December 25, 2015

How Much More Forest can Malaysia cut Down?

How Much More Forest can Malaysia cut Down?

Malaysia has promised to retain 50% of its forest cover - can it keep this commitment? Photo Credit: Arnoldius via Wikipedia

In perhaps one of Malaysia’s biggest environmental promises to date, the country has pledged to retain 50% of its forest cover.  The commitment was made during the global climate change convention COP21 in December.  It’s a brave promise, and will be a big win for Malaysia’s beautiful, rich, and quickly disappearing environment – as long as it can be kept.

The ‘if’ here is a big question.  Once enjoying 100% forest cover, Malaysia has been stripped down to 59% today by a combination of resource extraction, urban development and unsustainable industrial practice.  In the 20 years spanning 1990 and 2010, Malaysia lost an average of 96,000 hectares of forest each year for a total loss of 8.6% of forest cover during that period.

A big chunk Malaysia’s economy has and does rely on the harvesting, burning, digging up and paving over of forested areas.  The palm oil industry, for example, contributes 5-6% of Malaysia’s GDP.  There are currently no government regulations requiring palm oil companies to stop cutting down forests (it’s all up to shaky sustainability certification obligations), and plans have been made to increase palm oil revenue from today’s $16.1 billion to a staggering $56.5 billion by 2020.  We are all pulling for Malaysia to keep its 50% forest cover retainment promise, but it must be observed that accomplishing the goal will be a hard fought battle.

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