Development and the Big Picture
In our editorial of last Friday, “Sharing the Pie: Sustainably” we discussed the exponential increase in the exploitation of our mineral resources in the last decade. We pointed out that the last administration, with its Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS), identified the need for an overall development strategy that would be sustainable, environmentally and otherwise.
After the last election however, the agenda has unfortunately become dominated by politics and we are in danger of losing the plot. We suggested that we need to re-look at our roadmap for development.
Like most other poor countries, Guyana has also unquestioningly embraced an economic growth model based on increasing consumption. While we understand this is neither automatically sustainable from the environmental perspective nor inclusive in ensuring that the economic benefits are shared equitably, it is difficult to proceed otherwise when even the developed countries continue to raise their levels of consumption.
To prevent further degradation of the environment and to enable more informed and participatory environmental management, which can then be held accountable, we need a paradigm shift in our approach. Our LCDS adopted a more holistic model of development, which includes environmental and social factors right from the beginning and is based on a robust ethical framework. To separate development, environment and social justice or to present these as conflicting issues is incorrect. However, the attitude of the developed countries which pay lip service to these values – witness their foot-dragging on funding for REDD+ programs – is discouraging.
Traditionally, development projects have not really accounted for environmental costs when financial viability was examined. Neither were projects assessed based on their performance post-completion against the initial cost-benefit calculation. While the developed world initiated a movement in the 1970s that included such a perspective, the post-2008 downturn in their economies have placed such concerns in cold storage.
It was pointed out that if more realistic accounting methods were adopted, methods that would actually capture the costs of environmental loss and the damage to both ecosystems, and also to the ecosystem services that they would provide on a sustained basis. This enables us to get a far more realistic picture of how destructive, unsustainable and economically unviable the current development model is. The ‘cap and trade’ proposal that would have allowed the developed countries to pay environmentally-conserving countries such as Guyana to sequester carbon in our forests, now have been placed on hold.
It does not appear to matter that the degradation of natural ecosystems is currently very rapid, resulting in loss of species or ecosystems that is often irreversible. The loss of natural ecosystems results in loss of ecosystem services such as clean water from watersheds, retention of soil and soil fertility, changes of weather patterns, sequestration of carbon and provision of pollinators and natural predators of pests. Right over in our neighbour Brazil, the clearing of hundreds of thousands of square miles of forests have led to a dramatic change in our weather patterns that has affected them – and us.
An unfortunate mindset was exposed in the current debate on usage of our hinterland resources: a lack of appreciation that thousands of people, mainly Amerindians, rely on services and products from natural ecosystems to sustain their livelihoods. Fortunately the Norway intervention gives recognition of the value of ecosystem services and has incorporated a payment for ecosystem services, which specifically targets local populations.
While we may be disappointed with the international sloth on compensation for conservation, we cannot stray from the premises of our LCDS. We must continue to develop models based on local experience with the active participation of the local communities that integrate science and traditional knowledge. This will ensure that we implement programmes which are knowledge-based, appropriate to the local ecological and socio-cultural contexts and have the support of the local people, and hence will have better chances to succeed and also be sustainable.
For instance, the Amaila Falls Hydroelectric Project, while vital for our future sustainable development, must allow for increased participation by local people.