LCDS: An example of Guyana pursuing solutions

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-not waiting for them to be handed down
(The following is based on a presentation by the Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Robert M Persaud, MBA, MP on the debate on Parliamentary motion on the Low Carbon Development Strategy which took place on Tuesday, August 4, 2009) I AM disappointed that the Opposition is not present for the debate on the draft Low Carbon Development Strategy. More so, the PNCR, as that party had requested the government to delay the debate by one week to give it additional time to study the strategy. This was granted. The AFC now being attracted to the notion of extra-parliamentary and street protest politics. At the end of the day, the Guyanese people will be the judge. They will remember the PNCR/AFC for staying outside of Parliament when the government sought their inputs into a strategy to prepare Guyana and the world for an ever-increasing climate crisis and to look at an innovative mechanism to attract resources to create a new wave of economic development and opportunities for all our people. It makes no sense berating the Opposition, because at the end of the day, right thinking and patriotic Guyanese will be the judge of such erratic and unprovoked behaviour.

Climate Change is a reality we cannot escape. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded in 2007 that warming of the climate system is now “unequivocal.” (IPCC, 2007) Also, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) 2008 State of the Climate Report and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) 2008 Surface Temperature Analysis: The eight warmest years on record (since 1880) have all occurred since 2001, with the warmest year being 2005.

Global warming has led to sea level rise and massive irregularities in weather patterns. The net result is increased flooding due to marine inundation and rainfall accumulation. This in turn has led to destruction of crops and infrastructure, as well as water- borne diseases

Why has all of this been happening? It is due to the rapid increase in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, due mainly to the increased use of fossil fuels. But a more significant reason is the release of carbon dioxide, due to deforestation. It has been estimated that greenhouse gas emission due to deforestation is approximately one fifth of total global emissions.

Therefore, it makes sense to focus on forests as part of the solution. Forests provide a direct home to three hundred million (300M) people globally, of which at least one hundred million (100M) are indigenous people. Another eight hundred million (800M) rural people live around forests and are heavily dependent on them. We also know that eighty per cent (80%) of the earth’s above-ground terrestrial carbon, and forty per cent (40%) of below- ground terrestrial carbon is in forests.

Also, tropical forests cover just six per cent of the earth’s surface, yet they are home to more than half the earth’s species. Forest flora accounts for twenty-five per cent of all pharmaceutical drugs. Properly managed forests also provide a wide range of environmental services, preserve biodiversity, cultures and traditions. The world has now come to the recognition that these multiple services being provided by forests are extremely vital — this has led to the widespread acceptance now that forests are more important and valuable when sustainably managed, rather than if they are over-harvested and worse, clear-felled.

The idea of avoided deforestation has long been supported by internationally renowned experts. For example, the recent Stern review on climate change (2006) calls for “large-scale pilot schemes to explore effective approaches to combining national action and international support” to curb deforestation and degradation. There is also substantial scientific evidence that demonstrates that curbing deforestation is the least costly way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, if the right policies and institutions are put in place.

Solutions to deforestation are possible. They can be delivered quickly and cost- effectively, and have the potential to transform the economic prospects of some of the poorest countries in the world. Reducing deforestation leads to larger changes in carbon stocks over a very short period of time, according to the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF).

All of us in this National Assembly are aware that over eighty per cent of Guyana is covered with pristine tropical rainforests. These forest resources have been managed sustainably for decades, and the allocated 46 % of total State forests provide direct employment for 26,000 persons, brings in annual export revenue of approximately US$58M, and contribute to approximately 4 % of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product). It must be emphasized as well, that there is considerable demand for the unallocated State forest by both local and foreign investors, which debunks the argument of some that Guyana’s forests are not under threat. These requests include investors who want to convert the natural forest to palm oil and other plantations, as well as engage in traditional forms of agriculture and aquaculture.

It would be recalled the very generous gift of the late President Hoyte when, in 1989, Guyana donated 371,592 hectares of pristine tropical forests to the international community, for both conservation and sustainable utilization purposes, including research.

The government and people of Guyana are committed to the sustainable utilization of our forest resources under very carefully-managed and regulated conditions. These guidelines were reviewed by internationally renowned resource persons from credible institutions such as CIFOR (Centre for International Forestry Research), ProForest etc, and found to be very compatible with international best practices for sustainable forest management. The framework for good governance was enhanced by making the State forest land allocation process a very transparent public process.

Internationally, we have been recognized and applauded for this. And as Guyana forges ahead with national development as a priority, we are committed to a model where economic development and combating climate change are complementary and not competing objectives.

It is with this objective in mind that the Government of Guyana has developed the visionary draft Low Carbon Development Strategy entitled: ‘Transforming Guyana’s economy, while combating Climate Change’.

