Statistical Yearbook for Asia and the Pacific 2011
 
Environment
Biodiversity, protected areas and forests
Data source: Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Indicators Database; FAO Global Forest Resources Assessment; and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, version 2010.4: table 5.

During the past two decades both primary forest and total forest cover expanded in the Asian and Pacific region. In the same period, however, two thirds of countries in the region experienced an increase in the number of threatened species and South-East Asia lost nearly one seventh of its forest cover.

In recent years, forests and biodiversity have gained recognition as international development issues as evidenced through the United Nations declaration of 2011 as the International Year of Forests (to promote sustainable forest management, conservation and development of all types of forests);1 and 2011-2020 as the United Nations Decade of Biodiversity.2

Forests impact many aspects of economic and social development. Economic activities related to forests influence the life of 1.6 billion people globally3. Additionally, forests play a major role in the mitigation and attenuation of the effects of climate change. Deforestation and forest degradation account for up to 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming;3 and the carbon stored in forests exceeds the amount of carbon currently in the atmosphere. Forests are also central in the protection of biodiversity as they provide habitats for about two thirds of all species on earth and nearly 80% of all terrestrial biodiversity.4 Forests and the people depending on them are under increasing pressure because of land-use changes due to agriculture (for example, for biofuel production), human settlements, unsustainable logging and inefficient soil management.

Forest Area

The surface area covered by Asian and Pacific forests has been estimated at 15.9 million square kilometres (approximately equal to the total land area of the Russian Federation). Around 31% of the total land area of the region is covered by forest (the same as the global proportion).

Overall, South-East Asia has lost 13% of its forest area over the past 20 years, making it a major contributor to the global deforestation (at 3.0%) over the same period. The net loss of forest in South-East Asia amounted to 332,000 square kilometres, an area roughly equal to the size of Viet Nam. Indonesia was the most significant contributor to the loss of forest in South-East Asia with a net loss of 241,000 square kilometres. According to the ASEAN Biodiversity Outlook,5 South-East Asia is being so severely deforested because the growing population depends heavily on timber for livelihood; wood for fuel; and new land to convert into agricultural and industrial estates.

Pressure on forests is also evident outside of South-East Asia, particularly in Pakistan and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, where more than 30% of forest has been lost since 1990. Deforestation is highest in low-income countries, which is of particular concern since low-income, rural communities are the most affected by deforestation as they often depend directly on the ecosystem services provided by forests.

Figure II.15 – Proportion of land area covered by forests, by income group, Asia and the Pacific, 1990-2010

Figure II.15  Proportion of land area covered by forests, by income group, Asia and the Pacific, 1990-2010

Figure II.16 – Proportion of land area covered by forests, by subregion of Asia and the Pacific, 1990-2010

Figure II.16  Proportion of land area covered by forests, by subregion of Asia and the Pacific, 1990-2010

Although South-East Asia and the Pacific have experienced large declines in forest area, same. This is primarily due to China (in East and North-East Asia), which has invested heavily in plantation and natural regeneration of forests. Since 1990 the area under forest cover in China has increased by 5.4% (a land area equivalent to the surface of Thailand). Regional plantation forests make up almost the same area as primary forests, the highest proportion in the world and three times the global proportion. Planting rates in China were the highest in the world in 2010.

Figure II.17 – Proportion of primary, naturally regenerated and planted forest, Asia and the Pacific, 2010

Figure II.17  Proportion of primary, naturally regenerated and planted forest, Asia and the Pacific, 2010

Primary Forest

The proportion of primary forest within forests is a key indicator of ecosystem health. Primary forests are biodiversity-rich and may provide specific benefits for the livelihoods of rural communities. In Asia and the Pacific, total forest cover is expanding while the proportion of primary forest area is declining; this complex relationship is detailed in the 2010 Global Forest Resources Assessment of FAO6 which provides a picture of the changes in Asian and Pacific forests.

The 2010 figures show that 34% of the world’s forestland is primary as compared to 25% in Asia and the Pacific. The largest regional stocks are situated in the Russian Federation, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, India, China and Thailand.

In some countries total forest area may not be rapidly declining (or may even be expanding), but the loss of primary forest may still pose a threat to ecosystem health. In 2010, after decades of deforestation, Viet Nam’s and Cambodia’s primary forest coverage fell below 1% and 4% of total forest area, respectively. Papua New Guinea and Mongolia have also experienced large losses (more than 10%) in the primary forest area in the last two decades.

Other protected areas

Terrestrial areas protected include forests, swamps, plains and desert areas. After a rapid increase between 1990 and 2005, the share of terrestrial protected areas reached a plateau between 2005 and 2009. With the notable and positive exception of Kiribati, the proportion of protected areas has not increased since this date in any Asian or Pacific country. The share of terrestrial areas protected in Asia and the Pacific is one of the lowest in the world, barely exceeding 10% of total surface area; it equals the African percentage and is more than 2 percentage points below the world’s average.

