Urbanization, carbon neutrality, and Gross National Happiness: Sustainable development pathways for Bhutan

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Bhutan is a rapidly growing economy currently undergoing swift and extensive rural-to-urban migration. Its commitment to carbon neutrality, as well as its unique Gross National Happiness (GNH) objectives, make Bhutan a fascinating laboratory for studying sustainable development strategies and how they can be specifically tailored to align with local contexts and values. This paper uses the framing of the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs) from the global climate change mitigation literature to develop a vision for a locally appropriate SSP for a sustainable Bhutan, encompassing energy supply, energy demand, and urban and regional planning. The approach outlined here demonstrates how research-based recommendations from the academic literature can be combined with knowledge of local considerations to develop place-based visions for sustainable societies. The proposed sustainable pathway for Bhutan (SSP1) outlines a future in which the nation continues to sequester more carbon than it emits while maintaining traditional cultural values, a strong sense of community, and a burgeoning economy. Outcomes of alternative scenarios are described according to the nine domains of GNH. Focusing on Bhutan as a real case study, this paper thus demonstrates how mitigation measures can be selected and implemented to align with unique cultural values and national aspirations.

D. Leibowicz