While Southeast Asia’s forests play important roles in biodiversity conservation and global carbon (C) balance, the region is also a deforestation hotspot. Here, we consider the five shared socioeconomic pathways (SSPs) to portray a range of plausible futures for the region’s forests, employing a state-of-the-art land change modelling procedure and remotely sensed data. We find that by 2050 under the worst-case scenario, SSP 3 (regional rivalry/a rocky road), the region’s forests would shrink by 5.2 million ha. The region’s aboveground forest carbon stock (AFCS) would decrease by 790 Tg C, 21% of which would be due to old-growth forest loss. Conversely, under the best-case scenario, SSP 1 (sustainability/taking the green road), the region is projected to gain 19.6 million ha of forests and 1651 Tg C of AFCS. The choice of the pathway is thus critical for the future of the region’s forests and their ecosystem functions and services.
Southeast Asia’s forests play important roles in the society, but the region is a deforestation hotspot. Here, the authors examined the future changes in the region’s forests under different scenarios and found that by 2050 under a regional rivalry/rocky road scenario, the region’s forests would shrink by 5.2 million ha.