PNG contains the world’s third largest tracts of intact primary rainforests, almost all of which is customary clan owned land. While PNG’s Prime Minister Somare has been at the forefront of international efforts to establish carbon payments for rainforest protection, the rhetoric has made little impact upon the state of this great nation’s rainforests. One company – Rimbunan Hijau of Malaysia –controls the government and most of the timber industry (18 logging operations in all). It is well known that RH helped Mr. Somare get elected, and is now getting rewarded. Some say RH owns PNG’s government. And as Mr. Somare ages, his despotic instincts are flaring with major provincial resource allocation in Madang and elsewhere against the wishes of local peoples. One can only wonder who bought the new national private jet, whose maiden voyage is next week to Copenhagen.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the Ramu valley of Madang Province, where a massive new illegal logging operation of some 158,000 hectares has been in operation for just over a year. The Ramu River on the North Coast of PNG is a mighty river flowing between mountains and lowland hilly rainforests – in its middle area lies a sparsely occupied “Big Bush” that is now being illegally destroyed. Just behind the current Ramu Block 1 logging are at least 3 more timber areas containing several hundred thousand hectares of additional rainforests that RH is gearing up with massive infrastructure to harvest. Opposition to the logging is nearly unanimous, with the exception of obviously bribed individuals, although landowners are not well-informed regarding what is occurring.
Ramu logging area landowners have not provided prior and informed consent – indeed, many say they marked their name on the project papers after being told “This is Grand Chief Somare’s forest and he wants it to be logged by RH.” The list of landowners’ grievances in their petition is long and troubling including failure by Rimbunan Hijau of Malaysia to build roads, health centers and bridges as per the Project Agreement. Here “selective” sustainable forest management means selecting all the marketable large trees and quickly and haphazardly logging them. Logging starts at sunrise and often goes to midnight using spotlights, huge amounts of timber are being wasted, logging is many times faster than should be occurring, and the Ramu township was built in a place of RH’s choosing against contract provisions. Eleven huge full freighter shipments of ancient timbers have already been sent out.
Local landowners are furious and pursuing multiple measures to stop the logging. Ramu and adjacent landowners have been petitioning for months to have Rimbunan Hijau of Malaysia’s timber operations, expansion and trucking on their tribal lands stopped. When they have raised these issues with the company, they are told “get out of here, who are you?”, and police are sent from town to beat them. Landowners never asked for or wanted this logging – it came from Port Moresby, almost certainly after RH payments to Somare’s political party. Landowners intend to throw RH off their land and pursue REDD funding and ecotourism options – anything to keep a road to bring their crops to market. But first they need Michael Somare to understand that good REDD means ending all industrial primary forest logging -- even that occurring by political donors.
This past week a Supreme Court lawsuit initially lodged by landowner groups successfully argued that the national government was in error in giving the forest management area to RH, when another company had been selected. This ruling includes an injunction which should stop logging until this matter is fully resolved. Yet shockingly, RH logging operations reportedly are continuing in contempt of this court order. RH is the target of additional litigation nationally that would shut down all its operations as illegal.
Local people are in the process of taking legal action under their Forest Management Area contract, the Forest Authority, to withdraw from the contract. Should landowner concerns and favorable court rulings continue to be overridden from Mr. Somare in Port Moresby, the landowners will be taking additional legal actions enforced by traditional practices used to end a mortal wrong upon their land. There exists great resolve that RH will under no circumstances be allowed to clear Madang of its rainforest heritage.
Now is the time to ask that Mr. Somare ensure court orders are upheld against illegal logging, and to end the industrial logging of primary rainforests as part of any Copenhagen REDD deal. Those in PNG seeking to cash in prematurely on not yet established forest carbon payments have raised great hope and expectation, some of it unwarranted, and have been given the name “Carbon Cowboys”. Ecological Internet continues to work for "Good REDD" because we agree in principle with the idea of rich nations paying landowners and governments to maintain old forests. Yet this if a far cry from what we now witness. The "Grand Chief Carbon Cowboy" is setting off in marvelous luxury (as his country's people suffer extreme depredation) -- seeking cargo to protect rainforests he does not own, yet continues to be paid to have logged.
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"Sustainable Forest Management", Papua New Guinea Style: Soon to be subsidized by UN carbon markets?
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