Papua New Guinea is situated in the southwestern Pacific region and encompasses the eastern half of New Guinea. The country contains four large provincial islands and over 600 smaller islands, with a total land area of 462,840 km² , . PNG is located on the boundary between the northward moving Australian continental plate, and the northwest moving Pacific plate, making it one of the world’s tectonically active areas. The main islands are characterized by block-faulted, folded, and mountainous interiors. The highest peak is Mt. Wilhelm in the Simbu Province, which rises to 4,510 meters above sea level. The deltaic flood plains provide the largest areas of lowlands especially along the south coast, where freshwater swamplands are common . Papua New Guinea has a monsoonal climate characterized by high temperatures and humidity throughout the year .
The country is blessed with abundant natural resources including minerals, oil, gas and timber, and is renowned for its tuna, coffee, palm oil, cocoa, copra, rubber, tea and spices, all of which contribute significantly to its overall development . Additionally, PNG is recognised as one of the world’s cultural and mega biodiversity hotspots . The country is known to have more than 800 diverse cultures and unique languages and contains some of the world’s most spectacular beaches and coral reefs. Its inlands include active volcanoes, mountains, dense rainforest, and popular hiking routes such as the historical Kokoda Trail .
Papua New Guinea’s total population is estimated at 9.2 million, as of 2021 , and is young and growing . At the current population growth rate, the country will likely exceed 10 million people in 2022, which will consequently add more burden, load and pressure on the limited goods and services provided by the government to meet the population’s demands . By 2050, the population is projected to reach 14.2 million people .
Between 75-80% of PNG’s population is rural based. Due to a lack of services and limited employment opportunities in rural areas, people are migrating to urban areas, with many landing in squatter and peri-urban settlements. As a result, major cities such as Port Moresby, Lae, Rabaul, Mount Hagen and Goroka are experiencing increases in population size. Unplanned urbanization spurs associated challenges which need to be addressed by the government, such as lack of access to basic services including sanitation and water, unemployment, customary land tenure issues, waste management issues, habitat degradation, high cost of housing, and increased crime rates , .
With a 2019 UNDP’s Human Development Index value of 0.555, PNG is regarded as a medium human development , lower middle-income country , ranked 155 out of 189 countries and territories . Between 1990 and 2019, Papua New Guinea’s HDI value increased by 46.1%, with the country improving on a number of indicators including life expectancy at birth, mean years of schooling and expected years of schooling .
Despite being a resource-rich country, as of 2020, about 39% of PNG’s population is living below the poverty line of less than US$1.90 per day (Papua New Guinean Kina/ PGK7.00 [K7] per day). In terms of development trajectory, the country is still far from attaining upper-middle income status by 2030. In addition, wide equity gaps exist in the population, ranging from the very wealthy, to segments of population that are the most disadvantaged in the Asia and the Pacific region. For instance, average access to drinking water in the county is 45%, however, households in the bottom 40% wealth distribution segment have only 21% access to basic drinking water (as compared to 90% access in the best-off population segment) .
PNG’s economy is dominated by two broad sectors: the agricultural, forestry, and fishing sector that engages most of the country’s labor force (the majority informally)  and accounts for about 16% of the country’s exports (in 2020) ; and the minerals and energy extraction sector that accounts for the majority of export earnings and much of the country’s GDP . Mineral products (including oil, gas, liquid natural gas, gold, and copper) account for roughly 84% of all exports (in 2020) .
While the agriculture sector accounts for around only 13% of GDP, it supports more than 75% of the population, according to the country’s Voluntary National Review (2020). The country’s primary cash crops are coffee, palm oil, cocoa, copra, tea, rubber, and sugar. Employment levels in the agriculture sector as growing through the expansion in primary production, however, the sector is constrained by infrastructure problems causing relatively low labour productivity .
