Damning forest study to hit PNG Date July 30, 2012 Hamish McDonald The Brisbane Times
A POLITICAL time bomb awaits Papua New Guinea's new government in a completed report into an alleged giveaway of the country's tropical forests and potentially $23 billion in carbon-trading rights to foreign interests. Immediately after he ousted predecessor Sir Michael Somare from the prime ministership last August, the present caretaker prime minister, Peter O'Neill, initiated a commission of inquiry into controversial forestry concessions granted over the previous decade when Sir Michael held power. The commission's report was completed in May, just before the recent elections, and will be tabled in the new Parliament. It is believed to include damning criticisms of the granting of a new form of lease over more than 5 million hectares of customary-owned forest.
Mr O'Neill is almost certain to lead the new government, but with Sir Michael and his party members as part of the governing coalition. A new report by Greenpeace Australia Pacific released today details how a new type of concession introduced by the Somare government in 2003 called Special Agricultural and Business Leases has speeded up deforestation of PNG. Since that time 72 such leases have been granted, in many cases to Malaysian and other foreign logging companies in alliance with dummy landowner companies or landowner co-operatives that have been hijacked by individuals. Advertisement PNG log exports grew by almost 20 per cent in 2011 due mainly to logging within these special leases, Greenpeace said in the report, titled Up for Grabs. The linking of palm oil plantations in the cleared land is increasing the felling rate.
In many cases, the loggers pay for forestry and other officials to carry out their duties of inspection for compliance. ''In one case, they even paid police to intimidate and brutalise landowner opposition to their land being stolen,'' Greenpeace said. Greenpeace has obtained expert analysis that the forests covered by the leases contain about 12 per cent of the nearly 7 billion tonnes of above-ground carbon stored in Papua New Guinea's forests. If the area was all deforested, almost three billion tonnes of carbon dioxide would be released into the atmosphere, equivalent to six times Australia's annual emissions. As well as selling forests and land for little return to government revenue or local landowner income, the Somare government gave away a potentially more lucrative source of income. ''Foreign-owned companies potentially hold the carbon rights to about 630 million tonnes of carbon in SABLs and could be the recipients of more than $US23 billion … if these rights were sold into international carbon-trading schemes,'' the report said.
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