Oil development a key piece of Low Carbon Development Strategy
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THE government recently released major updates to the country’s long-term environmental strategy in time for the COP26 global summit on addressing the threat of climate change. The new Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) will augment the previous strategies and puts in place goals for 2030 that will shape how Guyana responds to a warming world. This is the first of a three-part series that will examine Guyana’s broader role in the global fight against climate change and the impacts of the LCDS and COP26.

The updated LCDS, which has been an evolving document since 2009, explains how Guyana can be a larger part of global efforts to reduce planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions, like those being discussed in ongoing COP26 discussions in Glasgow.

COP26 is the 26th annual meeting of the United Nations Climate Change Conference that brings together leaders and government delegations to co-ordinate efforts to combat climate change. Five years after the Paris Agreement was signed at COP21, COP26 is widely viewed as a crucial milestone.

For Guyana, it’s an especially interesting year. As a small country on the cusp of massive oil wealth and a historically massive absorber of carbon emitted by the developed world, Guyana’s role is multi-faceted.

It joins a growing movement of countries across the developing world fighting to have the industrialised world acknowledge a fundamental issue: developing countries, which have historically emitted very little of the pollution-causing global warming are being asked to curtail their economies and risk their futures in order to make up for the emissions of the industrialised world.

Developing countries have forcefully pushed back on the notion that they should leave valuable resources in the ground to make up for the actions of countries that have profited off coal, oil, and gas for two centuries. As the countries that will also face the brunt of changing weather and sea level rise, developing nations are pressing hard on their sovereign rights to monetise their natural resources and emphasizing the need to pay for vast new infrastructure and mitigation efforts to help their people and their economies survive a warming world.

The LCDS acknowledges this conundrum directly, saying oil and gas “has transformed the country’s development prospects,” and highlights that pressure to stop this pathway to development is unfair, especially given the UN’s simultaneous focus on development and resolving inequalities between countries.

Revenue from oil and gas is key to diversifying and growing the domestic economy while still preserving Guyana’s vast area of crucial carbon-absorbing forest. Oil and gas will also help finance efforts to decarbonise the power supply. President Irfaan Ali recently stated that “several hinterland communities across Guyana are expected to undergo massive development… as the government pursues a revolutionary transition agenda to clean and reliable energy,” including solar, hydro, and wind power, over the next few years. The government’s pursuit of the Amaila Falls hydropower plant is one such initiative that will increase access to renewable energy in the country.

The LCDS also incorporates upgrading the country’s infrastructure to “improve transportation, improve access to finance, and create micro and small low-carbon enterprises,” that will increase efficiency and sustainability. There are already plans in place to install a gas-to-energy power plant, that could cut prices and emissions by more than half, compared to Guyana Power & Light’s current use of pollution-intensive heavy fuel oil.

But, although important, these efforts pale in comparison to Guyana’s main historical contribution towards reducing emissions: its massive forests. Guyana is at the forefront of a special club of countries that have done much more than many others to help mitigate emissions—preserving vast forests that have absorbed huge quantities of otherwise-damaging carbon dioxide over the last hundred years.

The LCDS points out that the country’s forests store more than 21 Gigatons of carbon dioxide. To put that in perspective, the U.S. Congress has spent months debating a bill that would spend more than US $1 trillion on emissions reductions. Analysts estimate those measures, many of which have now been ruled out as too costly, would have saved approximately one gigaton over the next decade.

That reality makes Guyana’s healthy and highly protected forests a crucial global tool for mitigating climate change. But it also further highlights the balance that developing countries are trying to strike this year at COP26 and more broadly, weighing a right to develop in the same way that industrialised countries have for centuries with an obligation to be part of the solution.

The LCDS is a bold effort on the part of the government to do both. In Part two, Understanding Energy will examine that policy environment in more depth and explore how leaders and companies are thinking about meeting the world’s growing energy needs in a more sustainable way.

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