On 17 May 2017, the Lowy Institute’s Aus-PNG Network and the Australian High Commission in Papua New Guinea hosted a workshop on ‘Knowledge sharing for sustainable futures’ in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Australia and Papua New Guinea have a strong and unique relationship, with ties spanning historical, economic, political and cultural spheres. Aus-PNG Network events aim to foster new connections between Australians and Papua New Guineans and provide opportunities for mutual learning experiences.

Sharing for sustainable futures workshop, Port Moresby 17 May 2017 (Photo: DFAT)

Australia and Papua New Guinea have many shared challenges in the environmental sphere. For example, both are resource-dependent economies and need to balance economic imperatives with sustainable environmental management, they are also both facing negative impacts from climate change and need to adapt. However, there are some key differences in each country’s context that need to be understood across the bilateral relationship. This full-day workshop aimed to help build this understanding by bringing together representatives of the different stakeholder groups across Papua New Guinea and Australia to network and learn more about each other’s work.

The event featured eight key guest speakers, four pairs of Australian and Papua New Guinean speakers, who covered the following themes:

Indigenous resource management and agricultural practices
  • John Muke, Kuk Early Agricultural Site (PNG)
  • Kenny Bedford, Torres Strait Regional Authority Member for Erub (Australia)
Creating effective regulatory frameworks
  • Kay Kalim, Director, Sustainable Environment Programs, Conservation and Environment Protection Authority (PNG)
  • Jeremy Visser, Environmental Consultant, BMT WBM Pty Ltd (Australia)
Climate change assessment and adaptation
  • Gwen Sissiou, Director REDD+, Climate Change and Development Authority (PNG)
  • Martin Rice, Head of Research, Climate Council (Australia)
Working constructively with the private sector
  • Lucinda Gulluman Kisip, Senior Advisor, Sustainable Development, Oil Search Limited (PNG)
  • Susie Smith, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Industry Greenhouse Network (Australia)

There was an impressive depth and breadth of experience in the room, with participants drawn from across the range of sectors that work on environmental and sustainable development issues, including representatives of the public service, research community, civil society, agriculture and resource sectors. There were three key objectives of the workshop – learn, engage and share. The variety of perspectives gave participants new insights into the issues discussed and the opportunity to take a closer look at how these environmental and social challenges differ and intersect in the two countries.

The event began with a broad panel discussion between all the guest speakers, chaired by Roy Trivedy, the UN Resident Representative for Papua New Guinea. Participants then broke into two groups for more focused workshops around the key themes.


The themes listed below are drawn directly from the presentations and discussion throughout the day.

  • Opportunity – Papua New Guinea has the opportunity to develop a sustainable and vibrant future based on renewable energy and low carbon energy sources to maintain their low carbon footprint while also progressing towards their development objectives.
  • Leadership – Leadership at all levels is key to combine vision with action. Projects should seek to identify community champions and foster their leadership skills. This could be done through developing ethical leadership in environment programs.
  • Effective communication – There should be a strong focus on effective policy translation to the community level and between all levels of government. Communication is essential to give people the information they need and to help them understand why behavioural change is important for them. Institutional relationships and twinning arrangements across Australian and Papua New Guinean government departments can be extremely useful if the right people are put in key positions to play the role of knowledge-broker, mediator and inter-cultural translator
  • Informed decision-making – environmental regulation is best undertaken where decision-making is based on all available information, including data from scientific investigations and environmental assessments as well as traditional and cultural knowledge. In a country with a diverse and relatively unknown environment, expanding the ‘knowledge database’ in practical ways is extremely important, and requires partnership with industry and local communities.
  • Engagement – Projects should undertake extensive community consultation and analysis to discover the true needs of the community, and let them speak for themselves. For sustainability projects to be successful it is essential they gain social licence. Innovation is required to address the many challenges of implementing social and environmental policies and all sectors should be involved, including the private sector.
  • Inclusivity and transparency – At all levels, we must ensure women and young people are included in policy development and implementation. Climate change is an intergenerational and gendered issue. Decision making processes should be made more transparent so people can understand better how they can engage in these processes and who drives them.
  • Valuing traditional knowledge – There should be renewed focus on maintaining and learning from traditional knowledge. Local people with traditional knowledge often know better ways to engage with and preserve their region than outside specialists. In Papua New Guinea, there is no one government agency with primary responsibility for protecting cultural heritage. The resulting duplication of responsibilities and overlaps has implications for the rigour and scope of cultural impact assessment.
  • Understanding land use – Data collection, monitoring and evaluation are essential to make good environmental decisions. As two resource-rich countries, both Australia and Papua New Guinea could enhance their national land use plans to develop a holistic understanding of how natural resources are being used by different sectors.
  • Long-term commitment – The cultural shift that is required to change people’s behaviour is a long and slow process, whether it be cultivating new drought-resistant crops in Papua New Guinea or minimising the use of plastic bags in Australia. It will require long-term commitment and continual review and adaptation to see success.


Roy Trivedy, panel discussion chair, began the conversation by referencing the music of Gil Scott-Heron, the African American musician and poet known for iconic hits like ‘The revolution will not be televised’.  He explained that he was drawn to Scott-Heron’s music because it dealt with the things that really matter to human beings. From the spoken word music of the 70s Roy moved to the work of renowned political scientist Noam Chomsky who has said that climate change and the environment are seminal issues of our time. Improving the relationship between human beings and the planet is a generational concern. After emphasising the vital importance of the topics that would be explored throughout the day, Roy went on to ask each of the guest speakers about their work and their passions.


