Norway releases another US$40M into GRIF

Norway will deposit another US$40 million into the Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund (GRIF) immediately as research shows that Guyana’s deforestation rate is lower than previously thought, Norway’s Minister of the Environment and International Development, Erik Solheim announced last evening.

This is very positive and Oslo will immediately pay US$40 million into the GRIF, Solheim said in an announcement made jointly with President Bharrat Jagdeo at State House before an audience of government ministers, representatives of multi-lateral institutions and the diplomatic community as well as other members of civil society.

Bharrat Jagdeo

The second payment under the forests’ saving agreement between the two countries brings the total payments by Norway to US$70 million, the Scandinavian country having paid US$30 million into the GRIF last year. The GRIF is a fund for the financing of activities identified under the Guyana’s Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS). Norway has committed to provide up to US$250 million to the fund up to 2015, based on independent verifications of Guyana’s deforestation and forest degradation rates and progress on REDD+ enabling activities. The World Bank is the trustee for the GRIF.

“To a country like ours it’s a fairly large amount of money and it could solve everything,” a jubilant Jagdeo said last evening.  “Importantly it shows that we can maintain our forest cover at the same time as we allow for the careful and sustainable promotion of the environment and economic activities in the forest. In particular mining and sustainable forestry management will continue to provide employment and economic opportunity providing those that participate in these industries recognise that we require them to upgrade to high social and environmental standards,” he added.

“We are trying to add new means of partnership in development and environment and there will be mistakes, things may take time but we are also making history,” said Solheim.

The minister said that he is “absolutely certain” more agreements of this kind will be seen in the future. “You can have rapid economic development but in the framework of conservation and sustainable use of the forest. That is the new development path,” he said.

What needs to be done, Solheim said, is to find ways of speeding up the way the funds are disbursed into Guyana’s economy while at the same time having safeguards when it comes to anti-corruption and environment and social issues.

Jagdeo expressed concern that the focus globally is shifting away from climate issues and commended Norway for keeping the faith. “We are extremely grateful not only for this agreement with Guyana but for the role that you continue to play in this very grim situation where people’s attention, global leader’s attention are diverted to many other issues particularly dealing with the world economic crisis,” he said.

The President noted that the payments will be used to invest in a low carbon economy and he stressed the commitment of the government to the achievement of the highest environmental, social and fiduciary safeguards in the use of these funds. Mentioning briefly some of the projects to which the money will go, he said that the Amaila falls hydropower plant will remove over 92% of Guyana’s energy related emissions while delivering energy independence for Guyana and cheaper energy for citizens and businesses. The digital infrastructure which will also be created will be among the best in the world, he added.

Erik Solheim

In a joint statement, the governments said that over the past year, the partnership has enabled Guyana to start the implementation of a comprehensive system to monitor deforestation and forest degradation. As a consequence, newly available data show that deforestation is far lower than previously believed.

The Joint Concept Note has been reviewed and under new terms, Guyana will be incentivized to stop any increases in future deforestation and forest degradation – and to maintain a minimum of 99.5% of its current forest cover. “Forest-based economic activities – such as mining and sustainable forest management – will continue to provide employment and national income benefits. This can be done without exceeding the agreed limits to deforestation and forest degradation,” the statement said.

The new reference level for deforestation here is 0.275%. In the first reporting period under the agreement, the annual deforestation rate was 0.056% which was above the annual average deforestation rate of 0.022% over the last 20 years. Responding to a question from Stabroek News, Solheim suggested that under the new interim reference level, deforestation can still be increased and Guyana will be paid.

“As long as the increase is below this historical level there can be an increase or there can be a drop but as long as (its) under this threshold Guyana will be compensated,” he said. He stressed that deforestation should happen within the historical rate. He noted that Guyana’s rates were very low and in the light of this, a 200% or 300% increase “doesn’t matter”.

In relation to a question regarding corruption, an issue which has consistently been raised here, Solheim said that it is a very important concern but not specific to Guyana. “Most certainly, the strictest anti-corruption measures will be applied by the (international) entities working with Norway here,” he said. “We do not want to interfere in how Guyana uses money…but there must be strict standards for anti-corruption and also strict international standards for environmental and social concerns.”

“We’ve committed to the highest level of safeguards and international safeguards as we have done with all of out projects,” Jagdeo added. Solheim said that Norway does not want to interfere with the domestic politics of Guyana and will work with whoever wins the next elections and the opposition as well. “We’ll make certain that the strictest anti-corruption standards are applied whoever (is) in government here,” he stressed. He said that Norway will always listen to concerns expressed.

There must be no corruption in the use of the money and strict environmental and social standards should be applied and there should be a consultative process with indigenous groups and others, he said. “As long as these basic standards are applied it is up to Guyana to decide how it would use its money,” he added.

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