China Can Help PNG Defend its Ecological Redline

October 25, 2018
Source
China Daily

By Gary Juffa

This summer, my country, Papua New Guinea (PNG), became the newest member of China's Belt and Road Initiative. This global program already spans dozens of countries and represents over a trillion dollars of planned investments in infrastructure development. Meanwhile, China's aid to PNG is surging: only recently, it committed over AU$4 billion ($2.82 billion) to develop PNG's national road network. These initiatives mean that bilateral trade is set to increase.

However, PNG desperately needs China to help and support our efforts to tackle the problems rooted in our forest sector. As the biggest buyer of PNG timber, China has the power and influence to encourage a different way of using the forest resource of PNG.

PNG's forests are among our most valuable natural resources. Our natural forests are PNG's ecological redlines: some 70 percent of the country is covered in forests that support hundreds of rare and endemic species, making PNG a "megabiodiverse" country. These forests are also directly critical to the lives and well-being of most of our people, including the communities in my province. But for decades, we've struggled to responsibly manage this vital resource.

The PNG forest sector has long been marked by corruption and illegality, making the timber we produce considered "high risk" by independent international groups that monitor this. And we're losing money on it: the policy think tank the Oakland Institute has estimated that tax evasion in the sector may be costing PNG over $92 million per year.