Malaysia has one of the world’s most extensive areas of tropical forest, which is vital for biodiversity conservation and mitigating climate change.

Malaysia’s forests cover 20.5 million ha, representing 58% of Malaysia’s land mass. This compares with 8.6 million ha for agricultural areas, and 5.4 million ha of oil palm. This percentage is significantly higher than Western continental Europe. Across the EU and the Western hemisphere, only Finland and Sweden have higher shares of forest area.

Around 11 million ha of Malaysia’s forests are considered permanent reserved forests (PRF), and there are around 3.4 million ha within protected conservation areas. In context, Malaysia’s protected conservation areas alone is larger than the whole of Belgium.

The deforestation rate in Malaysia has steadily declined over the past two decades to be effectively zero today. The country’s forest area is stable: according to the FAO, the country’s forest area has increased since 2010 by around 66,000 ha.

This has been the result of a series of conservation and biodiversity policies and plans aimed at preserving Malaysia’s forest endowment for future generations. These successes were not forced by the EU or any other regulation: these are proactive policies of the Malaysian government and executed by, among others, the Malaysian palm oil sector.

Malaysia’s current biodiversity plan under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity seeks to achieve 17 clear targets that are well defined and measurable. This includes targets on:

  • Expanding the country’s protected areas network
  • Ensuring that endangered species are protected under national laws
  • Strengthening enforcement to eradicate poaching, illegal logging and illegal trade in wild animals, fish and plants


The orangutan is an iconic species of Malaysia’s forests, living in the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo. Current estimates of the orangutan population on Borneo are around 104,700. It is well understood that habitat loss affects orangutan populations, but independent expert confirm that poaching is the critical threat. According to the IUCN, “If hunting does not stop, all populations that are hunted will decline, irrespective of what happens to their habitat.”

The government of Sabah – which is home to Malaysia’s orangutans – has implemented a 10-year biodiversity conservation plan that works alongside international NGOs such as WWF, and includes species-specific action plans, as well as post-release rehab programs for orangutans that have been previously captured and kept as pets, and then released into the wild.