The Caribbean Studies Association raises the Question: Could Guyana be a Catalyst for Advancing Oil and Gas and achieving a Green Economy?Read Now
So many recent events have converged to jolt us all into the realization of the serious regional and global efforts to achieve climate resilience. On June 5, Pakistan acted as the global host of World Environment Day 2021 whose theme was “Reimagine Recreate Restore”. It also launched the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. In essence it means “bringing back plants and animals from the brink of extinction, from the peaks of mountains to the depths of the sea”. But it also includes the many small actions everyone can take, every day: growing trees, greening our cities, rewilding our gardens or cleaning up trash alongside rivers and coasts. In his address on this occasion Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General affirmed that “restoring ecosystems carries substantial benefits for people. For every dollar invested in restoration, at least seven to thirty dollars in returns for society can be expected. Restoration also creates jobs in rural areas where they are most needed”.
Another global event, on June 6 was World Oceans Day which featured launching the 43-country strong Global Oceans Alliance, led by the UK and including Guyana. Its aim is to protect at least 30 percent of the global ocean in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and other affected area-based Conservation Measures (OECMs) by 2030. This is known as the “30 by 30” target.
In the preceding week, May31 - June 4, over 1000 scholars, policy makers and activists convened virtually at the 45th Annual Conference of the Caribbean Studies Association (CSA) to engage in discussions on a variety of themes concerned with the environmental challenges facing the Caribbean and the international system. The range of themes listed fully illustrate the scope of the challenges to be resolved. It resulted in the establishment of the CSA Environment and Resilience Working Group to follow up on the recommendations from the panels that covered the following:
♣ Challenges and Opportunities: Caribbean and Climate Change
♣ Towards a Caribbean, Environmentally
♣ Responding to Climate Emergency
♣ Climate Change Caribbean Resistance and Resilience
♣ Emerging Research in Environmental Science
♣ Guyana Low Carbon/Green Economy and Oil Production
♣ Cuba: Living Between the Hurricanes
♣ Engaging for Climate Change in the Caribbean
Glimpses of the Main Issues
The CSA panels highlighted the problem that ecosystem loss is depriving the region of its carbon sinks, like forests and peatlands, at a time when humanity can least afford it. One of the presentations placed into stark relief how global greenhouse gas emissions, have grown for three consecutive years and the planet is on pace for potentially catastrophic climate change. Yet the Caribbean countries together with those of the South Pacific which comprise Small Island Development States (SIDS) contribute minimally, but are most severely affected and afflicted by Climate change. The current floods in Guyana, where the CSA 2021 was supposed to be held, were it not for the COVID-19 restrictions, have severely affected more than 7,000 homes and additional rains will undoubtedly intensify the woes across an unprecedented wide span of the country.
The CSA panel presentations revealed a fascinating body of research from the Caribbean and among Caribbean agencies in collaboration with external partners. The major thrust of these studies included the preservation, restoration and the management of coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangroves that contribute toward reducing the negative impacts of climate. There was a strong view that while solar energy holds the most promise for the Caribbean region, except for Trinidad and Tobago, Caribbean economies are almost entirely dependent on diesel fuel and natural gas. And with sun and wind in abundance, geothermal and hydro power could free the islands almost entirely from fossil fuels. The need to explore the increasing opportunities for renewable energy technologies was a recurring theme and so were the examples of using biofuels on energetic crops to provide electricity throughout the Caribbean .
A significant contribution from the cross section of panels on climate change was made by Dr. Ulric Trotz, recognized as 'a guru' whose vast experience and creative ideas provided a useful range of future prospects for the Region. These include the need for regional collaboration in submitting proposals to the Global Environment Fund (GEF) and from the World Bank (IBRD and IDA). Among the areas in urgent need of attention is finding the formula for resilient building efforts such as flood mitigation and hazard mitigation grants, important to confront the continuous plague of hurricanes in the region.
