Southeast Asia was once largely covered in dense rainforests, but intense forest clearing over the past decades has denuded much of the tropical region of its forest cover.
On the island of Borneo, for instance, 5.9 million hectares of trees were lost between 2004 and 2017 to logging, land-clearing and conversion activities.
The result has been an appalling loss of biodiversity with numerous endemic species from Indochinese tigers to Asian elephants to Bornean orangutans having been driven to the edge of extinction across the region.
Clearing forests in Southeast Asia has global effects too. Accelerating forest clearance at ever higher altitudes across the region is driving increases in carbon emissions, according to scientists from the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom.
After lowland forests have already been decimated, now relatively untouched forests are being cut down at ever higher altitudes on steeper slopes. Consequently, more than 400 million metric tons of carbon are released into the atmosphere of the planet every year, which fuels climate change and reduces the ability of the region’s thinning forests to store carbon effectively.
Daniel T Cross