Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo, considered a world leader in environmentally progressive policy, was in the Greater Toronto Area last week to address climate issues just weeks prior to this December’s major international climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Beginning December 7, nearly 15,000 delegates, including heads of state and diplomats, will meet for two weeks to try to agree on a new climate treaty as a successor to the Kyoto protocol, the first phase of which expires in 2012.
Critical to an international agreement are the questions as to how much are industrialized countries willing to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases, how much are major developing countries willing to do to limit the growth of their emissions, how is the help needed by developing countries to engage in reducing their emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change going to be financed and how is that money going to be managed.
“One of the reasons I am in Canada is to try to get academia more involved in the debate on climate change, particularly as we approach Copenhagen which is seen as a watershed for the ongoing negotiations in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC),” Jagdeo told faculty, students and other interested observers at York University. “For too long, the public and academia have been on the sidelines of the debate, not just here in Canada, but in many other parts of the world.
“Unfortunately, the technical negotiators and ministers of environment have led the negotiating process. I think the level is too low to make the groundbreaking deals that are necessary to reach an agreement that will stabilize greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The only way that forests could become a very important abatement solution is if we have a very ambitious agreement in Copenhagen. What has happened so far over the past 40 years is that half of the world’s rainforest has been degraded.
“The only sustainable model for ensuring that forests remain intact and that they continue to provide the ecosystem services apart from the climate services is to find a new model that will address the drivers of deforestation. Climate change and the Copenhagen process offer that possibility.”
Jagdeo, who co-chaired the recent United Nations roundtable on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD), contends that the program will only work if countries provide the financial resources to make forest conservation a viable alternative to cutting them down.
“I have always contended that if we can find $10 trillion dollars to spend on addressing the problems of the global financial crisis, then we could surely find $300 billion per annum to address climate change,” he said. “If we agree that AIG (American International Group) is too big to fail because it has a systemic impact on the financial sector, then how much bigger is our planet. Therefore, I feel that the stalemate we have in the negotiation process leading up to Copenhagen is one of political will and the only way we can change that is by people making it clear that they want this issue addressed. The political leaders are only going to respond to issues in short-term political cycles.”
Jagdeo launched a low carbon development strategy in Guyana earlier this year that is viewed as an investment in low carbon infrastructure, employment in low carbon economic sectors and in communities with human capital.
Nearly three-quarters of Guyana – 15 million hectares – is covered in forest and it’s estimated that the only English-speaking South American country could generate approximately $580 million a year by cutting its forests.
For a Third World country like Guyana, those funds would go a long way in enhancing health care, education and infrastructure.
York University president and vice-chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri welcomed Jagdeo to the campus and praised him for actively sounding the alarm on climate change and the need for alternative solutions.
“Some of the most pressing problems the world is facing today are environmental and these challenges are not the problem of Canada, Guyana or any particular country,” he said. “They are challenges facing humanity. They affect us all and it’s up to us to work together to find solutions. We welcome you not only as the president of Guyana, but as a world leader shaping environmental policy.”
Jagdeo also spoke at Trent University and the University of Toronto.