At Cancun conference, blunt talk on forests
At a packed event here in Cancun focused on curbing deforestation, a couple of national leaders did something Wednesday afternoon that rarely happens in politics: They spoke the unvarnished truth.
Avoided Deforestation Partners brought together politicians, financiers and conservationists for a high-level discussion on how best to preserve the world's tropical forests -- but even the group's founder, Jeffrey Horowitz, couldn't have predicted the fireworks between Guyana's president, Bharrat Jagdeo, and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg about how long it's taking to compensate the South American nation for preserving its forests.
Norway has already agreed to provide $250 million to Guyana over the next four decades if it manages to preserve its entire tropical forest, which is larger than the size of England. But in the opening panel, Jagdeo complained that his country is still waiting to get paid for its efforts.
"The international community has a very poor track record of delivering help," he said, adding that he appreciates Norway's generosity. "But I can't get the money."
In an interview after the panel discussion, Jagdeo explained that, while his government proved in January it had fulfilled the first part of its commitment to Norway, it was just on the verge of getting the first $30 million of Norway's pledge. He placed the blame for the delay squarely on the World Bank, which he said has repeatedly stalled in handing over the money.
In one meeting where Norway, Guyana and World Bank officials met to discuss dispersing the money, Jagdeo said, his country sent two representatives, Norway sent half a dozen, and the World Bank sent three dozen.
"It's a waste of money," Jagdeo said of the World Bank's role as an intermediary. When it comes to turning on the spigot for the funds, he said, "It's not Norway. They can't get it."
During the panel discussion, Stoltenberg responded by explaining that Norway was willing to disburse its forestry funds only once the country in question had proven it had sequestered carbon in its trees.
"Results is what we're looking for," said Stoltenberg, who noted that his country finances its large foreign aid budget through high taxation on petroleum, among other things. "It's hard to win elections on a message of high taxation."
If he and others can prove developing nations are saving their forests, he added, it will "show Norwegian voters they're getting something back." As Stoltenberg noted, "We won election last year but you never know, elections are uncertain things."
But Jagdeo wasn't done. Turning to White House aide Joe Aldy, the Guyanan president urged him to get President Obama to read the recent report by the U.N. task force on international climate aid, which said the industrialized world will only be able to mobilize $100 billion a year in aid to poor nations if the world put a price on carbon ranging between $20 and $25 per ton.
"Could you please give President Obama a copy of that executive summary?" he asked.
In an interview, Jagdeo said that Aldy told him afterward that he would make sure Obama looked at the document.
Andrew Deutz, director ot international government relations for The Nature Conservancy, said any avoided deforestation agreement out of Cancun could help expand the flow of money to rainforest nations by giving "economic value to standing forests and give confidence to investors and funders to save forests."
But it won't create an immediate flow of money, he cautioned: "Now the hard work begins to figure out how to pay people to save forests."
| December 8, 2010; 7:26 PM ET
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