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This Country Is Already Carbon Neutral and Now Plans to Go 100% Organic and Zero-Waste

Bhutan has been hailed as one of the greenest countries on Earth. Currently, the country’s carbon emissions rate is a negligible 0.8 metric tons per capita, according to the World Bank. Not only is Bhutan carbon neutral, it's also a carbon sink—making it one of the few countries in the world to have negative carbon emissions.

"According to recent figures, the country emits around 1.5 million tonnes of carbon annually, while its forests absorb over 6 million tonnes," says Proudly Carbon Neutral. Despite this, it still wants to go even further to zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, while also going 100 percent organic by 2020 and zero-waste by 2030.

In 2011, the government launched the National Organic Program in order to help the country meet its goal of 100 percent organic by 2020. Reuters reports on the success of the program so far:

By teaching farmers good organic farming practices and how to earn more money by growing organic produce, and by providing financial support, Bhutan hopes to reduce waste, decrease the country’s dependence on imported food, and ensure it remains climate-neutral, producing no more climate-changing emissions each year than its forests absorb.

Already praised by environmentalists for its low carbon emissions and heavy use of hydropower, Bhutan hopes to become even greener by showing that environmentally friendly farming can also make money.

The government is offering free training programs in organic farming to turn Bhutan's subsistence farmers barely eking out a living into successful entrepreneurs. The switch to organic is also helping this Himalayan mountain kingdom achieve its zero waste goal, as well.

"Now, from leaves to cow dung to chicken poop, everything is used," a new organic farmer told Reuters. “I have no trash, only compost."

Hurdles remain, however. The country is still highly dependent on imported food. "According to a 2014 study on food security by the Royal Bhutan College of Thimphu, less than four percent of Bhutan’s total land is under food cultivation, which is why almost 50 percent of the country’s rice is imported from India and Thailand," says Reuters. One farmer complains that the government needs to help widen the market for organic produce. Many people still opt for imported foods over local ones because they are cheaper.

Still, Bhutan is light years ahead of most countries. The country has an entire section of its constitution devoted to the environment that opens with:

Every Bhutanese is a trustee of the Kingdom’s natural resources and environment for the benefit of the present and future generations and it is the fundamental duty of every citizen to contribute to the protection of the natural environment, conservation of the rich biodiversity of Bhutan and prevention of all forms of ecological degradation including noise, visual and physical pollution through the adoption and support of environment friendly practices and policies.

Bhutan is currently 72 percent forested and the constitution requires that no less than 60 percent of the country remains forested. The Buddhist nation also refuses to judge its success on Gross Domestic Product, instead using an index that measures Gross National Happiness.

Though Bhutan is not powered by 100 percent renewable energy, it aims to be in the near future. It has an abundant supply of hydroelectricity—so much that it exports 75 percent of its power to India. Its current renewable energy share is 60 percent. And a partnership announced last year with Nissan could help ensure that the country doesn't increase its fossil fuel use or its carbon emissions. Nissan partnered with the Bhutanese government to provide hundreds of electric cars to the country—with the promise of thousands soon after. Bhutan's Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay wants to eventually convert all of Bhutan’s vehicles to electric power.

But more than a year after the launch, only about 50 electric Nissan vehicles were on the roads, though at least 22 more had been ordered as of June. That's about a tenth of a percent of the total cars on the road in Bhutan. CEO of Thunder Motors (the local partner of Nissan) told Reuters purchases of electric vehicles are underwhelming because of a lack of government support for "developing more charging infrastructure and land for building charging stations."

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