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Posted at 7:26 PM ET, 12/ 8/2010

At Cancun conference, blunt talk on forests

By Juliet Eilperin

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."

By Juliet Eilperin  | December 8, 2010; 7:26 PM ET
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There seem to be some misconceptions arising from this blog post that I feel compelled to address.

As the World Bank Director for the Caribbean, and as an individual who cares about the environment, I believe that Guyana’s pristine forests are its most valuable natural asset and provide critical environmental services to the world.

We at the World Bank want to help preserve Guyana’s vast tropical forests and that is the reason why we have agreed to become the Trustee for the GRIF multidonor trust fund (Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund) at the request of Norway and Guyana.

This is a pioneering pilot effort to pay for environmental services. The agreement, signed October 9, 2010 will be funded initially by US$250 million from Norway, based on independent verification of initiatives to reduce deforestation on Guyana’s part.

Here is the most glaring misconception: as a trustee we cannot disburse any funds to the implementing partners –such as the UN and the Inter American Development Bank- before getting the green light from a Steering Committee comprised of Norway and Guyana. Up to now, the Committee has not instructed us to transfer any funds. We cannot act faster than the Steering Committee.

Since this is considered development assistance, Norway wants to make sure that funds are used in the most transparent and effective way. Once transferred to project implementers, GRIF funds must be spent applying adequate financial management, safeguards and controls.
This is why they have asked an institution with solid track record such as the World Bank to become the project’s fiduciary agent.

Yvonne Tsikata, World Bank Director for the Caribbean.

Posted by: YvonneTsikata1 | December 9, 2010 7:35 PM | Report abuse

This poster has completely failed to address the domestic political situation in Guyana where

(1) Local Guyanese political parties have expressed concerns to the Norwegian government of the likelihood of these funds being misapplied

(2) In the context of a small economy with persistent negative fiscal imbalances, disbursement of these funds immediately prior to a general election (due by August 2011) has the potential to free up resources that the incumbent party can then use for political patronage and largesse

(3) That the office of the president in Guyana has been persistently identified over a period of 12 years as a serious and serial violator of the constitutional provisions that provide for legislative oversight over public funds.

The writer of this blog should do some real journalism, but I guess the fate of a small country with less than 1M people couldn't matter less to him.

Posted by: Nachilas | December 13, 2010 10:38 AM | Report abuse

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