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< Current local time in Suriname – Paramaribo
A feature by Marvin A. Hokstam
PARAMARIBO, Suriname–When John Goedschalk returned to Suriname in 2008, never did he know that he would be tasked a few years later with structuring the climate change adaptation efforts of his country of birth. Goedschalk, a US trained economist was named as Director of the Climate Compatible Development Agency, which, resorting directly under President Desi Bouterse, will formulate Government’s climate change policies and lead the execution of the Climate Compatible Development Strategy (CCDS).
“We owe it to our children to prepare ourselves for the effects climate change will have on our country,” the President said at the installation. The charter of the agency mentions that Suriname is among the five countries that are threatened most by climate change, which also places the country among nations that have access to funding to face its effects. “Suriname’s Government considers it important to support and lead its climate change policies from a central coordination point, in cooperation with all institutes that have linkages with climate change, mitigation, adaptation and forest conservation,” the charter reads. Aside from formulating and executing the Climate Change Development Strategy, the agency will also lead the Climate Change Fund which will be charged with managing funds secured from funding agencies for climate adaptation. Furthermore the agency will have a Climate Compatible Knowledge Institute, which will give scientific support to agency execution. “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. Hence our climate compatible development strategy,” Goedschalk explains.
The impact of climate change can be significant and could even be catastrophic for Suriname. In its First National Communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the government of Suriname stated that sea-level rise will result in “increased erosion, large-scale inundation, loss of fertile land, reduction of freshwater resources, decline of biodiversity, and worsening of human health”. “Climate change is likely to result in changes in the hydrological cycle, including the intensity and distribution of rainfall, and drought. The combined effect of these changes makes the country vulnerable to climate change.
Still, despite this knowledge, there has been haphazard execution of adaptation projects. The largest projects included an ongoing carbon inventory that is being conducted on the forests of Suriname and the pilot project of the University of Suriname, as part of which black mangrove clones are being replanted alongside the muddy, eroded coastline of western District Coronie. Aside from that there were a few adhoc awareness campaigns conducted and videos produced. “Maybe there was more, but we must change that. Our agency will structure the efforts, secure funding and appropriate climate compatible investments,” says Goedschalk. He also considers it a 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. That we must change if we want to secure the future of our Earth. 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 says.
He refers to a Climate Change Diplomacy report from the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), which advocates an approach where developing countries themselves identify more sustainable development paths and commit to implementing these with financial support. “It says that each country’s should consider its own long-term development objectives. We have to identify policies and measures to make the development path more sustainable. As per the international arrangements under the Kyoto Protocol, the international community would have to agree,” he says, hinting that Suriname is not the first to do what he is now tasked with. “Many other developing countries 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,” says Goedschalk.
Returning full circle to a subject that held his interest from when he was still studying, he has his plans for execution set. “One of our first goals is to accelerate the first carbon assessment program in Suriname. We will introduce a strategy that is climate change compatible and goes parallel with Government’s development initiatives,” he said. He eyes for instance securing funding under the REDD+ program, designed to use financial incentives to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases from deforestation and forest degradation. With more forest per person than any other country, Suriname could stand to gain much from the REDD+ program.
Goedschalk says that by establishing the agency, Suriname signals to the world that it’s serious about facing climate change. “The establishment of the Climate Compatible Development Agency puts us in the fraternity of developing countries that are signaling their seriousness regarding adaptation. Despite the fact that we do not contribute 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. 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,” Goedschalk says, adding that this does not have to be at Suriname’s cost.
He lauded Government’s foresight: “The President was right; we do owe it to our children to consider our environment. It is also referred to in the Cancun Agreement, which notes that social and economic development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing countries and that a low-emission development strategy is indispensable to sustainable development.”