Last Updated on Saturday, 15 May 2021, 19:11 by Denis Chabrol
The World Wildlife Fund, a global environmental conservation watchdog, is calling for a “full environmental and social assessment” of Guyana’s oil and gas sector, in the wake of recent controversies surrounding the clearing of mangroves along the west bank of the Demerara River.
“Such an assessment will give decision-makers and the public-at-large an objective view of the range of impacts from the industry, that has already begun to transform the country. Environmental and Social Impact assessments, done at a project, sector or policy level provide a strong and objective means to help stakeholders to better understand issues that will affect them, their communities and the environment to which they are connected.
It engenders the sharing and objective debate and can lead to the co-creation of long lasting and sustainable solutions that are less costly and less conflicting. Given the issues involved, this assessment should be done at the strategic and sectoral level,” the WWF said.
The call was issued amid a controversy over the government’s decision to allow the removal of mangroves along Versailles-Malgre Tout to allow for the construction of a US$100 million shorebase.
Government has since stated that more mangroves would be removed from the West Bank of the Demerara River for oil and gas-related infrastructure because there is no more land space available on the East Bank of that waterway.
The WWF said the need for such an assessment also comes at a time when a number of investors appeared more inclined to break their promises and breaking Guyana’s laws. “We call for such an assessment at a time when some developers in the oil and gas industry are demonstrating low interest in keeping to their promises and acting in good faith at the very least, and at times, even flouting the nation’s laws,” the organisation said.
WWF has been a major stakeholder in promoting Guyana and Suriname’s environmental protection.
Weighing in on the recent mangrove controversy, the WWF said the developer seems to have cleared more mangrove forest than was in the proposed plan used in its application for an environmental permit. WWF said it is “obvious” that mangroves should be protected “and their destruction must not be accepted without great deliberation as to the costs versus benefits to society.”
WWF highlighted that mangroves protect the coastline and riverbanks in Guyana, connecting saltwater from the ocean to the freshwater produced by rivers. Further, the environmental protection and promotion organisation said mangrove play an important role in supporting Guyana’s rich biodiversity, as they feature complex ecosystems where aquatic wildlife, coastal birds and other animals thrive.
An added value of “these amazing forest ecosystems” is their climate protection and mitigation benefits, WWF said, adding that they also provide protection to coastal and riverain communities from erosion, flooding, and rising levels of the oceans, and they are known for their exceedingly high carbon storage potential that rivals terrestrial forests. “For many communities, mangrove forests are also a key source of their livelihoods,” WWF said.
But beyond the specific issue of mangroves and shore base development, WWF said the full development programme for offshore oil and gas production is yet to be known, and as such it is difficult to anticipate and plan ahead for these impacts. While a few may have a grasp of the issues, the average person has little chance to engage on most of these issues in a fact-based or rational manner.
Observing that the oil and gas sector will cause double-figure GDP growth over the next few years, starting from a growth rate of 43.5% in 2020 according to CARICOM, WWF however cautioned that Guyana “faces the reputational risk over the perception that it is forsaking a low-carbon and sustainable future through the way it is embracing the oil and gas industry.”
“And there is the reality that the country’s carbon emissions has increased as a result of gas flaring, and it has now become a carbon emissions exporter as a result of the offshore oil and gas development,” WWF added.
WWF warned against Guyana being merely becoming the biggest per capita petro-producer in the world in a few years’ time, but causing environmental degradation for generations to come and reneging on its commitment to a low-carbon development approach.
“A well structured, transparent and equitable mechanism is needed for the country to have any chance to ensure that the oil and gas sector does not destroy our society as has happened in most other oil producing developing countries, much less to ensure Guyana’s continued commitment to a low carbon and sustainable future. None of us would want to bequeath to the next generation untold economic, social and environmental burdens which unfortunately has happened elsewhere,” the organisation said.
WWF says it welcomes the just released announcement that ExxonMobil and its partners CNOOC International Ltd and Hess Corp. will have to pay US$30 per tonne of CO2eq that they release from unregulated gas flaring from their offshore operation.” We also welcome the stricter enforcement of planning permits and application of the law on specific project developments related to this new sector of the economy. These are good specific steps, but the issues are much bigger,” WWF said.
WWF says it continues to be committed to working with government and other stakeholders to mainstream sustainability in Guyana’s development efforts and help to reduce the environmental impact and protect sensitive habitats that will be irrevocably damaged by the oil and gas industry.
WWF is one of the world’s largest and most respected independent conservation organizations in the world. WWF was established in 1961 and is largely identified by its panda logo. It is a global network and is active in more than 100 countries and territories. The mission of WWF-Guianas is: Together with the people of Suriname and Guyana we conserve their natural heritage for their human wellbeing for now and generations to come.