Guyana's President flies in as Britain considers rainforest offer

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The Independent Online

The Government says it is considering an offer from Guyana to secure the future of its entire standing forest in return for a package of green technology and development aid from Britain.

Guyana's President, Bharrat Jagdeo, has proposed placing his country's entire 50 million-acre tropical forest under a British-led international body in return for talks with London on securing aid for sustainable development and technical assistance in switching to green industries.

An official spokesman for the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, said last night: "We have received a letter from the President and we are considering it."

The plan, revealed in The Independent on Saturday, has won strong backing from opposition parties. The shadow Environment Secretary, Peter Ainsworth, said tropical deforestation was not getting the attention it deserved and that the Government should take the proposal seriously.

"If we don't sort out deforestation, we can forget changing the lightbulbs," Mr Ainsworth said yesterday. "Deforestation is the neglected piece of the jigsaw. There must be a way into this and Guyana are offering what could be a model for how to do it."

Guyana, a former British colony, set an important precedent in 1989 when it gifted one million acres of rainforest to the Commonwealth, setting up the Iwokrama international reserve which has become a successful model for managing tropical forests. Britain has already lent its backing to a similar venture in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where a £50m grant was awarded for forest protection.

The Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, Chris Huhne, joined those backing the plan: "This is a very interesting development. We need to work on the proposals that Guyana have made at an international level and roll it out to cover not just Guyana but also Brazil, Venezuela and other rainforest nations."

Mr Huhne, a challenger for the leadership of his party, added: "This is a major issue globally and we very much support individual or any bilateral international negotiations to protect the rainforests, which are the most important carbon sinks in the world."

Mr Jagdeo, who will speak on climate change at the House of Commons today, said: "Our offer to partner with the UK to make this happen remains – we want to sit around a table and start to work out the precise details of how we can make progress."

Guyana is home to one of only four remaining intact forests. The world's tropical forests act as a thermostat, regulating rainfall and acting as a buffer for the climate, while sheltering 1.6 billion of the poorest people on earth. Guyana is among the poorest countries in South America and its forest, which acts as a "sink" for billions of tons of carbon, is under pressure from logging and mining.

With a high-profile UN climate change conference coming in Bali next month, it is understood that Downing Street is wary of appearing to question the sovereignty of any country over its rainforest. "There are very complex issues that are involved," said Mr Brown's spokesman.

But Mr Jagdeo said its sovereignty was not at issue and that he was looking for a partner to send a "bold signal" ahead of Bali. "Many problems in implementation will be identified," he said. "However, future generations will not forgive us if we do nothing in the face of these problems and fail to provide leadership."

The President said he does not expect long-term support from the British taxpayer and is open to private-sector initiatives. Payments from British firms for so-called voluntary carbon credits are one of the solutions being considered.

Mr Ainsworth said backing developing countries such as Guyana was also a moral issue: "I think it's the right thing to do, and if Gordon Brown wants to take it on we would be very happy."

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