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Guyana sees a three-fold increase in deforestation despite landmark deal to protect its forests

7th March 2011

Guyana has seen deforestation rates soar over the last year, despite the signing of an agreement with the Norwegian government aimed precisely at supporting a reduction in deforestation rates, said Global Witness today.   

Signed in November 2009, the agreement – worth $250m over four years – was initially welcomed as a potential breakthrough, and a blueprint for other countries to follow, in supporting the preservation of forests. However, once the technical details were made public, initial optimism gave way to widespread concern since a particular clause in the agreement actually allowed deforestation rates in Guyana to increase, at Norway’s expense.

The offending clause assumed an existing annual baseline deforestation rate in Guyana of 0.45% on an interim basis until a more accurate baseline could be determined. A recent report commissioned by the Guyana Forestry Commission, and carried out by New Zealand-based consultants, Pöyry Forest Industry, concluded that the actual deforestation rate over the period 1990- 2009 was in fact only 0.02%.  As such, if the interim baseline is not adjusted under the terms of the agreement, deforestation in Guyana could increase twenty-fold and still remain within the agreed limits. Indeed, the report also confirmed that over the first year of the agreement the rate of actual deforestation in the country had trebled, reaching 0.06%.

”Over the past year, deforestation rates in Guyana have increased three-fold”,* said Laura Furones of Global Witness. ”It’s too early to say if this increase is a direct result of the flawed data in the agreement, but there is undoubtedly an incentive for Guyana to both profit from expanding forestry activities and simultaneously get paid by Norway to reduce deforestation. The Norwegian and Guyanese governments must therefore adopt the precautionary principle to ensure that this is not the beginning of an upward trend that threatens local livelihoods and biodiversity,” continued Furones.  

Uncertainties about actual levels of deforestation were acknowledged by the Norwegian and Guyanese governments soon after the deal was negotiated. At that time, both agreed to set a new reference level as close as possible to Guyana’s historical deforestation rate when further data was available. The Pöyry report confirms that the interim deforestation rate was unrealistically high, and the governments of Guyana and Norway must set a new reference level when they meet in March. The new reference level must be based on accurate historical data and ensure compensation is only paid to the Government of Guyana if it takes positive steps to tackle the existing human pressures on Guyana’s forests, including logging and mining.

”It’s in nobody’s interests to see Guyana’s forests disappear or Norwegian tax payers’ money go to waste. Whilst we applaud the Norwegian government for its leading role in efforts to preserve the world’s rainforests, it must recognise that if their agreement does not demand a deviation from business as usual,  then this deal will undermine global efforts to protect forests and  mitigate climate change,” said Furones.

”Both governments must take the findings of this report seriously and renegotiate the agreement based on the reality on the ground.  Only a dramatic reduction in the baseline rate will secure this and show that the Guyana-Norway agreement is succeeding in incentivising the protection of Guyana’s forests.”

Ends

Notes to editors:

  • Full text of the 9 November 2009 ”Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana and the Government of the Kingdom of Norway regarding Cooperation on Issues related to the Fight against Climate Change, the Protection of Biodiversity and the Enhancement of Sustainable Development” can be found here. The Technical Note from the Norway International Climate and forest Initiative can be found here.
  • On 24 November 2009, Global Witness hosted an event in London where President Jagdeo of Guyana discussed the agreement. Representatives of the Norwegian government also intervened in the questions and answers session. When asked about Guyana having a right to increase deforestation under the agreement, President Jagdeo said ’basically, yes [...] for anything below 0.45 we get compensated, for the difference between the actual and 0.45’. The event can be seen here, and a full transcript is available here.
  • The Guyana Forestry Commission and Pöyry Forest Industry report: ’Guyana REDD+ Monitoring, Reporting and Verification System (MRVS) Interim Measures Report,’ 7 January 2011, can be found here.

Contacts: Laura Furones on +44 (0)207 492 5879, or Andrea Pattison on +44 (0)7970 103 083.

*Correction notice: It has been brought to Global Witness’ attention that while the increase in the annual baseline deforestation rate in Guyana from 0.02 to 0.06 is indeed a three-fold increase, in percentage terms, this is in fact a 200% increase, not as we originally stated, a 300% increase.  Global Witness has now corrected this reference in the press release online and wishes to apologise for publishing what was an honest error.