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More than half trees in Papua New Guinea could be lost by 2021, according to a new satellite study of the region. The University of Papua New Guinea and the Australian National University conducted the stady that  found that deforestation is much more widespread than was previously thought, even in so-called conservation areas. Papua New Guinea (PNG) has the world's third largest tropical forest, but it was being cleared or degraded at a rate of 362,000 hectares (895,000 acres) a year in 2001, the report said. The destruction will drive global warming, because tropical forests are an important store of carbon.

 "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." Phil Shearman, lead author of the study

 The researchers compared satellite images taken over three decades from the early 1970s. In 1972, the country had 38m hectares (94m acres), of rainforest covering 82% of the country. About 15% of that was cleared by 2002.

PNG was a founder of the Rainforest Coalition, a group of tropical nations that say rich countries should pay them to protect their forests as a way of tackling climate change. But the new study suggests many of the vulnerable trees could be removed by the time such an agreement is in place.

 Belden Namah, PNG forests minister, said the government was already taking steps to review its logging policies: "There's a need for rapid action to replace trees that have been cut. And I believe for every tree that has been cut, we should plant three more new trees. That is one major policy I am looking at." The country earns US$176m (£89m) from commercial logging each year.

 The report said deforestation was occurring at the same rate in protected and unprotected areas and justified a significant reduction in logging in Papua New Guinea. Any new forestry programmes should involve small and medium-scale, locally-owned and managed operations where commercial activities are more likely to be environmentally sustainable, it said.

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The demand for unprocessed logs from Asian markets is the greatest cause of forest loss in Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinea is the world's fifth largest producer of tropical logs (PNG Resources First Quarter 1997 ). Most of the world's tropical logs are processed domestically by the producing countries, not so with Papua New Guinea. Subject to Indonesia's re-entry into the round log market, behind Malaysia, Papua New Guinea has been the world's second largest exporter of tropical raw logs (Light, 1997). Japan has been the largest importer of Papua New Guinea's logs, with South Korea being the second largest import market (AusAid, 1997). Other significant importers of tropical raw logs from Papua New Guinea have in the past been Malaysia, Philippines, China, Hong Kong and India.

The end of 1997 and the beginning of 1998 saw the effects of the downturn in the Japanese economy and the devaluation of South East Asian currencies on the Papua New Guinean log market. By the end of the first quarter in 1998 the Japanese log market had fallen away. Overall Papua New Guinean log export volumes had fallen by 40%, and prices were down 58% ( The Independent June 26, 1998). The Government of Papua New Guinea sought to prop-up loggers by reducing the log export tax on logs priced less than K135 per cubic metre (The National July 30, 1998)