in Papua New Guinea

Can REDD save Papua New Guinea’s forests?

Can REDD save the forests of Papua New Guinea?Earlier this week, Greenpeace activists blockaded a Chinese logging ship, the Fu Tian, that was exporting timber from Papua New Guinea. The ship was docked near the village of West Pomio, where villagers are protesting the operations of Malaysian logging company Rimbunan Hijau and its subsidiary, Gilford Limited.

“The Fu Tian should be departing for China soon and we’re trying to slow that down. We still claim that this is unlawful logging,” Paul Winn of Greenpeace Australia told Eoin Blackwell of Australian Associated Press.

Predictably enough, Rimbunan Hijau denies that it is doing anything illegal. In a statement, Axel Wilhelm, Corporate Policy Manager at Rimbunan Hijau said that,

“The palm oil project is supported by by the majority of landowners in the area, based on a Special Agricultural Business Lease (SABL) in place under which all correct procedures were followed.”

Paul Palosualrea, one of the landowners protesting in Pomio disagrees,

“Our land has been stolen and our forests are being destroyed and no one asked our permission. These SABL leases must be stopped or my people will lose our livelihoods for 99 years and our forests forever.”

Two weeks ago, Rimbunan Hijau paid to fly police to Pomio to stop the protests. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that police chiefs are “investigating allegations of brutality by officers flown into the site”. The villagers took their case to the commission of inquiry. The police then made violent raids on the villages. “What they did is they bashed up the people in the village, young men and elderly men,” Paul Pavol, one of the villagers told ABC News.

Since 2003, the PNG Government has handed over more than five million hectares of land as SABLs. Half that area was given away in the past two years. A Commission of Inquiry is currently carrying out an investigation into SABLs which appear to be little more than a way of clearcutting an area covering more than 10% of the country.

Two years after it started handing out SABLs, PNG launched REDD at the the UN climate negotiations in Montreal. But how can a government that is supposed to be reducing deforestation simultaneously be hell-bent on increasing it?

The answer to that question is revealed in one of the documents produced for UN-REDD. The latest version of the PNG UN-REDD National Programme Document (pdf file, 3.7 MB), dated 28 March 2011, has three paragraphs on agriculture leases:

Agriculture leases aim to convert forest land into agricultural land for cash crops at large scale to foster regional economic development. They are granted to agricultural development companies under a lease-lease back scheme issued by the Department of Lands and Physical Planning (DLPP) as a prerequisite for approval by the Department of Agriculture and Livestock (DAL). Under this scheme, customary land is leased to GoPNG for a period of up to 99 years. In a second step, it is then leased back to registered landowner companies or private companies, and frequently includes primary forest areas that have not yet been logged and will have to be clear-felled before agricultural development can happen.

As of August 2010, applications amounting to a total of 2.7-2.9 million hectares (~9-10 percent) of potential forest area have been submitted under these agricultural leases also known as ‘agro-forestry’ projects approved by DLPP. Of this area, 0.8 million hectares have received a Forest Clearance Authority (FCA) by PNGFA. This area is therefore approved for clear felling for conversion into agricultural land. While the exact share of forest area of the total FCAs is uncertain, agriculture leases will therefore be significant contributor to deforestation of primary forest over the coming years.

The majority of leases (55 percent) have been granted for oil palm development. Following the oil palm projects, the next most common leases are cocoa, rubber and coffee, and large ruminant livestock. Approx. 15 percent are related to combined reforestation and agriculture projects. There is some concern, however, that some of the approved projects do not currently contribute to agriculture development as expected. GoPNG is therefore reviewing the clearance of primary forest for large-scale agricultural development in order to ensure more sustainable agriculture and economic development in those areas.

