Malaysia and Indonesia can be considered examples of “success stories” in deforestation, says a research manager from the Washington-based Global Forest Watch (GFW).

“They have been (success stories) for a number of years now, ever since the 2015 fires (linked to the El Niño),” said GFW senior geographic information system research manager Liz Goldman.

“We’re really seeing government and corporate actions coming together to have a positive influence there,” she was quoted as saying in a report by UK’s The Guardian on the progress of deforestation throughout the world.

The report said that falling deforestation rates in Indonesia, Malaysia, Colombia and Brazil could help efforts to combat climate change and protect biodiversity.

Goldman said the data indicated that Malaysia and Indonesia have made strides where deforestation was concerned.

The article also quoted Arief Wijaya, programme director for the World Resources Institute in Indonesia, who said government efforts to better protect forests have produced results.

He said the palm oil sector in Indonesia and Malaysia, the world’s top producers of the commodity, were no longer major drivers of deforestation.

According to the report, Wijaya urged caution about the European Union’s new deforestation law which which bans imports of commodities grown on land deforested after 2020.

He said the law may fail to recognise the progress made by countries where deforestation is concerned.

Previously, GFW, an online platform which allows for near real-time monitoring of forests, said there was a sharp drop in forest loss in both Malaysia and Indonesia since 2017.

GFW has also said that Malaysia reduced primary forest loss by 70% between 2014 and 2020.

The key reasons for this include a commitment to a “No Deforestation, Peat and Exploitation” or NDPE policy, which bans new deforestation and development of peat lands.

In Malaysia, efforts to ensure better sustainability of the industry through the establishment of the Malaysia Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) have also contributed to reduced deforestation.

The MSPO’s high standards are applicable to palm oil industry players, from corporations to over 300,000 smallholders nationwide.

Commenting on the GFW report, Belvinder Sron, Chief Executive of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC), said, “This is an important piece of research which highlights the hard work of the Malaysian government and the palm oil industry in working together to reverse deforestation. As an industry we have listened to local and international concerns, and we have acted accordingly with demonstrable success, showing that palm oil can be grown sustainably.

“In truth, the rate of deforestation in Malaysia has been trending lower for some time, but we also acknowledge that more needs to be done, and we will continue to work with all of our stakeholders to halt the spread of deforestation. We have shown that we can cultivate palm oil in a way that preserves our environment for the future whilst providing economic opportunities in the present.”

Positive government action has continued in more recent years, with a plantation area cap established in 2019 through 2023, and new forestry laws enacted in 2022 to stiffen penalties for illegal logging.