Much of PNG’s resource sector, which amounts to about 30% of the country’s GDP, is foreign owned, and a large share of the benefits flow offshore. Since 2010, economic growth has been supported by high levels of foreign direct investments, including a US$20 billion LNG project, which commenced its production in 2014. Unfortunately, the country’s economic growth has not been inclusive, nor has it translated into development outcomes or resulted in employment opportunities to match PNG’s growing population .
Between 2010 and 2014, the country’s economy experienced an average growth rate of 6%, driven by a boom in the mineral and petroleum sectors. Economic growth peaked in 2013 reaching a growth rate of 13.6%, before declining to 9.5% in 2015, and 4.1% in 2016. This downward trajectory was triggered by a sharp fall in global commodity prices in minerals and severe El Niño-induced drought, leading to the closure of the Ok Tedi Mine and affecting agriculture commodities especially in the Highlands Region . In February 2018, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake had devastating impacts on the mineral industry, causing damage to the production of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and mining activities in the highland areas . The economic recovery after the 2018 earthquake-led downturn was slow but steady . In 2020, as a result of COVID-19 pandemic-related restrictions and weaker demand, it is estimated that real GDP contracted by 3.8%. At the same time, unemployment increased, affecting the most vulnerable households, including women and youth .
Over the past decade, the adoption and use of Information Communication and Technology (ICT) in PNG has significantly improved. Communication coverage in the country increased from 4.7% in 2007 to 47% in 2015, following the entry of Digicel into the communications industry in 2006. Internet usage is also increasing, with an estimated 7.9% of the population currently online (in 2020). However, fixed broadband penetration is below 1% of the population and remains far beyond the affordability of average citizens and small businesses. Although, with the recent increase in government investment in the ICT infrastructure sector, these scenarios are changing for the better. For instance, the recent construction of a fibre-optic network linking provincial towns will lead to reduced cost of internet service and corresponding use of data will enable increased population numbers to use the internet .
PNG is one of the countries most at-risk to climate change and natural disasters, ranked 28th out of 191 countries in the 2019 INFORM Risk Index. PNG’s ranking is particularly driven by the country’s lack of coping capacity, for which it ranked as having the 11th lowest coping capacity in the world . PNG is prone to many natural disasters including cyclones, drought, earthquakes, floods, landslides, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions. It ranks among the top six countries with the highest percentage of the population exposed to earthquake hazards and has the highest percentage of the population exposed to severe volcanic risk. Additionally, heavy rains in the country often lead to landslides and cause damage to road infrastructure and livelihoods. These hazards are likely to be exacerbated by climate change .
For more than a decade, Bougainville and the national government were enmeshed in a civil war in which thousands of people lost their lives and livelihoods. In 2001, the Bougainville Peace Agreement was signed and one of its terms was to hold a non-binding referendum to determine the future of Bougainville, addressing a secessionist movement to break away from mainland PNG. The referendum was held in December 2019 and an overwhelming 98% of Bougainvilleans voted for independence .
Gender inequality is a major social, economic, and political issue and remains prevalent in both urban and rural communities. The stereotypical gendered roles in domestic duties along with poor access to health and education, employment and political representation, limits the opportunity of women to be effectively involved in decision-making. According to PNG’s Voluntary National Review (2020), 0% of parliamentary seats are held by women . Additionally, gender-based violence remains widespread across the country. The Demographic and Health Survey 2016-2018 revealed 59% of women in the country aged 15-49 have experienced either physical or sexual violence .
The 1975 Constitution of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea provides a legal basis for the just, equitable and inclusive development of the country . The Constitution declared its fourth goal to be ‘for Papua New Guinea's natural resources and environment to be conserved and used for the collective benefit of us all and be replenished for the benefit of future generations’ .
The Government of PNG (GoPNG) has developed strategic development policies, plans and strategies aligned with the Constitution, including Vision 2050, the PNG Development Strategic Plan (DSP) 2010- 2030, and the National Strategy for Responsible Sustainable Development (StaRS). Vision 2050 aims for PNG to be a happy, healthy, wealthy, wise and prosperous country by 2050 , and includes ‘Environmental Sustainability and Climate Change’ as one of its seven ‘Strategic Focus Areas’ .