Susie Smith – Chief Executive Officer, Australian Industry Greenhouse Network (Australia)

Susie Smith is passionate about sustainable development and believes that through constructive dialogue and a commitment to transparency, businesses achieve better results. She is currently the CEO of the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network, which brings together industry associations and corporate members in Australia to focus on climate change policy and develop overarching principles to guide engagement on these issues. She believes that industry is part of the solution rather than the problem. Her member organisations have numerous scientists, engineers and innovaters.

Prior to this, Susie spent ten years as an environmental consultant and 13 years with Santos, where she developed the company’s first Greenhouse Policy in 2003 and first Sustainability Report in 2004. She didn’t want to create something that would be a one-off report, she wanted to operationalise the policy in a sustainable way. For this she needed the support of the highest levels of the organisation, the CEO and the board, as well as broader organisational buy in. This was achieved through quarterly reporting to the Board committee and annual performance recognition and reporting

Networking to gain buy-in was important because the sustainability program, in this first instatnce, was asking people to go beyond their day jobs to implement these policies. The programs success was based on empowering the thought leaders within the company and providing a framework to support them and Santos’ annual reporting. Susie developed a scorecard with a scale of individual sustainability indicators so performance could be measured year on year within each different division of the company. This induced a sense of competition and pride between the divisions which helped to push performance levels up.

These sustainability programs sought to develop the philosophy of the triple bottom line of environmental, social and economic governance within the organisation. Susie and her colleagues always looked to hit the three goals of high quality, sustainability and biodiversity or community benefits with their programs. She used the forum as a stakeholder building network to bring the organisation and relevant external parties onto a shared platform. This included inviting NGOs and research organisations to speak on environmental and social issues and ask for their views on ways to continuously improve Santos’ sustainability management approach. These issues are also important for shareholders and these policies were an important tool for Santos to communicate their commitment to sustainability to the investor community.

Lucinda Gulluman Kisip – Senior Advisor, Sustainable Development, Oil Search Limited (PNG)

Susie’s Papua New Guinean counterpart for the theme ‘Working constructively with the private sector’, was Lucinda Gulluman Kisip, the Senior Advisor for Sustainable Development with Oil Search Limited. She is leading the development of Oil Search Limited’s Sustainable Development Strategy and performance framework for the company’s social and economic development programs in Papua New Guinea for the next 3 years. She was previously Chief Executive Officer at Buk bilong Pikinini, a children’s charity that supports Papua New Guinean children with access to high quality books and literacy programs. She established the organisation’s social enterprise and community outreach program called Buk bilong Komuniti in 2015. This program has been taken up by several companies and an international NGO and continues to gain popularity amongst the private sector in Papua New Guinea.

In her career in both the NGO and private sector Lucinda has seen how both sectors participate in sustainable development. She supported Susie’s view that the private sector can be an agent of change and sustainable development – environmental and social, as well as economic. The extractive industries have demonstrated their willingness to contribute meaningfully to sustainable development in Papua New Guinea. Oil Search is a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact and is a member of their Network in Australia which works to advance the private sector’s contribution to sustainable development. She believes that it is important to engage both Papua New Guinea and Australia in these conversations because there are 500 Australian companies in Papua New Guinea and we should be cultivating the next generation of leaders and equipping them with knowledge about the issues in each country. She asked workshop participants for feedback on how her organisation and other companies can engage meaningfully on these issues. Lucinda highlighted the challenge of communicating sustainability strategies to stakeholders, saying that although many companies have sustainability policies people often aren’t aware of them. She emphasised that the private sector is an important partner because companies often have a presence on the ground and strong knowledge of the communities they work with. Lucinda concluded by saying that it is important to continue to encourage discussions like those begun at the ‘Knowledge sharing for sustainable futures’ workshop.

Panel discussion chair, Roy Trivedy, commented that an important lesson learned from the UN’s Millennium Development Goals was that there wasn’t enough private sector involvement. He agreed with Susie and Lucinda that the private sector can offer potential solutions and that are needed to find ways to enhance engagement across sectors. Roy posited that this was not the solution for everything but there are certain problems that you cannot deal with if you don’t involve this sector. People in the sector should be gauging best practice across all sectors and learning from how other people are approaching these sets of problems. Roy then emphasised the need to remember that the real goal of these policies is to improve people’s quality of life and if that connection isn’t made and is sidelined by the priorities of big organisations, whether that be making a profit for a company or getting into government for a political party, then the desired aim of improving people’s lives won’t be achieved.


Martin Rice – Head of Research, Climate Council of Australia

The Australian guest speaker for the session on ‘Climate change assessment and adaptation’, Martin Rice, Head of Research with the Climate Council, agreed that helping people understand the relevance of environmental issues is key. He emphasised that access to authoritative and credible information is vital and is the mainstay of the Climate Council. In fact, people’s thirst for climate knowledge is what sustains the Climate Council. When former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott dismantled the Climate Commission there was public outcry because people felt they were being left in the dark on an extremely important issue: climate change. Through public donations A$1 million was raised in one week to allow this work to continue, now under the banner of the Climate Council. The Climate Council see themselves as playing an important role in keeping the Australian government honest. Martin went on to say that we can’t just talk about the problem, we also need to look at solutions like renewable energy, energy efficiency and international action.

Martin’s dedication to understanding human-nature interactions stems from his childhood in Scotland in a region with a lot of oil refineries, he grew up surrounded by both industry and natural beauty. He believes that everything is connected and he has embraced this philosophy in his career, where he has focused on integrated research and coordinated research programs with natural and social sciences. He has also come to the view that the communication of science is only growing in its importance, as many scientists don’t know how to communicate their findings or feel compelled to. However, the climate change-related issues the world is facing, like food and water security, sea level rise and storm surges (issues relevant to both PNG and Australia), are so severe that communication cannot be overlooked. Scientists have a social contract with society and must not only engage with the research community.

