Best of our wild blogs: 30 Nov 11

Pulau Ubin - among the World's 10 Most Secret Islands
from wild shores of singapore

solar croc @ SBWR
from sgbeachbum

Sunny day out at Beting Bronok
from wonderful creation

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Jakarta Will Erect Seawalls To Stem Waters

Dofa Fasila Jakarta Globe 29 Nov 11;

In the wake of days of tidal flooding in North Jakarta, Governor Fauzi Bowo says he has short-term and long-term plans to deal with the problem facing the capital’s ever-expanding coastal residential areas.

The short-term plan is to raise the height of seawalls, and the long term plan is to, well, build higher sea walls.

Since seawalls might promote more development, however, his plan seems at odds with advice from local environmental groups, who in the past decade have said the building of residential enclaves and hotels on coastal mudflats has exacerbated tidal flooding in Jakarta.

Fauzi’s seawall plan is also at odds with the recommendations from the World Delta Summit last week in the capital, where experts warned not to ignore the natural function of mudflats in cities built on river deltas, such as Jakarta.

“That’s why it’s important to designate delta areas as an integrated part of a city’s wider spatial planning, not as an independent sector,” Jan Sopaheluwakan, a researcher with the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), said during the conference.

But according to Jakarta’s deputy head of public works, Novizal, the flooding stems from too little development, not too much.

“At Pantai Mutiara [in North Jakarta], there are still many reclaimed land subdivisions which have not been built on,” he claimed. “When the tide comes in, the water can enter via the undeveloped blocks. If all the subdivisions were built on, then Pantai Mutiara and its surrounding areas would be safe from flooding.”

In the short term, Fauzi said the city would respond to the floods, which are affecting residents along Jalan R.E. Martadinata and in the upscale Pantai Mutiara area, by raising the seawalls. The tactic, he said, would give the city and central governments time to approve a new approach that he dubbed the Jakarta Coastal Sea Defence Strategy, which involves the construction of “giant seawalls” along the city’s north coast.

Fauzi said he visited the area currently flooded by about 2.5 meters of seawater, and that local residents had agreed to take the initiative and help raise the existing seawalls by several tens of centimeters.

“I have checked the area to the north of the Pluit water pump, which is always affected by tidal flooding,” Fauzi said on Monday. “Two days ago, that area was safe because the seawalls had been raised to three meters.”

The governor said the latest measures were only temporary and will last for a few years, while his administration expected the Jakarta Coastal Sea Defence plan to help with flood prevention in the next 25 to 100 years.

“I sent the report to the president the other day,” he said. “I think the city administration, with the public works department, can carry out the plan.”

As for funding, he said the giant seawalls would not require any money from the state budget. Instead, the funding will come from private interests who will work with the government.

More recently, NGOs have pointed to GPS data which shows that the rate of land subsidence along Jakarta’s northern edge, for example at Pantai Indah Kapuk, averages 11.5 centimeters per year.

Ironically for developers, experts believe the subsidence is mostly due to excessive groundwater extraction by the very housing estates that are threatened by flooding.

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In Asia, two big population cycles are playing out

Frank Ching Business Times 30 Nov 11

QUIETLY, without much notice, the world's population crept past the seven billion mark on Oct 31, according to the United Nations. The majority of people live on one continent, Asia, with two countries, China and India, accounting for almost 37 per cent of the total.

What is striking is that while it took thousands of years for the population to reach the one billion mark - around 1830 - it took only 100 more years for it to hit two billion and, in the last eight decades, an additional five billion people were added.

In the past, there was a view that too big a population was a drag on economic growth. That certainly was behind China's one-child policy, introduced by Deng Xiaoping after the death of chairman Mao Zedong. Ironically, now, the world's two most populous countries are also its most rapidly developing economies. In fact, the rise of China and India show that a certain population size is necessary to achieve a critical mass for economic development.

In fact, economists project that India's growth will outstrip that of China by about 2020 because, by then, the size of the Chinese labour force would have peaked while India would still have a young population, with a labour force set to grow to nearly a billion workers by 2050. That is the demographic dividend at work, with a rise in the proportion of people of working age along with a fall in the fertility rate. Output per capita rises during this window of opportunity, before an ageing population lowers economic growth.

Of course, population size alone is insufficient for economic growth, as Mao proved during his long years as China's supreme leader. An emphasis on politics over economics meant that the country's working-age people simply did not have the opportunity to develop their potential.

Also, as professor Chu Shulong of Tsinghua University wrote recently, population growth 'should also be accompanied by improvement of population quality at the same time, including education, skills, income, and consumption. In that case, population growth can generate active effects for economic development.'

