How did Norway choose its REDD countries? Brazil and Indonesia make sense because of the large areas rainforest and the rapid rate of deforestation. But Guyana? In 2009, when the two countries signed the Memorandum of Agreement, there were no bilateral ties between the two countries, no Norwegian embassy in the country, and Norway had no political or commercial interests in the country.
The only countries that are smaller than Guyana in Latin America are Uruguay and Suriname. Its population is well under one million people. In 2009, the Norwegian Ambassador was working from Norway. Only in January 2011, was the responsibility for Guyana moved to the Norwegian embassy in Brasilia.
Guyana is also a very corrupt country, ranking 133rd in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2012. Yet Norway has no one in the country to monitor where its REDD aid is going.
In a 2012 article in Development Today, Lars Løvold of Rainforest Foundation Norway argues that Norway should have chosen the vast forests of the Congo Basin instead of Guyana. It’s a good point. So why Guyana?
Heidi Bjørkto Bade, a student at the University of Oslo, recently completed a case study of the Norway-Guyana REDD+ partnership under the title, “Aid in a rush” (pdf file 1.5 MB). She describes the Norway-Guyana partnership as “both surprising and groundbreaking, given that Norway has minimal knowledge about Guyana and no former official presence.” Her thesis asks why did Norway choose Guyana? Her answer is that the decision was a political one, made, to a large extent by Erik Solheim, then-Minister of both Environment and International Development:
The decision was characterized by lack of time, as the partnership was to serve as a model and had to be ready before the COP-15 meeting in Copenhagen in December 2009. In this context, development aspects and potential risks were given less emphasis.
Before writing her thesis, Bade had worked on these issues as an intern at the Norwegian embassy in Brazil. Thanks to Norway’s Freedom of Information legislation, Bade could access the relevant documents via Norway’s Electronic Public Records. Nevertheless, she writes that, “Many of the documents I have asked for have been classified as ‘exempted from the public,'” especially documents about on-going processes.
Bade also interviewed officials in Norway and Guyana, as well as NGOs and observers.
Bharrat Jagdeo, who was President of Guyana until November 2011 played a key role in pushing for the deal with Norway. Officials in Norway told Bade that Jagdeo, to a large extent, still governs from behind the scenes.
Bade provides a timeline leading to the Norway-Guyana partnership. During 2008 and 2009, Jagdeo and Solheim met several times at international conferences. Other meetings involved Hans Brattskar, leader of the climate and forest secretariat in Norway’s Ministry of Environment, and Jagdeo’s advisors Shyan Nokta and Kevin Hogan. In February 2009, Jagdeo visited Norway and met Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. A joint statement after the meeting announced that Norway and Guyana “will seek to establish closer cooperation on climate and forest issues”. In April 2009, the Prime Ministers of the two countries both attended a meeting organised by Prince Charles in London. In June 2009, Guyana launched its Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS).
The Memorandum of Understanding and a joint concept note was signed in November 2009. Four months later, a delegation from Norway’s Ministries of Environment and Foreign Affairs travelled to Guyana for a “fact-finding mission”. Ten months later, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) completed a country risk report on Guyana. Norad’s report concluded that there are high risks associated with the partnership and there is considerable negative reputational threat for Norway. The report highlights a lack of governance transparency, deterioration in the freedom of the press and a poor political culture for consultations involving local people. But by then it was too late.
In October 2010, the Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund (GRIF) was established with the World Bank as Trustee and the following month GRIF approved its first project: Institutional Strengthening in Support of Guyana’s LCDS. Bade writes that “Having the World Bank as Trustee of the GRIF makes it possible for Norway to play a limited role.” In fact, Norway declined offers from the UK’s Department for International Development and the World Bank for office space, so that Norwegian officials could be more involved in projects on the ground. Hans Brattskar told Bade that,
“I think presence is important and positive, but it does not solve all our problems. There will still be challenges.”
One of the people that Bade spoke to in Guyana told her it was “amazing” that Norway has no one in Guyana, considering the amount of money involved. Steven Grin, a Wall Street Economist and Guyana’s consultant in the GRIF told Bade that,
“The fact that there were no prior relations between Norway and Guyana means there was no trust. I don’t want to use the word mistrust, but no trust. Therefore it has taken time to build that trust.”
Building trust, however, must be even more difficult when there is no one in the country with whom trust can be built.
According to Per Frederik Pharo, deputy leader of Norway’s forest and climate secretariat in the Ministry of Environment, Guyana was willing to:
“a) maintain deforestation at its extremely low historical level, b) spend the money ‘earned’ from REDD+ on climate adaptation and a transition to a low carbon economy, including renewable energy, and c) through a pay for performance approach.”
Pharo added that, “At a general level, this is a win-win value proposition from our point of view.” However, Pharo described the scenario described in McKinsey’s report about the possibilities of REDD in Guyana as “illustrative but totally unrealistic”. McKinsey estimated the opportunity cost of avoided deforestation as US$580 million per year.
Two of Guyana’s main negotiators were economists hired as consultants: Steven Grin and Kevin Hogan. Both were referred to by people that Bade interviewed as “very central actors in making the partnership happen”.
Solheim’s comments to Bade about Jagdeo are interesting: “He invoked confidence, there was no doubt that he meant what he said.” When Jagdeo left office he wrote to Solheim to say that, “Your personal dedication has been a major reason why we have travelled this far.” It seems the love in between Solheim and Jagdeo pretty much explains Norway’s generosity towards Guyana.
One Norwegian Government official told Bade:
“It’s a mystery why we chose Guyana. I guess Jagdeo is to blame, or has the honor, for that. Minister Solheim and Prime Minister Stoltenberg were eager to make NICFI work fast. They wanted to show that we actually did something and to build this new paradigm.”
One of the people that Bade interviewed described Norway as being “quite naive” with its involvement in Guyana. Another described the partnership as “bad aid”, adding that “Guyana is among the most corrupt countries in the world. Jagdeo was steering it like his own farm. They don’t even have a law for public procurements!”