Climate change reforms are increasingly skewed in the interest of the developed world and Commonwealth finance ministers have a chance to reshape this, President Bharrat Jagdeo said last night while also revealing that he had offered to deploy the country’s entire rainforest in the global warming battle.
Speaking during the opening ceremony for the three-day Commonwealth Finance Ministers Meeting (CFMM) last evening at the National Cultural Centre, President Jagdeo devoted most of his address to climate change, which is also the main theme running through the CFMM meeting here.
The Head of State revealed that when he met with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair last year he “outlined our offer to deploy almost our entire rainforest – which is the size of England – in the long term service of the world’s battle against climate change. That offer remains”.
He said Guyana stands ready to engage with any bilateral or commercial partner who shares Guyana’s vision of sustainable development “where our long-established and world-leading commitment to sustaining our forest can be matched by economic reward which supports our national development efforts to create a socially just and prosperous society”.
The President’s reference yesterday to the rainforest offer was the first known public disclosure and has not been ventilated locally. It is also not clear when this offer was made last year.
Jagdeo delivered the main address while Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh made welcoming remarks. Also addressing the opening were Samoa’s Minister of Finance and the Deputy Secretary General of the Commonwealth. The opening was preceded by a number of business meetings at the Guyana International Conference Centre, Liliendaal which also saw a 90-minute protest by Stabroek News over the government’s withdrawal of ads from the newspaper.
Jagdeo said that it was no longer in doubt that the issue of climate change in an interconnected world requires the attention of global leaders and according to current trends the average global temperature would rise by two or three degrees relative to the pre-industrial period within the next 50 years.
He said that it is projected that one sixth of the world’s population would be threatened by melting glaciers and hundreds of millions would be at risk of starving.
Presentations made by former US Vice President Al Gore and the United Nations Inter-governmental Panel report illustrated vividly that climate change impacts on peace and security around the world.
He said that for years the overall science of climate change was understood but it was now due to the Stern Review that the world is now in a better position to quantify the global cost. An increase in global temperature would cause losses in global GDP of up to 10%.
By contrast achieving the cuts in emissions that would avoid the worst extremes of climate change would cost about one percent of global GDP per annum.
Creating a world that future generations deserve, he said the valid science and credible economics must be matched by first-order political resolve to devise workable solutions that deliver results.
Greenhouse gases, he said could be could be cut in four ways – reducing demands for emissions in sensitive goods and services; increasing efficiency in transport and energy usage; switching to lower carbon technologies for power, heat and transportation; and reducing non-energy emissions by action such as avoiding tropical deforestation.
On the positive side, he said, that the awareness of climate change around the world is steadily increasing. The Kyoto Protocol represented a valuable start in combating climate change and the emergence of a $30 billion carbon market is but one indication that the problem is now being addressed with some level of seriousness.
While it was notable that the developed world was beginning to take action, he said that this must not lead to a focus that benefits only the developed world.
He noted the excessive focus on aviation in climate change which is already causing economic damage to the tourism and agriculture industries throughout the developing world including the Caribbean.
The Caribbean tourism industry has started to suffer from the developed world government policies which involve the imposition of punitive climate change taxes on aviation to discourage flying. “This is a cruel irony when for years the same governments encouraged Caribbean governments to urgently diversify into tourism to maximise the value from one of the region’s most competitive advantages.”
Similarly, he said that scientifically invalid data on the impact of allegedly less carbon-friendly foods coming from places such as Africa and South America needs to be addressed as they are not well served by these reactions.
“We therefore need to elevate the climate debate to address matters that are truly capable of generating global impact. This means regaining a global mindset and being guided by clear science and empirical analysis of potential climate change mitigation solutions,” he said.
Jagdeo said that if the world was to regain the global mindset there were four issues that would require priority attention. These are incorporation of the United States and Australia into the international framework for addressing climate change; enabling the large developing countries such as China and India to integrate within the climate change framework in a way which recognises that on a per capita basis they are far lower emitters of greenhouse gases than much of the world; addressing the specific concerns of the developing world including ensuring necessary support for country-led adaptation strategies; and avoiding tropical deforestation.
Of particular interest to Guyana was avoiding tropical deforestation, he said referring to the vast tropical rainforests which cover the country’s land mass. He cited this as one of three principles which should guide the ministers’ input at the upcoming Bali meeting on climate change. The other two were recognizing that tropical deforestation stems from economic pressures. “We must square up to this reality, and recognize that the way to stop deforestation is to ensure that there is an economically viable alternative”.
Third, “we must create incentives to reward both the preservation of existing forest, and support the restoration of forest which has been removed”.
Referring to Guyana’s contribution to climate change through the donation in 1989 by then President Desmond Hoyte of one million acres of virgin forest to the people of the Commonwealth and the world, he said that despite its work and research into sustainable forestry practices, it has been under-funded by international sources.
More recently, he noted that the government in partnership with Conservation International had set aside a large tract of land in exchange for eco-system services. However, invaluable this project may be he said that it was not reflective of the scale of global action that is required.
He was critical of the “perverse incentives” offered to replant forests cut down as against rewarding standing forests. Tropical deforestation, he noted, contributes 18% of greenhouse gas emissions and a combined total of emission coming from the aviation industry since it began.
He called on the Ministers and officials to advance the issues at the upcoming meeting on climate change in Bali to gain support for the principles he mentioned.
In his remarks, Guyana’s finance minister said that the issues facing the global village were reflected on the agenda of the finance ministers meeting, which would be discussed in plenary from today.
He expressed confidence that coming out of the meeting would be appropriate and bold initiatives to attack the challenges that face the global community. He noted that the world economy has seen robust growth in developing and developed countries
but there were very disturbing developments that may undermine these developments and these include unprecedented oil prices which present a real risk, especially to developing countries and if unchecked could undermine macro-economic stability and work against the achieving of the UN Millennium Development Goals.