The remote Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has signed a deal with Japanese auto giant Nissan to become the ultimate showcase for electric cars, taking advantage of its abundance of hydropower.
The announcement was made during a visit on Friday by Nissan chief executive Carlos Ghosn to Thimphu, the picturesque capital of Bhutan.
Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said electric vehicles would help meet a target of zero emissions.
“An important part of that plan will be sustainable and environmentally-friendly zero emission transport,” he added at a joint press conference with Ghosn.
“We don’t want to rely on and we don’t want to buy fossil fuel,” he added.
To mark the announcement which came on the birthday of Bhutan’s revered king, Nissan said it was donating two of its Leaf electric vehicles to the government.
It will also supply Bhutan’s pool of government cars and fleet of taxis with the same model for an undisclosed price.
Wedged between India and China, the ‘Land of the Thunder Dragon’ is famed for its Gross National Happiness development model that specifically takes into account the environment as well as psychological well-being.
Landlocked and mountainous, Bhutan is teeming with rivers and waterfalls that enable it to operate four hydroelectric plants with a combined capacity of 1,400 megawatts – equivalent to a powerful nuclear reactor.
Most of the electricity is sold on to India but Bhutan also has to import traditional fossil fuels to meet the needs of its motorists.
“(Electric vehicles) will help Bhutan to reduce the use of fossil fuels and the need to import foreign oil,” said Ghosn in the press conference.
Ghosn said the deal would make Bhutan an environmental role model, predicting that the government investment would encourage consumers.
“What we are talking about is the very initial step. Because of this vision that we see for Bhutan, you can expect hundreds or hopefully thousands of Leafs (to be) sold in Bhutan,” added Ghosn.
Tobgay, who came to power after winning Bhutan’s second ever elections last July, sees electric cars as a way of becoming more self-sufficient and of demonstrating the rapid development of a nation that only introduced television in 1999.
The prime minister acknowledged that the high price – the Leaf costs around $US20,000 ($A22,238) in the United States – could scare off motorists but said he was hoping for outside help.
“If we can get international agencies and individuals to support us to subsidise one third of that price, it becomes very affordable,” he said.
While other capitals in South Asia are often cloaked in pollution, the residents of Thimpu enjoy a largely pristine climate.
As all vehicles have to be imported and are heavily taxed, car ownership is relatively small and taxis are widely used.
Started in year 2010, ‘Climate Himalaya’ initiative has been working on Mountains and Climate linked issues in the Himalayan region of South Asia. In the last five years this knowledge sharing portal has become one of the important references for the governments, research institutions, civil society groups and international agencies, those have work and interest in the Himalayas. The Climate Himalaya team innovates on knowledge sharing, capacity building and climatic adaptation aspects in its focus countries like Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Climate Himalaya’s thematic areas of work are mountain ecosystem, water, forest and livelihood. Read>>