BRUNEI'S involvement in one of the world's most important centres of biological diversity, the Heart of Borneo (HoB), was the catalyst that made the initiative take off, said World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Special Advisor to the HoB initiative, Dato' Dr Mikaail Kavanagh.
The HoB initiative calls for the protection of 30 per cent of the world's pristine tropical forests. It covers a network of protected forest areas and straddles the transboundary highlands of three countries: Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia. The three pledged in 2007 to conserve and sustainably manage the rainforests that span 220,000sq km.
"Brunei that was the catalyst that brought everyone together," said Dato' Dr Mikaail Kavanagh in an interview with The Brunei Times during a recent trip into the interior of Belait, where a team of scientists conducted a two-year faunal diversity study. Kavanagh is also the project manager for the Sg Ingei Faunal Biodiversity.
The team, led by Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD), hopes to push Sg Ingei's protected forest into a wildlife sanctuary.
Kavanagh said having three countries commit to the declaration was not as straightforward as it seems, as "a bilateral project works in a different way from a trilateral project".
In 2006, an exploratory workshop was co-organised by Brunei's Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources (MIPR) and WWF that brought together the three governments in Brunei .
The workshop resulted in a broad agreement for the HoB initiative with its "Three Countries and One Vision", which started step by step.
In 2007, the HoB Declaration was signed with the three countries committing to conserve the rainforests.
"We believe in the vision and I am very pleased to say WWF was asked to participate and support in it," Kavanagh said.
He emphasised that Brunei was the catalyst because it "did it so quickly and was able to show the two other countries how to get things started".
Since the HoB started, Kavanagh said the world has become increasingly more conscious of global environmental problems and is now moving towards a green economy by taking a "systematic economic approach to work out the real value of the goods and services you get from nature".
"This makes it all the more important for the world as a whole to understand the global importance of Borneo and HoB... It is a big forest, big enough to make an impact," Kavanagh stressed.
Kavanagh explained that the most fundamental rationale for HoB vision is "taking a pan-Borneo approach, a tri-lateral approach to joining together the protection efforts of Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei and with the goal of stopping the forest of being fragmented."
"Apart from anything else, the forests are safer from human encroachment. Furthermore, when you reduce the size of any natural habitat, you are rapidly collapsing the geometric progression of species. So size matters," Kavanagh said.
He added that it is important to ensure the "connection between the forest landscape, the core of the protected area and those around them, as a buffer zone that is compatible for human use".
With three countries sharing their commitment towards HoB, Kavanagh believes that it is a goal to have a transboundary protection between the three countries.
"It is definitely a goal to have some sort of transboundary protection which would allow transboundary tourism and transboundary hot pursuit that means no running against the border stealing gaharu, deer, monkey and so on."
"The World Heritage Convention is particularly interested in transboundary areas, so they will look at the totality."
According to Kavanagh, if the HoB works out, the rainforest that falls under its jurisdiction could be a marked as a world heritage site, adding that the three countries have helped made the initiative progress.
"We are moving faster than we could ever imagine due to the government's support."
"In Brunei, His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam has made sure than his people understand that he wants this to happen. That has really driven it. Furthermore, His Royal Highness Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah, the Crown Prince and Senior Minister at the Prime Minister's Office has been appointed as the Royal Patron of the Brunei HoB Initiative, which has driven people to understand that this is very important. The former Malaysian Prime Minister and Indonesian President are also behind it," Kavanagh pointed out.
"Biologically, it works because you avoid the perils of breaking up the forest. Politically and globally, it works because you discover the world gets excited about it," Kavanagh said.
"The world would not be as excited about the Heart of Brunei as they would with the Heart of Borneo (as a whole)."
Brunei was earlier given the task to liaise with the Indonesian and Malaysian governments to conserve the remaining forest cover of Borneo Island for the well-being of the inhabitants and form a network of protected forests within the designated HoB area.
Brunei's commitment to HoB is more than 50 per cent of the country's total size. The Brunei Times