Geography by Joshua

By Joshua, Year 10

Written as part of Factory Feedback

I am discussing the Borneo Rainforest, also known as the Borneo lowland rain forests, and the problems it has faced and the growing struggle to confront these issues. 

The Borneo Rainforest is located in Southeast Asia. Its 425,000 square km are located within the countries of Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei in Southeast Asia. 

However, humanity’s interference in the Borneo rainforest has jeopardised its capacity as an ecosystem. Deforestation for the conversion of land for palm oil and timber is one such activity that endangers the rainforest. As a source, Borneo produces half of the world’s timber and 80% of the world’s palm oil. 50% of the island’s protected tropical rainforests were deforested between 1985 and 2001 to keep up with this demand. The unsustainable acquisition of resources threatens to diminish the ecosystem’s capacity to store carbon, prevent landslides and provide habitat for endangered species. For instance, the orangutan, a native animal to Borneo and vital to the rainforests’ continuation, has lost 80% of its rainforest habitat, causing 150,000 orangutans to disappear between 1999 and 2015. The orangutan plays a crucial role in the rainforest’s continuation as its seed-dispersing behaviour is behind the reproduction of many native plant species. The combination of these impacts has made subsequent threats possible, such as the complete annihilation of the forest ecosystem and the local communities that depend on it for food and other resources. The crucial role that the rainforest plays in the region is overlooked as palm oil and timber plantations lay waste to the forest and ecosystem.

Furthermore, mining has also had severe repercussions on the Borneo rainforest. The island holds over two-thirds of Indonesia and Malaysia’s six billion tonnes of recoverable coal deposits. The Indonesia-Malaysia region was the world’s second largest coal exporter in 2019 responsible for over 19% of global coal exports, despite only having 4% of the reserves; showing the extent to which measures are taken to fuel economic growth. Laws in the area stipulate that mining operations must set aside resources to repair environmental damage but this responsibility is flouted. Mining has led to several of Borneo’s 20 major rivers being at risk of pollution. Communities talk of death rates spiking when mining occurs as pollutants fill the air and land. Mining strips the land, rendering recovery nearly impossible, leaving local communities stranded and their livelihoods destroyed as their properties have been taken. The unsustainability of mining has heavily impacted the forest and its inhabitants that are often in no position to fend for themselves.

Attempts have been made to attenuate the far-reaching effects of human activities. In 2007, the governments of Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia jointly declared to conserve 220,000 square kilometres of forest. Deemed the “Heart of Borneo”, this area is now under certain protections and prevented the construction of the world’s would-be largest oil palm plantation. However, only 8% of the rainforest is under full protection causing the Worldwide Wildlife Fund (WWF) to call for cooperation between the rainforests’ administering governments to create a “green economy” that will value Borneo’s natural resources and work to conserve the unique biosphere and secure the orangutan’s future. The Orangutan Project also continues to campaign the protection of the endangered species to ensure the forest’s preservation. There are many ongoing projects to uphold the health of the Borneo rainforest through the efforts of the WWF & The Orangutan Project.

The issue of mining in Borneo is often sidelined despite wreaking havoc on the rainforest. The economic incentive is too great for administrations to take action. In Borneo, the most widely accepted solution is compromise; granting land concessions to the mining industry while enforcing laws regarding environmental compensation. Such areas are off limits to mining, such as the Heart of Borneo. Organisations like the WWF have opposed such measures in the past as they wanted full barring of such operations in Borneo however have conceded reasoning that these small-scale projects are almost impossible to assess and that cooperation is the only solution. Governments turn a blind eye to mining’s extreme impacts due to the profits however for the extent of the issue to be addressed it needs to be put in the spotlight.

As a final observation, human exploitation by palm oil plantations and mining has left the Borneo Rainforest in a deplorable condition at the expense of the rainforest ecosystem. There has been work done to restore the ecosystem as many have realised how valuable the Borneo rainforest really is. This will not be enough as the world needs to be educated on the significance of the environment in everyone’s daily life. Therefore, the question is already posed. Is it really worth it?

Factory Feedback was created with, and generously supported by, the Dusseldorp Forum.

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