In the last three decades, the vast Chinese workforce combined with low wages was perfect for processing and assembly, attracting capital and manufacturing industries from both Asia and the West. But, of course, this could not last, and there are many who believe that China is approaching - or has already passed - the Lewis Turning Point, when a surplus of cheap labour runs dry, and employers turn to other low-cost countries.

The age-old struggle to get enough food to eat in China is reflected in the salutation that Chinese still use when addressing each other every day: 'Have you eaten yet?'

As recently as 1995, environmentalist Lester Brown issued a warning in an essay titled 'Who will feed China?'. He asserted that 'food scarcity and the associated economic instability are far greater threats to security than military aggression'.

Ironically, while environmentalists worry about sustainability when contemplating a globe with seven billion people, individual countries, such as Russia and Japan, worry about declining populations and what that means for the country's economy and, indeed, its very survival.

Food sufficiency is not a problem for China today, but it is certainly true that the world's seven billion people cannot all live western lifestyles. Already, automobiles fill the streets of China where once they teemed with bicycles. No doubt, the Chinese would be healthier if they continued to ride their bikes and stuck to a diet dominated by vegetables rather than meat.

Andrew Sheng, former chairman of the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission and now president of the newly formed Fung Global Institute think tank, has pointed out: 'The average Chinese and Indian cannot live the average American way of life without destroying our natural resources.'

That is simply common sense. The earth's natural resources are simply insufficient. In fact, it would be a nightmare if average Chinese and Indians started to live the American Dream.

But how can anyone tell Chinese and Indians and others that the good life is reserved for westerners and that they will never get to live it? Can anyone morally justify a two-tier world, with first-class citizens in America and Europe and second-class citizens elsewhere?

This is not a case of pitting the developed against the developing world, the haves against the have-nots. Judging by the proliferation of the 'We are the 99%' movements around the world today, unless its leaders get their act together, the people are likely to find new leaders who will.

The writer is a Hong Kong-based journalist and commentator. Follow him on Twitter: @FrankChing1

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Asia Must Address Climate Issues Fast: ADB

Rosemarie Francisco PlanetArk 30 Nov 11;

Asian cities are increasingly at risk from rising sea levels and severe droughts and governments need to develop integrated urban plans that address urgent issues on water supply, flooding, transportation, and solid waste, a climate change expert said.

In the short term, cities can minimize the risk of destructive floods, such as in Bangkok, by improving drainage and sanitation systems and imposing a solid waste management scheme that promotes efficient garbage collection and reduces the use of plastics, WooChong Um of the Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB) told Reuters on Tuesday.

"It's very clear. There is clear evidence that the storms and typhoons are getting more intense and more frequent," said Um, deputy director general of the ADB's regional and sustainable development department.

"And it is happening not just in one place but everywhere, Ondoy, Thailand, and who knows where the next one will be," he said, referring to Typhoon Ketsana, which inundated around four-fifths of Manila in 2009, killed nearly 750 people, and damaged $1 billion worth of infrastructure and private properties.

"So it is kind of a wake up call for all the countries to do the necessary actions so that they are prepared," Um said.

Asia and the Pacific had seen more than 30 million people displaced by environmental disasters in 2010, according to data from the ADB. The region is home to more than 4 billion people.

The region also accounted for 34 percent of recorded disasters, 90 percent of people affected, 32 percent of deaths and 33 percent of economic losses worldwide from natural disasters from 2005 to 2010.

Private sector demands for governments to address disaster risks would have the most impact on speeding up climate-related infrastructure development, Um said.

"The Bangkok one (flooding) really demonstrated the disruption in the value chain," he said. "If the private sector makes it very clear, what are constraints that's causing investors from coming in ... If it is said by the industries themselves, then there is a bigger impact."


Climate-related infrastructure projects could have a better success rate if undertaken via a public-private partnership, David McCauley, ADB's lead climate change specialist, told Reuters in Singapore.

"There's an incentive to work more closely with the private sector to address these risks, in terms of infrastructure."

"Those sorts of decisions are best made more on a public-private basis, and I don't think there has been adequate incentive or direction for that in the past," McCauley added.

Flooding in Thailand since late July claimed 562 lives and swamped about 900 factories in industrial areas north of Bangkok, disrupting supply chains of international firms such as Toyota Motor Corp, Sony Corp and Lenovo Group Ltd.

"Bangkok has a land subsidence problem from over extraction of ground-water, Jakarta has it even worse. It's literally sinking at the same time as the over-land flooding is increasing and the sea is rising," McCauley said.

