Achieving the SDGs and driving ambitious climate action: A perspective from Guyana
27 June 2022
2030 Agenda and the SDGs
To mark the beginning of the UN Oceans Conference today in Lisbon, I have decided to write this blog to share a simple, important message: we only have one earth and one ocean, and we all have a responsibility to stand up for our planet, to nourish, restore and protect its systems and natural resources.
The path to protecting our oceans and planet has been a long and complex one.
Fifty years ago, the United Nations hosted the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, the first time the world came together to put environmental protection center stage. It marked the first-time global leaders explicitly recognized the effects that human activity is having on our environment, and the negative impact climate change is having on our lives.
A half-century later, world climate leaders gathered again in Stockholm from 2-3 June 2022 to further advance international cooperation on climate and the environment and to discuss ways to collectively tackle humanity's biggest test: the ‘triple planetary crisis’ of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution.
The loss of biodiversity is upsetting the delicate balance of our planet and ocean, reducing the environment’s natural ability to manage and mitigate the effects of climate change and threatening the food systems we all rely on. Species extinction is happening at around 1000 times faster than the natural rate. Human activity has already changed 75% of the world’s land surface, 50% of its water streams and 40% of the marine environment.
Human-made pollution is one of the biggest threats to ecosystems and biodiversity, including liquid, solid, and airborne waste. Microplastics contaminate our food chains, kill animals, and even enter our bodies. At least nine million tons of plastic pollution enter aquatic ecosystems every year.
The ocean, our one source of life
As the pressures facing our planet continue to grow, it is clear that we need to find a new way to balance our relationship with nature, including our marine environment.
Covering 70% of the planet’s surface, the ocean plays a vital part in sustaining life on earth. It produces at least half of the planet’s oxygen and is home to most of the earth’s biodiversity. But like other parts of the ecosystem, our ocean is under threat. The impacts of human action, including pollution and overfishing have taken their toll on this vital source of life. Half of the world’s coral reefs are now destroyed, and more than 90% of big fish populations globally are depleted.
To protect our marine environment and address the triple planetary threat, we need to limit the rise in temperatures to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. That means cutting global greenhouse gas emissions by 50% in the next seven-and-a-half years. But we are, unfortunately, a long way from reaching that target.
Common, but differentiated responsibilities
Although some countries have done more to contribute to the triple planetary crisis than others – through higher emissions of greenhouse gases, degradation of natural habitats, and production of waste, today we all have a common (even if differentiated) responsibility to urgently adopt ambitious objectives protect our planet.
Guyana epitomizes this dilemma in so many ways. The country is off track on many of the SDGs. As one of the world’s newest oil producers, it considers the revenues from this particular resource to be crucial for transforming the lives of its people. But it has also been one of the biggest advocates for climate action, and like many other developing countries, now faces serious consequences as a result of climate change and marine pollution. Here are some of the actions Guyana is taking to turn the tide against climate change and protect its natural environment.
Guyana’s commitment to adopting a low carbon development model and new oceans policy framework as outlined in the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS 2030), is stronger than ever. If LCDS targets are achieved, the country would meet a tenfold increase in demand for electricity supply by 2040 whilst retaining greenhouse gas emissions at 2018 levels. This would be an extraordinary example of how economic growth can be decoupled from carbon emissions and a better balance between conservation and commercial interests can be reached.
Through inter-governmental platforms, Guyana, like other developing states, will continue to call on the world’s biggest consumers of fossil fuels to accelerate the decarbonization of their economies and meet the critical US$100 billion in financing for climate change adaptation needs of developing countries, particularly SIDS (Small Island Developing States). Only with the reduction of international demand and consumption will global oil production fall.
On the issue of biodiversity loss, Guyana is rightly proud of the achievements it has made to protect its rainforests and conserve the country’s natural heritage. Working with indigenous communities and learning from their wisdom has been a key part of this strategy. The Government’s commitment to expanding the country’s official protected areas is another important step to preventing biodiversity loss and one which is closely aligned with the global targets expected to be outlined in the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Montreal, Canada later this year.
Meanwhile, as deep-water drilling operations continue to expand off Guyana’s coast, the Government has taken steps to strengthen its response to potential oil spills. In 2020, it launched its National Oil Spill Contingency Plan to help improve its readiness and strengthen cooperation with operators, insurers and national emergency responders.
Following the landmark resolution endorsed at this year’s UN Environmental Assembly, Guyana is also preparing to transform its use and disposal of plastics. Along with 175 other countries, Guyana agreed to develop a comprehensive, ‘source to sea’ international treaty on plastics management by 2024; a key step to improving the health of its terrestrial and marine ecosystems.
As leaders from across the UN, civil society, youth organizations, and government come together today at the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, I am reminded about the important role collective action plays in our fight to tackle the triple planetary crisis. Only through the combined efforts of all individuals, all countries, and all companies can we begin to restore our relationship with nature and conserve the world’s vital source of life: our ocean.
This blog was written by Yeşim Oruç, Resident Coordinator in Guyana. It draws from an Op-Ed published initially on UN Guyana’s website to mark World Environment Day on 5th June. Editorial support provided by the UN Development Coordination Office. To learn more about the UN's work there, please visit Guyana.UN.org.
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