Apr 01, 2011 News
… but dismisses concerns about increasing deforestation
Norway yesterday announced it was depositing a further US$40 million into its forest-saving deal with Guyana, with its Environment Minister Erik Solheim bluntly stating “it doesn’t matter” that deforestation increased by a whopping 300% here last year.
Solheim’s response was a curt rebuttal to charges by a group in Guyana which has asked Norway to delay payments under the five-year deal worth a total of US$250M over concerns about the rate the forest is being chopped down and about consistent allegations of corruption.
President Bharrat Jagdeo, who jointly announced the deposit of the additional funds with Solheim at his State House residence last evening, has been fiercely protective of the agreement and said he would hold a press conference to respond to the group of persons, singling out activists Christopher Ram and Janet Bulkan.
No opposition Parliamentarians were present at the ceremony. A number of government ministers, the diplomatic community and two Georgetown groups of the ruling PPP were in attendance.
The deposit of the additional funds brings to US$70 million, the amount available to Guyana under the deal though not a cent of the money, even from the initial US$30 tranche, has yet been disbursed.
Solheim announced the deposit of the 2011 tranche of the deal even though he said discussions are in progress to solidify safeguards against corruption and also ensure social and environmental safeguards. The Norwegian delegation is due to meet with opposition parties, civil society and other stakeholders and Solheim committed to taking on board concerns which are found to be legitimate.
A recent report commissioned by the Guyana Forestry Commission which was carried out by New Zealand-based consultants Pöyry Forest Industry concluded that the actual deforestation rate over the period 1990-1999 was in fact only 0.02 per cent.
When Guyana and Norway signed the agreement in November 2009, it was based on the fact that annual deforestation was 0.45 per cent.
The fact that deforestation is lower than that which was projected was “good news” for the Norwegian Environment Minister, even if that means the cutting down of trees increasing – different to the intended purpose of its deal with Guyana to support the preservation of forests.
What this means is that Guyana can continue to cut down its forest, once it does not exceed the reference level, which has now been set at 0.275 percent.
“…in the absence of a global system, such an approach alone would imply that Guyana would be eligible for significant payments even if it were to increase its deforestation along a business-as-usual trajectory towards the agreed reference level of 0.275%,” the updated Joint Concept note states.
In a statement released after the announcement, the countries said they were releasing a shared work plan for 2011 as well as an upgraded Joint Concept Note (JCN). These are available on the website: www.lcds.gov.gy.
The statement noted that under the terms of the upgraded JCN, Guyana will be incentivized to stop any increases in future deforestation and forest degradation – and to maintain a minimum of 99.5% of its current forest cover.
“Forest-based economic activities – such as mining and sustainable forest management – will continue to provide employment and national income benefits,” the statement added. But it countered this by pointing out that such activities could only be done by not exceeding the agreed limits to deforestation and forest degradation.
Solheim was not dismissive of concerns about corruption here and said there “must not be” any corruption in the way the money is used. Jagdeo said his government was committed to the highest safeguards against corruption.
In an apparent recognition of the criticism of the agreement, Solheim started off his presentation by saying that there will be mistakes; and President Jagdeo added that the model is “not perfect.”
Guyana has earmarked projects for funding under the first tranche of the funds, but has not formalised these as yet. These projects include demarcating Amerindian lands, providing Amerindian communities with a development grant, and outfitting every Amerindian home with a solar panel.
President Jagdeo said: “If we are to win the battle against climate change, we need an unprecedented shift in the global economy, and we need to make that shift without destroying the livelihoods of people who did nothing to cause the dangers now facing our planet.”
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