By Sir David Attenborough

Life on Earth is not evenly spread around our planet. Borneo–the world’s third largest island–is one of its richest treasure houses, full of an immense variety of wild animals and plants, all living in a magnificent tropical forest.

A vast area of this forest still cloaks the mountains, foothills and adjacent lowlands that stretch along the borders of Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia and Malaysia. This is the Heart of Borneo and all of us who value life on this planet should support the efforts of these countries to conserve it. It is truly a world heritage and the world should respond to its needs.

Like almost all such forests, it is threatened by being cleared or degraded, due to the economic and social pressures of life in the 21st century. Unsustainable logging, clearance for agriculture and mining, and the increasing impact of climate change are all taking their toll. Borneo is in danger of losing valuable ecosystems that are important to the survival of local communities and to the national economies of all three Bornean countries, as well as being a vital part of the global effort to combat climate change.

Borneo’s forests are huge stores of natural capital. We harvest their timber and non-timber products from a staggering array of plants and animals. We enjoy their amenities and market them for ecotourism. We depend on their water for our homes, farms, industries and transport; and we depend on their ability to store carbon and so mitigate the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

In spite of this, until now we have put almost no effort into calculating their worth. Forests are natural capital that we can ill afford to squander, yet we don’t know the true value of what we have in our ‘natural bank’. Conventional national accounts give us GDP and other measures, but they fail to measure things that are not paid for in cash, no matter how valuable they are and no matter what the monetary costs would be if we had to replace them.

This report addresses this oversight. It takes the first steps towards quantifying the unseen value of nature in the Heart of Borneo and tells us that with concerted action, a green development pathway is indeed possible, with greater benefits for everybody, including indigenous communities and the poor. It presents a beacon of hope, with conservation, development and economic growth going hand in hand.

In order to implement its message, the real value of natural capital must be reflected in both fiscal planning and the prices of goods and services. There must be financial incentives to stimulate the proper husbandry of natural resources, with realistic valuations given to the crucial issue of the growth of low-carbon markets and sustainable, pro-poor economies. Carbon finance through REDD+ can be a key mechanism to safeguard the forests and unlock their true value.

Governments must take the lead and work with civil society, indigenous groups and the private sector to make sustainable forest management financially worthwhile. The Heart of Borneo is an excellent place to begin. We urgently need a new path towards a sustainable future–one which places a true economic value on nature’s gifts and the role they play in providing us with the necessities of life.

This report will help us to get closer to creating the green economies that will ensure food, water and energy security for all.

Managing forests sustainably needs to become a universal political priority. Protecting biodiversity protects all our futures and the Heart of Borneo can be an example to the world of how this can be achieved.

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