In a recent speech, Prime Minister James Marape referred to Papua New Guinea as one of the world’s most important oxygen factories.
It’s a great analogy. Rainforests don’t just look beautiful. They are a big part of how and why we’re all able to breathe.
A single tree that grows in a rainforest can produce 118 kilograms of oxygen per year while absorbing carbon dioxide, and thus helping to regulate the climate, and fight global warming. On top of that a rainforest helps to prevent droughts and desertification and is home to nearly three-quarters of the Earth’s plants and animals.
So why on Earth do we keep cutting them down?
Studies estimate that something in the region of seven hectares of forest disappears from our planet annually. Imagine an area about the size of Port Moresby, only covered in trees. And then imagine every single one being chopped down. That’s happening every single day.
It’s easy to see why. Populations are growing all over the world, which means that, so too is the need for more space. Clearing out forests provides land for homes, factories, food gardens, farms and roads– and, needless to say, it provides timber as well. Worldwide there is a huge demand for forestry products. It is a PGK 3 trillion+ per year trade.
So, there are plenty of short-term benefits to chopping down trees.
But what about the long-term? What sort of price will we pay?
For Papua New Guineans, this is a particularly important question, because so many of the world’s trees are growing in PNG. This country is home to the world’s third largest rainforest. What happens in PNG shapes the health of the planet.
As environmental challenges pick up pace globally, supporting Prime Minister Marape’s efforts to protect PNG’s rainforests is nothing short of an urgent global imperative.
And development organisations have a big role to play. Together with our partners in the community and the private sector, we can help the government implement better regulations, develop ecotourism and advise on resource planning. We can also take more responsibility for the environmental friendliness of our own operations, and make sure that any supply chains we draw on are not part of the problem.
But the best ways that partners can protect PNG’s rainforest is more than looking after trees – we must also look after people.
As an international community, we must support sustainable and equitable development for all PNG citizens. A healthy, wealthy PNG is a PNG with plenty of options. A PNG in which the demands of meeting every day needs are a great deal less pressing, and in which wealth can be attained in a wide range of ways.
In short, it’s a place where people don’t need to chop down trees in order to care for their children, families and communities. A PNG where people can afford to forego this source of short-term profit in order to sustain a resource that profits us all.
That’s the PNG that I want to live in. And it’s the PNG that the whole world needs.
*Stephanie Copus-Campbell is the Executive Director of the Oil Search Foundation