At the same time that the government of Papua New Guinea is seeking compensation for conserving the carbon-trapping capacity of its the world's third largest expanse of tropical forests, destruction of these forests is occurring so fast that by 2021 most of the areas accessible to loggers will have been cleared or degraded, a new report based on satellite images reveals.
Scientists at the University of Papua New Guinea Remote Sensing Centre discovered that even in so-called conservation "protected areas" forest destruction is occurring at the same pace as in unprotected regions. The scientists estimate that in 2001, Papua New Guinea's accessible forests were being cleared or degraded at a rate of 362,000 hectares a year. At that pace, by 2021, 83 percent of the country's accessible forest will be gone or severely damaged.
The forests are under pressure from industrial logging, agricultural expansion and forest fires, the satellite images show. "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.
The report concludes that the data on forest destruction justifies 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 said that "by providing an objective, 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, Shearman says that 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 believe that it is not too late to act. Shearman said 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.