Protecting Brunei’s Peatlands

Protecting Brunei’s Peatlands

30 October 2008

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Brunei — The British High Commission is joining hands with Standard Chartered Bank to co-fund the rehabilitation and conservation plan under the Heart of Borneo initiative.

As part of the Heart of Borneo (HoB) project, an action plan has been identified with the main objective of encouraging policy changes to stimulate rehabilitation and conservation of the peatlands in Brunei, as well as identifying pilot sites for trying out innovative methods of rehabilitating peatlands.

At a press conference held yesterday at Sheraton Utama Hotel, the British High Commission together with Standard Chartered Bank announced their agreement to co-fund plans to tackle the issue.

Present at Te conference was Dato Paduka Awang Haji Hamdillah Haji Abdul Wahab, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources, and Chairman of the HoB National Council, John Saville, British High Commissioner to Brunei, Siew Chuen, CEO of Standard Chartered Bank, Dato Mikaail Kavanagh of WWF and Dr Jonathan Davies, an expert ecologist who is leading the project

The two-stage process of rehabilitating the lands involves restoring the water level prior to its drainage, and reforestation where new Rees are planted to replace the ones lost.

It aims to restore the biodiversity value and to encourage sustainable forestry and agriculture.

Borneo has extensive areas of peatland forests, a vast majority of which have been severely degraded through drainage for farming and plantation. Those intact are becoming rare and are considered as an endangered habitat throughout tropical Asia.

In Brunei Darussalam, peatlands comprise 19 percent of the country’s total area (some 100,000 hectares) and most of them are located in the Belait District. According to ecologists studying the region, the natural vegetation of the peatland forests here are still very much intact, unlike in most parts of Borneo.

Experts say that these peatland forests are vital in mitigating climate change, as they store huge amount of carbon and in their natural state can accumulate carbon from the atmosphere much like a sponge absorbs water.

According to ecologists, the benefits of conserving these sites are plenty. The peatland forests help in the prevention of fires and the subsequent haze effects. It will also ultimately reduce the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

They say that Brunei is the “last stronghold” for some of the very unique vegetation communities that are only found in peatlands.

The dangers include releasing stored carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, contributing negatively to climate change. Drained peatland swamps are also very vulnerable to fire and are major contributors to the haze problem that envelops much of Borneo during dry seasons.

SCB’s funding is part of the $500,000 prize donation from the Race for a Living Planet Environment Challenge, which Brunei won earlier this year. The donation would go to environmental projects endorsed by WWF, and it was decided that the funds would be allotted to the HoB initiative.

“We are delighted to support this project which builds well on the earlier support we have provided for the Heart of Borneo initiative. The objectives of this project addresses one of the major global issues we face today, namely climate change, and supports an integrated regional response to biodiversity and haze issues,” the British High Commissioner told reporters.

“I am also happy to be working together with Standard Chartered Brunei, a bank which has, like a number of other British corporate partners, shown tremendous support in the initiative. Just a few days ago, the bank announced the donation of $700,000 for the project, generated by the Greatest Race on Earth: Race for a Living Planet environmental challenge this year,” he added.

Britain’s Prince of Wales, who will be visiting the Baths Peatswamp Forest, is a longstanding supporter of rainforest preservation efforts in Borneo and around the world.

“We are very excited that this is the first HoB project that we will be embarking on from our total funding of $700,000. We are very pleased to work hand-in-hand with the British High Commission and the HoB Council on this project. Sustainability is high on our agenda and this project will indeed benefit our environment and contribute to fighting climate change,” the Standard Chartered Bank’s CEO said.

Dato Hamdillah pointed out yesterday that few people realize the value of peatswamps, saying that not too many people realize that the water from the Belait River would be unmanageable and too expensive to clean up without the filtration and slow-release that the peat gives us for free.

“We could not invent a better system and yet we tend to take it for granted. To give just one example, without the water, Brunei LNG would have to shut down. Add that to the carbon stored in the peat and the unique plant communities that grow there, and you begin to appreciate and we better look after this gift from Allah,” he said.

“There is definitely a sense of urgency involved,” he added.

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