In Guyana, where pristine rain forest still covers 75 percent of the land, and barely 750,000 people live in a country roughly the size of Britain, a young economist-turned-president is pushing a development model based on conservation that has earned his government international recognition in the United Nations talks on a climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol.
Faced with the possibility of climate change, the international community is starting to talk about paying for the carbon storage that living forests provide. Growing trees store carbon dioxide, but 13 million hectares, or 32 million acres, of forest are razed each year, accounting for a significant portion of annual greenhouse gas emissions, according to scientists and other experts who met for climate talks last month in Barcelona.
Guyana’s minister of foreign affairs, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, said that the world’s growing motivation to tackle climate change could mean sustainable economic opportunity for her country as well as a cost-effective investment for the world.
“The fastest way of reducing carbon emissions is keeping the forest standing,” she said in an interview here in September, ahead of this month’s Copenhagen conference on climate change. “All of the other measures we could take would take technology, time. But this we can do immediately. We just stop. We just stop cutting.”
That recognition, and advances in satellite imaging and carbon measurements over the past decade, have made a proposal for forest preservation, known as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD, an important part of the climate treaty talks.
Guyana argues that forest conservation is critically important. If incentives are aimed only at encouraging countries with high deforestation, like its neighbor Brazil, to curtail logging, timber clearance will simply migrate from protected to unprotected countries, it says.
Pursuing that concept, President Bharrat Jagdeo last year commissioned the international management consulting firm McKinsey to help calculate deforestation’s economic value to his nation — that is, the amount Guyana could earn by selling its forests for timber and using the land for agriculture. After all, said Mr. Jagdeo, a former finance minister who studied economics in Moscow, deforestation is not a result of irrationality or ignorance; people get economic benefits when they log and farm. For preservation to work, “the incentives must be at a level that will outcompete alternative activities,” he said in an interview.
Critics protest that the value calculated by McKinsey — $580 million annually over 25 years — amounts to blackmail. But Ian Craddock, a British expatriate who runs an adventure tourism company in Guyana, disagrees.
“Guyana is a small, impoverished country that’s trying to develop itself,” he said. “And if the Western world isn’t going to protect the rain forest and start coughing up money to countries like Guyana, then they’re going to have to start using their resources. Just like England did for thousands of years, just like the States is doing and Canada is doing. You can’t be hypocrites about it.”
To show that he is not looking for a handout, Mr. Jagdeo has formulated a low-carbon development strategy that outlines how income from REDD would help his country develop sustainably.
The plan calls for investment in clean industries, like organic agriculture, aquaculture, sustainable forestry, business outsourcing and ecotourism. It proposes the development of hydropower to cut fossil fuel use, and because most of the population lives along the coast, below sea level, it would direct some funds toward adaptation, strengthening sea defenses or moving people inland. Those efforts would help to counteract flooding, which has taken a 10 percent bite out of gross domestic product in recent years. Read more..