Rainforests in the Heart of Borneo also have a crucial function as the lungs of the world because they produce oxygen needed to help overcome the impact of climate change.
Given the important role of the rainforests, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on January 5, 2012, signed a regulation authorizing the use of 45 percent of Kalimantan island as biodiversity conservation and tropical rainforest vegetation reserves to make the island the world`s lungs.
"At least 45 percent of Indonesian Borneo will serve as the lungs of the world, with the plan ensuring that local ecosystems are protected and the biodiversity of the island is allowed to flourish," a presidential press release said last month.
Under Presidential Regulation No. 3 of 2012, the government will also make efforts to prevent activities that may disturb the reserve areas.
The regulation covers a massive area of more than 250,000 km2 encompassing vast tracts of rainforest land in the Heart of Borneo and landscapes beyond.
The remaining 55 percent of Kalimantan island, however, can be used to support the government`s program to achieve energy self-sufficiency and the creation of national energy barns for electricity production and develop the island into a mineral, coal, oil and gas mining center, the regulation said.
In addition, it can also be used for sustainable development of oil palm and rubber plantations and timber estates; front veranda and gateway of the country bordering Malaysia; water-based national urban area development center; tropical forest-based ecotourism and Kalimantan culture tourism; inter-mode transportation networks; and food self-sufficiency and national food barn.
The forestry ministry`s secretary general, Hadi Daryanto, said "We hope with the decree, Indonesia will be able to meet its target of reducing gas emissions by 26 percent by 2020."
In a speech to G20 leaders on Sept. 25, 2009, President Yudhoyono said the government was crafting a policy that would cut emissions by 26 percent by 2020 from "business as usual" (BAU) levels.
Welcoming the signing of the presidential regulation on Kalimantan`s rainforest, Adam Tomasek, head of the WWF`s Heart of Borneo Initiative, said the new decree offers a fantastic opportunity to secure the future of Borneo as a place where sustainable development exists in balance with a practical and beneficial conservation regime.
"WWF has been working for a long time with both National and local governments to develop spatial plans, and engage businesses and communities to drive conservation and sustainable development in Borneo. The decree is a leadership statement from the President of Indonesia that will help ensure the previous commitments on the Heart of Borneo will be met," Tomasek said in a press release posted on the website of WWF Indonesia.
The governments of Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia and Malaysia signed a declaration on Heart of Borneo on February 12, 2007, committing themselves to the conservation and sustainable development of a 22 Million-hectare `Heart of Borneo` (HoB).
The three countries which share Borneo or Kalimantan Island, are working with WWF to conserve 220,000 km2 of rainforests - almost 1/3 of the island - through a network of protected areas and sustainably-managed forests.
Kalimantan`s tropical rainforests are the habitat of endemic animals such as orangutan, Rhino and Pygmy Elephant.
Coinciding with the HoB project`s fifth anniversary, Tomasek on February 12, 2012, released a scientific report entitled The Environmental Status of the Heart of Borneo.
"For the first time the environmental health of the HoB has been assessed using a series of scientifically derived biological and ecosystem indicators and the results have indicated the HoB is currently in good health," Tomasek said.
According to the report, most forest types in the HoB are currently rated as good or very good. This is particularly important for lowland forests which are under severe threat across the rest of the island of Borneo.
In fact, given that lowland forests are the prime habitats of the Pygmy elephant, orangutan and Rhino, the HoB may be the last stronghold for the preservation of this type of forests on Borneo, the WWF report said.
However, HoB still remains under serious threat from industrial conversion of natural forest to palm oil and other agricultural crops, as well as illegal logging and unsustainable rates of legal timber extraction.
Forest fires, mining and overhunting of wildlife are also major threats. During the El Niï¿½o of 1982-83, fires burned about 9.1 million acres (3.7 million hectares) of forest degraded by commercial logging and agriculture in Kalimantan. These fires may have been the largest in human history.
To raise awareness of the high conservation values of the HoB, a Heart of Borneo Festival will be organized in Jakarta, April 2012.
A key event of the Festival will be a 3-day scientific, policy and youth forum which will reveal the true value of the HoB`s natural capital and its vital role in the development of a green economy in the region. (*)