A recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists highlights countries that have successfully reduced their rate of deforestation. In a post last week, I pointed out that the analysis deeply flawed.
Guyana is one of the countries that UCS selected in its report as an example of a success. “Guyana sets an important example in a global REDD framework as a High Forest, Low Deforestation country,” the report states. While it’s true that Guyana has a lot of forest and a low rate of deforestation, including Guyana in a list of “successes” must come as a surprise to anyone who has taken a critical look at what’s happening in Guyana’s forests.
The section of the UCS report about Guyana is short and superficial. UCS tells us that the US$250 million REDD deal between Norway and Guyana “clearly seems to be working”. But that is only true if we ignore the problems of governance, corruption, lack of transparency, the failure to respect indigenous peoples’ rights, expanding gold mining, and the handing over of large-scale logging concessions. Oh, and an increase in deforestation.
John Palmer, the coordinator of the Master of International Forestry Programme at the Faculty of Forestry at the University of British Columbia, wrote to Doug Boucher one of the co-authors of the UCS to draw his attention to the weaknesses in UCS analysis of deforestation in Guyana. Palmer’s letter is reproduced here in full, with permission. REDD-Monitor looks forward to posting Boucher’s response.
Dear Dr Boucher,
Deforestation Success Stories, June 2014
I draw to your attention some weaknesses in the two pages on Guyana (14-15, Chapter 3, Keeping deforestation low in Guyana to help prevent global leakage) in your compilation ‘Deforestation Success Stories, June 2014’. The Chapter 3 title alone seems to contain a mis-conception, that deforestation in Guyana might shift to one or more other countries because of policy changes. The Government of Guyana (GoG) has expressed no concern about leakage in a REDD+ sense.
Since the signing of the Norway-Guyana MoU in November 2009, the GoG has made no changes to policy, strategy, laws, regulations or procedures concerning forestry or mining; notwithstanding the agreement with Norway for a REDD+ Governance Development Plan.
Artisanal hydraulic mining for gold (mostly by coastland Guyanese and Brazilian garimpeiros) and large-scale industrial logging (mostly by Chinese, Indian and Malaysian transnationals) are indeed the predominant causes of deforestation. There is no evidence that action or inaction by the Government of Guyana has caused these drivers to shift deforestation to new locations. There is some evidence from the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association that miners are aware of the tax difference between Guyana and neighbouring Suriname (7 per cent versus 2 per cent on declared raw gold) such that the current London bullion price for gold is encouraging Brazilians to shift from worked out areas in Guyana to previously unmined claims in Suriname.
The original and amended reference levels for estimated emissions of forest carbon agreed with Norway are essentially arbitrary and far above Guyana’s capacity for or interest in deforestation; the McKinsey & Co. estimates for former President Jagdeo (FPJ) in 2008 being essentially bogus. Norway’s penalties for increased deforestation by mining are fiscally ineffectual relative to the value of the gold extracted from beneath natural tropical rainforest. GoG has made no serious attempt to implement the environmental regulations (2005) to the Mining Act (1989), nor to restore the post-mining ‘moonscape’ of flooded pits. Restoration is publicized as an experimental 4 acres in total, relative to the Indufor-GFC estimate of mining-related deforestation of 13516 ha in calendar year 2012. NICFI (Maarten van der Eynden, pers. comm.) has acknowledged the unlikely Indufor-GFC estimate of only 240 ha of logging-related deforestation while 277 Km3 of logs and 76K m3 of chainsawn lumber were produced also in 2012.
The FPJ complaint about payment delays through the World Bank is incorrect. After the MoU of November 2009, Norway transferred to the GRIF US$ 30.4 million in October 2010 and a second tranche of US$ 39.4 million in April 2011. The Finance Ministry in Oslo cannot transfer more cash until more of the GRIF money has been disbursed. About US$ 30 million out of the US$ 69.8 million had been disbursed by mid-2014, almost entirely to GoG agencies for ‘capacity building / institutional strengthening / administration’. About US$ 400K has been disbursed to 26 or 27 indigenous Amerindian Village Councils for aspects of their community development plans which have been decided by the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs. The principal cause of delay in payments from Norway has been the unwillingness of the Office of Climate Change, in the Office of the President, to prepare fundable project concept notes derived from FPJ’s one-paragraph sketches in all four versions of the Low Carbon Development Strategy. FPJ did not perhaps realize that making the IDB and UNDP Partner Entities for the GRIF, alongside the World Bank, meant that spends would be subject to the usual IFI accounting procedures. This intensely annoyed FPJ who referred to the Norwegian funds as ‘my money’.
The unworkable proposal of March 2010 for Amerindian ‘opt in’ to the LCDS has not been replaced by another public version. Rainforest Alliance, auditing for Norway in 2012, saw a second or third draft in Fall 2012 but that is not in the public domain.
It is unclear how you can say that Guyana is laying out a road map of actions to control illegal logging. No such proposal is in the public domain. There is a road map for negotiation of an EU-FLEGT voluntary partnership agreement but that is not the same thing.
It is also unclear how you can claim that FPIC with Amerindian communities seems to have been well implemented, citing CEED Knowledge as your source. The CEED Knowledge website does not contain such a statement, nor do any of the background documents used by CEED Knowledge. On the contrary, Amerindian leaders and representative associations have protested the lack of implementation of FPIC, in spite of GoG claims to adherence.
Deforestation rates in Guyana are low compared with neighbouring Brazil because of the extreme infertility of the ancient hinterland soils of the Guiana Shield. The fact that even land-hungry Brazilians are not interested in colonizing Guyana is one indication of that infertility. Also, from the time of European contact in the late 1500s, the indigenous Amerindians in the hinterland have lived mostly at bare subsistence levels through semi-nomadic rotational agriculture. There are almost no agronomic cropping trials on the hinterland soils, and almost no commercial arable cropping except for small areas of groundnuts.
It is unclear what Norway thinks it is gaining from the MoU. Most of the GRIF money has gone unaccountably and unaudited into extra-budgetary accounts of GoG agencies, including the Office of the President. Deforestation due to logging remains unverified because the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) has been allowed to fiddle definitions and to be co-author of evaluation reports on its own performance, a clear conflict of interest. Mining is uncontrolled, Norwegian penalties are ineffective. Consultants paid from Norwegian money have been reluctant to probe recalcitrant GoG agencies, and so have produced anodyne reports. The very mild criticisms by Rainforest Alliance in December 2012 elicited a furious 52-page GFC reaction. Unsurprisingly, Rainforest Alliance secured no further monitoring consultancies from the Norwegians.
NICFI has expressed several times a hope that this MoU will be a major contribution to the development of a global scheme to reduce deforestation and monitor forest carbon, on the way to a global trading scheme for forest-based Emissions Reduction Units (ERUs). So far, this MoU is a model of how not to approach such objectives, for entirely predictable reasons about which NICFI received ample warning from early 2009.
With best wishes