The Guianas are on the brink of a massive oil and gas boom. The offshore oil fields are predicted to generate billions of dollars of revenue for the countries that have been struggling to strengthen their economies for decades.
But this comes with a cost. Fast expansion in exploration, seismic surveys and production will have an impact on marine species and ecosystems, particularly in the event of an oil spill. Mangroves are removed for new infrastructure and the planning of new megaprojects on the coast is underway. Guyana and Suriname are also inexperienced and not prepared to respond to oil leakages and lacking strong environmental and social safeguards.
At the same time the countries should realize that fossil fuels will be a temporarily source of income, as the world has started to phase out oil and gas. It becomes widely agreed that the world needs to be energy neutral by 2050 to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. Against this backdrop the reputation of Suriname and Guyana of being a carbon sink, thanks to their vast forests, is at stake. Without strong regulation and a vision on a green economy, they might earn a brown reputation and be labelled as climate change pariah.
The Guianas are truly at a historical crossroad: decisions taken in the next few year will determine whether Suriname and Guyana will take the traditional economic development path of oil producing countries and exploit its natural resources at the cost of nature and the well-being of the people? Or choose a more green pathway which includes building a new relationship between people and nature and becoming a beacon of hope for sustainable development to the world.
As matter of principle, WWF believes that oil and gas should be left in the ground to prevent a further destabilization of the climate. But to achieve an energy neutral world at least exploration of new oil and gas resources should be stopped now.
Phase out of existing production should be in line with the 1,5°C treshold and prioritized in areas with high biodiversity areas and high- and upper income countries. Decomissionig should include restoration of the origial ecosystem functions.
In WWF's position, low income countries like Suriname and Guyana that make their sovereign decision to exploit oil and gas will have a longer timeframe to phase out, but should take into consideration:
A clear timeframe for ending further oil and gas exploration
Making early investments to achieve long term sustainable development
Maintenance of commitment to renewable and sustainable energy transition
Building the institutional and people capacity to achieve good governance.
With the revenues from the oil and gas extraction a sovereign wealth fund should be set set up to support an inclusive and green economy in Suriname and Guyana. There should also be a mechanism developed to share the benefits of the sector for the well-being and growth of the whole society. To develop and implement this an strategic assessment is necessary which looks into how to maximize the returns on the investments towards long term sustainable development. And finally, for the oil and gas extraction the best environmental and social practices and safeguards should be mandatory.
This requires research and knowledge creation, as well as an open and permanent forum should be established in which issues related to the oil and gas industry will be constructively debated. This forum will contribute to responsible decision-making that will be focused on maintaining the region place know for its biological and cultural diversity and wealth.
As Suriname has committed to the Paris Agreement to keep global temperatures well below 2 degrees Celsius, the income from the oil and gas sector should also invested in renewable and sustainable energy. This includes research and knowledge creation and exchange to support contribution to the global energy transition. Doing this the Guianas will develop a new energy sector and income source for the post-oil and gas era.
In the coming years WWF-Guianas will work closely with WWF energy experts and countries in the WWF-network to address these key issues. We aim to provide solutions and ideas that can deploy across other countries. These ideas include advocacy and awareness raising on issues related to the oil and gas industry and the “green credentials” of Suriname and Guyana, technical and financial support for guidelines and regulations for the fossil fuel sector and strategic alliances with academia.