almost 11 million more.

We are vulnerable, but we’re not hiding.

On behalf of this LDC Group, I will be going to the UN Climate Action Summit in New York this week with high expectations. We need to see all major emitters enhance ambition on climate action, showcased with deep and rapid emissions reductions and reflected in their climate pledges. For many countries, contributing their fair share of the global response to climate change requires more than making deep cuts to domestic emissions, it also involves providing support to poor countries so they can do the same, to ensure no one is left behind.

Business-as-usual approaches to climate change are not working. We need long term cross-sectoral and multi-level responses. We need support to reach those who need it most, yet globally only 18% of finance reaches LDCs, and globally only 10% reaches local level. We need climate action driven by and for our countries, yet many responses are externally driven and top down and highly intermediated, failing to build our institutional capabilities, structures and systems for the long term.

Our goal is to achieve a historic shift towards a more effective and more ambitious global climate response, that ensures support reaches vulnerable communities and countries, with no one left behind. Over the last 2 years, we have been developing our 2050 Vision for a climate resilient future informed by the deliberations of over 600 experts from across Anglophone and Francophone, Africa and Asia Pacific regions.

Our Vision, which we will present at the Summit, is for Least Developed Countries to deliver climate-resilient development pathways by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050 to ensure our societies and ecosystems thrive. We wish to take the lead in charting our own journey to overcome the climate challenges we face. We will make bold commitments to achieve our Vision, drawing upon the resources, capabilities and institutions we have in country to deliver. We are joined by development partners, civil society, academia and the private sector, who stand alongside us in support of a shared vision.

We urge others to join us. Large and small we have a shared and positive destiny, but only together is this achievable.

Sonam P. Wangdi is the chair of the Least Developed Countries Group of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Secretary of the National Environment Commission, Kingdom of Bhutan