In terms of marine areas protected, the Asia and the Pacific experienced rapid growth between 1990 and 2009, with the protected surface area reaching 5.0% of the territorial water area in 2009 (up from 2.0% in 1990). The percentage of marine areas protected remains correlated to the level of income of the respective country, with richer countries generally achieving a higher proportion. Australia and Kiribati lead the way, with respectively 28% and 20% of their total marine areas protected.

Figure II.18 – Average annual growth rates of forest areas, Asia and the Pacific, 1990-2000 and 2005-2010

Figure II.18  Average annual growth rates of forest areas, Asia and the Pacific, 1990-2000 and 2005-2010

Those numbers fall vastly short of the Strategic Plan objectives adopted in 2010 as an outcome of the tenth meeting at Nagoya, Japan, of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. One of the primary aims of the Plan is to “improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity”.7 To achieve this goal, an increase in the terrestrial areas protected to 17% and coastal and marine areas to 10% is targeted by 2020. Since the expansion of protected areas between 1990 and 2005, progress has since slowed considerably, and the road to reach the Nagoya objectives remains long.

Biodiversity

The Asian and Pacific region accounts for nearly one third of all the threatened species in the world.5 In the last two years (2008 to 2010), two thirds of countries in the region have experienced an increase in the number of threatened species – the greatest increase is in India where 99 species have been added to the threatened species list. While noting the difficulty in comparing numbers of threatened species (which are a product of the number and extent of biodiversity surveys; and other factors), this is a substantial increase in the number of threatened species reported since 2008.

The ASEAN Biodiversity Outlook spotlights South-East Asia as a primary terrestrial and marine biodiversity “hotspot”. While occupying only 6.0% of the earth’s surface, the region embraces more than 18% of all species listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and one third of the world’s coral reefs. But regional biodiversity loss has increased at an alarming rate and affects such ecosystems as forests, agro-ecosystems, peat-lands, freshwater systems, mangroves, coral reefs and sea-grass.

Figure II.19 – Threatened species, Asia and the Pacific, 2008 and 2010

Figure II.19  Threatened species, Asia and the Pacific, 2008 and 2010

Changes in forest management: Expanding stakeholder engagement

In 2010, 13% of forest area was designated for conservation of biodiversity in Asia and 16% in Oceania.8 In both regions, high proportions of forest areas (of almost 100% and just over 80%, respectively) were covered by national forest programmes in 2008.

In the last few decades a shift has taken place from state forest management to multi-stakeholder engagement. In Asia, over 80% of forests are owned by the public with 10% of these managed by individual communities. On the other hand, private ownership, a term that can be applied to individuals, private-sector entities or communities, outweighs public ownership in Oceania.

India, Nepal and the Philippines have been identified as leading in the implementation of “participatory forestry”, and allocation of forestlands and rights to households, individuals and private entities has been progressing in China and Viet Nam. Legislative changes to bestow collective and private (or individual) ownership of forestlands are under way in several countries, while local administrations (provincial and district) have an expanded role in line with decentralization trends in other areas of governance. Voluntary and market-driven institutions are playing an increased role, while there are various efforts to combat illegal logging.9 Although the long-term sustainability of these policies is not known, involving multiple stakeholders may be the answer to reducing forest loss.


1 General Assembly Resolution 61/193. International Year of Forests, 2011.

2 General Assembly Resolution 65/161. Convention on Biological Diversity, paragraph 19.

3 United Nations, International Year of Forests Factsheet. Available from: http://www.un.org/esa/forests/pdf/session_documents/unff9/Fact_Sheet_IYF.pdf.

4 World Bank, Forests Sourcebook: Practical Guidance for Sustaining Forests in Development Cooperation (Washington, D.C.; 2008). Available from http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTFORSOUBOOK/Resources/ completeforestsourcebookapril2008.pdf.

5 ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity, ASEAN Biodiversity Outlook (Los Baños, Philippines; 2010). Available from www.aseanbiodiversity.org/index.php?option=com_ content&view=article&id=96&Itemid=114&current=110.

6 FAO, Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010, FAO Forestry Paper 163 (Rome, 2010). Available from www.fao.org/docrep013/i1757e/i1757e.pdf.

7 Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, annexed to Decision X/2 of the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, issued 29 October 2010. Available from www.cbd.int/decision/cop/?id=12268.

8 Text box is based on the data and country groupings in FAO, Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010, FAO Forestry Paper 163 (Rome, 2010). Available from www.fao.org/docrep013/i1757e/i1757e.pdf. Asia includes: and Oceania includes:

9 Yurdi Yasmi and others, Forest policies, legislation and institutions in Asia and the Pacific: Trends and emerging needs for 2020, Asia-Pacific Forestry Sector Outlook Study II (Bangkok, FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, 2010). Available from www.fao.org/docrep/013/i1722e/i1722e00.htm.

 
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Table I.12 Protected areas
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Table I.13 Forest areas
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Table I.14 Primary naturally regenerated and planted forests
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Table I.15 Threatened species

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