TURNING OFF THE LIGHTS FOR EARTH HOUR
Guyana’s President has become a leading figure in the fight against climate change. He continues to acquire a reputation as one of the world’s foremost advocates for countries to do more to contain the emission of greenhouse gases.
He has even offered to place most of his country’s forest cover under preserved status, providing that a financial compensation package can be put together. It was an ambitious proposal that not only catapulted his tiny nation on the international stage but in the process made President Bharrat Jagdeo a global leader in the fight against climate change.
Guyana itself has put together a development strategy that allows it to pursue clean development options. There is constant talk in the tiny republic about the dangers of climate change and the country’s contribution to the global struggle.
Yet strangely, and from all accounts, there was very limited national response to a global appeal, done by an internationally recognised non-governmental organisations, for citizens to turn off their lights for one hour between 8. 30pm and 9.30 pm on Saturday on March 27, 2010.
Given the public hype about climate change and the government’s own enthusiasm about this process, it must have been anticipated that Guyana would have been one of the countries in terms of per capita energy savings as a result of the switching off of lights.
As it turned out, the Earth Hour activities in Guyana turned out to be like a faulty switch. It did not make waves. While some persons did respond to the appeal to turn off the lights in their homes, the vast majority of the public were either unknowledgeable about the initiative or simply unconcerned.
Some Guyanese were so confused about the matter in a country in which power outages due to generation shortfall or line maintenance occurs that they actually believed that there were rumours circulating that the entire electricity grid would have been shut down from 8.30pm on the night in question.
When one group of housewives was assured that this was really a voluntary appeal for citizens to turn off their lights, the reaction was one of amazement since they could not understand why anyone would want to turn off their lights. Their participation, they said, would have to be forced. “ GPL will have to blackout ( the Guyanese slang for cutting power) my house; I am not turning off no lights. The neighbours will think that I am going bonkers or that I cannot afford to pay my light bill”, one consumer noted.
Yet one expected far different from a country which today is leading the world in fighting climate change. As a country, with huge possibilities for clean energy development spawning hydro-electric power and wind energy and with most of its landmass unspoiled by human degradation, Guyana was expected to have been one of the countries which would have been able to announce impressive per capita energy savings as a result of turning off the lights.
Canada, one of the countries that participated in switching off lights was actually able to measure the reduction in electricity consumption during that hour when their countrymen were encouraged to switch off their lights.
In the case of Guyana, the poor response probably means that there is nothing for the country to boast about when it came to energy savings on March 27, 2010. This may have something to do with poor capacity of non-governmental groupings within the country, a segment of civil society which the international donor community is hoping can play a more active and defined role in the affairs of the country.
Yet for all the initiatives made to actualise this role, there has been very limited success. A recent forum hosted led to a call by a leading figure in the main opposition political party for a code of conduct for members of the government.
Yet there remains a great deal of apathy within the political process and a need for civil society to make a greater impact in influencing not just the government but also in its relations with the citizenry.
But if the failure of Earth Hour in Guyana is a reflection of the limited internal reach of the country’s leading environmental advocates, it is also an indictment of the government which now needs to reinvigorate its Low Carbon Development Strategy after the debacle of Copenhagen last December.
The government lost a wonderful opportunity on March 27, 2010 to keep its citizen engaged in the global climate change agenda. Perhaps it is just another sign that despite the fact that its President continues to impress on the global seen in advocating a new climate change deal, that internally there is not much interest in the country adapting to its President’s global message. Perhaps like most other things in this small South American country, there is growing disconnect between the people and its leadership on the question of climate change.