Southeast Asia’s Environmental Report Card: Measuring Effort and Sustainability


Although it remains debatable as to how we should provide balanced measurement tools and grading system to assess environmental condition within Southeast Asia countries, a general overview regarding the environmental issues in the region, namely the environmental report card, is now available.

Brunei is not listed in the report due to the limited environment coverage. Not to mention that some countries in the region get more coverage than others in the environmental report card.



Illegal logging is a very prominent environmental issue in Cambodia, with Vietnam as the main actor. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) published two similar reports consecutively regarding illegal logging in Cambodia, titled “Serial Offender: Vietnam’s Continued Imports of Illegal Cambodian Timber” and the second one is “Repeat Offenders”, more on Vietnam’s persistence in doing so. The reports focus on the illegal logging specifically in Ratanakiri and Stung Treng also highlighted the Virachey National Park.

According to the report, Mekong River is also threatened due to the Chinese-backed plan to build a dam, yet as one of the largest rivers for freshwater fish migrations, Mekong River is not an ideal place for a hydropower project.

To worsen the record, it is reported that the species of common leopards (Panthera Pardus) are on the verge of extinction in Cambodia. Some inhuman practices which contribute to the issue are the organ trade for medication purposes, the skin utilization for the fashion industry, and due to increased poaching of the species.

Cambodia is not aware of global plastic recycling efforts as well since plastics and trash are kept accumulating in its beaches. This would definitely threaten the maritime ecosystem and the creatures which live in it.

The overall score for Cambodia: F



Talking about improved dugong and cow population in Thailand, it seems that the government successfully implement the efforts. Thai police are reported to do a great job in preserving captive tigers in Khlong Kiu, Chon Buri province.

Yet it still presents the similar story with Cambodia in terms of the tourism. Maya Bay on the island of Koh Phi Phi has been closing the access to tourists since June 2018, partly because of the mass tourism in one of the most famous beaches in the world and to give it a right amount for its coral reef to recover. Not to mention that based on the report, beaches in Pattaya turning black because of the wastewater.

While the tasks for the Thai Government remain difficult, at least the tiger population in Thailand is increasing.

The overall score for Thailand: C



The environmental issue in Myanmar is already saddening, to begin with. A community leader, Saw O Moo whose campaigns encompass local forest protection for residents’ land rights was murdered by Myanmar government. This can be seen as the prologue of a series of bad track in Myanmar’s environmental record that follows.

Myanmar caught and skinned their wild elephants to be sold in the Chinese areas. The report says, in seven years, at least 165 elephants have died across Thailand, be it because of natural disasters or were killed by poachers. However, the sad story does not stop here. Taken place in Thailand, a Chinese tourist paid to shoot an Asian black bear in the cage with a machine gun, while he claimed that the action was only to feed his curiosity. We can only wish the best for Myanmar government as their tasks keep on mounting and we hope that the use of armed protection and heavy guard in the construction areas of a hydropower project in Myanmar can be the last story to end the environmental nightmare.

The overall score for Myanmar: F



The environmental condition of Vietnam seems to give us a light of hope after getting carried away by the horrible story Thailand made this year.  Not saying that it would be all great, but we can begin with good news about the discovery of large-antlered muntjac in Quang Nam, Vietnam after 18 years being reported as nearly extinct. Nevertheless, still in Quang Nam, the report says the practice of illegal logging is also still apparent.

Joining in the hopeful news are the announcement of the prestigious annual Goldman Environmental prize with Khanh Nguy Thi as the Vietnam’s first winner—thanks to her courage to push energy conservation campaign—and the effort to combat the use of wildlife products for medicine purposes that was expressed by a number of students and lecturers from five of Viet Nam’s traditional medicine (TM) universities.

It seems that we are now at the end of the good record performed by Vietnam since the country continues to import African pangolin scales despite the fact that the population of pangolins in Indochina became more sparse. What is more, let us not forget that based on EIA Report, Vietnam is the country destination for most of the illegally logged timber.

The overall score for Vietnam: C-



While development projects are essential to support the economic growth in Laos, but if the projects are being implemented without mitigating the environmental risks that that follow, then we can’t aim to have the sacrifices paid off.  China plans to construct a huge development project in the scenic area of Khonephapheng and it can be considered environmentally destructive activities.

Bordering northeastern Cambodia’s Virachey National Park, there is one Lao district called Phuong whose condition right now is thinly forested in consequence of resource extraction and massive infrastructure projects development.

The overall score for Laos: D



It is for proper reasons why Malaysia appears such a high achiever in its environmental condition. First, on Langkawi island where environmental destruction has been predicted due to the development activities, turned out that in Sarawak botanists encountered the fairy lantern flower that had not been found in more than 100 years. Not only that, this year also marks the discovery of a new species of water beetle in the area of Sabah’s Maliau Basin that was named after actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio in recognition of his contributions to environmental causes.

Another discovery to include in the list is new ‘ghost’ scorpion found for the first time in Malaysia rainforest. With the list of new species, discoveries go on, Malaysia and Indonesia also have signed a contract, agreeing upon the cooperation of sperm transplant for remaining Sumatran rhinos to prevent them from extinction.

Still, a story will always have two different sides. That being said, Malaysia should pay more attention to its high demands for biofuels, for it can threaten the ecosystem where all of the aforementioned species inhabit.

The overall score for Malaysia: B-



Given its archipelagic landscape, it is quite hard to assess Indonesia’s environment for each island has its own unique characteristics, to begin with. On Java island, it is reported that another Java rhinos were born. Nevertheless, on the same island, we can still find an illegal trade in turtles and tortoises in the capital city of Jakarta.

Meanwhile, in Sumatera, it was reported a wild tiger strayed into oil palm plantations and people had been chasing it for 100 days since it highly terrified the farmers. On the other hand, we should appreciate the works of a group of local activists who improve the mangroves condition in Deli Serdang region.

Reading the first two passages above, we may start to realize the dynamics of each Indonesian island, as in, two different stories can exist and take place in the same location. This is because of the constant change an island can experience during the certain period of time. Look at this video to see the environmental changes that occurred over the years in Java and Sumatera islands.

The overall score for Indonesia: C-


The Philippines

To give a positive opening remark, let us appreciate the Philippine Navy for spryly arresting 20 Vietnamese fishermen for entering the territory illegally and poaching some species of manta rays and sharks. Regarding the protection of endangered species in the Philippines, the government should work hard in preserving the rarest Sulu hornbill, although it indicates hope since the Philippines currently authorities to gazette the Sulu hornbill habitat on Panglima Sugala, Tawi-Tawi Province as a wildlife sanctuary.

If there is one thing criticize regarding the effort of the Philippines government to improve the condition, it is the firm grounding and strength of the Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte in his stance on the territorial disputes with China that definitely affects Philippine’s marine ecology.

The overall score for the Philippines: C



Source: The Diplomat

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Nadya Yolanda Moeda
A former travel blogger who is now a full time consultant & loves to write about everything under the sun




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