One of the sessions raised an interesting set of prospects on the horizon as the Caribbean prepares for the Climate Change Conference (COP 26) in Glasgow in November-December 2021. It is essential to reinvigorate the concerted Caribbean refrain coordinated by the 5Cs "1.5C to stay alive" that now resonates on the global agenda. Dire warnings reverberated from the CSA panels that to avoid catastrophic climate change, the highest priority must be to reduce CO2 pollution to zero at the earliest possible date. They echo the sombre results of the Zero Carbon Latin America and the Caribbean Climate Change Report.
Focus on Guyana
However from the session, Guyana Low Carbon/Green Economy and Oil Production chaired by Prof. Maya Trotz and headlined by Dr. Ulric Trotz, emerged the recommendation for the establishment of a CSA Environment and Resilience Group, which convened its first consultation on the penultimate day of the Conference, chaired by Dr. Nicholas Watts, Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, School of Advanced Studies. It agreed that the group would act as a focal point to explore the challenges raised at the climate change sessions, exchange good practices based on research and policy initiatives, create active platforms for collaboration in sourcing funding for Caribbean climate action projects, promote strategies for sharing information, increasing private-public stakeholders and involving NGOs and youth leaders in advocacy for the ‘1.5C to stay alive’ agenda
An interesting discussion ensued on the status of the Oil and Gas Industry in Guyana and its contribution to climate change. Is it ethical to prime the pump as an essential feature of economic growth or should the oil deposits be left below the seabed? There was overwhelming support for a CSA-UG Forum on the theme “Could Guyana be a Model for Climate Change: Aligning Oil and Gas with a Green Economy. Guyana - A model for Climate Change. In its December 2019 blog GOFAD raised the same question but left it generally unanswered: https://www.globalonefrontier.org/blog/guyana-could-be-a-model-for-climate-changealigning-oil-and-gas-with-a-green-economy
The idea of a Forum on this issue is timely and relevant for the Caribbean as a whole. Among the base line information that exists is a 2016 Report resulting from wide scale consultations with experts Climate Resilience Strategy and Action Plan for Guyana. It illustrates that the country has already started to take action to build resilience to change impacts and to enhance capacities to adapt. Indeed, the thinking of the commitment of the then Government of Guyana (GoG) seemed to have been sustained. According to Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali, the commitment is to a green economy to sustain economic prosperity, environmental security and social well being. Therefore policies which support this vision enunciated in the 2016 report include the Low Carbon Development Strategy, the Second National Communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the National Integrated Disaster Risk Management Plan, and the National Adaptation Strategy to Address Climate Change in the Agricultural Sector. It is also of interest that Guyana has made progress in implementing adaptation and resilience building actions principally through interventions to the drainage, irrigation and sea defense systems to reduce the risks of flooding. But obviously, as recent events have demonstrated these are insufficient to stem the tide of natural disasters. The need to accelerate access to external finance to support the implementation of these actions include the reactivating of the Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Norway, the European Union and Multilateral Arrangements. These are paralleled by a recommendation to establish Irworkrama in Guyana as an international center of excellence for biodiversity research, attracting experts, researchers, and graduate students. That the University of Guyana has an active University of Guyana Green Institute (UGGI) and a newly established Institute of Energy Diplomacy provides a useful anchor in collaboration with the leading CARICOM Institution, 5Cs.
World Environment Day has amplified the big challenging picture. It comes at a time when the emergence of COVID-19 has shown just how disastrous the consequences of ecosystem loss can be; how by shrinking the area of natural habitat for animals for example, ideal conditions have been created for pathogens – including coronaviruses – to spread. It also coincides with the release of the Report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) which states that every three seconds, the world loses enough forest to cover a football pitch; over the last century we have destroyed half of our wetlands; much as 50 per cent of our coral reefs have already been lost’; and up to 90 per cent of coral reefs could be lost by 2050. In addition, the annual peak of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the air has hit another milestone. It is 50% higher than when the industrial age began. The average rate of the increase is faster than ever. The World is in trouble. Yet from the vantage point of those who gathered at the CSA Conference to discuss climate action there is a trace of optimism in one of the questions posed Could Guyana be a catalyst for advancing Oil and Gas and achieving a Green Economy? Let the discussions commence!
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.