Um said the ADB is working with the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia in preparing country risk assessments that would identify climate and disaster threats, rehabilitation costs, and financing options such as catastrophe bonds.

Asian nations need to forecast their population growth and identify the infrastructure required so as not to choke their megacities and minimize climate risks. By 2020, more than half of the world's 25 megacities will be located in Asia, most of them situated near the coasts, Um added.

Governments must also prioritize the development of rural areas and second-tier cities to lessen migration into urban centers and lower the risk of disasters such flooding, he said.

(Editing by Yoko Nishikawa)

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The acid truth about our oceans: experts urge action to limit ocean acidification

IUCN 29 Nov 11;

Ocean acidification can no longer remain on the periphery of the international debates on climate change and the environment and should be addressed by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and other global environmental conventions, urges IUCN and the International Ocean Acidification Reference User Group (RUG) at the climate change summit in Durban.

In the run up to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, which will take place in Rio de Janeiro in June next year (Rio+20), world experts from RUG call for decision makers to urgently address the critical issue of ocean acidification.

“The increasing amounts of carbon dioxide that we emit into the atmosphere every day are changing our oceans, steadily increasing their acidity, and dramatically affecting marine life,” says Professor Dan Laffoley Marine Vice Chair of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas and Chair of RUG. “This may also have severe impacts on human life in the future. Only by reducing our CO2 emissions and enhancing the protection of oceans to strengthen their ability to recover, can we effectively address this issue. Policy makers in Durban, and in Rio in June next year, need to recognize this and take appropriate actions.”

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, particularly CO2, which is the main driver of climate change and the main cause of ocean acidification, is one of the goals of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. But the latest RUG publication calls for a broader strategy to reduce ocean acidification, alongside those tackling other threats to the marine environment such as overfishing and pollution.

According to the experts, although both climate change and ocean acidification are caused by excessive amounts of CO2 emissions, and so should be tackled together, not all approaches used to address the former will be effective in the fight against the latter.

"For example, ‘geoengineering' solutions, such as reflecting solar radiation, which are often suggested to deal with climate change, will not address the progressive acidification of the ocean," says Dr John Baxter of the Scottish Natural Heritage and Deputy Chair of the RUG. "Both climate change and acidification need to be taken into account when designing solutions to these challenges."

Each year, the ocean absorbs approximately 25% of all the CO2 we emit. Its acidity has increased by 30% since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and acidification will continue at an unprecedented rate in the coming decades. This can have a negative impact on marine organisms, especially the 'calcifying’ ones such as shellfish, molluscs, coral reefs and various types of zooplankton and phytoplankton. Increasing ocean acidity requires them to use more energy to build their shells, which has potentially severe ecological consequences. If the current acidification rate continues, it could lead to extinctions of some species and impact others that feed on them.

“Through its ability to absorb large amounts of CO2, the ocean plays a crucial role in moderating the rate and severity of climate change”, says Dr Carol Turley from the Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the Knowledge Exchange Coordinator for the UK Ocean Acidification Research Programme, one of the partners of the Reference User Group. “But in many ways our ocean is also a victim of its own success, as this capacity jeopardizes its future health, its biodiversity and its ability to continue to provide us with food and sustainable economic development. Ocean acidification requires urgent and effective action now, before it’s too late. The obvious action is to reduce CO2 emissions to the atmosphere."

Ocean Acidification: Acting on Evidence. Messages for Rio+20 2.10MB

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Past decade ties for world's hottest: UN agency

Marlowe Hood AFP Yahoo News 29 Nov 11;

Thirteen of the warmest years recorded have occurred within the last decade and a half, proving that global warming is a reality, the UN's World Meteorological Organisation said on Tuesday.

The year 2011 caps a decade that ties the record as the hottest ever measured, the WMO said in a provisional report on climate trends and extreme weather events, unveiled at UN climate talks in Durban.

"Our science is solid and it proves unequivocally that the world is warming and that this warming is due to human activities," WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said in a statement, adding that policy makers should take note of the findings.

"Concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have reached new highs and are very rapidly approaching levels consistent with a 2 to 2.4 Celsius rise in average global temperatures."

Scientists believe that any rise above the 2.0 threshold could trigger far-reaching and irreversible changes over land and in the seas.

The 2002-2011 period equals 2001-2010 as the warmest decade since 1850, the report said.

2011 ranks as the 10th warmest year since 1850, when accurate measurements began.

This was true despite a cooling La Nina event -- one of the strongest in 60 years -- that developed in the tropical Pacific in the second half of 2010 and continued until May 2011.

