BY JEREMY HANCE
SOME OF THE world’s most intact rainforest are being threatened by exploitative logging which is not benefitting the people of PNG but “ending up in the hands of foreign corporations and political elites”.
This month 26 experts met in Cairns and issued a statement calling on the PNG government to stop granting Special Agricultural and Business Leases.
According to the group, these leases, or SABLs as they are known, circumvent PNG’s strong community land rights laws and imperil some of the world's most intact rainforests. Over 5 million hectares of forests have been leased under SABLs.
"PNG is among the most biologically and culturally diverse nations on Earth. Its remarkable diversity of cultural groups rely intimately on their traditional lands and forests in order to meet their needs for farming plots, forest goods, wild game, traditional and religious sites, and many other goods and services," reads the statement, dubbed the Cairns Declaration.
Daniel Ase, executive director of the Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights said the leases represented "massive land grabbing basically for large scale industrial logging" adding that "most of these areas are located in areas of high biodiversity in the country."
The SABLs undercut indigenous communities by handing land over to largely foreign and multinational big corporations for leases that last 99 years, severing indigenous people from their land for generations. Local communities have often not consented to the deals and in some cases weren't even notified.
"Virtually all of Papua New Guinea is owned by one communal group or another,” explained William Laurance, a leading conservation biologist. “At least in theory these groups have to approve any development on their land. This is one of the key reasons for the SABLs—it’s a way for the government to carve off large chunks of land for major logging and other developments, and to greatly diminish the role of local communities."
According to Laurance, the revenue made from these deals is not aiding poverty alleviation efforts, instead the profits are "mostly ending up in the hands of foreign corporations and political elites in PNG."
Unlike Southeast Asia, PNG had long been thought to have avoided massive deforestation, thereby retaining one of the last great rainforests outside of the Congo and the Amazon. However, a 2009 study found that from 1972-2002, nearly a quarter of the country's forests were lost or degraded by logging.
The Cairns Declaration urges the PNG government to place a moratorium on granting new SABLs and handing out approvals to clear forests. An independent review should then be conducted on the legality of the leases.
Laurance says people can "write to Papua New Guinea's National Executive Council (firstname.lastname@example.org), which includes the Prime Minister and his Cabinet, and express your serious concerns about the rampant increase in SABLs and their social and environmental costs. You could also send a brief letter to the editor of the Post-Courier Newspaper (email@example.com)," adding that "these things unquestionably help."
Source: www.mongabay.com. With a million visitors a month, Mongabay.com is one of the world's most popular environmental science and conservation news sites