PNG’s forests are critical to the livelihoods and the economy of the country. The ecosystem services forests provide help to maintain access to water and suitable agricultural land for PNG’s predominantly rural population. Forests also help to protect key infrastructure, people and crops from flash flooding and landslides. They play a direct role in supporting the livelihoods of rural communities with more than 500 species of wild growing plants identified as being used for food and the value of annual bushmeat consumption estimated to be equivalent to $26million, if alternative meats had to be sourced .
These economic values sit alongside the deep social and cultural values attributed to forests across PNG. With over 90% of the land area under customary land ownership, PNG’s forests are at the center of the cultural identity of many communities .
According to the country’s Voluntary National Review (2020), PNG has 36 million hectares of land of which 77.8% is covered by forest. The country has one of the largest tropical forest covers said to contain 14 forest types, of which 13 types are natural vegetation and one is plantation. Additionally, 76% of the forests are left undisturbed while the remaining is said to be disturbed by human activities – 11.9% is due to large-scale logging, 7.9% by small-scale temporary gardening, 3% by forest fire, 0.7% by ‘others’, 0.2% by small-scale logging, and 0.1% by grazing .
Despite being one of the most extensively forested countries in the world, PNG’s forests have been in decline. According to the country’s Forest Reference Level, submitted to the UNFCCC in 2017, 261,528 ha of forest was cleared between 2000 and 2015, resulting in average emissions of over 5m tCO2e per annum. This deforestation was primarily driven by the conversion of forestland to cropland .
The remaining forest area has also been subject to significant degradation with 2,427,987 ha of forest degraded between 2000 and 2015. This level of degradation has resulted in average emissions of over 25m tCO2 e per annum and it is recognised that almost all disturbance has been caused by commercial logging. This trend will also likely continue as over 8.6m ha of forest is currently under concessions and a further 8.4m ha has been identified as potential concession area .
Between 2000 and 2015, deforestation was primarily driven by the conversion of forestland to cropland which accounted for 87% of deforestation. Of this shifting agriculture is responsible for 63% of the land deforested and commercial agricultural developments, primarily in the form of oil palm are responsible for 30% of the deforested land. Trends in the clearance of land for shifting agriculture are also closely linked to ongoing population growth and increases in population density. With PNG’s population rapidly increasing, deforestation is likely to continue and worsen over coming years. Over the same period, forest degradation was mainly caused by commercial logging (98.1%) .
Key policies and governance approach
Conservation of the environment is enshrined in PNG’s Constitution and captured in the fifth pillar of the government’s Vision 2050. The DSP 2010-2030 also highlights concerns of deforestation and the impacts of climate change, and promotes specific goals to support a sustainable environment and to contribute to global efforts to abate greenhouse gas emissions .
Papua New Guinea’s key policy and legislation on forest management includes the Forestry Act 1991 and the Forest Policy 1991 .The Forestry Act 1991 provides for the conservation, development, and management of the country’s forest resources. The Act also allocates forest rights and responsibilities through the required Forest Management Agreements between customary landowners and the government. Landholders sell cutting rights to the PNG Forest Authority in exchange for timber royalties. The Forest Authority may then grant the cutting rights to third parties within the private sector. The majority of PNG’s forests are held by communities and individual PNG clans, and there are still many large inaccessible areas of forests that fall outside of formal forest management .
More recently, the GoPNG developed the National REDD+ Strategy to support efforts to reduce levels of deforestation and help to maintain and protect the country’s natural forests. PNG is a leading proponent of REDD+ at the international level and has made considerable progress towards developing the capacity to engage in an international mechanism on REDD+ with support from development partners such as the United Nations, and the World Bank through the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility .
With this partnership, PNG’s National REDD+ Strategy was developed and endorsed in May 2017 to provide the framework to assist the country in mitigating its GHG emissions from deforestation and forest degradation . Additionally, the country’s enhanced NDC commits to a reduction in annual emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, due to agriculture expansion and commercial logging of 10,000 Gg CO2 eq compared to 2015 level .
In 2012, GoPNG also planned to ban round log export by 2020 to focus on downstream processing. New measures will be announced in line with the amendment of the Forestry (Amendment) Act 2019 .
