by Dr. Clive Thomas, Stabroek News

Earth Day 2016 Signing ceremony

As indicated last week, Guyana, together with 174 other nations, have all reportedly signed on to the Paris Agreement, finally negotiated last December (2015). As noted, that agreement has established an innovative global framework, within which nations pledge their periodic performance targets, agree to mandatory assessment of these, as well as rich countries agreeing to substantial resource transfers to poor countries, in a coordinated global effort to put strict national curbs on greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions are presently the leading causes of global warming and climate change. The global community has also set a year (until next Earth Day 2017), within which to complete the necessary ratification formalities.

guyana and the wider worldReportedly also, at the recent Earth Day 2016 signing ceremony, 15 countries had by then already completed their instruments for ratification of the agreement. The agreement, however, will not come into force until after fifty-five (55) nations complete their instruments of ratification. It should be recalled that, altogether, over several years 196 countries, both rich and poor, had been involved in extensive and intensive negotiations aimed at curbing intensive global dependence on fossil fuels, because of their related carbon dioxide emissions.

Readers may not be aware that there are several greenhouse gases, other than carbon dioxide; for example, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and chlorofluorocarbons. These are generated from agricultural and other economic activities. However, carbon dioxide is considered as today’s leading source of greenhouse gases. Significantly therefore, Guyana’s revised submission of its intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) as they are termed, under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), has listed carbon dioxide as the specific greenhouse gas which the country has taken into account in making its pledges.

Guyana’s pledges

As further indicated last week, Guyana has acknowledged the paradoxical circumstance in which it finds itself. That is, one where its current and historical carbon dioxide emissions have come primarily from the conversion of its forests land to non-forest usage plus its heavy dependence on burning fossil fuels (principally through GPL) in order to generate the bulk of national electricity supplies. Of course, those are precisely the two sectors where its pledged emissions curbs will come from, based on the country transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy, while simultaneously avoiding deforestation!

The coverage of Guyana’s INDCs is for the period up to 2025. As stated in its revised submission, the official forecast for Guyana is quite pessimistic, if the world adopts a business as usual approach to global warming and climate change: 1) a rise in temperature in Guyana of 0.4°C to 2°C by the 2030s; 2) a rise of 0.9° to 2.3°C by the 2060s; and 3) a rise of 1.4°C to 5°C by the 2070s. These projected temperature increases are expected to be more focused in southern Guyana.

LCDS and Guyana’s ambition

The declared starting point for Guyana’s INDCs is the Low Carbon Development Strategy, as first modelled in the McKinsey and Company Report of 2008 referred to previously. The implementation of the LCDS has been crucially dependent on the payment-for-performance incentive arrangements in the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) and its Investment Fund (GRIF). This is now funded primarily under the Guyana Norway Agreement (GNA).

In its recent revised submission under the Paris Agreement, Guyana has pointed out that the REDD+, GNA, and GRIF arrangements constitute a starting point. Indeed, Guyana’s INDC goes on to express a higher ambition, which distinguishes it from the LCDS. First, it indicates the LCDS is but the starting point for “Guyana’s overarching contributions aimed at achieving a Green Economy via a low-emission economic-development pathway”.

Second, this further path is considered as essential 1) nationally, for transitioning the economy in order “to realize improved human well-being and social equity while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities”, and 2) globally, by providing opportunity for “a better quality of life for all within the ecological limits of our planet, particularly as it pertains to our common global climate”.

The President has publicly amplified at the Earth Day ceremony on some of Guyana’s pledges. As was indicated last week, succinctly stated, Guyana’s pledges are: 1) going to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2025 and 2) based on Guyana’s Proposed Reference Level for its REDD+ Programme to avoid annual emissions of 48.7 MtCO2e, if the incentives from REDD+ are delivered to the state.

The President detailed some specifics of the Emission Reduction Programme for Forests, which include 1) Reduced Impact Logging (RIL) in the forests 2) Improved Measurement Reporting and Verification Systems (MRVS) for assessing levels of forest degradation and deforestation and 3) Improved Forest Governance and Institutional Capacity Upgrading (IFG&ICU). In addition, altogether, two million acres were acknowledged as pledged to forest conservation.

Conclusion: Price and performance

One contentious query remains on this issue. That is, is it possible to mainstream the social/ environmental costs of climate change and global warming through the medium of everyday market prices? This is a key concern, given that in order for carbon dioxide emissions to be significantly curbed, private businesses and individual economic agents must be brought to the forefront of the global endeavour. While governments have advanced this task through the Paris Agreement under the UNFCCC last December 2015, this alone is not enough!

Further, to date, the most acceptable proxy for monetizing the cost/price of greenhouse gas emissions is the unit price of a “permit” to emit one unit of any greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. Similarly, we might state that the most comprehensive formulation of performance is one where returns are paid for delivering forest ecosystems services, which embrace avoided deforestation/ degradation, alongside forest conservation, and sustainable forest management.