Keynote Address by Her Royal Highness Princess Sonam Dechan Wangchuck, the Hon. President of the BNLI, JSW School of Law & the Bar Council of Bhutan at the Conference on ‘Public Law, Legal Orders and Governance: Regulating Globalisation in Asia’ 17 July 2019
What an important discourse we have planned! It is one of the most compelling challenges of our time. The International Conference on ‘Public Law, Legal Orders & Governance: Regulating Globalisation in Asia’ is indeed timely. I am happy that it is being held in Bhutan.
I would like to congratulate the JSW School of Law and the University of Victoria for convening this very important Conference. JSW School of Law and the University of Victoria share common interests in building resilient human and natural environments through legal discourse, research, and teaching. As we sign our first Memorandum of Understanding today, the relationship between the two institutions will only grow in the years to come.
We have gathered here to discuss how the law and justice inform, and are informed, by the global phenomena of change and development. Over a period of three days, you will discuss a wide range of global issues and challenges, including, notably the continuing process of unfettered globalisation and its harsh effects on public health and safety, community cohesion, and natural environment. I will not attempt to anticipate where those conversations will take us! However, let me take this opportunity to briefly describe Bhutan’s unique approach to development, and some of the challenges that we face.
Bhutan has been always mindful of ecological community and resilience. Under the guidance of His Majesty the King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, and His Majesty the Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, (who the Law School is honoured to name after), Bhutan has turned away from the conventional development model based upon Gross Domestic Product, (or GDP). Instead, Bhutan measures its progress and development against a holistic metric, called Gross National Happiness, (or GNH). GDP, as you know, measures a country’s economic success by evaluating its material and financial progress. In stark contrast, Bhutan’s paradigm of GNH takes into account factors such as environmental sustainability, the vitality of diverse cultures and communities, good governance, and the psychological and spiritual well-being of all citizens. As His Majesty has observed, GNH, is development with values.
Under the farsighted leadership of our Fourth and Fifth Kings, and supported by the devotion of more than a generation of policymakers, civil servants, and private citizens, Bhutan has become a global champion of environmental conservation. We strive to raise trees, rather than skyscrapers; and build forests instead of cities. Our Constitution mandates that 60% of Bhutan remain under forest cover for all time: and despite fundamental economic changes and development in the past decade, we remain confident, and indeed proud to maintain more than 70% of our land under forest cover. In fact, more than half of those forests are fully, and legally protected as national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and biological corridors.
In addition to the guarantee of 60% forest cover, our Constitution also makes every Bhutanese a trustee of the natural resources and environment. Our Constitution makes it the fundamental duty of every citizen to contribute to the protection of natural environment and conservation of the rich biodiversity of Bhutan.
However, there are challenges, some of them existential. Bhutan is landlocked, and has only two neighbours: India and China. These are the two most populous nations on earth, and two of the fastest-developing economies in the world. They are at the forefront of economic, technological, and social change and development and – of particular impact to Bhutan; they are hungry for natural resources and electricity. And here at home, we face unchecked rural-urban migration, a growing number of imported cars, rising demand for fuel wood, and increasing development of our national infrastructure. And global problems such as climate change also threaten our nation. Our economic development is highly dependent on climate-sensitive sectors, including agriculture, hydropower, forestry, and tourism. Our farmers watch with concern as the once-consistent monsoon cycle grows ever less predictable. The hydropower sector, likewise, is dependent upon the continued sustainability of the great glaciers in the north and the regular cycles of wet and dry seasons.
On this note, Thimphu is without question getting warmer every year. On July 7 last year, Thimphu reported its warmest day in history at 33 degrees Celsius. Already this year, we have seen several days at or above 30 degree Celsius in Thimphu. Sustained climate change threatens our glaciers, our rivers, and our forests, all of which in turn, threaten our society and our very lives.
Economic growth and development affect all sectors of social, cultural, economic, and political life. Therefore, this Conference is a significant tribute to Bhutan and His Majesty the Fourth King’s enlightened vision and leadership for protection and conservation of the human and natural environments.
We live in a world of changes so profound and rapid, that no one can stand alone. The web of economic, social, and natural threads that connect us all is all pervasive and impossible to untangle. As such, everyone on earth shares equally the responsibility to support our continued survival and, dare I say, happiness. And we bear an equally important burden: to pass down an awareness of this responsibility to our children. As this conference will demonstrate, regulating globalisation through law is a necessary and achievable component of that responsibility. As citizens of planet earth, we must build upon our collective strengths, and make a lasting social progress that will see the people – not only of Bhutan or of Asia, but of the world – live a happy and content life.
Thank you, and I wish you all a very successful discussion.