The native forests of Borneo have been impacted by selective logging, fire, and conversion to plantations at unprecedented scales since industrial-scale extractive industries began in the early 1970s. There is no island-wide documentation of forest clearance or logging since the 1970s. This creates an information gap for conservation planning, especially with regard to selectively logged forests that maintain high conservation potential. Analysing LANDSAT images, we estimate that 75.7% (558,060 km2) of Borneo's area (737,188 km2) was forested around 1973. Based upon a forest cover map for 2010 derived using ALOS-PALSAR and visually reviewing LANDSAT images, we estimate that the 1973 forest area had declined by 168,493 km2 (30.2%) in 2010. The highest losses were recorded in Sabah and Kalimantan with 39.5% and 30.7% of their total forest area in 1973 becoming non-forest in 2010, and the lowest in Brunei and Sarawak (8.4%, and 23.1%). We estimate that the combined area planted in industrial oil palm and timber plantations in 2010 was 75,480 km2, representing 10% of Borneo. We mapped 271,819 km of primary logging roads that were created between 1973 and 2010. The greatest density of logging roads was found in Sarawak, at 0.89 km km-2, and the lowest density in Brunei, at 0.18 km km-2. Analyzing MODIS-based tree cover maps, we estimate that logging operated within 700 m of primary logging roads. Using this distance, we estimate that 266,257 km2 of 1973 forest cover has been logged. With 389,566 km2 (52.8%) of the island remaining forested, of which 209,649 km2 remains intact. There is still hope for biodiversity conservation in Borneo. Protecting logged forests from fire and conversion to plantations is an urgent priority for reducing rates of deforestation in Borneo.
Lowland tropical forests are increasingly threatened with conversion to oil palm as global demand and high profit drives crop expansion throughout the world's tropical regions. Yet, landscapes are not homogeneous and regional constraints dictate land suitability for this crop. We conducted a regional study to investigate spatial and economic components of forest conversion to oil palm within a tropical floodplain in the Lower Kinabatangan, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. The Kinabatangan ecosystem harbours significant biodiversity with globally threatened species but has suffered forest loss and fragmentation. We mapped the oil palm and forested landscapes (using object-based-image analysis, classification and regression tree analysis and on-screen digitising of high-resolution imagery) and undertook economic modelling. Within the study region (520,269 ha), 250,617 ha is cultivated with oil palm with 77% having high Net-Present-Value (NPV) estimates ($413/ha-yr-$637/ha-yr); but 20.5% is under-producing. In fact 6.3% (15,810 ha) of oil palm is commercially redundant (with negative NPV of $-299/ha-yr-$-65/ha-yr) due to palm mortality from flood inundation. These areas would have been important riparian or flooded forest types. Moreover, 30,173 ha of unprotected forest remain and despite its value for connectivity and biodiversity 64% is allocated for future oil palm. However, we estimate that at minimum 54% of these forests are unsuitable for this crop due to inundation events. If conversion to oil palm occurs, we predict a further 16,207 ha will become commercially redundant. This means that over 32,000 ha of forest within the floodplain would have been converted for little or no financial gain yet with significant cost to the ecosystem. Our findings have globally relevant implications for similar floodplain landscapes undergoing forest transformation to agriculture such as oil palm. Understanding landscape level constraints to this crop, and transferring these into policy and practice, may provide conservation and economic opportunities within these seemingly high opportunity cost landscapes.
Balancing economic development with international commitments to protect biodiversity is a global challenge. Achieving this balance requires an understanding of the possible consequences of alternative future scenarios for a range of stakeholders. We employ an integrated economic and environmental planning approach to evaluate four alternative futures for the mega-diverse island of Borneo. We show what could be achieved if the three national jurisdictions of Borneo coordinate efforts to achieve their public policy targets and allow a partial reallocation of planned land uses. We reveal the potential for Borneo to simultaneously retain ∼50% of its land as forests, protect adequate habitat for the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) and Bornean elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis), and achieve an opportunity cost saving of over US$43 billion. Such coordination would depend on enhanced information sharing and reforms to land-use planning, which could be supported by the increasingly international nature of economies and conservation efforts.
Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) aims to avoid forest conversion to alternative land-uses through financial incentives. Oil-palm has high opportunity costs, which according to current literature questions the financial competitiveness of REDD+ in tropical lowlands. To understand this more, we undertook regional fine-scale and coarse-scale analyses (through carbon mapping and economic modelling) to assess the financial viability of REDD+ in safeguarding unprotected forest (30,173 ha) in the Lower Kinabatangan floodplain in Malaysian Borneo. Results estimate 4.7 million metric tons of carbon (MgC) in unprotected forest, with 64% allocated for oil-palm cultivations. Through fine-scale mapping and carbon accounting, we demonstrated that REDD+ can outcompete oil-palm in regions with low suitability, with low carbon prices and low carbon stock. In areas with medium oil-palm suitability, REDD+ could outcompete oil palm in areas with: very high carbon and lower carbon price; medium carbon price and average carbon stock; or, low carbon stock and high carbon price. Areas with high oil palm suitability, REDD+ could only outcompete with higher carbon price and higher carbon stock. In the coarse-scale model, oil-palm outcompeted REDD+ in all cases. For the fine-scale models at the landscape level, low carbon offset prices (US $3 MgCO2e) would enable REDD+ to outcompete oil-palm in 55% of the unprotected forests requiring US $27 million to secure these areas for 25 years. Higher carbon offset price (US $30 MgCO2e) would increase the competitiveness of REDD+ within the landscape but would still only capture between 69%-74% of the unprotected forest, requiring US $380-416 million in carbon financing. REDD+ has been identified as a strategy to mitigate climate change by many countries (including Malaysia). Although REDD+ in certain scenarios cannot outcompete oil palm, this research contributes to the global REDD+ debate by: highlighting REDD+ competitiveness in tropical floodplain landscapes; and, providing a robust approach for identifying and targeting limited REDD+ funds.