Infrastructure expansion challenges sustainable development in Papua New Guinea
The island of New Guinea hosts the third largest expanse of tropical rainforest on the planet. Papua New Guinea—comprising the eastern half of the island—plans to nearly double its national road network (from 8,700 to 15,000 km) over the next three years, to spur economic growth. We assessed these plans using fine-scale biophysical and environmental data. We identified numerous environmental and socioeconomic risks associated with these projects,
including the dissection of 54 critical biodiversity habitats and diminished forest connectivity across large expanses of the island. Key habitats of globally endangered species including Goodfellow’s tree-kangaroo (Dendrolagus goodfellowi), Matchie’s tree kangaroo (D. matschiei), and several birds of paradise would also be bisected by roads and opened up to logging, hunting, and habitat conversion. Many planned roads would traverse rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands, contradicting Papua New Guinea’s international commitments to promote low-carbon development and forest conservation for climate-change mitigation. Planned roads would also create new deforestation hotspots via rapid expansion of logging, mining, and oil-palm plantations. Our study suggests that several planned road segments in
steep and high-rainfall terrain would be extremely expensive in terms of construction and maintenance costs. This would create unanticipated economic challenges and public debt. The net environmental, social, and economic risks of several planned projects—such as the Epo-Kikori link, Madang-Baiyer link, Wau-Malalaua link, and some other planned projects in the Western and East Sepik Provinces—could easily outstrip their overall benefits. Such projects should be reconsidered under broader environmental, economic, and social grounds, rather than short-term economic considerations.
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