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Suriname addresses climate threat with new agency



By Marvin A. Hokstam*

native_suriname_womanA native Surinamese woman watches a ceremony performed at sunrise in the palm garden in Paramaribo on August 9, 2011. REUTERS/Ranu AbhelakhPARAMARIBO, Suriname–Low-lying and heavily forested Suriname, which counts itself among the five nations most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, has created the country’s first climate-compatible development agency, aimed at bringing together the country’s ministries to deal with climate challenges.

“We owe it to our children to prepare ourselves for the effects climate change will have on our country,” President Desi Bouterse said earlier this month at a ceremony marking the launch of the agency.

According to Suriname’s government, sea level rise is expected to bring worsening erosion, large-scale inundation, loss of farmland, a reduction in available freshwater, more drought and extreme rainfall and worsening health challenges to the coastal South American nation.

The new agency aims to coordinate the country’s policies on climate change mitigation and adaptation and forest conservation, and help Suriname win international funding to help it deal with climate impacts and adopt a lower carbon development strategy.

It will also lead the country’s Climate Change Fund, charged with managing funds secured for climate adaptation, and support a Climate Compatible Knowledge Institute, which will give scientific support to climate efforts.


“Basically our agency is established to consolidate Suriname’s climate change adaptation efforts. We’re here to combine and complement the work of other institutes. When you want results in these matters, it’s best to execute from one central point. A multitude of institutes that sometimes work across each other doesn’t work,” said John Goedschalk, the U.S.-trained economist chosen by Suriname’s president to lead the new agency.

Scientists and conservation agencies applauded the new effort, saying having just one agency dealing with climate issues would make their lives easier.

“The establishment of this agency says that government understands that there should be structure and uniformity when approaching climate change; so far there was no central point from which this was done, which led to (us) having to deal with multiple ministries,” said Armand Moredjo, Conservation International’s technical director in Suriname. He said his organization was “enthused” by the move.

Until now, climate change adaptation in Suriname has been largely piecemeal, even as the government has underscored the far reaching impact the phenomenon could have.

In a report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Suriname’s government predicted that that climate change would bring a range of serious problems, including more intense rainfall and drought and inundation of low-lying regions.


So far, however, the country’s largest projects to deal with climate change have included only an ongoing carbon inventory being conducted on the forests of Suriname and a pilot project by the University of Suriname to clone black mangroves and replant them along the muddy, eroded coastline of the country’s western Coronie district.

There have also been a few scattered climate change awareness campaigns.

Now, “our agency will structure the efforts, secure funding and (find) appropriate climate compatible investments,” Goedschalk said.

He said he considers it an important task to consistently communicate with the community and the world on climate change matters.

“That is the only way we will be able to bring a mind shift regarding our behavior. We must change if we want to secure the future of our Earth,” he said.

“It goes much further than government efforts. Businesspeople have a role to play when they consider new investments. Who knows? Maybe they are eligible for climate change compatible funding for their next endeavor. But the ordinary citizen has a role too. Our task as agency is also to help anchor a mind shift,” Goedschalk said.

He said he is looking for guidance to the Cancun Agreement as formulated during last year’s COP16 climate meeting in Mexico. It advocates that developing countries themselves identify more sustainable development paths and commit to implementing these with financial support.

“It says that each country should consider its own long-term development objectives. We have to identify policies and measures to make the development path more sustainable,” he said, then seek international support.


Neighbouring Guyana has already had some success on that path, attracting funding from Norway, for instance, to help protect its forests.

“Many other developing countries – like our neighbour Guyana – have been able to secure climate change funding and have executed successful projects. We’re entering that fraternity now, albeit late. But that also means that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel when we’re doing this,” Goedschalk said.

He said that by establishing the agency, Suriname hopes to make clear it is ready to address climate issues.

“The establishment of the Climate Compatible Development Agency puts us in the fraternity of developing countries that are signaling their seriousness regarding adaptation,” he said.

“Despite the fact that we do not contribute (substantially) to climate change, we stand to be impacted heavily by its effects. Our entire economic zone is located within our coastal areas, so when sea level rises we stand to lose a whole lot,” Goedschalk said. “That is why it’s important that we look with a certain measure of structure at how we can prepare Suriname better for climate change.”


Sieuwnath Naipal, a hydrology professor at the University of Suriname who spearheads the mangrove reintroduction program, said he was cautiously optimistic about the effort.

“The road ahead for the CCDA is not a smooth one. Goedschalk has a huge challenge,” Naipal said. “He will need adapted policies, technologies, money and most of all political will locally and internationally.”

But the fact is, “sooner or later all countries have to make the transition. For instance, we’ll have to transit from a fossil fuel economy to one that’s less dependent on fossil fuels. The establishment of the agency shows that we’re starting to realize that.”

*Marvin A. Hokstam is a freelance writer based in Paramaribo, Suriname.

Taken from AlertNet

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