With prime, lush forests covering approximately 18.39 hectares of its land mass, Guyana stands as one of the envies of the world. For decades, its forests have been a crucial arm in supporting the nation’s diverse economy, the sustenance of its people and the heart of its climate change efforts.
It has even attracted investors from all parts of the world who often come with an insatiable appetite for its exotic and valuable logs. But like most sectors, it has developed a few worrying problems of its own. These range from corruption, illegal logging; improper management of log exports and wanton misuse of the forests by foreign companies.
The aforementioned issues have led some forest experts to question whether oversight bodies, such as the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC), are really doing their job.
It has been reported extensively in Guyana and further afield that while worrying issues abound, the GFC, among other authorities, continue to paint a “pretty picture” about the forest coverage as against the wanton felling of trees by foreign companies.
In an interview with the Guyana Inc Magazine, two internationally respected forests experts, John Palmer (JP) and Janette Bulkan (JB), share their opinion on the Guyana Forestry Commission, efforts by the Government to protect the forests and where Guyana stands with its international deals on safeguarding its forests.
Guyana Inc Magazine (GIM): Over the years, the Guyana Forestry Commission would have provided data and estimates to prove that Guyana’s deforestation rate remains low and that state forests remain protected. But how do you view the process by which the Commission obtained these figures? Is it one that you have confidence in? If not, how do you believe faith can be restored?
JP&JB: Even in the years before the availability of remotely sensed space imagery, the Guyana Forest Department supplied The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) with quite good estimates of the national area of standing forest. As such, Money from Norway through the Norwegian Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI) was used to contract a company called Jaako Poyry from New Zealand in 2010 and later Indufor from Asia Pacific to collect and analyze medium-resolution and now high-resolution space-based imagery for country-wide estimates.
However, the analysts have not evidently used either GGMC maps of mining concessions or GFC maps of current logging blocks, thus the opportunity to focus on the obvious priority areas for deforestation and forest degradation appears to have been missed.
Likewise, it is not clear that the GFC uses the international definition of intact forest landscapes. The various arbitrary ratios and adjustments suggested or approved by Norway (NICFI) make difficult any international comparisons of Guyana data with the rest of the world.
It is not the accuracy or precision of the Indufor analysis which is important. What is important is how the data is used to inform and guide policy. So far as we can determine, the data is NOT used to inform or guide policy in Guyana, while practice has continued to be ‘business as usual’, as promised by former President Bharrat Jagdeo in 2009. They have been used by Norway in the arbitrary calculation of aid money support for implementation of the Jagdeo LCDS.
But all is not lost. There is still time for the new members of the GFC Board to request sight of the contracts with Indufor or the University of Durham for external assistance to the GFC Monitoring, Reporting and Verification system (MRVS).
GIM: Guyana is expected to bring two million hectares of forest under conservation. This was announced by President David Granger at the signing of the Paris climate change pact. How do you believe this will help in our quest to safeguard the forests?
JP&JB: This can be classified as an INDC meaning an Intend Nationally Determined Contribution. However, it is our view that the commitment appears to have been devised by Office of the President advisor(s). It is not clear how or why they developed this figure, or what State Forests they imagined could be assigned in this way.
It is important to note that all the forest of Guyana have not yet been allocated to logging companies, and much of the forest within logging concessions, is also the customary lands of Amerindians.
As the Government of Guyana has provided international assurance, and under the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS), that Guyana implements the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) with regard to its indigenous peoples, it follows that no such commitment to assign one or two million hectares of forest should be made without the consent of the Amerindian communities.
In addition, you would recall that there is an unfinished legal commitment under the Independence Agreement of 1965 to provide land security to the Amerindian communities. Only about one quarter of the areas claimed by Amerindians as customary land in 1967 to 1969 have subsequently been placed under communal land title.
The Protected Areas Commission appears to be fully occupied with development of its Georgetown-based bureaucracy and management of the three gazetted areas – Kaieteur (61000 ha), Kanuku Mountains plus Shell Beach (730000 ha) national parks – totaling (791000 ha). The wilderness preserve of Iwokrama is about 180000 ha, under its own Act of Parliament 1996.
It is not clear if the Protected Areas Commission has the capacity to identify, survey and undertake other legally required steps to acquire and manage a further one million hectares of national park.
In conclusion, merely assigning National Parks to the INDCs is not the internationally expected ‘additionality’ beyond ‘business as usual’. Leaving the national parks without logging or mining is not the same as taking positive steps to reduce carbon emissions.
GIM: GFC officials have boasted that Guyana has one of the longest and most striking experiences pioneering the international development of payment-for-performance forest schemes. It said that 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. But how can one trust such an agreement given the industrial scale logging that is taking place? And if the agreement is intended to further the cause of protecting the global forests, then how does it not take reports on the abuse of Guyana’s forests into consideration? Also, how does Norway assess deforestation in Guyana?
JP&JB: PES schemes which mean Payments for Environmental Services conventionally require the service provider to demonstrate additionality. For example, suppose a local beverage company wants perennial supplies of clean water for its distilleries. Suppose that the water supply comes from a forest catchment. The catchment manager must actively ensure that road building and logging do not result in sedimentation or pollution of the water supply and do not impede the water flow. Such measures conventionally increase the cost of forest management with that cost being compensated by the payments by the distiller for access to the clean water.
Likewise, a REDD scheme requires active measures to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. But this is not what Guyana has done. Guyana has made no policy commitment and taken no measures to reduce deforestation or degradation from logging or mining.
The deal with Norway is a non-standard artificial deal involving a critical emission level far above the actual or foreseen rates. As the website REDD Monitor has pointed out several times, the Norway-Guyana deal is a disreputable piece of ‘hot air’. Why Norway became involved with Guyana is partly explained in the University of Oslo thesis by Heide Bade (2012); it involves internal political ambitions in Norway and is quite unrelated to conventional ideas of REDD+.
There was a stricture against increased logging in the original Joint Concept Note (JCN) associated with the Norway-Guyana MoU. This stricture imposed a financial penalty if the average annual wood production of the six years 2003-2008 was exceeded in any of the years of the MoU 2009-2015. In fact, the limit was exceeded in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015. The penalty was fiscally ineffective: the profit from the extra logs far exceeded (by about six times) the cost of the penalty. Of course, the people of Guyana suffered the penalty while the profit was enjoyed by some foreign companies.
The Norwegian cash comes from the aid budget, not from a commercial contract. That may explain the peculiar features of the deal between ambitious Minister Eric Solheim and ambitious former President Bharrat Jagdeo, which appear in no other PES scheme globally. This is why this scheme is actually worthless internationally, except for the technical aspects of RapidEye analysis.
We know that some Norwegian staff read the website REDD-Monitor so they are well aware of the uncontrolled logging and mining in Guyana. If we understand correctly, as long as Guyana does not breach the artificially high limit for deforestation specified in successive versions of the JCN, Norway does not worry about high levels of uncontrolled logging and mining.
The process for assessing deforestation in Guyana for the MoU is described each year in the GFC-Indufor report. This multi-hundred page technical document can be downloaded from the GFC website. There is no simple –language version, although we ask the Norwegians to make the report understandable for people in Guyana: except for one year, there has been no response from Oslo.