The report notes a “high risk of leases being abused for timber extraction”. The report also provides a possible explanation for the PNG government’s enthusiasm for issuing agriculture leases in the past two years:

Business as Usual growth path is carbon-intensive. GHG emissions continue to increase, by up to 40 percent by 2030 under the BAU scenario. The majority of this increase would come from increased deforestation from large-scale agriculture leases, subsistence and smallholder agriculture (mostly as a result of population growth).

This demonstration of the way REDD can create perverse incentives to increase deforestation could explain why the PNG government has handed out so many SABLs in the past two years. The higher the rate of deforestation now (and threatened deforestation in the near future), the more REDD money will flow if deforestation is avoided in the future. Meanwhile, the loggers can continue to profit from logging while they wait for a REDD mechanism that will compensate them if they have to stop the destruction.

Can REDD save the forests of Papua New Guinea? Not very likely. A report published by CIFOR this year concludes that,

Despite Papua New Guinea’s prominent role as a lead proponent of REDD+ in international climate change negotiations, domestic progress toward creating an enabling environment for REDD+ has been slow. The country faces a number of governance challenges that have eluded easy solutions in the past. Realising the potential for REDD+ is likely to become mired in these same challenges, despite professed political will and apparent leadership of Papua New Guinea on the international REDD+ stage. Whilst a number of donors are providing support for REDD+ readiness, many of these initiatives have faced significant obstacles and delays. In short, capacity and resource constraints within government agencies, a lack of interagency coordination, corruption and political interference, limited commitment to stakeholder engagement, MRV capacity constraints and the persistent inability to tackle the drivers of deforestation suggest that effective, efficient and equitable REDD+ in Papua New Guinea may be a long way off.


UPDATE – 27 October 2011: Greenpeace’s partner in PNG, ACT NOW, is collecting signatures for a petition calling for an end to the land grab in PNG. Sign on here!

PHOTO Credit: Paul Hilton / Greenpeace.

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  1. As a Papua New Guinean,It is very clear that RH is bullying 98% of the local people raping their forest and flew Malum Nalu a prominent PNG journalist/blogger. In PNG Malum is well admired with his well balanced reporting.But this time with RH who flew MN in Pomio-ENBP,and being paid by the arrogant Malaysian logging company, Malum has become one of the RH family member because he love the money so much that he just lost they integrity.See here:
    On October 25 2011
    Activists warned after spray-painting logging vessel
    By MALUM NALU in Pomio

    GREENPEACE activists in Pomio, East New Britain, have been told to leave the area or face arrest.
This follows a near confrontation between landowner groups on Sunday.
The activists spray-painted a logging ship yesterday.

    Pomio district administrator Tomaleu Langisan yesterday wrote to the captain of the Greenpeace vessel Esperanza, which is berthed near Palmalmal, to immediately leave the area.
“This letter serves to officially inform you that you did not show your approved customs entry to Pomio therefore as the government on the ground we want you to leave this place as soon as you receive this letter,” Langisan said.

    “Secondly you came on shore to spray paint the log ship without authorisation breaching the law, therefore, I, as the administrator, direct that you move out of the port as soon as possible.
“If you continue I will send the police to arrest any person who disobeys.”

    Langisan told The National in Palmalmal yesterday that Greenpeace activists, who had with them journalists from the Post-Courier, Australian Broadcasting Corporation and National Broadcasting Corporation, were causing unease in Pomio since arriving on Sunday.

    He said Greenpeace had come with the purpose of inciting a protest on Sunday.
On Sunday, he and police went out on a dinghy to the Esperanza but left after two hours when no one wanted to talk to them.
A Greenpeace helicopter continued to fly around Pomio resulting in a near confrontation between two groups of people
“I don’t think Greenpeace is here to solve anything, they are only hear to create more problems,” Langisan said.

    “They have been flying around in the helicopter and creating more problems and uneasiness among the landowners.
“If we didn’t intervene on Sunday, there could have been a nasty confrontation.
“I was also advised by assistant commissioner of police Anthon Billie in Kokopo that such a protest is illegal.”

