Guyana’s forest and climate plans continue to generate controversy and sideline indigenous peoples

Guyana - controversy has emerged over deforestation figures informing REDD policy
By
FPP

Guyana’s forest and climate plans continue to generate controversy and sideline indigenous peoples

While the President of Guyana was named a “Champion of the Earth” by the UN earlier this year in relation to his efforts to secure international support for forest protection and “low carbon” growth, some indigenous leaders and civil society organisations both inside and outside the country continue to expose and challenge the deep contradictions in the government’s forest and climate plans. In June 2010, the President of the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) made a strong statement to the Sixth Participant’s Committee meeting of the World Bank Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) in Georgetown, asking why key land rights issues raised repeatedly by APA have still not been addressed in the Guyana Forestry Commission’s (GFC) latest REDD+ readiness proposals.

The same question drew a blank from World Bank officials later in October, when Bank staff explained to the APA that “the ball is in Guyana’s court”. Bank officials advised that the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) is unable to define minimum requirements to address land rights questions in any future grant agreement in support of Guyana’s REDD planning, until it has a clear picture of the government’s own plans to resolve outstanding land claims.

Indigenous leaders in Guyana are stressing that no World Bank grant should be approved until there are effective plans and guarantees to recognise their land rights, including measures to correct existing serious problems with demarcation and titling procedures. They point out that any hasty grant agreement without clarifying their land rights would be in direct violation of World Bank safeguard policies and in potential violation of the international obligation of Guyana to uphold the collective rights of indigenous peoples.

Amerindian leaders from Regions 7 and 8 have recently voiced their unease about pressure being put on National Toshaos Council (NTC) members to sign a rushed public resolution in support of the government’s Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS). These leaders say that they are not willing to sign support statements for the LCDS when they and their community members still do not understand the implications of the plan for their lands, forests, livelihoods and way of life. Some leaders walked out of the conference, while others refused to sign the controversial document. Some leaders did sign, but later expressed concern that they had felt pressured to endorse the NTC resolution. The whole experience has raised further questions about the risk of “engineered consent” in Guyana and the government’s use of FPIC to suit their own standards. It has also highlighted further the need to establish robust mechanisms to meet Guyana’s commitment to respect indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).

Concerns have also been voiced by international NGOs about Norway’s decision, in August, to lift social conditions attached to its bilateral REDD finance for Guyana. Apparently under severe pressure from the Guyana government, Norway agreed to waive ‘enabling conditions’ for the first tranche of USD$30 million that was deposited in the Guyana REDD Investment Fund (GRIF) in October 2010. Norway now advises that these enabling requirements, including the transparent development of a REDD Governance and Development Plan and the independent verification of MoU agreements, will now apply to any second tranche of Norwegian money.

Meanwhile, some NGOs and members of civil society are also alarmed by government proposals to use a large part of the first tranche of Norwegian aid money under the GRIF to help build a large dam at Amaila falls (on the Kuribrong River, a tributary of the Potaro River). This dam will impact on the traditional lands of Amerindian communities, resulting in the clear cutting and flooding of thousands of hectares of old growth forest. The plans also involve construction of a 100 km access road that threatens to open up remote forest areas to extractive industries. Environmental experts are warning that the Amaila project may pave the way for a much more extensive dam building programme throughout the interior of Guyana, which could lead to devastating social and environmental damage.

Officials of Norway’s Climate and Forest Initiative (NCFI) assert that no decision has yet been taken to finance the Amaila dam with GRIF funds. They emphasise that any project under the GRIF must meet the safeguard policies of the implementing agencies. In this case, this would mean that no GRIF funds would be approved nor released until the proposal fully complies with the Environmental Assessment and Indigenous Peoples Policies of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), among other operational standards. The IDB is currently undertaking an impact assessment of the proposed dam and is expected to complete its study in 2011. Environmental and social justice groups, including FPP, are pressing the IDB to ensure that any evaluation of potential dam impacts assesses the indirect and cumulative impacts of the much wider dam and road building proposals of the government linked to the Amaila falls development.

Running parallel to these issues, NGOs and forestry experts are questioning recent GFC and consultant figures defining Guyana’s historical baseline for deforestation, which appear to show an increase in forest loss during the first year of cooperation with Norway (though levels of deforestation remain low). This situation has led to a possible perverse outcome whereby Guyana might be paid for increasing deforestation due to flawed estimates in deforestation rates. Norwegian officials advised in November that the recent GFC figures need further scrutiny and it is likely that the baseline figures will be revised in 2011 to remove such contradictions. NGOs and the public are now watching the figures closely and some observers continue to maintain that the entire formulation for REDD payments is flawed and must be redesigned.

Further information:

1. Our Land, Our Future. Promoting Indigenous Participation and Rights in Mining, Climate Change and other Natural Resources Decision-making in Guyana. Marcus Colchester and Jean la Rose. May, 2010. Forest Peoples Programme (FPP), Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) and North-South Institute (NSI).

2. Guyana: Amaila Falls Hydro: Social and Environmental Aspects. Robert Goodland, former World Bank Environmental Specialist. On the Bank Information Center (BIC) website. October 19th, 2010.

3. Eight Upper Mazaruni toshaos reject conference pact – say were not consulted. Stabroek News. November 3rd, 2010.

4. Norway’s climate aid to Guyana slated for hydro dam in pristine rainforest. Development Today, 16/2010.

5. McREDD: How McKinsey ‘cost-curves’ are distorting REDD. Dyer, N and Counsell, S (2010). Rainforest Foundation UK, London.

 

Girl with logs, Guyana, 2007
Girl with logs, Guyana, 2007
By
FPP