The Asian region makes up about one-quarter of Earth's land area, but holds almost 60 percent of the world's population.
Tremendous population pressures throughout the region have contributed to the region's substantial forest loss.
Additionally, many Asian countries have entered a period of sustained spectacular economic growth in the past few
years, resulting in the increased consumption of forest resources.
Forest change in south and southeast Asia, 1980-2005
Forest cover, end of period hectares
Average annual loss hectares
Average annual loss percent
Source: FAO. Data for 1980-1990 is extrapolated from disparate FAO sources.
Since the close of the 1990s, the rate of deforestation in tropical Asia has climbed by more than 20 percent, from 0.8 percent per year to almost 1 percent per year. This jump is largely due to the economic slowdown that affected the region in the late 1990s and depressed logging and development (see explanation below).
In this region, clearing for agriculture fueled by the food demand of the large population, has played a large
part in forest clearing in the region. The poverty of some countries means there is a large class of rural poor dependent on forests for food and wood supplies.
Of commercial activities, logging takes a dominant role in forest loss, followed distantly by mining and hydroelectric
projects. Commercial logging in this region has been more widespread and intensive than in other regions, and poor
harvesting techniques have led to severe ecological degradation. Before World War I and during the early postwar
years, most tropical timber entering the world market came from countries bordering the Atlantic. Foreign demand
for Asian rainforest timbers was limited to certain specialty species and timber consumption was mostly domestic
in nature. Since the 1950s, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Papua New Guinea have exported large amounts
of timber to Japan for its postwar reconstruction and economic boom. Initially most logging occurred in Peninsular
Malaysia and the Philippines, but in the 1970s Indonesia became the timber king when it began granting concessions
to multinational corporations. The market share of nonconiferous tropical timber exports of Indonesia, Malaysia,
and Brunei increased from 17 percent in 1965 to 30 percent in 1973 to over 70 percent in the 1980s. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, with falling timber stocks and log prices, many traditional log exporters placed moratoria on log exports and began to restrict timber harvesting. Today timber from new markets (Laos, Cambodia, New Guinea) is taking over for the
Philippines and Malaysia.
Several countries in Asia have extensive mineral endowments on their rainforest lands, the exploitation
of which is generally detrimental to the environment.
A few governments, most notably Indonesia, have promoted the settlement of outer area to relieve some of the population
pressures of major cities and islands. The colonists arrive on outer islands and proceed to cut forests for agricultural
sites, fuelwood, and grazing lands. These myopic resettlement policies have already had serious ecological consequences
and threaten the future economic vitality of the region.
Today much of Asia's remaining forest is degraded, making it more susceptible to drying out during dry spells. The
El Niño conditions of 1997-98 facilitated the spread of land-clearing fires set by plantations owners and
subsistence farmers. These fires rapidly spread into massive conflagrations that burned expansive tracts of bush
and rainforest in Kalimantan, Sumatra, Sulawesi, New Guinea, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines.
Health advocates warn that the regional health effects may last for years.
There is hope for the rainforests of the Asian realm. Many governments and middle-class citizens are increasingly
environmentally conscious and recognizing the importance of conserving their forests, and many are showing interest
in reforming their environmental policies. Governments and local conservation organizations are looking towards
new ways to promote sustainable use of rainforests in a way that benefits impoverished peasants, conserves biodiversity
and forest resources, and helps to sustain the region's current economic growth. Community-based forest management
is on the increase as is eco-tourism, which in many areas is over-developed and devastating to the local environment.
The Asian realm has the most plantations of any tropical region, with around 80 percent of tropical plantations. Though
many of these have been planted on forest lands specifically cleared for the purpose, more plantations are being
planted on previously degraded lands. Plantations are effective in that they both provide the product they are
designated for, but also are used as a source of wood for peasant farmers after harvesting.
One of the biggest concerns facing the Asian region in the new few years is what will become of countries that
still have abundant forest reserves. These tend to be poorer countries, yet to reach the economic development of
the others in the region, conservationists fear they will use their forest resources as a stepping
stone towards development.
