Guyana records lowest deforestation rate in 7 years

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By Neil Marks

The Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) on Friday announced the country’s 2017 deforestation rate as 0.048 percent – the lowest for the last seven years – giving authorities an added boost to continue efforts to maintain the forest cover, which is more than the size of England.

“We believe that we in Guyana have demonstrated something that is not really happening in parts of South America.

“…we have less deforestation when in fact in many parts the opposite is happening,” said Jocelyn Dow, who chairs the GFC’s Board of Directors, at the GFC’s headquarters in Georgetown.

After a comprehensive mapping, 18.4 million hectares of largely pristine forest was found to be intact, accounting for 87.5% of the country’s landmass.

This includes two million hectares of forest that were taken back from companies given large and small forestry concessions.

“This is good news for us,” said Pradeepa Bholanath, who heads the GFC’s Training and Planning Division.

She explained of the intact forest, 99% of it was left undisturbed for the year under review.

“The forests have been maintained and managed in an exemplary way,” she stated.

The GFC used the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 satellite imagery for the deforestation mapping, which was done following specific mapping standard operating procedures, which ensures full consistency in the interpretation and data treatment.

Pradeepa Bholanath

The latest figure means that Guyana achieved the lowest deforestation rate since it signed to the forest-saving agreement with Norway in 2009 when the rate of deforestation was 0.056 percent.

The assessment of Guyana’s forest cover falls under a Monitoring Reporting and Verification System (MRVS) under the United Nations programme to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation or what is called REDD-Plus, in which countries are rewarded for maintaining low rates of deforestation and forest degradation and pursuing conservation and sustainable management.

The MRVS is coordinated by a team of local experts at the GFC and all mapping aspects and analyses are completed using local staff, the GFC stated in a handout to the media announcing the results.

The main reason why forests are lost in Guyana is due to mining and mining infrastructure. The latest figures show that mining accounted for the loss of 6, 495 of forest, while mining infrastructure accounts for the loss of 947 hectares of forest.

“You have large areas that have been mined and that should be the priority for restoration,” said Robert Nasi, a forestry scientist who heads the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

At the recently concluded Global Landscapes Forum in Nairobi, Nasi told the News Room that while Guyana maintains low levels of deforestation, it still can do more to contribute to REDD-Plus.

“For a country like Guyana, forestry restoration is still important,” he said.

He said that the regardless of what is done in the way of restoration, such as replanting mined out areas, “fundamentally you store (more) carbon.”

Under rules set out by the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), which regulates the industry, miners are required to show overburden and/or topsoil to be reapplied after mining.

This is largely ignored.

In 2016, the GGMC was given a specific mandate to mainstream mines reclamation within the extractive sector.

“This a priority going forward,” said Gregory Scott of the GGMC. He also sits on the board of the GGMC.

“Key among what we do is engage the miners for mines reclamation and closure; this is a complete process,” he stated.

The GGMC has been using a reclaimed site at Olive Creek in the mining district of Region Seven to demonstrate reclamation to miners; the GGMC has also used the project at Olive Creek to gather data on the effort, time and resources needed to reclaim mined areas.

At Olive Creek, over 16 hectares of mined out areas were backfilled, filling in three major pits – some 30-40 feet deep – to commence restoration at the end of 2016. While grass has started to go, it is hoped that trees will begin sprout in the coming years.

Previously, a similar project was undertaken in the mining town of Mahdia in Region Eight.

Dow said that the interlocking arrangement between the Forestry and Mining Commissions is important.

Jocelyn Dow

“We are intent on showing that we have one forest, one land and we all have common responsibilities,” she stated.

Other drivers of deforestation, namely forestry infrastructure, infrastructure in general, agriculture, settlements and fire, put the total forest loss at 8, 851 hectares.

Under the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity, Guyana committed to conserving 17% of its forest; President David Granger’s commitment to preserving another two million hectares of forests is in keeping with that commitment, said Bholanath.

Guyana already has one area under forestry conservation – the Iwokrama forests in the heart of Guyana – which sees 371,000 hectares under conservation.

While Guyana has begun to reap the rewards of maintaining low rates of deforestation, such as under the Norwegian deal, which committed US$250 million, Nasi said citizens must be able to see how keeping the forests standing benefits them.

“You have to determine carbon friendly economic activities,” said Nasi.

Guyana’s total forest cover hold carbon in unusually high density (up to 350 tons/hectare) and store some 5.31 gigatons of carbon.

That amounts to approximately 6,638 tons/person, the second highest forest carbon stock per capita of any country on earth.

The authorities have determined that Guyana’s enormous forest carbon stocks, together with other significant ecosystems services – including abundant fresh water and biodiversity- make it the ideal country to continue to test and refine the economic viability of REDD+ payment schemes.

According to its Nationally Determined Contribution to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in the global effort to combat climate change, Guyana is prepared to continue to sustainably manage, conserve, and protect the forest.

However, it argues that the economic and other benefits that can accrue from REDD+ and the “green state” it supports need to be comparable with or greater than what could be had from other activities, such as gold mining, on which tens of thousands of Guyanese depend on for a living.

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