Climate Change

Climate crisis: Deforestation in southeast Asia mountains on the rise

Forests are being increasingly cut down on steeper slopes, which have a high forest carbon density relative to the lowlands 

By DTE Staff
Published: Tuesday 13 July 2021

Deforestation in the mountains of southeast Asia has accelerated in the last 10 years, leading to an increase in carbon emissions in the atmosphere.

Forests are being cut down on steeper slopes — which have a high forest carbon density relative to the lowlands — to make way for agricultural intensification, according to researchers at University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) in Shenzhen, China and Leeds academics.

The study was published in journal Nature Sustainability June 28, 2021.  

Southeast Asia contains about half of all tropical mountain forests, which contain a large amount of the planet’s carbon.

According to co-author Dominick Spracklen:

“In the past, mountain forests were often spared from clearance because steep slopes and high elevations made deforestation more difficult. Our work shows that deforestation has now moved into these mountain regions and has accelerated rapidly in the past 10 years.”

He warned that the practice will accelerate climate crisis. The deforestation in the mountains of southeast Asia accounts for a third of the total forest loss in the region, the study said.

The study stated that the average altitude of forest loss increased by 150 metres in the last decade. The shifts have resulted in unprecedented annual forest carbon loss of 424 million metric tonnes of carbon a year.

The researchers analysed high-resolution satellite data and found that average annual forest loss in the region was 3.22 million hectares a year during 2001-2019. As much as 31 per cent of the loss happened on mountains.

Co-author Joseph Holden from Leeds’ School of Geography said flagged the loss of forests as a major concern: “This research shows the value of high resolution satellite data for detecting change, and also highlights that the international community needs to continue to work hard to support forest conservation and carbon management.”

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