(Selected excerpts from H.E. David Granger’s address on the occasion of World Environment Day 2019 and the World Water Forum 2018)
Air, earth and water have been held to be some of the physical elements which sustain life from time immemorial. The protection of these elements is vital to ensuring human existence in a hygienic environment.
Everyone has a responsibility to protect planet earth and the people who inhabit it by safeguarding the sources which sustain life. Damage and degradation of any or all of these sources threaten human existence and the only place where man can live – on planet earth.
Ban Ki-moon’s aphorism – “…We have only one planet. There is no Plan B because there is no planet B” – has become a commonplace catch-phrase. The impact of climate change and its apocalyptic implications of environmental damage and degradation seem to have been ignored in many places as evident by persistent patterns of human behaviour.
Guyana faces environmental threats to fresh air, clean water and the bountiful earth. Our rivers are being polluted by reckless river-mining. The proliferation of plastic waste, especially single-use plastics, has compromised our drainage systems and precipitated floods. Careless solid waste management and irresponsible human habits have led to widespread littering and threats to public health.
I said, in my address at the Third United Nations Environment Assembly (High-Level Side Event V) in Nairobi, Kenya, in December 2017 that “…Pollution in the extractive industries threatens environmental security. It increases human vulnerability to human-induced environmental degradation and, therefore, impacts on human security…The ‘green state’ will become a model of environmental stewardship. It will demonstrate the signal role which a small state can play in protecting the world’s air, water and land from the threat of pollution.”
I said, further, that “…Pollution of the air, water and land is approaching and, in some cases, has reached dangerous levels. Emissions from industries are polluting the air we breathe. Chemical-laced waste and effluent are poisoning the world’s waterways which are still used for bathing, drinking, fishing, swimming and washing in some remote communities.”
The protection of the environment is an obligation not an option. The Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana[at Article 149 J (2)] provides that “…The State shall protect the environment, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures designed to prevent pollution and ecological degradation; promote conservation; and secure sustainable development and the use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development. The Constitution mandates, further, [at Article 149 J] that “…Everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to his or her well-being.”
The Government, in compliance with the Constitution, has taken steps to protect human life by safeguarding the environment. It is committed to preventing pollution and ecological degradation by preventing the contamination of our waterways, phasing-out the importation of single-use plastics and improving solid waste management.
We are Guyana. We are part of the ‘Guiana Shield’ – the ‘lungs of the earth’ – one of the world’s last remaining blocks of pristine rainforest covering an area larger than Greenland.
The Shield – the source of 15 per cent of the world’s freshwater reserves – is a global resource. It provides environmental services such as the regulation of the water cycle, water quality and pollination. Its forests contribute to air quality by capturing and storing carbon, thereby mitigating the greenhouse effect. Its biodiversity provides ecosystem services such as food, freshwater and medicinal products.
The Shield is essential to life on planet earth. The environmental services provided by our forests, including the forests of the Guiana Shield, help to provide clean air for the citizens of the world. The protection of our forests and the Shield’s biodiversity help to protect planet earth.
RIVERS AND WATER SECURITY
Water is life. Without water there can be no life. The world’s freshwater supplies, unfortunately, are under threat. Water stress is increasing in many parts of the world. Aquifers are depleted faster than they are replenished. The growth of the world’s population will increase demand for water by 55% by the year 2050, placing even further strain on freshwater reserves.
Rivers are the arteries of the earth. Seen from above, the earth’s creeks, lakes, rivers and wetlands form natural networks which sustain nature. Rivers and lakes account for 90% of the world’s freshwater stocks.
Rivers have been the cradles of human civilization from time immemorial. The earliest civilizations were nurtured along the banks of rivers – including the Euphrates, the Indus, the Nile and Yellow Rivers. Rivers remain vital today. Rivers will be essential for all eternity.
Rivers are indispensable to human well¬-being. The waters of rivers are used for cooking, drinking, fishing, recreation, transportation and washing. Rivers also provide water for irrigation for farming, mining, manufacturing and other economic activities.
Rivers are important for the security of states. Half of the world’s peoples live in countries, like Guyana and Brazil, which share river boundaries. The management of transboundary watercourses must promote cooperation and collaboration rather than confrontation and conflict.
Rivers must be protected from pollution, including that caused by environmental degradation and the discharge of effluent from industry, mining and agriculture. River pollution impacts adversely on water quality, on health and the economic and social well-being of citizens.
The protection of the sources of the world’s freshwater sources is essential to ensuring:
– citizens’ entitlement to water;
– communities’ access to safe and sanitary water; and
– countries’ and the continent’s water security;
The adverse effects of climate change – droughts, flooding, rising sea levels and extreme weather events – are exacerbating water quality and environmental security. The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has forecast that climate change will result in reduced surface and ground water in most sub-tropical regions.
The protection of the world’s freshwater sources, therefore, is essential to global water security….. At stake is nothing less than humanity itself.
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