Borneo is the world’s third-largest island and, until the 1950s, had largely escaped the environmental ravages seen on neighbouring isles. It is home to many globally significant species, including orang-utans, pygmy elephants, Sumatran rhinos and clouded leopards. More than 600 bird species and an astonishing 15,000 types of plant are also found here.
Large parts of the island’s interior are still relatively unknown and undoubtedly harbour as yet unidentified species. Between 1994 and 2004, new species were discovered at the rate of three per month. The 16 million people on the island are equally diverse with over 200 languages still in use.
Half a million indigenous people still depend on Borneo’s forest for edible and medicinal plants, fish, meat, construction materials and water. The headwaters of the island’s major rivers rise in Borneo’s central highlands and are critical to ensuring reliable clean water supplies to a large number of human settlements, and to the thriving industries that have developed in coastal urban centres.
Over the past few decades much of Borneo’s lowland forest cover has been fragmented and cleared for timber and to create plantations for the production of palm oil and paper pulp.
National and international demand for agricultural commodities and wood products mean land continues to be cleared at a frightening rate. Forest destruction is compounded by road and infrastructure development.
Borneo is extremely rich in mineral deposits. Mining, especially for coal and gold, has expanded rapidly in recent years, with clear signals that this will increase.
Between 1980 and 2000, it is estimated that more timber was harvested from Borneo than was exported from the Amazon and Congo basins combined. As a result, Borneo now has only 50% of its original forest left.
Land clearance has another, globally important, impact. An estimated 85% of Indonesia’s carbon emissions come from deforestation and degradation. This is a higher proportion than any other country in the world and makes it a major contributor to global warming.
Work is under way to safeguard a huge area of the island known as the Heart of Borneo.
In 2007, with support from WWF, the island's three governments – Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia and Malaysia – committed to protect, manage and restore 220,000 sq km of forests (slightly less than the size of the UK).
This historic agreement will enable the protection and sustainable use of the forests and protect water catchment areas, as well as conserving the plants and animals within the Heart of Borneo.
WWF’s Heart of Borneo initiative also aims to ensure that key UK buyers of timber and palm oil from Indonesia and Malaysia commit to using only sustainably-produced goods.
We also want to see the rate of deforestation of high conservation areas drop to zero.
We are working with local communities to help diversify their income sources, thereby reducing the pressure they put on the forest.
We are working with key sectors – timber, oil palm, mining and financial investment – to minimise the impact of their activities.
We support orang-utan, rhino and elephant conservation within the Heart of Borneo.