PNG forests key to fighting climate change and advancing development

Mar 20, 2015

Port Moresby - Effective forest management strategies are crucial in fighting climate change and advancing Papua New Guinea’s development, say UN experts ahead of the International Day of Forests, March 21.

Forests play a pivotal role in combating the adverse effects of climate change, and are central to sustainable development. While acting like buffer to global warming by storing huge amounts of greenhouse gases (GHG), they also provide unique forms of biodiversity and ecosystem services, and offer livelihoods and employment to over a billion people worldwide.

Papua New Guinea has one of the most significant largely intact tropical forests in the world. The Papua New Guinea Forest Authority (PNGFA) estimates that approximately 80% of the total of the country is covered by natural forests, of which some 60% intact forest. Just over half of this (52%) is considered production forest, while the other half (48%) are for conservation.  The forests of PNG are ranked among the world’s 10 most ecologically distinctive forest regions, and is a home to an estimated 5-7% of the world’s species, with the majority of these found nowhere else. 

PNG’s forests are also vital to the livelihoods of more than 4.5 million of rural population - providing them with food, building materials, shelter and medicines.

Yet, despite these ecological, economic and social benefits deforestation and forest degradation is a serious problem in Papua New Guinea. Some 14% of PNG’s primary rainforests were degraded in the last 40 years due to commercial logging.

To address the issue, the United Nations in Papua New Guinea work with the Government to improve the governance of the forest sector and conserve forests for the benefit of people and the future. 

One of the UN’s programs - the UN-REDD Programme - has been working with the Government to develop  strategies for climate related sustainable forestry. The program initiated the review of relevant legislation to ensure that social and environmental rights of the people, in particular the forest communities and local landowners, are fully respected with any intervention happening.

Specific tools that ensure the full understanding and participation of the various stakeholders participating in REDD+ have been developed, and is prepared to be taken into national policies.

Together with the PNGFA, the UN-REDD program also initiated the development of the National Forest Inventory, which allowed for the first time to record and assess the extent and nature of PNG’s forests. Using this inventory it is now possible to monitor the change of the forests and assess PNG’s contribution to addressing global climate change, as well as inform planning interventions in the future. 

The program also supported the launch of new web-portal, which allows to monitor forest-change information, such as logging, mining concessions and forest coverage in a near real time mode. The web-portal is now being piloted, and will eventually form a national platform providing transparent forestry-related information.

The UN also supported PNG’s first Protected Areas Policy recently endorsed by the National Executive Council through its Community-based Forest and Coastal Conservation and Resource Management project. The new policy offers sustainable financing scheme for communities committed to conserve globally and nationally significant forest, marine and coastal areas.

In New Britain Island, this project works with local communities in updating and implementing management plans of existing and new protected areas, helping them to find alternative sources of livelihoods such as sustainable harvesting of non-timber products, supporting agroforestry initiatives, development of eco-tourism opportunities, among others. This work empowers rural families to make decisions on their land in a sustainable manner. The project now covers at least 200,000 hectares and aims to extend up to 1 million hectares in New Britain Island and Owen Stanley Range by 2018.

These projects are implemented through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and are part of UNDP’s wider work to address the challenges of climate change.

"To build a sustainable, climate-resilient future, we must invest in our forests. That will take political commitment, smart policies and good programme implementation, effective law enforcement and innovative partnerships. UN in Papua New Guinea is working with the Government to promote sustainable forestry practices at all levels. Taking care of the forest is part of traditional community practice, rooted in many communities in Papua New Guinea, and we must recognize and utilize this traditional wisdom to protect forests”, says Roy Trivedy, UN Resident Coordinator/UNDP Resident Representative.

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