Guyana can balance the exploitation of her natural resources and protect the environment

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By Terrence Blackman, PhD and Utamu Bell – OilNOW

Transforming Guyana: Episode II, presented by the Guyana Business Journal (GBJ) and the Caribbean Policy Consortium (CPC), got underway via Livestream on Wednesday, July 13, 2022. Participants sought to explore ways Guyana can balance exploiting her natural resources while protecting the environment. 

The series, Transforming Guyana, aims to bring together experts and prominent and diverse voices from Guyana and the Diaspora to discuss the impacts of Guyana’s oil and gas development, take a nuanced look at the opportunities and potential pitfalls ahead for the country, and explore strategies to maximise the positive impacts that oil revenues can have on Guyana’s people and future while mitigating the risks that other countries have faced, as well as identifying the most promising roles the Diaspora can play in this transition.  

The focus was the essential conundrum for Guyana: the world must dramatically cut fossil fuel consumption to achieve its climate change goals. But climate change success may put developing countries like Guyana, rich in fossil fuels, in an almost no-win situation. 

“Suppose there is no progress in combating climate change? In that case, developing countries are likely disproportionately harmed by floods, droughts, and other weather-related problems spawned by a warming planet. Likewise, suppose the world permanently moves away from using fossil fuels. In that case, the likely result will be a considerable reduction in the value of our natural wealth,” Dr. Terrence Blackman, GBJ Founder, said. 

International Trade Consultant Dr. David E. Lewis then noted that the energy economy and growth, particularly in Guyana and the Region, is “hot,” noting that it’s the perfect time to take advantage of maximising investment opportunities and economic growth. He said maximising income and jobs should also be critical, as well as continue pushing on climate change issues and initiatives – particularly the Low Carbon Development Strategy, which Guyana is currently advancing. Dr. Lewis also noted the challenge of providing stable, reliable, affordable electricity access: “… the development of a reliable and sustainable grid and the situation with utilities, not only in Guyana…. to comment on the rest of the Caribbean where it’s a challenge in some countries, and how to blend in this opportunity in terms of national, regional energy production in Guyana and the Caribbean and how we use that to build up that efficiency and resilience of the grid and many of our utilities,” he said.

Former Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences of the University of Guyana and former Advisor to the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, Dr. Neville Trotz, shed light on the Paris Agreement.

“The whole idea is that by 2050 we’d be carbon neutral…the [Intergovernmenttal Panel on Climate Change] IPCC had called for a special 1.5°C report which we have been fully supporting… that report showed that the [world is on a] business-as-usual trajectory; nothing had changed really and we are likely not to achieve 1.5°C at the end of this century but rather by 2040. This is frightening… We are running out of time to meet the Paris Agreement’s objectives.”

“As a developing country, Guyana does not have the resources to transform the energy sector or to build resilience to climate change… Even if we stop putting fossil fuels in the atmosphere by tomorrow, we have enough in there to cause us quite a lot of harm, as we’re seeing in all droughts, forest fires, heat waves… We are living in a world committed to climate change. So, it is essential that we also look at adaptation which is as critical for us as mitigation….”

He added that fossil fuels would be part of the equation for some time as there will be a market for them as we aim to phase them out. Dr. Trotz further stressed the need to adapt to impacts caused by existing greenhouse gas compositions.

“One of our biggest constraints in addressing climate change issues, both on the mitigation side, which is about transforming the energy sector [and] is critical for the Caribbean, and on the adaptation side, which is building resilience to the changes that we are already living with, is a question of resources. We now have an opportunity to marshal the type of resources needed for that transformation in a proper time frame.”

He said Guyana could leave the resources in the ground or exploit and use resources generated from oil and gas to accelerate the transformation to zero carbon status. 

“Our other option… is to exploit and use the resources that we generate from oil and gas to accelerate the transformation to zero carbon status for the energy sector and climate resilient Guyana through adaptation…. Guyana, with its oil revenue, could now be able to accelerate more. The highest priority for using fossil fuels should be transforming the energy sector to achieve zero carbon status…what I would recommend… the priorities for the resources from our oil wealth should go first of all to the implementation of the [Caribbean Risk Information System] CRIS, i.e. to build climate resistance to ensure that our coast, for instance, is protected from the sea-level rise… the transformation of our energy sector – 100% renewable in the globally prescribed timeframe… We should support energy security during the transition of the region to zero status.”