SUCCESSES AND REMAINING CHALLENGES
In the forestry sector, unsustainable logging practices result in extreme environmental impacts. Poorly managed commercial logging is a major cause of degradation and deforestation, as is subsistence agriculture, with lesser causes being fires, plantations and mining. There is social awareness about problems associated with forest harvest and degradation, but systematic analysis has been limited, and governmental programs to address these issues are significantly underfunded .
As part of PNG’s development process, some forest clearing and degradation is essential. However, deforestation and degradation has not always occurred in the most efficient and effective way, with many development activities resulting in significant degradation of the wider environment and, in many cases, not delivering the economic benefits promised. These limitations have emerged from a lack of coordinated planning on how forest lands can be cleared and utilized; a lack of detailed legislation to conserve and sustainably manage forest resources; a failure to fully implement existing legislation; and the absence of effective support to rural development leaving landholders and communities seeking private investment as the only way to access the basic services and development opportunities .
Initiatives and Development Plans
GoPNG is undertaking an initiative to plant ten million trees in the next ten years . The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) also implemented the “Enabling Community Forestry Project” which is contributing to the National Forest Authority’s reforestation programme “Painim Graun, Plannim Diwai” .
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Papua New Guinea Forest Authority (PNGFA) facilitated the European Union (EU) funded National Forest Inventory (NFI) project, which concluded in 2019. The NFI project was PNG’s first multi-purpose project to gather information on the forest and land usage, upper plants, non-timber plant diversity, soil carbon and nutrients and biodiversity spices in the country. With co-financing from UN-REDD as a resource partner, the project was implemented by FAO and PNGFA since December 2014.
The PNG Forestry Authority conducted a comprehensive remote-sensing based assessment on national forest and land use for the first time under the NFI initiative and the information generated under the NFI project enabled the government to submit a REDD+ Forest Reference Level in 2017 and the first Biennial Update Report including REDD+ Technical Annex to UNFCCC in 2019. Through the project, the required capacity has been built and PNGFA officers have gained experience, thus the most difficult part of NFI has been completed and it is now a matter of continuation .
Goals and Ambitions
PNG will continue to implement its nationwide reforestation target of 4,200 hectares per annum .
- Strengthen and coordinate National Level Development and Land Use Planning.
- Update the Forest Policy to consolidate amendments and incorporation of legality standards.
- Strengthen capacity of the Papua New Guinea Forest Authority (PNGFA) to enforce legislation, through the review of resources and the development of management systems.
- Strengthen alternative approaches to timber production and processing through expansion of plantations and small-scale timber producers.
- Increase capacity of PNGFA and training and research institutions to raise awareness of and operationalise improved approaches to timber operations including legislation through support to universities, training colleges, government staff, communities, and timber operators.
- Development of a sustainable commercial agriculture sector.
- Strengthen food security and increase productivity of family agriculture.
 Government of Papua New Guinea, Climate Change and Development Authority (CCDA) (2017). Papua New Guinea National REDD+ Strategy 2017 – 2027.
 Department of National Planning and Monitoring (2020). PAPUA NEW GUINEA’S VOLUNTARY NATIONAL REVIEW 2020 Progress of Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.
 Conservation & Environment Protection Authority of Papua New Guinea (2019). Papua New Guinea National Biodiversity Strategic Action Plan 2019-2024.
 Forestry Legality Initiative (2013). [Online]. Available: https://forestlegality.org/risk-tool/country/papua-new-guinea#:~:text=Papua%20New%20Guinea's%20principal%20forestry,management%20of%20its%20forest%20resources.&text=PNG's%20Constitution%20provides%20that%20its,and%20repaired%20for%20the%20future.
 Climate Change and Development Authority (2020). Papua New Guinea’s Enhanced Nationally Determined Contribution 2020.
 Australian Government, Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (2021). [Online]. Available: https://www.aciar.gov.au/project/fst-2016-153.
 FAO in Papua New Guinea (2019). [Online]. Available: https://www.fao.org/papua-new-guinea/news/detail-events/en/c/1207887/.