NORWICH, EnglandDemand for natural rubber, fuelled by the tire industry, is threatening biodiversity in protected parts of southeast Asia, according to researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA).
Up to 21 million acres of additional rubber plantations are expected to be required to meet increasing global demand for tires by 2024, a study by the British university found.
Expansion on this scale, said the report, will have catastrophic biodiversity impacts, with globally threatened unique species and ecosystems all put under threat.
The extent of the problem is comparable with that being created in the oil palm sector, the research team suggested. They are, therefore, urging tire makers such as Goodyear and Group Michelin to back sustainability initiatives and drive change in the industry.
The tire industry consumes 70 percent of all natural rubber grown, and rising demand for vehicle and aeroplane tires is behind the recent expansion of plantations, said lead researcher Eleanor Warren-Thomas from UEA's School of Environmental Sciences.
We predict that between 4.3 (million) and 8.5 million hectares of new plantations will be required to meet projected demand by 2024, she said. There has been growing concern that switching land use to rubber cultivation can negatively impact the soil, water availability, biodiversity and even people's livelihoods.
But this is the first review of the effects on biodiversity and endangered species, and to estimate the future scale of the problem in terms of land area.
The UEA study focuses on four biodiversity hotspots where rubber plantations are expandingSundaland (Malay Peninsula, Borneo, Sumatra, Java, and Bali), Indo-Burma (Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, most of Myanmar and Thailand, and parts of Southwest China, including Xishuangbanna and Hainan Island), Wallacea (Indonesian islands east of Bali and Borneo and west of New Guinea, plus Timor Leste) and the Philippines.
Among corporate efforts involving biodiversity:
Michelin recently formed a joint venture in Indonesia to cultivate and process natural rubber using natural, eco-friendly sustainable farming procedures that will involve reforestation oversight by the Worldwide Fund for Nature.
Bridgestone Corp. is investing heavily in renewable alternatives to natural rubber.
In 2010 Yokohama Rubber Co. Ltd. adopted corporate guidelines for preserving biodiversity, in line with the United Nations' having declared 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity.
This report appeared on the website of European Rubber Journal, a UK-based sister publication of Tire Business, and also appeared on www.tirebusiness.com.