New Protected Areas Bill is Big Step for Forest-Rich Country

Over 80% of Guyana is covered by tropical forest. ©CI/photo by John Martin

Guyana is a small country with big plans.

Located on the northern coast of South America, Guyana is one of the last remaining tropical wilderness areas on Earth, with over 80 percent intact tropical forest (almost 15 million hectares or 37 million acres — an area equal to the size of New York).

I have spent much of the last 20 years working in Guyana to conserve nature and promote sustainable livelihoods. On July 7, I woke up to a monumental newspaper headline: “Protected Area Bill Passed.” The National Assembly had finally passed protected areas legislation — allowing for the formal establishment of a protected area system in Guyana and bringing the country even closer to meeting its international conservation commitments.

With the passing of the protected areas legislation, the country has made the move to formally conserve hundreds of thousands of acres of tropical rainforest.

For the past several years, CI has been working with the government and the people of Guyana to promote the creation of protected areas and draft this legislation. Its passage clears the way for the establishment of the 611,000-hectare (1.51 million-acre) Kanuku Mountain protected area and the incorporation of the 625,000-hectare (1.54 million-acre) Konashen Community Owned Conservation area into the national system — both critical areas where CI has worked in partnership with local communities, the government and other stakeholders to define boundaries, complete management plans and build local capacity.

This is all part of an even grander plan for Guyana to contribute to the reduction of global climate change impacts by avoiding deforestation. In June 2009, Guyana launched its Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS), one of the first in the world. The strategy aims to develop the country’s economy around maintaining the nation’s vast tropical forests, which sequester and store significant amounts of carbon from the atmosphere.

Underpinning this strategy is the belief that the forests of Guyana and other developing nations can provide more value to the world if they are left standing, rather than cleared for development. The revenue that is generated will help Guyana adapt to the impacts of climate change and transform its economy through a series of low-carbon investments, such as the installation of renewable energy options — including hydropower and solar — to replace the country’s current dependence on fossil fuel.

Guyana’s protected area legislation also takes the long view by making provisions for the establishment of a Protected Areas Trust Fund. CI has been working with the government of Guyana to design this trust, which will ultimately provide financing for protected areas management in perpetuity.

Lisa Famolare is CI’s vice president for the Guianas region.

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