By: Dr. Rulia Akhtar Research Fellow at the Ungku Aziz Centre for Development Studies (UAC), Universiti Malaya
With forests making up almost one-third of the planet’s surface area, they offer a multitude of ecological advantages, such as important contributions to the hydrological process, protecting the soil, mitigating the effects of climate change, and biodiversity preservation. Forests encompass over 30% of the Earth’s total surface, or about 3.9 billion hectares, however the initial extent of forest was estimated to be around six billion hectares. Forests are essential due to their provision of essentials like the drinkable water, food, and clean air to breathe. Approximately 2 billion people depend on ecosystems for their livelihood globally, and nearly seventy-five percent of the world’s impoverished population is directly impacted by deforestation of land. Furthermore, leisure activities and mental health are enhanced by trees and natural environs. Deforestation is a major global environmental problem that primarily affects poorer countries. These phenomena cause tropical forest areas to shrink, which reduces biodiversity and increases the greenhouse impact.
The term “deforestation” describes the widespread and irreversible loss of Earth’s forests, which seriously damages large tracts of land. This action destroys important carbon sinks, upends complex ecosystems, and significantly lowers biodiversity. Malaysia has long struggled with the issue of deforestation, especially when cutting reduces forests without being followed by replanting measures. Usually, the main reason for clearing land is to make way for ranching and agriculture. Logging, road building, commercial farming, energy development, mineral exploitation, and population pressure are major causes of deforestation in Malaysia.
Malaysia has seen significant deforestation, as evidenced by a 17% decrease in the amount of rainforest cover between 2001 and 2021During this time, the Borneo Island’s Sarawak region had the most deforestation. From 2002 and 2022, 2.85 million hectares of Malaysia’s tropical primary forest were lost, accounting for more than 33% of the nation’s total tree cover loss during that time. Malaysia’s tropical primary forest area decreased by 18% over this period. The nation lost 118,000 hectares of natural forest in 2022 alone, which led to the emission of 83.9 million tons of CO2. 8.92 million hectares of tree cover were lost in Malaysia between 2001 and 2022, a 30% decrease from 2000 that resulted in 5.16 gigatons of CO2 emissions. Remarkably, regions where deforestation was the main cause of the loss of tree cover saw 95% of the loss. Between 2001 and 2022, two regions in Malaysia accounted for 56% of the total loss of tree cover; With a loss of 3.18 million hectares compared to a total of 557,000 hectares, Sarawak experienced the greatest loss. 99,151 alerts about deforestation were registered in Malaysia between December 5 and December 12, 2023, affecting a total area of 1.22 thousand acres.
Business interests in Malaysian woodlands which are frequently tarnished by corruption, are a major factor in the significant contribution that deforestation makes to environmental problems worldwide. Most Southeast Asia’s primary forests are found in the tropical regions of Malaysia and Indonesia, which also carry a large portion of this impact. When tropical forests are cut down for lumber, they lose their ability to absorb carbon dioxide, which causes stored carbon to be released into the atmosphere. This interferes with the process of photosynthesis, which increases the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by preventing the exchange of CO2 for oxygen. In addition to increasing greenhouse gas emissions, forest conversion causes pollution and disturbs peat soils, among other issues.
Deforestation endangers animals and the means of subsistence for indigenous groups that log. It is a major environmental threat. Malaysia lost nearly three million hectares of principal woodland between 2002 and 2020, accounting for thirty-four percent of the nation’s overall reduction in forests and 17% of its primary forest area. Environmentalists contend that Malaysia lags behind other countries in the protection of forests, despite praiseworthy replanting efforts. The consequences also include habitat loss, which affects 70% of terrestrial animal and plant species in forests, including undiscovered ones. Threats to both identified and undocumented species arise from disturbance of the rainforest’s delicate equilibrium, which is necessary for shelter and temperature regulation. Indigenous populations have urgent concerns since they rely significantly on trees for both cultural resources and sustenance, especially in isolated areas with dense woods. Fighting deforestation requires cooperation among all parties involved, with government action given its significant way being essential to putting successful policies into place.
To minimize the effects of deforestation, large-scale tree planting efforts must be launched in places where it has happened. To ensure the restoration of depleted forests, logging techniques should include a promise to replant one tree for every one that is chopped down. Furthermore, implementing urban reforestation that is, planting trees in urban areas represents a creative way to support environmental preservation. By encouraging people to practice conservation in their own homes, this approach helps to protect more expansive forests.
Furthermore, to prevent irresponsible exploitation of priceless resources, protected areas must be established. The loss of biodiversity continues even as the number of protected places grows over time. Continuing efforts should focus on protecting area growth (especially in high-biodiversity areas) and improving related policies and guidelines in order to buck this trend. It is imperative that tougher regulations controlling entry to these protected places be enforced. An essential component of the battle against deforestation is the government. Enforcing strict restrictions against unlawful deforestation should be given priority. The goal is to deter organizations engaged in illegal logging by imposing heavy penalties and jail sentences. Giving local conservation organizations more funding gives them the tools they need to address and stop deforestation. These organizations can handle the problem at the local level thanks to the financial support, which supports all-encompassing conservation activities.
To summarize, the wide-ranging economic consequences of deforestation include less carbon sequestration, decreased biodiversity, and the possibility of disruptions in international trade. To address climate change, global warming, flooding, species extinction, and habitat loss, it is crucial that we stop deforestation. To attain sustainable development in Malaysia by 2030, attention must be directed towards Goal 15, which highlights the need to manage forests sustainably, prevent habitat degradation, fight deforestation, and avert the loss of biodiversity.
Ensuring that future generations will continue to benefit from land-based ecosystems is the aim of those initiatives.