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.
After widespread deforestation, China bans commercial logging in northern forests
(04/22/2014) Forestry authorities in China have stopped commercial logging in the nation's largest forest area, marking an end to more than a half-century of intensive deforestation that removed an estimated 600 million cubic meters (21 billion cubic feet) of timber. The logging shutdown was enacted in large part to protect soil and water quality of greater China, which are significantly affected by forest loss in the mountainous region.
APRIL continued destroying high conservation rainforest up until January pledge
(04/21/2014) Plantation giant Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) continued to source fiber produced by destruction of high conservation value forests in Sumatra right up until it committed to a new forest conservation policy, according to an investigation by Eyes of the Forest, a coalition of environmental groups in Riau.
New relative of the 'penis snake' discovered in Myanmar
(04/17/2014) Scientists have discovered a new species of limbless amphibians, known as caecilians, in Myanmar. Dubbing the species, the colorful ichthyophis (Ichthyophis multicolor), the researchers describe the new amphibian in a recent paper published in Zootaxa. The world's most famous caecilian is the so-called penis snake (Atretochoana eiselti) which was rediscovered in Brazil in 2011.
Malaysia at risk of falling behind in push for more sustainable palm oil
(04/17/2014) The Malaysian state should play a more active role in supporting the transition toward less environmentally destructive palm oil production, says a coalition of Malaysian NGO's. In a statement issued Sunday, the Malaysian Palm Oil NGO Coalition (MPONGOC) urged Malaysian banks, palm oil associations, and other government-backed institutions to commit to 'improving social and environmental standards in the palm oil industry'.
Malaysia imperils forest reserves and sea turtle nesting ground for industrial site (photos)
(04/15/2014) Plans for an industrial site threaten one of Malaysia's only marine turtle nesting beaches and a forest home to rare trees and mammals, according to local activists. Recently, the state government of Perak approved two industrial project inside Tanjung Hantu Permanent Forest Reserve. But activists say these will not only cut into the reserve, but also scare away nesting turtles from Pasir Panjang.
Giant ibis, little dodo, and the kakapo: meet the 100 weirdest and most endangered birds
(04/10/2014) The comic dodo, the stately great auk, the passenger pigeon blotting out the skies: human kind has wiped out nearly 200 species of birds in the last five hundred years. Now, if we don't act soon we'll add many new ones to the list: birds such as the giant ibis, the plains-wanderer, and the crow honeyeater. And these are just a few of the species that appear today on the long-awaited EDGE list.
Indonesian 'legal' timber scheme could be greenwashing illegal products, NGOs warn
(04/07/2014) Flaws in the country’s system to verify legal wood products could have implications for trade with Europe, as new research suggests even certified companies in Indonesia may not be meeting EU standards. Indonesian civil society groups have called on their government to reform its legal timber certification system, pointing to widespread illegal practices among certified companies and an auditing system that is 'almost impossible' for companies to fail.
Bioluminescent bacteria expose toxic arsenic in Bangladesh
(04/02/2014) A knob turns, and pure water streams from the faucet. In developed nations, this expectation borders on being a fundamental human right. Elsewhere in the world, tap water is a pipe dream, while finding potable groundwater can be a full-time occupation laced by lethal threats—such as arsenic contamination.
Kala: the face of tigers in peril
(03/27/2014) In 1864, Walter Campbell was an officer in the British Army, stationed in India when he penned these words in his journal: "Never attack a tiger on foot—if you can help it. There are cases in which you must do so. Then face him like a Briton, and kill him if you can; for if you fail to kill him, he will certainly kill you." In a stroke of good fortune for the tiger, perceptions in India have changed drastically since Campbell's time. Tiger hunting is now banned and conservationists are usually able to rescue the big cats if they become stranded while navigating increasingly human-occupied areas. But is this enough to save the tiger?
Just how bad is the logging crisis in Myanmar? 72 percent of exports illegal
(03/26/2014) Just days before Myanmar, also known as Burma, implements a ban on exporting raw logs, the Environmental Investigative Agency (EIA) has released a new report that captures the sheer scale of the country's illegal logging crisis. According to the EIA, new data shows that 72 percent of logs exported from Myanmar between 2000-2013 were illegally harvested.
Deforestation makes Indonesia hotter, reduces quality of life
(03/26/2014) One of the reasons I like living in the tropics is that they are perpetually warm. A pair of shorts and a light shirt will comfortably get you through the day and night in most parts of Indonesia. Still there are the occasional unpleasant extremes. Even the most cold-blooded creature will likely break into a sweat walking for more than a few minutes in the sun filtering through Jakarta’s polluted skies. We consider such heat a normal part of the tropics. But is it really?
Europe approves vet drug that killed off almost all of Asia's vultures
(03/25/2014) When Europeans first arrived in North America, they exterminated three to five billion passenger pigeons (Ectopistes migratorius) in the short span of a century through a combination of habitat destruction and hunting. In 1914, the last living passenger pigeon perished at the Cincinnati Zoo. Despite the staggering scale of this extinction event, three species of vulture from Southeastern Asia retain the dubious distinction of having had the most rapid population crash of any avian fauna. They might not have begun with numbers as large as the passenger pigeon, but within the space of a single decade, their populations were reduced by 96 to 99 percent.
