Deforestation in Borneo
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), deforestation accounts for up to 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than every land and sea vehicle combined. Cutting down large amounts of forests and trees reduces the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed, thereby contributing significantly to global warming. The late twentieth century saw a steady increase in deforestation in Borneo, the world’s third-largest island, with forests covering 73.7 percent of the land. Unfortunately, that figure has dropped to 50%, as approximately 19.5 million hectares of forest land were destroyed between 1973 and 2016. The image below represents the amount of deforestation that has occurred in Borneo in the last 70 years.
(Cartography by Hugo Ahlenius)
Borneo isn’t a country; it is an island shared between Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei.
The vast amount of rainforest in Borneo is considered one of the oldest in the world and is home to many species of animals, flora, and fauna. According to the Borneo Project, there are about 15,000 flowering plants, 3,000 trees and 221 species of terrestrial mammals, and 420 species of resident birds. Out of the 221 species of mammals, 44 are unique to the island, such as the proboscis monkey, orangutans, clouded leopard, and many others. The island is also native to unique flowers such as the Rafflesia Arnoldii flower, the largest flower in the world, Nepenthes Rajah, a carnivorous plant that eats insects and small animals, and around 3,000 different kinds of orchids can be found there. As a result of deforestation, certain species may become extinct if no action is taken soon.
One might wonder why Borneo is being destroyed at such a rapid pace? The answer is simple: it provides palm oil, pulpwood, and timber resources. Malaysia and Indonesia alone produce 87% of the world’s palm oil supply and are the third-largest exporter of timber. Palm oil is in high demand because it is the most productive seed oil and is used in various products, including cosmetics, soaps, toothpaste, wax, and ink. According to a 2018 study by Gaveau et al., 6.04 million hectares of forest were lost in Borneo between the 2000s and 2017, representing a 14 percent decline. According to the study, approximately half of that area was converted to industrial plantations within a year, and 92 percent of the forest that was converted was replaced with plantations, out of which 88 percent of the area was used for oil palm and 12 percent for pulpwood. The Indonesian side of Borneo, which accounts for 73% of the island’s territory, had the most plantations with 4.35 million hectares. In comparison, the Malaysian side had 1.85 million hectares of plantations. The large-scale deforestation and peatlands have made the area prone to forest fires. Peatlands are waterlogged ecosystems that contain massive below-ground carbon stores that are often more than 20 meters deep and have developed over thousands of years. When the water table in peatlands is disturbed, organic matter can quickly disintegrate or burn, releasing large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and can cause disastrous fire and haze events, such as the Southeast Asian Haze crisis in 2015. If no change is implemented soon, such tragedies will become more common.
Despite the fact that Borneo has lost a significant portion of its forests due to fire and deforestation, governments and organizations have taken steps recently to slow the spread of the issue. Indonesia imposed a nationwide moratorium on new oil palm and pulpwood plantations in primary forests in 2011, which has since been extended several times. In addition, the country put a halt to the conversion of its major carbon sinks and peatlands in 2016. WWF also launched a program called Project Finance for Permanence (PFP), which aims to collect funds to maintain the forest, especially the protected areas. According to Gaveau, it has become more challenging for companies to expand the plantations due to the increased attention from non-profit organizations, media, and consumer nations. He reported that since 2012, there had been a decrease in the growth of plantations which he attributes to the above-mentioned sources. In 2019, in partnership with Wageningen University and UN Environment, the Dutch government encouraged Indonesia’s farmers and swap palm oil with environmentally sustainable plantations such as sago and jelutong. An average person can also contribute to the issue by reducing their palm oil consumption, which lowers the demand for the product, thereby forcing the companies to produce its alternatives.
The fight for reducing deforestation in Borneo still has a long way to go; however, with the help of crowds, the victory can be achieved sooner.
- Ahlenius, H. (n.d.). Extent of deforestation in Borneo 1950–2005, and projection towards
2020 | GRID-Arendal. Grida. https://www.grida.no/resources/8324
- Deforestation and Forest Degradation | Threats | WWF. (n.d.). World Wildlife Fund. https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/deforestation-and-forest-degradation
- Fraser, B. (2019, January 15). Is deforestation in Borneo slowing down? CIFOR Forests
News. https://forestsnews.cifor.org/59378/has-borneos-deforestation-slowed-down? fnl=en
- Gaveau, D. L., Locatelli, B., Salim, M. A., Yaen, H., Pacheco, P., & Sheil, D. (2018). Rise and fall of forest loss and industrial plantations in Borneo (2000–2017). Conservation
Letters, 12(3). https://doi.org/10.1111/conl.12622
- United Nations Environment Programme. (2019, February 18). Deforestation in Borneo is slowing, but regulation remains key. UNEP. https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/ story/deforestation-borneo-slowing-regulation-remains-key