Papua New Guinea – At the same time that the Government of Papua New Guinea is seeking compensation for conserving the carbon-trapping capacity of its vast tropical forests, destruction of these same lands is occurring so fast that by 2021 most of the areas accessible to loggers will have been cleared or degraded, according to a new report released today. The report uses high-resolution satellite imagery to reveal widespread and previously undetected losses.
The report, “The State of the Forests of Papua New Guinea,” was produced by scientists at the University of Papua New Guinea Remote Sensing Centre and their colleagues at the Australian National University. The researchers spent five years carefully analyzing satellite images that document 30 years of destruction in an area that contains a major portion of the world’s third largest tropical forest. Only the Amazon and Congo forests are bigger.
They estimate that in 2001, Papua New Guinea’s accessible forests were being cleared or degraded at a rate of 362,000 hectares a year – amounting to a combined annual rate of deforestation and degradation of 1.41 percent. At that pace, by 2021, the authors estimate that 83 percent of the country’s accessible forest (and 53 percent of its total forested area) will be gone or severely damaged. Scientists at the UPNG Remote Sensing Centre discovered that even in so-called conservation “protected areas” forest destruction is occurring at the same pace as in unprotected regions.
“Government officials may claim that they wish rich countries to pay them for conserving their forests, but if they are allowing multinational timber companies to take everything that’s accessible, all that will be left will be lands that are physically inaccessible to exploitation and would never have been logged anyway” said Phil Shearman, the report’s lead author and Director of the UPNG Remote Sensing Centre. “It’s fair to wonder why the government should be compensated after encouraging this industry for so long in the past, or why they should get paid in the future to conserve forest that cannot be reached.”
The report concludes that the data on forest destruction justifies significantly curtailing current logging industry activities and scrapping new large-scale projects. It also calls for the government and international development partners to reorient conservation and commercial forestry activities so that they respect the rights of local communities that legally own the forest, and enable members of those communities to better use and conserve the forest for their own development needs.
“The unfortunate reality is that forests in Papua New Guinea are being logged repeatedly and wastefully with little regard for the environmental consequences and with at least the passive complicity of government authorities,” Shearman said.
Dr Julian Ash from the Australian National University commented that “by providing an objective, realistic picture of what is actually taking place, the study can offer an opportunity to institute genuine and verifiable programs that will lead to real conservation, sustainable forestry and meaningful participation in carbon trading markets”.
In order to avoid further damage, according to Shearman and his colleagues, any new forestry programs should involve small and medium-scale, locally-owned and managed operations where commercial activities are more likely to be environmentally sustainable and the benefits are more likely to flow to forest communities.
The authors note that it’s not too late to act. “Papua New Guinea is still one of the most heavily forested countries in the world,” Shearman said. “For the first time, we have evidence of what’s happening in the PNG forests. The government could make a significant contribution to global efforts to combat climate change. It is in its own interest to do so, as this nation is particularly susceptible to negative effects due to loss of the forest cover.”