He said the Caribbean is committed to zero status by 2050 but does not have the resources and would have to borrow from overseas.

“It’s an opportunity for us to look internally at how these resources – Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad could contribute to the Caribbean… Guyana and Suriname can demonstrate how poor developing countries can face the paradox of being a fossil fuel producer while espousing the tenets of the Paris Agreement,” he said.

Executive Director of Guyana’s Environmental Agency (EPA), Kemraj Parsram, stressed the EPA’s mandate to promote, facilitate and coordinate effective environmental management and protection and the sustainable use of Guyana’s natural resources.

“We believe that environment and development are not mutually exclusive… our role here is to facilitate development and to ensure, in this case, that oil and gas are in keeping with the Environmental Protection Act and, of course, the broad environmental safeguards available… In the oil and gas sector and in our experience, most of the production projects went, and we required an Environmental Impact Assessment. That process was followed… we ensure that there are adequate and some key safeguards in place,” he assured the audience.

Scholar and Lecturer of the University of the West Indies (St. Augustine), Dr. Lorraine Sobers, said Guyana has unique challenges and opportunities. She said the country is susceptible to the current effects of climate change, noting the need for resilience with the rising sea levels, which have severe effects on agriculture, etc. She further stated, “Climate models show that the current seawall does not match what is anticipated. One of the major challenges we expect is climatic events; this is a cost. Guyana, small islands… are already paying for that. It’s a challenge to our development when funds need to be channeled towards recovery…” 

Dr. Sobers hailed Guyana’s initiative of the carbon registry, and she added that the rest of the Caribbean and Africa support Guyana’s right to produce. “Guyana is set to produce over a million barrels per day before the end of the decade, and that is just astonishing growth… [The Caribbean Community] CARICOM is supporting Guyana’s right to produce, and so are the African countries,” she said. 

President and Chief Executive Officer of The Energy Chamber of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. Dax Driver, said no one has the moral authority to tell a country like Guyana to leave its oil in the ground. “Nobody living in affluent London has the moral authority to tell anybody living in Georgetown, Paramaribo, or Port of Spain that they need to leave their oil and gas in the ground to stop climate change. The affluence of this city, London, has been created through the fossil fuels which have built the modern world… Stopping fossil fuel production in the Caribbean will not impact global climate change. The problem is the consumption of fossil fuels… For countries like Guyana and Suriname, with these massive oil resources in place… the priority must be to fast-track the development of those resources. This is something that Guyana has done extremely well since its first discovery.” 

Dr. Driver further asserted that the energy transition is here, and Caribbean people need to take advantage of it. He noted that the electrification of the transportation sector would drive a ticking clock for the oil industry. “The key is to get your resources to market as quickly as you possibly can… Otherwise, you’re going to be left with stranded assets,” he said. Driver also encouraged policymakers to invest heavily in the grid, noting that as the country’s [Gross Domestic Product] GDP grows, so will its electricity demand. He said the focus should also be placed on energy efficiency. Dr. Driver closed by warning against across-the-board subsidies, noting their negative impacts on efficiency.

About the Authors

Dr. Terrence Richard Blackman, associate professor of mathematics and a founding member of the Undergraduate Program in Mathematics at Medgar Evers College, is a member of the Guyanese diaspora. He is a former Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Visitor to The School of Mathematics at The Institute for Advanced Study. Dr. Blackman has previously served as Chair of the Mathematics Department and Dean of the School of Science, Health and Technology at Medgar Evers College, where he has worked for almost thirty years. He graduated from Queen’s College, Guyana, Brooklyn College, CUNY, and the City University of New York Graduate School. He is the Founder of the Guyana Business Journal & Magazine.

Utamu Belle is an award-winning Guyanese journalist with a career spanning over a decade. Her experience includes writing for print, television, and online media. She has worked as a Radio and Television host. She is the Founder of A-to-Z Media (Guyana) and a News and Digital Editor with Upscale Magazine.


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