International Carbon Initiative Failing: The Case of Papua New Guinea


In the pacific region countries have joined forces to tackle land-clearing in an attempt to reduce regional emission levels. One of the latest carbon partnerships, agreed to in April this year, is between Papua New Guinea and Australia. The agreement has been criticised from its inception and with the release of a recent forest analysis report covering PNG, the potential usefulness of the program going forward is further questioned.
Papua New Guinea is losing 362, 400ha of rainforest every year, one of the highest rates of deforestation and the worst scale of land-clearing as a percentage of the country size (1.4per cent of its land area). Farming and logging are the main industries leading to this depletion, which without being curtailed will result in more than 80 percent of the entire rainforest disappearing within 13 years. A rate ‚Äòconsiderably faster’ than ever before predicted.

This new information brings into question the effectiveness of the $200 million international forest carbon initiative in the pacific region. A report released last week, ‚ÄòThe State of the Forests of Papua New Guinea,’ examines land clearing trends and brings further criticism surrounding the rationality and potential for success of the carbon program. The report’s senior author, PNG Remote Sensing Centre director Dr. Phil Shearman, considers

“The reality is that forests are being logged repeatedly and wastefully with little regard for the environmental consequences, and with at least the passive complicity of government authorities.”

The study concluded that PNG was a “long way from being able to meaningfully participate in the carbon economy” and questioned the underlying rationality of the program.

“It’s fair to wonder why the PNG Government should be compensated after encouraging the logging industry for so long in the past, or why it should get paid in the future to conserve forest that cannot be reached and would never have been logged anyway,” Dr Shearman said.

This latest case study brings about 2 important questions, how effective are forest protection mechanisms in industrializing countries and can donor countries have a beneficial impact on reducing deforestation rates? As concluded in the study and in the case of the PNG and Australian partnership, forest protection mechanisms have been shown to be meaningless, logging practices are creating irreversible effects and the international partnership a wasted effort to reduce carbon emissions through tackling logging to date.
Papua New Guinea holds one of the world’s most diverse rainforest areas and has been repeatedly exploited by governments and multinational companies as a result of its resource richness. Now that impetus is growing to address carbon emissions and to improve environmental protection there is momentum to change this cycle of exploitation. However, the case of PNG serves to highlight the immense barriers to addressing deforestation in developing countries, where business interests in resource extraction persuades action away from protectionism and creates great scope for corruption by government officials.
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4 responses

  1. Just a question – what was the agreement actually supposed to do? I mean, is this deforestation the RESULT of the agreement? Would it be even worse without the agreement in place? The forests are presumably being cleared illegally, right? So it may have nothing to do with an agreement at all, or is PNG just totally failing to enforce it? I feel like we’re missing some details here…

  2. Thanks David for your comments and I apologise for the lack of background information. Being on the other side of the world sometimes I forget that we have a different media scope – that these things aren’t so present in your press and I should have paid more attention to critical background details!! So here goes…I hope this clears things up…
    The Partnership, created last year and changed earlier this year with a revised agreement by the new Federal Government of Australia, establishes a system to monitor changes in forest cover and carbon levels. It is designed to provide revenue to PNG as it implements the program to reduce deforestation; making use of the international carbon markets from the Kyoto Protocol.
    It seems that the agreement hasn’t improved the current rate of deforestation and that things would go on about the same without the Partnership due to implementation difficulties and some underlying contradictions of the agreement. Some issues include the political will and ability to create and enforce change in PNG, but also on the part of Australia – who once initiated and promoted resource extraction, encouraged business interests in the region and now wants to change practices for the benefit of regional emission reductions.
    However I think there is scope to improve the situation, but some of the fundamental issues need to be addressed. Some very good policies exist but they are rarely implemented and corruption persists. And yes, you are right, the majority of logging (90% I believe) is illegal.
    Well I hope that helps a little…If you are interested keep on reading more…
    There is an excellent background piece by Crikey:
    Or you can check out the Australian government’s website:
    Or there are some press releases with short synopsis’s too

  3. Thanks! You know this makes me wonder – the problem seems to be more about education and lack of economic opportunity in PNG (or whatever developing nation) as it is with the “west” … These agreements are bound to fail if nothing is done to give people in PNG other opportunities, and worse, if they are enforced with an iron fist they lead to resentment and even more illegal logging.
    I don’t know anything about PNG, but there are (small scale at this point) programs in other countries teaching people to be stewards of the forest, rather than cut it down. At first it’s about tourism, but there are loads of ways create businesses out of more sustainable ways of harvesting… anyway, you get my drift. I guess it’s no news to me that massive government programs are full of holes. I’d love to hear about what might be going on on the small business level (if anything) in PNG to do something different!

  4. I think that it is amazing that the state of California can dry out it’s agricultural lands and ration the water used by it’s citizens because of a tiny fish, and the harming of this fish results in HEAVY penalties and even prison time, but illegal logging goes unpunished. I have read that illegal logging factions MAY be fined if this reason or that reason, but for the most part the transgression goes unfined. If i can be put in jail for smacking my dog with a newspaper, or for picking a California poppy, then i think terrestrial poachers should rot in prison, if for no other reason but to make an example of them. Doesn’t sound fair? tell that to the poachers convicted for killing endangered animals. Should we hold the importance of our forrests at any less of a standard? The natural world needs more than someone who speaks softly. it needs someone to carry a big stick.

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