Nearly one quarter of Papua New Guinea’s rainforests were damaged or destroyed between 1972 and 2002, Mongabay.com reports.
Researchers, writing in the journal Biotopica, said the results – published in a report last June – show that Papua New Guinea is losing forests at a much faster rate than previously believed.
Over the 30-year study period, 15% of the nation’s tropical forests were cleared and a further 8.8% were degraded through logging.
“Our analysis does not support the theory that PNG’s forests have escaped the rapid changes recorded in other tropical regions,” the authors wrote.
“We conclude that rapid and substantial forest change has occurred in Papua New Guinea.”
Deforestation and forest degradation in Papua New Guinea are primarily driven by logging, followed by clearing for subsistence agriculture.
Since 2002 (a period not covered in the study), reports suggest that conversion of forest for industrial agriculture, especially oil palm plantations, has increased.
The study is based on comparisons between a land-cover map from 1972 and a land-cover map created from nationwide high-resolution satellite imagery recorded in 2002.
The authors found that most deforestation occurred in commercially accessible forest, where forest loss ranged from 1.1 to 3.4% each year.
Overall deforestation was 0.8 to 1.8% per year, higher than reported by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), but lower than the rate of deforestation on neighboring islands, including Borneo and Sumatra.
Papua New Guinea’s primary forest cover fell from 33.23 million hectares to 25.33 million hectares during the 30-year period.
In the same period, almost 93 million hectares of forest were degraded by logging.
Lead author Phil Shearman, director of the University of Papua New Guinea’s Remote Sensing Centre, said that without incentives to keep forest standing, Papua New Guinea would continue to lose its forests.
“Forests in Papua New Guinea are being logged repeatedly and wastefully with little regard for the environmental consequences and with at least the passive complicity of government authorities,” Dr Shearman said.
He noted that nearly half of the country’s 8.7 million hectares of forest accessible to mechanised logging have been allocated to the commercial logging industry.
But he added that there may be hope because Papua New Guinea had become a leader in the push by tropical nations to seek compensation from industrialised countries for conserving forests as a giant store of carbon.
The mechanism known as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) could potentially provide billions of dollars for conservation, sustainable development and poverty alleviation.
“The government could make a significant contribution to global efforts to combat climate change,” observed Dr Shearman.
“It is in its own interest to do so, as this nation is particularly susceptible to negative effects due to loss of the forest cover.”
UN studies have show that coastal communities in Papua New Guinea are particularly at risk from climate change.
Filed under: biodiversity, climate change, conservation, deforestation, illegal logging, research, tropical timber | Tagged: biotopica, commercial logging, conservation, deforestation, ecosystem, environment, habitat loss, logging, papua new guinea, phil shearman, rainforest, timber, trees, tropical timber, university of papua new guinea's remote sensing centre, woodland |