Southeast Asia and Oceania: Rainforest under pressure

The rainforests of Southeast Asia and Oceania are among the richest and most complex ecosystems there are. Yet they are under threat from palm oil plantations, mining and logging. We are working to halt this destruction.

The rainforests of Southeast Asia and Oceania are threatened. Nonetheless, Southeast Asia is home to the greatest number of people who depend on the rainforest.

The rainforests in this region are under tremendous pressure, with large, contiguous forests remaining only on the islands of Borneo and New Guinea. Previously, the entire region was covered by lush rainforest.

Many countries in Southeast Asia and Oceania have some rainforest, but those with the largest remaining forests are Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

This region’s rainforests are among the most complex and species-rich ecosystems in the world. Southeast Asian rainforests are renowned for the elephants and orangutans that live in them, and more than 3,000 species of plant have been registered.

How we go about saving the rainforests of Southeast Asia and Oceania

Since Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN) began working in Southeast Asia in 1997, we have initiated a range of projects together with local partners in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

Our main focus in this region has been to work for sustainable forest management and securing land rights for forest peoples. Rights are key to our approach to protecting the rainforest. That is because, in our experience, the forest is best preserved where the rights, including land rights, of its traditional populations are recognized and upheld.

We support the struggle of forest peoples to secure their land rights and to make their voices heard.

Our partners are dedicated organizations that maintain close contact with local communities at risk of losing their traditional territories as a result of the aggressive deforestation, plantation and logging policies typical of this region. Supporting forest peoples' legal action against abuse by plantation and logging companies has for years been an important element in our work in the region.

We also work to help forest peoples obtain exclusive rights to use their traditional lands. Through capacity building, culturally adapted education and legal training, we seek to strengthen the role of forest communities in protecting their forest from destruction.

UP IN SMOKE: Oil palm plantations are the main reason Indonesia’s rainforests are disappearing.

Palm oil – the main culprit

  • The world’s most prevalent vegetable oil is the main cause of deforestation in Indonesia.
  • The Indonesian palm oil industry has also been involved in a variety of disputes with local communities. Reports of abuses are frequent.
  • Over the past 60 years, nearly 90 percent of the orangutans on the island of Borneo have disappeared, in large part because plantations have replaced the rainforest.

Deforestation and destruction

Every year, mankind destroys vast forest areas in Southeast Asia to make way for oil palm and other plantations. The greenhouse gas emissions from such fires are enormous. This activity is the greatest threat that Indonesia, as a rainforest giant, faces today.

Great stretches of forest are being logged as well, with 70-80 percent of Indonesian logging taking place illegally.

Logging companies searching for valuable tropical wood in Papua New Guinea have proliferated. Mining, dam construction and other infrastructure development are also destroying rainforests across the region.

Indigenous groups whose livelihood depends on the rainforest are those who suffer most when the forest is wiped out.

Over the last four decades, the two largest rainforest countries in the region – Indonesia and Papua New Guinea – have permitted a massive expansion of plantation, logging and mining activities. However, Indonesia has reduced its rates of deforestation since 2020 - a promising trend.


Anna Bjørndal

International Programs Director
(+47) 992 56 946