Long lost mammal photographed on camera trap in Vietnam
(03/25/2014) In 1929, two sons of Theodore Roosevelt (Teddy Junior and Kermit) led an expedition that killed a barking deer, or muntjac, in present-day Laos, which has left scientists puzzled for over 80 years. At first scientists believed it to be a distinct species of muntjac and named it Roosevelts' muntjac (Muntiacus rooseveltorum), however that designation was soon cast into doubt with some scientists claiming it was a specimen of an already-known muntjac or a subspecies. The problem was compounded by the fact that the animal simply disappeared in the wild. No one ever documented a living Roosevelts' muntjac again—until now.
Indigenous communities demand forest rights, blame land grabs for failure to curb deforestation
(03/25/2014) Indigenous and forest-dependent peoples from Asia, Africa and Latin America have called for increased recognition of customary land rights in order to curb deforestation and ensure the survival of their communities. The Palangkaraya Declaration on Deforestation and the Rights of Forest Peoples calls on governments to uphold forest peoples’ rights to control and manage their customary lands and to halt rights-violating development projects being carried out without consent from local communities.
General Mills, Colgate-Palmolive announce deforestation-free policies for palm oil sourcing
(03/24/2014) Two consumer products giants have joined the wave of companies committing to deforestation-free palm oil. On Monday General Mills and Colgate-Palmolive both announced palm oil policies that go beyond standards set by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the industry's main certification body. The policies include provisions to protect wildlife-rich rainforests and carbon-dense peatlands, while respecting the rights of local communities.
Indonesia's orangutan action plan failing to save great red apes
(03/24/2014) In December 2007, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono launched Indonesia’s Strategy and Action Plan for National Conservation of Orangutans. Quoting the president from his speech, 'this will serve as a blueprint for our efforts to save some of our most exotic but endangered wildlife.' Furthermore, the president said that 'the Orangutan action plan formally endorses Indonesia’s commitment to orangutan conservation as expressed in 2005 when Indonesia signed the Kinshasa Declaration on the Protection of Great Apes in the Democratic Republic of Congo.'
Meet Iman: the Sumatran rhino's newest hope for survival
(03/24/2014) Hopes for one of the world's most imperiled megafauna rose this month when wildlife conservationists succeeded in catching a female Sumatran rhino named Iman in the Malaysian state of Sabah. The female, which experts believe to be fertile, has since been successfully transferred via helicopter to the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary where experts plan to mate her with the local male, Tam. Located in Tabin Wildlife Reserve, the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary is an uncompleted semi-wild enclosure and home to one of several last-ditch efforts to save the vanishing species from extinction.
The power of connections: India to establish Asia's largest protected forest
(03/21/2014) India has stepped up forest conservation efforts in recent years, with a major project underway to establish a large swath of uninterrupted habitat through the designation of additional protected areas and expanding those already under protection. If realized, these areas would converge to become Asia’s largest unbroken forest, encompassing approximately 15,000 square kilometers (5,790 square miles) over three states.
Next big idea in forest conservation? Offer health care for forest protection
(03/21/2014) Dr. Kinari Webb has a superpower: the ability to provide high-quality health care in a remote and rural landscape. And she uses her power not only to save lives, but also to protect the remaining Bornean rainforests. Twenty-one years ago, Kinari Webb traveled to Borneo to work with orangutans. She witnessed the faltering health of both the people and the environment and saw that the two issues were inseparable. When families must choose between the health of their children and the health of the forest that supports them, everyone loses. But in the region of Gunung Palung National Park — where an estimated 10 percent of the world's orangutans live — illegal logging and slash and burn farming methods paid the bills and locals saw few alternatives. Kinari vowed to study medicine and return with more to offer.
Community's push to clear forest for plantation challenges efforts to conserve in Indonesia
(03/20/2014) In the swampy peatlands of Basilam Baru in Sumatra's Riau Province a conflict between a community and a woodpulp company is illustrating some of the intractable challenges of conserving forests and addressing deforestation in Indonesia. On first glance the story seems depressingly familiar. One actor wants to preserve the forest, which serves as critical habitat for endangered Sumatran tigers and clouded leopards. The other wants to clear it for a plantation.
Photos: Forests, peatlands, plantations, and deforestation in Riau
(03/19/2014) Indonesia's Riau Province on the island of Sumatra has experienced rapid deforestation since the early 1990's, with primary forest cover plummeting by 85 percent in twenty years. Most of this forest loss has been driven by plantation development for timber, woodpulp, and palm oil production.
APP pledges to restore forests, if given the opportunity
(03/18/2014) Over the past 20 years, Sumatra's lowland rainforests have been destroyed at a virtually unmatched rate and scale. Since 1990, the island's primary forests shrank by 40 percent while its overall forest cover declined by 36 percent, mostly the result of logging, agricultural expansion, and conversion for oil palm and timber plantations. What little forest does survive is often degraded — today less than 8 percent of Sumatra retains primary forest.
Will zero deforestation commitments save Indonesia's forests?
(03/17/2014) Skirting the Malacca Strait near the Indonesian city of Dumai the air is thick with haze from peat fires burning below. As the sky clears, a landscape of sharply-cut geometric shapes becomes apparent. What was once carbon-dense peat forests and rainforests are today massive oil palm and wood pulp plantations.
Indonesian sugar company poised to destroy half of island paradise's forests
(03/14/2014) An Indonesian plantation company may be preparing to destroy up to half of the natural forests on Indonesia's remote Aru Islands, reports Forest Watch Indonesia. Analyzing land use plans for Aru, Forest Watch Indonesia found that local government officials have turned over 480,000 hectares (1.2 million acres) to 28 companies held by PT. Menara Group, a plantation conglomerate. 76 percent of the area is currently natural forest. Converting the area to sugar plantations would cut Aru's forest cover by half, from 730,000 ha to 365,000 ha.
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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.