The Guyana Shield geological formation, one of the world´s most biodiverse regions, encompasses parts of Venezuela and Brazil, as well as French Guyana. All of the territory of Guyana and Suriname sits atop it. Like many other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, the effects of climate change are requiring us to plan and act now to mitigate the most imminent threats.
Taken in combination, the following facts should compel us to develop sustainable long-term plans:
- Risk models predict increased flooding, erosion and salt water intrusion in the coastal areas of Guyana and Suriname, where currently 90 percent of both countries’ population resides and where most of the agricultural production occurs.
- If current trends in global fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions are maintained, the expected rates and amount of sea-level rise depict the possibility that entire towns and cities may be displaced.
What does this mean for Guyana and Suriname? If current climate change trends continue, despite efforts in building and raising the height of existing sea defenses:
- Fertile land and water resources would be compromised
- Food would have to be produced elsewhere
- Communities located in the most vulnerable areas would need to be relocated
Low population densities in the ample interior territory of both countries should allow for a margin of resilience. Certain actions need to be taken now, however, if sustainable development is to be attained while preparing and adapting to the effects of climate change in the countries of the Guyana Shield ‒where the economy is largely based on the use of natural resources. A series of conscious and informed choices need to be made after having first identified climate change effects and their uncertainties. Moreover, the decision making process should be transparent, so as to allow for adjustments that might be needed over time:
- Produce a clear land use policy to establish the priorities for land allocation , one that considers the effects of climate change and increasingly extreme weather patterns on the future availability of productive lands. This process requires a level of independence between the government agencies and the countries’ productive sectors as well as progressive thinking by political and business leaders so as to identify future risks and market opportunities under probable climate change scenarios.
- Implement comprehensive national and regional land use planning systems based on multi-criteria analysis that incorporate environmental and social elements, after modeling the potential benefits, costs and tradeoffs from different land use alternatives (urban, agro, forestry, industrial, tourism, fisheries, etc.) The systems will need to be applied in different geographic locations, under projected climate change scenarios. This should result in mapping the location of future business developments, identifying their requirements and determining lists of acceptable land uses. The establishment and maintenance of protected areas should also be taken into account.
- Apply the land use plans produced, including the relocation, as necessary, of the economic activities from areas where they are prescribed as non-acceptable or where they present a conflict with the optimum future land use allocation under climate change scenarios.
- Develop climate-smart productive infrastructure aligned to the national land use plan, focusing on economic diversification: water distribution infrastructure to develop areas with potential for agriculture and/or aquaculture; low-carbon power generation and distribution systems to facilitate water pumping, value-adding processing of agro-products, value-adding processing of timber products and minerals; and energy efficient industrial processing, storage clusters and transportation networks. Risk mitigation measures need to be in place for all planned infrastructure.
- Develop a strategy for market access considering the expected market trends under climate change scenarios. This will determine the financial viability of investments since incubation time implies risks such as possible cost overruns and uncertainty about potential revenues. The application of best practice standards, the labelling of climate-smart value-added products from agriculture, fisheries, forestry and mining, as well as the promotion of joint ventures between small and medium scale producers, will be favorable for competitiveness and market access.
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