Reduced-impact logging in Indonesia and Malaysia

You don’t have to visit Southeast Asia to experience the tropical forests of Indonesia and Malaysia. Just look around your home—the dense plywood that makes up so much furniture and building materials around the world is made from the tropical hardwoods harvested in these forests. And that ubiquity poses problem for our climate. The tropical forests from which these trees are harvested have massive carbon storage potential: 10 percent of the world’s carbon emissions come from tropical deforestation, and tropical forests store more carbon than is currently stored in the atmosphere.

Ending tropical deforestation is easier said than done, of course. In Indonesia, which boasts some of the largest swathes of old-growth tropical forests in the world, the national government is striving to grow its economy and raise the standard of living for its people, and timber production is part of that plan. Fortunately, reduced-impact logging (RIL-C)—a set of logging practices that focuses on removing only high-quality timber while minimizing impact to the ecosystem—can reduce some carbon emissions and minimize damage to soil and water quality while also maintaining an active industry that resists forest conversion and supports communities.

The Nature Conservancy is working with the national government and with logging concessions in Indonesia for 15 years now, helping them implement such practices. For example, loggers can take care to leave hollow trees standing—these trees are unusable for timber but will continue to store significant amounts of carbon if left standing and provide critical wildlife habitat. Better technology for skidding logs out of the forest, and better road construction can also reduce impact to forests and further mitigate carbon emissions.

By creating a more sustainable logging industry, this collaborative effort not only minimizes carbon emissions in the short term, but also creates a path for landowners to make a living on their lands without clearing them for palm cultivation or agriculture, practices that would result in far greater emissions. And because 80 percent of Indonesia’s carbon emissions come from deforestation, the steps will go a long way toward helping the country meet its voluntary mitigating targets under the Paris Agreement.