While they have a close geographic relationship, Papua New Guinea and Australia each have remarkably different environmental assets – and challenges.

Environment of Australia

Photo: Exmouth Dive and Whalesharks Ningaloo

Australia is the world’s sixth largest country with a diverse and unique environment stretching across the world’s second driest continent. Its geography is remarkably flat and made up of 20 percent desert.  Vast plains and plateaus stretch across the dry inland, with major rivers clustered near the coasts save for the massive Murray-Darling system which drains four states through the Murray River in South Australia. The continent’s remoteness has resulted in the evolution of many unusual examples of plants and animals.

Lake Hume, Victoria. (Photo: Tim J Keegan/Flickr)

Human activities in the past two hundred years have significantly altered the Australian environment, with agricultural and urban development placing demands on water and land use.  Issues include salination, overgrazing, land clearing, water scarcity, exotic species, coastal pollution, species loss and climate change.

Among 19 Australian sites on the World Heritage List are the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu National Park and K’gari (Fraser Island).

Australia’s Federal government is the primary environmental regulator. The Department of Environment oversees regulation, approvals and environmental monitoring.  Each state government also regulates environmental law in their jurisdiction, and retains direct management of national parks and other physical resources.

Environment of Papua New Guinea

The rugged volcanic land and surrounding islands of Papua New Guinea are home to the world’s third largest tropical rainforest. The forests sustain an estimated 85 percent of the country’s population with food and shelter. The mainland rises from the coast to a spine of daunting peaks, the highest being Mount Wilhelm at 4,509 metres.  The highlands are drained by major rivers to the north and West: the Sepik is the country’s longest, flowing more than 1100 kilometres along the coastal lowlands of the north; the Fly river system flows South along the border with Indonesia to the delta in Western Province. There are more than 600 islands, stretching from Manus in the North across to Bougainville and down to the Torres Strait. There are active volcanoes and the entire nation is regularly subjected to seismic activity.

Felled timber logs, Gulf Province PNG. Photo: Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert/Greenpeace

Environmental degradation, habitat loss and mining pollution are the primary environmental challenges for PNG.  Exploitation of forestry resources, and the clearing of land for agricultural development has led to the loss of forest cover and the species that live within it. Poor regulation in fisheries has led to overfishing. Major environmental consequences have resulted from mining development including the pollution of the Fly river from the disposal of mine tailings.

The lead agency for environmental regulation is the Conservation and Environmental Protection Agency, and interaction with global climate policy is managed by the Climate Change and Development Authority.

The Kuk archaeological site in the Western Highlands has been listed for World Heritage protection, and a number of other sites have been nominated including the Kikori Basin, the upper Sepik, and the Nakanai caves in New Britain.

Links & Resources

PNG and Australia are members of the Pacific Regional Environment Program, which provides technical technical assistance, policy advice, training and research activities to assist its member countries to protect and deliver sustainable environmental development outcomes.

Australia and PNG collaborate in marine environment conservation such as the Coral Triangle Initiative for Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI-CFF) and Torres Strait Treaty Environmental Management Committee.

Australia and PNG are both parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Australia’s Environment Department is the lead agency overseeing national environmental law, regulation and management of national environmental resources.

The Australian Government has this summary of the country’s natural environment.

Geoscience Australia maintains extensive resources on Australia’s geography and natural resources.

The Conservation and Environmental Protection Authority is PNG’s primary agency for environmental regulation and management.

The Climate Change and Development Authority manages PNG’s engagement with international climate policies and regulation.

PNG’s Mineral Resources Authority maintains online data about mining leases and projects.

The PNG Forest Observatory maps the country’s forest resources.

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Emerging Leader Participants

Nicholas Papas - Architect - Lowy Institute

Nicholas Papas


ELD Year:


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Nicholas Papas is a full-time architect based in Sydney who has extensive experience with research, technical support and volunteering in Papua New Guinea. He is studying a postgraduate degree by research looking at sanitation in Barakau village in conjunction with the community development organisation Sago Network. In addition, Nicholas holds Masters and Bachelors degrees in Architecture from the University of New South Wales.

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Kokoda Spirit - Lowy Institute

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