Department of Environment and Conservation in Papua New Guinea E-mail
Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Background on Department of Environment and Conservation in Papua New Guinea

Department of Environment and Conservation

The Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) was established in 1985. Its mission (approved by the National Executive Council on 22 August 1989) is to ensure natural and physical resources are managed to sustain environmental quality and human well-being.

The key legislations administered by the Department are:

  • Environmental Planning Act 1978

  • Environmental Contaminants Act 1978

  • Conservation Areas Act 1978

  • National Parks Act 1982

  • International Trade (Fauna & Flora) Act 1979

  • Fauna (Protection and Control) Act 1966

  • Crocodile Trade (Protection) Act 1974

  • Water Resources Act 1982

It also has an important role under the Forests Act 1992.

Efforts are currently underway to amalgamate three legislation (Environment Planning Act, Environment Contaminants Act and Water Resource Act) to provide for an effective and efficient environmental regulation process. The system is intended to provide for a one-stop-shop environmental approval.

The functions of the Department include:

  • environmental impact assessment of major projects including forestry, mining and petroleum proposals;

  • environment policy development;

  • pollution control and the regulation of hazardous substances;

  • management of water resources

  • conservation of flora and fauna;

  • establishment and management of national parks and protected areas;

  • species management;

  • biodiversity assessment;

  • biodiversity data management;

  • hydrological investigation, data collection and analysis;

  • education and awareness, and;

  • administration of Papua New Guinea’s international environmental convention agreements.

Following a recent reorganization, the Department now has a Corporate Services Division and Two Technical Divisions, which are Conservation and Environment respectively. The former Bureau of Water Resources Division has now been absorbed as a Branch within the Environment Division.

Corporate Services Division

The Division has three (3) branches: Finance and Administration, Human Resources Development and Policy and Planning. A Public Education and Awareness Unit is also attached to the First Assistant Secretary’s Office.

Conservation Division

The conservation program administered by the DEC has goals similar to those of conservation management agencies in other countries. However, many of the challenges faced by the programs are unique to Papua New Guinea. Original conservation methods will be required to implement the objectives. Overseas models for protected areas, for example, may not fit easily. The need to develop a palette of conservation methods, which are appropriate and successful in Papua New Guinea, is a fundamental concern.

About three percent (3 per cent) of the country’s total land area are currently under some form of protected status. There are four national parks, three provincial parks, 27 wildlife management areas and a number of sanctuaries and other conservation areas. All of the existing protected areas are on land. Coastal and marine protection has, only recently, become a priority issue. The DEC also operates some species management projects most notably with crocodiles and butterflies, and administers species protection legislation.

Experience to date suggests that there may be limited potential in Papua New Guinea for Government-owned “protected areas” in the style of national parks. Approximately 97 per cent of the total area of PNG is held under customary ownership.

The need for conservation has, however, increased enormously in recent years. While traditional beliefs and customs have helped to protect the environment in the past, the integrity of the natural environment throughout Papua New Guinea is under increasing threat from the development of extractive industries and growth of the cash economy.

Within PNG, conventional ideas for creating “parks” are being put aside in favour of an “integrated conservation and development” type of approach. The DEC firmly believes it is important to develop the notion of a formal “conservation system” – a network of places and resources where the main emphasis is on conservation. This system is needed not only to ensure the immediate protection of key resources within Papua New Guinea, but also, importantly, to focus efforts on finding workable models for conservation management. The need to have the target of creating a “conservation system” will give focus to a conservation program, at least for the immediate future. Ultimately, if good, workable models for conservation can be developed within the conservation system, the DEC hopes it can then turn more of its attention to outreach programs to spread information about environmental models.

The conservation program’s legislative base developed from the Fauna (Protection and Control) Act, 1966. This Act provides for the establishment of sanctuaries, protected areas and wildlife management areas on land held under customary ownership. These wildlife management areas allow major plant species to be utilized by traditional owners under an approved management and cropping program, strictly for the benefit of traditional owners. The sanctuaries protect the wildlife of an area, although some specified species may be hunted. Protected areas allow hunting of wildlife for specified species.

The National Parks Act 1982 provides for reserving Government land in various categories of conventional style parks and it allows for the leasing of, and accepting gifts of land for conservation purposes.

The Conservation Areas Act 1978 has similar objectives to the National Parks Act, but importantly, its provisions apply to all types of land, not just government land. This Act is very flexible in its definitions of conservation methods.

Other legislation important to the enforcement of conservation are:


  • the Crocodile (Trade and Protection) Act 1974, which regulates the crocodile industry;

  • the Customs Regulations which provide for control over the export of fauna, alive or dead, and;

  • the International Trade (Fauna and Flora) Act 1979, which provides Central measures on International Trade on Wild Fauna and Flora.

There is a strong determination to reverse the cycle of conservation effort decline of the past several years. Encouraged by the international conservation community and by indication of substantial support from other donor agencies, the DEC has recently revised its conservation program, and has embarked on a major new effort to expand conservation awareness.

