Guyana’s climate resilience on agenda for UN climate change conference in November
Anne-Marie Trevelyan is sitting in a boat on Guyana’s Mahaica River in Region Five. She watches as the boat is gently rocked by waves, as a resident from up the river speeds by.
She says, “we’ve had an extraordinary journey this morning from sunrise, up river, to understand a little more the complexity, the beauty and the variety of wildlife here.”
She gushes about the many birds and other animals she has seen along the river – howler monkeys sitting in the trees by the river side, and the egrets which, she said, seemed to follow the boat to catch the fish they disturbed.
She saw more than a dozen Canje pheasants on this Saturday morning, Guyana’s national bird, sauntering about on skinny branches and periodically baring their outstretched wings to display their full glory.
Her guide for the expedition, Ramesh Shibsahai, says this area is rich in biodiversity.
“An extraordinary privilege to discover a little of Guyana’s beautiful, beautiful landscape,” Trevelyan says.
“I have a son who is passionate about birdlife. So, after my journey today, he will be very jealous. And I know, we’ll be wanting to come back as a family.”
Trevelyan is not just any tourist. She is the United Kingdom’s Minister of State for Business, Energy and Clean Growth. She is accompanied on the sightseeing trip by British High Commissioner to Guyana, Jane Miller, and World Wide Fund for Nature (formerly known as World Wildlife Fund, WWF) Guianas Director, David Singh.
Arriving in Guyana just a day earlier, Trevelyan has already been told of the disaster faced by Mahaica residents earlier this year, as heavy rains and high tides caused the waters to overtop, resulting in millions in losses for working families.
The Government had to shell out billions to help restore the livelihoods of those who were most impacted. With flooding reported across all regions, the President called it the worst disaster the country has ever faced.
“Natural disasters historic in nature, hundreds of homes completely destroyed. Tens of thousands of farms completely destroyed,” Guyana’s President, Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali told an audience in June about the flood.
“The challenges of something like this, the floods that you’ve had recently,” Trevelyan says, “highlight the need to adapt and to become more resilient to those climate shocks which we know are coming and are unavoidable.”
The Minister’s role here is clear. Glasgow, Scotland will be hosting the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, otherwise known as the Conference of Parties (COP26), in November. As COP26’s International Champion on Adaptation and Resilience, Trevelyan is visiting several Caribbean countries most vulnerable to climate shocks, whose realities will be considered as world leaders move to revise their climate policies and make investments to tackle global warming.
Only a day has elapsed since she touched down in Guyana, and the Minister already met with the Secretary General of the Caribbean Community, Carla Burnett, about the whole region’s challenges. She also met with His Excellency, Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali; Prime Minister, Hon. Brigadier (ret’d) Mark Phillips; Vice President, Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo, MP; and Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce, Oneidge Walrond, MP.
“Some really interesting conversations,” the Minister says, “learning from them what’s important and what’s difficult as they – your government – try to make sure that they can bring the economic growth that the country wants to see, and protect it and make sure that a low carbon future is part of Guyana’s forward thinking.”
Offshore Guyana, ExxonMobil is producing oil. In the coming years – and with Government’s blessing – the oil major will ramp up production with a goal well over one million barrels of oil per day.
Vice President Jagdeo, an internationally recognised hero in environmental leadership, maintains that Guyana has the right to produce its nine billion plus oil-equivalent barrels, for the development of its people.
A challenge for Guyana, Trevelyan says, “will be to make sure that the environmental laws that are set out are very clear and very strong so that those getting out the oil and gas are following the most stringent ways of doing that.”
With Liza crude identified as among the lightest and sweetest in the world, Guyana’s oil industry is poised to ride out the global energy transition as one of the last producer’s standing, giving Guyana years to earn billions of dollars.
The Government also intends to use the petroleum resource to fast-track the country’s transition to cleaner energy sources.
With a target period of late 2024, ExxonMobil, in partnership with the Government, will transport 50 million cubic feet of associated gas per day to shore from the Liza Phase One operation, mainly for power generation purposes. The gas will serve as a transition fuel, as Guyana develops renewable energy ventures, such as the Amaila Falls Hydropower project.
Trevelyan says moving to natural gas for electricity generation is a huge step forward for Guyana, including in helping to improve the cost of power.
“Also, it’s a much cleaner energy than the lot of the diesel generators that you use so, the transition that we all have to make as a planet to a cleaner net zero, is exactly that, and I think the opportunity to bring gas to Guyana is a really important one.”
The Minister will soon be leaving for St. Lucia, after meeting with a few more stakeholders in Guyana.
“I’m here to listen and to understand and to take back the concerns and try to make sure that as we coordinate the [COP26] presidency, we make sure those voices are really clearly heard.”
Guyana will also be represented at COP26, by a delegation led by Vice President Jagdeo. Ahead of the Conference, Dr. Jagdeo will be visiting Suriname for the two neighbouring countries to discuss the coordination of strategies.
With already outstanding environmental records, the developing nations which have only recently come into sizeable endowments of petroleum resource are determined to see their citizens benefit. Dr. Jagdeo is adamant that developed countries must not shift their climate responsibilities to the developing world; that they must do their part to fight climate change.