Borneo is a great Indonesian tropical island – the world’s third largest - renowned for its remarkable forests and wildlife. But now that is at stake.
It says it all about the unsustainability of the rapid growth of cities around the world that the Indonesian government has given up on Jakarta as its national capital, and decided to construct a new capital on Borneo. We await this new city with a great sense of dread as to its impact on Borneo’s pristine wilderness.
But even before the new capital is built, Borneo is under threat from Malaysia’s plans to create a Pan-Borneo Highway. In 2007 the Governments of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei jointly declared the Heart of Borneo Initiative. This was intended to conserve the biodiversity of Borneo for the benefit of the people who rely on it through protected areas, sustainable management of forests and other sustainable land uses.
But the Pan-Borneo Highway is a network of highways which will cut through some of the last expanses of intact forest in Borneo. According to James Cook University Professor Bill Laurence, who has studied the Pan-Borneo Highway project in detail, it will greatly increase pressures from loggers, poachers, farmers and oil palm plantations. This would be a nightmare for endangered species such as the Bornean orang-utan, clouded leopard and dwarf elephant.
Professor Laurence says that slicing up the forests is toxic for large animals such as elephants, bearded pigs and sloth bears, that must migrate seasonally to find enough food or otherwise face starvation.
Despite government pledges to cut deforestation in half, global rates of forest loss have risen by 43% in recent years. Professor Laurence says the biggest direct threat to our surviving wild areas and intact forests is an explosion of new infrastructure.
The Australian Government and other governments must urge the Malaysian and Indonesian Governments to honour the intention of the Heart of Borneo Initiative.
And once again we see that “more infrastructure” is no solution to the environmental and other problems generated by population growth.