Occasionally, REDD-Monitor posts anonymous contributions. So far, in two years of regular posting on this website, there have been four anonymous contributions (out of a total of 340 posts). Two have been about Guyana. The most recent, “REDD rubber hits the road in Guyana: skid-marks a-plenty,” seems to have ruffled quite a few feathers.
So far, Richard Donovan, head of Rainforest Alliance, Ashton Simon, of the National Amerindian Development Foundation, and Per Fredrik Pharo, of the Government of Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative, (among others) have commented on the post.
On 18 October 2010, REDD-Monitor received an email from Lynnette Rambarran, Secretary to the Commissioner, Guyana Forestry Commission. Rambarran wrote:
On behalf of the REDD Secretariat Guyana, I hereby submit an article to be posted on the main page of the REDD Monitor website…. If you are objective and credible, one would expect that you post the attached article, as is being requested, from the Minister of Agriculture with responsibility for Forestry, Hon. Robert M. Persaud.
As Rambarran was using a yahoo.com email address, REDD-Monitor requested confirmation that the article was genuinely from the Minister of Agriculture. On 19 October 2010, Pradeepa Bholanath of the Guyana Forestry Commission sent the following email:
From: Pradeepa Bholanath
To: Lynette Rambarran , Chris Lang
Date: 19 October 2010 20:32
Subject: RE: Re: REDD Monitor Response
Dear Mr. Lang,
I would like to confirm that this is an official submission from the Minister of Agriculture, Guyana – Hon. Robert M. Persaud.
Head – Planning and Development Division
Guyana Forestry Commission
1 Water Street, Kingston, Georgetown, Guyana, South America
Tel: + (592) 226-7271/4, Fax: + (592) 226-8956
In the meantime, Persaud also posted his reaction to the “REDD rubber hits the road” post as a series of comments on REDD-Monitor, starting here.
Persaud’s “official submission” is posted below in full:
From Honourable Minister of Agriculture with responsibility for Forestry, Mr. Robert M. Persaud:
On 13th October, Mr Chris Lang said: “Roger Waters clearly wasn’t thinking of the president of a small Latin American state ….. but [the words of his song] seem appropriate to President Bharrat Jagdeo’s political philosophy:….’Don’t give me all that goody-good bullshit’”.
He followed this up with a statement that said: “…it can’t get much worse. Breaching the MOU [between Guyana and Norway on REDD+], throwing safeguards out the window, funding projects that increase forest destruction, and allowing the Director of a logging company to verify that everything is above board [is] the wrong place to start”.
Fantastic headline-grabbing stuff, but as almost always with Mr. Lang, his statements are totally untrue.
The caricature of capricious third world governments colluding with illegal loggers provides great cover for Mr. Lang and his fellow travelers to peddle right-wing prejudices.
His oft-repeated view, that no portion of payment for ecosystem services should flow to governments to invest in their citizens’ services, aligns him with economic neo-conservatives around the world. The United States Tea Party would certainly welcome him as a member.
But he is entitled to his economic view-points.
What is unacceptable is his other dominant prejudice – that most people who enter public service in Africa, Asia and South America must be corrupt, stupid, inarticulate or some combination of all three. These regularly repeated viewpoints place Mr. Lang at a particularly rancid place on the spectrum of extremism.
I have no illusions that Mr. Lang will shed himself of these prejudices. The internet is riddled with others of his ilk, and they tend not to be moved by facts or reasoned argument.
However, the access to information provided by the internet means that good people may read his reports. His writings – with “anonymous” briefings that bolster his prejudices – may make good people pessimistic that addressing deforestation at the same time as guaranteeing the rights of all the citizens of forest countries is possible.
This is not fair.
The many, many decent activists on REDD+ around the world need to be optimistic if we are to play our part in stopping the loss of 150,000 lives from climate change every year. They need to have practical examples of peoples trying with deep sincerity to solve the many complex issues that REDD+ entails. And they deserve to know where they should go for fact-based information.
