May 15, 2009 Editorial
It was not a matter of fortuity that President Jagdeo was the only Head of State that was invited to address the 17th Session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development.
He has become a leading light in the effort to place the “Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Degradation” (REDD) initiative higher of the global agenda. What he focused on in his latest foray was his insistence that Guyana’s utilization of REDD’s funds could become a model for the rest of the world in sustainable development.
The President was most expansive in describing his vision: “We believe…(avoided deforestation)… can be done in a way which not only protects our forests, but also re-orients our economy onto a low-carbon trajectory by utilising renewable sources of energy instead of fossil fuel; reducing overall industrial emissions from energy generation by one third without sacrificing healthy growth rates, opening up unused, non-forested parts of the country to agricultural development, and by unprecedented investment in economic opportunities within our forest communities.”
Over a year ago, when President Jagdeo was making his pitch for REDD at the World Economic Forum in Davos we noted: While we support the President … in the initiative, we do believe that under the present world economic conditions, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions will not be very high on the agenda of the economically developed countries that would have provided most of the funding.
“With both the developed and the major developing economies either in a recession or sliding into one, their political directorates are feverishly throwing trillions at businesses and consumers to stimulate demand and thus production – and, inter alia, emissions.
“They will in all likelihood, point out that in the near term, emissions would have been reduced in any case through lower industrial activity.
“Specifically with our REDD initiative, backsliders will reason cynically that with world housing and construction in a slump, it is very unlikely that there will be a whirlwind of economically-driven deforestation in the immediate future.”
We suggested that while we should continue to support REDD, at this juncture it may be more helpful to our national interest if greater attention were directed at getting more value from our forest resources. Events, since, have vindicated our position.
It was ironic that on the same day that the President was delivering his “avoided deforestation” speech in New York, back home in Guyana, the Forest Products Association (FPA) was announcing that while they are committed to “Sustainable Forest Management” (SFM), in view of the “present global financial crisis where companies are failing or on the verge of doing so”, they are seeking strong partnership and support from the government and other stakeholders. Specifically, they are seeking the government’s review of the Guyana Forestry Commission’s “practices in managing and regulating the forestry sector”.
The FPA’s statement (and the recent statistics on the sector) undercuts the premise on which the President’s case for obtaining development funding for Guyana through avoided deforestation is based.
That premise was enunciated in the McKinsey-compiled report, (and presented by the President in Davos) “Saving the World’s Forests Today: Creating Incentives to Avoid Deforestation”.
Guyana, it declared boldly, “could increase its deforestation rate to 4.3 per cent per year, destroying all forest outside protected areas in 25 years”.
To stop this putatively inexorable process, Guyana would make the great sacrifice to “avoid deforestation” thereby preventing the millions of tons of Carbon Dioxide “trapped” in our trees, from being released into the atmosphere.
The world, in gratitude, would rush to compensate us.
The fly in the ointment has always been that our baseline deforestation is very, very low. Statistics produced by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation for Guyana indicates “no net loss of forest cover between 1990 and 2005.”
The slowdown of activity in the forestry sector will ensure that there will be no dramatic change in the near future and makes moot the other hurdle the model raises: the need to prove that any reduction in deforestation is “additional” to business as usual.
We believe that we should proceed full steam ahead with the exploitation of our forestry resources. In addition to placing our future development more firmly in our own hands, it will ironically make our arguments for REDD even stronger.
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