Alternative futures and targets for Borneo

Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus)
Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus)

A few months ago we published a paper (Runting et al 2015) in which we employ an integrated economic and environmental planning approach to evaluate four alternative futures for the island of Borneo. This paper was inspired by the observation that public policy targets for the 3 nations on Borneo (Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei) were potentially conflicting. For instance, Indonesia had pledged to ensure 45% forest cover on the island and stabilise orangutan populations, but also had a targets to double oil palm production and expand industrial timber plantations.

We wanted to work out if it was possible to meet all of these development and conservation with the existing land-use plans, and if not, what was the best way to plan to achieve these targets. We explored four alternative futures for Borneo, each representing a set of policy objectives and a planning strategy:

  1. baseline (current land-use allocations are executed);
  2. uncoordinated, state-based planning to achieve policy;
  3. partial coordination (coordinated planning in the mountainous interior of Borneo); and
  4. integrated planning across all four states (allowing for both jurisdictional coordination and the reallocation of some land uses)

We found that the current land use plan (scenario 1) was inefficient, and would fall substantially short of meeting conservation goals. The most cost-effective way to achieve these targets was not only to re-allocate existing land uses were possible (e.g. unplanted oil-palm concession) but also to collaborate with other nations when doing so (scenario 4). Allowing a more efficient allocation of land-uses minimises the opportunity cost by placing each land-use where it is the most productive (for development targets), or where it can meet conservation goals the most cost-effectively. Also, collaboration between the three nations removes the state-based planning constraint, which opens up many more opportunities to take advantage of efficiencies.

Whilst integrated planning (scenario 4) made substantial progress towards achieving species conservation targets, the allocation of protected areas is biased towards habitat favoured by orangutan, potentially at the expense of other species or the livelihoods of local people. The current public policy targets for forest cover are not specific – they do not give ecosystem-specific targets, or mention forest condition (so potentially a degraded logged forest with no plans for active restoration would still count towards this target). We then demonstrated what the outcome would be if this target was more representative by specifically targeting different ecosystems in our land-use plan. This resulted in a greater geographic representation of the different vegetation types and a solution that was still cost-effective (but not as cheap as the initial integrated planning scenario).

Essentially, the effectiveness of any planning strategy depends on the adequacy of the set targets, and also the governments’ commitment to achieving them. This highlights the importance of collaborating not only in land-use planning, but also in the development of the targets that drive the outcomes. The importance of prioritising the process of target setting has been the focus of other members of the Rhodes Lab (Maxwell et al 2014 and Maxwell et al 2015), who argue that applying negotiation tools that have successfully resolved issues between conflicting stakeholders in other contexts (e.g. Game theory, Management Strategy Evaluation and Collaborative Learning) can lead to more transparent and accountable environmental targets.  Ideally, targets would be fully backed by all relevant stakeholders, be developed in the context of other objectives, and respect national sovereignty.

Palm oil plantation.
Palm oil plantation

In our analysis (Runting et al 2015) we assumed that governments seek to achieve their stated public policy targets, and that all targets are weighted equally. However, the reality is that there will be far greater governmental support for increasing profits from oil palm and other lucrative activities, as opposed to meeting conservation targets. This issue is not unique to Borneo—developing effective targets to achieve sustainable development is a global challenge.

Images provided by Dr. Erik Meijaard.

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