THE Government of Papua New Guinea outlined an ambitious plan to nearly double the size of the national road network under the Medium-Term Development Plan 2018-2022 with aims of spurring economic growth and social service delivery.
However, in a recently published joint analysis of these plans in the international scientific journal Plos One, researchers from James Cook University, the University of Papua New Guinea and the Wildlife Conservation Society PNG found the plan has not adequately considered the environmental and socio-economic impacts of these proposed roads.
Instead, they note that a massive expansion of the road network could lead to a lose-lose situation where road expansion results in logging companies rapidly deforesting the country causing substantial biodiversity and carbon stock loss while reducing the long-term ability of rural communities to sustain their livelihoods.
Meanwhile, ongoing high maintenance costs of the proposed roads mean many would become rapidly unusable, as is currently the case for nearly two-thirds of national roads.
In the study, the scientists assessed the road building plans using fine-scale biophysical and environmental data. They identified numerous environmental and socioeconomic risks associated with these projects.
Dr Mason Campbell, one of the leading researchers on the project noted “the current plans would result in significant forest loss, dissection of critical biodiversity habitats, and loss of forest connectivity across large expanses of the country”.
If this were to occur he says there would be “severe biodiversity impacts along with loss of services to communities”.
Many planned roads would, for instance, traverse rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands, creating new deforestation hotspots via rapid expansion of logging, mining, and oil-palm plantations. This outcome would contradict Papua New Guinea’s international commitments to promote low-carbon development and forest conservation for climate-change mitigation.