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Big timber buyer China is ignoring destruction of PNG forests

There goes our forest (Global Witness)
China says it's a friend of PNG, but does it respect culture, livelihood and biosphere by destroying forests? (Global Witness)

NEWS DESK | Global Witness

LONDON – Anti-corruption NGO Global Witness has today released research revealing how many logging operations in Papua New Guinea appear to be breaking the law and selling illegal timber overseas.

This destruction of irreplaceable ancient rainforest is driving climate change and damaging the livelihoods of indigenous communities.

A significant majority of timber from PNG is shipped to China - representing 29% of China’s tropical log imports in 2016.

Yet China has no regulation to keep illegal timber from entering its borders.

The risk of illegal timber flooding China’s markets can damage its reputation and major trade relationships as many countries which ban illegal timber imports take action to stop the trade.

On paper, the legal system in PNG guarantees that Papua New Guineans have control over their forests.

In reality, however, the PNG government is responsible for a catastrophic failure to uphold these laws and the forest sector has been plagued for decades by allegations of corruption and law breaking.

In its new report, ‘A Major Liability’, Global Witness uses satellite imagery to show hundreds of apparent violations of PNG’s Forestry Act in major logging operations which hold government permits and which continue to export timber.

Seventy percent of PNG is covered by forest ecosystems that are home to some of the world’s rarest plants and animals. Almost all of PNG’s eight million people rely directly on the land for their sustenance, livelihoods and culture.

But this forest and the lives it supports are under threat. The deforestation rate in PNG has been unusually high in recent years – in the past five years, 640,000 hectares of forest have been lost.

“Our normal way of life in using natural resources cautiously and sustainably has gone,” said Augustine Mondu, chairman of the Turubu Ecoforestry Forum. “Our customary ownership rights are disrespected and our traditional way of life is being completely damaged.”

Policy analyst at Global Witness, Lela Stanley, said: “Illegal logging in PNG is not only an environmental and social catastrophe, but it also poses a serious risk for the country buying most of that timber - China.

“Given our findings on illegal logging in PNG, buyers should assume that all timber coming from the country’s natural forests is at high risk of having been produced illegally.

“By failing to mandate proper checks on where its timber comes from, while selling to sensitive markets like the United States and European Union, China leaves itself open to reputational and commercial risk.

“Our investigation clearly shows that holding an official permit is not enough to guarantee the legality of timber coming from PNG operations,” Ms Stanley said.

“China now has a responsibility to act on this and mandate careful checks on the timber its companies source. This will not only help safeguard the livelihoods of PNG’s people, but also protect China’s own trade interests.”

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