Tue, Jun 03, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Papua New Guinea losing forests to logging, study says

AGENCIES , PORT MORESBY AND SYDNEY

Half of Papua New Guinea's forests will be lost or damaged in just over a decade, speeding up local climate change, unless logging is dramatically reduced, a study released yesterday said.

The University of Papua New Guinea report, which used satellite images to show the loss in forest cover between 1972 and 2002, found that at current rates, 53 percent of forest was at risk of being destroyed by 2021.

The study, conducted in conjunction with the Australian National University, found that even in so-called conservation areas, trees were being logged or cut down unabated by local subsistence farmers.

“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,” the report’s lead author Phil Shearman said in a statement.

“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 Shearman, the director of the University of Papua New Guinea’s Remote Sensing Center.

Papua New Guinea has the world’s third largest tropical forest, after the Amazon and the Congo, but it was being cleared or degraded at a rate of 362,000 hectares a year in 2001, the report said.

Shearman said it was internationally recognized that tropical forests were “sink holes of jaw-droppingly large amounts of carbon.”

“So the destruction of forest ... releases that carbon into the atmosphere,” he said.

“Papua New Guinea’s forests are ... of national and regional significance because of their carbon storage factors. They are critically important for the regional stability of our climate,” he said.

“And they also hold probably somewhere between six and 10 percent of the world’s biodiversity,” he said.

The report calls for a dramatic drop in logging — or the consequences could be significant, Shearman said.

“If these trends are allowed to continue for the next 10 or 15 years it will result in significant major proportions of Papua New Guinea’s forest being cleared or logged,” he said.

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