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24% of Papua New Guinea’s rainforest destroyed or degraded by logging in 30 years

Nearly one quarter of Papua New Guinea’s rainforests were damaged or destroyed between 1972 and 2002, report researchers writing in the journal Biotopica.

The results, which were published in a report last June, show that Papua New Guinea is losing forests at a much faster rate than previously believed. Over the 30-year study period 15 percent of Papua New Guinea’s tropical forests were cleared and 8.8 percent were degraded through logging.

“Our analysis does not support the theory that PNG’s forests have escaped the rapid changes recorded in other tropical regions,” write the authors. “We conclude that rapid and substantial forest change has occurred in Papua New Guinea.”

Deforestation and forest degradation in Papua New Guinea are primarily driven by logging, followed by clearing for subsistence agriculture. Since 2002 — a period not covered in the study — reports suggest that conversion of forest for industrial agriculture, especially oil palm plantations, has increased.

The study is based on comparisons between a land-cover map from 1972 and a land-cover map created from nationwide high-resolution satellite imagery recorded since 2002. The authors found that most deforestation occurred in commercially accessible forest, where forest loss range from 1.1 and 3.4 percent per year. Overall deforestation was 0.8 to 1.8 percent per year, higher than reported by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), but lower than neighboring islands including Borneo and Sumatra. Overall Papua New Guinea’s primary forest cover fell from 33.23 million hectares to 25.33 million hectares during the period. 2.92 million hectares of forest were degraded by logging.

Dr. Phil Shearman, director of the University of Papua New Guinea’s Remote Sensing Centre and lead author of the paper, says that without incentives to keep forest standing, Papua New Guinea will continue to lose its forests.

“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,” said Shearman, noting that nearly half of Papua New Guinea’s 8.7 million hectares of forest accessible to mechanized logging have been allocated to the commercial logging industry.

Still there may be hope for the country’s forests. Papua New Guinea has become a leader in the push by tropical nations to seek compensation from industrialized countries for conserving forests as a giant store of carbon. The mechanism — dubbed REDD for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation — could put billions of dollars annually towards conservation, sustainable development, and poverty alleviation.

“The government could make a significant contribution to global efforts to combat climate change,” said Shearman. “It is in its own interest to do so, as this nation is particularly susceptible to negative effects due to loss of the forest cover.”

U.N. studies have show that coastal communities in Papua New Guinea are particularly at risk from climate change.

Phil L. Shearman, Julian Ash, Brendan Mackey, Jane E. Bryan , and Barbara Lokes. Forest Conversion and Degradation in Papua New Guinea 1972–2002. Biotropica 10.1111/j.1744-7429.2009.00495.x

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