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Thursday, 29 February 2024 7:44pm

The Urgency of Tackling Deforestation

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In 2021, over 100 countries – including Malaysia – signed an agreement at the 26th annual United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow that declared their commitment to collectively end and reverse deforestation as well as land degradation by 2030.

This encompassed 90.94 per cent or more than 3,691,510,640 hectares of forests covered by these countries, which deemed this pledge a necessity in combating climate change and ensuring the delivery of sustainable development and inclusive socio-economic growth.

Satellite image of the Amazon rainforest (ca. 2018). In recent decades, most deforestation takes place in tropical rainforests around the world. Image by Alexander Gerst @ Flickr

Many welcomed the agreement, although experts interviewed by the BBC, for instance, warned that commitments from a previous deal – the New York Declaration on Forests signed in 2014 – had yet to be fulfilled, with a 2019 report stating that deforestation continued “at an alarming rate.”

Essentially, deforestation involves the deliberate clearing of forested land for non-forest uses, such as making space for agriculture and infrastructure expansion, as well as obtaining timber for fuel or utilisation in industries such as manufacturing and construction.

It is unfortunately not a new phenomenon; a National Geographic encyclopaedic entry notes how it has altered landscapes of continents across the globe including Asia, North America and Europe for centuries, and how it continues to do so in tropical rainforests in recent decades. 

Slash-and-burn farming is an unsustainable agricultural approach that has negatively impacted natural forests. Photo by Peter Prokosch for GRID-Arendal (https://www.grida.no/resources/3053)

As current asThe State of the World’s Forests 2020 report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, only 31 per cent of land on Earth is covered in forests.

Of greater concern, an estimated 420 million hectares of forests has been lost as a result of conversion to other land use since 1990, in spite of the decreasing rate of deforestation over the past three decades.

Most causes of deforestation are man-made. Chief among them is the expansion of industrial-scale agriculture, said to be responsible for 90 per cent of global deforestation and habitat destruction.

It is especially prevalent in places where the sector is developed unsustainably to make way for commodity crops including palm oil and soy or meet the demands of dairy and meat products as well as plant-based biofuels.

Logging, particularly when it is illegal, is another major contributor to deforestation.

Given the continuous need for timber and wood-based products among industries and everyday users, the industry itself has led to biodiversity loss, greenhouse gas emissions, and the disruption of livelihoods of local and indigenous communities who depend greatly on forests for shelter, water, food and their overall survival.

There are several other causes apart from agriculture and logging, and unless they are being addressed and steered urgently towards greener and ethical approaches by everyone, the remaining forests in this world will lose its ability to balance ecosystems; maintain carbon and water cycles; protect biodiversity; ensure livelihoods of communities; and provide goods and services that guarantee sustainable growth.

One way to reverse the effects of deforestation, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) states, is to undertake nature-based solutions such as forest landscape restoration (FLR).

It explains that FLR strives to tackle what fundamentally drives forest loss, adding that the initiative “is not just about planting trees – it can include multiple activities like agroforestry, erosion control and natural forest regeneration.”

Forest restoration landscape campaigns, such as those implemented by Sarawak (pic), is a nature-based solution that can help reverse the effects of deforestation. Photo from Forest Department Sarawak Facebook page

Sarawak, through Forest Department Sarawak, has been at the forefront of carrying out FLR campaigns in Malaysia since 2019.

With the goal of protecting, sustainably managing and restoring the State’s forests and degraded lands, FLR in Sarawak focuses on rejuvenating the forest ecosystem with indigenous trees; regenerating degraded areas especially the Permanent Forest Estate and State Land through active replanting activities; and involving the participation of various stakeholders and local communities in any FLR campaign.

To strengthen its capability to preserve and conserve its forests, the State has also become the first in the country to implement the forest carbon initiative when the Dewan Undangan Negeri Sarawak (DUN Sarawak) passed amendments to its Forest Ordinance and Land Code in May 2022.

The Forests (Forest Carbon Activity) Rules, 2022 which have gone into effect since 1 January 2023 provide a clear regulatory framework for forest carbon projects in the State, and are expected to attract investment in these projects.

“Under the forest carbon activities concept, after decades of logging for merchantable timbers, Sarawak will pursue new direction in forestry management of preserving our trees, planting more trees, restoring and rejuvenating our logged over areas or degraded forests,” said the Premier of Sarawak YAB Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri (Dr) Abang Haji Abdul Rahman Zohari bin Tun Datuk Abang Haji Openg in his winding-up speech at the DUN Sarawak sitting in December 2022.


Deforestation. (n.d.). National Geographic Education. https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/deforestation/

Deforestation and forest degradation. (2021, February). International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. https://www.iucn.org/resources/issues-brief/deforestation-and-forest-degradation

Deforestation and Forest Degradation. (n.d.). World Wildlife Fund. https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/deforestation-and-forest-degradation

FAO and UNEP. 2020. The State of the World’s Forests 2020. Forests, biodiversity and people. Rome. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4060/ca8642en.

Forest Carbon Activities: For Greater Conservation and Sustainability. (2023, November 15).RAKAN Sarawak. https://www.rakansarawak.com/v3/2023/11/15/forest-carbon-activities-for-greater-conservation-and-sustainability/

Greening Sarawak Forest Landscape Restoration. (n.d.). Forest Department Sarawak. https://forestry.sarawak.gov.my/web/subpage/webpage_view/1310

Jaynes, C.H. (2022, October 2). Deforestation 101: Everything You Need to Know. EcoWatch. https://www.ecowatch.com/deforestation-explained.html

Rannard, G. and Gillett, F. (2021, November 2). COP26: World leaders promise to end deforestation by 2030. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-59088498

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