    Langisan said the majority of the landowners supported the Sigite-mukus integrated rural development project that combined logging and oil palm plantation.

    “Some 95% of the people want the project to go ahead,” he said
“This is not a logging project, this is an integrated agriculture project.”

    Langisan had a brief meeting with landowners in Palmalmal yesterday afternoon.
    Come on Malum you have destroyed yourself.

  2. it’s about time we stood up for our basic human right.

  3. Who gives a shit on what RH says? They are known for their Bullshit claims anyway. When will RH ever learn and stop all its bullshit whatsoever? Their time is up and they should packup and leave.

  4. @G’man,
    Beijing [and London] seems to care what RH says, or at least what the RH group’s [knighted] boss conveys given that he seems keen to promote his Chinese nationalist credentials – see final few paragraphs of

    There is presumably no link between the advertisement and RH’s deals (via Singapore..) including those with China and West Papua in the petroleum exploitation sector – which are introduced in

  5. SABL is just another brand name of logging. The majority of the land owners and the people of PNG would not allow logging their forest so the people behind the scenes have just come up with the idea of so called SABL to rape the forset and leave a burren land without any agricultural development. Why cant SABL be implemented on unforested land if the PNG government really wants to bring economic development and services to the people. We are at the forefront of the REDD+ campaign and yet giving away all our forest. We might realise that we dont have enough forest to implement the REDD+ programme that we are strongly campaigning for.

    PNG government is just crazzy.

  6. I wouldn’t call the legitimate govt of the day, the sovereign govt of PNG crazy! what alternative development have you lot got for the people of West Pomio?

    PNG can not be counted on by the developed world to save the forests so that the Earth could be saved?

    It is our turn to develop ourselves. It was their turn then.

    In other words, they messed up the Earth and so they are calling on us to clean up their acts?

    They forgot one of the rules of development, nothing is for free.

    Lawrence Anton
    Port Moresby

  7. @Lawrence Anton – You say you’re in Port Moresby, but your IP address puts you in Brisbane. That’s not strictly relevant to your comments, but it’s interesting nevertheless.

    I’m not sure how closely you’ve been following the REDD discussions, but the idea is that countries like PNG get paid for not cutting down the forests. The idea was introduced at to the UNFCCC climate meeting in Montreal in 2005, by Michael Somare, then-Prime Minister of PNG.

  8. Chris Lang, referring to your comment of 22 November 2011, on REDD I’d like to tell you that it is a blunted lie, and a dream that will never be realised. I’ve got news for you, that the likes of you are never to come and try dictate to PNGeans on our own soil. Also for your info, the SABL deals are govt backed projects and are not to be stopped but assisted. One issue that you lot always try to avoid discussing with the minority LO group that are againt the project is the lease-lease-back arrnagement. Coupled with the fact that the CoI is to investigate and make sure all requirements to run the project were followed, and not to stop the project, you must have time to tell this minority group thst the arrangements are that we LOs hold on to the leases for 99 years, and not any damn developer. Please start getting your facts right, and tell the people some truth for a change.

    Lawrence Anton
    Port Moresby

  9. @lawrence anton – Could you please re-read the post above? It mentions the lease-lease back agreement. It mentions the Commission of Inquiry. Your version of who gets the 99 year land leases (which are also mentioned in the post above) differs from the explanation that UN-REDD gives. Here’s the relevant passage, from the UN-REDD National Programme Document:

    “Agriculture leases aim to convert forest land into agricultural land for cash crops at large scale to foster regional economic development. They are granted to agricultural development companies under a lease-lease back scheme issued by the Department of Lands and Physical Planning (DLPP) as a prerequisite for approval by the Department of Agriculture and Livestock (DAL). Under this scheme, customary land is leased to GoPNG for a period of up to 99 years. In a second step, it is then leased back to registered landowner companies or private companies, and frequently includes primary forest areas that have not yet been logged and will have to be clear-felled before agricultural development can happen.”