The LCDS notes that Guyana faces development challenges. If we are to reconcile this with the world’s need for forests to be kept intact, we must find a way to make national development and avoiding deforestation complementary; not competing objectives.

In embarking on this strategy in the absence of a full-scale international framework to deliver incentives for forest conservation, Guyana hopes that national scale pilots between willing governments, grounded in the basic logic of providing incentives large enough to motivate long-term forest conservation, can generate experience for the future, and start saving the world’s forests today.

Noteworthy is the fact that the framework vision for the LCDS was provided by His Excellency, President Jagdeo himself and not by the Guyana Rainforest Foundation as was erroneously stated elsewhere by a member of the National Assembly. The document was also subjected to continuous and intense reviews locally, regionally and internationally to ensure that it was factual, and looked at from all possible perspectives. Care has also been taken to ensure that the document was fully compatible with the obligations of all of the international treaties/conventions that Guyana is a party to, especially the Convention on Biological Diversity. The LCDS is totally in line with both UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) and FCPF, but way ahead of these positions in some areas.

Of course, being a national strategy, a requirement was that it had to be consistent with, or additional to, the objectives of other key policy documents such as the National Development Strategy, the National Competitiveness Strategy, etc. In the final document, this linkage certainly will have to be strengthened.

At the launch of the LCDS on Monday June 8, 2009, details of the consultation process were communicated to all stakeholders, and a timeline of June to September, 2009 was established. A participatory and consultative approach was undertaken at the sub-national level across all 10 administrative regions of Guyana, with sessions targeting 222 communities and satellite communities. Thousands of Guyanese from all ethnic and religious backgrounds attended these sessions, and the feedback provided was very encouraging, and showed a tremendous support for this visionary strategy. And yes! There were doubts and pressing questions, which were addressed.

The consultation process is being assisted and guided by a multi-stakeholder steering committee, which commenced weekly meetings immediately after the launching and are convened by His Excellency, President Jagdeo. The role of the committee is to oversee the entire consultation and feedback process, and includes various government representatives, the Private Sector Commission, Forestry and Mining sector associations, The Women’s Affairs Bureau, Youth Representatives, Labour, several environmental NGOs and two persons in their individual capacity. The process is overseen by a UK-based NGO called the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) contracted by and acting on behalf of Norway in response to the government’s request that an independent group oversee the entire process. The four Amerindian NGOs which operate in Guyana were also invited to nominate two (2) representatives each to be part of the LCDS process and Multi-Stakeholder Steering Committee.

A conceptual framework for the consultation and feedback has been developed, based on the guiding principles of transparency, inclusivity, information, timeliness, representation and others; the debate in Parliament, and independent monitoring of the process. In addition to full active participation in the multi stakeholder committee, the independent team, led by IIED, is expected to conduct a mid-term review of the Multi-stakeholder Consultation process (not the LCDS content). This will provide assurance that corrective actions have been identified and taken up in a timely manner within the overall consultation period, making the process credible both nationally and internationally.

All communities and stakeholders were informed that they would have the opportunity, up to September, to submit comments to the Climate Office, and groups were encouraged to discuss in communities, associations, sectors and at various levels to generate shared views for submission. To allow for timely feedback and effective dissemination of information, a website was created for the Low Carbon Development Strategy at www.lcds.gov.gy and allows for anyone to submit queries, responses, criticisms, comments and general views on the documents.

The main comments summarised from the consultations already held indicate overall support for the strategy; the need to have additional time after the consultations to further discuss with communities; the need to address mining and other land-use practices in community areas.

Additional clarity was requested on the issues of sovereignty of the forest resource; commencement and long-term guarantee of financial flows; benefit-sharing mechanisms; and Guyana’s obligations to the international community, both in terms of benchmarks and commitment period.

It was reiterated that Guyana would not be compromising its sovereignty in any way by pursuing this strategy. It was also explained that the benchmarks and timelines would have to be agreed on by Guyana and the source of the financial incentives; similarly, the benefit sharing mechanisms would have to be agreed on via a transparent process involving all the countries/donors providing the financial incentives, all Guyanese stakeholders, inclusive of the National Assembly, and the Government of Guyana.

It was however noted that Amerindian Titled Communities agreeing to be part of the strategy will benefit directly from the incentives through various mechanisms to be agreed on following discussions with the communities.

It was noted also that if areas committed to the strategy were found to later have significantly more financial potential than the financial incentives initially agreed on, then there were several options to deal with same. These include additional negotiations to increase the financial incentives to the level comparable to the potential monies that the alternative activities could offer to Guyana; there was also the flexibility of excising out that specific area and replacing it with another area comparable in size and climate change mitigation potential.

It was further clarified that whilst the strategy was a possible development path for Guyana, its timely and successful implementation was dependent on the quantity and timelines of financial incentives to Guyana. It was also explained that if, for some reason, financial incentives were not timely, or in the expected quantity, then Guyana has to keep its options open.

