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Papua New Guinea’s Forest Minister Douglas Tomuriesa has called upon the developed nations to “marry” its lesser-developed counterparts in the Asia-Pacific region to help save forests.

“Today, Papua New Guinea and other countries have prepared their program. They have got legislation and policy framework done but we do not have funding to run these projects. Developed nations, it is your challenge now to come and marry us,” the minister said at the Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit on Wednesday.

 Australia Environmental Minister Greg Hunt

Australia Environmental Minister Greg Hunt

At the Summit, Tomuriesa explained that his grandfather believed that, before you marry anyone, you should first “marry” a house and everything in it before marrying the person that will share the life inside that house. “Marriage,” in this context, refers to the potential collaboration between developed nations and Papua New Guinea to conserve the island nation’s forests.

For two days ministers, non-governmental organisations, and other stakeholders from countries in the Asia-Pacific region and the U.S. gathered in Sydney to discuss the rainforest recovery plan.

Speaking at the event, Australia’s environmental minister Greg Hunt said that Australia was committed in protecting and enhancing forests, and accepted the marriage proposal.

“We will work with you and we have a possible marriage document on the table there. We will now go forwards and work together,” Hunt said.

“On Australia’s part we are really committing to two very significant things. One is of course the funding to combat illegal logging through the RAFT [Responsible Asia Forestry and Trade] program.”

The minister said that the government would put down an initial down payment of $6 million towards the program. During the summit Australia spoke bilaterally with a series of countries on competency and support for capability in regards to issues such as training, technology and the ability to work one-on-one with countries for the program.

“We are also acting as a secretariat with the IUCN [International Union for Conservation of Nature] going forward with regards to the progress towards an Asia-Pacific rainforest recovery plan and agreement,” he said.

The plan, which is at a draft stage, has four goals: Halving the loss of rainforests in the Asia-Pacific region; restoring 10 million hectares of degraded land by 2020; encouraging the private sector to eliminate deforestation for the production of palm oil, paper and timber by 2020; and to end deforestation of the region’s natural rainforests by 2030.

Inger Andersen the incoming IUCN director general praised the summit and its priorities.

“I have been so deeply impressed because what we heard today is how forests are absolutely key for food, income, heritage, medicine, and they provide habitats [for] indigenous people and are the lungs for the world,” Andersen said.

“The rainforest recovery plan, the marriage proposal that is now lined there certainly presents a platform that can be used for convergence to bring these parties together for shaping an agenda that is so crucial.”

The summit ran from November 11-12 and was an Australian government initiative, despite the government’s attempts earlier this year to unlock 74,000 hectares of World Heritage-listed forest in Tasmania for logging.

Image courtesy Jassmyn Goh

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