Friday, 11 January 2008

Papua New Guinea - 'eco hero' to 'eco zero'.

Papua New Guinea - 'eco hero' to 'eco zero'

By Charles Clover, Environment Editor
Last Updated: 6:01pm GMT 08/01/2008

Papua New Guinea has been accused of going from "eco hero" at Bali to "eco zero" by allowing the felling of a large area of rainforest on a remote island for a palm oil plantation.

The accusation came as satellite images showed that 12 per cent of the forest in part of Papua New Guinea, known as one of the world's wildlife hotspots, was felled between 1989 and 2000.
Satellite images from 1989 (left) and 2000 with the lighter areas showing the increasein deforestation on New Britain, Papua New Guinea.

The felling of forest on the island of New Britain badly affected 21 bird species, including 16 found nowhere else in the world such as the slaty-mantled sparrowhawk, New Britain bronzewing and black honey-buzzard, according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Papua New Guinea won applause from delegates of more than 180 countries at the climate talks in Bali when its Harvard-educated delegate, Kevin Conrad, told the United States: "If you are not willing to lead, then get out of the way."

Mr Conrad was a leading advocate of the agreement to negotiate a global treaty on avoiding rainforest destruction which was agreed in Bali.

However, Dr Derek Wall, the Green party's principal speaker, condemned the Papua New Guinea government for its decision to log practically most of Woodlark island, part of the Trobriand chain, to support the oil palm biofuel industry.

A Malaysian company, Vitroplant, has been granted permits by the PNG government to begin clearing 70 per cent of the rainforests on biodiversity rich Woodlark Island, some 150,000 acres, in order to establish an oil palm plantation.

Dr Wall said: "In my view the Papuan government have gone from green heroes to eco zeros.
"One of the major causes of climate change is rainforest destruction and Papua New Guinea is under assault from corporations who want to clear cut its forests. This corporate onslaught is aided by a government that just a few weeks ago we all thought was green."

Meanwhile, the satellite images of damage in New Britain, published in the journal Biological Conservation, prompted conservationists to call for urgent action to protect what remains of rainforest there.

Graeme Buchanan of the RSPB, the paper's lead author, said: "The area is unique and should be better protected and managed. "We think the rate of deforestation is accelerating and is already higher than the average for South-East Asia.

"The demand for timber and palm oil is likely to be driving this destruction and if nothing is done soon, some of New Britain's endemic species could disappear for good.

"Logging in the last 20 years has already left at least 10 birds close to extinction and if the rate of deforestation continues, all forest below 200m will be gone by 2060."

Six species, including the Bismarck kingfisher and green-fronted hanging-parrot, had lost or were predicted to lose more than one fifth of their habitat. The scientists concluded that numbers of these two species had probably dropped by more than 30 per cent.

Another 23 birds had lost over 10 per cent of habitat including the yellowish imperial-pigeon, whose population may have fallen by nearly a third.

The study claims to be the first to use satellite imagery to assess the threats facing individual bird species and conservationists say the technique could be invaluable in surveying other parts of the region where access is poor or an area too vast to cover on the ground.

Dr Stuart Butchart, a co-author from BirdLife International, said: "After wiping out the lowland forests of Malaysia and Indonesia, companies are now moving eastwards, to New Guinea and Melanesia, where they now threaten a whole new suite of species".

The Papua New Guinea High Commission in London declined to comment.