In 2014, the GoPNG developed the National Strategy for Responsible Sustainable Development (StaRS) . The central theme of this new development roadmap is to shift the country’s socio- economic growth away from its unsustainable growth path, towards a sustainable, low or zero carbon-generating, inclusive economic growth path aimed at strengthening PNG’s strategic positioning and economic competitiveness in the world, while at the same time contributing to a high quality and better life for all Papua New Guineans now and in the future. It introduces three enabling dimensions for the country’s transition to inclusive green growth, which are (i) a national green growth plan to create enabling conditions; (ii) green growth mainstreaming mechanisms to ensure opportunities are explored through existing economic activities, and (iii) green growth policy instruments to tap specific opportunities within spatial and resource systems .
PNG is a signatory to several environment-related conventions, including the United Nations Convention on Environment and Development (Rio Summit), United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), among others. The country has also passed a number of critical legislations, including the Environment Act 2000, the Protected Areas Act 2014, and the Maritime Zones Act 2015, among others .
The Conservation and Environment Protection Authority (CEPA) was established under the Conservation and Environment Protection Act 2014 (CEPA Act) and takes over the role formerly undertaken by the Department of Environment and Conservation as PNG’s environmental regulator .
PNG’s National Strategy for Responsible Sustainable Development (StaRS) sets the foundation for a paradigm shift from an economy dominated by the non-renewable sector to a more diversified sustainable economy , fully aligned with the EU Green Deal which is aimed at transforming the EU into a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy .
PNG was one of the first countries in the world to submit its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), and recently (2020) submitted its second NDC to the UNFCCC, showing the country’s continued commitment to climate action. Through the NDC and PNG’s National REDD+ Strategy 2017 – 2027, the country has also shown its commitment to reducing forest degradation and deforestation, not only to reduce carbon emissions from the forest and land use sector but to also conserve the country’s unique levels of biodiversity . This is consistent with core EU policies including the Biodiversity Strategy 2030 and the Forest Strategy for 2030 .
To pursue the EU and PNG’s common goals, through the Multi-annual Indicative Programme 2021-2027, three interlinked priority areas have been highlighted for new EU-PNG cooperation: (i) the Forestry-Climate Change Biodiversity (FCCB) nexus; (ii) Water/Sanitation/Hygiene (WaSH) for human development, health and education; and (iii) Transparent and accountable Governance. These areas reflect key priorities of the EU’s global agenda and will support PNG’s sustainable, resilient and inclusive development and post-Covid-19 green recovery in line with the country’s Vision 2050 strategy, StaRS and the Medium-Term Development Plan III .
Papua New Guinea is among the top 20 countries most vulnerable in the world to the impacts of climate change  and is highly susceptible to natural disasters . PNG is prone to many natural disasters including cyclones, drought, floods and landslides, which are likely to intensify with climate change . Flood represents a major risk to PNG, and by 2030, economic damages and the population affected by river flooding are projected to double . Inland flooding affects over 22,000 people annually, displacing over 6,000 people and typically resulting in a few deaths. Additionally, it is estimated that annual damage amounts to over USD 8 million. Changes in climatic conditions – both through increased average precipitation and increased extreme rainfall events – will strongly affect the impact of inland floods .
Most parts of PNG are also highly vulnerable to sea level rise, with the majority of socio-economic activities and infrastructure development located in coastal areas or vulnerable areas along rivers or in highlands . The impacts of sea-level rise have already been documented in the country; the Carteret islands were among the first Pacific islands from which environmental refugees were documented, as a result of sea-level rise. Sea-level rise also threatens the integrity of PNG’s coastal resources and biodiversity. Notably, the mangrove forests found along New Guinea’s north coast have been identified as vulnerable to submergence and loss .
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