As sustainability and resilience make their way up the global priority list, climate governance has become an essential component of a nation’s social and industrial management.
Representatives of the Office of Climate Change (OCC) have taken their place on the frontlines of climate change adaptation and mitigation in order to ensure that all Guyanese are educated and protected in case of natural disaster.
Arming the next Generation
The OCC has prioritised the task of educating the next generation of Guyana’s leaders on the effects of climate change and the importance of climate change mitigation and adaptation. In this vein, the office has taken the initiative to conduct a climate change outreach to primary and secondary schools across the country. To date, the sessions have been hosted in several schools in Demerara-Mahaica (Region Four) and Upper Demerara-Berbice (Region Ten) and plans are in train to host similar sessions in Pomeroon-Supenaam (Region Two), Essequibo Islands-West Demerara (Region Three), Mahaica-Berbice (Region Five) and East Berbice-Corentyne (Region Six).
OCC Communications Specialist, Ms. Yasmin Bowman said this approach is important as it provides the necessary foundation to foster climate change awareness.
“Climate change is not the only focus because I believe that you cannot talk about climate change without talking about adaptation and mitigation. So, the sessions are done in a very structured manner and the focus, at first, is about climate change. So, we talk with the students, find out, first of all, what do they know about climate change,” she said.
Sometimes, Ms. Bowman said, the students come to the workshop with prior knowledge of climate issues, but are always eager to learn more.
“Anybody can mitigate the effects [of climate change]. It doesn’t matter if you’re a child or an adult… As children, we talk with them about simple things that they can do to mitigate the effects: if you’re leaving the room, turn off lights when they’re not in use; unplug your devices when they are not in use. We talk with them about carpooling… We talk to them about riding instead of being driven for short distances… In some cases, they even mention… switching to renewable energy, which is quite interesting and it’s amazing that our sixth graders are aware of renewable energy measures,” she said.
The OCC school outreaches have been well-received as some schools even request follow-up visits and sessions with additional classes.
“The young people, they’re the leaders of tomorrow and we believe that children… when you give them information, they hold on to it and they’re the ones that go home and say, ‘oh mommy, we shouldn’t do this,’ or, ‘we should do this [differently]’. That’s why we targeted the youth… This climate, this world, is going to be left for them. And it is important that they know now how they should treat it. If we don’t treat planet Earth right, there will be nothing left… it is important that they are made aware up front, or now, so that something can be left for the next generation and the generation after that,” Ms. Bowman asserted.
The frontlines of climate change
The OCC was established to ensure the safety and stability of services used by every day Guyanese, in the event of a worst-case scenario natural disaster here.
Head of the OCC, Mrs. Janelle Christian said that her department plays an important role in ensuring that Guyana pursues climate governance.
“My responsibility at the Office of Climate Change is really to guide national efforts from the level of policy and strategies as we take action, comprehensively, to address Guyana’s climate vulnerability… That would be to ensure that relevant actions and integrated across all sectors and also at all levels, that is national, regional, [and] local levels. So, largely we speak about climate change adaptation, meaning what do we do to adjust to the threats and the effects and impacts that we’re seeing now and those that are likely to occur,” she said.
Although there are significant economic impacts after the occurrence of a natural disaster, it is the individual; home owners, business people, farmers who experience the loss.
Stressing the important role that resilient infrastructure plays as Guyana moves toward sustainable development, the OCC Head said that the department looks at past incidents to model a plan for the future. Ideally, she explained, facilities like schools, markets, and hospitals and all systems, whether man-made, human, or natural would be able to withstand any climate-related event.
Mrs. Christian encouraged sceptics to consider what is at stake and to begin to make little life adjustments to lessen the effects of climate change.
“You don’t have to go very far. Even if you are sceptic to the science, the reality of the change is already happening. We’re already experiencing it. So, we won’t be like the ostrich with our heads in the sand. We need to adjust, adapt, build strong, build better and also take action to ensure that we’re not contributing to the problem that we are trying to solve,” she said.
Unprecedented, but not impossible
Mr. Marlon Velloza is the National Project Coordinator with responsibility for the Guyana’s National Communication Reports, which inform the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on Guyana’s status in four areas: the mitigation assessment, the greenhouse gas inventory, the vulnerability and adaptation assessment, and the national baseline assessment, which measures Guyana’s preparedness and climate change capacity development.
While all this information helps chart the Government’s way forward, Mr. Velloza said the average individual has an important role to play in the fight against climate change.
“Well, the main scope or objective of the [Third National Communication (TNC)] is primarily looking at how we can integrate climate change issues into policy or decision-making. So, we know that if we are able to present various scenarios based on data that we have, to Government then we can say… these are the things that we need to do if we want to be able to mitigate climate change or even adapt to the effects of such,” he said.
With just a few simple adjustments to daily life, he added, each individual’s efforts can create a snowball effect, producing a greater thrust towards reducing our carbon footprint.
“The individual participates in the process of emitting greenhouse gases… so simply taking public transportation when you can as opposed to driving your own vehicle helps to reduce some of the emissions that might be as a result of the transport sector for example, turning the lights off in the room when you’re not in the room or unplugging… appliances… also help to reduce the emissions that might be as a result of consuming energy. So, it all boils down to your individual preferences,” he said.
As Guyana races toward 2020 and the event of first, the Government has made clear its intent to use the revenues gained from the oil and gas sector to push sustainable development in Guyana, a task some might refer to as contradictory.
Recently appointed Climate Change Finance Advisor, Mr. Cathal Neely-Singh said that the task is unprecedented, but not impossible.
“It hasn’t really been done before. Guyana is going to be entering into an arena which really it can only succeed if it learns very well the lessons, the mistakes, of others… The most important thing for Guyana to succeed in that is that there is really a very strong thrust toward public education and awareness so that people understand what’s at stake, understand the critical role of the office of climate change and the role that adaptation and mitigation is necessary going forward and how it has to be built into the economy with the revenues that are gained,” he said.
The threat of climate change has implications in every sector of the public service and can affect every cross-section of society. The Government of Guyana, however, is committed to ensuring that our nation develops sustainably.