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OPINION: The Forest Sector: The Jewel Standing Tall at the Intersection of Guyana’s Green and Brown Economy

By Deonarine Ramsaroop, Rafeek Khan and Dr. David Singh

Guyana now stands at the winners’ podium for its non-renewable natural resources. Its oil and gas reserves are causing a growth rate of 16.3% between 2018 and 2021, double that of Ethiopia the next fastest growing economy. Indeed, the country’s brown economic output is set to explode. In a few short years, we will become the top oil producing country per capita in the world, joining the club of oil-rich economies, producing fossil fuels that cause half of all the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

So what does this mean for Guyana’s Green State aspirations? The oil and gas sector will dwarf the rest of the economy. For Guyana to maintain its interest to be a Green Economy, immediate, bipartisan and focused attention is required to support the growth of the forest-based economic sector, as this sector lies at the intersection of Guyana’s brown economic development and its green economic ambition. The fact is that massive brown economic development makes it hard to convince the international community of our continued commitment to a green economy unless we do something decisive and ground-breaking that balances out our winning position as the top oil producer per capita in the world, while matching our reputation as a world leader on conservation and sustainable use of our forests.

Emphasis on our forest-based economic sector to counter our brown economic development and demonstrate our green commitment should not come as a surprise. For decades Guyana has burnished its sustainable forest-based green economy credentials. Three decades ago, our country was headlined globally when we offered the world Iwokrama – a portion of our forests to demonstrate the possibilities of conserving and sustainably using our natural resources. A decade ago, our country was headlined globally when we championed the deployment of our forest ecosystems as the least-cost, most-effective natural solution to the global climate crisis. This led to the largest per capita forests and climate change deal in the world through a $250 million commitment from the Kingdom of Norway.

In 2018, our country adopted a National Forest Policy and Plan that takes a holistic view of our forest ecosystems, building on the many decades of work to improve the way in which timber harvesting is done, and incorporating non-timber forest products and their services into the equation. And Guyana operates a globally acclaimed system for monitoring, reporting, and verification of forest cover that provides important information that can be used to improve conservation, land allocation and management effectiveness. We have political commitment and built the institutional capacity. It is time to make the necessary financial commitment in favour of our forests through the substantial revenues from oil and gas.

The Green State Development Strategy: Vision 2040 sets out the framework under which a Green State may be realized. Enabling a strong, vibrant and sustainable forest-based economic sector will be a hallmark of Guyana’s immediate success to achieve a Green State. That said, success in the forest sector cannot be achieved through government intervention only. The private sector looks forward to participating in any initiative that continues to drive sustainable forestry, and the development of the forest-based economic sector as a whole, encompassing economic, environmental and social factors. It recognizes that it must take up its rightful seat at the table along with government and civil society and will stand ready to respond to government’s renewed commitment to the sector. Based on this partnership between all segments of society, the private sector will commit to increasing its investments in the forest and wood product value chain and, through its respective parent associations, commit to thinking forward and championing the sector within the inclusive green economic framework.

As Guyanese we have prided ourselves in offering the world climate solutions. In a few short years we will be part of the global climate problem, unless we do something decisive, significant, and innovative to show again to the world how a small developing country can grow a sustainable economy to solve two of the world’s greatest problems: the climate crisis, and human inequality.

Today it is our time to shine on the global platform as a successful economic powerhouse that demonstrates how to use the returns from the brown economic sector to develop a net low-carbon, green economy through the growth and development of the forest-based sector. The European Union suggests that nature will provide almost 40% of the global climate solutions between now and 2030. The UN estimates that fossil fuels contribute at least 50% of global greenhouse gases. As our global reputation of being the world’s fastest growing economy from fossil fuels is being settled in history, let us also write our own history by investing in our forests and make permanent our green economy status even as we accept the short-term benefits from exploitation of oil and gas.

Deonarine Ramsaroop is President of the Forest Producers’ Association; Rafeek Khan is Chair of Forestry and Wood Products sub-sector of the Guyana Manufacturing and Services’ Association, and Dr. David Singh is a Natural Resource Management practitioner.