President David Granger: Ms. Denise Fraser, Commissioner of the Protected Areas Commission; Chair of the Protected Areas Commission, Dr. Raquel Thomas-Caesar; Commissioner of Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission; members of the Diplomatic Corps, ladies and gentlemen, members of the media.
I’d like to add my voice to the others who have spoken before to congratulate the Commission on its 5th birthday and to thank Mr. [Damian] Fernandes for the service he rendered in establishing the Commission in its early days and also to thank the staff, the hardworking staff, for the work that they’re doing now and of course to encourage and inspire them to continue to do the work as we embark on a new chapter in making Guyana a ‘green’ state.
Can you imagine Guyana without its mudlands on the coastland, without its hinterland grasslands, without its wetlands, without its highlands, without its islands and lakelands in the Essequibo, without its rainforests, its rivers and its waterfalls? What a barren, blighted and boring place. I won’t be able to stay here but by the grace of God, we’re not a barren country, we’re not a blighted country. We’re a beautiful country, a blissful country and a bountiful land.
These very geographical places, our wetlands and our highlands, are teeming with animals and plant life. These are the habitats of our giants: of the anaconda, the armadillo, of the bat, caiman, capybara, eagle, jaguar, tapir and many more as you’ve seen on the slides this evening. As you’ve heard, Guyana is at the centre of the Guiana Shield which, with its pristine forests and largely uncontaminated aquatic and other intact ecosystems, is essential to replenishing earth’s biodiversity.
The Guiana Shield’s biodiversity provides services such as food, fresh water, medicinal, timber and non-timber products. It aids in the regulation of the water cycle, water quality and pollination. Its biodiversity reduces soil degradation and enhances soil nutrition. Its forest provides storage for carbon and mitigates the effects of greenhouse gas emissions. Its environment is important to the earth and it must be protected. Who’s gonna do that?
The Co-operative Republic of Guyana, inspired by the vision of protecting its biodiversity, signed the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity twenty-five years ago. The Convention obligates contracting partners as far as possible and as appropriate to establish a system of protected areas or areas where special measures need to be taken to ensure biological diversity and this is exactly what we did.
The Protected Areas Commission Act of 2011, nearly two decades after we signed on to the United Nations Convention, provided for the establishment of the Protected Areas Commission of Guyana that is tasked with establishing, managing, maintaining, promoting and expanding the protected areas system. It is required inter alia to identify and evaluate areas that are of ecological significance and to make recommendations for the establishment of new protected areas.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Protected Areas Commission has a huge responsibility. So far, over the last five years it has played a key role in defining, in identifying, in evaluating and managing the protected areas system. The Commission’s work is not done. It has furnished the framework for establishing the ecological and environmental integrity of those dedicated geographical spaces which Guyana needs to achieve its long term conservation objectives.
The Protected Areas Commission therefore is expected play an essential role in the transition to making Guyana a ‘green’ state; one that involves the development at the household level, at the neighbourhood or community level, at the regional level, at the national level and at the international level. Our Green State Development Strategy will allow the protection of the protected area system into every region of Guyana. It will allow for the protection of our wildlife. It will allow for the promotion of ecotourism and the delivery of other environmental services.
The protected areas system will be regionalised countrywide; this means that protected areas will be established not only on the coastland but also on the hinterland. It means that every region of Guyana will be a ‘green’ region. Every region will be administered by a ‘green’ capital town and eventually, every region will have a legally designated regional protected area.
The return of Local Government Elections last year enabled us to create three towns and you heard Ms. Fraser, somewhat boastfully, compare the sizes of our protected areas with other territories; being Chairman of CARICOM of course I can’t countenance those comparisons, even if they are true; but it means that we cannot allow these regions to develop on their own by whim or by chance. [Laughter.]
We have to create capital towns, which help to promote development not only in economic and population terms but also in the protection of the environment as you have seen… Nobody wants to see those tents in Kaieteur National Park or any other national park and I think within a matter of days you will hear that they have been displaced. [Applause.]
We are establishing a core of wardens; not only to protect our mining areas from hazards such as landslides and other cave-ins, but also to protect our wildlife and to protect our environment. I’m not sure where Ms. Fraser got the photographs of the river from but I think that it has a little too much coffee in it; I’m accustomed to more tea coloured rivers. Ms. Fraser, it looks like very milky coffee to me, but that is another matter. The establishment of these new areas will evolve greater responsibility for conservation and for environmental protection to the regions. I’m afraid of over centralisation, and I would like to give the regions of which we have ten and these new capital towns in the regions are part of the responsibility.
It will allow, also, our citizens in those regions to exercise stewardship over their regional protected areas and I am confident that given the varied landscape that we have inherited every region will be able to have a distinctive, a unique protected area- one that is different from any other region. The protected area in the Morucas will be different from that in the Rupununi; the protected areas in the Upper-Mazaruni will be different from that in East Berbice-Corentyne; just watch and see.
Biodiversity conservation is the cornerstone of Guyana’s ‘green’ agenda; it places emphasis on the protection and preservation of our luxuriant flora and our abundant biodiversity. The Commission’s work therefore, is expected to intensify the pace of our transition towards becoming a ‘green’ state.
Conservation will ensure sovereignty over our national and natural patrimony and is one of the means in which and by which we will be able to exercise control over our territory. There are no empty spaces in Guyana; everything belongs to us, they’re not stealing one cuirass. t will ensure the survival of the Guiana Shield of which Guyana is not only a part, but of which Guyana is the centre and as you heard from Ms. Fraser, it is one of the world’s last remaining intact areas of pristine rainforest. It is the home to a significant portion of the world’s known biodiversity and fresh water supplies. The world cannot do without the Guiana Shield and the Guiana Shield cannot do without Guyana.
Conservation will ensure that our forest provides climate mitigation services to the earth; that it will facilitate regulating services such as water storage and pollination and it will ensure the environmental sustainability of our region by preventing the destruction of our national and natural habitat and the degradation of our land. So, the work of the Protected Areas Commission is not just in Georgetown National Park; it goes below, to the regions and neighbourhoods and it goes beyond into the national and international arena.
Guyana is committed therefore, to achieving the target set under the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity, it is committed to placing at least seventeen per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas and ten per cent of coastal and marine areas under a system of protection; and I always remember Dr. Thomas telling me that water is white gold; some people have a preference for the yellow type, but I will abide by your dictum.
We are committed and we will exercise our responsibilities in accordance with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. I did sign on the dotted line and by some diplomatic freak I was the first person in the world to receive the certificate from [then Secretary-General of the United Nations] Ban Ki-moon. [Applause.]
I thought, you know, I would have to queue up expecting ‘G’ to come somewhere down the line, but I was the first to be called; so I think I know the reason for that but I wouldn’t let you know now.
The Protected Areas Commission, therefore, has the responsibility for enlarging, for extending and for expanding our national protected areas system to ensure that these targets are met. The Commission will work as you have seen with our new Department of the Environment. The Commission will identify new areas to be placed under conservation and protection in fulfilment of our international commitments. The Commission will be expected to be the engine of green growth. The success of our ‘Green Agenda’ will be determined by the efficacy of the Commission’s work. The Commission, as it celebrates this significant anniversary, is encouraged to ensure that for the good of generations yet unborn and for the earth itself that Guyana does become a ‘green’ state. The ‘green’ state that we sing proudly about in the words of our national anthem:
A land of rivers and plains,
Made rich by the sunshine, and lush by the rains,
Set gem-like and fair, between mountains and sea…
We must remember ladies and gentlemen that we are not the owners of this land we are just the custodians for our children and grandchildren.