Papua New Guinea
PNG‘s forests are the third largest, and some of the most diverse, on Earth. They support many cultures - over 12% of the world’s existing languages are spoken there - and a rich diversity of plant and animal species. A recent report revealed that more than 1,000 new species have been discovered on the island of New Guinea and scientists say this is just scratching the surface of what is yet to be discovered.
Devastatingly, this rich diversity of life is being lost at an alarming rate. Over 60% of PNG’s intact forests have already been destroyed by logging and industrial agriculture and the loss continues today.
The World Bank estimates 70% of logging in PNG is illegal and the United Nations has questioned PNG on the recent rollout of over 5 million hectares of agricultural leases. These leases - known as Special Agriculture and Business Leases (SABLs) - cover about 20% of the country’s forests. Representing one of the worst contemporary cases of cultural land grabs, they will decimate PNG’s remaining forests and biodiversity unless they are overturned.
The rights of PNG’s communities and traditional landowners are also at risk. Decades of industrial logging have not delivered the promised benefits of employment, improved health and education. In most cases customary landowners are not given free, prior and informed consent before their land is logged and cleared. Communities are losing their forests, waterways and traditional ways of life against their wishes.
PNG needs to develop sustainably and raise its people from poverty, illiteracy and poor health, but it cannot do so while foreign-owned companies control the country’s natural resources.
International funding for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) will soon be available to provide alternatives to forest destruction. REDD will encourage rich developed countries to provide developing countries like PNG with alternatives.
As global forest loss is the cause of more greenhouse gases than the world’s entire transport sector, it is vital that this funding is shared equitably with forest people, so that forests are properly protected. However, before this money can be made available, the PNG Government must show it can manage its resources responsibly, share the revenue equitably and rein in corruption.