Hanoi: Asia’s rainforests are being rapidly destroyed, a trend accelerated by surging timber demand in China and India, and record food, energy and commodity prices, forest experts warn.
The loss of these biodiversity hot spots, much of it driven by the illegal timber trade and the growth of oil palm, biofuel and rubber plantations, is worsening global warming, species loss and poverty, they said.
Globally, tropical forest destruction “is a super crisis we are facing, it’s an appalling crisis,” said Oxford University’s Professor Norman Myers, keynote speaker at the Asia-Pacific Forestry Week conference in Hanoi, Vietnam. “It’s one of the worst crises since we came out of our caves 10,000 years ago,” Myers said at the five-day meeting held last week.
Over-logging in South-East Asia caused 19% of global rainforest loss in 2005, Myers said. The rapid growth of palm oil and other plantations accounted for 22%, and slash-and-burn farming caused 54% of rainforest destruction, he said.
Asia’s forest cover, including tree plantations, in fact grew by 3 million ha from 2000 to 2005, largely because of China’s 1998 logging ban and afforestation, said the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). But ecologists stress that new forests in are man-made plantations lacking high varieties of plant and animal species.
“Many plantations, in terms of biodiversity, are green concrete,” said Peter Walpole, head of the non-profit Asia Forest Network.
Yet what environmentalists call “tree farms” are set to grow at the expense of natural forests. Commercial crops “will be the most important factor contributing to deforestation in Asia-Pacific countries,” said the FAO report.
Demand for forest products is also surging in Asia’s boom economies. Imports to China, now the world’s top furniture exporter, rose more than 10 times from $53 billion (Rs1.23 trillion) in 1990 to $561 billion in 2004. India’s imports of wood products, including paper, grew from about $750 million in 1990 to $3.1 billion in 2005, FAO said.
Asia’s boom economies are now importing timber from as far as Central Africa and South America, said FAO forestry economist C.T.S. Nair.
“In a way, they are exporting the problem to other countries, especially those where policies and institutions are extremely weak,” he said.