Logging hypocrisy: PNG hosts APEC forest protection talks
28 October 2015
AS Papua New Guinea prepares to host government ministers from across the Asia-Pacific for talks on the future of the region’s forests, logging companies are making millions liquidating PNG’s rainforests, often illegally.
Investigations by advocacy group Global Witness show that nearly one-third of PNG’s timber exports in 2014 came from logging under agriculture permits at the centre of a nationwide scandal over widespread land grabbing.
This year’s meeting of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forestry ministers began in Port Moresby yesterday to discuss how to preserve the region’s forests and combat illegal logging.
Host PNG is the world’s largest exporter of tropical logs, with an export value of $US365 million last year. PNG also suffers from one of the highest rates of illegal logging in the world and rampant government corruption.
Some 91% of PNG’s timber exports go to fellow APEC member China. Global Witness has called on both countries to lead by example and commit to taking steps to address the crisis in PNG’s forests.
“This year’s APEC meeting on forests is being held in an epicentre of illegal logging,” said Rick Jacobsen of Global Witness.
“For more than four years, the PNG government has stood by and watched while its people are stripped of their land and its rainforests wiped out under leases deemed illegal by its own investigation.
“Meanwhile, foreign-owned logging companies are making millions selling the timber to China. This inconvenient truth should be top of the agenda in Port Moresby this week.”
By 2014 nearly a third of PNG’s log exports came from highly controversial agriculture leases that have violated indigenous land rights and destroyed huge tracts of the world’s third largest rainforest.
A 2011 inquiry into the leases commissioned by the government found that nearly all those reviewed were issued in violation of PNG laws. Despite this, timber exports under the leases has increased dramatically since the inquiry was set up, now accounting for an estimated one of every 10 tropical logs imported by China.
From 2002 to 2011, the PNG government handed out over 50,000 square kilometres of land mostly belonging to local communities using a mechanism known as a Special Agriculture and Business Lease (SABL) intended to promote agricultural development.
After international outcry at their abuse, in 2011 the government set up a Commission of Inquiry to review their legality.
In 2014 the PNG government committed to cancelling illegal SABLs on the basis of the Inquiry’s findings but, more than two years after the inquiry, the government has failed to stop a single logging operation while log exports under SABLs have increased dramatically.
“The PNG government must stop all logging operations under SABLs until it has completed the review started by the Commission of Inquiry and cancelled all permits found to be issued illegally” said Jacobsen.
“To help its trading partner tackle illegal logging, China should require its importers to carefully check their supply chains to ensure they do not buy timber produced in violation of source country laws.”
PNG has the lowest human development indicators in Asia and was one of only three countries that didn’t meet any of its Millennium Development Goals, alongside North Korea and Zimbabwe.
Rural communities in PNG, which account for around 86% of the country’s population, depend on smallholder agriculture and natural products harvested from forests, rivers and the sea for their daily survival.
In August 2015, the SABL holders successfully challenged the Commission of Inquiry’s findings in court on the basis of a technicality – that the report was submitted late.
But the courts did not refute the substance of the Commission’s findings.
The same court decision also quashed the government’s decision to cancel the SABLs on the basis that significant investments had been made by the company.
A Global Witness analysis indicates that logging has significantly increased since the Inquiry published its findings, with more than 80% of logs going to China.
“When the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten and the last stream poisoned, you will realise that you cannot eat money.”
Except the impact of all that feasting on nature's bounty will strike back long before the last tree or the last fish is gone, as we are beginning to find out.
Posted by: Stephen Charteris | 13 July 2022 at 09:59 AM
Human beings, especially political ones, are illogical and stupid Lindsay. Take Australia's actions on climate change for instance:
"Australia’s farcical climate policy: market forces to cut emissions and subsidies to destroy carbon sinks by Richard Denniss
Our federal government pays some people to protect native forests, while state governments pay others to cut them down
The climate crisis often gets blamed on market failure, but government failure plays a pretty big role as well. Not only do Australian governments spend more than $11.6bn a year subsidising fossil fuels, at the same time the federal government spends billions paying some landholders to grow more trees, state governments perversely continue to subsidise the logging of native forests. I’m not sure that’s what people mean by the circular economy.
While successive governments have spent billions subsidising research into carbon capture and storage (CCS), the really inconvenient truth is the most effective CCS technology is the humble tree. It’s low cost, low risk and ready to roll. Trees quite literally suck carbon dioxide out of the air and store it safely in their trunks and their roots. And as if that’s not a cool invention, trees throw in water filtration and native species habitat “services” for free. If Elon Musk had invented the tree, he’d be a trillionaire by now.
But despite all the talk of doing everything we can to tackle the climate crisis, in reality our state governments are still spending our money to subsidise the logging of native forests. Last year alone Victorian taxpayers spent $18m propping up state-owned logging operations. Those subsidies are expected to balloon out to $192m in total by 2030. According to the publicly owned VicForest’s own business plan for 2015-16: “Timber harvesting operations in the East Gippsland Forest Management Area have not been profitable for VicForests for many years.” Tasmania and NSW forestry receive similarly eye-watering subsidies.
Most of the trees from native forests logging get turned into woodchips to make paper. But while there are lots of substitutes for native forest woodchips, there is no substitute for our remaining native forest habitats which are literally the only places on earth that countless species can live. And those same forests are the only places on earth that can filter and purify the water that runs into the dams that provide most of our drinking water.
The former and current federal governments have committed up to $4.5bn to encourage some farmers to “avoid deforestation” and “induce regeneration” of trees on their land. But while preventing further land clearing and encouraging better land management is a great idea, there is strong evidence that there’s a lot fewer new trees in the landscape than some farmers and the government are claiming."
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 13 July 2022 at 09:43 AM
Catch up! Sad, indescribably sad, logging is but one problem.
According to Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Programme, "Today one million species are at risk of extinction," she said. "And the unsustainable, illegal and unregulated use of species is a large part of the problem.
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 12 July 2022 at 09:25 PM
Coming to the Pacific Islands, not only PNG?
Despair is not disappearing. So many eyes look for round logs.
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 13 June 2022 at 09:44 AM