President David Granger: Ms. Ndibi Schwiers, Director of the Department of Environment; Ms. Adriana Zacarias Farah, Regional Coordinator-Resource Efficiency, United Nations Environment; distinguished guests; members of the media; ladies and gentlemen:
Guyanese are proud of their country. Our National Anthem sings of a land of rivers and plains, “made rich by the sunshine, and lush by the rains, set gem-like and fair, between mountains and seas”. Guyana’s green grandeur is not a mere figment of its citizens’ imagination. Its grasslands, its highlands, its islands, its wetlands, its lakes, its coastal mudflats, its rainforests, its rivers and waterfalls are spectacular. Its immunity to earthquakes, hurricanes and volcanoes and stormy weather are something to sing about.
Guyana is part of the Guiana Shield, one of the world’s last remaining blocks of pristine rainforest. The Shield is the source of 15% of the earth’s freshwater reserves; its biodiversity provides ecosystem services such as food, freshwater and medicinal products.
It provides environmental services such as the regulation of the water cycle, water quality and pollination. Its forests capture and store carbon, thereby mitigating the greenhouse effect. The Shield provides environmental and ecological services that are essential to life on earth.
Guyana is a member, a part, of that Shield. Guyana, itself, is a net carbon sink. More than 80% of our country is covered by forests, which are the habitat of some of the world’s rarest and most unique flora and fauna; some of which are still being discovered.
Guyana, through its environmental conservation policies, considers itself as one of the guardians of Mother Earth. It pledged, at the Heads of Government Conference of the Commonwealth in Malaysia in 1989, 28 years ago, long before Rio; long before Paris and Copenhagen- Guyana pledged that it would set aside for posterity and in perpetuity, 371, 000 hectares of its forests to be used as a model of conservation and sustainable forest management. The area now known as the Iwokrama International Centre for Rain Forest Conservation and Development, an area larger than Malta, was an early expression of concern over the degradation of the earth’s environment and the threat which it posed to the present and future generations.
The Paris Agreement on Climate Change which I signed in April last year, at the United Nations, committed Guyana to place an additional two million hectares, an area almost as large as the state of Israel, under conservation. Guyana is signatory to numerous treaties and conventions to protect its wildlife, its flora and fauna, its biological diversity and other environmental requirements.
Ladies and gentlemen, Guyana is moving towards becoming a ‘green’ state. This country, in so doing, needs to develop a total transformative plan at every level, at the level of the household, the community, the region, the nation and the international community. The Department of Environment established only last year October was a step in this direction. It represented our resolve to ensuring a holistic and rational approach to environmental conservation and management through the coordination and integration of agencies with an environmental mandate that would effectively respond to the challenge of the ‘green’ economy and realise the concept of sustainable development.
The Green State Development Strategy is intended to impact on the livelihood of every citizen in our country by allowing for the protection of our biodiversity and the promotion of ecotourism and eco-education, by allowing for the promotion of energy generation from renewable sources and the introduction of low emission, low carbon manufacturing; and by the preservation of our wetlands, our waterways and our lakes and by the extension of the protected areas system into every one of our ten regions.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Green State Development Strategy is expected to build greater economic resilience by diversifying production and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and generating renewable energy from a number of sources, including biomass, hydro, solar and wind by emphasising low carbon manufacturing. We expect that the Strategy will add to the production through cleaner and cheaper and renewable energy generation and propose plans to move closer towards the goal of full, renewable energy by the year 2025, thereby reducing our exposure to the volatilities of oil markets.
The Green State Development Strategy is expected to define the purpose, principles, policies and processes which will guide our path towards becoming a ‘green’ state. A better understanding of the need for a strategy requires an explanation or an appreciation of the rationale behind the ‘green’ state.
Ladies and gentlemen, as you know, Guyana’s economy has been dependent for far too long on what I call the six sisters: bauxite, fisheries, gold, rice, sugar and timber. These have served us well and we hope will continue to serve us, but some of them are aged and ailing and we need to diversify. Guyana’s high dependence on commodity exports, coupled with our heavy reliance on the importation of fossil fuels, exposes our economy to exogenous shocks.
The economy needs to be rebalanced by reducing poverty and by promoting greater equality, not only between classes, between the coastland and the hinterland, between urban and rural areas. There is no doubt that Guyana is rich in natural resources. These resources are our national patrimony. They must be developed for the benefit of this and all future generations.
The ‘green’ state will pursue the sustainable management of our natural resources. It will ensure that these resources will be developed in such a manner that they will not result in resource exhaustion or extinction. The Green State Development Strategy is not a whim or a fancy. It is intended to become a rational roadmap to guide Guyana along the pathway for years to come and to ensure that our citizens could enjoy the good life.
It will develop the pathway towards a diversified and resilient economy. It will promote the sustainable management of our economy, it will protect the environment and steer the country towards the creation of not only happy households and happy people but also to ensure that everyone could enjoy the good life.
It is in this regard therefore, that I welcome the Green State Development Strategy Multi-stakeholder Expert Group. This group is an essential element as we proceed in a consultative and cooperative manner and is expected to help to produce a blueprint for a ‘green’ state, a blueprint that will lead to the eventual development and adoption of a Green Development Strategy that is applicable to the entire country.
Guyana is grateful for the presence of the multi-stakeholder experts group. We are confident that this will help to move us from imagination to implementation, from reverie to reality. The group is expected to provide technical expertise and experience in the process of developing an inclusive and comprehensive strategy that will enjoy national ownership.
I expect that its efforts and exertions will enable everyone to better understand why Guyana is pursuing the practices, the policies and projects to becoming a ‘green’ state. I welcome you. I express once again our gratitude to the United Nations system and thank you very much. We look forward to successful deliberations and the successful implementation of our strategy.