Why action against climate change is so important and How partners are helping the people of Papua New Guinea?

February 26, 2019

The impacts of climate change will only grow. Among those first affected are the communities of Papua New Guinea. Despite the sceptics and critics, much is being done to respond. Led by Government, partners like the UNDP are doing their bit to support these efforts.

A man in East New Britain says to his son, ‘the wet seasons do not come when they should and the sun feels hotter than when I was your age.’ They stand overlooking their vegetable garden. The boy simply wonders what they future holds for him.

This is what climate change looks like for a growing number of communities across Papua New Guinea. While its effects are being felt, they have not suddenly started. We have known for decades that the climate has been changing. We now also know that these impacts will worsen and that much must be done to stop them let alone reverse them.

It seems that there is no where left on the planet where the effects of a changing climate are not being felt. Unfortunately, these affects are hitting developing countries harder than most.

Across the Pacific, a changing climate is expected to have a significant impact on future yields of everything from fish to rice, particularly in countries such as Papua New Guinea that are situated closer to the equator.

For countries like Papua New Guinea, action against climate change requires continued and long-term commitment. The causes and consequences of climate change stretch far beyond the boundaries of individuals or individual countries. They are long-term and pervasive. Effective efforts require local, national and international action. Most importantly, it requires leadership.

It is crucial that countries implement their international commitments under agreements like the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to lower greenhouse gas emissions, reduce pollution and protect the environment. Because, countries must come together to combat a common global challenge.

This however must be done at the same time as supporting communities to prepare for the impacts of climate change.

Papua New Guinea has much to be proud of when it comes to demonstrating global leadership on action against climate change.

For example, it was the Government of Papua New Guinea, along with the Government of Costa Rica, who in 2005 championed the concept of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, and foster conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks (REDD+).

This leadership has continued under key Government Ministers such as Minister for Environment, Conservation and Climate Change, the Honourable John Pundari. One example was his tireless efforts during 2015 climate negotiations which saw Papua New Guinea secure a specific article codifying REDD+ under the Paris climate Agreement.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has a long established and proud history in Papua New Guinea. The UNDP has supported Government and communities of Papua New Guinea in their efforts against climate change.

Papua New Guinea has developed and endorsed a National REDD+ Strategy (NRS) for 2017-2027. This is an important milestone. The Strategy sets out policies and measures to address the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation in Papua New Guinea.

Why is this so important?

Tropical forests cover more than 77% of the country’s 46.9 million hectares of land. Together with the forest of West Papua (Island of New Guinea) they represent the third largest area of intact tropical forest in the world. These forests are critical to the livelihoods and economy of the country. As importantly, this makes Papua New Guinea a custodian of an international public good.

These forests are however coming under increasing pressure from a rapidly growing population and economic development.

Central to Papua New Guinea’s approach to REDD+, as laid out in the NRS, is the need to allow development to continue but for that development to be done in ways that are economically and environmentally sustainable.

This goal is encapsulated in the NRS’s vision statement.

A statement that was drafted following an expansive consultation process that lasted almost two years. This statement reminds us all of this goal, which is …

“To catalyse transformational change within the forest and land use sector towards a new responsible economy with lower GHG emissions, stronger long-term economic growth and community livelihoods and the effective conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services while ensuring that Papua New Guinea’s forest resources are used in a sustainable and equitable manner for the benefit of current and future generations.”

The sentiment captured by this statement is one that reflects Papua New Guinea national policies as presented, for example, in the STaRS and the latest Medium-Term Development Plan. It also reflects Papua New Guinea’s climate mitigation efforts in its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Under this commitment, Papua New Guinea has proposed to …

Implement REDD+ activities under the UNFCCC to reduce emissions and enhance removals from this important sector, which PNG has set as a priority … Extensive capacity building, technology transfer and technical assistance is required to implement effective actions and ensure the collection of accurate data.

PNG is still at an early stage of its REDD+ development process. While the NRS marks a critical step in the nation’s REDD+ development process, further action is needed to ensure that it is effectively financed and supported by appropriate national legislation. This also requires that proposed policies and measures are developed and tested and that long-term sustainable financing and management systems are in place.

To ensure effective implementation of the NRS, the Government of Papua New Guinea has requested UNDP to continue providing targeted technical assistance for the development of a National REDD+ Finance and Investment Plan or the RFIP. Once completed, this will identify the potential costs and benefits of implementing the different action areas required under the NRS.

To successfully achieve this, the UNDP will continue to work closely under the leadership of key Government agencies such as Climate Change and Development Authority, the Forestry Authority, the Department of Lands and Physical Planning, the Conservation and Environmental Protection Authority and the Department of Agriculture and Livestock.

This is in addition to continuing its efforts in partnership with civil society, the private sector and most importantly the communities of Papua New Guinea.

In the context of Papua New Guinea, apart from reducing emissions, REDD+ also is safeguarding biodiversity and ecosystem services which will in turn promote tourism, clean water and improve soil quality. It will also improve forest monitoring capacities and associated capacity building of national staff. It creates a business environment for sustainable certified commodity production in the country. This will drive up profits and salaries. It will also create jobs and build expertise in a sustainable way. Most importantly, it improves the governance of land use and social safeguards for landowners of this beautiful country.

Papua New Guinea’s spirit, its opportunities, and its amazing resources place it well to lead the region and the world in so many ways.

Realising this however will require policy makers, political leaders and the private sector to work together to prepare and adapt for the climate impacts that have already commenced.

How Papua New Guinea chooses to respond to the effects of climate change will determine the opportunities it benefits from. There is no doubt the potential is everywhere. Certainly, this is something the United Nations and agencies like UNDP are proud to support Papua New Guinea achieve.