The global demand for natural resources, improved transportation systems, and international financing are transforming the physical, economic, and political landscape of the Indo-Myanmar Hotspot. Although these trends will boost economic growth and reduce poverty, they also constitute an unprecedented threat to the hotspot’s biodiversity. Entire terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems will disappear and many species already have been reduced to a total global population of 100 or less. Unchecked, these trends will trigger a wave of extinctions, a process that has already begun—witness the recent extinctions of the Yangtze dolphin and South Chinese tiger.
Rapidly growing energy consumption is behind a wave of dam construction in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia that will block virtually all their large, free-flowing rivers. In Cambodia, dams and roads threaten to splinter the Cardamoms and Virachey regions, two of the hotspot’s largest forest landscapes. BHP, the Australian mining giant, is planning a bauxite mine that overlaps several protected areas in Cambodia, while numerous small mining companies, with no reputation to lose, have been granted exploration permits in protected areas. In Myanmar, palm oil plantations are threatening the hotspot’s largest remaining lowland evergreen forest, its richest forest ecosystem.
The 1999 logging ban in China has resulted in massive logging of Myanmar’s northern forests, the world’s richest temperate forests. Over-fishing in the Mekong, which accounts for half of the world’s inland fish production, threatens the food security of millions. A proposed Chinese-funded dam on the Mekong in Cambodia could disrupt fish migration and breeding patterns, further impacting a key food resource. Across the hotspot, intense hunting and trading to meet international, particularly Chinese, demand for exotic cuisine and traditional medicine is extirpating wildlife populations.
These existing threats must be viewed in the context of climate change and the 1-m rise in sea level by 2100 predicted by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change that would flood the hotspot’s productive deltas, further straining agricultural ecosystems and posing an additional threat to global food security. Cumulatively, these large scale trends—poorly planned infrastructure projects, unsustainable hunting, and climate change—risk destroying the ecosystem services that underpin a flexible and sustainable economy and could create tipping points for political instability and conflict.