Acceptance speech by H.E. Mr. Daw Penjo, on behalf of His Majesty the King and the People of Bhutan

Your Excellency, Mr. Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director, UNEP Excellencies,Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a great honour and privilege for me to receive on behalf of His Majesty the King and the People of Bhutan the 2004 Champions of the Earth Award. It is also a privilege to join the six other distinguished recipients of this prestigious Award: I extend to them on behalf of His Majesty the King, the Government and the People of Bhutan, our heartiest congratulations and wish them further success in their noble undertakings.

We value the role of UNEP as an important global institution committed to protection of the environment. We are proud to receive this award. It is a fitting tribute to His Majesty the King and the People of Bhutan's commitment to environmental conservation and sustainable development. His Majesty in his wisdom and farsightedness has accorded environmental conservation the highest of priorities in Bhutan's development policies and programmes. Indeed, environmental conservation, cultural promotion, economic growth and good governance form the core of Bhutan's development philosophy of Gross National Happiness as proclaimed by His Majesty. This philosophy underlines Bhutan's perception of human well-being as the fundamental purpose of development and thus the need to pursue a strategy that encompasses more than just material needs.

Conservation of natural resources continues to remain a priority. As mandated by the National Assembly, the country must maintain a forest cover of 60% at all times; at present Bhutan has 72.5% of its land area under forest cover which includes 26.23% as protected areas. Furthermore, biological corridors comprise an additional 9% of the country's land area. We are also a net sequestor of greenhouse gases as per the 1994 baseline and recognize the significant adverse impacts of climate change on our fragile mountainous ecosystem. We are proud of our natural resource legacy and are committed to ensuring that policies and measures are undertaken to protect our rich conservation heritage. We also remain deeply committed to our global environmental obligations.

We recognize the importance of environmental conservation, and the links between poverty, underdevelopment and environmental degradation. Bhutan's sustainable development policy namely, the Middle Path, National Environment Strategy for Bhutan endeavors to balance economic development and environmental conservation with a commitment to inter-generational equity.

Excellencies, Allow me to quote a statement of His Majesty the King that exemplifies His vision and commitment to environment:

"Throughout the centuries, the Bhutanese have treasured their natural environment and have looked upon it as the source of all life. This traditional reverence for nature has delivered us into the twentieth century with our environment still richly intact. We wish to continue living in harmony with nature and to pass on this rich heritage to our future generations."

Bhutan will continue to be guided by the vision and path to development charted by His Majesty the King and the People of Bhutan. This Award is a source of great encouragement for Bhutan and its people to stay the chosen course. We sincerely thank UNEP for this recognition and express our desire to work closely with the Executive Director and his organization in our common endeavor to save our planet earth from further degradation.

Thank you and I wish you all Tashi Delek!