By Neil Marks
“Carbon credits” and “REDD” are confusing terms for indigenous leaders and they are not shy to admit it. Just what does President Bharrat Jagdeo mean in offering the country’s entire forests towards global efforts to make the earth cooler?
The President hasn’t offered them the details but has promised to do so, and with another promise – to create a special fund to increase the wealth of indigenous communities, the poorest in the country, if he gets the money he is looking for in a deal to trade the ecosystem services Guyana provides in preserving its rainforests.
Jagdeo’s offer was a thorny issue for local indigenous leaders who met with their counterparts from Suriname and French Guiana last week in Georgetown to set priorities and create a cohesive strategy to strengthen the Amazonian movement in view of major threats facing the indigenous peoples and their environment.
When Jagdeo met with the leaders over Amerindian delicacies of Pepperpot and cassava bread on Wednesday at the Regency Hotel in the city, he told them not to be confused about REDD, a mechanism for compensating countries for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.
When Sydney Allicock, a leader of the Macushi Amerindian community of Surama, asked the President to teach Amerindians about REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) and carbon trading, the President gave a commitment to take his plan to the communities and explain it to them.
But the President quickly added that his offer to keep Guyana’s forests standing in exchange for development funds does not include titled Amerindian land, so Allicock needn’t worry unnecessarily.
But that response was not comfortable for Jean La Rose, one of the leaders of the Amerindian People’s Association of Guyana. For La Rose, there is no clear distinction between “titled land” and “traditional Amerindian land” and so she is not sure whether the forests on offer by Jagdeo take that into consideration.
Sharon Atkinson, another woman Amerindian leader, shared the same view. “When we hunt…fish…collect leaves of trees for our houses, we do not know boundaries,” she declared.
La Rose, though, was heartened by the commitment given by President Jagdeo towards consultation, given that the Amerindians have consistently argued for consultation.
Mr Jagdeo said Guyana’s climate change model could create massive flow of funds to Guyana, thereby preserving the rainforests and delivering economic benefits to impoverished rural communities, moreso the Amerindian people.
Last year, the government brought together international experts to develop a model to be used in ensuring that countries which preserve their rainforests get money in return. According to the model, Guyana could earn more than US$500 million if it approves activities, such as logging, which would mean the cutting down of the trees.
Jagdeo said this model is reasonable, since it means Guyana is valuing one ton of carbon at US$4, when Europe now pays US$30 per ton.
Jagdeo wants his model, or the concept of rewarding countries for avoiding deforestation part of the post-2012 international climate change deal, which is due to be struck in Copenhangen, Denmark this year end.
However, already, Guyana is seen as playing a lead role in putting forward climate change models. In March 2008, Canopy Capital and the Iwokrama International Centre in Guyana signed a deal to measure and then place a value on the ecosystem services (such as rainfall production, water storage and weather moderation) of a one million-acre patch of forest in Guyana’s interior.
The agreement opens the way for financial markets to play a key role in safeguarding the fate of the world’s forests.
The million-acre reserve was gifted to the Commonwealth in 1989 as a showcase for how tropical forests could be managed to provide ecological and economic benefits. Scientists estimate Iwokrama holds close to 120 million tons of carbon – an amount equivalent to the annual emissions of the UK.
When President Jagdeo announced his model for avoided deforestation in December last year, he carefully noted that placing the country’s forest under long-term protection could only be done with the sanction of the National Assembly and those who live in, and depend on, the forests – the Amerindians.
“But I believe that most Guyanese are rightly proud of our long-term commitment to preserving our forest and would be willing to do this,” he said confidently then.
The model was prepared with the help of Britain’s Prince Charles’ Rainforest Project and former US President Clinton’s Climate Initiative. A team of experts from Guyana and the highly regarded international consultancy McKinsey and Company conducted a rigorous, fact-based assessment of how to align rainforest countries’ long-term economic interests with those of the wider world.
Starting with an analysis of soil types and infrastructure quality in each of Guyana’s forest regions, the experts established a range of values for the economic value to the nation from harvesting timber and profitable after-harvest activities, such as farming, ranching and mining.
Based on internationally-accepted projections of increases in global demand for these commodities, the research team concluded that the forest could generate economic value to the nation of about US$580 million per year.
The government of Guyana says this estimate is validated by “the regular requests we receive from investors who want to use the land in our forests for agricultural development”.
Jagdeo told Amerindian leaders that with the money to be gained, the special fund for Amerindian development could amount to almost US$100 million.
The President said this fund is necessary since, even though Amerindians have been able to have improved access to basic services, such as health and education, their income has not increased and hence they still largely remain in poverty.
If the money becomes available, he said it will go towards projects in Amerindian communities that could bring in substantial income. For example, he said the mountainous communities of Region Eight, can grow spices which are marketed at high prices and are not highly perishable. Jagdeo sees this as unprecedented assistance to forest communities. The Amerindians await the details on the President’s plan.
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