All the research the Climate Council produces is peer reviewed similar to a publication in a science journal and their researchers work closely with their communications team to make their reports accessible to the public at large, including key influencers such as business leaders and politicians. They also focus on working with the key stakeholders on any issue. With a recent report on mass coral bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef, they found that the tourism industry was reluctant to speak out because of the perception that the information would damage the region’s reputation as a tourist destination. But the Climate Council was able to develop meaningful engagement with this sector because they worked to understand the tourism industry’s needs, rather than just giving them climate information, to generate mutual respect and trust.

Martin concluded by reflecting on the title of the workshop, ‘Sustainable futures’, for him that means prosperous, vibrant and healthy societies which have a limited impact on the environment. Both Australia and Papua New Guinea are at a crossroads, confronted with the enormity of the challenge of climate change, and how it exacerbates other challenges like energy poverty. Finding a way to lift people out of energy poverty and also transition away from fossil fuels will be essential for Australia and Papua New Guinea’s prosperity.

Gwen Sissiou – Director REDD+, Climate Change and Development Authority (PNG)

Gwen Sissiou, is the General Manager for the REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) and Mitigation Division of the Climate Change and Development Authority in Papua New Guinea. REDD+ is a climate change mitigation program that offers developing countries results-based payments to reduce carbon emissions by maintaining their forests. She leads the coordination and development of policies and programs relating to the preparation and implementation of REDD+ and a low carbon energy pathway for Papua New Guinea. She was part of the core team that created the national institutional arrangements for climate change, including creation of the former Office of Climate Change and Development, the development of the National Climate Compatible Development Policy 2014 and the Climate Change Management Act 2015.

Gwen’s background is in science but she has also completed an MBA, which has helped enhance her understanding of phenomena she previously understood from primarily a science perspective. In her work she deals with people and communities, as well as the science of climate change, and understanding people’s needs is key to resolving problems. In Papua New Guinea climate change engagement is a big challenge. As a policy maker your ideas often change once you get on the ground so you need to go in with an open mind but a clear understanding of why you’re there. For example, Gwen explained that when the REDD+ policy was first being implemented they realised they needed to step back and create a national strategy that clearly outlined how they wanted to approach reducing emissions before they went to the community level. This was especially important because of the difficulty of monitoring something as abstract as a scheme which offers financial incentives for keeping forests intact. This is also very technically difficult as it requires measuring these forests’ contributions to absorbing carbon dioxide. A more nuanced, multi-stakeholder approach was necessary. This has helped her and her agency understand that the business sector is important. Gwen also emphasised the need to increase people’s understanding of which government department or NGO they can go to for these issues.

Both Australia and Papua New Guinea are parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Gwen argued that both countries should look at how they are implementing climate change policy in each country. Even though Papua New Guinea looked to Australia when setting up its climate change institutions the context in each country is very different. Most private sector players in Australia must meet international standards but in Papua New Guinea there are players who are not informed regarding climate change and who may need to be pushed to do the right thing. The private sector in Papua New Guinea needs to support the government to bring everyone to a common baseline of understanding because the government has a responsibility to ensure everyone adapts to climate change. On the other hand, climate change is also presenting opportunities. For example, in Papua New Guinea renewable energy sources or technologies are very costly but there are new opportunities opening up to access these technologies with the resources available through initiatives like the Green Climate Fund, the world’s largest fund for responding to climate change established by 194 countries, which is currently led by Australia. Going into the future, Gwen saw that leadership and clear vision would be crucial to tackling climate change.


Jeremy Visser – Environmental Consultant, BMT WBM Pty Ltd (Australia)

Jeremy Visser is an Environmental Consultant with the Ecology and Environmental Management team of BMT WBM. He specialises in the interpretation and application of environmental policy to environmental and social impact assessment, approvals and auditing projects, as well as working alongside and coordinating multidisciplinary teams. Through his work in both countries Jeremy has developed an understanding of the environmental and social impact assessment and compliance frameworks applicable at State and Commonwealth levels in Australia and at national level in Papua New Guinea. He is well-placed to assess the similarities and differences in each context and identify lessons learned that could be applied across a variety of projects in each country.

Jeremy is an advocate for proper rules and programs to guide the way we interact with the environment. He has worked extensively with operators of projects in Papua New Guinea and also with the Conservation and Environmental Protection Authority (CEPA) of the Papua New Guinea Government. He emphasised that there are many people within the Papua New Guinea Government and industry who are leading the way in environmental management. His organisation is a service provider which helps key people in Papua New Guinea build sustainable development.

Speaking from his experience with the resource sector in Papua New Guinea, Jeremy explained that industry plays an important role in helping us understand what is out there in terms of biodiversity. The regular impact assessments undertaken by the private sector have the flow on effect of adding to the knowledge we have as a scientific and management community. International best practice guidelines require very intense environmental management and he is seeing industry adopting these standards more and more.

Kay Kalim– Director, Sustainable Environment Programs, Conservation and Environment Protection Authority (PNG)

Kay Kalim, Director of CEPA’s Sustainable Environment Programs, was Jeremy’s Papua New Guinean counterpart for the theme ‘Creating an effective regulatory framework’. She is currently assisting communities to undertake protection and conservation work in Papua New Guinea. She also works on environment and conservation policies, manages projects in CEPA and coordinates regional projects in the Pacific, with Australia on the Torres Strait Treaty and Kokoda Initiative, and with the Coral Triangle countries and their communities.

Kay noted that in the past the Papua New Guinea Government has focused primarily on bringing investors into Papua New Guinea to ensure the country’s economic development, but the government has shifted their position and now promotes policies with a broader sustainability focus rather than purely economic development. Kay felt privileged to be part of this process and to head some of these sustainable development programs to protect Papua New Guinea’s unique biodiversity and to assist communities to take traditional environmental management practices into account and build them up to the level of formal environmental monitoring and evaluation.

