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Deforestation in Indonesia: Palm Oil, Biodiversity Loss, and Global Warming

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Deforestation has been a major issue in Indonesia for decades, and continues to be today. Just 120 years ago, an estimated 84% of Indonesia was forested [1], with that number having fallen to 54% by 2015. Between 1990 and 2015 alone, almost a quarter of all the forested area in Indonesia was destroyed. Between 2014 and 2015, just under two FIFA regulation football pitches were lost in every minute, of every hour, of every day [2]

A forest burning
Indonesia has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world.

Photo by Ylvers [17]



Indonesia’s lumber industry is fueled by two main areas. Firstly, the export of tropical hardwood has been a major issue in the conservation of rainforests in Papua and Kalimantan. However, the larger issue is the pulp (the material used to make paper) and paper industry. Indonesia is the sixth largest producer and ninth largest exporter of these products worldwide and the industry is expected to further grow in the future due to rising demand for paper products domestically [3,16].


Palm oil production is an important part of the Indonesian economy. Indonesia is by far the largest producer in the world, accounting for over 50% of global production [4]. Currently palm oil plantations cover around 120,000 km2 of the country [5]. For reference, this is around 3.3 times the entire area of Taiwan or around 6.2% of the entire land area of Indonesia. The expansion of palm oil production is often being performed in tandem with lumber extraction. It is fairly standard practice of palm oil companies to burn the remainder of a forest once it has been sufficiently logged and start the planting of oil palms.

A man standing on a tree stump in an empty forest full of tree stumps
Indonesia is the largest palm oil producer in the world, accounting to over 50% of the global production.

Photo by Dave Herring [18]


You might be asking how these industries are able to contribute so greatly to deforestation. Frankly, the reason for this is systematic corruption in regards to the management of forests. Different studies have shown that somewhere between 70%-90% of deforestation in Indonesia is being done illegally [6,7,8], meaning without the required permits and/or using illegal techniques such as slash and burn clearing. The reasons for this are many but usually include lax law enforcement, legal loopholes and especially local leaders such as district chiefs illegally selling land permits in order to enrich themselves and finance their reelection campaigns [9]




The Sumatran Tiger and the Orangutan are just two of the many critically endangered animals in Indonesia that rely on their forest habitat to survive. As their habitat is further encroached on and destroyed, their numbers will dwindle further and eventually result in these animals, at best, only living in captivity in the future. It is estimated that around 25% of Indonesia’s native mammals are now endangered [10].

The diversity of plant life is also strongly affected. Indonesia is known to have an especially high level of biodiversity due it being composed of so many different islands that have, over tens of thousands of years, independently evolved into largely distinct ecosystems. This incredible diversity has resulted in Indonesia being home to around 15.5% of the world’s flora [11], despite only making up around 1% of the land with a large portion of this expectedly being found in the forests. However, through rampant deforestation they are being increasingly replaced with monoculture palm oil plantations.

A sad monkey sitting alone in the forest
Many endangered animals need the forest to survive.

Photo by Olgaozik [19]


Another major issue that’s associated with deforestation is the resulting CO2 emissions. Just over a decade ago, Indonesia was the third largest emitter of CO2 in the entire world [12]. However, unlike most of the other highest ranked countries whose industry is the main producer of CO2, Indonesia is mainly creating its emissions through deforestation. This is from the combination of large scale use of fires for clearing, as well as the massive amount of CO2 stored within trees that is released once the tree is cut. While Indonesia is no longer in the top 3, this trend has continued. This makes it fairly clear that reducing deforestation may be one of, if not the most important, national environmental cause due to CO2’s major role in climate change. Indonesia is particularly vulnerable to global warming due to its susceptibility to floods, natural disasters like cyclones and droughts, all of which are worsened by climate change.

However, it unfortunately does not appear that carbon emissions from deforestation are going down any time soon. As easily accessible and “regular” forests are decreasing year-over-year, companies are increasingly clearing Indonesia’s vast peatlands [13]. Peat is a material that consists of decaying vegetation and other organic matter that becomes highly flammable once the trees protecting it from sunlight are cut [14]. This is especially problematic due to the immense carbon concentration in peat, which is much higher than that of trees and twice as high as natural gas. For context, if one were to burn all the peat reserves of Indonesia, it would create the same level of carbon emissions as burning all confirmed oil reserves in the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Canada and Venezuela combined [14]



  1. Avoid products with palm oil (they’re in your food, soap, cosmetics, everywhere!)

  2. Plant a tree

  3. Eat less meat

  4. Use less or recycled paper and cardboard

  5. Support organizations fighting deforestation

  6. Do not burn your trash

  7. Raise awareness

  8. Respect the rights of indigenous people [15]


Here are a couple things you should know about deforestation, and why protecting our forests is so important!





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