Blog | Jan. 16, 2018

With the support of People's Postcode Lottery, we can keep fighting to protect the 'lungs of the planet'

The island nation of Papua New Guinea (PNG) is home to breath-taking landscapes, extreme weather conditions, and an array of rare and diverse bird and plant species. It is also the location of one of the biggest remaining tropical rainforests on Earth.

Since 2014, Global Witness has been working to preserve and protect this mighty forest, which is so vital to the daily lives and cultural traditions of the people of PNG. Most local communities rely directly on the land for their livelihoods, their food and their shelter. The same ecosystems support hundreds of species, including tree kangaroos and birds of paradise, that live nowhere else on earth. 
The rainforests cover four times the size of Scotland (33 million ha, 127,400 square miles). One of their crucial services is their capacity to slow climate change by absorbing CO2 released from the burning of fossil fuels.
But this landscape is under threat. Despite PNG’s Constitution guaranteeing its people legal ownership over the land they have traditionally lived on and used, between 2002 and 2011 around 12% of the country’s landmass was leased to foreign-backed companies for large-scale agricultural development. This has resulted in land grabbing on a massive scale as logging companies clear vast areas of rainforest in the relentless pursuit of valuable timber and crops, including palm oil, that can be exported for huge profits.

In 2017, Global Witness released a report, Stained Trade, documenting how a third of the timber coming from PNG in recent years involved the clear-cutting of rainforests on land that communities say was stolen from them, in violation of their rights guaranteed under PNG law. Our investigation detailed the 9,000 mile journey of timber from PNG rainforests through China’s vast manufacturing sector to the shelves of US flooring sellers.

You can watch how timber makes its way from the rainforests of PNG to China, then on to the US here:

The lives of the communities living in – and alongside – the forest have been turned upside down and their environment ravaged. People have lost crop land and access to the forest, the wildlife it supports, and other vital resources.

Paul Pavol, an activist living in the village of Pomio who last year was presented with the Alexander Soros Foundation Award for Environmental and Human Rights Activism for his struggle to protect his community’s forests against a giant multinational logging company, describes this powerfully:

“Our land provided us food and water, protein, building materials, medicines, beauty, warmth, and everything else.”

Logging has wider consequences as well, robbing the planet of the resources the rainforests provide to absorb CO2 and help stop the race to an environmental Armageddon.

When Pavol’s community set up peaceful blockages in a bid to prevent their forests from being logged, they were harassed and physically assaulted by police on the payroll of the company.

You can hear him describe his struggle here: 

It is vital we continue to support Paul Pavol and other communities across PNG’s rainforest to protect their land from being illegally seized and cleared. At Global Witness, we will continue to work alongside and champion local people as the stewards and guardians of their land. We will also continue to push for change, exposing land grabbing and challenging both the PNG Government to uphold their own Constitution and the companies involved in the international timber trade to adopt more sustainable operating models.

From today we will be supported in this work by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, who have announced they have awarded Global Witness £250,000 to support its work in Papua New Guinea. This funding will allow us to do far more to document and share the story of life within ‘the lungs of the planet’ – the Papua New Guinean rainforest – with a new audience.

We will continue to share details on how the contribution from players of People’s Postcode Lottery is being used to bring a renewed vigour to our campaign to protect this forest and uphold the rights of the people who live in this magnificent area. Watch this space!

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