Governments pledge to save Heart of Borneo

Posted: 12 February 2007

The governments of Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia have signed an official declaration to conserve and sustainably manage 'The heart of Borneo'. This is one of the most important areas of biological diversity in the world, covering approximately 220,000 square kilometres of equatorial rainforests - almost a third of the island.

"This is an historic occasion which marks new collaboration between our three countries," said Mr M.S. Kaban, the Indonesian Minister of Forestry. "This will put the Heart of Borneo on the world stage as one of the last great blocks of forest in the world."

The Heart of Borneo Declaration, signed by ministers at an official ceremony held in Bali, is a lifeline for Borneo's rainforests that arethreatened by unsustainable logging, forest fires and forest conversion or plantations, says WWF.

Since 1996, deforestation across Indonesia has increased to a average of 2 million hectares per year and, today, only half of Borneo's original forest cover remains. It was also threatened by plans to create the world's largest palm oil plantation in Kalimantan along Indonesia's mountainous border with Malaysia. The scheme - supported by Chinese investments - was expected to cover an area of 1.8 million hectares and would have had long-lasting, damaging consequences to the Heart of Borneo. That prospect has now vanished if the declaration is honoured.

The continuing nature of the threat to Borneo's forests was revealed in a a new Rapid Response report from The UN Environment Programme.Thisd says that the tropical forests of South East Asia, are disappearing far faster than experts have previously supposed.

The report says that natural rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo are being cleared so rapidly that up to 98 per cent may be destroyed by 2022 without urgent action. The rate of loss, which has accelerated in the past five years, outstrips a previous UNEP report released in 2002 at the World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD). Then, experts estimated that most of the suitable orangutan habitat would be lost by 2032.

New species

The island of Borneo is home to 13 species of primates, 150 species of reptiles and amphibians, over 350 species of birds, and around 15,000 species of plants, and continues to be the source of many new discoveries - more than 50 new species were discovered last year alone.

WWF is bullish about the strenth of the new agreement to conserve the last remaining Borneo wilderness. "Future generations will look back on this occasion and admire the leadership and courage shown by the three governments today to conserve the Heart of Borneo," said James Leape, WWF International's Director General. "That three countries have come together with a shared vision that will promote sustainable development, protect vital natural resources and reduce poverty, should be an inspiration to everyone."

WWF has supported the three governments in their desire to conserve the Heart of Borneo since the announcement of their joint intention at the Convention on Biodiversity in Brazil in March 2006.

Related book:

Wild Borneo cover
Wild Borneo cover
Wonderful pictures and an informative text about Wild Borneo is contained in a new book of that name by Nick Garbutt and Cede Prudente. It is published by New Holland, UK, with a forward by Sir Richard Attenborough at £29.99 (hb). It has been produced in association with WWF Malaysia and in support of the Heart of Borneo project.

With over 200 superb photogaphs, the book celebrates the splendour and diversity that still remains in the rainforests, swamp forests, rivers and and highlands that have so far been spared from deforestation and development.

Related links:

SE Asian forests disappearing fast

Heart of Borneo project launched

Fresh hope for the orang-utan