On Monday, 8 June 2009, Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo launched a “Low Carbon Development Strategy” (LCDS) for the country. Among the foreign dignitaries at the launch was Hans Brattskar, Director of Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative. Jagdeo hopes that Norway is going to bankroll his plans.
Media coverage in Guyana was positive. The government-owned Guyana Chronicle, for example, gushed that Jagdeo “set the stage in a 55-minute address at the International Conference Center in Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara, drawing praise immediately across the board from different stakeholders.”
Of course it is not clear whether anyone with critical opinions was invited to the launch, or whether journalists made any effort to seek out critical views. Nevertheless there are several areas for concern with Jagdeo’s plans. REDD-Monitor presents the following concerns to the governments and citizens of Guyana and Norway:
- President Jagdeo has drawn up the Low Carbon Development Strategy without the benefit of a discussion within the country first. The Office of Climate Change will be close to his centre of power – within his own office, in fact. How can Guyanese citizens ensure that the President will be transparent and equitable in the implementation of the climate plans?
- A “REDD Secretariat” has been established within the Guyana Forestry Commission, funded by Conservation International. Two NGOs are represented on the country’s REDD Advisory Committee: Conservation International and the World Wildlife Fund. Conservation International is heavily in favour of carbon trading and is one of the US-based NGOs that recently signed on to a controversial deal with polluting industry. The establishment and control of the REDD Secretariat appears to bypass any democratic process in Guyana.
- In any case, there has so far been little meaningful debate in Guyana about REDD and its implications. Whilst a three-month “national consultation” is planned this is likely to be limited to the government’s Low Carbon Development Strategy. How can the principle of free, prior and informed consent be applied when the plans are drawn up before consultation takes place? Neither does it seem likely that indigenous peoples’ rights will play a key role in the consultations. The Kaieteur News interviewed Cabinet Secretary Roger Luncheon and reported that “Amerindian communities in Guyana, which own 14 percent of the country’s land, will not benefit from any ‘special’ treatment in the consultations that will lead to the adoption of the government’s Low Carbon Development Strategy.”
- Jagdeo’s Low Carbon Development Strategy relies heavily on what one local expert has described as the “fantastical” document prepared in 2008 by McKinsey Consultants and issued by the President in December. The report estimated how much Guyana’s forests are worth standing, by attempting to guess how much they might be worth in theory if they were all cut down and the land put to some other use. Questions remain about the reliability of McKinsey’s calculations; in particular their spurious claims about the potential for Guyana’s forest lands to be converted to valuable agriculture, should REDD funding fail to materialise.
- Among the projects listed in the Low Carbon Development Strategy is the Amaila Falls hydropower dam on the Kuribrong River. This scheme has been planned since the late 1990s. Jagdeo has publicly committed to building the dam before he leaves office. But without an independent Procurement Board to oversee and scrutinise government procurement procedures for externally-funded construction contracts, REDD funders run the risk that their financing could end up in the pockets of the government’s business cronies.
- “It is easy to caricature deforestation as capricious Third World governments colluding with corrupt logging companies,” Jagdeo said in his speech at the launch of the Low Carbon Development Strategy. “And undoubtedly, this is sometimes the reality,” he added. He could have talked about Guyana, where the reality is that the country’s forests are being torn apart by Asian loggers. Whilst the Low Carbon Development Strategy promises new wealth based on non-polluting activities, more than ninety percent of the country’s existing logging concessions are held by foreign companies under secretive but highly concessionary contracts, and their operations are spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as they systematically degrade the country’s forests. Jagdeo’s plan is that these loggers will stay; the Low Carbon Development Strategy states that the government “will not stop existing economic activities or threaten the employment of those already working in the forest”.
- In order to counter the obvious contradictions in this, the government suggests that a “national certification scheme” will be introduced, with the aim of making all forestry operations Forest Stewardship Council compliant in due course. Local experts say they’ve heard it all before, and point out that even a previous scheme to verify forest sector legality was never implemented properly, allowing fraud to continue. Guyana’s first certified logging operation, Barama, lost its FSC certification in 2007 when it was found to be consistently in breach of the FSC’s standards. It shows no sign of being reinstated. As one observer has concluded “Guyana will continue on its present trajectory of secret Foreign Direct Investment contracts with a few foreign loggers.”
- This presents the Norwegian government with something of a problem. In his speech, Jagdeo said, “I am very pleased that Norway and Guyana are now working very closely to determine how to generate performance-based compensation for forest climate services which will support the implementation of our Low Carbon Development Strategy.” But deforestation in Guyana is currently zero, making further reductions impossible. The one “performance” that the government could undertake in order to reduce emissions from the forest sector – i.e. to stop or reduce commercial logging – is precisely what Guyana says it has no intention of doing. So exactly what “performance” is to be measured is not clear. Perhaps the government intends to stop the traditional rotational swidden farming practised by the nation’s indigenous Amerindian communities, which takes place on a cyclical basis over a few tens of thousands of hectares per year.
- Guyana’s early ventures in REDD-type projects have been shrouded in secrecy. The terms of the lease issued by the President to the London-based Canopy Capital for the ecosystem services of the Iwokrama rainforest project in south-western Guyana have never been revealed. The government’s new Memorandum of Understanding with Norway emphasises the need for “transparency”, but have even Norway’s negotiators have been able to prize the Iwokrama project contract out of the Presidency?
Presidential Advisor Kevin Hogan helped produce Guyana’s National Competitiveness Strategy in 2005 and 2006. Hogan was in Poznan when Bharrat Jagdeo introduced the McKinsey report. He was in London for the G20 forests meeting, organised by Prince Charles. Wherever Jagdeo goes, it seems, Hogan is sure to follow. Hogan has argued that “the time for projects is over” and that it is time to move quickly towards full market trading of forest carbon. But he also revealed an uncomfortable truth: that REDD projects “are very valuable for many reasons, but the danger in them is that you can create an oasis of good practice within a desert of bad practice.”
Before pouring in millions of dollars, Guyana’s donors should beware that the country is not heading fast into the desert.
PHOTO Credit: Office of the President.