By Rear Admiral (Rtd.) Gary A. R. Best
Presidential Advisor on the Environment
IN this article, I shall identify some sustainability challenges to Greening Guyana’s Economy. We must therefore be mindful of overcoming them as we pursue a green economy pathway.
Sustainability requires development for the present without compromising development in the future. It is characterised by the interdependence of social, economic, ecological, environmental, scientific, biodiversity and inter-generational factors (Our Common Future, Sutherland; Pfahl; McMichael, Robinson). Equally significant to sustainability, are other factors such as multinational financing, deliberative democracy, enhancement of justice, technology transfer, intellectual property, land rights, and knowledge transfer (Sneddon et al; UNFCCC; KPMG; Hale et anor; Kerkhoff).
Forests, Development and the Environment
Guyana’s National Forestry Action Plan allows for selective and reduced-impact logging, which together result in minimal collateral damage and natural regeneration of the species. In addition, Guyana’s harvesting rate is less than the allowable international rate, because of its unique soil structure, which is an additional plus to sustainable harvesting of the forest. In fact, many environmental specialists from the Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development have posited that many companies are unable to harvest the allowable 10 trees per hectare, which results in forest-gap reductions and natural regeneration.
The major actor in Guyana’s forests is the bi-lateral payment for ecosystems services agreement Guyana enjoys with Norway, which is tied to maintaining a specific forest cover, failing which a regime of financial disincentives will obtain in a reducing manner until a zero incentive return for Guyana, assuming Guyana’s deforestation rate continuously slides into the negative. Accordingly, Guyana’s ultimate benchmark for its regenerative capacity is its deforestation rate’. Once this rate is kept to a minimum, regeneration will be successful.
A key instrument in maintaining a low deforestation rate is the successful implementation of the REDD+ mechanism, a global initiative whose key element is the ability of Guyana to monitor, report and verify carbon emissions in order to maintain an agreed-to forest cover and environmental footprint without inhibiting its ability to harvest the forest sustainably. However, traditional slash-and-burn techniques rob the soil of its nutrients which lengthens the regenerative process and, though popular, should be discontinued in the interest of positive regenerative capacity.
Linking development to environmental issues presents a significant challenge to the sustainable development of Guyana’s natural capital. Diversifying its economy in this context is problem-specific. On the one hand, we can argue that the recent passage of the protected areas legislation was an extremely important sign that Guyana was serious about linking environment to economic development, thereby putting our forests first. While, on the other hand, linking environment to development appears to be merely ‘formal’, since linking has to be followed through with implementation. Whereas this seems to be the case within the forest sector, however, when it comes to mining it appears that ‘economic development’ is placed over environmental issues, thereby putting our forests last. Mining is the most pervasive form of forest deforestation and forest degradation in the pursuit of rich minerals such as bauxite and gold. With this in mind, reforestation ought be a critical part of environmental responsibility. One cannot mine without deforesting and degrading and the environment cannot be protected without mandatory reforestation.
Linking the environment to development has to move beyond forest activities to the wider green economy pathway anchored, for the most part, on a low-emissions trajectory. In that context, Guyana’s green economy should embrace environmental measures throughout Guyana, meaning towns, villages, districts and rural areas, removing any doubt that the government is genuinely concerned about the environment and not simply exploiting an economic initiative that the environment offers.
Most agree that land-titling is an important feature in reducing emissions from forest degradation. Importantly, ownership of land is essential to arrangements that have to do with benefit-sharing and titling also limits conflicts involving boundaries and resource competition. A title ‘links the land owner with a regulatory agency’, and this mechanism allow the regulatory agency to dictate the proper use of the land, such as determining the amount of carbon emissions allowed. This is a critical issue, since several miners who purchased mining claims and, some of whom are actually mining, have been informed that some of the lands being mined belong to some indigenous communities, highlighting the importance of titling. Successful land-titling could also allow for indigenous communities commercialising their forests on a payment for ecosystems services such as the Guyana Norway Agreement. However, titling should go beyond indigenous lands. Communal land titling is an outstanding obligation by the government under the Independence agreement of 1965. There can be no doubt that an ‘ integrated management’ process of all land-tenure matters and, not specifically Amerindian lands, is necessary for any success in linking environment to development. Even as we pursue strong land tenure, care should be taken to balance the extent to which non-forested lands, such as wetlands, which form a rich biodiversity that also stores carbon, are converted into agricultural lands
Technology also impacts sustainability. There has been some technology transfer but not in high-technology areas. These technology transfer areas included geographical information service skills and codes of conduct for forest management. Technology transfer is a requirement for developed countries to pass on to developing countries. In many instances, technology transfer was possible through commercial and government-to-government transfers as opposed to the promised transfer under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Among the few geoscientists in Guyana, all agreed that new technologies exist which can recover over 90% of gold harvested, creating more incomes and greater possibilities to pursue reforestation. Therefore, technology transfer and technological innovation remain constant priorities in advancing sustainability concepts.
Further, technology is important in a wider sense in the context of greening Guyana’s economy. In particular, the energy sector is now advocating energy conservation, energy efficiency, solar, wind and alternative energy as green-economy actions. These are high- intensive technological markets for which Guyana will need international assistance to acquire and manage successfully. Further, our best bet for long-term, cheaper power is hydro, a high-technology driven activity.
Linking development to the environment through the practice of equitable land-titling, technology transfer and innovation and low-emissions management across all sectors presents opportunities for greening rather than risks to greening Guyana’s economy. In this manner, we can preserve our environment and provide a good life for all. (Comments can be sent to email@example.com)
Mr Gary A R Best is a retired Rear Admiral and former Chief-of-Staff of the Guyana Defence Force. He is an Attorney at Law and Presidential Advisor on the Environment. He is a PhD candidate at the University of the West Indies. He holds a BSc in Nautical Science (Brazil) and Masters Degrees from the University of the West Indies and the University of London. He is also an alumnus of the National Defence University and Harvard Kennedy School. His research areas include, climate change governance, climate change finance, international relations and environmental law.