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As he presented a US$ 25,000 donation to Climate Compatible Development Agency Director John Goedschalk on Wednesday, Ty Wilkinson, CEO of the Greenheart Group said he hoped other companies would follow suit soon. “Working together with Government in carrying out our shared philosophy of being a leader in conducting a sustainable forestry industry, is definitely a worthwhile contribution. I hope this encourages others to join in as well,” Wilkinson said as he presented Goedschalk with an oversized check.
CCDA was established by presidential mandate in August this year to formulate Government’s climate change policies and lead the execution of the Climate Compatible Development Strategy. “The private sector is a key partner in climate change adaptation worldwide. The initiative that Government took to establish our agency is vital and today the Greenheart Group’s initiative to make a difference sends a loud signal. I hope this will be replicated. This should serve as an example of private/public partnership for other countries all over the world,” Goedschalk said.
PARAMARIBO, Suriname–The seawall that is supposed to protect the muddy coastline of coconut district Coronie is almost completed; standing some six meters above sea-level, the barrier provides a scenic drive. There’s virgin land on both side, with fish filled canals cutting through it; a habitat that’s wildlife’s dream. But that’s where the idyllic story ends, because apparently all of this will disappear in a matter of decades, says Sieuwnath Naipal, a University of Suriname professor who is reintroducing mangroves not far from where the seawall is being built. This project, he says, will preserve the strip of land that others seem to have already given up on. Now his efforts have caught the attention of the newly established Climate Compatible Development Agency (CCDA), which wants to use the mangrove reintroduction to shop for Blue Carbon credits -credits earned from carbon stored in wetlands like mangrove forests- and trade them on the carbon market.
“Mangroves store up to 25 times more carbon than tropical forests, so the professor may have unwittingly started a project that can be turned into millions of income from emissions trading for Suriname,” says Agency Director John Goedschalk. Coastal wetlands, such as mangroves sequester large amounts of carbon within their plants and especially in the soil. However, degradation of these habitats–as a result of drainage, conversion and reclamation–can result in substantial and ongoing emissions of greenhouse gases. Goedschalk reasons that Naipal’s afforestation and reforestation efforts will be recognized for their value. He calculates that Suriname could stand to earn millions from the carbon compliance market.
Sitting in his Nissan Patrol SUV driven by one of his students over the seawall in construction along 15 kilometers in District Coronie, Professor Naipal appears to have mixed feelings. Contractors have spent the past two years building a barrier against the waves that are eroding the District’s coastline. The seawall is built about 100 meters inland; the strip of land between the sea and the dam is given up as lost and the sea is already rapidly reclaiming it. About 50 meters of the road to the dyke has already disappeared, chewed away by the constant barrage of the salt water. “The road used to end about 50 meters further up. That’s a part of our country we already lost,” Naipal says, shaking his head.
A few kilometers further up though, black mangrove seedlings he planted last year on a roving mudbank, are thriving. Where there was bare muck in November 2010, mangrove plants now stand as high as two meters. Red ibises and other birds frolic amongst the vegetation as they do when their habitat is undisturbed. “This project has exceeded my expectations,” Naipal says. A Russia trained hydrologist, he had started in February 2010, planting the cloned mangrove seedlings in a University project funded through the Suriname Conservation Foundation (SCF). The project was supposed to prove that under the right circumstances mangrove could be introduced to protect the heavily eroded coastline from moving further inland.
The perfect circumstances he found out through his pilot, were created by the roving mudbank that moves alongside Suriname’s coastline, and the flow of sweet water from the inlands, which result in the right blend of salinity. Naipal’s reasoning was that the construction in the 1960’s of the East West link, the road from Paramaribo to west border district Nickerie, had disturbed the natural flow of sweet water from inland to the sea, which caused a slow but mass demise of the mangrove along the coastline. The mangrove forests with their stilt-like air roots that lock in biomass, for centuries worked as a natural protection against erosion; with them gone, the sea had free reign. While mud, spit out in front of Suriname’s coast by Brazil’s mighty Amazon River should get locked in the mangroves and naturally cause the country to expand, Suriname’s coastline has instead over the past decennia retreated inland. Coronie, the most outward of the districts has been getting smaller each year and the coastal dwelling residents fear for their livelihoods. A dam seemed necessary, but not enough, Naipal reasons.
