A Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) at Sepilok Rehabilitation Center in Sabah, Malaysia. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
The three nations that share Borneo could save themselves $43 billion by more closely coordinating their environmental conservation and economic development efforts, according to a report published in the journal Nature Communications.
The big savings aren’t the only potential benefits for Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, each of which has jurisdiction over part of the Southeast Asian island. The report looks at multiple possible futures for Borneo and finds that in the optimal land-use allocation scenario, up to half of the island could remain as forest, including sufficient habitat for the Bornean orangutan and Bornean elephant. Each of the countries have made conservation pledges that are at odds with plans for growing their economies.
Lead author Rebecca Runting, of the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) at The University of Queensland, says that achieving these conservation goals while also meeting targets for economic growth will require greater information sharing between the three nations and a willingness to reform existing land-use plans.
“The current land-use plans for Borneo are inefficient, and will fall significantly short of meeting conservation goals,” Runting wrote in a statement to mongabay.com. “Collaboration between the three national jurisdictions and allowing changes to the existing land-use allocations has the potential to achieve a wide range of targets in a cost-effective manner.”
A red grasshawk dragonfly (Neurothemis fluctuans) in Kalimantan. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Borneo, the world’s third largest island, is home to more than 14,000 plant species and 1,600 land animals, Runting says. A report last year found that between 1973 and 2013, nearly a third of Borneo’s rainforests were destroyed by fires and industrial logging or converted to palm and timber plantations.
Runting and her team write in their study that Indonesia and Malaysia have plans to increase the area of Borneo converted to palm and timber plantations by 7.1 million hectares (17.5 million acres) over the next 20 years.
One of the scenarios examined in the study was based on the Heart of Borneo initiative, a trilateral conservation and sustainable development agreement reached in 2005 aimed at protecting 22 million hectares (54.3 million acres) of Borneo’s central mountainous region. But this approach is far less cost-effective than the integrated planning approach suggested by the researchers, while it focuses on conserving upland forests at the expense of clearing the lowlands, where elephant and orangutan habitat is primarily found.
Hence, the study asserts there is a need for land-use reallocation and that the three nations coordinate and be flexible in land-use planning. In the optimal scenario suggested by the researchers, some 8.6 million hectares (21.3 million acres) of land currently slated for logging, 4.3 million hectares (10.6 million acres) of unplanted oil palm concessions and 1.3 million hectares (3.2 million acres) of unplanted timber concessions will have to be protected.
Oil palm development in Central Kalimantan. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Borneo’s rainforests have been shown to have 60 percent as much carbon-sequestering, above-ground biomass as the Amazonian average, further underscoring the need to keep as much of it standing as possible. The planned expansion of oil palm plantations in Indonesian Borneo alone would contribute CO2 emissions equal to more than a third of Indonesia’s total land sector emissions, according to the researchers.
A co-author of the study, Dr. Erik Meijaard, also with CEED as well as the Borneo Futures initiative, told mongabay.com that this research on the possible futures facing Borneo and the benefits of cross-border collaboration could be applicable in other forest regions of the world.
“Our findings from Borneo apply to the Amazon and Congo Basins and other parts of the world where deforestation and land use intensification are taking place,” Meijaard said. “In these areas collaboration on environmental planning as well as on other issues of international importance could help slow down environmental degradation and the negative impact this has on biodiversity and the lives of people.”
Gaveau DLA, Sloan S, Molidena E, Yaen H, Sheil D, et al. (2014) Four Decades of Forest Persistence, Clearance and Logging on Borneo. PLoS ONE 9(7): e101654. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0101654
Runting, R. K., Meijaard, E., Abram, N. K., Wells, J. A., Gaveau, D. L., Ancrenaz, M., … & Wilson, K. A. (2015). Alternative futures for Borneo show the value of integrating economic and conservation targets across borders. Nature communications, 6.
Slik, J. W. F., Aiba, S. I., Brearley, F. Q., Cannon, C. H., Forshed, O., Kitayama, K., … & van Valkenburg, J. L. (2010). Environmental correlates of tree biomass, basal area, wood specific gravity and stem density gradients in Borneo’s tropical forests. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 19(1), 50-60.