26 October 2020
Papua New Guinea Works to Improve Management of Protected Areas
story highlights

A 2017 assessment found management effectiveness of Papua New Guinea’s protected areas to be “very low,” with no systemic improvement of on-the-ground delivery since 2006 when a similar study was conducted.

Since then, Papua New Guinea has been working to improve management of protected areas through a Protected Areas Policy and Implementation Plan.

Despite a growth in protected areas, with 59 formally registered in 2020, these efforts might not be sufficient for the country to reach Aichi Target 11 to have 17% of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10% of coastal and marine areas protected by the end of 2020.

Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) Government pre-approved a 2019 report on the state of the environment in the country, which analyzes data on, and makes recommendations on how to improve, protected area conservation and management. Along with ongoing work under several projects, the report contributes to efforts to improve the effectiveness of protected area management in PNG.

In 2020, 59 protected areas have been formally registered by PNG’s Conservation and Environment Protection Authority (CEPA). This is an improvement on the 57 protected areas analyzed in the 2017 assessment of management effectiveness of PNG’s protected areas, prepared by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), which concluded that PNG’s management of protected areas “has remained patchy and problematic.”

Yet these efforts might not be enough for PNG to reach Aichi Target 11 to have 17% of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10% of coastal and marine areas protected by the end of 2020. Currently, there is a 9.86% shortfall for coastal and marine areas and a 13.04% shortfall for terrestrial and inland waters.

The PNG Policy on Protected Areas states that “over thousands of years, communities all over PNG have been conserving nature for cultural and spiritual reasons, while pursuing traditional livelihoods in these landscapes and seascapes.” Today, customary landowners, which are the custodians of up to 97% of land in the country, recognize many areas of land and sea as areas of special spiritual importance known as “tambu.”

Overall, the 2017 assessment report found that the management effectiveness has not benefited from systemic improvement of on-the-ground delivery since 2006 when a similar study was conducted. It found little to no progress in the management effectiveness for 65% of protected areas, some progress, high concern for 24%, good progress, some concern for 5%, and very good progress for only 5%.

The main weaknesses in how protected areas are managed relate to the lack of a protected area management agency or organization, which results in “almost total breakdown of the rule of law in most of the protected areas.” A lack of paid protected area staff, equipment, support, infrastructure, planning, law enforcement and patrolling, community awareness and education, resource management activities, and visitor management are the reasons why protected area management is weak, according to the 2017 report.

Despite the many challenges, most protected areas still contain original values in good to very good condition, most customary landowners are supportive of the protected area approach, and models of effective interventions on the ground exist, and therefore “hope remains,” the report found.

For example, customary landowners expressed support for their local protected areas in more than three-quarters of the assessments carried out, with interest and support expressed for potential revitalization of almost all assessed protected areas.

Given that PNG retains an extraordinary level of biodiversity of international significance, “efforts in conservation can yield very rewarding results,” especially if action is taken soon, both nationally and in collaboration with development partners, according to the 2017 report.

An ambitious and comprehensive Protected Area Policy and implementation plan have been developed by CEPA and endorsed by the National Executive Council (NEC). Additionally, a new Protected Area Bill has been prepared by CEPA with a focus on revitalizing and increasing the effective management of protected areas. These efforts and the wider policy context are oriented towards the involvement of and ownership by customary landowners. Despite many large non-governmental organizations (NGOs) withdrawing from PNG’s protected areas, as per the 2017 report, there is “very high potential” for financial and logistical support for protected areas from the international community, once secure and effective investment options are developed.

The recently pre-approved State of Environment (SOE) Report for PNG completed in 2019 highlights that only 4% (2.5 million hectares) of the total land and seascape of PNG is allocated for protection, with 14.5 million hectares also of interest for conservation. However, there is no clear legal national definition of protected areas in the country, which results in disputes surrounding how much of the country’s land and seascapes are protected.

The SOE emphasizes that more work needs to be done to reach protected area targets. It calls for strengthened environmental laws and regulations, sustainable financing, capacity building, enforcement and monitoring, and training to improve protected area management and its effectiveness.

There are several examples of development partners assisting in improving the management of protected areas in the country. The five-year PNG Biodiversity Program to protect PNG rich and at-risk biodiversity, funded by USAID and implemented by Cardno International Development, is one of them. Efforts will include reducing threats to PNG’s rich biodiversity through a focus on customary lands and waters in key biodiversity areas. The program will work in partnerships with The Nature Conservancy, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Woodland Park Zoo’s Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program as well as with governments, the private sector, and communities to strengthen capacity, leverage resources, and increase knowledge for improved conservation, governance, and livelihood development.

Work is also currently underway by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), together with CEPA, under a Global Environment Facility (GEF) project to develop a sustainable finance mechanism for the protected area network in PNG, specifically through a Biodiversity Trust Fund. It will assist communities to access funds to manage protected areas, improve their livelihoods, and build capacity. [Publication: Assessment of Management Effectiveness for Papua New Guinea’s Protected Areas 2017] [Papua New Guinea Data Portal] [Pacific Environment Portal] [IISD Knowledge Hub Sources] 


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This policy brief was authored by Dina Hestad, Ph.D., Thematic Expert for SDGs and Small Island Developing States.

This story was made possible with funding support from the Government of Sweden through the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and was developed with the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) using the Pacific Environment Portal, which enables users to find, access, and use regional and national data. The portal has been developed by the regional UNEP-GEF Inform project executed by SPREP, which has established national environment data portals in 14 Pacific island countries to help address the challenges of storing and accessing data. The online database of information and datasets aims to help improve decision making and reporting on the environment. 

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