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papua new guinea: world’s first climate change refugees

Papua New Guinea is already feeling the effects of climate change.

papua new guinea: world’s first climate change refugees

Communities on the outer islands and in the highlands are most vulnerable. In low-lying areas, for example, king tides and cyclones are making people’s lives impossible: the Carteret Islanders are the world’s first community to be relocated because of climate change. Yet these communities have little engagement in or impact on the debates and decision-making processes on climate change, even though they are the worst affected.


As a country, Papua New Guinea contributes to global warming, mainly through deforestation caused by logging and palm oil expansion, as it produces materials and goods for consumption in rich, industrialized countries. The country has the third largest tropical rain forest in the world (after the Amazon and Congo forests), and it is vital that destruction of this vital ‘carbon sink’ stops. Papua New Guinea is leading a coalition of rainforest nations who argue that they could reduce their deforestation rates if compensated by richer countries for doing so.


Friends of the Earth Papua New Guinea / CELCOR and other NGOs have serious concerns about whether Papua New Guinea’s government is really ready to take up this challenge, especially in light of the prevailing culture of corruption. With no proper regulations in place, there is a risk that increasing the value of forests, or engaging in carbon markets, could have significant negative impacts.


what happened?

FoE Papua New Guinea carried out campaigning, advocacy and public awareness work on climate change.


They held workshops in New Ireland and Bougainville, to raise community leaders’ awareness of climate change and the operations of international financial institutions. Both workshops involved ‘community legal education’ - empowering participants with knowledge about relevant laws and how they could use them to protect their natural resources.


Other public awareness work included appearances on radio talk shows on NBC Karai Radio, and the production of three brochures on palm oil and climate change.


FoE Papua New Guinea filmed interviews with the Carteret Islanders, and took pictures of king tides and cyclones in Papua New Guinea, material that can be used in international campaigns to illustrate the effects of climate change. They also recorded testimonies of women talking about the effects of oil palm plantations on their livelihoods.


FoE Papua New Guinea also collaborated with other NGOs in PNG and internationally to share information and address concerns about their government’s approach to carbon financing mechanisms.


They held a workshop on climate change for NGOs and community based organizations, in collaboration with FoE Australia, PNG Eco Forestry Forum and the University of Papua New Guinea's Marine and Coastal Research Unit. There were presentations and discussions on topics including climate change variability, adaptation, mitigation, and proposed and existing carbon financing approaches, including Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) and the Clean Development Mechanism. An Action Plan was agreed, which all participants are committed to delivering.


The workshop ended with a press conference for print and television media, at which it became apparent that the journalists had a low level of understanding of climate change and the current debates between NGOs, government and other parties. The participants therefore held a short briefing session to help the journalists report on the issues.


FoE Papua New Guinea worked with other NGO partners to develop a position paper on carbon financing in PNG. An NGO statement was developed and published in a national newspaper to raise awareness of the deals the government is embarking on, particularly in relation to REDD. The statement covers issues concerning prior informed consent, equity sharing, illegal logging, good governance, monitoring sustainability, land ownership, monocultures and corruption.


They also monitored a World Bank loan for expansion of oil palm plantations in the country.


what changed?

The Climate Change Workshop enabled FoE Papua New Guinea to build capacity of NGOs and community based organizations on climate issues, and to establish a network of well-informed partners. This new network, which also includes government agencies, trade unions, faith-based organizations and private sector representatives, is linking communities in Papua New Guinea with the outside world.


The workshops in New Ireland and Bougainville energized and motivated communities to take action to stop oil palm development. Community members who attended the workshop in New Ireland have formed a Climate Change Committee, to fight threats such as carbon trading, which they fear will mean more plantations.


Young people from the Carteret Islands are now vocal and passionate about climate change and willing to take action to make a difference in their society.


lessons learned

Media misreporting of the Climate Change workshop meant that the NGOs’ position was misrepresented, leading to unnecessary debates with the government. This has underlined the importance of raising journalists’ awareness of climate change issues.


The greatest need is to educate the general public on carbon trade issues, to prevent people rushing into carbon trading activities before they have understood the potential negative impacts. This means that information has to be presented in an easily understandable form; FoE Papua New Guinea is therefore planning to produce flyers and clear and concise brochures.


what next?

Production of awareness materials and promotional items is ongoing. There is a strong demand for more community legal education workshops, and for capacity building work in areas targeted for oil palm development.


FoE Papua New Guinea envisages filing an Inspection Panel Claim in respect of the World Bank loan for oil palm plantations.


Major campaign strategies will be implemented in 2009 in collaboration with network partners.


with thanks to our funders: the dutch ministry of foreign affairs (dgis)



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