Katharina Cavano l Palladium - May 27 2024
Is Journalism the Answer to Deforestation in Papua New Guinea?

Since 2000, Papua New Guinea has lost 1.65 million hectares of tree cover, releasing 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. Conserving and reforesting Papua New Guinea is critical to combating climate change and meeting global climate goals, but it will take focused and concerted efforts – and a significant amount of finance.

As part of those efforts, in 2022, Palladium began work on the Papua New Guinea Sustainable Landscapes Program, which brings together the government, private sector, non-government organisations, and local communities to drive change in forestry and other land use sectors, such as agriculture, mining, and industrial land use. But since launching, the program team noted a significant public knowledge gap, which could significantly affect and even hinder their work to shift how land use decisions are made and enforced.

The team noted that while there are plenty of laws on the books regarding sustainable land use, they aren’t necessarily being enforced or are even noticed by the public.

The knowledge gap needs to be addressed and the team is tapping local journalists and reporters to help get the job done.

“In our past governance projects, we worked with the groups best able to work with publicly available information and put it out in an accessible way, and journalists are one of those groups,” explains Andrew Ireland, Manager for Climate and Nature at Palladium. But getting to that point on Papua New Guinea will require a bit of training. “Our goal is to work with local journalists who might not know much about climate change, nature resource management, and forestry and help build their knowledge base, so that they can start the process of holding companies accountable.”

Governance of ‘land tenure’ and natural resources is a complex topic in Papua New Guinea.

Over 96% of the country’s land is communally owned, yet there are also several different types of logging and forest concessions and special agricultural and business leases that transfer or take precedence over community land rights. Once logging or agricultural companies take control of this land, it can be difficult for communities and government agencies alike to monitor their compliance with the applicable laws and regulations.

Local communities especially often lack an understanding of who controls what rights to the lands and forest resources around them, how those decisions were made, and how best to make their voices heard in the process. More broadly, official information on forests and land use in the country is divided up between multiple agencies, and even when made available to the public can be difficult for communities to access and interpret.

The activity is working closely with local journalists and training institutions to make sure all this information gets to those who needs it the most, including local community members.

“Ultimately, our goal is to empower and train the journalists, and help link them with key sectors to find information related to the agriculture, forestry and other land use sectors,” adds Acting Chief of Party of the Sustainable Landscapes Program, Ted Mamu.

He adds that at the same time, reporters have a gap in their knowledge as well. “They need to be well versed on sustainability terminology and technical terms, so then they can report in laypeople’s terms that the audience will better understand,” Mamu explains. The three-day training will have two main focuses: investigative reporting training and education on the forestry and other land use sectors.

“Journalists already report daily on local events and what’s happening, but I hope that they gain more insights into forestry and the technical aspects of the natural resource management field,” adds Mamu. “This is an opportunity for reporters to come together, discuss ideas and stories, and improve the media landscape overall.”

Working closely with the local universities and training institutes means that they’ll support in developing any training materials that they can then integrate into journalism curriculum for current and future students. “The program is supporting the institutions and the media to take ownership over the investigative journalism training,” he says.

In addition to training, Ireland explains that the team is exploring pairing it with story grants to ensure that reporters are paid for their work and published, whether it’s by a local newspaper or regional media in Australia or elsewhere. “There isn’t often budget from local media outlets for investigative reporting and grants would give writers some flexibility to spend time on an investigation.”

This is just one of many approaches the team is undertaking in Papua New Guinea to strengthen land use governance to address the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation in the country. “The bottom line is that in-depth, objective reporting on environmental issues contributes to better natural resource governance across the board,” Ireland explains.

It requires a collective approach and needs to be led by key government sectors in judiciary and law, forestry, environment, and agriculture.

"Our role is to support and strengthen existing laws, policies, regulations, and work in partnership with the government and private sector, and that includes journalists and local newspapers,” says Mamu.

With better information on how their resources are being used, the people of Papua New Guinea can ensure that their rights and desires are being considered and that the country’s forests are being sustainably managed for all and for future generations.

For more information, contact info@thepalladiumgroup.com.