I WAS particularly struck by an impressive statement issued by the City Chamber of Commerce (City Chamber wants single development plan, restoration of PM as head of gov’t: Stabroek News/27/12/2019).
Whilst the Chamber must be complimented for articulating its position, the narrative promoted by this statement is troublingly incomplete. It failed to take into account the most basic and fundamental thing necessary for the existence of everything else: The environment. I am not sure what framework was used by the Chamber to come up with its ten-point plan, but there appears to be a certain pattern of thinking among some corporate and associated organisations and groups where economics, profits and other financial imperatives are awarded the highest points on the priority spectrum. However, the natural environment, in many cases, doesn’t even make it on the planning agenda, and in the decision-making process.
It is reflective of a remote and widening relationship between economics and ecology. It was Milton Friedman who said that the business of business is to make profit and to optimise returns to shareholders. One of the main criticisms of this view is that it does not cater to stakeholders. We all have a stake in a healthy natural environment, therefore, we all must have an abiding interest in how the activities of big businesses are affecting the environment.
That, notwithstanding, the rush to make big profits by corporations and companies facilitated certain innovations and cycles of development, which encouraged reckless exploitation and unsustainable use, rather abuse, of the environment and its resources. This has led to worrying levels of environmental degradation, and global environmental challenges have pushed the issue of sustainable development throughout the world. The Brundtland Report, published in 1987, contributed significantly to growing awareness that it is no longer possible to take the environment and its resources for granted; that instead they have to be considered in the decision- making at various tiers of society.
Reflecting more specifically on the statement by the Chamber, I wish to note a few key phrases in it that point to the urgent need for greater contemplation by this organisation on the importance of the environment in its planning. According to the statement: “The GCCI believes that in order to prepare our country for a new era in its history, we need to have a single all- encompassing, nationally-bought-into development plan, not a plan that will be thrown out at successive elections.” But how could anyone talk about a new era in Guyana’s history without mentioning a word about the environment and environmental integrity. This is a serious point, because many areas of our country remain vulnerable to certain environmental conditions.
A prime example is the nation’s capital, Georgetown, where the government, public utilities, our main ports and many corporations are headquartered, is four (4) feet below normal tide, and an additional two (2) feet at spring tide. As a result, there is the ever-present threat of breaches to sea defences, and the consequent fear of those, particularly farmers, living on the low coastal plane. Climate emergency and global heating are causing sea rise. In Georgetown the situation is especially worrying with vanishing drainage facilities, increasing number of residents concreating their yards affecting runoffs of storm water into the lower aquifer, heavy siltation of our outfall channels due to, among other things, sling mud from the amazon river caused by deforestation. This has led to an increase in the rotations of cleaning these waterways. This continues to exacerbate the situation as it relates to overtopping in certain local communities.
I rather suspect that, this is the reason why the Director General, Mr. Joseph Harmon rightly said at a press conference, a few days ago, that, the idea of relocating people to higher grounds is being considered by the authorities. The truth is that unless we give the utmost attention to addressing the environment and unprecedented environmental challenges and changes our history would unfold in the most undesirable way.
Again, the chamber said that: “This transformative plan must address the structural issues in our economy… be a shining example for our region and for the world in the case of how small states deal with windfall natural resource exploitation. (For context here Rystad Energy expects that the projected Government Revenue from the 14 discoveries in the Stabroek Block will be above US$120B.)” Interestingly, the chamber quoted a figure for projected government revenue but nothing about the real perpetual costs involved in exploitation natural resources to produce oil, gas and other related products, including major disruption, degradation and destruction of marine life and the likely impact upon ecosystems. Indeed, exploiting natural resources usually does incredibly complex damage to the environment one never knows how it will end up.
Exactly why we need to include it in our corporate and national plans. Guyanese are yet to hear about a comprehensive study on the likely impact of oil and gas on climate change and the general natural environment in Guyana. The reality is that any plan for Guyana that does not include the environment as a fundamental element cannot be considered truly transformative. Might I suggest to the leadership of the City Chamber of Commerce that going forward it considers thinking of and speaking to an approach that would create a path to integrate the ecology and our local economy in a way that would make Guyana resilient to climate change and global warming. The chamber and in fact all of us should relish the chance to secure the integrity of our environment.