Remarks by Ambassador Odeen Ishmael in the Permanent Council of the OAS During Discussion on Global Warming and Climate Change Washington DC, March 24, 1999


Mr. Chairman,

Without a doubt the main cause of global warming is the increasing discharge of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. All of our countries are today more and more affected in various ways by changing weather patterns which have brought abnormally higher rainfall and longer droughts. Some countries have been deluged by floods or have been battered by extra-violent tornadoes and hurricanes.

But while environmentalists and others, including politicians, pontificate over what should, and what should not be done to control global warming, the resulting natural disasters continue to occur. Meanwhile, each country strives for increased development and production which utilizes existing forms of energy, and thus adds more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This cycle, therefore, perpetuates itself over and over and over.

As we become painfully aware, threats to our environment also encroach upon our peace and security. Global warming and climate change have exposed the weakness of small states, like my own country, to weather-induced natural disasters. The El Nino phenomenon recently inflicted on our country a period of intense drought, taking a heavy toll on our economy.

Countries like Guyana with vast forest resources are being called upon by developed societies to be the lungs of the world. Environmental groups in these societies demand that we stop exploiting this natural wealth because they feel we are killing off the rain forest. In Guyana, the rain forest is healthy and well. But what people in developed societies have to understand is the fact that we need to make use of our natural resources to improve our economy and provide a better standards of living for our people standards which people in developed societies enjoy.

About three years ago, in another forum, I proposed that if the developed world wants poor countries to keep their rain forest untouched, those poor countries should be compensated for all the wealth they could accrue if they utilize the resources from their forest. In other words, they should be paid for not cutting timber. My proposal then was and it still is that if developed countries do not want us to cut timber from our forests, they should compensate us with a minimum of one dollar a year for each mature tree we have in our forests.

My country remains dedicated to the preservation of the environment and the sustainable development of our resources. In this respect we have the highest regard for the protection of our environment. We have also put in place arrangements to ensure the conservation of our natural resources. As is well-known, under the Iwokrama Rain Forest Project, Guyana has set aside almost a million acres of those forests for research by the international community into the preservation of bio-diversity and the sustainable use of forests.

We must be concerned over the fate of small islands now facing the threat of rising sea levels caused by the melting of the ice sheets near the North and South Poles. But global warming is already posing a serious threat to countries which have low coastal areas. In Guyana, the rising level of high tides is already battering our sea defences, and there are increasing incidents of flooding of residential and agricultural areas, much of which are below sea level. We have now to divert our already limited resources on sea and river defences and flood management. This is a very expensive exercise and it bites very deeply into resources which could have been otherwise utilized for productive development.

Mr. Chairman, we have to begin the application of what I call preventive ecology. As with preventive diplomacy where we have to find solutions to regional, hemispheric and world political problems before they escalate to serious levels, in the same way we will have to look ahead and apply measures both nationally and internationally to prevent any degradation of the environment. This is a challenge which we now have to seriously confront.

Thank you.

Posted March 24th. 1999

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