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Rapid conversions and avoided deforestation: examining four decades of industrial plantation expansion in Borneo

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ABSTRACT

New plantations can either cause deforestation by replacing natural forests or avoid this by using previously cleared areas. The extent of these two situations is contested in tropical biodiversity hotspots where objective data are limited. Here, we explore delays between deforestation and the establishment of industrial tree plantations on Borneo using satellite imagery. Between 1973 and 2015 an estimated 18.7 Mha of Borneo’s old-growth forest were cleared (14.4 Mha and 4.2 Mha in Indonesian and Malaysian Borneo). Industrial plantations expanded by 9.1 Mha (7.8 Mha oil-palm; 1.3 Mha pulpwood). Approximately 7.0 Mha of the total plantation area in 2015 (9.2 Mha) were old-growth forest in 1973, of which 4.5–4.8 Mha (24–26% of Borneo-wide deforestation) were planted within five years of forest clearance (3.7–3.9 Mha oil-palm; 0.8–0.9 Mha pulpwood). This rapid within-five-year conversion has been greater in Malaysia than in Indonesia (57–60% versus 15–16%). In Indonesia, a higher proportion of oil-palm plantations was developed on already cleared degraded lands (a legacy of recurrent forest fires). However, rapid conversion of Indonesian forests to industrial plantations has increased steeply since 2005. We conclude that plantation industries have been the principle driver of deforestation in Malaysian Borneo over the last four decades. In contrast, their role in deforestation in Indonesian Borneo was less marked, but has been growing recently. We note caveats in interpreting these results and highlight the need for greater accountability in plantation development.

No MeSH data available.


Proportion (in area terms) of industrial plantation (oil palm and pulpwood) established on land that lacked forest cover for at least five years (solid line) or at least ten years (dashed line) prior to planting, for Borneo (A), Indonesian Borneo (B) and Malaysian Borneo (C).
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f5: Proportion (in area terms) of industrial plantation (oil palm and pulpwood) established on land that lacked forest cover for at least five years (solid line) or at least ten years (dashed line) prior to planting, for Borneo (A), Indonesian Borneo (B) and Malaysian Borneo (C).

Mentions: Approximately 1.8 Mha (20%) of the total area under industrial plantations in 2015 (9.1 Mha) used lands cleared before 1973 — an estimated 24% (16.3 Mha) of Borneo already lacked forest cover in 1973 (Table 1; Fig. 1). Of the 7.0 Mha old-growth forest area replaced by plantations between 1973 and 2015, approximately 1.8 Mha (the red blocks in Fig. 2; Table 1) had been cleared more than five years before plantations were visible. Therefore, 3.7 Mha (41%) of plantations developed between 1973 and 2015 (9.1 Mha) were established on land that had lacked forest for more than five years. Looking at each observation period, the proportion of industrial plantations established on land that lacked forest cover has increased steadily (Fig. 5A,B). Much of this pattern of expansion on lands cleared long before establishment is explained by oil-palm in Indonesian Borneo: 1.8 Mha (55%) of oil-palm plantations added since 2005 (3.3 Mha) were developed on land that lacked forest cover for at least five years (Figure S5a). A similar result is evident for land lacking forest cover for at least ten years prior to planting. This trend reflects the high proportion of oil-palm plantations developed on lands cleared before 1973 and on degraded lands (predominantly forests damaged by drought and recurrent burning) (Figs 2 and 3). In Malaysian Borneo, planting on lands cleared before 1973 account for less than 26% by area over the 1973–2015 period (Fig. 5C).


Rapid conversions and avoided deforestation: examining four decades of industrial plantation expansion in Borneo
Proportion (in area terms) of industrial plantation (oil palm and pulpwood) established on land that lacked forest cover for at least five years (solid line) or at least ten years (dashed line) prior to planting, for Borneo (A), Indonesian Borneo (B) and Malaysian Borneo (C).
© Copyright Policy - open-access
Related In: Results  -  Collection

License
Show All Figures
getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC5015015&req=5

f5: Proportion (in area terms) of industrial plantation (oil palm and pulpwood) established on land that lacked forest cover for at least five years (solid line) or at least ten years (dashed line) prior to planting, for Borneo (A), Indonesian Borneo (B) and Malaysian Borneo (C).
Mentions: Approximately 1.8 Mha (20%) of the total area under industrial plantations in 2015 (9.1 Mha) used lands cleared before 1973 — an estimated 24% (16.3 Mha) of Borneo already lacked forest cover in 1973 (Table 1; Fig. 1). Of the 7.0 Mha old-growth forest area replaced by plantations between 1973 and 2015, approximately 1.8 Mha (the red blocks in Fig. 2; Table 1) had been cleared more than five years before plantations were visible. Therefore, 3.7 Mha (41%) of plantations developed between 1973 and 2015 (9.1 Mha) were established on land that had lacked forest for more than five years. Looking at each observation period, the proportion of industrial plantations established on land that lacked forest cover has increased steadily (Fig. 5A,B). Much of this pattern of expansion on lands cleared long before establishment is explained by oil-palm in Indonesian Borneo: 1.8 Mha (55%) of oil-palm plantations added since 2005 (3.3 Mha) were developed on land that lacked forest cover for at least five years (Figure S5a). A similar result is evident for land lacking forest cover for at least ten years prior to planting. This trend reflects the high proportion of oil-palm plantations developed on lands cleared before 1973 and on degraded lands (predominantly forests damaged by drought and recurrent burning) (Figs 2 and 3). In Malaysian Borneo, planting on lands cleared before 1973 account for less than 26% by area over the 1973–2015 period (Fig. 5C).

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

ABSTRACT

New plantations can either cause deforestation by replacing natural forests or avoid this by using previously cleared areas. The extent of these two situations is contested in tropical biodiversity hotspots where objective data are limited. Here, we explore delays between deforestation and the establishment of industrial tree plantations on Borneo using satellite imagery. Between 1973 and 2015 an estimated 18.7 Mha of Borneo’s old-growth forest were cleared (14.4 Mha and 4.2 Mha in Indonesian and Malaysian Borneo). Industrial plantations expanded by 9.1 Mha (7.8 Mha oil-palm; 1.3 Mha pulpwood). Approximately 7.0 Mha of the total plantation area in 2015 (9.2 Mha) were old-growth forest in 1973, of which 4.5–4.8 Mha (24–26% of Borneo-wide deforestation) were planted within five years of forest clearance (3.7–3.9 Mha oil-palm; 0.8–0.9 Mha pulpwood). This rapid within-five-year conversion has been greater in Malaysia than in Indonesia (57–60% versus 15–16%). In Indonesia, a higher proportion of oil-palm plantations was developed on already cleared degraded lands (a legacy of recurrent forest fires). However, rapid conversion of Indonesian forests to industrial plantations has increased steeply since 2005. We conclude that plantation industries have been the principle driver of deforestation in Malaysian Borneo over the last four decades. In contrast, their role in deforestation in Indonesian Borneo was less marked, but has been growing recently. We note caveats in interpreting these results and highlight the need for greater accountability in plantation development.

No MeSH data available.