Tuesday, 22 September 2009 00:00

INTERVIEW-Guyana president eyes cash for protecting forests

Stories News 2009 09 22 1NEW YORK, Sept 21 (Reuters) - The president of Guyana wants to turn his country into one of the world's most environmentally progressive countries by preserving vast swaths of tropical rain forest -- if rich nations pay for it.To help prevent climate change, Bharrat Jagdeo told Reuters in an interview, he could keep intact some 37 million acres (15 million hectares) of mostly untouched rain forest in the South American country by being paid an annual fee of up to $580 million .

"We can generate money from preserving the forests, we can use these resources to invest in low carbon opportunities, and we can use some of the money to make our economy climate-resilient," Jagdeo said before a climate change summit at the United Nations on Tuesday.

Protecting forests is crucial, he said, as destruction of tropical forests releases more carbon dioxide emissions than all the world's cars, trucks, planes and trains combined.

Ninety percent of the less than 1 million people in his small country live on the coast and Jagdeo said the government would have to build walls to protect them from rising sea levels.

He said his preservation model could be replicated in other countries and incorporated into a new climate change agreement to be signed in Copenhagen in December.

"By Copenhagen, we can show a real country model working that would address all of the issues that have come up in the negotiations," he said.

He said the biggest stumbling blocks to making his model work were persuading rich countries that payments they make to poor ones would be used transparently, and convincing poor countries they would not give up sovereignty when they agree to set aside forests for conservation.

FOREIGN PRESSURE

Guyana's neighbor, Brazil, which has the largest tropical forests in the Americas, has traditionally been very protective of its sovereignty over the Amazon and resisted any foreign pressure that would require it to curb deforestation rates.

Negotiations for Copenhagen among 190 nations are stalled over how to share the burden of curbs on gas emissions through 2020 between rich and poor nations and how to raise perhaps $100 billion a year to help the poor combat warming and adapt to changes such as rising seas.

"What will constitute a good agreement in Copenhagen for me is one that has deep emissions cuts, adequate financing and improving forests as an abatement solution," Jagdeo said.

"Developed countries need to take the biggest steps."

Although Jagdeo wants to turn Guyana into a low-carbon economy that relies on green energy, he said only rich countries should face mandated deep cuts in carbon emissions.

Poor countries fear they might sacrifice future economic growth if they agree to mandatory reductions.

"We don't want to pass blame, but many of the developed countries used these traditional tools to get where they are today. Many people feel that they are kicking away the ladder now, they don't want us to use the same development tools, which were high carbon," he said.

"We believe we don't have to go that route, we believe that we can shift to a low carbon direction without compromising our development prospects, but we have to be helped to that route." (Editing by Peter Cooney)

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