Our role as guardians of the green

Our role as guardians of the green
"Our role as guardians of the green"

The rainforest is not just a breathtaking location; it’s the heart of our world, vital for both the planet’s wellbeing and the diversity of its species.

Occupying only six per cent of the Earth’s surface, tropical rainforests are home to nearly half of all plant and animal species, while also playing crucial roles in oxygen production, temperature regulation, water purification, and air quality. Millions of people rely on rainforests for sustenance, medicine, and livelihood.

These forests also act as invaluable carbon sinks, storing vast amounts of carbon, and mitigating climate change. Rainforests, particularly tropical ones, excel at sequestering carbon dioxide through photosynthesis, maintaining a global carbon reservoir that helps counteract the effects of global warming.

Malaysia’s rainforests, among the world’s most diverse, harbour a rich ecosystem supporting numerous plant and animal species, including iconic and endangered ones like the Malayan tiger, Asian elephant, and Sumatran rhinoceros. With over 600 bird species and 15,000 plant species, including many unique to the region, Malaysian rainforests are biodiversity hotspots.

Since pledging at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit to preserve at least 50 per cent of its land as forests, Malaysia has demonstrated steadfast commitment. Currently, forests cover 55.3 per cent of the country’s land area, with significant portions designated as protected areas and reserves. These forests provide not only ecological benefits but also crucial resources like food, fibre, and medicine, forming an essential economic pillar for the nation.

Malaysia remains dedicated to sustainable forest management, aligned with global sustainability goals, and driven by initiatives to protect biodiversity and reduce reliance on natural forests through plantation forestry. By prioritising environmental conservation and responsible resource utilisation, Malaysia aims to secure the long-term health of its forests and meet international demands for sustainable timber while promoting the wellbeing of its citizens and the planet.

Tropical rainforests, such as those in Malaysia, play a vital role in carbon retention and habitat preservation. These ecosystems, existing for millennia, face dire consequences from deforestation, leading to species loss and the release of stored carbon into the atmosphere. Through their growth, rainforest trees absorb and store substantial amounts of greenhouse gases, making them critical in mitigating climate change. Their destruction or degradation exacerbates climate impacts by releasing stored carbon.

Moreover, rainforests serve as global regulators of the water cycle, contributing to precipitation and cloud formation through transpiration. Their dense canopy influences local and regional climates, affecting humidity and temperature. Economically, over a billion people rely directly on rainforests for sustenance and livelihoods, including indigenous communities whose cultures are deeply intertwined with these environments. Rainforest plants hold untapped potential for medicinal discoveries, highlighting the importance of preserving these ecosystems.

Reducing carbon footprints through actions like waste reduction, recycling promotion, and investment in rainforest preservation projects is crucial. Organisational leadership must demonstrate a genuine commitment to sustainability to implement such measures effectively.

Supporting rainforest protection not only benefits the environment but also enhances brand reputation, appealing to environmentally-conscious consumers. However, rainforests alone cannot halt climate change. A comprehensive approach is necessary, including emissions reduction, renewable energy adoption, and sustainable agriculture practices.

As the so-called guardians, recognising the significance of rainforests and taking concerted action to protect them are of the utmost importance.

Dr Rulia Akhtar is a Research Fellow at the Ungku Aziz Centre for Development Studies (UAC), Universiti Malaya.

The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the writer and do not necessarily represent that of Twentytwo13.

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