Alternative futures for Borneo

Scientists have urged the three nations who share the island of Borneo to collaborate more closely to save their endangered wildlife while meeting development goals. By coordinating conservation and development efforts as well as reforming land-use, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei could retain up to half of the land of Borneo as forests, protect elephant and orangutan habitats, reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 50%, and possibly significantly reduce the opportunity costs by billions of dollars. The study, published in the scientific journal Nature Communications, is led by CEED researchers.

“Borneo is the world’s third largest island – it harbours over 14,000 plant species and 1,600 land animals,” says lead author Rebecca Runting. “These tropical forests regulate regional and global climate and provide food and income to millions of people.”

The high rates of forest conversion and degradation over previous decades have prompted the three nations to pledge to protect their natural resources, including maintaining between 45 and 75% of the land area of Borneo as forests. At the same time, Malaysia and Indonesia have planned to greatly expand the area of oil palm and timber plantations. The study reveals that the governments’ current land-use plans are inadequate, and will fall significantly short of meeting their conservation goals.

The researchers found that integrated planning between the three nations, including coordinating conservation and development plans, and allowing changes to existing land-use allocations, will achieve substantial savings while requiring less land for protected areas. It will also deliver the greatest area for reduced impact logging – logging practices that are better for the environment.

“The integrated planning scenario explores land-use planning for the entire island, rather than each state operating in isolation,” says co-author Kerrie Wilson. “Our study reveals that it is much more cost-effective than the current ‘business-as-usual’ scenario, and also comes closest to meeting the three countries’ conservation targets.”


Runting RK, E Meijaard, NK Abram, JA Wells, DLA Gaveau, M Ancrenaz, HP Possingham, SA Wich, F Ardiansyah, MT Gumal, LN Ambu & Kerrie A. Wilson (2015). Alternative futures for Borneo show the value of integrating economic and conservation targets across borders. Nature Communications.

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