Guyana and Norway are showing how climate action can deliver results

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Today’s post,  by Bharrat Jagdeo, former President of Guyana, is one in a series of ‘In my view’ pieces written by prominent authors on issues covered in the “Development Co-operation Report 2015: Making Partnerships Effective Coalitions for Action”

Cruelly, the most vulnerable communities and poorest countries in the world are the ones that suffer the most from climate change, despite the fact that they have done almost nothing to cause the problem. Yet if our climate is to be stabilised, today’s developing countries need to lead the world to a solution – and as has been emphasised elsewhere in this chapter, there is no solution to climate change without halting deforestation.

In 2008, people in Guyana recognised this. Climate change had already caused suffering in the country. In 2005, floods inflicted damage equivalent to 60% of that year’s gross domestic product (GDP). Yet, as a country with 85% of its land mass under forest, an area larger than Great Britain, our people didn’t want to just complain about climate change – we were prepared to act.

So we set out to find partners who shared our vision.

Speaking on behalf of Guyana’s people, I addressed the Commonwealth Finance Ministers in 2008 outlining an offer to the world. We were prepared to deploy almost our entire forest in the global fight against climate change, providing: we could access the right economic incentives to value our standing forests; and our people’s sovereignty over their forests would not be diminished. Soon after, a nation-wide consultation enabled us to develop a strategy that aimed even higher: we would seek not just to protect our forests, but to shift our entire economy onto a low-carbon trajectory with economic growth coming from new sectors, and with our country’s economy powered almost entirely by renewable energy.

The result was Guyana’s Low Carbon Development Strategy. This plan had a simple proposition at its core: those who benefit from our standing forests must contribute to their maintenance. We realised that most efforts to maintain our forests would continue to come from the people of Guyana, including our Amerindian (indigenous) communities. Yet we felt that international citizens must also pay their share, given the immense benefits our forests contribute to stabilising the global climate, securing carbon sequestration, and maintaining water and other ecosystem services.

In time, we hope that the international REDD+ mechanism will create the necessary incentives. In 2008, however – even before the REDD+ mechanism had been agreed – we wanted to show that progress was possible.

Guyana was fortunate to find a progressive partner who shared our views. Norway was one of the first developed countries to recognise that protecting tropical forests was both an essential and highly cost-effective way to combat climate change. In November 2009, the then Norwegian Minister of the Environment and Development, Erik Solheim, and I travelled to Fairview Village, deep in the forests of Guyana; there we signed the document that started the Guyana-Norway partnership on forests. Under this partnership, Norway – as a proxy for the broader world – pays Guyana for some of the global carbon value provided by our forests. In turn, Guyana invests this money in our Low Carbon Development Strategy. By April 2015, Norway had paid Guyana about USD 150 million in carbon payments.

The carbon payments are funding numerous investments. For example, they are enabling our Amerindian communities – about 10% of the people in our country – to own their own land through a titling programme and to put in place ambitious community development plans. In partnership with local banks, small and medium enterprises are advancing ambitious low-carbon business ideas. The government is building emergency and long-term flood defences and water management infrastructure. Climate action is being introduced in our school curricula. Guyana is about to build a world-class centre for biodiversity. We are improving practices in mining and other extractive industries. And while all of this is happening, Guyana is maintaining strong economic growth despite the global financial crisis.

The carbon payments are also catalysing other, much larger private investments, for example in renewable energy. As a result, Guyana is on track to not only maintain the world’s lowest level of deforestation, but also to reduce energy-related greenhouse gas emissions by over 92% – more than any developed country.

Together, Guyana and Norway have learned many lessons that are relevant to far bigger countries and to the global community – lessons in areas such as financing low-carbon development, sustaining national support, and making progress in the absence of an international agreement on climate.

While there is still much to be done in the years ahead, I believe that Guyana and Norway, working together as equal partners, are showing how climate action can deliver real results to combat poverty, increase prosperity, sustain vital ecosystem services and advance the fight against climate change for the good of the entire world.

Useful links

Development Co-operation Report 2015: Making Partnerships Effective Coalitions for Action