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Pact prioritizes forests and biodiversity conservation in Papua New Guinea

Aligning nature, needs and local knowledge
A Guria or Victoria Crowned Pigeon. (Used under Creative Commons license.) Flickr/Taro Taylor

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Protecting the habitat of the largest butterfly in the world – the endangered Queen Alexandra’s birdwing – is a number one priority for Gary Juffa.

A long-time environmentalist, he is governor of Oro Province in Papua New Guinea. For more than 20 years, he has been fighting illegal logging and unsustainable agriculture which encroaches into the rainforest of the 360,000-hectare Managalas Plateau.

The country’s largest conservation area, it features not only the birdwing — which spans almost a foot with its wings outspread — but other endemic species such as the bird of paradise, the green tree python and the Victoria crowned pigeon.

Juffa, who has been governor since 2012, represents 22,000 traditional landowners, members of 153 clans that have safeguarded the region for 40,000 years.

Now, supported at the national level by Prime Minister James Marape and Minister for Environment, Conservation and Climate Change Wera Mori, he has spearheaded a landmark memorandum of agreement between Papua New Guinea and the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF), under the Resilient Landscapes program.

Signed on site at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, it aims to secure forest wealth, recognizing it is key to Papua New Guinea’s economic prosperity and to the country’s efforts to contribute to tackling climate change at the global level.

“The Managalas Plateau can be a shining example of how development and conservation can go hand in hand,” Juffa said. “We will align nature, the needs and knowledge of our local communities and the creativity of the green economy for the outcomes we all want.”

The agreement was made in the same week as a pact made by more than 130 countries to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by the end of the decade, which Marape referred to in his remarks on the memorandum as one among several international agreements that are not legally binding, but morally binding.

“We seek to reconcile the interconnected challenges of biodiversity loss, deforestation and climate change,” Marape said.  “We remain cognizant of our collective responsibility to contribute to environmental adaptation and mitigation, and our collective efforts to the NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions) to keep temperatures under 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

NDCs are a key part of the U.N. Paris Agreement strategy to prevent post-industrial average temperatures from rising to 1.5 degrees Celsius or higher. Each country is required to provide data on greenhouse gas emissions and reductions targets it aims to meet post-2020.

Oro Province is under increasing pressure to modernize and to become more highly developed, Juffa said.

“Landowners feel that the only option available to them, are their forests — they feel that there is no other option but to liquidate these forests — and that’s what they have been doing,” he said. “They feel that that’s the only way to go, or the only way to move in that direction.”

That is where CIFOR-ICRAF can help support a transformation from liquidating natural resources, to protecting them as an asset, not just for Papua New Guinea, but for the world.

“We are Indigenous people, but I want to propose that all of us are Indigenous — we’re indigenous to Earth — to the only planet with life on it,” Juffa added. “And those of us who have the great fortune to live connected to our natural environment, our forests, oceans, rivers – we want to assist our fellow Indigenous people — we need all the help we can get, so we can avert what is about to happen.”

The Resilient Landscapes program in Oro Province features six main deliverables or work streams designed around policies, strategies, private sector engagement, remuneration for forest resources, underdeveloped commodity and service value chains, land and habitat degradation, and data fragmentation.

It will involve looking at parcels of land from a landscape mosaic approach – where a core forest area features village dwellings, farm areas, degraded land, and other land use. “It’s about thinking how we steward and manage that landscape together,” said Tony Simons, executive director of Resilient Landscapes and CIFOR-ICRAF.

Australia and the United States have offered 60 Ph.D. scholarships to enumerate and build the huge volume of scientific evidence required, he said, adding that monitoring, reporting and evaluation will be central to the program, Simons said.

“For 105 million years, Papua New Guinea has had 75 percent forest cover – they’ve maintained that and, unfortunately, our world doesn’t reward people who maintain and protect forests.”

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