The report noted that the cyclical climate phenomenon, which strikes every three to seven years, helped drive extreme weather events including drought in east Africa, islands in the equatorial Pacific and the southern United States.

While La Nina, and its meteorological cousin El Nino, are not caused by climate change, rising ocean temperatures caused by global warming may affect their intensity and frequency, scientists say.

Average surface temperatures over land were above long-term averages in most regions.

"There is no single country that has reported 2001-2010 mean temperatures that are colder than their national long-term average from 1961-1990," WMO Deputy Secretary General R.D.J. Lengoasa told journalists in Durban, citing a forthcoming review of weather trends over the last ten years.

For 95 percent of 80 countries that had submitted relevant data, 2001-2010 was the warmest decade on record, he added.

Forty percent had seen national heat records broken in 2001-2010, as compared to 15 percent in the 1991-2000 period, and 10 percent in the 1981-1990 period.

"Urgent action is needed to prevent the worst climate change scenarios in the coming decades," Lengoasa said.

Sea ice in the Arctic shrank to its second lowest surface area after 2007, and has reached record levels of thinness.

Extreme weather events in 2011 -- some influenced by La Nina -- hit regions unevenly.

In eastern Africa, where agriculture is almost entirely rain-fed, severe drought affected many countries, especially Kenya, Somalia and parts of Ethiopia.

Some 13 million people required emergency aid, according to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

In East Asia, rainfall during the 2011 monsoon season was far above average, with Thailand and Laos most affected. Floods claimed nearly 1,000 lives across Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar.

Fourteen weather-climate events in the United States each caused at least one billion dollars in losses.

In central and south America, rainfall exceeding 200 millimetres (eight inches) in a few hours left at least 900 dead in the mountains north of Rio de Janeiro, one of the deadliest natural disasters in Brazil's history.

For the second year in a row, Pakistan saw severe flooding, though more localised -- in the south -- than in 2010.

A separate report also released Tuesday showed that Pakistan, Guatemala and Colombia were the countries worst hit in 2010 by extreme weather events.

Over a 20-year span, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Honduras were shown to be most vulnerable to Nature's violent outbursts, said the report, by European NGO Germanwatch.

WMO: 2011 One Of Hottest Years On Record
Jon Herskovitz PlanetArk 30 Nov 11;

The world is getting hotter, with 2011 one of the warmest years on record, and humans are to blame, a report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Tuesday.

It warned increasing global average temperatures were expected to amplify floods, droughts and other extreme weather patterns.

"Our science is solid and it proves unequivocally that the world is warming and that this warming is due to human activities," WMO Deputy Secretary-General Jerry Lengoasa told reporters in Durban, where almost 200 nations are gathered for U.N. climate talks.

The WMO, part of the United Nations, said the warmest 13 years of average global temperatures have all occurred in the 15 years since 1997. That has contributed to extreme weather conditions that increase the intensity of droughts and heavy precipitation across the world, it said.

"Global temperatures in 2011 are currently the tenth highest on record and are higher than any previous year with a La Nina event, which has a relative cooling influence," it said

This year, the global climate was influenced heavily by the strong La Nina, a natural phenomenon usually linked to extreme weather in Asia-Pacific, South America and Africa, which developed in the tropical Pacific in the second half of 2010 and continued until May 2011.

One of the strongest such events in 60 years, it was closely associated with the drought in east Africa, islands in the central equatorial Pacific and the United States, as well as severe flooding in other parts of the world.

The WMO report was released to coincide with U.N. climate talks which run until December 9 in Durban aimed at trying to reach agreement on cutting planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

Prospects for a meaningful agreement appear bleak with the biggest emitters the United States and China unwilling to take on binding cuts until the other does first. Major players Japan, Canada and Russia are unwilling to extend commitments that expire next year and the European Union is looking at 2015 as a deadline for reaching a new global deal.

The WMO report said the extent of Arctic sea ice in 2011 was the second lowest on record, and its volume was the lowest.

It said the build-up of greenhouse gases put the world at a tipping point of irreversible changes in ecosystems.

"Concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have reached new highs," WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said in a separate statement.

"They are very rapidly approaching levels consistent with a 2-2.4 degree Centigrade rise in average global temperatures which scientists believe could trigger far reaching and irreversible changes in our Earth, biosphere and oceans."

Russia experienced the largest variation from average, with its northern parts seeing January to October temperatures about 4 degrees C higher in several places, it said.

