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Podcast: ‘Carbon cowboys’ and illegal logging

A tree Kangaroo at the Melbourne zoo. Tree kangaroos live in lowland and mountainous rainforests in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and the far north of Queensland, Australia. They have adapted to life in the trees, with shorter legs and stronger forelimbs for climbing, giving them somewhat of the appearance of a cross between a kangaroo and a lemur. Many tree kangaroo species are incredibly rare and most are decreasing in number.

  • Papua New Guinea has been the world’s largest tropical timber exporter since 2014. More than 70% of the timber produced in the country is considered illegal.
  • Despite two government inquiries finding the majority of land leases on which logging occurs to be illegal, these land leases still remain in force today.
  • While carbon trading has been touted as a solution, activists, journalists and even a provincial governor have expressed concerns over its economic benefits and the continued loss of customary land rights.
  • For this episode of Mongabay Explores we interview Gary Juffa, governor of Oro province in Papua New Guinea, and investigative journalist, Rachel Donald.

The second episode in the New Guinea series of Mongabay Explores covers the struggles faced by Indigenous communities in Papua New Guinea to protect their customary land rights, and one governor’s perspective on how to change that conversation.

Listen here:

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is one of two nations that make up the island of New Guinea. Sitting on the eastern half of the island, it has a population of roughly nine million people who speak a combined 850 different languages, each representing a different tribe. This makes it the most linguistically diverse country on the planet.

Less well known is that PNG is home to more than 1,000 different tribes, some of them not widely acknowledged until the mid-1990s. Unlike Indonesia, which occupies the western half of New Guinea, PNG grants its Indigenous and original inhabitants customary land rights. That means locals have primary ownership over the vast majority – 97% – of land in the country.

Greenpeace activists paint ‘Forest Destruction’,’ Climate Crime’ and ‘Moratorium Now’ on barges of illegally felled trees. The logs wait on Paia Port waterways – prevented from being loaded onto the ‘Harbour Gemini’ ship in the rainforests of the ‘Turama extension’ logging concession, Gulf Province. Photo by Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert for Greenpeace.

At least, that’s the case on paper. In reality, PNG struggles to protect these customary land rights since extractive industries, such as logging, have taken possession of customary land through legal loopholes, resulting in a loss of 11% of the country’s forest cover over the past 26 years.

Featured on Mongabay Explores this week is Sarawak Report investigative journalist – and Mongabay contributing writer – Rachel Donald, and the governor of PNG’s Oro province, Gary Juffa, who join the podcast to discuss illegal logging and deforestation in PNG, and how it’s perpetuated by political corruption, fraudulent land leases, and ultimately violence.

Solutions to illegal logging have been pushed for decades by activists to no avail. Despite a historic acknowledgment at the COP26 climate summit last November on the urgency to “halt and reverse” forest loss by 2030, concrete actions to carry out this declaration remain elusive. That’s especially the case in PNG.

One much-discussed method is carbon trading, in which corporations pay to keep forests standing in exchange for being allowed to continue emitting. It has been met with some enthusiasm but also strong concerns about the rights of the original inhabitants whose forests are at stake, and who often receive little benefit from these carbon schemes.

Loggers from Turama Forest Industries cut down a tree with a chainsaw in the ‘Turama extension’ logging concession, Gulf Province. These forests are being felled by Turama Forest Industries – a group company of Malaysian logging giant Rimbunan Hijau. Photo by Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert for Greenpeace.

Sounds heard during the intro and outro include the following: rusty mouse-warbler, growling riflebird, raggiana/lesser bird of paradise, superb fruit-dove, long-billed honeyeater, little shrike-thrush, brown cuckoo-dove, black-capped lory. Special thanks to Tim Boucher and Bruce Beehler for identifying them.

Soundscape credit: recorded in the Adelbert Mountains in Papua New Guinea by the communities of Musiamunat, Yavera, and Iwarame in partnership with The Nature Conservancy and Zuzana Burivalova/Sound Forest Lab.

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Mongabay Explores is an ongoing episodic podcast series about the world’s unique places and species. Each season dives into new areas of amazing natural heritage to environmental challenges and conservation solutions. This season, it’s exploring the great conservation and cultural richness of New Guinea. If you missed Episode 1, you can hear it here:

If you enjoy Mongabay’s podcasts, we ask that you please consider becoming a monthly sponsor via our Patreon page, at patreon.com/mongabay. Just a dollar or more per month helps us offset production costs and hosting fees, and can help us create special series like Mongabay Explores.

Subscribe to all of Mongabay’s podcasts for free via our Apple Channel or subscribe to Mongabay Explores on SpotifyAppleGoogle, or wherever you get podcasts. Listen to all of the Mongabay Explores podcast episodes via the Mongabay website here.

Banner Image: A tree Kangaroo at the Melbourne zoo. Tree kangaroos live in lowland and mountainous rainforests in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and the far north of Queensland, Australia. Photo Credit: Tom Jefferson, Greenpeace.

Mike DiGirolamo is Mongabay’s audience engagement associate. Find him on Twitter @MikeDiGirolamo, Instagram or TikTok via @midigirolamo.

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