WEWAK – REDD is an abbreviation that all of us in Papua New Guinea need to know. It stands for Reduction of Emission from Deforestation and Degradation.
That is, the reduction of climate harmful emissions that increase as a result of the deforestation and degradation of forests and other elements in the biosphere.
But there’s a story here that’s even closer to PNG – the story of REDD and APEC and how PNG may miss out on its share of the US$11 billion Green Climate Fund.
This will happen if we do not take ownership of REDD and make it the centre-piece of the agenda for APEC in Port Moresby come November.
REDD is a story that needs to be told. It is a good story and it’s a story of something positive coming out of Papua New Guinea.
In 2012 then deputy prime minister and minister for forests, Belden Namah, announced through the National Executive Council the approval of the April-Salume REDD+ Project located in the remote Hunstein range soaring above the the mighty Sepik River.
The idea of REDD+ originated here in Wewak and it was an idea that captured the imagination of the world with its promise of a cash strapped third world country lifting its people from poverty, disease and ignorance while at the same time contributing to the great issue of our generation – taking action on climate change to keep our planet safe.
It all started in Wewak in 1994 when Malaysian timber barons, having exhausted the timber resources of Sabah and Sarawak, started looking at PNG as the next target for industrial scale logging operations.
With over 37 million hectares of forest, PNG has the third largest pristine forest cover in the world, with only the Congo and the Amazon having larger forest cover.
In 1994, a Singaporean forestry hit man, Justine Ong, arrived in Wewak with a war chest of US$5million courtesy of the Malaysian timber conglomerate Invest Malaysia. His mission: to secure the 600,000 hectare April-Salome forest management area for a logging operation.
On 4 July 1994, the company Hunstein Range Holdings Ltd (HRHL) was incorporated, funded through Justin Ong, to represent the interests of some 129 incorporated land groups, comprising customary landowning units, such as clan groups.
HRHL was to later enter into a forest management agreement with the PNG government for a 50 year lease over the April Salume project area. For the purpose of efficient landowner representation, HRHL created four landowner companies that represented the major language groups within the forest management agreement area.
On 20 December 1996, another forest management area was declared over Hunstein Range, making it available for industrial commercial logging. Soon after, approval to begin logging operations was given not to Invest Malaysia but to a competitor company, Taiwanese, Roads Timber Ltd.
Also in 1996, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) arrived on the scene at the April-Salume project area and effectively campaigned against logging there, successfully securing the support of then environment minister to have April-Salome declared a wild life protection and management area.
In a brief to the PNG government in 2013, chairman of Hunstein Range Holdings, Januarius Sami, provided the following background to the project:
“Having being denied economic opportunity through logging in the April- Salome Project Area, HRHL became aware of the efforts of a young Sepik born and raised American associate professor at Columbia University, Mr Kevin Conrad, who had proposed to the government of Sir Michael Somare who had come back to power in 2002 an alternative to Industrial Logging”.
The story is told that Kevin Conrad was walking with Somare on the beautiful white Windjammer beach one afternoon in Wewak in 2003 looking for ideas for an executive MBA thesis for Columbia.
He asked Somare why he had allowed increased logging activity upon resuming office as prime minister. Somare told Conrad that if he could think of a way to get the world to pay the timber resource owners in PNG not to log their forests he would immediately ban industrial logging.
The idea got Conrad thinking and became the subject of his MBA thesis which proposed a cutting edge solution in the fight to lower the temperature of our planet by one degree by getting industrialised nations to pay people and countries like PNG with vast forest cover not to log their pristine forests.
The Kevin Conrad story and his contribution to REDD can be read here in full in this article published by the Pulitzer Centre on Crisis Reporting in Washington DC
From the REDD perspective Hunstein Range Holdings were controversial from the start - when the ‘carbon cowboys’ first entered the scene in 2008.
April Salume is a PNG REDD+ pilot project that has withstood the tests of time. But it still aims to answer the fundamental question of whether forest resource owners in PNG can be monetised by industrialised countries including China to preserve our pristine forest?
With PNG hosting APEC this year, PNG leaders must take up the challenge to put the REDD question to the world’s great economies and to elicit a response directly from them of whether or not carbon credits from the April-Salume and similar PNG projects such as Komulo-Doso and Mt Giliwe will be purchased for the good of the planet.