Mahmud Yussof, CEO of Heart of Borneo (HoB) Centre
THE loss of biodiversity is increasing globally. Forest cover continues to experience depletion at a very alarming rate that causes shrinkage of wildlife habitats and makes environmental conditions not conducive for the species to sustain their population and distribution on Earth.
Even though forests are renewalble resources that can be recovered within a specific period of time with the advancement in science and technology, the loss of biodiversity is inevitable in view of the global economic pressure and priorities on land use management that always lead to significant increase in the carbon footprint.
If the degradation of habitats is persistent one should ask to what extent that the ageing Earth can accommodate detrimental consequences.
The No Net Loss (NNL) approach is something that has to be debated further, especially its effectiveness in preventing biodiversity loss in a global perspective.
It could work well on certain specific situations where conservation of forests and change in land use do consider in depth the protection of critical or endangered habitats for the wildlife and not happen within the areas specifically protected for nature conservation.
The NNL is a quantifiable process that requires a well-balanced consideration between the economic development and forest (biodiversity) conservation needs.
This was among the hot issues discussed in the annual Heart of Borneo Conference by various stakeholders.
The one-day Heart of Borneo (HoB) conference was organised by the Forestry Department of Sabah, Malaysia and was officiated by the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Malaysia on November 10.
Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was among the VVIP participants joining 700 participants comprising the HoB member countries and relevant international organisations at the conference.
The highlight of the conference was to share Malaysian (Sabah) experiences on the challenges of the biodiversity conservation and protection amidst its very aggressive land-based economic development. Malaysia (Sabah) is well known as the global player in palm oil plantation and timber exporting.
In addition, its vast land area constitutes a variety of land uses and as a result, the significant adverse residual impacts arise from project activities.
Therefore, the conference meant to look into loss of biodiversity especially through the on-going economic projects located within the designated HoB Initiative.
There was a divergence of views at the conference as the land-based economic development and conservation of biodiversity were discussed on different perspectives.
What clearly transpired in the conference was that the HoB Initiative is the best approach for both economic development and biodiversity conservation in any disputed land uses.
The viable economic value of biodiversity resources will depend on their ‘wise’ utilisation and ‘well-managed’ forests (rather than just sustainable forest management) and natural ecosystems.
This is one of the inspirations of Brunei HoB Initiative emphasising the importance of interconnected forest landscape as a continuous biodiversity corridor, offering economic potentials for the country especially on the lucrative business of biodiversity-based products.
In most developed countries, substantial amounts of money and time have been invested for Research and Development (R&D) activities aimed to look for new innovative products that are likely to hit the jackpot in the biotechnology industry.
On the environmental aspect, lets us learn from our HoB’s neighbour about their efforts to protect the environment.
Announcements were made in the conference by the Minister of Natural and Environment Resource, Malaysia in his opening speech that under the 10th Malaysia Plan RM24.16 million would be channelled to Sabah and RM10.03 million to Sarawak to adopt the best practices in forest management and biodiversity conservation (to combat the biodiversity loss).
The allocation will be increased under the 11th Malaysia Plan mainly for the purpose of replanting programmes and restoration of degraded forests, according to the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF), Sabah is experiencing about 77 per cent loss of forest cover and Sarawak about 50 per cent.
Additional budget will also be requested to improve the irrigation and drainage system for Sabah, Sarawak and the Peninsular Malaysia to reduce the environmental calamities associated with the loss of forest cover.
This announcement made at the political level shows that overhauling the disturbed forest and natural ecosystems does not only require well-coordinated efforts from all levels but also costly operation.
Ironically, the majority of the landscape within the designated Brunei HoB area is covered by the evergreen and mosaic tropical rainforest as biological landscape where any minimum cost is required to reduce the man-made disastrous risk and maintain the healthy ecosystem services – water source, naturally regulate flow of water, natural and biological control for agricultural crops, pollination, carbon sink etc.
At the end of the conference, a few salient messages were gathered and it was found that conservation of biodiversity and land use development should go together hand-in-hand to achieve the desired target of balanced economic growth.
Forests are not just for logging, as environmental biodiversity can be considered as an important economic commodity.
Because of this, the HoB initiative is thinking of relevant strategies to provide the best practical and balanced approach to both economic growth in core ecological areas and in the interest of biodiversity conservation.