Recent initiatives in conservation include:

A major project, which attempts to apply the wildlife management area concept to both coastal and marine situations in the Hiri East zone management area;

  • The protected area rehabilitation program - part one, which has initiated a major review of existing protected areas;

  • The Conservation Needs Assessment (CNA) project which supports the process of setting priorities for extending conservation areas and management systems, and;

  • The new conservation system design project which provides for selection criteria role for protected areas using Integrated Consent and Development (ICAD) process.

The Conservation Division of DEC shares with all other Government agencies the long term goal of integrating conservation and assisting the development of natural resources throughout the country. The division also has a specific responsibility to achieve a Government target of having 20 per cent of PNG’s land and coastal waters eventually under some form of conservation management. The division is made up of three branches: Conservation Management, Biodiversity Assessment and Species Management.

Environment Protection and Management Division

The 1980s and early 1990s saw an unprecedented growth in natural resource developments throughout Papua New Guinea. This growth placed an increasing demand on the DEC to ensure that the development and use resources is properly managed, and the effects regulated, in a manner that sustains environmental quality and human well-being. The Environmental Division of DEC is principally charged with ensuring that this achieved. This division comprises three (3) branches.

These are:

  • Environmental Impact Assessment Branch;

  • Environmental Protection Branch; and

  • Water Resources Management Branch

Environmental Impact Assessment Branch

The Environmental Impact Assessment Brach is required to monitor, assess and manage all development proposals through the environmental planning legislation under the Environmental Planning Act 1978. Under this Act, a developer may voluntarily submit, or be required to submit, a detailed environmental plan to the DEC for assessment and evaluation before gaining approval to proceed. Once approval has been granted and the development proceeds, the division is then responsible for ensuring that the development’s progress complies with the conditions laid down in the environmental plan. This involves regular inspections and the evaluation of monitoring and survey results to verify compliance.

Environmental Protection Branch

The Environmental Protection Branch has the responsibility to ensure the prevention, abatement and control of environmental contaminants through the administration of the Environmental Contaminants Act 1978. This Act covers many areas of environmental pollution and makes provision for establishing a licensing procedure for water, air and land discharge of pollutants. It also sets out to establish a register of hazardous environmental contaminants, which regulates their importation, manufacture, distribution and use. At the present time, the effective operation of this legislation awaits the development of licensing procedures and regulatory standards. The branch is responsible for the implementation of the country’s obligation under the Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and Protocol on Substances that deplete the Ozone Layer.

Water Resources Management Branch

The maintenance of the qualitative and quantitative values of the natural water resources of Papua New Guinea is seen as a key element in the sustainable development of the country’s resources as they are one of the country’s most important natural assets providing subsistence, communication and commercial value to many regions of the country. Protecting and conserving the existing quality and quantity is critical to the sustainable development of the country and for ultimately improving the quality of life for the people of Papua New Guinea.

The Government is aware that the natural water resources are coming under increasing pressure from the large number of resource development projects that are being implemented throughout the country in accordance with the Government’s overall Development Policies. There is an increasingly urgent need to ensure that the protection and conservation of this resource is managed in an effective, efficient and sustainable manner.

The management, conservation and control of the natural water resources of Papua New Guinea are the responsibility of the Water Resources Management Branch. The Branch’s policy states that the role of the Bureau is:

“To monitor, manage and control the country’s water resources in an effective and efficient manner for the benefit of the community, as stipulated in the Water Resources Act 1982.”

The statutory instrument under which the allocation and management of water resources proceeds is the Water Resources Act 1982. This is applied through the issuance of Water Use and Water Investigation Permits and through the declaration of Water Control Districts. Compliance conditions attached to the permits are designed to ensure that environmental quality is adequately protected in order to sustain the value of the resource. The establishment of Water Control Districts is a planning instrument, which is used to provide wider protection of environmental values in key or critical areas.

The Act is implemented by a Water Resources Board which consists of representatives from the Division and other Government departments and agencies including Health, Agriculture, Fisheries, Forests, Mining and Petroleum and the various Water Boards that are responsible for water supply and sewerage reticulation.

The Water Resources Management Branch is required to provide the Water Resources Board with sound and accurate resource management advice on all water- related matters, and to implement and enforce the decisions and recommendations of the Board under the Act. A key component in the formulation of sound resource management is the availability of accurate information upon which to base reliable assessments. The integrity and efficacy of the Bureau’s planning strategies and management programs, which form the basis of the advice given to the Board, depend primarily on the quality of these assessments.

The Board has taken the approach that effective implementation of planning strategies and management programs can be greatly enhanced by promoting a greater understanding and knowledge of the beneficial use and values of Papua New Guinea’s natural water resources throughout the wider community. Significant returns can be achieved at this level for relatively small expenditure of effort and as such, this constitutes an efficient supplement to any management strategy.

The Branch is responsible for carrying out the administrative and managerial functions of the Water Resources Act 1982. This includes water resource planning allocation, water management programs, and impact assessment and mitigation strategies. Its functions under the Act include the processing of all Water Use Permits, the inspection and enforcement functions provided for in the Act and the provision of advice and support to the Minister, other government departments and other organization on water- related issues.

The Hydrological Services Branch maintains a network of hydrological stations around the country as well as a national hydrological data bank. This is the branch that carries out hydrological data collection analysis and archiving for the government and clients.

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