Glenn Barry: How to tame the logging beast

The enchanting cry of the bird of paradise, a refreshing swim in a cool swollen river, dozens of exotic and tasty foodstuffs cooked on a fire, and a kaleidoscope of brilliant and diverse culture - welcome to Papua New Guinea's (PNG) rainforests.

Deep in PNG's still abundant rainforests most local peoples continue to live traditional lives. While life may be lacking in material goods, it is full of leisure and tight family bonds, as bountiful rainforests provide dependable stores of groceries, hardware and medicine. Sadly, increasingly the whirr of chain saws can be heard, signalling an end to rainforests and their human habitats.

At last the idea of the developed world paying rainforest rich countries to protect their rainforests, in this case in exchange for carbon storage, is being seriously proposed by Papua New Guinea (PNG) and others at as this week's Montreal climate meetings. However, this grand "rainforest protection through carbon markets" vision is largely removed from the daily logging plunder occurring in PNG and the world's other remaining large rainforests.

Covering thirty-six million hectares, PNGÕs ancient rainforests are the largest intact tropical rainforest wilderness in the Asia Pacific region and the third largest on the planet. In addition to powering the global ecological system, PNG's forests are among the most complex and species-rich terrestrial ecosystems in the world, containing an estimated 5-7 per cent of the worldÕs total number of species. The human cultural diversity is just as impressive as over 700 distinct languages are spoken - one quarter of the world's total.

There exists a strong attachment to rainforest land in PNG, as some 97 per cent of the country is under clan based land tenure. Most PNG citizens continue to rely heavily on their forests for their subsistence and economic wellbeing. These forests are vital to the livelihoods of the mostly rural population - providing them with food, shelter, medicines and their spiritual identity. Sadly PNG is currently experiencing a massive logging boom, as a large commercial timber industry is carrying out highly unsustainable resource extraction.

Without reigning in the "timber-mafia" roaming PNG's countryside like robber barons, all the carbon market money in the world will not save PNG's precious ancient rainforests. The mostly Malaysian owned logging companies have their tentacles in virtually every orifice of government, and to some respect can be said to be running the country. Corruption, much of it derived from the timber industry, is epidemic and makes the country essentially ungovernable.

For a carbon market to have any chance of protecting PNG's rainforests, the logging mafia's timber export industry must be disbanded and replaced with small-scale, community based, environmentally sensible eco-forestry practices. Further, to tame the logging beast and provide a policy environment conducive to carbon markets, a Commission of Inquiry must be established with broad powers to investigate and prosecute the logging industry, and a timeline established to permanently end industrial log exports.

By all means, the climate and rainforest crises demand the world expand the carbon trading market to reward land conservation. Rainforests provide habitats not only to millions of indigenous peoples, but their ecosystem services such as carbon storage regulate the climate for all of humanity. But if large, ancient rainforests adequate to store appreciable amounts of carbon are to remain, logging of rainforests must first be brought under control.

Dr. Glen Barry is the President of Ecological Internet which provides exhaustive environmental portals including http://EcoEarth.Info/

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