Historically deforestation rates in Guyana have been low,
making it a special case in efforts to preserve forests in the fight against
climate change. In 2008 the country presented
itself as a candidate for financial compensation to keep its forests
standing under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation (REDD) initiative. A year
later the government of Norway committed finance worth
up to US$250 million over five years to ensure the protection of Guyana’s forests.
Witness played a key role in the debate around how the Guyana-Norway
partnership would be shaped. We hosted a public meeting in London with the then
President of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo,
to explore the opportunities and risks of the country’s ambitious plan to stop
deforestation and embark on a low carbon development path. The event exposed the tension that exists
between incentives of developing countries to generate much-needed revenues
from cutting down their rainforests, and those of wealthier countries to pay for
This tension is playing out in Guyana’s forests. Between
2010 and 2013, logging rates have been higher than those permitted under the Guyana-Norway
partnership, yet the penalties provided for in the partnership have not been
invoked. According to one estimate the income from an illegally logged tree can
be up to six times higher than the potential financial penalties.
Without the right checks, aid money for forest protection
risks funding the very forces that work against it. To ensure they are
effective, REDD schemes need to prioritise securing indigenous land tenure, clamp
down on industrial offenders of illegal logging, and agree real reductions in
deforestation – with penalties for failure that bite.