in Indonesia, Norway

“It’s a mystery why we chose Guyana”: Norwegian Government official

How did Norway choose its REDD countries? Brazil and Indonesia make sense because of the large areas rainforest and the rapid rate of deforestation. But Guyana? In 2009, when the two countries signed the Memorandum of Agreement, there were no bilateral ties between the two countries, no Norwegian embassy in the country, and Norway had no political or commercial interests in the country.

The only countries that are smaller than Guyana in Latin America are Uruguay and Suriname. Its population is well under one million people. In 2009, the Norwegian Ambassador was working from Norway. Only in January 2011, was the responsibility for Guyana moved to the Norwegian embassy in Brasilia.

Guyana is also a very corrupt country, ranking 133rd in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2012. Yet Norway has no one in the country to monitor where its REDD aid is going.

In a 2012 article in Development Today, Lars Løvold of Rainforest Foundation Norway argues that Norway should have chosen the vast forests of the Congo Basin instead of Guyana. It’s a good point. So why Guyana?

Heidi Bjørkto Bade, a student at the University of Oslo, recently completed a case study of the Norway-Guyana REDD+ partnership under the title, “Aid in a rush” (pdf file 1.5 MB). She describes the Norway-Guyana partnership as “both surprising and groundbreaking, given that Norway has minimal knowledge about Guyana and no former official presence.” Her thesis asks why did Norway choose Guyana? Her answer is that the decision was a political one, made, to a large extent by Erik Solheim, then-Minister of both Environment and International Development:

The decision was characterized by lack of time, as the partnership was to serve as a model and had to be ready before the COP-15 meeting in Copenhagen in December 2009. In this context, development aspects and potential risks were given less emphasis.

Before writing her thesis, Bade had worked on these issues as an intern at the Norwegian embassy in Brazil. Thanks to Norway’s Freedom of Information legislation, Bade could access the relevant documents via Norway’s Electronic Public Records. Nevertheless, she writes that, “Many of the documents I have asked for have been classified as ‘exempted from the public,'” especially documents about on-going processes.

Bade also interviewed officials in Norway and Guyana, as well as NGOs and observers.

Bharrat Jagdeo, who was President of Guyana until November 2011 played a key role in pushing for the deal with Norway. Officials in Norway told Bade that Jagdeo, to a large extent, still governs from behind the scenes.

Bade provides a timeline leading to the Norway-Guyana partnership. During 2008 and 2009, Jagdeo and Solheim met several times at international conferences. Other meetings involved Hans Brattskar, leader of the climate and forest secretariat in Norway’s Ministry of Environment, and Jagdeo’s advisors Shyan Nokta and Kevin Hogan. In February 2009, Jagdeo visited Norway and met Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. A joint statement after the meeting announced that Norway and Guyana “will seek to establish closer cooperation on climate and forest issues”. In April 2009, the Prime Ministers of the two countries both attended a meeting organised by Prince Charles in London. In June 2009, Guyana launched its Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS).

The Memorandum of Understanding and a joint concept note was signed in November 2009. Four months later, a delegation from Norway’s Ministries of Environment and Foreign Affairs travelled to Guyana for a “fact-finding mission”. Ten months later, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) completed a country risk report on Guyana. Norad’s report concluded that there are high risks associated with the partnership and there is considerable negative reputational threat for Norway. The report highlights a lack of governance transparency, deterioration in the freedom of the press and a poor political culture for consultations involving local people. But by then it was too late.

In October 2010, the Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund (GRIF) was established with the World Bank as Trustee and the following month GRIF approved its first project: Institutional Strengthening in Support of Guyana’s LCDS. Bade writes that “Having the World Bank as Trustee of the GRIF makes it possible for Norway to play a limited role.” In fact, Norway declined offers from the UK’s Department for International Development and the World Bank for office space, so that Norwegian officials could be more involved in projects on the ground. Hans Brattskar told Bade that,

“I think presence is important and positive, but it does not solve all our problems. There will still be challenges.”

