Guyana, Suriname champion payments to save forests at global summit

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By Vishani Ragobeer

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The Presidents of Guyana and Suriname have made a fervent appeal at the United Nations climate conference, COP26, for payments to keep those forests intact and consequently, help mitigate the harmful effects of climate change such as flooding.

“Forest-rich countries must be provided with the incentives necessary to keep their forests intact and to reduce deforestation and forest degradation,” Guyana’s President Dr. Irfaan Ali stated during his address.

He did not state this only because Guyana would benefit from massive payments because it has about 85 per cent of its land (about the size of England) covered in forests. Instead, he reminded the conference that forests are a “powerful arsenal” in the fight against climate change.

Guyanese President Dr. Irfaan Ali addressing the United Nations’ Climate Change conference in Glasgow, Scotland

Global warming, which contributes to climate change, has been worsened by the release of harmful gases into the atmosphere. These gases are emitted when fuels such as oil and diesel are used to generate energy, for example. But trees, which breathe in carbon dioxide (one of the harmful gases) are known to trap those gases from the atmosphere.

Guyana’s forest stores 21.8 billion tonnes of carbon. Cutting them down would mean releasing the harmful gases into the atmosphere causing further harm to the environment. This has a ripple effect on rising sea-levels and flooding, for example.

And at this global forum, Dr. Ali said it was crucial for countries to finalise the rules for carbon markets to properly value tropical forests and the services they provide.

Surinamese President Chandrikapersad Santokhi, during his address, said that his country is also committed to keeping its forests intact to help mitigate climate change. But, he stated that “appropriate compensation means and mechanisms” are needed to support Suriname’s and other forest-rich countries’ transition towards using renewable energy.

Some 93 per cent of Suriname is covered in forests. This means that like its continental neighbour Guyana, this country’s forests helps to trap and store massive amounts of the harmful gas.

Surinamese President Chandrikapersad Santokhi addressing the United Nations’ Climate Change conference in Glasgow, Scotland

President Santokhi also called out “double standards” at the global level, apparently referencing Suriname’s new oil and gas sector.

The oil industry is indeed notorious for emitting carbon dioxide and other harmful greenhouse gases which has resulted in the climate crisis. Santokhi, however, highlighted that developed countries that have benefited from oil production and industrialisation are now against developing nations pursuing similar development.

This concern is the same for Guyana, which believes it can be a low-carbon oil producer. Guyana, through its recently launched  expanded Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) is hoping to transition to more renewable energy allowing for a reduction in emissions and get paid to save its forests while developing its oil and gas industry. A trifecta of low-carbon development once achieved.

And, at the international forum, Dr. Ali said that despite being a new-oil producer, Guyana supports the removal of subsidies from fossil fuel production. These subsidies reduce the cost of fossil fuel production, thereby driving the dependence on the use of these for energy purposes.

Dr. Ali also emphasised that all countries of the world must take necessary actions to reduce their emissions and transition to using cleaner energy sources like solar energy and hydropower.

President Ali however emphasised: “…the world’s foremost polluters have a duty to institute steeper emissions cuts.”

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