Southeast Asia is one of the most important places on earth for nature conservation. With habitats ranging from the snow-capped peaks of Northern Myanmar to the Lowland Rainforests of Indonesia Brunei and Malaysia, watered by great rivers such as the Mekong Irrawaddy and Salween, and with tens of thousands of kilometers of coastline and islands, Southeast Asia supports one sixth of the world’s species of mammals and amphibians, a fifth of the world’s species of butterflies, and almost a quarter of the world’s species of birds. It includes treasures like the “Heart of Borneo” and the “Coral Triangle” and is home to well-known flagship species including the Javan and Sumatran Rhinoceroses, elephants, tigers and Orangutans - that captivate the public imagination, as well as lesser-known more restricted endemic species such as the Saola, found in a small part of the Annamite mountain range, shared by Laos and Viet Nam.

Southeast Asia is also home to around half a billion people, with an average population growth rate of 1.5% each year (ranging from less than 1% in Thailand to over 2% in the Philippines). In the last 30 years the region has been transformed, with rapid economic growth lifting many millions out of poverty. The urban population of Southeast Asia is expected to double in the next 20 years, with two-thirds of these city folk living in 5 “Mega Urban Regions” and over half of the urban area that is expected to exist in 2020 has still to be constructed! The advent of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015 marks the next stage in regional integration that is expected to spur economic growth even further.

But rapid development has not come without a price. Large areas of pristine forest have been felled for timber and conversion to oil palm, wild free-flowing rivers have been dammed for hydropower, and mangroves have been decimated first for charcoal production and then for conversion to shrimp ponds. Forest products are over-harvested, and the seas are over-fished. Agricultural, domestic and industrial pollution of water and air are a growing concern in many parts of the region, and haze caused by smoke from forest fires and burning of agricultural residues is a major issue than regularly disrupts air traffic and creates huge economic losses.

The IUCN Southeast Asia Group was established in 2011, to support the growth of IUCN’s work in Southeast Asian countries, particularly through multi-country/trans-boundary interventions, and to provide a platform for IUCN interaction with Regional bodies such as ASEAN. It includes countries where IUCN already has a long-term presence and well-developed programmes, such as Lao PDR, Viet Nam, Thailand and Cambodia; countries where IUCN will soon establish new presences such as Indonesia and Myanmar and other countries where IUCN has no secretariat presence but has several member organizations, such as Malaysia and Philippines.

As part of IUCN’s overall approach of “Nature-Based Solutions” the initial thematic focus of the Southeast Asia Group will include protected areas and species conservation; natural resource governance, and climate change resilience. Please support our efforts!