The forests of Papua New Guinea are being chopped down so quickly that more than half its trees could be lost by 2021, according to a new satellite study of the region.
Papua New Guinea has the world's third largest tropical forest, but it was being cleared or degraded at a rate of 362,000 hectares (895,000 acres) a year in 2001, the report said.
Phil Shearman, lead author of the study by the University of Papua New Guinea and the Australian National University, said: "Forests are being logged repeatedly and wastefully with little regard for the environmental consequences, and with at least the passive complicity of government authorities."
The researchers compared satellite images taken over three decades from the early 1970s. In 1972 the country had 38m hectares (94m acres), of rainforest covering 82% of the country. About 15% of that was cleared by 2002.
Shearman said: "For the first time we have evidence of what's happening. The government could make a significant contribution to global efforts to combat climate change, as this nation is particularly susceptible to negative effects due to loss of the forest cover."
Papua New Guinea was a founder of the Rainforest Coalition group of tropical states that say rich countries should pay them to protect their forests as a way of tackling climate change. But the study suggests many of the trees could be gone by the time any deal is in place.
"If they are allowing multinational timber companies to take everything that's accessible, all that will be left will be lands that are physically inaccessible to exploitation and would never have been logged," said Shearman.