President David Granger: Thank you Chairman. Please be seated. It cannot be fair to bring me after such an exciting and inspiring dance. I think if the audience had a choice between an encore and listening to me that the dancers would win. [Laughter.]
Chairperson, Ms. Khadija Musa, Resident Coordinator of UNDP in Guyana; Professor Ivelaw Griffith, Vice Chancellor of University of Guyana; I see Mr. McConnon from the IDB; Professor Martin Shawick, Chairman of the International Society for the Biodiversity of the Guiana Shield; Dr Patrick Williams, Chairman of the Guyana Society for Biodiversity and Ecosystems; visitors; our neighbours across the creek, Suriname; Venezuela, La Guyane, Brazil, Columbia, United States of America, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany and St Vincent, welcome to Guyana once again; special invitees, members of the media, other members of the Diplomatic Corps, ladies and gentlemen:
I am very honoured to be able to address you this evening on this very important topic and it’s something that is important, of course, to all six nations in the Guiana Shield. I recall of course, and you all would recall that in the Book of Genesis in the Holy Bible it was written “… And the LORD God planted the garden eastward in Eden; … and out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food… And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every fowl of the air.” [Genesis 2:8; 19 KJV]
The Guiana Shield surely must be the second Garden of Eden. The first might have been laid waste by what we read in… but our Guiana Shield does possess the trees which are pleasant to the sight and good for food, the beasts, the fruit, the fowls and fish; we possess them in abundance.
As the Chairman has said, the Guiana Shield is one of the oldest geological formations in the world and it possesses, now, some of the richest biodiversity. As Professor Griffith said, in my remarks in New York I pointed out to Guyana that the Shield itself is the zone of giants. It is the home of the world’s largest anacondas, ants, anteaters, armadillos, bats, caimans, eagles, fish, jaguars, otters, rodents, snakes, spiders, storks, toads, turtles and vultures. The Shield’s pristine forest and largely uncontaminated aquatic ecosystems contains 15% of the world’s freshwater reserves.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Shield is essential to enriching and replenishing the world’s biodiversity and consequently, the Guiana Shield is essential to the survival of planet Earth. [Applause.]
And the Shield is vast; it is spread over two and three quarter million square kilometres. If it were a country it would be the second largest country on the continent. It extends from the Brazilian State of Amapá to Pará, Roraima, Amazonas in the East and it includes La Guyane, Suriname, Guyana, the Venezuelan States of Delta Amacuro, Bolívar and of course Columbia, and as you heard, with all five languages to boot.
The Shield’s biodiversity provides ecosystem services, such as food, fresh water, medicinal products, timber, non-timber products, and it aids in the regulation of the water cycle, water quality and pollination. The Shield’s biodiversity reduces soil degradation and enhances soil nutrition. Its forest provides storage for carbon and mitigates the effects of greenhouse gas emissions. As we all know, and the scientists better than the laypersons, the world’s flora and fauna are under threat from human activity and from the effects of that activity, climate change.
Scientific studies have revealed
– that the world’s mega fauna, including some of its most iconic species, are under threat by human activities, including agricultural expansion, deforestation, overhunting and poisoning.
– that almost 60% of the world’s herbivores and carnivores have been designated by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature [IUCN] as under threat of extinction, and extinction, they say, is forever.
– that nearly 60% of the world’s land surface is home to more than 70% of the world’s population. Land use changes cause biodiversity to fall below safe levels and to a degree that questions the ability of ecosystems to support humanity.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have only one world and the world has only one Guiana Shield. We have a responsibility as the trustees of the Guiana Shield and that responsibility imposes on us the duty to protect and preserve our unique patrimony. The four congresses that you’ve heard of in Venezuela in 2006, in Brazil in 2010, in Suriname in 2013 and now in Georgetown, Guyana in 2016 are necessary because I agree with Professor Shawick it may not be sufficient to save our Shield.
Our obligations are onerous, but they must also be continuous, not episodic. They must go beyond occasional congresses and presentation of scholarly papers. We wish to propose for your consideration a three-pronged approach to this challenge:
The first and, I think most important, if I could be so bold, is to propose the establishment of a permanent institution aimed at protecting, conserving and sustainably managing the Shield’s biodiversity. Such an institution must be a functional, scientific research institute as well as an administrative secretariat to coordinate the efforts and combine the work of the Shield’s six member states at the international level. I think we’ve gone beyond triennial congresses. We need a permanent secretariat because the challenge to the Shield is permanent.
The Shield commands a common regional resource which, if it is to be effectively managed, requires regional cooperation and coordination. As you’ve heard before the Shield’s fauna do not recognise territorial boundaries. Big cats, such as the jaguars for example, require undisturbed corridors to roam and extend their habitat. Efforts in protecting biodiversity in one country must be supported by other member countries. The sustainable management of the Shield must become part of the regional integration process in South America so that a comprehensive biodiversity policy for the entire Shield can be developed.
Second – information. Policies to protect and preserve the Shield’s biodiversity require mechanisms for data and information sharing. Action needs to be taken also to develop an inventory of the various species of flora and fauna. Especially those threatened with extinction and the economic and scientific uses to which each can be put.
The Shield is extensive and many of its areas are unreachable and still unexplored. The scientific community needs to gain access to those areas in order to study and document their biodiversity and, finally, we come to the bottom line, investment.
The Shield provides environmental services to all humanity. The Shield’s forests store carbon not for six countries, but for the world. They are part of the lungs of the earth, reducing the greenhouse effect. Scientists and experts have been able to quantify these services. Incentives are needed to countries in the Shield, particularly the three small sisters, La Guyane, Suriname and Guyana. I’m not saying the three big brothers can look after themselves, but we all need incentives.
‘Green’ economies need investment to sustain protected areas and to generate sustainable energy. The absence of investment will place pressure on the governments of the Shield, particularly the three smallest States; if they are to move towards resource extraction and we tempt them, perhaps, to go into directions which lead to deforestation and destructive mining, which can have an adverse effect on our biodiversity.
This fourth congress, therefore, has a vital role to play in protecting the Shield’s importance and in projecting that importance to the continent, to the Caribbean and to the world. It must not ignore the need for institutions, particularly that international institution combining the work of the six states. It must not ignore the need for information sharing and the need for investment as a means of ensuring the Shield’s ecological integrity.
I take this opportunity to congratulate the International Society for Biodiversity of the Guiana Shield for hosting its international congresses and for engaging in scientific information and research in the Shield. The IDG congresses have been instrumental in bringing researchers, governments, natural resource practitioners, non-governmental organisations and communities together with the international donor community to discuss issues and to share experiences related to conservation and the sustainable use of the Guiana Shield. The society has enabled international cooperation and, as Ms. Musa pointed out, the inauguration of the Guiana Shield initiative and the Guiana Shield facilities.
This Fourth International Congress on Biodiversity of the Guiana Shield, therefore, has also the opportunity to continue this tradition. It has the potential to be transformative in its contribution to policy making and in forging international partnerships between the Shield’s member states. This is a moment in eternity. We cannot allow it to slip by; this is a time for the scientific community, for governments, non-governmental organisations and communities to forge partnerships to protect the Shield’s biodiversity while allowing the state to leverage the Shield’s high endemicity, cultural diversity and intact ecosystems for inclusive growth and secure futures.
I wish this congress all success and I have great pleasure in declaring it open.
I thank you.