The world's third-largest tropical rain forests in Papau, New Guinea, are being devastated so quickly by farming, fires and logging that more than half could disappear by 2021, according to a study released Monday.
The loss would destroy a wealth of unique flora and fauna and deprive the region of a natural defense against global warming, the study by scientists at the University of Papua New Guinea and Australian National University found.
Analyzing three decades of satellite imagery, the researchers found that 19.8 million acres of forest was lost between 1972 and 2002.
In 2001, accessible forests were being cleared or degraded at a rate of 1.4 percent a year, the report found. At that pace, researchers fear 83 percent of the country's accessible forest — and 53 percent of its total forested area — will be gone or severely damaged by 2021.
"PNG's forests are a vital component of the majority of New Guinean's lives. They're also of national and regional significance because of their carbon storage factors," Phil Shearman, the report's lead author, told reporters at a press conference Monday.
The report estimated that about 22 million tons of carbon will be released from Papua New Guinea's forests this year as a result of the logging industry — approximately the equivalent of the annual output of all the cars in Australia, the report's authors said.
Papua New Guinea Forestry Minister Belden Namah said he agreed with the report's findings and was taking action to improve government logging policies. He said he wanted to enforce a policy to plant three trees for every tree cut down.
The report advised the government to employ forest sustainability programs, including stricter regulation of the commercial logging industry, which brings in annual revenue of 189 million U.S. dollars but is one of the main drivers of forest destruction.
It also encouraged a better sharing of resources among the population and more comprehensive land-use education for farmers.