Scientists at the UPNG Remote Sensing Centre discovered that even in so-called conservation 'protected areas' forest destruction is occurring at the same pace as in unprotected regions.
The researchers spent five years analyzing satellite images that document 30 years of destruction in an area that contains a major portion of the world's third largest tropical forest. Only the Amazon and Congo forests are bigger.
The scientists estimate that in 2001, Papua New Guinea's accessible forests were being cleared or degraded at a rate of 362,000 hectares a year - amounting to a combined annual rate of deforestation and degradation of 1.41 percent.
At that pace, by 2021, the authors estimate that 83 percent of the country's accessible forest - and 53 percent of its total forested area - will be gone or severely damaged.
The forests are under pressure from industrial logging, agricultural expansion and forest fires, the satellite images show.
'Government officials may claim that they wish rich countries to pay them for conserving their forests, but if they are allowing multinational timber companies to take everything that's accessible, all that will be left will be lands that are physically inaccessible to exploitation and would never have been logged anyway' said Phil Shearman, the report's lead author and Director of the UPNG Remote Sensing Centre.
'It's fair to wonder why the government should be compensated after encouraging this industry for so long in the past, or why they should get paid in the future to conserve forest that cannot be reached,' Shearman said.
The report concludes that the data on forest destruction justifies curtailing current logging industry activities and scrapping new large-scale projects.
It also calls for the government and international development partners to reorient conservation and commercial forestry activities so that they respect the rights of local communities that legally own the forest, and enable members of those communities to better use and conserve the forest for their own development needs.
'The unfortunate reality is that forests in Papua New Guinea are being logged repeatedly and wastefully with little regard for the environmental consequences and with at least the passive complicity of government authorities,' Shearman said.
Dr. Julian Ash from the Australian National University said that 'by providing an objective, realistic picture of what is actually taking place, the study can offer an opportunity to institute genuine and verifiable programs that will lead to real conservation, sustainable forestry and meaningful participation in carbon trading markets.'
In order to avoid further damage, Shearman and his colleagues say that any new forestry programs should involve small and medium-scale, locally-owned and managed operations where commercial activities are more likely to be environmentally sustainable and the benefits are more likely to flow to forest communities.
The authors believe that it is not too late to act.
'Papua New Guinea is still one of the most heavily forested countries in the world,' Shearman said. 'For the first time, we have evidence of what's happening in the PNG forests. The government could make a significant contribution to global efforts to combat climate change. It is in its own interest to do so, as this nation is particularly susceptible to negative effects due to loss of the forest cover.'