PORT MORESBY - Papua New Guinea’s tropical rainforests have enormous importance locally and internationally, but are under threat from a variety of sources including commercial logging.
The government has committed to drastically reduce the rate of commercial logging.
It has also committed to increase ‘downstream processing’ to increase financial returns by ending the export of unprocessed round logs by 2025.
However a new research paper by Act Now shows there are serious misgivings about whether this target will be achieved.
The paper, Maximising Value, looks at the history of previous government commitments to end log exports and analyses whether current government policies are likely to be successful.
The paper finds that previous government commitments to end log exports were not honoured.
In fact, the volume of log exports has increased.
The paper also finds the government’s claim that no new log export licenses have been given to foreign-owned logging companies since 2020 is not factual.
An examination of official log export data shows there have been at least 18 new log export operations started by foreign-owned companies in the last two years.
The data also shows that the number of new operations is increasing, not declining.
Seven new operations started in 2020 and 11 in 2021.
Four new operations made their first log exports as recently as December 2021.
The government has also declared that to reduce log export volumes no new timber permits or permit extensions will be issued.
The other 29% of exports were authorised under a forest clearance authority, timber license or timber authority.
This reveals that not issuing new timber permits or extensions will not be sufficient to end round log exports.
There will also need to be a parallel prohibition on new forest clearance authorities, timber licenses and timber authorities.
The paper also finds that some timber permits will not expire until long after 2025, offering another loophole for exporters.
Of the 16 timber permits for which data is available, none are due to expire before 2025.
The longest will not expire until 2053.
This means none of these timber export operations will be affected by the prohibition on new permits and permit extensions.
Maximising Value also highlights the lack of transparency around large-scale forest management in PNG and the lack of publicly available data.
It says that these weaknesses undermine effective policy debate about and community oversight of round log exports.
This is despite the general freedom of information declarations in the Constitution and the specific requirement in the Forest Act that the PNGFA to maintain a Public Register of critical information relating to the commercial use of forests. No such register exists and there is no information on current logging operations that is publicly available from the PNGFA.
The Paper concludes that while current government prohibitions, if implemented, have the potential to substantially reduce log export volumes by 2025, they will not deliver the government’s stated objective of a complete end to unprocessed log exports.
There is also a worrying amount of evidence that the PNG Forest Authority is not implementing government directives and new log export operations are still being licensed.
This means there is unlikely to be any serious reduction in log export volumes by 2025 as promised.