U.N. scientists said in a separate report this month an increase in heat waves is almost certain, while heavier rainfall, more floods, stronger cyclones, landslides and more intense droughts are likely across the globe this century as the Earth's climate warms.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said global average temperatures could rise by 3-6 degrees Celsius by the end of the century if governments failed to contain emissions, bringing unprecedented destruction as glaciers melt, sea levels rise and small island states are submerged.

(Editing by Maria Golovnina and Janet Lawrence)

Human Role in Global Warming Unequivocal, Say World's Meteorologists
Environment News Service 29 Nov 11;

DURBAN, South Africa, November 29, 2011 (ENS) - Global temperatures in 2011 are currently the 10th highest on record and are higher than any previous year with a La Niña event, which has a cooling influence. The 13 warmest years have all occurred in the 15 years since 1997.

The extent of Arctic sea ice in 2011 was the second lowest on record, and its volume was the lowest.

These facts are drawn from the provisional annual World Meteorological Organization Statement on the Status of the Global Climate, which gives a global temperature assessment and a snapshot of weather and climate events around the world in 2011. It was released today at the United Nations climate conference in Durban, South Africa.

"Our role is to provide the scientific knowledge to inform action by decision makers," said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. "Our science is solid and it proves unequivocally that the world is warming and that this warming is due to human activities," he said.

"Concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have reached new highs," warned Jarraud. "They are very rapidly approaching levels consistent with a 2 to 2.4 degree Centigrade rise in average global temperatures, which scientists believe could trigger far reaching and irreversible changes in our Earth, biosphere and oceans."

Global temperatures in 2011 have not been as warm as the record-setting values seen in 2010 but have likely been warmer than any previous strong La Niña year, based on preliminary data compiled by the World Meteorological Organization.

The global combined sea surface and land surface air temperature for January-October 2011 is estimated at 0.41°C plus or minus 0.111°C (0.74°F plus or minus 0.20°F) above the 1961-1990 annual average of 14 degrees Celsius (57.2 degrees Fahrenheit).

The 10-year average for the period 2002-11, at 0.46 degrees Celsius above the long-term average, equals 2001-10 as the warmest 10-year period on record.

Final annual figures for 2011 will be available once November and December data are available in early 2012.

Global climate in 2011 was heavily influenced by the strong La Niña event which developed in the tropical Pacific in the second half of 2010 and continued until May 2011.

This event, which on most measures was one of the strongest of at least the last 60 years, was closely associated with many of the year's notable regional climate events, including drought in east Africa, the central equatorial Pacific and the southern United States, and flooding in southern Africa, eastern Australia and southern Asia.

Strong La Niña years are typically 0.10 to 0.15 degrees Celsius cooler than the years preceding and following them. 2011's global temperatures followed this pattern, being lower than those of 2010, but were still warmer than the most recent moderate to strong La Niña years.

La Niña conditions have redeveloped in recent weeks but are not expected to approach the intensity seen in late 2010 and early 2011.

Surface air temperatures were above the long-term average in 2011 over most land areas of the world.

The largest departures from average were over Russia, especially in northern Russia where January-October temperatures were about 4°C above average in places. The spring was especially warm in this region with some stations more than 9°C above average for the season, while European Russia had another hot summer - the third-hottest on record in Moscow - although not as extreme as that of 2010.

The hot summer conditions extended into other northern countries, with Helsinki, Finland having its hottest summer in nearly 200 years of data, and Armenia setting an all-time national record (43.7°C).

Spain has had its hottest January-October period on record and several other western European countries approached records.

January-October 2011 was 1°C or more above average over large parts of Europe, southwest Asia and northern and central Africa, as well as the southern United States and northern Mexico, most of eastern Canada, and Greenland.

The Central American region is on course to have its hottest year in at least 140 years.

The most significant area of below-normal temperatures in 2011 was in northern and central Australia where temperatures were up to 1°C below average in places, largely the result of above-average cloudiness and heavy rain early in the year.

Other regions to experience below-normal temperatures in 2011 included the western United States and south-western Canada, and parts of east Asia including the Indochina Peninsula, eastern China and the Korean Peninsula.

Flooding affected many parts of the world in 2011, both flash floods and longer-lived events. In terms of loss of life, the most extreme single event occurred in Brazil on January 11-12, when a flash flood, caused by rainfall which exceeded 200 millimeters in a few hours, in mountainous terrain about 60 kilometers north of Rio de Janeiro caused at least 900 deaths. This was one of the worst natural disasters in Brazil's history.

It was a year of extremes in the United States, with 14 separate weather/climate events which caused losses of US$1 billion or more each.

