Guyana Political Reviews

Guyana has since 2009 excelled for its efforts in international climate negotiations and for forest conservation. However, questionable hydropower developments, gold digging and indigenous peoples’ harvesting cast doubt on their success story.

Guyana is the only English-speaking country in South America and it shares more historical and cultural features with Caribbean island states than with countries on the same continent. In the shadow of large neighbors such as Venezuela and Brazil, it is quickly overlooked this land that actually has an area almost the size of the United Kingdom. Tropical rainforest still covers over 80 percent of the country and is home to nine indigenous groups that make up about 10 percent of the population.

The rest of Guyanese residents have settled along the low-lying coastal strip and are descendants of African slaves and Indian and Chinese contract workers who were transported to Guyana after the abolition of slavery. The total number of Guyanese in the country is approaching 800,000. Remarkably many have emigrated – around 55 percent of all Guyanese, ie more than those living in Guyana, have left the country to start a new life elsewhere. Emigration figures have grown gradually since the country gained its independence from Britain in 1966 and are now one of the highest in the world. The causes are complex, but have often been linked to economic and political uncertainty and crime, combined with job opportunities and better living conditions in other countries, such as the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom

Guyana’s economy is largely based on exports of six commodities – gold, rice, sugar, bauxite, timber and shrimp – and it has experienced moderate growth over the last decade. This is largely due to the rising price of gold and rice on the world market. However, the Minister of Finance has reported that a falling gold price in the past year led to a 24 percent reduction in precious metal export revenue in the first half of 2014, which is expected to contribute to an overall decline in the country’s economic growth.

Since Guyana became independent in 1966, after more than 400 years under Dutch and then English colonial rule, the political situation in the country has been characterized by ethnic divides. The incumbent government, now led by Donald Ramotar, has had strong support in the Indo-Guyanese population and has been in power since 1992. In August 2014, after accusations of widespread corruption and lack of transparency, opposition parties filed a motion of no confidence in the government. To avoid the resolution being passed, the president chose November 10 to postpone parliament indefinitely. According to the Constitution, such postponement can last up to six months, and the opposition described the act as undemocratic and dictatorial. In 2015, there was an election, and the political alliance APNU (A Partnership for National Unity) won the election with presidential candidate David Granger. He was deployed in May 2015.

Guyana in the world

Despite its modest size, Guyana has managed to make itself visible in the international arena especially in one area, namely climate policy. In 2009, then-President Bharrat Jagdeo launched a strategy for low-carbon development. The strategy recognizes that Guyana, with its low coastline, is highly susceptible to future climate change and that the country with its exceptionally high rainforest cover can make a significant effort to combat climate change. The strategy is based on the idea that it is possible to achieve the economic development the country wants without basing it on predation on natural resources. Instead, Guyana offers to keep its historically very low deforestation level to a minimum if the international community provides financial support that makes up for what the country probably would have earned from large-scale logging and other forest-destroying industries. These funds will be used, among other things, to invest in low-carbon infrastructure, reform of the forest and mining sectors with a focus on environmentally friendly practices, information technology development, renewable energy and to create job alternatives that do not help to destroy the forest.

According to Countryaah, Guyana’s offer to the world to contribute to rainforest conservation is closely linked to international climate efforts to establish a UN mitigation mechanism for deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries, REDD +, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation in English. The idea behind REDD + is for rich countries to pay rainforest developing countries to preserve their forest. So far, Guyana has received support from two sides: the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, a World Bank program, and Norway.

Norwegian forest investment

Norway’s agreement with Guyana to support the country’s low carbon strategy was signed in 2009. The agreement aims to show the world how countries with high forest cover and historically low deforestation rates can be encouraged to refrain from large-scale deforestation. The agreement means that Norway will pay up to US $ 250 million by 2015 against Guyana taking measures to keep deforestation below an agreed level. The payment depends on independent third party verification of the results Guyana achieves in terms of deforestation and a number of related social and environmental indicators, such as civil society participation, respect for indigenous rights and increased sustainability in the mining and timber sectors. Guyana has the freedom to propose what kind of projects the aid will be used for as long as they fall under the country’s low carbon strategy.

An independent evaluation of Norway’s Climate and Forest Initiative from 2014 highlights the rapid development of a system for monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) of deforestation emissions as the most positive result in the agreement with Guyana for the first four years. One of the biggest problems that is pointed out is complications in the payment mechanism. As a result, a third payment, announced in 2012, has not yet been completed. So far, Norway has only made two payments to the Guyana REDD Investment Fund (GRIF), these for results achieved until September 30, 2010. This fund was created for the bilateral agreement and managed by the World Bank.

In addition to this challenge, significant national and international concerns have been raised around several of the projects being supported under the Norway-Guyana Agreement.

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