Kay explained that environmental management in Papua New Guinea can be complicated because of the country’s unique and important land tenure system. All projects need to get consent from the effected communities but the regulators often ignore what the community puts forward to them at the beginning of this process. People in the village have been carrying out sustainable management for years. Kay said that it was important to take stock of the traditional knowledge in the country and working from that basis could bring real breakthroughs.

Looking at the Australia-Papua New Guinea relationship, Kay discussed how CEPA has developed a very close relationship with the Australian Department of Environment, which has helped them to improve their processes. This has been enhanced by having an Australian representative of the Department of Environment embedded within CEPA who has a deep knowledge of Papua New Guinea and can help adapt advice from his Australian colleagues to the Papua New Guinean context and explain it effectively to his Papua New Guinean colleagues. This has created a very strong and close network between the two organisations. Kay encouraged other Papua New Guinea Government institutions to develop similar sister relationships with institutions in Australia.

Kay concluded by coming back to the point about working constructively with the private sector, outlining how CEPA is using industry as part of the solution and developed a cost recovery model. These companies meet all the costs associated with CEPA monitoring their work. This ensures the sustainability of CEPA as an organisation so they can continue to provide their vital regulatory services into the future.


Kenny Bedford – Torres Strait Regional Authority Member for Erub (Australia)

Kenny Bedford is a traditional owner on Erub Island and has family connections to both Papua New Guinea and the Torres Strait. He spoke of his region’s beautiful environment and pristine reefs and also the high level of autonomy and control Torres Strait Islanders have over their resources. Kenny has first-hand experience of this because he has been the Erub leader for 10 years and from 2008-2016 he held the Fisheries portfolio for the Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA). Over that time, he played a leading role in the significant development and increased control and ownership of the region’s commercial fisheries by his Torres Strait Islander peoples. The TSRA is the only Indigenous group in Australia that has decision-making power in their fishing resource management arrangements. Kenny is also President of the Erub Fisheries Management Association, the only successfully operating, community owned and managed commercial fishing cooperative and freezer facility in the Torres Strait.

Kenny highlighted that both Australia and Papua New Guinea are responsible for looking after the shared resources of the Torres Strait region. In his role as the portfolio-holder for Fisheries, Kenny worked closely with his Papua New Guinean counterparts in a unique management system with two governments and two fishing authorities. These groups met annually under the bilateral management arrangements. From these engagements he was struck by the stark difference between the situation for the Indigenous people on either side of the border. In the Torres Strait, the Indigenous people have native title control of the land and this flows right through to their ability to grow their ownership of the marine resources. For example, there is 100 per cent Indigenous ownership of beche de mer and majority Indigenous ownership of tropical rock lobster. In Papua New Guinea, traditional land owners are not given preferential access to these resources under the current arrangements. Problems are arising in Western Province and Daru because of increasing internal migration from the mine-effected region around the Fly River creating increased competition for resources. These issues are being neglected.

Kenny also spoke about the challenge of changing people’s behaviour and garnering support for conservation policies. The Torres Strait has the highest populations of turtle and dugong in the world and although they’re endangered species Torres Strait Islanders have the traditional right to hunt them. When the TSRA first introduced a hunting management plan into the community there was significant pushback as it was perceived as threatening traditional culture. Kenny explained that these measures were necessary because people no longer hunt in canoes with traditional tools but in motor boats and that the community needed to understand how many animals were being caught to manage them effectively. This challenged the notion of his community’s right to these resources as Indigenous people. Kenny had to convince his people to adapt their culture to be modern custodians of the land and ocean and that these resources were not only their cultural inheritance but also their responsibility to protect for future generations. After running for ten years, it is one of the most successful management schemes in the country.

John Muke – Kuk Early Agricultural Site (PNG)

John Muke gave the Papua New Guinean perspective on the workshop theme of ‘Indigenous resource management and agricultural practices’. He is a former Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Papua New Guinea. Currently, he is a consultant archaeologist, whose interest is in promoting Indigenous cultural heritage landscape management practices. For the last 30 years, he has worked extensively on the Kuk Early Agricultural Site, in PNG’s Wahgi Valley, which boasts some of the earliest evidence of agriculture in the world dating back 10,000 years. Alongside Papua New Guinean and international colleagues, he successfully campaigned to have the site listed as a World Heritage cultural landscape, categorised as an organically evolved relic and continuing landscape. John said that Wahgi Valley is an independent centre of thinking about food, plants and the way humans interact with the landscape.

The Kuk Site holds significant traditional knowledge of sustainable development, including techniques for propagating foods like taro, banana and yams. John explained that the region’s agricultural practices are inextricably linked to its social systems. The egalitarian kinship system, governed through the politics of reciprocity and led by participatory democracy, owes its existence to 10,000 years of agriculture. Without which, PNG’s social institutions may have evolved into systems that separated people into different levels of power relations.

John believes that the agricultural heritage of Kuk is alive in the hearts and minds of most Papua New Guineans. The roots of their food security are buried in the ground. To eat a banana, taro or yam today is to experience the taste of food plants that have been kept alive through the cultural act of fragmentation, transplantation, planting, rooting and endless regeneration for thousands of years. Papua New Guineans have to appreciate the daunting fact that their ancestors were among the first to practice sustainable development. John urged them to recognise their histories and models of environmental management. Such heritage knowledge needs to be explored beyond Kuk and the Wahgi Valley. However, the processes to secure this knowledge for future generations and to disseminate it throughout Papua New Guinea need further development at the national level.

