The rate of deforestation in Cambodia has accelerated at an alarming rate in the last few years. Cambodia, home to some of Southeast Asia's oldest and most diverse forests, has been losing these precious areas as a result of corporations using permits illegally to clear out land. The country is losing around 2,000 square kilometers of its ancient forests every year.
That’s the sobering conclusion of a recent report by Forest Trends, which found that between 2004 and 2014, the amount of land leased to corporations had almost quadrupled. With 80% of land granted to commercial agricultural companies located within the boundaries of protected forests, trees are being harvested in some of Cambodia's most prized areas. By the end of 2013, 14% of the country had been allocated to corporations.
According to the report, the Cambodian government is giving corporations Economic Land Concessions (ELC), which is a controversial scheme that gives corporations a long-term lease to clear land for agricultural development. A lack of transparent standards has meant that under the pretext of developing the land for agriculture, large numbers of trees are being harvested instead. ELC has been used as an unlawful instrument for illegal logging on many occasions, the report says.
Extent of Economic Land Concessions in Cambodia. Forest Trends.
"This is illegal by Cambodia's own laws and regulations," Kerstin Canby, Director of Forest Trends’ Forest Trade and Finance program, told BBC News.
"If my interests are just to get the timber out, I would go to the Ministry of Agriculture get an ELC and clear cut the entire forest and then I can state that I am going to plant something, but who's going to punish me if I don't?"
The report used both government data and reports of over 32,000 forest fires from NASA satellite imagery to track deforestations during the 2012–13 dry season. Researchers were able to create a computer algorithm to identify the forests being cut in the country. The data revealed that carbon emissions from evergreen forests in deforested areas are almost 10 times higher than areas that have not been leased to corporations. Forest Trends suggests that this is proof that Cambodia’s oldest and most valuable trees are being targeted by corporations.
Canby describes the rapid depletion of the country’s remaining timber resource as "a total system failure of the country’s forest protection laws," in a statement. The report calls for Cambodia to improve its regulation to curb corruption and increase transparency.