One of the people that Bade spoke to in Guyana told her it was “amazing” that Norway has no one in Guyana, considering the amount of money involved. Steven Grin, a Wall Street Economist and Guyana’s consultant in the GRIF told Bade that,

“The fact that there were no prior relations between Norway and Guyana means there was no trust. I don’t want to use the word mistrust, but no trust. Therefore it has taken time to build that trust.”

Building trust, however, must be even more difficult when there is no one in the country with whom trust can be built.

According to Per Frederik Pharo, deputy leader of Norway’s forest and climate secretariat in the Ministry of Environment, Guyana was willing to:

“a) maintain deforestation at its extremely low historical level, b) spend the money ‘earned’ from REDD+ on climate adaptation and a transition to a low carbon economy, including renewable energy, and c) through a pay for performance approach.”

Pharo added that, “At a general level, this is a win-win value proposition from our point of view.” However, Pharo described the scenario described in McKinsey’s report about the possibilities of REDD in Guyana as “illustrative but totally unrealistic”. McKinsey estimated the opportunity cost of avoided deforestation as US$580 million per year.

Two of Guyana’s main negotiators were economists hired as consultants: Steven Grin and Kevin Hogan. Both were referred to by people that Bade interviewed as “very central actors in making the partnership happen”.

Solheim’s comments to Bade about Jagdeo are interesting: “He invoked confidence, there was no doubt that he meant what he said.” When Jagdeo left office he wrote to Solheim to say that, “Your personal dedication has been a major reason why we have travelled this far.” It seems the love in between Solheim and Jagdeo pretty much explains Norway’s generosity towards Guyana.

One Norwegian Government official told Bade:

“It’s a mystery why we chose Guyana. I guess Jagdeo is to blame, or has the honor, for that. Minister Solheim and Prime Minister Stoltenberg were eager to make NICFI work fast. They wanted to show that we actually did something and to build this new paradigm.”

One of the people that Bade interviewed described Norway as being “quite naive” with its involvement in Guyana. Another described the partnership as “bad aid”, adding that “Guyana is among the most corrupt countries in the world. Jagdeo was steering it like his own farm. They don’t even have a law for public procurements!”

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  1. This article fails to explain what is special about the Guyana rain forest case. Guyana has what is recognised as the most perfectly preserved, and least eroded by mining and ranching, of any of the Amazonian-Orinoco forests. Precisely because its population is so small, its jungle is not under the pressure of that in neighbouring Brazil, where modern roads and settlements have stripped the forest to a barren strand, just 5 miles away from the Guyana frontier. Also the Guyana government offered an extraordinary standard of forest protection. The article blithely talks about how much more forest could have been protected by Norwegian aid in the Congo, without addressing the fact that Guyana actually has a functioning state that can assist private actors in effectively protecting forest.

  2. @Richard

    Sorry, but you’re talking utter rubbish. The true facts about Guyana’s forests, and the government’s treatment of it, can be found elsewhere on this website, and I am not going to repeat them all here.

  3. Guyana’s forest is no less important in terms of ecosystem services and biodiversity value than those in Congo. The most important aspect of Guyana’s forest is that it is intact and registered nearly zero per cent deforestation rate among developing countries in the world. Public participation especially Amerindians are given a special priority to my best understanding. What is told by a Norwegian official might be a personal feelings, not necessarily the word of Norway Government.

  4. The reason why Guyana, whose population numbers less than one million has very low deforestation rate is based on the following:
    – The majority of the population live on the coastal belt of Guyana. The towns here do not have forested lands;
    – Under previous administrations, especially post independence, exploitation of natural resources including the forests was very limited and almost closed off to mega companies;
    -The indigenous population live in the hinterland,their ancestral lands in and around these forested areas, using only what is needed for traditionally sustainable livelihoods, therefore the forests have never been under threat.