John also discussed the need for stakeholder participation in environmental management, saying it was amazing to listen to what Papua New Guinea’s communities have to say on the concept of leadership. He explained that these debates could be very intense and the arguments could go on for seemingly endless periods but eventually come to a consensual outcome. In these cases, there may be hundreds of clans arguing against each other and these debates deal with some concepts that have a very particular interpretation and weight in Papua New Guinea, like nature, culture and place. Papua New Guinea’s more recent history has also been complex, with a number of different external forces present. For example, in Lae this included the Germans, Japanese, and Australians, who all influenced social and environmental practices in different ways.


After hearing from all eight of the guest speakers, panel discussion chair Roy Trivedy, pulled out some of the key themes before opening up to the workshop participants for questions. He said that ultimately the discussion was about connecting the big problems – the what – to the ways people are addressing those problems – the how. Roy noted that the choices that we make today will determine the type of future that we have but these issues are also interdependent so what we do in one place has implications for other people elsewhere. A key theme running through the discussion was valuing traditional knowledge and listening to communities. As well as enabling people to share their problems and their solutions and their ways of finding solutions because no one institution or individual has the answers. These discussions must start with the people as they are because if you don’t listen to them it is hard to come up with effective solutions to their problems. It is not all about money and resources but also about enabling people to do things for themselves. To achieve these goals, vision must be combined with action.


Questions from the audience ranged from where culture fits at the official level, the potential impacts of population growth, and the mechanisms for and levels of government engagement with civil society and the grassroots for policy development.

The discussion around culture and the environment in Papua New Guinea began with a participant commenting that sustainable futures mean different things for different people and in Papua New Guinea there are two kinds of legislation – that of the government and that of the place or customary law. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals don’t reference culture or connection to land and tradition but these are central in Papua New Guinea.

Guest speakers responded to this comment by saying that PNG needs a broader policy that deals with culture alone to ensure it is included appropriately in all other policies that will affect culture, like conservation and environment policies. They agreed that there is not enough engagement with traditional knowledge at the official level. Proponents of projects and consultants are constrained by scope but it is something they should focus on as the government regulators expect traditional knowledge to be incorporated into environmental and social impact assessments more and more.

Kay Kalim from CEPA made some points relevant to both the question around culture and the question on community engagement. She explained that when they were developing their protected areas policy they realised how important it was not to marginalise efforts from the community. Initially, they saw the policy as being in the national interest, to develop things like national parks but they then realised that they needed to accommodate the interests of communities so they went out to the regions to engage with the people working on the ground and many of the things that were thought through in Port Moresby were changed and customary ways of doing things were incorporated into the policy.

Culture is also an important issue for tackling climate change. Traditional knowledge could play a significant role in climate change mitigation in Papua New Guinea. For Australia, people should consider the way they live their day-to-day lives as it is one of the highest emitting countries per capita in the planet but this is a dynamic process that needs a flexible and adaptive capacity to ensure Australia moves forward while embracing its culture.

Panellists pictured from left to right were Kenny Bedford, John Muke and Kay Kalim. Photo supplied: DFAT.



The participants split into two groups, stream A and B, for breakout sessions. The first session in stream A focused on ‘Indigenous resource management and agricultural practices’. The discussion was led by the guest speakers for this theme, John Muke and Kenny Bedford. It examined successful examples of Indigenous resource management and agricultural practices, as well as potential complications and improvements. Participants also raised other important related issues, such as the role of gender, the involvement of government, and effective communication.

The conversation on tensions between tradition and sustainability that began with Kenny’s story from the panel discussion of the turtle and dugong management plan in the Torres Strait continued in this session. Participants noted that in Papua New Guinea, food plants like taro have been grown and eaten for thousands of years and even though people began growing these crops first and foremost to survive they now have ceremonial or traditional significance. Some of these crops are in danger because the pressure on land is high and the capacity to produce them is reducing as fallow periods are shorter and soil conditions are changing. Many Papua New Guineans still rely primarily on their food gardens for survival and need to ensure that the environment is still conducive to subsistence agriculture. Participants stressed the importance of encouraging people to cultivate drought tolerant crops, as Papua New Guinea has been experiencing droughts that last up to six to twelve months. Groups like Papua New Guinea’s National Agriculture Research Institute have been exploring the possibility of introducing alternative crops like breadfruit, which could be sustainable at the community level. Nevertheless, there should also be work done to improve soil conditions in the remote communities that have limited resources.

Ensuring that new conservation or agriculture policies and activities are attractive to local communities and provide benefits to them is vital to achieve longer term cultural change. A participant provided the example of a tree kangaroo protection program which showed the importance of information and communication for success. The program created both a core zone and a buffer zone of protection and traditional hunting of tree kangaroos could only occur in the buffer zone. Tree kangaroo numbers rose and as a result the number of days that people had to spend out hunting was reduced from approximately ten days to two, which was of great benefit to the community. It was only through having all the necessary information that the benefits of behavioural change could be successfully communicated. Overall, social licence for any sustainability project is both crucial and difficult to attain, and communication and understanding are the main solutions.

The cultural shift that is required to change people’s behaviour, whether that be monitoring hunting of turtle or cultivating new drought-resistant crops, is a long and slow process. However, in some regions the environment is changing very quickly and essential natural resources, like marine stocks and arable land, are depleting at a rapid rate. In these cases, community conservation plans are crucial. By harnessing technology, communities can share their plans to help create holistic and streamlined conservation programs. Participants noted that many challenges to these efforts exist, such as the difficulty of determining who the traditional owners are when land or resources are contented.