The Asian economic slowdown produced some good news, from a conservation standpoint: the higher prices of imports
like the equipment necessary for logging and mining meant that many firms had to suspend operations. Higher production
costs, coupled with lower demand from a drop in construction, meant that less timber was taken from Southeast Asian
forests than anticipated. In addition, in order to reduce spending, the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia had
to reduce subsidies for and shelve some development projects that would have resulted in more deforestation.
Reports slam Malaysian timber companies, urge reforms in forest management
(02/27/2015) Two international NGOs have called out Malaysia in recent months over the country’s widespread illegal logging. Malaysia has been accused of not doing enough to protect its diminishing forests and thwart the illicit timber trade, particularly in Sarawak, the site of the country’s worst deforestation. Lax oversight, endemic corruption and limited transparency have allowed for Malaysia’s forests to be plundered by both the government and the private sector.
Jokowi's environmental commitments in Indonesia
(02/26/2015) Last fall Indonesia elected its first president with no ties to the established political order or the military. Joko Widodo's election was widely heralded by reformers who hoped the politician's capable management in his stints as mayor of the town of Solo and metropolis of Jakarta could transform Indonesia's chronically underperforming bureaucracy, potentially ushering in a new era of improved human rights, better environmental stewardship, reduced corruption, and healthier economic growth.
Photos: Amur leopard population hits at least 65
(02/26/2015) Most of the world's big predators are in decline, but there are some happy stories out there. This week, WWF announced that the Amur leopard population has grown to a total of 65-69 cats. This represents a more than doubling of the population in eight years. Still, the Critically Endangered subspecies remains perilously close to extinction.
Reports blame illegal logging for felling Sarawak forest
(02/25/2015) A recent report by the international affairs think tank Chatham House has highlighted Malaysia’s lack of progress in dealing with illegal logging, blaming corruption and a lack of transparency on the country’s sluggish approach to environmental policy reform.
Cambodia deports activist leader...then suspends controversial dam
(02/25/2015) On Monday, Cambodia deported well-known environmental activist, Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, back to his native Spain. Co-founder of the Cambodian NGO, Mother Nature, Gonzalez-Davidson played a vital role in blocking efforts to build the Cheay Areng Dam. But a day after deporting the activist, Cambodia's Prime Minister, Hun Sen, said the country would postpone the dam until 2018.
Rainforest loss increased in the 2000s, concludes new analysis
(02/25/2015) Loss of tropical forests accelerated roughly 60 percent during the 2000s, argues a paper published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. The findings contradict previous research suggesting that deforestation slowed since the 1990s. The study is based on a map of 1990 forest cover developed last year by Do-Hyung Kim and colleagues from the University of Maryland. The map, which includes 34 countries that contain 80 percent of the world's tropical forests, enabled the researchers to establish a consistent baseline for tracking forest cover change across regions and countries over time.
Santander Bank cuts off APRIL due to deforestation
(02/24/2015) Banking giant Santander says it will not extend further financing to Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) due to evidence that the Singapore-based pulp and paper company is continuing to destroy rainforests in Indonesia. The move comes after Greenpeace launched a global campaign against the bank.
Locals lead scientists to new population of near-extinct reptile
(02/24/2015) By the early Twentieth Century, the world had pretty much given up on the Arakan forest turtle, named after the hills where it was found in 1875 in western Myanmar. Now, this Lazarus reptile —which has been dubbed one of the 25 most threatened turtles on the planet —has more good news: researchers have documented an entirely new population where no one
New Guinea rainforest being leveled for palm oil, revealing gaps in zero deforestation pacts
(02/23/2015) An Indonesian palm oil firm is destroying rainforests in New Guinea despite high profile zero deforestation pledges from its customers, finds research by Greenomics-Indonesia. Landsat imagery acquired and analyzed by Greenomics shows that Austindo Nusantara Jaya Agri (ANJ) is clearing high carbon stock forests in the southern part of West Papua's Bird's Head Peninsula in Indonesian New Guinea.
Are small-scale hydro projects always greener?
