A moratorium on new Forest Clearance Authorities, recently announced by the PNG Forest Authority, has been welcomed by community advocacy organization ACT NOW, but the group says the measure does not go far enough.
ACT NOW is pleased the National Forest Board has recognized that the FCA system is being widely abused and has ordered a halt on the issuing of new Authorities and an audit of all existing FCA projects.
FCAs are supposed to be used to allow the clearance of small discrete areas of forest so they can be planted with agricultural crops or for a road to be built, but instead, the PNG Forest Authority has been issuing FCA permits that cover tens of thousands of hectares of forest and which are used by logging companies for large-scale export logging operations.
This is evidenced, says ACT NOW by the fact that 25% of total log exports in 2021 were sourced from FCA permit areas.
But there are also widespread abuses associated with other logging permit types, particularly the Timber Right Purchase, that also demand a moratorium and review.
In September 2022, ACT NOW issued a public call on the new Forest Minister to urgently address rampant illegal and unsustainable logging by issuing a moratorium on both new FCA projects and on the extension or renewal of any permits issued under Timber Rights Purchase Agreements. ACT NOW also called for an independent review of all existing logging projects to assess their legality and impacts.
As well as calling for the extension of the moratorium to cover all new timber permits and licences, ACT NOW says that it is important that any audit of existing FCAs is conducted independently and transparently and with full community participation.
It is the PNGFA that has developed and approved the existing FCA permits that are characterized by widespread procedural abuse and lack of community consent. It will clearly be nonsense for the same forestry officers to now audit the permits they issued to assess their
ACT NOW says the PNGFA must publish the terms of reference for the project audit and should seek donor assistance to engage credible independent experts to conduct the reviews.
ACT NOW is also concerned that a National Court Order issued in June 2021 calling for a halt to all logging in TRP areas has been ignored by the Forest Authority and that logging is continuing unabated in those areas. According to research conducted by ACT NOW the TRP areas covered by the court order are still producing over 40% of PNG’s total log exports.
ACT NOW says while the moratorium on new FCAs is an important step the Forest Authority and Board must go much further and stop issuing any new logging permits or permit extensions until all logging projects have been independently reviewed to assess their legality and human rights and environmental impacts.
ACT NOW is also calling on the PNG Forest Authority to publicly explain how it is intending to meet the government commitment to end all-round log exports by 2025.