Extreme drought affected parts of the southern United States and adjacent parts of northern Mexico. The core of the drought was in Texas, where state-wide averaged rainfall for January-October 2011 was 273 millimetres (56 percent below normal), well below the previous record of 327 millimeters set in 1956.

The drought region also had an exceptionally hot summer, with Texas's June through August mean temperatures (30.4°C (86.7°F), being 3.0°C (5.4°F) above the long-term average and the highest ever recorded for any American state. In addition to agricultural losses and water shortages, impacts of the drought included severe wildfires and dust storms.

Many northern and central parts of the United States experienced heavy rain and flooding in 2011. The January-October period was the wettest on record for several northeastern states and for the northeast region as a whole, with precipitation totals widely 30-50 percent above normal.

The most severe floods in this region, reaching record levels in places, were associated with Hurricane Irene in August and Tropical Storm Lee in September.

Spring and early summer were extremely wet in many central areas, particularly the Ohio Valley and the upper Midwest of the United States and the Prairie provinces of Canada, which experienced some of the worst flooding on record. There was also substantial spring flooding in the north-eastern United States and the Canadian province of Quebec. The heavy spring rains, combined with the melting of a heavy winter snowpack in northern areas, caused major downstream flooding during May and June. Parts of the Mississippi River experienced the worst floods since 1933, and there was also major flooding in the Missouri River and several Canadian rivers.

It was also one of the most active tornado seasons on record, with numerous major outbreaks, particularly in April and May. A tornado caused 157 deaths in Joplin, Missouri in May, the deadliest single tornado in the United States since 1947. To date, 2011 has had the third-greatest number of tornadoes since 1950, after 2004 and 2008, and 537 deaths, the fourth-greatest number of deaths on record. There were also a number of major snowstorms, including the most significant October snowstorm on record in the northeastern states.

This preliminary information for 2011 is based on climate data from networks of land-based weather and climate stations, ships and buoys, as well as satellites. The data are continuously collected and disseminated by the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services of the 189 governments that are Members of WMO and several collaborating research institutions. The content of the WMO statement is verified and peer-reviewed by experts from other international, regional and national climate institutions and centers before its publication.

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Warning on Danube drought as shipping halted

AFP Yahoo News 29 Nov 11;

A major drought along the lower Danube has highlighted the river's reduced ability to buffer extreme weather events and has hampered navigation, environmental group WWF said on Tuesday.

The Danube is currently seeing its lowest levels since 2003, with bigger ships often being blocked by multiple sand bars, according to Bulgaria's Danube exploration agency.

Traffic on the river was disrupted on Tuesday when water levels on a 40 kilometres (25 mile) stretch in Serbia were too low because of lack of rainfall, media said.

The WWF said human intervention such as gravel extraction, dredging and dams has contributed to the gradual loss of wetlands that can soak up water during rainy periods and release it slowly during drier times.

A WWF bird-watching expedition during the summer found as a result a drastic drop in bird populations along the lower stretch of the river in Bulgaria and Romania.

"The current dry conditions highlight the need to minimize the impact of structural interventions (...) as they reduce the resilience of water ecosystems," WWF Danube-Carpathian programme director Andreas Beckmann said.

He raised the need to rethink plans for new infrastructure works to eliminate rapids and improve navigation as well as the planned construction of new hydropower stations on the river.

According to Beckmann, these may affect the ecological status of freshwater ecosystems along the whole 1,000-kilometre (620-mile) lower stretch of the Danube.

Besides, "the feasibility of hydropower and navigation projects relies on predictable water levels while climate change is expected to lower predictability," another WWF expert, Irene Lucius, warned.

On Tuesday around 100 ships carrying more than 1,000 tonnes were blocked where the Danube enters Serbia at Bezdan because water levels were 56 centimetres (22 inches) lower than normal, the Beta news agency reported. Around 40 kilometres farther downstream the level is 16 centimetres lower, the agency said.

For traffic to resume water levels would have to rise by at least 50 centimetres, an unlikely event in the coming days as no rain is forecast.

The Danube, Europe's second largest river, originates in Germany and flows through central and eastern Europe before emptying into the Black Sea.

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Best of our wild blogs: 29 Nov 11

3 Dec (Sat): Talk on "Secret Shores of Singapore" by Ria Tan
from wild shores of singapore

Two new volunteers reflect on their first Toddycats guiding experience from Toddycats!

Living natural reefs of Sentosa
from wild shores of singapore

Marine Talks at National Geographic Store
from Pulau Hantu

President Tony Tan visits Chek Jawa
from Pulau Hantu

Videos: Echinoderms on our shores
from Psychedelic Nature

Back to the lost coast!
from wonderful creation

many-lined sun skink @ SBWR
from sgbeachbum

Wetlands Art Exhibition
from Art in Wetlands

Innocent Juvenile Common Flameback
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Additional 25 Solomon Island dolphins destined for Singapore?

