Far too many Caribbean governments are sleepwalking when it comes to addressing the impact of climate variability and formulating a response to managing and adapting to climate change, says former Guyana president Bharrat Jagdeo who is considered a world leader in environmentally progressive policy.
“For us to be sustainable, I think we have to be aware of the existential threats to our region, to the world and, more particularly, to the product that we offer,” Jagdeo, who was named one of Time magazine’s Heroes of the Environment in 2008, told delegates and media practitioners at the recent Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) 13th annual sustainable tourism conference in Guyana. “As most of you are aware, the inter-governmental panel on climate change determined that for us to have a sustainable trajectory, we have to limit the global temperature to two degrees Celsius above pre- industrial levels by 2050.
“The only way we can do that is if we, by 2020, were to cut the greenhouse gas emission by 25 to 40 per cent on a 90-90 baseline. If we had such an agreement in place, we would have had a 50 per cent probability of avoiding catastrophic climate change. We are currently on a pathway to a four-degree rise in global temperature which, at above pre-industrial levels, will result in the natural death of the forests and the corals and the sea would rise, which would mean we will lose most of our beaches in the Caribbean.
“That is the future we are looking at right now and it’s incumbent that tourism officials help make governments aware of this problem. There is a need to raise awareness in our societies about the threat to our way of life in the Caribbean and also the threat to the product we offer.”
Three years ago, Jagdeo – who is the goodwill ambassador for the tropical-forest basins of Amazonia, Congo and Borneo-Mekong – launched a low carbon development strategy in Guyana 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.
In November 2009, Guyana signed an agreement with Norway that provides for the Scandinavian country to invest up to US$250 million over a five-year period in protecting Guyana’s forests to avoid the deforestation that fuels climate change. The agreement is one of the first carbon offset agreements to be signed under a new initiative known as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD).
“To date, Guyana has successfully met the performance requirements for two consecutive years, earning approximately US$70 million,” said Prime Minister Sam Hinds in his feature address at the Guyana International Conference Centre. “These funds will be used to support low carbon development projects that will have a transformational effect on the national and local economy as well as to support our efforts to adapt to the climate-change that is already inevitable and also increase resilience to future climate change.”
This was the second time that Guyana hosted the region’s sustainable tourism conference. The first was in 2000.
CTO chairman Rickey Skerritt noted that while the world of travel and tourism has changed drastically and fundamentally in the last 12 years, the fact that Guyana is the first country to host the conference twice indicates its strong commitment to the protection and sustainable use of its natural resources.
“It is not by accident therefore that Guyana has emerged as a leader on the world stage in the battle to reduce global carbon emissions, said Skerritt who is also St. Kitts & Nevis’ Minister of Tourism and International Transport. “I believe it was the result of a deliberate decision by the proud country to stand up and be counted in the global fight against the vast extremes of climate change and to lead by example.
“With the urgent economic imperatives and critical fiscal challenges confronting our region, Guyana could easily have succumbed to the temptation to expand the extraction of timber and other resources from its vast rain forests for economic gain. But, recognizing the long-term negative impact of deforestation, Guyana has been convinced that it ought not to be forced to choose between short-term development priorities and climate change. Even with the scary storm clouds of recession still hovering in our region and the loud insistent call that we must get our economic houses in order quickly, the Guyana government still chose to protect virtually all of its 40 million acres of rain forest.”
The theme of the four-day conference, which was interspersed with study tours designed to expose media and delegates to Guyana’s rich and diverse heritage and natural beauty, was Keeping the Right Balance: Sustaining our Resources.
“The case of Guyana is a clear example that it is our God-given natural assets and our rich cultural heritage that best distinguishes the Caribbean from our competitors, and that responsible tourism is actually good for business,” said Skerritt. “And with tourism being the leading money earner for so many Caribbean nationals, what this conference theme suggests is that, in order to appropriately address the essentials of economic growth and poverty alleviation, we must each adopt a development strategy that is sustainability based.”
CTO secretary general and chief executive officer, Hugh Riley, said the conference helped to reinforce that climate change and its threats – rising sea levels, natural disasters and widespread destruction in major population centres – will not simply go away if the region’s administrators bury their heads in the sand.
“The warnings of our experts must not fall on deaf ears,” he said. “Those of us who have heard them at this conference and elsewhere have a responsibility to act and to use whatever resources are available to us in the public forum, in the media – new and traditional – in caucuses of decision-makers and town hall meetings at the community level to sensitize our populations and to get them prepared. Mother Nature has given us the capacity to expect the best and prepare for the worst.”
In his welcome address at a reception at State House, Guyana’s president, Donald Ramotar, urged Caribbean governments to make Guyana’s low carbon development strategy an object of study because it offers a model that can be adapted to the region’s economies by promoting sustainable environmental policies and leveraging the ecological assets for tourism development.
Trinidad will host next year’s sustainable tourism conference. The second annual conference was held in the island in 1998 while Tobago hosted the event three years ago
BY RON FANFAIR