Another issue which participants raised was gender. To understand how resource management impacts on future generations, it is important that women and young people are part of the conversation. In many cases, young people and women were the most concerned about environment conservation and drove community involvement on these issues. Furthermore, women and young children provide the majority of the agricultural labour in Papua New Guinea, from soil preparation all the way to harvest. Agriculture can also provide women with an enabling environment to come out of their traditional positions by giving them new economic opportunities and as a result greater decision making power within their families and communities. Programs like the World Bank’s Productive Partnerships in Agriculture Project have a specific focus on improving women’s lives through agriculture. Nevertheless, Papua New Guinea remains a patriarchal society, and women are often left out of making agreements. Sustainability projects must be mindful of both including women, and the manners of engagement that are appropriate for the local context.

Acknowledging that the private sector needs to achieve certain deliverables and make a profit, companies cannot forget their responsibilities to communities and should also be mindful of cultural sensitivities and customs. Unemployment levels are extremely high in Papua New Guinea because the formal economy is so small but commercial agriculture has the potential to be a significant employer. Long-term sustainable projects could be developed with cash crops of coffee and cacao. Mobilising farmers to actively engage with environmental sustainability is crucial but difficult with the Papua New Guinea Government’s limited resources.


Stream A’s second session looked at ‘Creating effective regulatory frameworks’. Under the direction of guest speakers Kay Kalim and Jeremy Visser, participants examined the existing frameworks for environmental regulation and perceived gaps and weaknesses in the legislation. The participants agreed that the government has a central role to play in managing the environment. This should be done by creating strong regulatory frameworks and consistently re-evaluating these policies to ensure that gaps aren’t being exploited. Participants also emphasised that resource projects must consider potential environmental and social impacts at the very beginning of their design to capture the development aspirations of all Papua New Guineans.

Participants identified the levels of protection for cultural heritage as a key weakness in Papua New Guinea’s regulatory framework. In Papua New Guinea’s Environment Act, proposed activities are categorised from level one to three and only level two activities and above are required to seek an environmental permit. However, this can mean that important cultural impacts of level one projects are overlooked and damage to spiritual and archaeological sites has occurred before a site even undergoes an environmental and social impact assessment. This is further complicated because there is no one government agency with primary responsibility for protecting cultural heritage. The resulting duplication of responsibilities and overlaps has compromised the rigour and scope of cultural impact assessment. Compounding this issue is the lack of understanding from communities around the true impact of these activities, which means that communities are often not in a good position to negotiate. Participants suggested that documenting and including sacred sites in environmental impact assessments could help overcome this gap. As it stands, the Conservation and Environment Protection Authority is not responsible for social permitting, however social impact assessment is also a requirement prior to issuing of an Environment Permit.

Participants also questioned the private sector and government’s disproportionate focus on profit at the beginning of a project, at the expense of social and environmental considerations. Although social and environmental costs are small at the beginning, they grow significantly as a project progresses and often continue after they close. One serious example of this is the Bougainville copper mine that sparked the internal conflict from 1988 to 1998. More should be done to balance profits and impacts in the earliest stages of a project. Another opportunity identified by participants is regulating the low risk activities that can become an issue later. For example, the Environment Act only takes very large agricultural projects into account and smaller ones aren’t being assessed. This should also include permitting for endeavours such as managing sewerage waste.

Participants proposed that more should be done to align legislative and executive action at the national and provincial level so that environmental management can be better implemented on the ground. This could also help to share the burden of environmental regulation and take the pressure off national agencies that are short of funding and staff.  In particular, it was noted that there is broad scope for the provincial governments to engage in assessment and management of environmental and cultural matters that may otherwise fall out of the scope of the national environmental regulation, for example small-to-medium scale agriculture. Increased engagement of the provincial governments in these matters would improve environmental regulation without duplicating efforts by the national government.

The national level policies include Vision 2050 and StaRS (National Strategy for Responsible Sustainable Development for Papua New Guinea). Both require projects to comply, but these actions must be supported by resources which are often unavailable. Work should be done to share the responsibility for environmental regulation across all levels of Papua New Guinea’s administration, from the national to the provincial and local. This will increase ownership for these policies and ensure that everyone supports them. It will also allow provincial and local level governments to adapt their programs appropriately for their region’s context. Papua New Guinea is extremely diverse, both culturally and environmentally, and local governments may be better placed to effectively implement policies because they have a better understanding of the local context than the national government.

Participants suggested that one way to increase local support for environmental policies could be to find a local leader to champion the cause in the community, but this is dependent on the specific context and goals of the project. This also runs the risk of pushing projects onto local communities that are not well understood or do not meet the community’s most pressing needs. Participants stressed that projects should undertake extensive community consultation and analysis to discover the true needs of the community, and let them speak for themselves.

Participants also discussed the potential value of a long term strategic land use map and resource modelling for Papua New Guinea. They highlighted the need for a national overview, specifically a government land use map that shows where activities such as forestry, agriculture, and mining take place. This would highlight the interconnectedness of these activities, and the need to understand all the different ways natural resources are being used in one area so accurate resource use predictions can be made and appropriate plans implemented. It would also help maximise the productive capacity of the environment in a way that can sustain the community over the next 50 years as population growth continues to rise. Participants noted that resource modelling would be a good area for Australia to collaborate with Papua New Guinea, to predict at what rate resources will be used into the future and plan accordingly. However, Australia has not necessarily achieved this effectively itself at the national level, but generally does well at the regional level in terms of infrastructure planning. Participants concluded that as two resource-rich countries, national land use plans were necessary on both sides. A strong body of work on land use in Papua New Guinea was published in 2009, so rather than start from the beginning there is a solid base from which to begin updating this knowledge.

Participants discussed the importance of data collection, monitoring and evaluation to make good environmental decisions. Reporting is important because it is how projects communicate information to stakeholders – one example of this from Australia is the healthy waterways report card. It is also important to ensure the thresholds are right, and understand how to develop “SMART goals” (specific, measurable, attributable, relevant, trackable).