Makili blasts Government
Solomon Star 29 Nov 11;

25 Solomon dolphins were caught illegally in the country were shipped silently overseas last week. They are reportedly destined for China or Hong Kong but Mr Makili said he is certain they were on their way to the Philippians and then to Singapore.

OUTSPOKEN environmental campaigner and regional director of Earth Islands Institute (EII) Lawrence Makili fires the first shot at newly elected Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo.

Mr Makili said an “illegal” shipment of dolphin had left the country last week without knowledge of responsible officers within the Ministry of Fisheries.

“Twenty-five bottlenose dolphins caught illegally in the country were shipped silently overseas last week,” he claimed.

He said according to officials within the Ministry of fisheries, they have no knowledge of the export.

“There should be an inspection carried out by fisheries officials, but that did not happen.”

The dolphins were reportedly destined for China or Hong Kong but Mr Makili said he is certain they were on their way to the Philippians and then to Singapore.

He claimed the dolphins were caught by Dr Baddley Anita in the seas of Malaita and Central Islands Province without license to hunt and catch in those areas.

Mr Makili said this was the shipment scheduled to happen in September this year but was impeded because he rang the alarm of controversial circumstances surrounding the export.

He pointed fingers at the Minister for Environment Moffat Fugui and his director for allowing the export to continue.

“They must have taken advantage of the recent political situation and give green light for the export.”

He said the announcement made by Mr Fugui when he raised the alarm during September’s hampered export, that the government will ban dolphin export by January 2012 was hopeless.

“There is no instrument in place to show that is going to happen – meaning a mere cover up when they were caught red handed.”

Mr Makili switched to the new Prime Minister saying the export happen when he was in power.

“Where is the transparency the Prime Minister talked about when he came into power?

“Is this what you call transparency when responsible authorities within the Fisheries Ministry have no knowledge of the export?”

Mr Makili also accused the church of Melanesia for allowing its property (Bungana Island) for the controversial and barbaric act against the friendly animals to happen.

“Does the church have any charters on environmental issues in place?”

He said he will dig up the facts surrounding the export and expose the whole saga for the public to know.

Attempts to talk to Dr Anita and the Minister of Environment last night were unsuccessful.


Claims of Illegal Dolphin Shipment
Solomon Times 30 Nov 11;

Solomon Islands environmental campaigner, Lawrence Makili, says an illegal shipment of at least 50 dolphins has been smuggled out of the country bound for China.

The regional director of Earth Islands Institute said Ministry of Fisheries officials have no knowledge of the 50 dolphins.

He's blaming unnamed ministers who he said took advantage of the recent political uncertainty in Solomons and gave the green light to the export.

On November 11 Prime Minister Danny Philip resigned ahead of a parliamentary no-confidence vote.

Former Finance Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo has since been elected to the top job.

Mr Makili told Radio Australia's Pacific Beat it's too late to have the shipment recalled.

"The shipment was already done and left last week, last Wednesday, without anyone knowing about it," he said.

"So I called up the Fisheries Department and they didn't know anything about the shipment and the department should have done the inspection and to make sure documentation were proper.

"They have no knowledge about the shipment and that is a shock to me".

EII illuminates Bita’ama people’s dreams
Solomon Star 29 Nov 11;

THEY have nothing to lose apart from it being a cultural activity, but the Bita’ama community had made a choice that would benefit them in a long run.

The North Malaita community had agreed not to hunt dolphins and have new permanent homes instead, to substitute the ‘unsustainable’ act against the friendly sea fish.

Yesterday members of the community witnessed a dream of owning permanent homes illuminate when they observed Earth Island Institute (EII) regional director Lawrence Makili trawls out one Lucas sawmill for the community.

Earth Island Institute (EII) last year reached a deal with dolphin hunting communities in Malaita in a bid to stop the communities from hunting dolphins.

These communities Bita’ama, Fanalei and Walande normally hunt dolphins – a cultural practice they enjoyed for decades now.

EII in its continuous efforts to save mammals including dolphins throughout the world, work vigorously to see this heartless activity against dolphins stopped thus made a breakthrough.

The communities reached an agreement with EII last year, whereby dolphin hunting will stop and beneficial activities introduced to the communities by EII instead.

Bita’ama community agreed on a number of proposals but resorted to a housing scheme project as their priority reward in agreement for a stop hunt.

