PNG activist wins environmental award

12:30 pm on 1 October 2016

An auto parts salesman from remote Papua New Guinea who became an anti-logging campaigner has won a U.S. environmental award which he hopes will raise awareness about his country's environmental policies.

Paul Pavol was awarded the fifth annual Alexander Soros Foundation Award for Environmental and Human Rights Activism for his work in the nation that is home to the world's third largest tropical rainforest.

Researchers with the University of Papua New Guinea predicted in a 2008 report that 83 percent of the country's commercially viable forests will be lost or degraded by 2021 due to commercial logging.

Mr Pavol, a customary landowner from Pomio on the island province of East New Britain, said he could not stand by as logging companies caused environmental damage to the land held under customary tenure by his Mengen people.

With demand for raw materials surging in recent years, PNG has become one of the world's largest exporters of tropical timber, according to investment and economic consultancy the Oxford Business Group.

But leasing forest land to logging companies via a government program has met resistance from many of Papua New Guinea's 800 plus indigenous groups who lack title to their ancestral land.

With many people feeling powerless to stop logging, Mr Pavol took the lead and became a protest leader, campaigning, setting up road blocks to prevent the movement of logs, and circulating petitions to build support against logging.

"I go around and talk to the people, and advise them and encourage them and support them," he said.

He said logging companies have torn down much of the forest where generations of his ancestors have farmed, hunted and fished and replaced the ancient trees with oil palm plantations.

Mr Pavol is determined to continue his campaigning - despite his work leading to threats and intimidation to himself and his family from the police.

"They said what I was doing is trying to stop development," he said.

"But I said no, look, I'm not stopping development ... We all want development, but no one wants to be landless."

The Alexander Soros Foundation was set up in 2012 by the son of billionaire investor George Soros.

Paul Pavol receives an Alexander Soros Foundation Award

Paul Pavol receives an Alexander Soros Foundation Award Photo: Alexander Soros

- Thomson Reuters Foundation