Papua New Guinea is one of the world’s most underdeveloped nations, with the third largest expanse of rainforest on the planet. However a report released on Monday by the University of Papua New Guinea and the Australian National University shows that in terms of the exploitation of natural resources, this could be changing.
Rainforests in Papua New Guinea
The extent of the damage to the PNG rainforest has not been known, until the release of high resolution satellite images with the report co-written by the Australian National University and the University of Papua New Guinea. The images document the reduction in the size of the rainforest from 1972 until the present. The level of destruction is shown to be much wider than previously thought.
Julian Ash from the Australian National University is one of the authors of the report: “What’s happening is that the population is growing, so the agricultural impacts are accelerating rapidly, the population is amongst the fastest growing in the world, and the logging industry is booming, it’s following the general Asian economic boom, so there's an exponential increase in the rate of clearance.”
The report predicts that forest clearance rates are going to increase over the next few years and perhaps by 2021 something like 80% of the accessible forest will have already been logged, much quicker than was previously thought. Papua New Guinea has lost about 15% of its rainforest in the last 30 years. On top of that, about 8 – 9 % has been degraded through industrial logging. This places forest loss at similar rates to those seen in the Amazon and the Congo.
The data was presented to the PNG government on the release of the report. Papua New Guniea’s forestry planning program has largely been based upon statistics that are around 20 - 30 years old. The report recommends that the PNG government needs to make radical changes in their forestry policy. PNG forestry minister Belden Namah says that multinational logging companies are proving a hindrance: “We try to come up with policies to manage our forests, but we have interference by the industry.”
The PNG government is seeking ways to conserve its forests as carbon-traps to help reduce global greenhouse gases. Belden Namah admits this could be very beneficial in the long run: “Yes, the industry may be a player in contributing to the economy of this country, but I’m more worried about generations tomorrow, about the clean air."
Peter Ash from the Australian National University:
“One of the problems at the moment is that for every cubic metre of timber that’s exported for every ton of carbon that’s exported, the forest logging process destroys about 10 times that amount of timber, so it decays in the forests."
The report has come as a wake up call to Papua New Guinea that its forest resources are finite, and timely action is needed to avert an environmental disaster.