The proposed Heart of Borneo boundary
(in yellow). Courtesy of WWF-Malaysia.
The island of Borneo is one of the world’s major biodiversity hotspots, with thousands of plant and animal species found nowhere else on earth. It is politically divided into the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, the Indonesian provinces of West, Central, South, and East Kalimantan, and the state of Brunei Darussalam. In 2007, the three national governments signed the Heart of Borneo Declaration, a unified conservation vision for “maintaining Bornean natural heritage for the benefit of present and future generations”. The Heart of Borneo initiative, which is facilitated by the Worldwide Fund for Nature-Malaysia (WWF-Malaysia), aims to protect 22 million hectares of the largest contiguous forest in Southeast Asia through effective management of forest resources and a network of protected areas, productive forests, and other sustainable land uses.
From 6-7 November, Holly Shrumm (Natural Justice) attended an international conference entitled “Heart of Borneo +5 and Beyond: Shaping and Nurturing Sabah’s Future Together”. Held in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, the conference was organised by the Sabah Forestry Department and co-hosted by a range of other government agencies and non-governmental organisations, including the Sabah Biodiversity Centre, Partners of Community Organisations in Sabah (PACOS Trust) and Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP).
The first session on global perspectives on conservation included a diverse group of presenters, most notably, on renewable energy (Dr. Daniel Kammen, Energy and Resources Group, University of California-Berkeley), on the connections between people and forests (Dr. Tint Lwin Thaung, Executive Director, The Centre for People and Forests), and on the drivers of deforestation (Rhett Butler, founder of Mongabay.com).
The second session introduced a new and complementary initiative called “Forever Sabah“, which aims to transform Sabah’s current trajectory into a diversified, conservation-based green economy. The multi-stakeholder panel was moderated by Darrel Webber (Secretary General, Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) and included interventions from Sam Mannan (Director, Sabah Forestry Department), Cynthia Ong (LEAP), Anne Lasimbang (PACOS Trust), Dr. Glen Reynolds (the Royal Society’s South East Asia Rainforest Research Programme), Jeffrey Horowitz (Avoided Deforestation Partners), and Abdullah Latiff Mohamad (WWF-Malaysia).
The bulk of the rest of the conference consisted of breakout sessions (which included presentations and open discussions about next steps for Heart of Borneo) on the following five themes: forests and biodiversity; agriculture and plantations; infrastructure and energy development; community development; and tourism. When the groups presented their outcomes in plenary, a common thread throughout – bolstered by strong representation of Indigenous community members from across Sabah – was the need to recognise Native Customary Rights and land title and to ensure participation of Indigenous peoples and local communities in the Heart of Borneo design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation process.