by prof clive thomas, stabroek news

Last week I indicated that, for a small nation, Guyana has exhibited exemplary ambition in the development of its responses to worldwide environmental challenges, in the face of global warming and climate change. As revealed, these challenges are largely induced from greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), especially carbon dioxide, CO2. Guyana’s indicated nationally determined contributions (INDC), submitted under the 2015 Paris Agreement, specifies its intended curbs to GHG.

guyana and the wider worldReaders may not be quite aware that Guyana enjoys an exceptionally high standing in the world of forests. Consequently, this column invites readers to ponder on ten of the nation’s most celebrated attributes in the world of forests. These are listed below, in no order of ranking.

Reasons 1-5

First, typically one would find that textbook descriptions of the world’s forests claiming: “Guyana’s forests provide a habitat for a considerable number of animal and plant species; ecosystem services (including erosion protection); purification of water supplies; and, contribute to the general maintenance of environmental stability both in its geographic region and worldwide.” (anon)

Second, alongside this, Guyana has had a very long history (which its INDC claims as a “proud history”) of its indigenous peoples practising forest conservation. The value which they have been obtaining from the standing forests exceeds the value from other available means of earning livelihoods. As I shall point out later, this observation is very contentious. Indeed, I hope to demonstrate my strong disagreement with those who seek to portray this outcome and behaviour as entirely altruistic. In truth this should not be interpreted as adequate evidence showing the hinterland population has been solely concerned with its “stewardship and conservation of Guyana’s forests” for their own sake, that is, qua forests.

Third, utilizing the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO), definition of a Protected Area (“areas especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity, and of natural and associated cultural resources, and managed through legal or other effective means”), Guyana’s Kaieteur National Park is the first such protected area in Amazonia! Established nearly nine decades ago in 1929, when Guyana was a colony, the decision to establish the park should perhaps be attributed to the then colonial administration.

Fourth, following the establishment of Kaieteur Park as a protected area; six decades later, the then President Hoyte committed to the formation of the near-million acre Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development. As previously noted, this centre is managed as a shared responsibility of Guyana and the Commonwealth.

Fifth, at the basic operational level, Guyana is widely recognized as having maintained one of the lowest deforestation rates on Earth. According to the FAO’s Global Forest Resources estimates, its deforestation rate has been negligible. Significantly also, the INDC declares that, based on national estimates, Guyana’s deforestation rate up to end 2015, had peaked at only 0.079 per cent in 2012 and 0.065 per cent in 2014.

These rates are among the lowest in the world. Estimated forest losses, (previously discussed), reveal that only 134 thousand hectares were lost between 1990 and 2015. (The decline was from 16.66 million hectares in 1990 to 16.53 million hectares in 2015). While this low deforestation rate has been contested, available alternative rates are below 0.4 per cent per annum for long periods. Indeed 0.4 per cent was the rate termed the “business-as-usual rate” in the estimates, which I have provided in earlier columns of Denis Alder and Marijke van Kuijk (2009)!

Reasons 6-10

Sixth, Guyana’s geography reveals that, at 85 per cent, the country commands the second highest percentage of tropical rainforest cover on Earth. Seventh, as a direct consequence of this, its forests command globally important carbon stocks; equal to as much as 19.5 gigatons of carbon eioxide equivalent, (19.5GtCO2 eq).

Eighth, these observations show Guyana as one of few countries which can claim to be a net carbon sink. That is, its forests sequester more carbon than its human activities, of all types, generate. As earlier columns have indicated, estimates show Guyana’s forests (about 18.5 million hectares) hold carbon in unusually high density; in the range of 350 tons per hectare. This yields an estimated 5.31 gigatons of carbon held in its forests.

Ninth, these circumstances place Guyana in an enviable state, as on a per person basis, its carbon stock of 6,638 tons/person, is the second highest in the world.

Tenth, and finally, Guyana has one of the longest and most striking experiences pioneering the international development of payment-for-performance forest schemes. This is demonstrated in the Government of Guyana and Kingdom of Norway, Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) and its related REDD+ mechanisms of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC).

Basically, its international experiences have been focused on 1) monitoring of forests payments (that is, resource transfers to countries who deliver forest ecosystem services which curb GHG emissions), and 2) performance management of such agreements. This latter includes “avoided deforestation”, as well as “sustainable forest management” practices and “conservation”.

More pertinently, Guyana’s INDC argues that it has been, thus far, leading the world in the development of national forest Measurement, Reporting and Verification Systems (MRVS). In fact these systems operate at both nation-wide and integrated community levels (CMRV).

Conclusion

Clearly, this column supports the case for Guyana being seen as a highly regarded and environmentally-sensitive nation, because of its significant contributions to the evolution of global environmental theory, practice, and policy formulation. These environmental contributions are led by the utilization of its forests. While Guyana is a small, relatively poor country, this condition places a high premium on its evaluation of social and environmental costs against warranted returns for this commitment in a materialistic world.