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.
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.