Scientists and environmentalists have stepped up efforts to save what is left of Borneo's rain forests and wilderness areas. New research suggests carbon trading could offer the next solution.

Experts calls on Indonesia, Malaysia protect the natural habitat

A new study in Conservation Letters says that selling carbon credits linked to Indonesian rain forests on Borneo could prove just as profitable as clearing the land for palm oil plantations.

Plantation companies in Indonesia and Malaysia, which share most of Borneo island, produce 87 percent of the world's palm oil. They have come under fire for causing to deforestation, which threatens populations of rare animals such as orangutans, elephants, rhinoceros and clouded leopards.

Oscar Venter, a conservationist biologist and the study's lead author, says the time has come for governments to re-write policy to incorporate the latest scientific findings and help protect the natural habitat on the world's third largest island.

"I think it could go a long way to protect these forests. I mean whether it's going to protect all forests so no more forests are going to be cleared is doubtful," he said. "But from our results, from our carbon prices I think certainly in some areas the reduced emissions from the deforestation and degradation carbon scheme will be able to protect forests in Borneo."

UN plans to compensate countries for protecting their forests

The United Nations has endorsed a plan that would compensate countries for protecting their forests, which soak up vast amounts of the carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere each year. Many environmental activists hope the plan will be included in a new global agreement later this year on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide, which many scientists think contribute to global warming.

The compensation could be done through direct financial assistance or credits that can be sold on an international carbon market to companies that exceed their allotted carbon limits.

According to Venter's study, the forests would be worth more than palm oil if carbon credits were priced between $10 and $33 a ton. Figures vary but according to the United Nations, carbon credits could be worth up to $20 billion a year to Indonesia.

This would add substantially to government coffers and help preserve the remaining wilderness areas of Borneo, crucial to the survival of many of the world's most endangered species.