Guyana’s balancing act: producing timber and protecting rainforests

President Ali said, “Guyana’s forests are part of its natural patrimony and our forests constitute a part of Guyana’s rich natural capital.

Guyana is among the few countries with large, intact rainforests and the country’s President Irfaan Ali championed the protection of those trees as the country seeks to increase timber production. 

On November 8 at the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Guyana was one of five countries that signed a new forest partnership with the European Union (EU). 

Through this pact, Guyana will receive €5 million to boost sustainable forest management. 

In a virtual address and signing ceremony, President Ali said, “Guyana’s forests are part of its natural patrimony and our forests constitute a part of Guyana’s rich natural capital.” 

“It’s abundant in valuable timber, minerals, and priceless biodiversity. Our forests provide food, shelter and support the livelihoods of thousands of Guyanese families.”

rainforest
Kaieteur Falls – Kaieteur National Park. Photo by Cody Hinchliff

State of rainforests in Guyana

Guyana has one of the lowest deforestation rates in the world and its intact forests are equivalent to the size of England and Scotland combined. Those trees store about 19.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. 

Even so, timber production is a lucrative business for Guyana. 

While presenting Guyana’s National Budget in February 2022, Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh projected the country’s timber industry was on track to earn an estimated US$28 million that year, surpassing the US$26.5 million sum earned in 2021. 

Official figures demonstrate the increasing production and profitability of timber in Guyana. 

For example, 344,179 cubic metres of timber was felled in 2020 while in 2021, 383,189 cubic metres of timber was produced. 

With increasing financial viability, the Government of Guyana made concessions to increase the amount of logs felled in 2022 by 30,000 cubic metres and as much as 50,000 cubic metres per year from 2023 to 2026.

Still, the country believes it can sustainably manage those forest resources. In fact, Guyana has convinced others, like the EU, of its ability to balance increasing timber production with good forest management. 

Importantly though, Ali made no explicit commitment to reduce  timber production with the signing of the partnership. 

What he did was reference the country’s updated Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS 2030), which is premised on leveraging forest resources to fund the country’s development outside of new oil and gas exploits.

The strategy includes greater enforcement of forest laws, strengthened regulations for timber trade, further implementation of a robust certification system for forest products, maintaining low levels of deforestation, increasing mangrove forestry, and increasing the country’s protected areas. 

Ali also committed to better watershed protection and greater stakeholder participation in forest governance. 

And the new partnership, Ali said, was another milestone in the relationship between Guyana and the EU, promoting the country’s sustainable development.

He added, “The forest partnership is underpinned by the recognition of the role of Guyana’s pristine forests in the health and wellbeing of the global environment.

“The forest partnership between Guyana and the European Union is timely and underscores the strong commitment in continuing the bold ambition and innovative programme on climate, environment and forests.”

Apart from Guyana, the EU also made similar partnerships with Mongolia, Uganda, Zambia and the Republic of Congo. 

With an estimated €450 million being invested in the partnerships from now until 2024, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen warned world leaders that current global deforestation rates are unsustainable. 

rainforest
View of the rainforest from Guyana’s Kaieteur Falls. Photo by Dallas Reeves on Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0.

Rainforests are vital

Alarmingly, she said, an estimated 10 million hectares of rainforests are lost annually. As such, she contended that urgent interventions are crucial.

“It’s us who trigger deforestation and it is us who can do something against it.

She lamented, “If our forests – our green lungs – are in danger, then we are in danger too.”

“Only healthy forests can store carbon, so they can help us fight climate change. Only healthy forests can provide the resources that around 1.6 billion people currently rely on,” she explained,

She also acknowledged that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to forest protection. As such, she explained that each partnership was crafted with consideration of the needs of each respective country and will promote local conservation strategies. 

Still, all partnerships share common goals including, but not limited to, sustainable forest management, increased forest restoration projects, sustainable timber trade and supporting the EU’s goal of protecting at least 40 million hectares of forest by 2027. 

With these goals, von der Leyen said that community participation was integrated into the agreements. 

“It’s so important that we create jobs around the forest value chains, especially jobs in the sustainable management of forests. 

“We are convinced that with these forest partnerships, we can create around one million jobs in the forest sector until 2027,” she said.

Countries are also being challenged to ensure women are employed in at least half of the million jobs created. 

Ultimately, there should be initiatives generating sustainable wood products from each country. 

If achieved, von der Leyen believes that doing trade with these countries can help the EU fulfil its commitment to sustainable trade. 

She added, “This (partnership initiative) is a part of our bigger global engagement with Global Gateway which is an investment programme that invests €7 billions in biodiversity until 2027. 

“A larger share of that is devoted to the forest and for us, it is one of the main objectives if you speak about biodiversity and preserving the biodiversity of our planet.” 


This story was published as part of Climate Tracker’s COP27 Climate Justice Journalism Fellowship.

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Tyrell Gittens

Tyrell Gittens

Tyrell is a conservationist, environmentalist, and geographer dedicated to exploring and protecting our big beautiful world through storytelling. A Trinbagonian with a deep love for nature, he enjoys hiking, listening to the waves crashing on the twin island’s scenic beaches and immersing himself in nature as he seek to become one with the world.

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