For the past year, President Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana has traveled the world offering to place his nation's forests under international supervision if other countries paid his citizens not to deforest the tropical landscapes.
The campaign received major support last week when Norway announced a $30 million commitment on Monday for the small South American nation to implement an "avoided deforestation" plan. If the program demonstrates success, Guyana will receive an additional $250 million through 2015.
"We are giving the world a workable model for climate change collaboration between North and South," said Erik Solheim, Norway's minister of environment and international development, in a statement. "It's not perfect, but it's good, and it will be improved upon as we learn and develop together."
Much of Guyana's forestland is zoned for logging activities, and avoided deforestation schemes in neighboring Brazil could push logging into Guyana. The Guyanese government has therefore insisted that deforestation is a real threat unless international carbon funding provides an economic incentive for residents to keep forests intact.
"Our country is at a stage where our population is no less materialistic [than industrialized countries] and no less wanting to improve their lives," said Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, the country's minister of foreign affairs, in an interview at the World Wilderness Congress in Mérida, Mexico. "We want to continue our development, but we can't do that without a form of payment."
When international negotiators meet in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December to develop a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, governments will seek to limit the nearly 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions related to forest loss through an initiative known as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD).
"REDD needs to be comprehensive to avoid leakage of foresters going to countries that currently have high forest cover but a low deforestation rate," said Brendan Mackey, a forest ecologist with the Australian National University. "If we don't start paying people for the ecosystem services that forests provide, they'll be used for other economic activities that result in deforestation and degradation."
For carbon-offset programs such as REDD to succeed, developing countries will need to regulate their forests in a manner that ensures that the greenhouse gas emissions are sequestered on forested land. The emissions stored in trees and soil would also need to equal the emissions emitted from the industrialized countries and companies that pay for the carbon offsets.
Concerns about accountability and project monitoring are valid but should be addressed at a later time, Rodrigues-Birkett said. "These are details. Principles have to be addressed first," she said.
Guyana is unique among REDD participants. Unlike in Brazil, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the vast forests of Guyana do not currently face significant deforestation pressure. The country maintained consistent levels of national forest cover between 1990 and 2005, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
Several conservation groups are supporting highly forested countries such as Guyana in their efforts to collect REDD funding. Although deforestation threats are currently low in these nations, the growing demand for wood products, minerals, and cattle is likely to increase pressures in the next few decades.
"The most effective, cost-efficient REDD designs balance incentives to reduce historically high rates of deforestation emissions with incentives to maintain historically low rates of deforestation emissions," said Jonah Busch, an economist with Conservation International, an organization that has helped Guyana apply for carbon offset payments.
Norway has already committed 1.2 billion Norwegian crowns (about US$214 million) annually to support REDD efforts in Brazil and Tanzania. Such investments would offset Norway's emissions as part of the country's plan to reduce domestic emissions 30 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.
Guyana plans to direct the Norwegian funds toward a development plan that shifts energy generation away from fossil fuel burning and toward hydropower, sustainable forest management, and climate change adaptation measures.
"Most of our people live below sea level," Rodrigues-Birkett said. "The sea walls on our coast are extremely expensive to maintain. We can build 25 schools for our children for the cost of half a mile of sea wall."
In hopes of following Guyana's success in attracting investment, Suriname announced earlier this month a similar plan to avoid deforestation with international support.
With 90-percent forest cover, Suriname brands itself as the "greenest country on this Earth." The plan noted that the country's reliance on bauxite, gold, and aluminum mining for foreign exchange earnings cannot be maintained sustainably. REDD payments would help diversify the economy, according to Michael Pierre Jong Tjien Fa, minister of physical planning, land, and forest management.
"Suriname's forests embody a range of wildlife services," Jong Tjien Fa said at the World Wilderness Congress. "Intact forests provide important climate beneficial services and must be part of endeavors for global sustainable development."
Worldwatch Institute, Eye on Earth, www.worldwatch.org
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