He says his project is the structural response to the chronic problem of erosion. “We are wrong to think that nature will adapt to us; we should be the ones instead who adapt to nature and help it out to correct things that went wrong,” he says. He explains that he formed his plan when research hinted two years ago that the mudbank was heading toward the Coronie coastline. “With the mudbank present, the conditions are perfect. All we had to do was arrange the influx of sweet-water to create the right salinity,” the professor says. Old plantation canals that used to channel sweet-water from the inlands were closed over the years, but if they would be reopened, mangrove would thrive again alongside the entire coast of the district, Naipal says. “Just look at these plants,” he says like a proud dad who singlehandedly nurtured a frail child into a star athlete.
Waving temporary proof that under the right conditions replanting could work, the Professor now wants the dyke builders to consider investing in sweet-water irrigation and to allow him to plant alongside a longer stretch of the coast. “They are shipping thousands of kilograms of boulders down here, to reinforce the foot of the dam. That’s unnecessary now. The dyke is built about 100 meters inland and the waves will not reach it for another couple of years. If they would fix the irrigation and allow me to plant the mangroves, the waves would never reach. I’m saying: see if I’m right. If I’m wrong they can always spend all that money on the boulders two years from now,” he says, without a trace of doubt in his voice.
“With mangroves alongside the coastline we will continue to have forests on both sides of the seawall, which can then serve as a boulevard with a tourism industry that is surrounded by wildlife. But if they don’t, the waves will reach, and the sea will slowly eat away the dam; this construction has a certain life span, so after it’s gone more money would have to be spent on building a new dam,” says the professor. And he has no doubts that the waves will continue coming. “Suriname has over the past years experienced eight percent less rainfall and a 0.5 degrees Celsius increase in temperatures. The erosion of the coastline will continue if we don’t do anything. Just building a dam is us expecting that nature will adapt to us; it’s us who should adapt to nature and assist it where we can,” he says.
CCDA director Goedschalk seemed enthused by Naipal’s excitement. “I wonder if he realizes what he stumbled upon here,” Goedschalk comments. Government appointed this US trained economist a month ago to lead the agency that will be tasked with acquiring climate change funding that Suriname is entitled to. Low-lying and heavily forested, Suriname counts itself among the five nations most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. As per the Kyoto Protocol, Suriname is a Non-Annex I country and as such not required to reduce its levels of emission of greenhouse gasses; but the country has access to funding from international agencies to arm it against the effects of climate change.
Goedschalk says Suriname should make a shift toward climate compatible development planning, whereby climate change adaptation and mitigation measures are taken and the economic benefits from its natural preservation are secured. “We should move toward climate resilience and low carbon development, but at the same time take advantage of our access to international climate change rewards,” he says. Professor Naipal’s project, especially since it has an emissions trading element, in Goedschalk’s view “is definitely the kind of project that falls within our scope.”
He adds: “And we should also consider that the climate change funding agencies also look for projects that have poverty eradication, employment creation and sustainable tourism elements, which Naipal has all covered in his.”
A lot of time went into considering whether to share the following link or not. DevSur is definitely not supposed to be a medium for the promotion of its publisher’s activities; but hey, since this tells more the story of Suriname from a climate change adaptation perspectives, sharing it does no harm.
DevSur Publisher Marvin Hokstam a few weeks ago was asked by Thompson Reuters to share his experiences of working for Alertnet, the climate change watchdog of this global news organization. Reuters put together a ‘Meet the Alertnet Climate Reporters” video, to share with the world the stories about climate change, but also introduce the reporters out in the field who keep the story alive. Journalists from the Horn of Africa, Kenya, Pakistan, India contributed to the video.
It was a heartening, humbling experience to be part of a fraternity with such diverse backgrounds and nationalities that did such a great job in producing a video that shows that climate change is happening, that adaptation is necessary and that Suriname is not alone in the fight against its effects. Click here to see the video.
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.