Stream B’s first session focused on ‘Climate change assessment and adaption’, and the projects and policies that address this. Discussion was led by Gwen Sissiou and Martin Rice, and participants examined the overlap between Australia and Papua New Guinea, and the shared lessons from both contexts. Participants discussed projects they had worked on that set high standards for environmental engagement, and explored how to overcome common challenges.

The key issues which arose from this session were largely from the Papua New Guinean context. They included the need to simplify and localise policies, simplify the decision-making process, and ensure solutions are community based and workable in different local contexts. This is challenging given the social, cultural and geographical diversity of Papua New Guinea. Participants emphasised that Papua New Guinea has the opportunity to avoid making Australia’s mistakes, and can instead leapfrog over them to advance forwards without having the same negative climate impacts. However, this window of opportunity is rapidly narrowing.

Participants shared examples of successful projects that focused on assessing and adapting to climate change. One of these was an agricultural program where Papua New Guinean women’s groups collaborated with Australian universities to research traditional vegetables and learn about their resilience to climate change. The vegetables were examined for their nutritional benefit, sustainability, hardiness and insect resistance. This information was used to help communities adapt to the adverse effects of climate change, especially drought. As most of the responsibility for gardening and local level agriculture in Papua New Guinea falls to women, there is a gendered element to this issue. Women often bear the brunt of food insecurity. Overall, this project aimed to subvert the traditional food aid crisis response in favour of giving communities the tools to adapt and overcome food shortages. It is a positive example of a project that implemented effective adaptation measures at the local level through successful community consultation, meaning the community didn’t have to rely on service centres. The key takeaway from this example was that community engagement with a focus on women is crucial for the success of climate change adaption projects, especially agricultural projects. Another major factor in this project’s success was having a community champion, with a passion for the project who can engage the community and help them take ownership. As opposed to outside contractors who often fail to understand the nuances of local communities.

Participants discussed another important issue for climate change in both countries, energy distributor networks. As energy systems become vulnerable as a result of climate change, systems need to be more flexible and connected. In Papua New Guinea, energy poverty is still a significant issue but Papua New Guinea can learn from Australia and choose different sources and systems to provide for their energy needs. Papua New Guinea has the opportunity to sidestep the mistakes made in countries like Australia, who rely heavily on fossil fuels for energy. Instead of following the same development path and then trying to tackle the Sustainable Development Goals, Papua New Guinea can rise to the challenge and develop systems based on renewable energy to maintain their low carbon footprint while also progressing towards their development objectives. Close collaboration with the private sector would be necessary to successfully enact these policies. But as long as there are ongoing pressures such as population growth, these opportunities will decline quickly, especially as climate change multiplies threats. For this reason, focusing on climate change in a vacuum is a mistake.

Discussions then focused on the role of the private sector in climate change assessment and adaptation. In Papua New Guinea the private sector is often left out of conversations about the environment even though they are engaged in diverse work that affects climate change. Participants suggested that Papua New Guinea’s private sector would welcome engagement with the Green Climate Fund. The private sector is also reacting to climate change conversations. For example, for many companies the conversion of tree covered land for business or agriculture is no longer seen as viable or socially acceptable. Instead, industrial agriculture is moving to areas without trees. In Australia, mechanisms for private sector engagement on climate change issues are already established and the approach can be more systematic.

Another theme which ran through this session was the need to re-evaluate system structures to communicate policies and their impacts to local communities in a meaningful and simple way. The issue of climate change impacts many dimensions of life in Papua New Guinea, such as culture, economics, and governance. Education and training is needed to help village communities understand what is happening at the global level. One challenge is a lack of community leadership beyond traditional governance systems. In response to this gap, Papua New Guinea could develop an ethical leadership in environment program, aimed at building capacity and strengthening leadership in this space, particularly women and youth. Community problems require community solutions to encourage ownership and as a result make programs sustainable. Individual farming leads to more deforestation than community farming projects. Community examples of climate change adaptation will involve technology, knowledge of key climate zones, and the sustainable development of resilient cash crops. As people in Papua New Guinea are often geographically tied to their customary land, communities vulnerable to climate change may end up isolated and with nowhere else to go.

Better decision making was highlighted as crucial to improving processes around climate change adaptation. The economic, climate, and social diversity of Papua New Guinea makes building effective decision making structures difficult for government. This is very different to the Australian context, so environmental and development groups should not attempt to think in terms of what works in Australia. Outside groups need to consider the repercussions of imposing Western development and climate adaptation methods on Papua New Guinea. This goes hand in hand with preserving traditional knowledge, which is also crucial to the success of conservation and environmental initiatives. Local people with traditional knowledge often know better ways to engage with and preserve their region than outside specialists.


The second session in stream B focused on ‘Working constrictively with the private sector’, and the discussion was led by Susie Smith and Lucinda Gulluman Kisip. This session aimed to workshop how to build businesses with sustainable economic, environmental and social outcomes, and identify successful partnerships that demonstrate best practice. It also asked how these projects could be enhanced and leveraged to deepen their impact. The themes that guided this discussion included identifying successful partnerships that demonstrate best practice, building sustainable businesses, and recognising the strengths and weaknesses of partnerships between the public and private sectors. Participants broke into four groups to undertake an analysis of these themes and identify the relevant strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

The first group examined the strengths of successful public/private partnerships. Participants determined that these include technical expertise collaboration, encouraging commitment through creating up-to-date regulatory frameworks, developing industry best practice, and enhancing both social and local responsibility. They also noted the importance of increasing transparency through partnerships, creating stronger knowledge bases and better expertise, and increasing potential access to capital.