So, some facts:
– Mr Lang’s blog has repeatedly stated variations on the theme that Guyana will be paid by Norway even if Guyana increases its deforestation rate. Totally untrue.
– Mr. Lang repeatedly says that the Government of Guyana has thrown out safeguards. Totally untrue.
– Mr. Lang says that Norway and the World Bank are “caving into pressure from Jagdeo” concerning safeguards. Totally untrue.
– Mr. Lang says that GRIF money is being used to build the access road to the Amaila Falls Hydro-electricity access road. Totally untrue.
– Mr Lang’s blog states that Rainforest Alliance was awarded a contract for independent auditing “by means which are unclear”. Totally untrue
Let me take this occasion to comprehensively explain to readers why these statements are totally untrue. Let me also remind them that Mr. Lang is fully aware of, but chooses to ignore, the many Guyanese and Norwegian public sources that set out accurate information.
1. The accusation that Guyana will be paid if it increases its deforestation rate.
This accusation has its genesis at an event hosted by Global Witness in London in November 2009. According to Mr. Lang, “during…President Jagdeo’s long, rambling answers…when asked whether Guyana will be allowed to increase deforestation, Jagdeo said…. ‘basically, yes’”
The first thing to point out is that the event was President Jagdeo’s idea, who asked Global Witness to set it up. It would be expected that genuine REDD+ activists would be delighted that the President of a forest country volunteered his time to talk openly and frankly with NGOs about the challenges in turning REDD+ into reality. If these events are used by spin-doctors masquerading as REDD+ activists, then it will not be very surprising if other global leaders refuse to subject themselves to similar open questioning.
This would be a tragedy: the REDD+ agenda badly needs transparent, open, informed conversation between governments who are accountable for REDD+ decisions and those who rightly seek to scrutinize them.
But the second and arguably more important point is to address Mr. Lang’s assertion (repeated many times on his blog over months) that Guyana will be paid for increased deforestation. While a great sound-bite, Mr. Lang knows well that this is not the case.
As Mr. Lang is aware, the President’s answer was within the context of a broader discussion on the methodological approach to REDD+. He is also aware that the MOU between Guyana and Norway explicitly states “Norwegian support is also dependent on no national-level increase in deforestation over an agreed level that should be as close to historical levels as is reasonable.” See: http://www.lcds.gov.gy/guyana-norway-agreement.html
Mr. Lang is also aware that in the days after the event, press coverage was deliberately generated by the questioner at the event: Simon Counsell, of the Rainforest Foundation UK . Mr. Counsell briefed Reuters, the Guardian and the Times that Guyana would be paid for increased deforestation – and they all duly carried the story. This is despite Mr. Counsell having been briefed about the MOU days before it was announced, where he was aware of its clear statements that Guyana would not be paid for increased deforestation. At the time of his prior briefing, Mr. Counsell raised no concerns about the MOU.
As a consequence of the inaccurate, negative press coverage deliberately generated, the Governments of Guyana and Norway immediately issued a press release setting things out clearly, available for example at: www.regjeringen.no/guyana.
Yet despite these repeated clarifications, all of which Mr. Lang is aware, he continues to repeat the untruth. I expect this will continue.
2. The accusation that Guyana has “thrown out safeguards”.
The Government of Guyana has been one of the most forward-leaning on the topic of safeguards within the UNFCCC and elsewhere. President Jagdeo in particular has repeatedly spoken publicly – at Poznan , Copenhagen , and elsewhere – about the need for safeguards.
