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.

 

Illegal logging still a scourge for forests globally

Some people with very loud voices are trying to play down the importance of illegal logging.

There's really nothing to worry about...

There's really nothing to worry about...

Among these are the lobbyist Alan Oxley, who's on the payroll of big international timber companies; and the Tony Abbott government, which is trying to sink Australia's hard-won illegal logging legislation

But even a cursory look shows that illegal logging is still at appalling levels in many developing nations: 

- Nearly 90 percent of the timber extracted from the Democratic Republic of Congo is illegal, according to a report from the respected UK think-tank Chatham House, a recognized authority on the illegal logging issue.

- In the Peruvian Amazon, illegal logging has been described as a "crisis" in a recent scientific analysis led by Matt Finer and Clinton Jenkins.  They found evidence of major violations in 68 percent of the timber concessions they assessed.  The Peruvian government has already cancelled 30 percent of its concessions because of rampant illegal activities. 

- In Indonesia, the Anti Forest-Mafia Coalition, an alliance of local environmental groups, has decried the ease with which anti-illegal-logging rules are being circumvented.  Indonesia's timber-certification system is so loose, the group declared, that it is "nearly impossible" for companies to fail to be certified. 

These are merely a sampling of stories that have appeared in the last ten days. 

In reality, illegal logging imperils forests, promotes criminal activities, and steals market share from legitimate timber producers.  It also defrauds developing nations of around $15 billion annually in direly needed revenues, and its toll approaches $100 billion annually if its environmental impacts are included.

The bottom line: Don't let anyone tell you illegal logging isn't a massive problem, or that we shouldn't be working hard to combat it.