A new report released by the conservation group WWF has asserted that just 11 places on earth – including the Greater Mekong region – will account for 80 per cent of the world’s deforestation.
The findings, released yesterday in the organisation’s fifth installment of its “Living Forests Report” series, state that up to 170 million hectares of forest could be lost in these “deforestation fronts” by 2030. Ten of the 11 regions are in the tropics.
“Imagine a forest stretching across Germany, France, Spain and Portugal wiped out in just 20 years,” Rod Taylor, director of WWF’s global forest program, said in a statement yesterday.
WWF estimates that 15 million to 30 million hectares of forest stand to be lost just in the Greater Mekong region – which encompasses Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.
“Primary forest has virtually disappeared in Vietnam, is extremely low in Cambodia, and scarce in Lao PDR, Myanmar and Thailand,” the report says.
Illegal logging and crop plantations – particularly for rubber – account for the majority of deforestation in the region, and in particular Cambodia. A surge in economic land concessions (ELCs), coupled with lax law enforcement over the Kingdom’s forests, have resulted in Cambodia losing 22 per cent of its own forests from 1973 to 2009, according to WWF figures.
“Illegal logging, including in protected areas, is a major problem in Cambodia, Myanmar and Lao PDR, but prevalent throughout the region,” the report says.
“Legal and policy restrictions on logging in Vietnam, China and Thailand, coupled with growing demand, are driving unsustainable and illegal logging for export and indirect land-use change in Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar.”
A study published earlier this month by the University of East Anglia focusing on the “catastrophic” effects of rubber plantation expansion in Southeast Asia said that “more than 70 per cent of the 75,000 hectare Snoul Wildlife Sanctuary in Cambodia was cleared for rubber between 2009 and 2013”. It added that many forest areas reserved for rubber plantations contain critically endangered species such as the White Shouldered Ibis.
But despite these practices wreaking havoc on Cambodia’s nature and its mostly rural population – 75 per cent of the country’s economy is still agriculture-based – the government has done little to halt the destruction, critics say.
Son Chhay, a politician with the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), lamented the government’s passivity on the issue.
“The government has taken no action toward tackling deforestation,” he said. “On the contrary, there’s been more illegal logging.”
He added that the government’s freewheeling ELC-granting was a “mistake”.
“They use the term ‘ELC’ to cut down trees without paying taxes,” Chhay said. “It’s a mistake to give out land with so much forest . . . you can’t just blame the companies; you have to blame the government, and the prime minister himself.”
Multiple officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries declined to comment.