By Leonard Gildarie
There were two things that came to my attention last week that Guyana should be aware of – the Brazil fires and comparative pay for local oil workers.
The Brazil fires have triggered a worldwide response, where countries have insisted on help to put them out. The consequences of doing nothing are frightening.
The rainforests are the lungs of the world. Scientists have provided evidence that less forest means more harsh weather, including melting of the icecaps in the Arctic and stronger hurricanes and drought. Mother Nature will become a deadly monster.
Brazil’s Amazon accounts for more than half of the world’s rainforest, with fires surging to a shocking 83 percent increase this year. Those forests have been seen as a major weapon to fight climate change. Brazil, like Guyana, has been receiving cash from developed countries to protect those forests.
The Brazilian government, led by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro is under pressure to do something. He has in the last few hours announced that his army has been mobilised to help put out the fires which have destroyed homes of indigenous people and killed thousands of animals which call the forests home.
Conservation workers cried and the photos of the firefighters and dead animals told a heartbreaking story.
The long term impact would be devastating for not only Brazil but the rest of the world.
The President blamed the dry conditions and illegal logging, and appealed for a rejection of sanctions as threatened by a number of countries.
Reportedly, his plans for increased agriculture have raised fears of more deforestation.
The house was on fire, was how French President Emmanuel Macron described the situation, with European leaders threatening to scrap a trade deal.
Al Jazeera reported that the Brazilian space agency, INPE, has registered 72,843 fires this year, the highest number since records began in 2013. More than 9,500 have been spotted by satellites over the past week.
Although fires are a regular and natural occurrence during the dry season at this time of year, environmentalists blamed the jump on farmers clearing land for pasture.
Bolsonaro has repeatedly said he believed Brazil should open up the Amazon to business interests, allowing mining, agricultural and logging companies to exploit its natural resources.
Some foreign donors – including the biggest, Norway – have slashed their contributions to the Amazon Fund, designed to curb deforestation in the region, in protest to changes introduced by Brazil that blocked its operations.
The Brazil situation has to attract our attention.
Natural Resources Minister, Raphael Trotman, said that the current situation has Government’s attention, but there is no threat to Guyana with the fires.
Under a 2009 groundbreaking deal, Norway agreed to pay up to US$250M to conserve its forest, limiting greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.
Using a number of indicators which it failed to meet initially, Guyana received far less than the US$250M.
From a Government perspective, Guyana has one of the lowest deforestation rates in the world, thanks to tough monitoring over the years. There has, however, been growing evidence of water polluting and the presence of a number of foreign investors with their heavy equipment has raised fears.
I am afraid of the prospects of increased migration in face of the oil and gas activities.
It is already happening. The Brazilians are here and Venezuelans, who are known for aggressive mining practices, are also casting their eyes here.
We have limited capacity to monitor some very harsh terrain in our hinterlands. That together with corruption in our midst by inspectors, is deeply worrying.
As part of the Amazonian rainforest, the Brazilian fires, regardless of the origins, have presented opportunities for us to revisit our arrangements with overseas partners, like Norway, for us to get more.
Yes, you heard it…to get more. All of a sudden, our value of our standing forests has gone up.
The Coalition Government and the Opposition must sit up and take notice.
I have dear friends on both sides of the House. I quarrel with them every single week to be more aggressive.
I have said it before and will say again. We are in the driver’s seat at the negotiation table with oil and so many other things. We are doing our country and its people, who have suffered and persevered in the post-colonial period, an injustice by accepting a pittance.
Our resources, including our oil, gold, bauxite, forests, sand, and I am hearing, rare earth, all can and should attract premium prices.
Guyana wants another arrangement like the Norway deal.
The response to the Brazil fires should be enough to make out rightful demands.
The question has always been how can we balance conservation along with the needs of our people, many of whom have invested heavily, to earn a living out of the forests.
The reality is that we are barely cutting a quarter of the allowable quota per year.
Again, we hurt for Brazil, as the entire world is being threatened.
However, we would be blind not to recognize the opportunities.
Another issue that came to the attention is the oil workers in Guyana.
We have been training scores to work in an industry which should see first oil pumped during the first three months next year.
Quite a number of the companies here have been operating in Trinidad and Tobago.
It was pointed out that workers in Trinidad are battling the companies for Cost of Living Allowances (COLA). A few of the matters are in court.
The minute you step off the shores and start working in the oil fields, the companies are supposed to be paying workers these allowances. I don’t know what is being offered.
However, as the debate of local content rages on, we must be aware of a couple of things. We have companies coming here. We have to be strong in what we demand.
The issue is not just about registering a company and advertising for employees.
These companies must outline plans.
We must be aware what the arrangements are in other countries. While it can be argued we will not get the same benefits at this time, there is nothing stopping us from demanding.
There is lots of work to be done. The lessons are there to help us make those decisions.
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