Papau New Guinea rainforest crisis

Today, Cool Earth launches its new project in Papua New Guinea. It’s been three years in the making and means the Cool Earth model has been replicated on three continents, in all three of the rainforest biomes.

The lessons we’ve learnt in Peru and the DR Congo are making sure Papua New Guinea has the world’s most effective rainforest project.

Papua New Guinea is a country like no other. It couldn’t be more diverse. A thousand languages are spoken with many having fewer than 1000 native speakers. Over three quarters of the country is covered in the world’s third-largest rainforest, sheltering more undiscovered species than anywhere on earth.

But it is also poised on the brink of disaster.

The country is experiencing a land grab on a national scale. The government’s plans for agricultural development – mainly industrial logging and palm oil – has led to millions of acres of land to be leased to private companies. More often than not, this is without the knowledge, let alone the consent, of indigenous communities. Families who have relied on the forest for everything face a life in an urban slum.

Logging land to make way for Oil Palm takes a matter of days, but destroys an ecosystem that has taken nine million years to evolve. Cool Earth’s Yakolima project will halt this destruction.

Situated in Milne Bay province in Eastern Papua New Guinea, the project includes villages of Gadaisu, Godidi and Kaifouna, a total population of 310 people. These villages are situated on the west of the advancing palm frontier. If they halt the palm, they will save 120,000 acres of pristine forest.

Over a three year period we’re aiming to achieve zero deforestation within the partnership areas and to double community incomes. We will use exactly the same light touch, community led approach that has so far shielded five million acres of rainforest from the loggers. We already have five more villages asking to work with us.

5.2 million hectares of land in Paupa New Guinea has been handed over to loggers.

In 1996 the government Special Agricultural Business Leases. It allows land owned by communities to be leased, with their consent, to people or groups interested in carrying out agricultural projects, and was originally meant to help communities develop agricultural projects.

For a while, it was used only on a limited basis, for small scale projects.

But in the last ten years, there’s been an explosion in the number of SABLs issued, and in the amount of land leased in each one.

The government changed their forestry laws making it much easier for big foreign companies to get permission to clear big areas of forest for agricultural projects.

In reality, these projects are often a foil for large scale logging.

In 2014 there was a study of 36 agricultural projects involving 51 SABLs. Just four of these projects had the potential to produce crops, either because the soil was unsuitable, the developer was inexperienced, or there was no support from local landowners.

In many of these areas, the amount of logging far exceeded what was required for agricultural purposes, and in lots of cases there wasn’t any evidence of agricultural development happening at all. The companies had just taken the logs and left.

This has left local communities with land that’s completely degraded: they’re unable to grow food for themselves and their homes are at increased risk from landslides and coastal erosion.

Even in the projects that looked like they might be suitable for agricultural projects, a lot of landowners claim that they never agreed to the SABLs, and there are strong rumours of fraud and forgery. Most SABLs last for 99 years, meaning local peoples’ land rights are effectively destroyed.

These SABLs cover 12% of Papua New Guinea’s total land area. At least 5.2 million hectares have been handed over without the consent of landowners.

The study concluded that a “large-scale land grab” had occurred – all under the guise of sustainable agricultural development. It concluded that “greed and corruption at all levels… have tainted a noble landowner empowerment initiative”.

It’s no wonder that when we first meet with communities, their first question is often whether they will keep ownership of their land. These are people who have been exploited and harmed time and time again by governments, companies, and other NGOs.

It’s why we make it very clear at the start of any partnership that all our projects are designed, developed, and controlled by local people. They will always own the land, and can decide as a community how funds are invested.

At the start of each project in Papua New Guinea, we will fund a Department of Land survey. This marks the boundaries of customary lands using GPS and provides official ownership paperwork to the community that means SABLs can’t be issued.

We will also always assist communities if they are approached in the future, providing help with paperwork or legal issues.




130,525,463 TONNES OF CO2 STORED

      Cool Earth's Vivienne Westwood, Andreas Kronthaler and Pamela Anderson 

      Cool Earth's Vivienne Westwood, Andreas Kronthaler and Pamela Anderson