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.
Large animals invaluable for tree-seed dispersal and regeneration of tropical forests
(03/30/2015) Nearly two-thirds of tropical forests in Southeast Asia have been degraded by logging, agriculture and other human uses, and their fauna have been decimated by hunting and the bushmeat trade. But if those degraded tropical forests are to recover naturally, they will need to rely on their remaining large wild animals to disperse large tree seeds, according to a new study.
APRIL violates sustainability policy by clearing peat forest after Jan cut-off
(03/26/2015) New data shows Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings Limited (APRIL) is continuing to destroy rainforests on deep peat despite a high profile pledge to clean up its operations. Today Greenomics-Indonesia released an analysis of two NASA Landsat images confirming that APRIL's subsidiary PT Riau Andalan Pulp Paper (RAPP) has cleared significant tracts of peat forest on Pulau Pedang island off Sumatra's coast since January 2015.
Destruction of elephant, tiger, and orangutan habitat doubles
(03/25/2015) The rate of forest loss in Indonesia's Leuser Ecosystem — the only place on Earth where rhinos, orangutans, tigers, and elephants live in the same habitat — has more than doubled due to logging, encroachment, and conversion to industrial plantations, warn conservationists. In a statement issued Tuesday, the Sumatran Orangutan Society reported that 80,316 hectares of forest were lost between 2008 and 2013, a sharp increase from the 30,830 hectares cleared between 2002 and 2008.
Who's funding palm oil?
(03/19/2015) Palm oil may be the single most important crop that you never heard of. A vegetable fat that resembles reddish butter at room temperature, palm oil is derived from the fruit of the oil palm tree. Both nutritious and highly versatile, palm oil is now an important component of products ranging from biofuels and food to soaps and cosmetics. Estimates indicate that as much as 50 percent of the products used by the average Western consumer every day contain palm oil or its derivatives.
Conservationists catch-and-release record-smashing freshwater fish
(03/17/2015) Conservationists and scientists have managed to catch-and-release what could be the world's biggest freshwater fish ever for an upcoming episode of Ocean Mysteries. Naturalist and host of the show, Jeff Corwin—along with wildlife veterinarian, Nantarika Chansue, and the tourist fishing group, fishsiam.com—managed to reel in a giant freshwater stingray.
Declining palm oil prices: Good news and bad news for smallholders
(03/16/2015) Declining crop prices usually spell bad news for farmers, and poor smallholders in particular. The drop in the price of palm oil from a recent high of US$860 per metric ton in March 2014 to below US$640 in March 2015 (and far below 2010-2012 prices which exceeded US$1000) heralds a shift in perceptions of oil palm from an economic boon to poverty-stricken smallholders, to a liability that ties small-scale farmers to a less profitable commodity.
New wormy amphibians discovered in Southeast Asia
(03/13/2015) Worms come in all different sizes, shapes, textures, colors, and flavors. Some attack human digestive systems, some surface after a rainstorm, and some come in plastic wrappers, covered in sour sugar, at the local grocery store. Despite their similar features and anatomies, many of the real worms (not the sugar kind) demonstrate convergent evolution, meaning they are not related but have independently evolved similar features.
Tiger family photo surprises scientists
(03/10/2015) In a frigid Russian forest, a camera trap snapped 21 family photos over two minutes. This wasn't a usual family, though, this was a tiger family, more specifically an Amur tiger family. And this wasn't even a usual tiger family: the cameras showed a dad leading the way.
New bird species confirmed in Sulawesi 15 years after first sighting
(03/06/2015) Although it’s a hotspot of avian biodiversity, the Indonesian island of Sulawesi has been “poorly studied ornithologically,” according to a study published in the scientific journal PloS one. Case in point: the subject of the study, a new species of flycatcher first observed in 1997 but not formally described by scientists until November 2014.
Indonesian fisheries ministry imposes new limits on gear and fish harvests
(03/04/2015) The Indonesian fisheries ministry has introduced two divisive pieces of legislation aimed at increasing the sustainability of Indonesia’s depleted ocean fisheries. Permen KP 1/2015 imposes size limits on wild-caught lobsters and crab, and forbids catching egg-bearing crustaceans. Permen KP 2/2015 bans trawl and seine fisheries. Fishermen last Thursday demonstrated outside the Ministry to protest the damage this will cause to their livelihoods.
Giant panda population rises by nearly 17 percent
(03/02/2015) One of the most iconic animals on the planet got good news this week. The world's giant panda population has risen by 268 individuals over the last decade, hitting a total of 1,864 animals, according to China's fourth decadal survey. This represents a total rise of 16.8 percent.
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.
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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.