In an article in the journal Nature this week, the scientists say that weak governance in Papua New Guinea is allowing foreign logging companies to over-exploit the country’s native forests.
“Most accessible forests in Papua New Guinea are being seriously over-exploited,” said lead author Professor William Laurance of James Cook University in Cairns, Australia. “The rate of logging is definitely unsustainable.”
“Papua New Guinea has some of the world’s most biologically and culturally rich forests, and they’re vanishing before our eyes,” he said.
Titus Kakul, a scientist from Papua New Guinea also based at James Cook University, said it was almost impossible to control the foreign logging companies.
“Corruption plays a big role—it often defeats efforts to manage forests sustainably,” he said.
Timber in Papua New Guinea is mostly cut by Malaysian logging corporations and then exported as raw logs to China. There, it is made into furniture and other wood products and then exported around the world.
“Despite all the logging, Papua New Guinea isn’t getting enough financial benefit,” said Rod Keenan of the University of Melbourne, Australia. “Instead of shipping raw logs to China they should be exporting more in products like sawn timber, plywood and furniture. This will create much more employment, training and value-adding for the country.”
“There also needs to be more support for community forestry,” said Keenan.
Environmental prospects in Papua New Guinea are probably worsening, say the authors. In May, the country’s parliament changed land-rights protections for indigenous groups, making it more difficult for them to sue offending corporations for environmental damage.
And the government has frozen proposals for 120 new conservation areas to avoid conflicts with loggers and other resource developments.
“These are serious mistakes,” said co-author Navjot Sodhi at the National University of Singapore. “Traditional land-rights protections should be reinstated, and a big push is needed to improve forest governance and slow rampant logging.”
The authors emphasize that international carbon finance could help Papua New Guinea improve its forest management. According to some estimates, the country could gain up to $500 million annually in payments from industrial nations designed to slow forest loss and reduce harmful greenhouse gases.
“We’re clinging to this hope because right now it looks like a tragedy in the making,” said William Laurance.