Rapid conversions and avoided deforestation: Examining four decades of industrial plantation expansion in Borneo
David L.A. Gaveau, Douglas Sheil, Mohammad A. Salim, Erik Meijaard
New plantations can either cause deforestation by replacing natural forests or avoid this by using previously cleared areas. The extent of these two situations is contested in tropical biodiversity hotspots where objective data are limited. Here, we explore delays between deforestation and the establishment of industrial tree plantations on Borneo using satellites. Between 1973 and 2015 an estimated 18.7 Mha of Borneo’s old-growth forest were cleared (14.4 Mha and 4.2 Mha in Indonesian and Malaysian Borneo). Industrial plantations expanded by 9.1 Mha (7.8 Mha oil-palm; 1.3 Mha pulpwood). Approximately 7.0 Mha of the total plantation area in 2015 (9.2 Mha) were old-growth forest in 1973, of which 4.5–4.8 Mha (24–26% of Borneo-wide deforestation) were planted within five years of forest clearance (3.7–3.9 Mha oil-palm; 0.8–0.9 Mha pulpwood). This rapid within-five-year conversion has been greater in Malaysia than in Indonesia (57–60% versus 15–16 %). In Indonesia, a higher proportion of oil-palm plantations was developed on lands cleared before 1973 and on degraded lands (a legacy of recurrent burning). However, rapid within-five-year conversion has increased steeply since 2005. We note caveats in interpreting these results and highlight the need for greater accountability in plantation development.