This will most likely result in adjustments having to be made to the LCDS that would factor in the outcomes of the current and emerging international negotiations at Copenhagen, as well as the results of our direct engagements with countries.

What does the LCDS propose to do for Guyana?
Since 2006, Guyana has consistently maintained that if the right incentives are created, we are willing to consider placing a large percentage of our rainforest under internationally verifiable protection, with the caveat that national sovereignty and the rights of all Guyanese are not negatively affected.

However, Guyana has also recognised that from a practical perspective, the one potential market of real importance for an environmental commodity is the carbon market.

Guyana’s Low Carbon Development Strategy seeks to provide an approach or a model to the global community on how to stimulate the creation of a low-deforestation, low carbon, climate-resilient economy. In our case, Guyana will avoid emissions of 1.5 gigatons of CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions by 2020 that would have been produced by an otherwise economically rational development path. The incentives will hopefully be generated from interim forestry payments from Guyana’s partnership with the Norwegian Government and other sources, and the REDD pogramme. The payments can enable Guyana to realign onto a low carbon development trajectory.

The LCDS seeks to stimulate this low-carbon economy through several routes that will create a new generation of economic activities and social progress: Advancing investment in strategic low-carbon economic infrastructure, such as a hydro-power development; improved access to unused, non-forested land; and improved fiber-optic bandwidth technology; through nurturing high potential low-carbon sectors, such as fruits and vegetables, aquaculture, sustainable forestry and wood processing; via investment in low-carbon business development opportunities such as ICT and business process outsourcing and ecotourism. Further, through expanding access to service and new economic opportunities for indigenous peoples, through improved social services including health and water.

Let me emphasise that the LCDS, in its current form, does not include Amerindian Lands, as these lands are privately held and provided for under the Amerindian Act of 2006. Amerindians will choose whether to be included in the strategy or not; additionally, this decision can be taken at any time, since the LCDS has no deadline for Amerindian Communities to “opt in,” and no community will be disadvantaged for opting in at a later stage.

Successive governments, including during the PNC administration, have prided themselves on sound stewardship of our natural resources and being very active on the international stage to ensure sound global environmental frameworks are developed. The draft Low Carbon Development Strategy, while it envisions an innovative and first-ever model, is consistent with that national thrust.

We need also to temper our expectations. This Strategy must not be seen as our only development hope and salvation. We must be realistic and see this as one possible approach, once the international community comes to terms with the need to provide incentives for avoided deforestation, and there are fewer equivocations from the historic polluters and carbon emitters.

We have demonstrated to the world that as a small, developing country, we are not just contented to sit on the sideline and do nothing while our planet is in peril, and there are many developmental needs.

We are sharing with the international community the visionary leadership of President Jagdeo, who has gotten major players to listen and begin to take action. We might recall that Guyana was one of only three non-G20 countries to be invited to the G20 side meeting in London to talk about the contribution of forests in the fight against climate change.

Mobilising our unique forest assets to transform our economy will not come from London, Oslo, Washington or Brussels. They’ll come from Guyana, Gabon, Indonesia, etc…. So if the world wants the abatement, it is vital that forest countries are enabled to come up with their own way to do this (it is not aid)…. Guyana is literally the first country in the world to do this. Our politicians of all parties, members of civil society and citizens in Guyana are more knowledgeable about this than their counterparts in developed countries… So rather than waiting for solutions to be “handed down” from the developed world, Guyana is forging the path for solutions that the developed world needs.

There is an interesting story in Chapter 12 of the Quran and the Old Testament, where the Pharaoh of Egypt was experiencing the recurring dream of seven fat cows being devoured by seven skinny cows, and crops dying. This worried the Pharaoh, and his butler overheard his disquiet and mentioned Joseph/Yusuf (grandson of the Prophet Abraham) who was noted for interpreting dreams. Joseph was brought to the Pharaoh and told him that his dream meant that a drought would come in seven years time, and that he should take steps to ensure that there was enough food and supplies for that disaster. Seven years later, the drought did come, and due to Joseph’s ability and advice to the King, the devastation of the people of Egypt was prevented.

Today, we don’t have the gift of Joseph, but we have the evidence of science to predict the future, so that we can plan and act. And before us here, we have a visionary strategy that holds many of the solutions to stave off disasters and hardships from afflicting our country now and in the future.

The strategy should not be viewed in a partisan perspective; this is simply about a creative, visionary approach, which, if it succeeds, can make Guyana a truly great and prosperous society visited by unprecedented levels of security, peace, unity and opportunities for all.

I do hope the Opposition will not miss out on the other on-going opportunities to make their inputs. We are all heartened by the fact that all other groups and sectors are making their contributions.