Bhutan steps up efforts to remain carbon neutral in transport sectors

The electric car is handed over by the UNDP Resident Representative Azusa Kubato

STAFF REPORTER | Thimphu

Bhutan received 52 additional electric vehicle ( EV) taxis as part of ongoing support to the Royal Government of Bhutan on 7 May.

The EV project, which is implemented by the Ministry of Information and Communications, and funded by the Global Environment Facility, started in 2018 to facilitate a low-carbon transition in Bhutan’s urban transport sector. By the end of this year, a total of 300 taxi operators from across the country will switch to EVs supported through this project.

The 52 new EV taxi operators as they pave the way for a wide-scale switch from fossil-fueled cars to electric vehicles in Bhutan.

The UN Development Programme is supporting Bhutan in its efforts to transition to electric vehicles to cut down on fossil fuel emissions. The initiative aims to have 300 taxi operators trade in their fossil-fueled vehicles for electric ones within three years.

The goal is to maintain its position of being a carbon-neutral country by curtailing the emission to remain within the carbon sequestration capacity.

Bhutan spends millions on petrol and diesel imports every year, as its transport sector relies heavily on fossil fuels. Air pollution is also an emerging concern with vehicle emissions being among the major air pollutants. Through the initiative, Bhutan estimates that it will reduce carbon emissions by 93,000 tonnes over the lifetime of the vehicle.

Through the taxi sector, the Bhutan Sustainable Low-emission Urban Transport Systems project is expected to pave the way for a wide-scale switch from fossil-fueled cars to electric vehicles in the country.

On his visit to the electric vehicle charging station above the Memorial Chorten in Thimphu, which was built by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the UNDP Administrator and UN Under-Secretary-General, Achim Steiner commended the Royal Government of Bhutan on the exemplary initiative.

“With global carbon emissions growing to all-time highs, Bhutan’s commitment to maintaining its carbon-neutral status serves as an inspiration for countries around the world hoping to pursue low carbon development paths,” said Achim Steiner.

“Such green and clean initiatives are critical in the fight against the worst effects of climate change, and I look forward to hearing more about a successful initiative like these at the Climate Summit at the UN in September,” he said.

The electric vehicle initiative made its debut in Bhutan in 2014. Since then, the promotion of low emission vehicles as a preferred mode of urban transportation remains key to addressing growing problems associated with traffic growth and carbon emissions.

“The government recognizes the need to address and curtail the rapid growth of fossil fuel consumption and carbon emissions in the transport sector, along with improving the quality and accessibility of transport services to the people,” said Phub Gyeltshen, the Project Manager at the Ministry of Information and Communication.

Since the project started this year, around 40 taxi drivers in Thimphu have registered with the Ministry of Information and Communication to replace their fossil-fueled taxis with electric vehicles.

“We are looking at rolling out 80 EV taxis by the end of this year, 100 more in 2020, and another 120 in 2021. This would be a four-fold increase in the number of EV taxis from 99 today to 399 by the end of the project period,” said Project Manager Phub Gyeltshen.

He added, “Taxis offer high visibility in raising awareness among the public on low emission vehicles and their benefits.”

It would obviously come with significant health, environmental and cost benefits. Though taxis account for only 5 percent of the total vehicle fleet in Bhutan, their contribution to carbon emissions and fossil fuel is three times higher due to higher travel intensity and mileage of about 75,000 km per year.

The switch to electric vehicles would also enable the country to cut down fuel imports and save millions in fuel costs. According to Bhutan’s National Statistical Bureau, the country spent Nu 7.53bn (US$115m) in 2016.

This not only exerts pressure on the country’s foreign exchange accounts and exposes the country to energy security risks but also presents serious threats to Bhutan’s commitment to remain carbon neutral.

The UNDP has been a long-time partner of the Government of Bhutan in climate change mitigation. With a US$3 million in support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Bhutan Sustainable Low-emission Urban Transport System Project is implemented by the Ministry of Information and Communications with support from UNDP Bhutan.  

UNDP Resident Representative Azusa Kubota, Secretary of MoIC Phuntsho Tobgay, and representatives from various stakeholders welcomed the EV taxis.