Deforestation in Malaysia: Killing the lungs of our planet

Written by: Katlin Donnelly

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As a home to such species rich and diverse environments Malaysia is also responsible for some of the fastest rates of deforestation in the world. Clearing of vegetated and forested land in Malaysia is predominately driven by the demand for palm oil cultivation and other agricultural developments, permanently changing the land use [1] and leading to a long list of implications on the local and global environment.

Deforestation is a key contributor to our world’s current environmental threats; the tropical regions of Malaysia and Indonesia occupy over 80% of Southeast Asia’s primary forests [2]. Malaysian forests are logged for commercial gain and most companies and government agendas have corrupt goals to maximise economic profits alone [3]. Tropical forests are hugely responsible for storing carbon dioxide which is released into the atmosphere when trees no longer photosynthesis and die. Therefore, without them CO2 cannot be absorbed in exchange for oxygen and on a global scale this increases the CO2 levels in the atmosphere [4]. The process of converting forested land exposes the world to exacerbated effects of greenhouse gas emissions along with other issues such as pollution and disruption to peat soils [2].

Malaysia is one of the biggest cultivators for palm oil, and the crop itself is increasingly becoming the most predominant equatorial crop [5]. The production of palm oil thrives in a climate such as the tropical conditions of Malaysia, so the land is exploited for plantations [2]. It requires intensive clearing of land and new plantations disrupt and remove habitats for native plant and animal species that cannot sustain life in environments that have been stripped of their rich species diversity. Figure 1 outlines the distribution of palm oil also highlighting the intensity of oil palm plantations as well as the density of endemic species in Malaysia which are both occurring in the same areas.

Figure 1: Global distributions of palm oil plantations, suitability environments and endemic species. Credit.

Malaysian forests hold some of the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems and species. At the equator terrestrial species richness is at its peak due to the prime conditions for complex ecosystems [6]. Simultaneously projections for the loss of biodiversity in Southeast Asia are showing extreme declines and extinctions due to loss of habitat. As a country that dominants in the palm oil industry in return its biodiversity suffers, and everyday more and more forested landscape is cleared to satisfy our population.

People are gradually starting to wake up to the realities of this destruction but solutions to the issue are seemingly difficult to implement. Increasing global demand that requires the unsustainable practice of deforestation leaves no room for our natural environment to persist. Malaysia is both guilty and a victim of this detrimental process, whilst it brings economic support for the country its impact on biodiversity loss and contribution to global warming begin to outweigh the positives of this industry. Efforts into conserving natural habitats alongside an industry that is so harmful to species is an urgent challenge to be overcome in saving our planets lungs.


  1. Chakravarty, S., Ghosh, S.K., Suresh, C.P., Dey, A.N., Shukla, G. (2012). Deforestation: causes, effects and control strategies. Global perspectives on sustainable forest management. Retrieved from: perspectives-on-sustainable-forest-management/deforestation-causes-effects-and-control-strategies
  2. Fitzherbert, E.B., Struebig, M.J., Morel, A., Danielsen, F., Bruhl, C.A., Donald, P.F., Phalan, B. (2008). How will palm oil expansion affect biodiversity? Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 23(10), 538-545.
  3. Kummer, D.M., Turner, B.L. (1994). The human causes of deforestation in Southeast Asia. BioScience, 44(5), 323-328.
  4. Zhang, H., Henderson-Sellers, A. (1996). Impacts of tropical deforestation. Part I: Process analysis of local climate change. Journal of climate, 9(7), 1497-1517
  5. Koh, L.P., Wilcove, D.S. (2008). Is oil palm agriculture really destroying tropical biodiversity? Society for conservation biology, 1(2), 60-64.
  6. Manokaran, N. An overview of biodiversity in Malaysia. Journal or tropical forest science, 5(2), 271-290.