The second group brainstormed weaknesses and areas to improve when collaborating with the private sector. They emphasised that it is necessary to have a bespoke approach in Papua New Guinea. It was noted that the private sector is profit oriented and environmental considerations often come second. Main weaknesses included a lack of overall industry standards (especially in trade), a lack of shared values and trust, a clash of local and private sector values, different expectations, trade-offs that come at the expense of the environment, minimal access to information and communication, issues of transparency, and a lack of funding in Papua New Guinea. Participants emphasised that effort needs to be made to build a platform for communities to be involved in decision making processes to create equal partnerships and for Papua New Guineans to meaningfully participate. This is especially true where there are differing goals and expectations. It was also noted that the lack of shared values and trust was partly due to different levels of education and disparity in quality of life.

The opportunities identified by the third group were for partnership, collaboration and information sharing between the private sector and the public/NGO space. This included access to financial and technical skills, logistical support, and understanding the regulatory framework. Participants also pointed out the value of community engagement, understanding government priorities, and long term commitment.

The fourth group considered weaknesses and risks of these partnerships. In Papua New Guinea, the main weakness identified was the lack of incentives for companies to do the right thing, both in sustainability and across the board. Companies that were run honestly were perceived to be at a disadvantage. This was tied to the susceptibility of the private sector to corruption and bribery. This factor, combined with a lack of consistent regulations and enforcement, was thought to make investing in Papua New Guinea unattractive. However, this group also identified some motivations to be honest in business including gaining access to markets and building a strong reputation. Complicated and time consuming administration was raised as a weakness in the Australian context.

The participants reconvened to discuss the environmental and social challenges facing Papua New Guinea. It was noted that the while the Sustainable Development Goals captured many environmental goals, they neglected to include the cultural aspects and goals that are important to the Pacific region. Participants listed some of the main environmental and social challenges facing Papua New Guinea as road infrastructure, deforestation for agriculture, and a lack of incentives to maintain forest areas. They also pointed to poorly communicated policies and insufficient formal and informal education. Other broader underlying issues include health, clean water, waste management systems, gender, and climate change. Participants stressed that gaining the free and informed consent of village communities is crucial and often overlooked. Finally, participants believed that there should be more innovation to address the many challenges of implementing social and environmental policies and more incentives for the private sector to address these issues.

Participants at the ‘Knowledge sharing for sustainable futures’ workshop. Photo supplied: DFAT.

The Lowy Institute would like to thank the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for their continuing support for the Aus-PNG Network.


Anna Yamanea Gender Development Officer, Department of Agriculture and Livestock
Amanda Donigi Editor, Stella magazine
Barbra Thomas Executive Director, The Voice Inc.
Bernadette Haro National Technical Adviser – Gender, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation
Bernard Maladina Managing Director, Niugini Strategic Services Lt
Clifton Gwabu Senior Agriculture & Resource Economist, PNG National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI)
Dambis Kaip Manager, Policy and Aid Coordination, PNG Forest Authority
Darian Clark First Secretary, Australian High Commission Port Moresby
Eleanor Maeaoka Graduate Development Program, EcoServices Limited
Eswin Kumanunku Graduate Development Program, EcoServices Limited
Hannah Kavo Graduate Sustainability Officer, EcoServices Limited
Hillary Nip Graduate Development Program, EcoServices Limited
Ian Orrell Head of Sustainability, New Britain Palm Oil Limited (Group)
James Butler Adaptive Urban and Social Systems Program, CSIRO Land and Water
Jeffry Noro Director Policy, PNG Science and Technology Secretariat, Papua New Guinea
Jerry Fareho Environmental and Regulatory Advisor, ExxonMobil
Jessica Andoiye-Hetra BMT WBM Pty Ltd.
John Ipidari Manager, Project Coordination, Mineral Resources Authority
Keron Kilip Oil Search, Government Affairs Advisor
Lina Pandihau Aquaculture and Inland Fisheries Unit, National Fisheries Autority
Laura Ann Dresser ExxonMobil PNG Environmental and Regulatory Supervisor
Maria Linibi Founder President, PNG Women in Agriculture Development Foundation
Mark Nizette Kokoda Initiative Strategic Advisor, CEPA
Rachel Amene-Laena HSSE & Compliance Department, Origin
Regina Nugints Chief Livestock Development Officer, Department of Agriculture and Livestock
Rosanda Kora Pacific Private Sector Development Initiative, ADB
Rose Singadan Manager, Oil and Gas Coordination Unit, CEPA
Rosemary Korawali Co-founder, Sago Network
Samantha Kuman Project Coordinator, Sustainable Coastlines Papua New Guinea
Serah Letuan Agricultural scientist, Highlands Pacific
Terence Pogo Senior Scholarship Officer | Universities, Tertiary Admissions and Scholarship Division, PNG Department of Higher Education, Research, Science & Technology


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About the Authors

Harriet Smith - Research Associate, Lowy Institute - Lowy Institute

Harriet Smith

Research Associate, Lowy Institute

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Harriet Smith is a Research Associate in the Melanesia Program, where she works primarily on the Aus-PNG Network. She holds a Master of International Studies from the University of Queensland.

Anna Kirk - Project Director, Aus-PNG Network - Lowy Institute

Anna Kirk

Project Director, Aus-PNG Network

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Anna Kirk was Research Fellow and Project Director of the Aus-PNG Network at the Lowy Institute, where her work focused on Australia’s relations with Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands. Anna holds a Bachelor of International Studies from the University of Queensland, with majors in Peace and Conflict Studies and Spanish. Anna grew up in Port Vila, Vanuatu. During her undergraduate degree she spent a semester studying Spanish language at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. In 2013, Anna spent six months teaching English in Santiago, Chile.