Guyana regressing from stewards of natural resources to squanderers

—as civil society group says policies contravene climate commitments

Policy Forum Guyana

Civil society grouping, Policy Forum Guyana (PFG) has taken a stance against the oil and gas path Guyana is advancing on, arguing that ensuing policies are contradictory to the country’s climate goals.

Furthermore, members of the forum are contending that there has been no consensus over whether oil and gas should be the determinant of Guyana’s future, and that a full national discussion, both within and outside of Parliament, and with the inclusion of those not deemed to be experts, is essential.

“These fundamental decisions are not for an electoral time-table. They are forever,” the group asserted.

A statement from Policy Forum on June 1st noted that in November 2015, civic, government and business people, quite elated at the time, had approved the Intended Nationally-Determined Contributions (INDCs), Guyana’s progressive climate change agenda. The agenda, launched by the REDD+ foundation, ratified the Climate Convention and placed the country at the forefront of climate crisis action.

However, PFG has noted that as elections near, government has wandered from its “rigorous and measurable climate commitments” and while they must accept responsibility for “abandoning climate goals”, they are not being challenged on the matter by their contenders.

“How did the elation evaporate and why was the ambition abandoned?  In the intervening years, Guyanese society has been fed a diet of green project rhetoric, while the same old approach in the extractive sector – save in forestry – has not just continued, but has accelerated. The closer the prospect of elections loom, the further official public discourse retreats from rigorous and measurable climate commitments.  You can’t suck cane and whistle,” it was reasoned.

Falling at the centre of the criticism is the mining sector, through which, it was noted, approximately 31,000 acres of forest in Guyana have been destroyed annually, resulting in the elimination of a carbon storage capacity of between 150 and 400 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per acre. This is with Guyana projected to produce 700,000 barrels of oil per day by 2025, multiplying the country’s carbon footprint from 4.2 tonnes per capita to 108 tonnes per capita. This, PFG opined, “relegates Guyanese from stewards to squanderers of natural resources – the worst kind of climate deniers”.

It was further stated that Guyana’s mining policy, which benefits a handful of wealthy people, is in direct opposition to the country’s commitments to biodiversity, conservation, forest stewardship, land use, and notions of a good life for all.

Another issue touched on was that of resource patrimony, as the statement said that guiding principles appear to be absent from policy papers issued by government agencies on climate change issues and resource patrimony, with little or no reference to inter-generational equity and recognition that mineral resources are inherited assets of all Guyanese.

“The notion that they belong as much to the next generations as the present one requires rigorous attention be paid to who benefits, who is responsible for the disposal of these assets, and what is the true and full accounting cost (environmental damage etc.) of the extraction of these resources. Urgently needed as well is a serious national discussion about what is to be left alone/held in reserve in the face of oil, the newest extractive industry,” it was stated.

 The group noted that according to the recent Guyana Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (GY-EITI) Report, the biggest private miners in Guyana individually control licences for lands larger than GuySuCo’s 102,677 acres (165 square miles), which they lease to small miners, who bear the greatest financial and occupational risks.

“Furthermore, excessive concentration of extractive assets in the hands of a few private individuals makes nonsense of the principle of equity. The only justification for selling our national patrimony (the assets of the country) is that they are replaced by assets of equal value for the benefit of future generations.  Private destruction of publicly-owned assets such as minerals, land, rivers and the bio-sphere only attracts sporadic indignation from a population stressed by more day-to-day matters of survival,” the statement said.

PFG also argued that positioning natural gas as a ‘progressive bridge’ to alternative energy is a misleading notion, as it is “dirty and dangerous”. In fact, it opined that Guyana is well placed to bypass interim measures and directly aim to achieve its fossil-free energy goal by 2025.

Membership of the Policy Forum

Guyana includes:

Amerindian Peoples Association

Rights of the Children

National Toshaos Council

Transparency Institute Guyana

Guyana Citizens Initiative

Guyana Society for the Blind

Guyana Human Right Association

Guyana Environment Initiative

Conservation International

The Benab Foundation Inc

Red Thread

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