    The rate of deforestation however, have been on the increase due to the high global price of gold. This extractive industry contributes to high negative impacts of environmental, health and social issues but yet is being treated minimally whilst being promoted and supported by the government. Numerous land conflicts affect indigenous peoples today in Guyana where they are at the mercies of the judiciary which uphold laws that do not recognise traditionally used and occupied lands of the indigneous peoples. Rulings in the court have upheld the rights of individual miners over the rights of the indigneous pleoples.

    @Hosen, am not sure where you received information from on ‘special priority’given to Amerindians in public participation. History has recorded, that in a rush to get approval from the indigenous population on the LCDS, the government of Guyana launched a travel spree into the hinterland to deliver the technical document and expected to be given support at one 2-3 hour meetings at these clusters. Remember this started in June 2009 and had to show some kind of validity, and transparency for whatever it means and of course public participation especially of the indigenous people, (guardians of the forest).. Then there was that series of so called follow up visits after the agreement would have already been signed between Jagdeo and Solheim. Leaders of indigenous peoples were brought to the city and experienced forms of pressure and manipulation to sign resolutions indicating support for the LCDS and another one calling for urgent ‘release of funds’. All this was happening when the indigenous population have not been afforded the opportunity of exercising FPIC on REDD. The aftermath has been confusion, conflict and division among indigenous people, negative labelling of the Amerindian Peoples Association being the vocal organisation advocating respect and protection for the rights of indigneous people, Jagdeo himself as the then President was one.. It is has left a bitter taste..

    So indeed, what factors truly influenced the decision of Norway to choose Guyana as a REDD country????

  5. Was disappointed that no one from Guyana was interviewed for this story, nor any of the institutions in that country that monitor and also report on the impact of the Norway agreement. Not saying this story doesn’t raise an important question, but it was certainly not thoroughly reported.

  6. There was already conservation, academic and economic interest in Guyana´s ecoservices at Ikwokrama International Centre (on web page stated as since 1996):

    “The Iwokrama forest and its research centre are unique, providing a dedicated site in which to test the concept of a truly sustainable forest – where conservation, environmental balance and economic use can be mutually reinforcing. Drawing on its earlier work in sustainable forest management, the IIC is now, in close collaboration with the Government of Guyana, the Commonwealth and other international partners including the UK company Canopy Capital, developing a new approach to enable countries with rainforests to earn significant income from eco-system services and creative conservation practice.”

    The company Canopy Capital used Iwokrama as a benchmark for the market of ecosystems services:
    “The Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development (IIC) was established in 1996. Its exemplary track record of research and international governance make it ideally placed to form the bridge between the conservation of forest canopies and capital markets. The IIC works in close partnership with the 16 local communities (with a total population of about 7,000 people within the Reserve and in the surrounding areas). It has the support of the President of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo, and the Commonwealth Secretariat and its Patron is HRH The Prince of Wales.

    In March 2008, Canopy Capital entered into a license agreement with the IIC to evaluate and market the ecosystem services (ESS) of Iwokrama’s tropical rainforest in return for annual ESS payments to Iwokrama.”

    The company Canopy Capital also created early literature about REDD to launch at the UNFCCC summit in 2008:
    “The Little REDD Book, Niki Mardas, Andrew Mitchell
    November 2008

    Launched at the UNFCCC climate summit in December 2008 The Little REDD Book is a guide to the UN negotiations on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD). REDD aims to help halt deforestation, which causes around 20% of the world’s carbon emissions – more than the entire global transport sector. In addition, the mechanism could help fight poverty while conserving biodiversity and sustaining vital ecosystem services.”

    So all the interest and links were there to support a further test bed for a REDD market – but a donor country was required, hence, perhaps the arranged meeting of both Prime Ministers in 2009 by HRH The Prince Wales, and so the ball rolled.


  8. Yes, I also agree that the article is one-sided, although, I am inclined to think it honestly raises the concerns/perspective of some Norwegians in regards to where their government is allocating its funds. And those concerns have a right to be aired.