(02/23/2015) Rising energy demand and global efforts to mitigate climate change have made renewable energy projects increasingly attractive. One widely known and well-developed source of renewable energy is hydroelectricity. However, past environmental campaigns against large dams have resulted in policy changes in some parts of the world, leading to an increasing number of small hydropower projects.
Authorities catch kingpin responsible for killing 20 rhinos
(02/19/2015) With the aid of Interpol, authorities have arrested the leader of a rhino poaching gang responsible for killing a 20 Indian rhinoceros in Nepal. Last month, authorities nabbed Raj Kumar Praja in Malaysia where he had been evading capture for two years. Kumar was already evicted of 15 poaching incidents in absentia and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Chinese banks funding rainforest destruction in Indonesia
(02/18/2015) While Santander Bank has made headlines in recent days for financing an Indonesian forestry giant's ongoing clearance of carbon-dense forests in Sumatra, Chinese banks among the largest funders of the company, reveals analysis conducted by BankTrack.org.
Indonesian forestry and fishery ministries move to eradicate corruption
(02/17/2015) Today Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) signed a memorandum of understanding with the national forestry and fishery ministries as well as a number of provincial governors to better integrate management and monitoring of the country’s oceans and forests.
42 pangolins rescued...then sold to restaurants
(02/17/2015) On February 1st, local police seized 42 live Sunda pangolins from poachers and handed them over to forest rangers in Vietnam's northern province of Bac Ninh. While the poachers were slapped with a fine, the rangers turned around and sold the live pangolins to local restaurants for a reported $56 a kilo, netting a total of $11,300 for the Critically Endangered mammals.
Sabah shocked by banteng poaching
(02/16/2015) Malaysia's Daily Express recently published graphic photos of poachers in the Malaysian state of Sabah posing proudly with a number of illegally slaughtered large animals, including the incredibly rare and cryptic banteng. Wild, forest cattle, banteng are scattered across parts of Southeast Asia, but Borneo is home to a distinct subspecies: Bos javanicus lowi.
Indonesia dissolves agency charged with forestry reform
(02/11/2015) The world's first cabinet-level ministry dedicated to implementing REDD+ has been dissolved. In accordance with Indonesian Presidential Decree No. 16/2015 the agency known as BP REDD+, along with the National Council on Climate Change, has been absorbed into the newly merged Ministry of the Environment and Forestry (MoEF) as part of a massive government restructuring.
Pollinator collapse could lead to a rise in malnutrition
(02/09/2015) Saving the world's pollinators may be a public health issue, according to recent research. Scientists have long believed that pollinators are important for human nutrition, but this is first time they have tested the hypothesis. What they found is disturbing: pollinator collapse could increase nutrient deficiency across local populations by a up to 56 percent in four developing counties.
Forestry giant's zero deforestation commitment put to test
(02/05/2015) An independent audit of the world’s largest pulp and paper producer found that the company had achieved a wide range of results in meeting promises to end deforestation and resolve conflicts with forest communities. In 2013 Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) announced its Forest Conservation Policy (FCP), which included a pledge to end deforestation among its suppliers, improve communication and conflict resolution with forest communities, protecting peatlands, and sourcing fiber only from responsible suppliers.
When is a forest a forest? How definitions affect monitoring
(01/29/2015) What exactly is a forest? With forest definitions differing from country to country, and primary forests, secondary forests, and even tree plantations all perceived collectively as "tree cover" by satellite data, how does one accurately keep tabs on land changes?
China tries out logging ban in northeastern province
(01/28/2015) China's Heilongjiang province, which borders Russia to its north and east, contains 18.5 million hectares of state forest - more natural forest than any other province in the country. However, since the mid-twentieth century, Heilongjiang has had over 600 million cubic meters of timber extracted from its woodlands. Now, China is trying out a complete ban on commercial logging in the province's state-owned forests.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions generated from mongabay.com operations (server, data transfer, travel) are mitigated through an association with Anthrotect,
an organization working with Afro-indigenous and Embera communities to protect forests in Colombia's Darien region. Anthrotect is protecting the habitat of mongabay's mascot: the scale-crested pygmy tyrant.
"Rainforest" is used interchangeably with "rain forest" on this site. "Jungle" is generally not used.