SYDNEY (Reuters) - Rainforest-clad Papua New Guinea is not ready for international funding for U.N.-backed forest carbon credits to stem deforestation, said Greenpeace, citing corruption, "carbon cowboys" and lack of political leadership.
A Greenpeace report into PNG's attempts to promote a U.N.-supported scheme REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation), found it was more interested in the funding than reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
REDD, which the United Nations hopes will become part of a broader climate pact, aims to reward developing nations that preserve and restore carbon-absorbing rainforests, a step that could curb the pace of climate change.
Under the scheme, poor countries could earn internationally tradable credits for carbon soaked up by forests, with rich nations the main buyers to help them offset emissions.
But REDD requires substantial initial funding to get it off the ground by launching pilot projects, crafting policies and ensuring money reaches communities.
"There has been little international interest in PNG as a responsible recipient of REDD funding due to high levels of corruption, carbon cowboy scandals and a lack of political leadership on REDD," Greenpeace said in its report.
"PNG is not currently ready for REDD funding," it said. The report was released on Monday on the sidelines of a major U.N. environment conference in Japan.
PNG has committed to reducing emissions by about 30 percent by 2030, said Greenpeace, but added widespread logging had left only 55 percent of its forests intact.
The government did not respond to a request for comment.
The forests of Papua New Guinea and the neighboring Indonesian province of West Papua comprise the third largest expanse of tropical rainforest on the planet after the Amazon and Congo forests, the United Nations says.
"PNG has the second highest proportion of national greenhouse gas emissions from land use and land use change and forestry in the world," Greenpeace said.
It said PNG Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare told a Climate and Forest Conference in Oslo in May that his country would lead the way in REDD credits.
Somare said PNG needed between $715 million and $1 billion in funding between 2011 and 2015 to create its REDD scheme.
Greenpeace said PNG's pledges to reduce emissions have relied on analysis which inflates the benefits and opts for changes to logging as the main REDD abatement strategy.
"Current rates of logging are unsustainable and most of the productive forest will be logged by the end of the decade," said Greenpeace.
It also said that indigenous land rights were being undermined by "carbon cowboys" buying forest rights, citing several cases of questionable carbon schemes to develop voluntary carbon trading in the country.
Villagers have been calling carbon credits "sky money" because it appears to be selling air.
"Customary landowners have not handed over their rights to the state to manage forest carbon and any attempt to do so would cause significant opposition to REDD in PNG," said Greenpeace.
About 85 percent of PNG's population live subsistence lives in forest villages and indigenous people own the vast majority of forest land but Greenpeace said recently introduced laws attempt to undermine the rights of communities.
"The people of PNG deserve to have their country develop in a way that improves their livelihoods and protects their natural resources for future generations."
Reporting by Michael Perry; Editing by David Fogarty