Environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity are some of the biggest crises of our time. According to the United Nations, up to one million flora and fauna species are at risk of extinction due to human activity, and many of these species are expected to go extinct within a decade. In particular, these crises are felt more acutely in the Southeast Asia region.
Impacts Of Environmental Degradation on Flora and Fauna
Between 2001 and 2019, the Southeast Asia region is projected to have lost more than 50% of its original forest cover. Indonesia leads in the loss of forested areas, followed by other countries like Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. The region is still losing its forests at an alarming rate of 1.2% per year. For the local communities, whose fates are by and large closely intertwined with the woods, environmental degradation can devastate their lives and livelihood. A 2019 case study in Indonesian villages has identified a 10% increase in malaria cases with merely a 1% loss of forest cover. Climate change and natural resource degradation were also estimated to potentially halve the GDP growth of Indonesia from 7% to 3.5%.
The impact of environmental degradation also has far-reaching implications that affect biodiversity and can extend beyond a nation’s geographical boundaries. For example, Indonesia’s haze in 2019 reportedly resulted in 900,000 cases of respiratory illnesses, cessation of operations in 12 airports, and temporary closure of hundreds of schools in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. The loss of biodiversity is also accelerating as a result of environmental degradation. Notably, ASEAN is expected to lose 13% to 42% of its flora and fauna species by 2100 due to the loss of 10% to 90% of habitats. Animals like the Sumatran elephant have also seen their numbers decline sharply by 80% in less than 25 years in areas of Sumatra with high deforestation rates, and the species is now classified as critically endangered in Indonesia.
Illegal Wildlife Trade and Loss of Indonesia’s Biodiversity
Unfortunately, the survival of many such species threatened by environmental degradation is further exacerbated by illegal wildlife trade. Indonesia is one of the countries that lie at the heart of this booming industry, with countries such as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam being major hotbeds for illicit trade. From 2019 to 2020, close to 78,000 illegal wildlife products were found for sale in over 1,000 places in these five countries. Between 2008 to 2019, approximately 225,000 kg of African Elephant ivory was seized from the region, with Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam involved. In Indonesia alone, the projected annual value of illegal wildlife trade already chalks up to as high as US$1 billion. Given the covert nature of illegal wildlife trade, successful discovery, interception, and reporting of such operations can be difficult. As such, the figures disclosed would only represent the tip of the iceberg.
With humans’ heavy reliance on our ecosystems, the loss of biodiversity can affect us in many ways and with greater severity than we imagine. When the loss of biodiversity weakens the ecosystem, fewer resources can be obtained from the environment, such as fresh water, fertile soil, food sources, or medicine. An example is cancer drugs, whereby 70% are derived from or are synthetic products based on nature. This can be exceptionally detrimental, given the ever-increasing human population worldwide and growing medical needs in the face of emerging diseases. Beyond this, biodiversity is vital for the sustainability of businesses and industries worldwide. Industries such as the food, commercial forestry, and ecotourism industry could lose a total of $338 billion a year if the loss of biodiversity continues at its current pace.
Human’s Role in Supporting Biodiversity
Fortunately, awareness of the importance of the environment and biodiversity is growing. Governments and organisations worldwide have been working to create protected areas, restore habitats, and reduce pollution. As of 2021, 50 ASEAN Heritage Parks have been established in areas known for their unique biodiversity, nine of which have marine life.
On a corporate level, many organisations such as Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) Sinar Mas have also taken significant strides towards more sustainable business practices, deriving 59% of energy needs from renewable fuels. Frameworks on sustainability practices have also been drafted for suppliers working with these companies. This signals the industry’s commitment to work towards peaceful co-existence with flora and fauna in Indonesia.
Beyond involving stakeholders in the supply chain, businesses like Asia Pulp and Paper have also harnessed the power of technology in sustainable initiatives. For example, on-ground fires can now be detected with greater accuracy, and the information can be relayed within 15 minutes to expedite response to fires. With an understanding of how environmental degradation affects the local population and how circumstances like poverty can perpetuate practices that hamper industry efforts, local communities are simultaneously engaged through education and economic empowerment. One such programme is the Kalimantan Rattan Project, where local communities in Indonesia are offered alternative livelihoods to improve their lives. The importance of biodiversity to humans can never be understated. With a greater understanding of the impact of our activities on flora and fauna, we can be empowered to create a brighter future for ourselves and the planet. This can take place in many ways, ranging from small efforts such as helping to increase awareness among loved ones to volunteering in relevant initiatives. With joint efforts from all stakeholders, we can make greater progress in protecting this essential part of the world for generations to come.