The forests covered by the Heart of Borneo initiative are very important to three countries: Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.

The area refers to the mountainous centre of the great island of Borneo. The forests here have indeed fared far better than in the lowlands and coastal areas (where the challenges of deforestation are well known) – that’s the good news so far.

Heart of Borneo covers the deep interior areas of Brunei, the Indonesian province of Kalimantan, and the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak.

In 2007, there was a historic declaration by Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei to conserve an area designated as the Heart of Borneo. Since then, considerable work has been carried out under this initiative by the three governments and their local and international supporters, including WWF.

In conjunction with World Environment Day on June 5, WWF-Malaysia and WWF-Indonesia released an executive summary of their upcoming publication titled Environmental Status of Borneo 2016. This provides an overview of the environmental issues in Borneo that can be widely shared to gain collective support to save Borneo’s forests.

Borneo is home to a great diversity of plant and animal species, with rich resources for the livelihood of 11 million people. This includes one million indigenous peoples who inhabit the area called the Heart of Borneo, which lies in mountainous, hard-to-access upriver areas. These people have sustainably managed the natural capital here for centuries.

“This World Environment Day is a good opportunity to draw attention to the state of the environment that we are passing onto generations to come,” said Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma, executive director/CEO of WWF-Malaysia.

“We need to act now and act fast to save Borneo’s forests. Together, we can help make one of the world’s last remaining expanses of ancient forest in Borneo a better place to live in, both for us humans, as well as the biodiversity that thrives in this unique tropical rainforest island.”

The bad news is that not all is well in the highlands of Borneo.

The report finds that Borneo is in danger of losing its major ecosystems (and the valuable ecoservices they provide, such as fresh water supply, flood control, and biodiversity) which are critical to the long-term survival of local communities and the three countries’ economies.

borneo mountain

Orangutans live in the Heart of Borneo. Photo: WWF-Indonesia/Pradino Ajim Ariadi Restu

Based on the report, the original 74 million hectares of overall forest cover declined by 55% from 2005 to 2015. What’s more, within the forested areas, the forest is broken up into smaller patches (fragmentation), making it difficult for wildlife to survive. Under a business-as-usual scenario, by 2020, Borneo could lose 75% of its forest.

“The Heart of Borneo initiative has been ongoing for 10 years now and has gained increasing support from all of our major stakeholders,” says Benja V. Mambai, acting CEO at WWF-Indonesia.

“It is important to have a clear overview of the environmental status of Borneo including the Heart of Borneo.”

He adds, “We hope that the results of this report will guide authorities and our stakeholders to address the declining state of the environment.”

WWF’s Environmental Status of Borneo 2016 is due to be released by the end of June 2017. It is the third edition of the report and details the environmental health of critical ecosystems. Using the latest 2015 data available, this year, for the first time, the report was extended from the area designated as the Heart of Borneo to the whole of the island – a reflection of the crossboundary approach needed to adequately address the problems.

This report is an inventory of the changing status of the major ecosystems and key species of Borneo, land use developments, and the current conservation management issues.

Borneo has one of the world’s last remaining expanses of ancient, untouched forest and these are in peril. Concerted, large scale efforts to restore, reforest, and protect are needed to save the island’s forests for the benefit of present and future generations. The “business as usual” approach is no longer an option.