SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA (AP) - Satellite images show Papua New Guinea's Gulf Province rain forest intact in 1988 (left) and laid bare by logging in 2002. The images were released this week as part of a new study.
At the current rate of destruction, 53 percent of the country's rain forest—said to be the world's third largest—will disappear by 2021, according to the study of three decades of satellite imagery. Between 1972 and 2002 alone, 19.8 million acres (8 million hectares) were lost.
"It was previously thought that PNG had a very low or nonexistent rate of deforestation and degradation," study co-author Phil Shearman, of the University of Papua New Guinea, told Britain's Telegraph newspaper.
"Our study is making it reasonably clear that's not the case—indeed PNG is losing its rain forest at rates comparable to that of the Congo and to that of the Amazon."
Along with trees, unique animals and plants are expected to vanish. And because trees absorb the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, the deforestation could encourage global warming.
Twenty-two million tons of carbon will be released from Papua New Guinea's forests this year as a result of logging-industry action—approximately the equivalent of the annual output of all carbon from the cars in Australia, the report's authors said.
Lee Tan of the Australian Conservation Foundation, said, "We can very confidently predict that if more of the forests are cut, there will be erosion, there will be landslides, lives lost and other calamities"—not to mention the potential loss of species diversity.
"We fear logging and other forms of degradation are wiping out the forests before we even know what is there," Tan said.
Papua New Guinean officials have proposed that the international community pay the country for preserving the forest and that loggers plant three trees for every one they remove.