More than half trees in Papua New Guinea could be lost by 2021, according to a new satellite study of the region. The University of Papua New Guinea and the Australian National University conducted the stady that found that deforestation is much more widespread than was previously thought, even in so-called conservation areas. Papua New Guinea (PNG) has the world’s third largest tropical forest, but it was being cleared or degraded at a rate of 362,000 hectares (895,000 acres) a year in 2001, the report said. The destruction will drive global warming, because tropical forests are an important store of carbon.
“The unfortunate reality is that 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.” Phil Shearman, lead author of the study
The researchers compared satellite images taken over three decades from the early 1970s. In 1972, the country had 38m hectares (94m acres), of rainforest covering 82% of the country. About 15% of that was cleared by 2002.
PNG was a founder of the Rainforest Coalition, a group of tropical nations that say rich countries should pay them to protect their forests as a way of tackling climate change. But the new study suggests many of the vulnerable trees could be removed by the time such an agreement is in place.
Belden Namah, PNG forests minister, said the government was already taking steps to review its logging policies: “There’s a need for rapid action to replace trees that have been cut. And I believe for every tree that has been cut, we should plant three more new trees. That is one major policy I am looking at.” The country earns US$176m (£89m) from commercial logging each year.
The report said deforestation was occurring at the same rate in protected and unprotected areas and justified a significant reduction in logging in Papua New Guinea. Any new forestry programmes should involve small and medium-scale, locally-owned and managed operations where commercial activities are more likely to be environmentally sustainable, it said.
What are the impacts of deforestation?
- Loss of biodiversity
Species lose their habitat, or can no longer subsist in the small fragments of forests that are left. Populations dwindle, and eventually some can become extinct. Because of the high degree of endemism, or presence of species that are only found within a specific geographical range, even localized deforestation can result in loss of species.
- Habitat degradation
New roads that provide access to settlers and loggers into the Forests of New Guinea can cause widespread fragmentation of rainforests. These fragmented landscapes cannot support wildlife the same way intact habitats do, the microclimate may be affected, and the area may be more vulnerable to droughts and fires.
- Modified climate
Reduced forest means less carbon dioxide (CO2) is absorbed by trees, which accumulates in the atmosphere as a result of pollution. At the same time, there may be an increased presence of CO2 if trees are being burnt.
- Loss of water cycling
Deforestation reduces the critical water cycling services provided by trees. When rainfall reduction is added to the natural variability that characterizes rainfall in the region, the resulting droughts may have major environmental impacts. (Source:WWF)
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