ALERT's campaign to defend Papua New Guinea's rainforests

Today, ALERT is launching a press release to highlight a serious peril to the rainforests and indigenous peoples of Papua New Guinea

Not happy about land-grabs  (photo by William Laurance)

Not happy about land-grabs (photo by William Laurance)

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a South Pacific nation with one of the world's largest surviving tracts of tropical forest.  And it is among the most culturally diverse regions on Earth, with more than 800 distinctive tribes, each with their own unique language.

But in recent decades the forests of PNG have come under assault from predatory logging, land-clearing, and mining.

Some of the worst offenses are known as 'Special Agricultural and Business Leases' (SABLs).  SABLs span a vast expanse of PNG -- more than 5 million hectares -- over 11% of its entire land area.

The SABLs are notorious not only for their serious environmental impacts, but also because they are seen as corporate land-grabs that are robbing indigenous groups from their traditional land rights. 

Most of these leases are for 99 years in duration -- an eternity for an indigenous group that relies on its forest and traditional lands for survival.

The PNG government initially set up the SABLs as a way to encourage large-scale development, such as oil palm plantations.  But many of the SABLs have been snapped up by foreign logging corporations that are using them to dodge PNG's forestry laws -- to log the rainforests illegally.

In response, there has been an outcry in PNG, especially from indigenous groups.  This eventually forced the government to launch a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the SABLs.

The Commission found so many problems, abuses, and outright illegalities that it recommended the government cancel or phase out most of the SABLs.

But the PNG government has so far failed to do so -- at least for the biggest and most damaging SABLs.  Why?  There is a distinctive whiff of something not right here.

ALERT's press release, on the eve of the World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia next month, underscores a critical peril to one of the world's most biologically and culturally diverse regions.


Papua New Guinea's growing forest scandal

Top investigative journalist Jemima Garrett continues to ferret out scandals surrounding the notorious "Special Agricultural and Business Leases" in Papua New Guinea.

Cut and run... (photo by William Laurance)

Cut and run... (photo by William Laurance)

In brief, around 5 million hectares--some 11% of PNG's land area--has been given over to long-term industrial leases, typically for 99 years in duration.  Ostensibly the leases are intended to promote long-term agricultural development, but in fact most been snapped up by foreign timber companies more interested in cutting and running than anything else. 

Many of the quick-buck timber companies are from Asia but, in her latest story, Jemima shows the seedy side of an Australian company that's right up to its neck in the growing land and timber scandal.

The SABLs are now the focus of a major Commission of Inquiry.  The outcome of this inquiry could have big implications not just for the environment, but also for the many tribal groups that have deep links to their traditional lands in PNG.