    However, logic in the article is flawed:

    a) Just because the choice is a “mystery,” doesn’t mean its a bad choice; it was just an unseen/unexpected one;

    b) Just because there were “no bilateral ties between the two countries, no Norwegian embassy in the country, and Norway had no political or commercial interests in the country,” doesn’t mean you can’t establish one –that’s what diplomacy is about; and

    c) Just because “Norad’s report concluded that there are high risks associated with the partnership and there is considerable negative reputational threat for Norway. The report highlights a lack of governance transparency, deterioration in the freedom of the press and a poor political culture for consultations involving local people,” –doesn’t mean Guyana is any worst a choice than any other post-colonial developing country. These are the realities that such countries face. I work as an international consultant (working with post-colonial, developing countries), transparency and accountability in both the public and private sectors are huge problems for all of these countries. If the reality where otherwise, post-colonial countries wouldn’t need help combating environmental exploitation, etc. If this is the criteria and short-sightedness that such aid is being delivered with, then the Norwegian government might as well take back the offer and give it to a country that is better at fabricating its level of transparency and accountability.

    I am biased in writing this piece, because I am a Guyanese by birth, I am well-travelled, and I have had the opportunity to study in Norway. The countries have more in common than meets the eye. Guyana was a very good choice. I hope someone in the Norwegian government sees this as a tremendous opportunity.

  9. Have read all your highbrow comments.
    Not one of you talk about the wildlife.
    What!! They not worth a mention?
    Come on people, get on to Cameron etc. to tell him Guyana’s huge untouched rainforest is a massive tool against global warming, AND,
    is home to some if this planet’s most rare and diverse creatures!!!
    We surely cannot want to lose this??
    Come on!!!!!!

  10. Let’s face it guys, we must face the fact that no one – no developed country – or to put it in layman’s term, no greater ethnic race will help a lesser ethic race unless there is something in it for them. The Norwegian government knew fully well that Guyana is one of the most corrupt country, so they have seized the opportunity to invest or give ‘aid’ to Guyana, because the ‘kickback’ would be enormous, as they have recognised that Bharat Jagdeo still rules the roust from behind the scenes, as recently published in a local news paper he has and is helping friends and relatives in the sum of 20 billion GY$, where did he get that amount or amassed it from? I rest my case you think about it, so in a sense these countries that gives or allege to give aid to Guyana are themselves contributing to the fraud and corruption in Guyana and other developing/third word countries. I agree that there is no rule of law in Guyana, the only law as I see it is called the ‘bribery law’ if one commits a crime and you are rich enough you just buy your way out of any charges, yes the judicial system is also corrupt and there are instances to recall that and to name and shame members of the judiciary, but hey, I have to be careful. To sum up, for as long as foreign government gives ‘financial aid’ to Guyana, it will remain a corrupt country. have a happy 2015 and let’s hope the tide of corruption ‘may’ change for the poor working class and those unemployed people of GUYANA.

  11. Hi PKS David Cameron don’t give a damn about Guyana and any other developing countries, his government is very corrupt (recent report the British Police and Members of the British Parliament are more corrupt than Guyana, hence they do not take any action to stop financial aid to Guyana, but it is not being published around the world, because to do that the leaders of these corrupt countries will loose their financial aid given to them by the UK, currently Guyana is getting £75M pa as financial aid, where is the money going and what use is it being put to. If you look around the city of GT you will see the rubbish and sewerage the people are living in, also if you look at other villages, you will see the drains are all clogged up, the water drains into a small ditch which measures about 18″ wide about 12″ deep with the stagnant water, nowhere to drain off to a main sewerage, oh and another thing the sewerage (human excrement) are discharged in the Demerara river which feeds the fishes which is then eaten by the Guyanese and much high demand fish and prawns are exported abroad, in effect we are eating our own crap and even exported to the developed countries such as the UK, Europe, the USA and Canada as they pay high prices for these fishes. The consumers from these so called developed countries such as the UK etc are ignorant from the source of these fish and what they on fed on. Hoping 2015 will change the way of thinking by these AID givers.

  12. Guyana collected money from Norway and sold the same forest to China, which is logging massive amounts land.