Difficult to move capital inland – climate change negotiator

Despite facing increased threats from climate change it would be difficult to move Georgetown inland but it would be pragmatic to encourage new development to take place elsewhere, according to Guyana’s lead negotiator to the UN climate change convention, Andrew Bishop.

“It would be difficult to move Georgetown. What you can do is move development,” Bishop said as he spoke on ‘Climate Change, Urban Planning and Low Carbon Develop-ment’ at Moray House Trust yesterday on Quamina Street. The lecture was the first of four organized by the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences of the University of Guyana.  The lectures will be held on Fridays throughout the month.

Bishop said that countries with low-lying coasts like Guyana and Belize are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change such as higher tides and flooding. He noted that more than half the world’s population lives in urban areas and is a great source of energy consumption as well as carbon dioxide emissions. Bishop described it as a “Frankensteinian” situation. “You create a monster and the monster turns back on you,” he said.

According to the official, cities can play a role in mitigating climate change. He said that cities can no longer be centred around cheap fuel, automobiles and suburban development. “We need to look increasingly at high density housing,” Bishop said while also noting the need to look at the distance to work and shopping centres. “Mixed-used zoning” where areas in the cities are essentially self-contained and contain all the services within walking distance is one solution.

Bishop also spoke on the need to look at “walkable cities” as well as energy mitigation such as utilizing solar power and energy efficient buildings. Among the adaptation measures, Bishop suggested minimum floor elevation levels and building above the anticipated flood line and planting more trees in the city.

He also said that there is a need for coordination between urban settlements strategies and plans and a national land use plan. Urban design could work towards mitigating climate change and climate resilient urban planning could aim at controlling the use of urban sprawl and improving public transport. Further, Bishop urged the use of climate change considerations to inform design and substance and use a communicative strategy to guide the process.

Less than two dozen persons attended the lecture but during a spirited question and answer segment, the question was asked as to whether the knowledge of the impacts of climate change and the mitigation measures as it relates to urban planning are being applied in Guyana. Bishop noted that settlements such as Tuschen are being developed far away from sources of employment. Incentives must be presented for businesses to be set up in those areas he said.

As it relates to moving the city or policies to mitigate the possibility of flooding, Bishop said that countries that have tried moving their capitals inward have not been very successful. It would be pragmatic to “try to encourage new developments to take place elsewhere,” he agreed.
One man argued that Georgetown could never be climate resilient particularly given the fact that is it below sea level and said that new settlements such as Diamond are not defensible either. He also noted that roads that lead inland are vulnerable as well and “all we are essentially doing is setting up a death trap.”

“A lot of what you say is true,” Bishop agreed while adding that he would not say that the city is indefensible.
The lectures continue on April 12 with a presentation by Margaret McDowall-Thompson who will present on ‘Consultation and Stakeholder Engagement in Urban Planning.’ McDowall-Thompson is the president of the Trinidad and Tobago Planners Association and the Caribbean Planners Association.

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