Mr. Lang is aware of the many public statements that the Government has made on safeguards. To quote just one example, in the Minister of Finance’s July address to the National Assembly on the GRIF, he said: “We needed to ensure Guyanese sovereignty over LCDS decisions… At the same time, we wanted to create a global model for ensuring that climate finance adheres to internationally accepted financial, social and environmental safeguards…
The Government believes that the UNFCCC should establish the standards for safeguards, but this issue remains un-solved in UNFCCC negotiations. To develop a globally replicable model and therefore help to advance the negotiations, the Governments of Guyana and Norway will invite a series of internationally reputable institutions to act as GRIF partner entities– starting with the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, Conservation International, the World Wildlife Fund, and all members of the United Nations family. Others will be determined over time. Pending the creation of a UNFCCC set of safeguards for climate finance, the internationally accepted safeguards of any one of these organizations will be deemed acceptable.”
3. The accusation that the World Bank is “washing its hands”
Again, this is pure fiction. As was made clear for many months, including in the July statement by the Minister of Finance quoted above, the Governments of Guyana and Norway have sought to find a practical way of promoting safeguards in the absence of UNFCCC guidance. The GRIF announcement of last week (see, for example, http://www.lcds.gov.gy/guyana-redd-investment-fund-grif.html) stated that the first three partner entities (whose safeguards will be recognized) are the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the members of the UN family.
I am aware that there are some commentators who say that the safeguards of one or other of these organizations are better than others. That is a legitimate point of view.
However, the Governments of Guyana and Norway are satisfied that the quality of all of these organizations is of a sufficient level to feel comfortable that the appropriate standards will be met, pending guidance from the UNFCCC.
4. The accusation that GRIF money is being used to build the Amaila Falls access road
Mr. Lang needs to distinguish between the work to build the access road to the Amaila Falls hydro-electricity project site, and the construction of the plant itself. As has been said repeatedly, the former is not being funded from GRIF resources, while the latter is. However, despite not being funded from the GRIF, the Government is voluntarily working with the IDB to ensure that the access road is constructed to the necessary social and environmental standards.
When it comes to the major project, work continues with the IDB to look at the hydro-electricity plant and related infrastructure, including a full review of the social and environmental impact assessments. As of today, there are still several months of work left. Once this work is completed satisfactorily, the Amaila Falls hydro-electricity plant will be the first investment to proceed with GRIF funds. Again, this has been stated publicly on many occasions, including two weeks ago, when the statement selectively quoted by Mr. Lang’s blog actually said: “Concurrently with access road construction, the IDB is completing their review of the revised Environmental & Social Impact Assessment Report (ESIA) which includes the Amaila hydropower facilities, the transmission line as well as the access road works. The ESIA was completed by Exponent & JGP, a consortium of American and Brazilian environmental and social experts on hydroelectric project development hired by Amaila Falls Hydro Inc. (AFHI)…”
5. Accusations of impropriety at Rainforest Alliance
Mr. Lang supports accusations about the Rainforest Alliance being awarded a contract to independently audit Guyana’s progress against a set of REDD+ indicators, based on an anonymous entry stating : “By means which are not clear, this independent auditor task has been handed to the New York-based ‘not for profit’, the Rainforest Alliance.”
I have noted that Rainforest Alliance has already responded, and I will not seek to speak for them. However, I would point out that Rainforest Alliance was selected by the Government of Norway through an open, international tender process carried out in accordance with Norwegian government regulations. The tender notice was carried on both Norwegian and Guyanese websites. For example, see: http://www.lcds.gov.gy/images/stories/Documents/Independent%20Verifiier%202010.pdf
- The Government of Guyana has worked with all stakeholders in our society for two years to arrive at a point where we are ready to start investing in our Low Carbon Development Strategy.
- The strategy has gone through four iterations, each informed by broad-based, national stakeholder consultation (Mr. Lang’s anonymous contributors usually refer to the second draft, now over a year and a half out of date.). The initial consultation was overseen by an international NGO: the International Institute for Environment and Development.
- The strategy is overseen by a Multi-Stakeholder Steering Committee, which meets once a week. The steering committee is open to a broad representation of Guyanese civil society and its minutes are publicly available.
