By Carolyn Walcott & Terrence Blackman
Guyana is at an exciting yet critical juncture in broader climate change, adaptation, mitigation, and fossil fuel development discourses. As a newcomer to the fossil fuel industry, while the nation is clearly on the cusp of wealth, it is also pursuing a green economy as part of its articulated Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS).
This duality presents a real challenge for the small developing nation that is seeking to balance its oil resource exploits and response to climate change, based on an awareness of its vulnerabilities to drought and flood, among other effects of climate change, similarly experienced by Small Island Developing States (SIDs) in the Caribbean. Although these complexities are not confined to Guyana, they require vigilance and present relevant questions about its pursuit of wealth in a manner that integrates climate change adaptation, mitigation, and resource exploitation sustainably, justly, and equitably as a fossil fuel-low carbon economy.
Expert opinion suggests that while the impacts of climate change are felt globally, carbon footprints remain embedded in the developed world with its long history of fossil fuel development. Moreover, international agreements that require deliberate commitment by developed nations to lower carbon emissions appear egregious, particularly for countries that continue to rely on fossil fuels for economic expansion.
As one of the world’s newest oil producers, Guyana’s foray into oil and gas exploitation is seen as necessary and opportune to build a robust economy alongside developing the infrastructure to respond to climate change adequately. National, regional, and international stakeholders in the oil and gas sector also believe that Guyana must be allowed to exploit its oil resources with minimum edicts from the developed world, where carbon emissions remain highly contaminable to the environment. Climatic shifts provide evidence of global warming and its impact on ecosystems in vulnerable regions of the world.
During a recent presentation on the webinar series, Transforming Guyana, Dr Neville Trotz, former Science Advisor at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Center (CCCCC), underscored the significant effects of climate change on the Caribbean region. However, the Caribbean climate change expert envisions Guyana as a catalyst in utilizing its resources to build climate resilience even as it pursues its LCDS objectives. More importantly, he notes the salience of Guyana’s development of renewables (as part of a Caribbean regional commitment) to mitigating climate change and building resilience.
While Trotz believes that the foregoing efforts can be strengthened through establishing a regional investment fund, concerns persist around Guyana’s ability to develop fossil fuels while advancing carbon neutrality efforts. Notwithstanding, other Caribbean development experts, such as Dr Dax Driver, president, and chief executive officer of The Energy Chamber of Trinidad and Tobago, use a different lens to consider and compare the global effects of the developed versus developing emissions world. He contends that the problem of climate change resides with the wanton consumption of fossil fuels by more industrialized nations where the impact is most felt.
Indeed, as Driver rightly pointed out in Transforming Guyana, the Caribbean region, primarily Trinidad and Tobago, a more advanced oil producer, has been outpaced by larger oil producers concerning carbon emissions. Concomitantly, Driver also acknowledges the economic impact of the oil and gas sector in transforming Guyana. He sees its fast-tracking as imperative to regional development while mitigating climate change and building resilience.
Developing renewables appear urgent as the Caribbean continues to grapple with high energy consumption and fuel costs per household. This urgency is tied to developing “efficiency, and a reliable and sustainable grid” across the regional utility system, notes Dr David Lewis of the Caribbean Policy Consortium.
Implicitly, Guyana should be allowed to breathe and grow economically as a responsible nation conscious of global and regional treaties and environmental precarity. Dr Lorraine Sobers of UWI, St Augustine, articulates this “right of resource -exploitation” alongside a “renewables” agenda as transformative. As a panelist on Transforming Guyana, Sobers highlights the regional and international support Guyana has already attracted, particularly from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the African region, to advance firmly as an oil producer.
Ultimately, Guyana’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must, out of necessity, function as the vanguard over its oil exploits to ensure that development occurs sustainably within the parameters of the Environmental Protection Act. As the EPA director, Kemraj Parsram said, environment and development “are not mutually exclusive.” Thus, Guyana’s oil exploits must be pursued responsibly to ensure national wealth, ecological resilience, mitigation, and adaptation for years to come. Holistic transformation is therefore required and possible!
Dr Carolyn Walcott is a media and communications educator and scholar with a diverse background in journalism education, international communication and media development. She spent thirteen years in mainstream and corporate media in her birthplace, Guyana, before joining the faculty at the University of Guyana in 2007. She served as Director at the U.G. Center for Communication Studies (UGCCS) where she also taught broadcast journalism, communications research and marketing communications, among other courses.
Dr Terrence Richard Blackman is a member of the Guyanese diaspora. He is an associate professor of mathematics, and a founding member of the Undergraduate Program in Mathematics at Medgar Evers College. He is a former Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professor at MIT and a Member of The School of Mathematics at The Institute for Advanced Study. He 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 more than twenty-five years. He’s a graduate of Queen’s College, Guyana, Brooklyn College, CUNY, and the City University of New York Graduate School.
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