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PNG’s population: a bigger threat than climate change

Radio Australia | Asia Pacific

AUSTRALIA'S PEAK SCIENTIFIC BODY says Papua New Guinea's growing population is more of an immediate threat to the region's sustainability than climate change.

James Butler, leader of CSIRO's environment and development team, who released the report, says the window of opportunity for aid spending on the problem is "pretty small."

"We've probably got about 10, 15, 20 years to really get it right," Mr Butler told.

Papua New Guinea's last census in 2011 by the World Bank found that the country had just over seven million people, an increase of 1.8 million from 2000.

Mr Butler says when population growth is combined with climate change, natural resources, particularly around the coast, will come under extreme pressure.

"There's no question over the centuries, people in Oceania have coped with all sorts of tsunamis and volcanoes and earthquakes and so-on and are actually very adaptable in some ways," Mr Butler said.

"But the problem is if you increase population pressure on top of that, it makes basic services like electricity and water and so-on much harder to provide."

Mr Butler says there can be great variation in people's vulnerability across a very short distance.

"The approach we're trying to introduce is a much more fine-grained analysis of the places that are most vulnerable.

"In West New Britain, we're discovering that there are one or two places which are extremely vulnerable and in general these tend to be the highly populated coastal regions or small islands just off shore.

"These places need to have very specific strategies designed for them based on those very specific impacts that we're projecting."

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Tanya Zeriga-Alone

That report would make sense if PNG is like Australia, where almost everyone has access to water and electricity provided for by the government.

With over 75% of PNGeans still leaving in rural areas while maintaining a livelihood from the land - having bigger families increases the adaptive capacity of those families to impacts of climate change.

Smaller families trying to survive in this rural economy will struggle because they have to put in more effort to achieve an outcome similar to the family with many children.

This sounds counter intuitive and but unless you have any experience being part of a rural community, you will see what I am saying.

The bigger the family, the more people who can diversify their efforts in supporting the family especially in terms of looking for food as well as any other assistance.

Having more people in the family is advantageous when it comes to family projects like building house and canoes to withstand the impacts of climate change.

More people means the family can easily defend their land and even resources from others since these resources are becoming scarce.

The chances of a family member getting a job in town is also increased in big families and the other family members benefit from cash remittance.

For rural communities, being able to adapt to climate change seems to be with families with bigger numbers.

I would like to critique that report, could PNG ATTITUDE make the full article available please. I have had no luck finding it on line.

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