- The Government of Guyana fully supports the rights of indigenous peoples, including the right to free, prior and informed consent. Our indigenous peoples – who are 9% of our population – now own 14% of the national territory, up from 6% just over a decade ago. We will continue to support the titling of land for villages that request this, and expect that the amount of land owned by Amerindians will significantly increase in the years ahead.
- In the coming two years, the following investments will be funded from the GRIF, in a way that balances national sovereignty with adherence to international safeguards as outlined above. Again, quoting from the July statement by the Minister of Finance to the National Assembly:
“Now that the GRIF is being established, investments can be made in the priority LCDS investments for the period 2010 to 2015, as set out in Chapter 9 of the LCDS. I will quickly mention six key highlights for 2010 and 2011 here.
“Firstly, in 2010 and 2011, between US$40 million and US$60 million will be invested as equity in the Amaila Falls Hydropower project… The project will involve utilizing less than 0.001% of the State Forest area. The Government is firmly committed to ensuring that the project complies with both national and international social and environmental safeguards.
The second LCDS priority for 2010 and 2011 will be to accelerate the creation of new opportunities for Amerindians. It is aimed to complete the process of titling for all Amerindian villages that request this to be done by 2015. Over the same time, all titled villages will have the option to “opt in” to the forest payments mechanism at any time, in accordance with the principle of free, prior and informed consent. And, funds will be allocated to the Amerindian Development Fund to provide grants for low carbon energy and economic or social investments in Amerindian villages.
[Note: since the Minister’s statement, it has been decided through consultation that the first allocation to the Amerindian Development Fund will be devoted to distributing solar panels to all forest communities that request this to be done.]
The third LCDS priority will be to further the work to enable access to high quality ICT infrastructure in all parts of Guyana.
The fourth priority will be to support the creation of new low carbon opportunities for small and micro enterprise sectors and vulnerable groups, building on the Small Business Development Fund established under the Small Business Act of 2004.
The fifth priority will be to enable a suite of investments in the Education sector, including the creation of an International Centre for Bio-diversity Research and Low Carbon Development; enhancing the school curriculum to include low carbon development; and measures to improve ICT training for school children and prospective employees.
The sixth and final priority in 2010 and 2011 will be supporting the Office of Climate Change, the Low Carbon Project Management Office, the Environmental Protection Agency and the REDD Secretariat at the Guyana Forestry Commission. These agencies are all essential to the effective implementation of the LCDS”.
The above will form the basis for the use of GRIF funds in the coming years. All were identified during the consultation process, and the ongoing consultation will now shift to focus on the implementation of these priorities. As implementation proceeds, the Government will work with the partner entities to ensure the necessary safeguards standards.
Everything I have summarized above is available through public sources of information, accessible to Mr. Lang and his fellow travelers. I doubt that they will change their prejudices, and they will immediately seek to read conspiracy into what I have written. I do not intend to get into a tit-for-tat, as other’s experience with Mr. Lang demonstrates that this would be pointless.
But I have set out a comprehensive response in the hope that genuine REDD+ activists will recognize what we are trying to do in Guyana – to find a way that balances the rights of all, plots a path to a new green economy for Guyana, and in so-doing enables us to play our part in avoiding global climate catastrophe.
We recognize that we are the first to move on this, and that we will not get everything right. But I hope that those who read this will recognize that sustainable solutions for REDD+ can only come about if they are designed by peoples in the developing world.
However, as was shown in countless advocacy campaigns over decades, international activists also have an important part to play in this progressive agenda. I just ask that the many genuine international activists recognize the need for some humility and an acknowledgment that they do not have all the answers.
They need to work alongside the peoples of the developing world in a spirit of honest and open collaboration. They should leave the easy sound-bites and stereotypical attacks on developing countries – about corruption, stupidity, laziness, or worse – to those whose minds are closed by their own prejudices.
Instead, if we see each other as equal partners, and shed the nonsense that peoples in developing countries are somehow inferior, there is much we can achieve together.