No basis for presuming higher deforestation is due to widespread illegal mining

Dear Editor,

Further to the publication of several comments and articles on Guyana’s Third National Report indicating an elevated deforestation rate, I wish to dispel any misinterpretations of the report.

The third national report stating the deforestation rate for the year 2012, under the Monitoring Reporting and Verification (MRV) System for REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Plus Sustainable Forest Management), has been jointly produced by the Guyana Forestry Commission and Indufor, and is currently being subjected to an independent Accuracy Assessment conducted by the University of Durham, United Kingdom.

The report summarizes forest change of forest to non-forest excluding degradation between 1 January 2012 and 31 December 2012 (12 months) at an estimated 14,655 ha. Over the Year 3 reporting period, this equates to a total deforestation rate of 0.079%.  This rate of change is higher than Year 2 period (15 months) which was reported as 0.054%.

Similar to that of the Year 2 period, mining remains the main driver of deforestation in Year 3. Mining accounts for 92% or 13,516 ha of the total deforestation figure recorded in 2012. However, it is important to note that mining marginally increased from the previous year from 9,175 ha to 13,516 ha thus resulting in a difference of 4,341 ha. Of that 4,341 ha, mining infrastructure (road construction) accounted for 1,434 ha, hence, mining activities saw an increase of only 2,907 ha.

Considering the issues with timely accessing of Norway funds, we need to appreciate the guaranteed and increasing funds that are flowing from our mining sector every year. The positive contributions from the mining sector should not be hastily disregarded, as it contributes approximately 11% of the country’s GDP and, directly and indirectly employs roughly 30,000 people. For the same Year 3 period, the mining industry earned the government US$ 716 Million in foreign exchange.

Further, we must remain cognizant of the fact that the spatial distribution of mining activities remains very much unchanged. The maps in the report illustrate that mining is heavily concentrated in the mining belts, particularly in the Northwest region of Guyana. It is important not to be misguided that the mining sector at large occurs haphazardly and in an uncontrolled manner. There is no basis for a presumption that an increase in mining activity in Guyana, leading to the observed increase in deforestation for the year 2012, is on account of widespread illegal mining activity.  With the high prices of gold in 2012, supported by the associated increase in demand for permits, claims and licences, there is evidence of an increase in legal mining activities for this period.

In addition to this element of the result in the Year 3 assessment, other notable aspects of the Report point to a number of equally important areas of result: the annual average of deforestation for year 2012 is well below the agreed combined reference level of 0.275 % in the Guyana- Norway Agreement; forest degradation area in 2012 was reduced to 1,963 ha from 5,467 ha in 2011; and forestry related change has remained relatively stable between Year 1 to 3.

It should further be clarified that in this third report, Rapid-Eye 5m resolution Satellite Imagery was used to detect area change for Year 3 whereas previous reports utilized Satellite Imagery at 30m resolution. As a result of the enhanced resolution of the imaging technology, a greater level of detail and accuracy was achieved, which may account for some of the observed increase in deforestation rate.

The current agreement between Guyana and Norway expressly recognizes the possible future growth trajectory for Guyana and accompanying annual fluctuations in deforestation rates. The Joint Concept Note of the Guyana-Norway Agreement expresses that “pending the introduction of a global incentive system, it would defeat the purpose of making REDD+ an attractive development option for forest countries if this REDD+ agreement meant that no increases at all be allowed in Guyana’s historically low deforestation rates. First, the rates are so small that the margin of error of measurements in itself could yield significant annual variations (as measured in percent). Second, insisting on such strict limitations would probably yield an insufficient incentive structure for the people of Guyana to stick to a low-deforestation development path, as the economic downsides would be dis-appropriate to the incentive offered. Third, the relevance of historical trends when deforestation rates are extremely low is not as useful as a predictor of future pressures on the forest as it is in countries with higher historic rates of deforestation.” This therefore means that the bilateral agreement makes provision for annual fluctuations in the deforestation rate up to 0.1%. As can be seen in the 2010 period when deforestation was recorded at 0.056% and then in 2011, the rate was reduced to 0.054%.

In summary, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment approaches the development of natural resources in an integrated manner and had voiced its continued support to the Cooperation Agreement between Guyana and Norway. In doing so, consideration is given not only to the needs and livelihoods of Guyanese and the economic and social development of the people, but also towards striking a balanced approach to maintaining good environmental management in doing so, this will create the development space for this to occur effectively. In this context, reporting on development from all perspectives: economic, social and environmental must not be separated. Through this process, the Ministry remains committed to effectively managing the deforestation rate from a mitigation standpoint, whilst continuing to implement programmes that will contribute to the maintenance of a low rate of deforestation in Guyana.

Moving forward, we must recognize the Ministry’s and its agencies’ (namely the GFC, GGMC) interventions to date, which have been recently well-elaborated in the press. More than this, we must realize that much more is left to be done if we are to rein in our deforestation rate in support of our Low Carbon Development Strategy. However, these extensive efforts of the Ministry must be supported by other important stakeholders across all sectors involved if progress is to be realized and sustained. With a robust and evolving MRVS system in place, improved technology and access to credible information, future collaborative efforts can now be more focused.


Yours faithfully,  
Veetal RajkumarHead,
Policy Planning and Coordination Unit
Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment