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Papua New Guinea's Deforestation Problem

February 19, 2016

Papua New Guinea's Deforestation Problem

In 2014, Papua New Guinea became the world’s largest exporter of tropical timber. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Eleven years ago, PNG formed the Coalition for Rainforest Nations and presented the idea of REDD to the UN climate meeting in Montreal.

The architect of REDD, Kevin Conrad, completed his MBA in International Finance at Columbia University in 2005. For his final MBA project, Conrad looked at whether the money from carbon credits could be as profitable as logging in Papua New Guinea. He decided that it could.

In a November 2005 piece for the Financial Times, Conrad and his supervisor at Columbia Geoffrey Heal, wrote that, “Recognising carbon credits from avoiding deforestation makes standing timber an income-earning asset worthy of conservation.”

How things have gone so terribly wrong is documented in a new report by Frederic Mousseau, published by the Oakland Institute: “The Great Timber Heist: The Logging Industry in Papua New Guinea“.

The report makes no mention of REDD. Instead it reports how the logging industry is destroying PNG’s forests. In 2014, 3.8 million cubic metres of timber was exported. REDD has done nothing to stop this destruction.

5.5 million hectares of Special Agriculture and Business Leases

The exploitation of PNG’s forests has accelerated in recent years with the issuing of a total of 5.5 million hectares of Special Agriculture and Business Leases. Rather than being used for agricultural projects, as originally intended, SABLs have been widely used by logging companies. In 2013, PNG’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said that a Commission of Inquiry into the SABLs, “revealed a shocking trend of corruption and mismanagement in all stages in the process”.

In June 2014, O’Neill promised to cancel all illegal deals. But the government has taken no meaningful action to cancel deceptive land deals, stop illegal logging, or return land to traditional owners.

10 million hectares of logging concessions

In addition to SABLs, the government has issued 10 million hectares of logging concessions. In 2013, the Oakland Institute produced a film about the impacts of logging on communities in PNG:

In the new Oakland Institute report, Mousseau writes:

Logging in PNG obscures a multilayered tragedy of the betrayal of people’s constitutional protections and the loss of cultural heritage and land for millions of Papua New Guineans. All over the country, local communities are being deprived of their resources and their rights while their government turns a blind eye to the deceptive practices of the forest industry and police forces that often work on behalf of logging companies.