Goroka, Papua New Guinea - The highlands of Papua New Guinea may be one of the most remote and far-flung places on the planet but even here the threat of climate change is moving people to call for action. Proof that climate change is an issue of global dimensions.
In the town of Goroka, the beating of kundu drums and singing greeted hundreds of people from across PNG’s highland areas to a conference hosted by the PNG Office of Climate Change and Environmental Sustainability (OCCES). It was a heated conference on the climate challenges and opportunities available through reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD).
The highlands region is already experiencing impacts from climate change such as increased flooding, droughts, crop disease and the spread of malaria to places normally too cold for mosquitoes.
The OCCES is trying to push ahead with legislation that will enable PNG to start using its forests for carbon trading. However, many people at the conference were deeply sceptical of the process.
Local landowners should be involved
In opening the conference, Eastern Highlands Governor Malcolm Kela-Smith said that it was only through involving local people that any legislation, policy or program would be successful.
“On the other hand, if you have a few elites and cronies designing and pushing personal interests down the throats of the people it is bound to cause ill feeling, suspicion, and chaos,” cautioned Kela-Smith. “At such levels it breeds corruption at all levels.”
Landowners said they still needed to be educated as to what climate change actually was, and insisted that any money from carbon trading go to them rather than disappear in corrupt deals between politicians and business.
“We have seen it in mining, we’ve seen it in forestry, we’ve seen it fisheries, we don’t want to see it again,” one local landowner said. “They lied to us in the 1960s, they lied to us in the 1970s but it’s the 21st century and we’re clever now.”
Keeping PNGs forests intact is the solution
With carbon financing mechanisms being established around the world, it is clear that the people of PNG stand to gain dramatically more by keeping their remaining forests intact, compared to the revenues the government and landowners currently receive from industrial logging.
Many landowners at the conference called on the PNG government to immediately ban logging in the country.
At the meeting’s conclusion Eastern Highlands Governor Kela-Smith asked pointed questions to OCCES Executive Director Dr Theo Yasause about private dealings between the OCCES and carbon dealers. The Governor’s concerns highlight that any carbon trading scheme needs to be transparent and involve local landowners.
Moratorium on logging needed
Greenpeace believes that if the PNG Government is serious about mitigating climate change, it must do more to protect its forests and immediately enforce a moratorium on the allocation of new logging concessions as a prerequisite to participate in a REDD mechanism. Greenpeace also believes that any carbon financing mechanism must respect landowner rights and that most of the benefits go to local communities.
The OCCES said that it would take the concerns raised by landowners, NGOs and development partners into consideration when developing policy and drafting legislation.
Greenpeace will be watching to ensure that they stick to their word.