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REDD-hot Cancun: Guyana's race for the money

Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 8 Dec 2010 15:14 GMT
Author: Neil Marks
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Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo arrives in Cancun, Mexico, this week to join the tortuous UN climate talks and press the case that any ‘balanced’ outcome must include a final decision on REDD, the idea that rich countries should pay poor countries to keep the forests standing.

The Coalition of Rainforest Countries, which speaks on behalf of Guyana, has made a strong call for a REDD decision in Cancun, saying that this has been delayed for too long. But REDD is far from straightforward and there are controversial elements to Guyana’s own hopes to benefit from a REDD agreement.

The idea seems plausible for a country like Guyana. Sitting on South America’s North Atlantic coast, it is a poor country. But its untouched forests, which cover an area the size of England, could do much to boost the national wealth if REDD kicks in.

So while helping to mitigate climate change, Guyana’s forests could also help to the country to adapt to the impacts ahead. With its low-lying coastal plain and a crumbling and under-resourced sea and river defense system, the country is at exceptional risk from climate change, with sea level rise being one of the more certain outcomes.

Jagdeo believes that REDD could just be the boon the country needs to increase wealth. To benefit from the initiative, countries must prepare a Readiness Plan to show how they will save the forest and how they will use the money they get. In 2007, Jagdeo set about an ambitious plan to do this by developing a national Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS).

The plan is simple - Guyana will keep the forests standing, but it must be paid to do so. And the money is already coming in. Norway has signed a five-year deal with Guyana worth US$250 million, or about what it takes to run Guyana for an entire year.

But the low-carbon development strategy has come under question for the way it was prepared. Amerindian leaders have said they were not properly consulted, and that they do not understand REDD.

This provoked a bizarre move from the government. When the local Amerindian People’s Association held a workshop to educate some Amerindian leaders about REDD and climate change, Guyana’s Amerindian Affairs minister protested on the streets as he suspected that the association was trying to derail the country’s low-carbon development strategy.

Late last month, the forest advocacy group Rainforest Alliance UK described as “junk economics” the advice the international consultants McKinsey and Company gave to Guyana to prepare the LCDS.

McKinsey suggested that Guyana could earn approximately $580 million per year by cutting its forest and replacing it with high value agriculture, but the Rainforest Foundation says the rate of deforestation suggested by McKinsey is inflated.

Neither Jagdeo nor his climate office have responded to the Rainforest Foundation’s claims. Meanwhile, Guyana’s chief negotiator in Cancun, Andrew Bishop, is not allowed to speak to the media.

That will have to wait for Jagdeo when he comes. The president is known to be blunt when it comes to the LCDS and this includes bashing the World Bank, which is managing the funds being given to Guyana by Norway.  In October, Jagdeo said that the release of the first tranche of the funding - $30 million - was being delayed by “silly, useless” World Bank officials.

George Norton, an Amerindian parliamentarian with Guyana’s main opposition party, which has rapped the government on its corruption record, does not agree. “The World Bank and other international financial agencies are trying to make certain that things are done the proper way,” he says, “And if it means slowing down a process, then so be it.”

This past week, the World Bank’s climate change envoy, Andrew Steer, defended the Bank’s delay in disbursing the funds, saying that it wants to ensure that environmental and social safeguards are in place for the money to be used well.

“Why would your President (Jagdeo) say the World Bank is a problem?” Steer asked at a media conference in Cancun organised by the Climate Change Media Partnership. “Maybe it’s because we were asked to do something by the other party (Norway) and we have to do it ,otherwise we are not fulfilling our obligations.”

This blog was produced by Panos London and the Climate Change Media Partnership.

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