Mr Makili yesterday took delivery of the latest model Lucas sawmill (10 inch/30hp) from Fair-trade as EII puts the deal into reality for the community.

Mr Makili said he will transport the Lucas sawmill to Bita’ama community to officially deliver it to the community in the presence of everyone on a date yet to be set.

“The Lucas Sawmill cost more than SBD$225,000.

“Two more complete sets of 090 chainsaws will be delivered today to accompany the Lucas sawmill.

“The two chainsaws costs SBD$58, 000,” he said

More than a dozen excited members of the community were at the delivery scene to witness the happening.

“Four members of the community will undergo training with the supplier on how to operate the machine,” Mr Makili said.

He said Fanalei community will receive their share under the same deal sometimes this week.

“More than SBD$400,000 will be given to the community.”

The EII regional director said Walande will get theirs when arrangements are completed.

A member of the Bita’ama community yesterday said they could not express in words the joy of seeing their long time dreams of owning permanent homes fulfilling.

“This machine will be used to build more than 700 homes for villagers.”

Mr Makili said another choice of Bita’ama community was for small income generating projects.

EII is an NGO working to make oceans safe for marine mammals worldwide. They have been very active in the Solomon Islands because of the continuous export of dolphins overseas sometimes under controversial circumstances. Last week, another batch of dolphins was mutely whisked from the country to an overseas destination.


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Online photo album to help public learn about Singapore

Vimita Mohandas Channel NewsAsia 28 Nov 11;

SINGAPORE: An online collection of images to help Singaporeans discover, learn and share about the country's social history and development has been launched.

With PictureSG, the public can now share their images, include a description and even tag their friends, so that others can understand the photograph or artwork.

The site contains the National Library's own pictures as well as images donated to the library by donors and partners.

The initiative complements the irememberSG project.

Launched earlier this year, the project aims to collect from Singaporeans five million memories about their country, by 2015.

So far, the number of contributions has swelled from 30,000 to about 220,000 in just three months.

Speaking at the event, Information, Communications and the Arts Minister Dr Yaacob Ibrahim also thanked the support of partners and some 100 volunteers called Memory Corps, who made this project possible.

Dr Yaacob said: "Today's event shows that we care about everything that affirms our identity in Singapore - that we want to do our part to recollect for posterity (of) what we remember. These efforts will draw us closer together as a nation and leave a legacy for future generations."

- CNA/ck

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Malaysia: Analysts say the massive land reclamation jobs in Johor lack details

Thomas Huong The Star 29 Nov 11;

Benalec projects draw attention

PETALING JAYA: Marine engineering specialist Benalec Holdings Bhd's massive land reclamation projects in Johor have drawn much interest but there are still a lot of issues which are not clear, some analysts said.

The projects also seemed to have a striking resemblance to what Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas) and oil and gas service provider Dialog Group Bhd were planning in Johor.

Benalec's land reclamation jobs, measuring 1,760 acres and 3,485 acres in Pengerang and Tanjung Piai respectively from the Johor government, are to develop petroleum and petrochemical hubs and maritime industrial parks.

Petronas has plans for a RM60bil integrated refinery and petrochemical complex, known as RAPID, which is expected to be commissioned by the end of 2016 while Dialog, together with Vopak Terminal Pengerang BV, are developing an independent deepwater petroleum terminal worth RM5bil.

When asked about Benalec's projects, Dialog executive chairman Ngau Boon Keat said it had taken Dialog three years to get to where it was in Pengerang.

Benalec declined to comment on reports by StarBiz which said that the group was eyeing a parcel at the south-west of Tanjung Piai which was said to be suitable to be a deepwater petroleum terminal facility, similar to what Dialog was developing in Pengerang.

Sources had also said that the land to be reclaimed in the south-east of Tanjung Piai might include a container port to serve Petronas's RAPID project.

However, in a filing with Bursa Malaysia on Nov 10, Benalec said the Johor projects had only received approvals in principle from the state's Economic Planning Unit (UPENJ).

The approvals in principle were valid for six months, and were still subjected to detailed analysis of the projects from UPENJ, a feasibility study and an environmental impact assessment report.

“The projects in Johor will commence upon the satisfaction of the above approvals. The period of the projects would be determined upon the signing of formal agreements,” said Benalec.

The approvals in principle were granted to Benalec's 70% owned sub-subsidiaries Spektrum Budi Sdn Bhd and Spektrum Kukuh Sdn Bhd.

Analysts were told at a briefing that the projected gross development value (GDV) in Pengerang was RM3mil per acre while for Tanjung Piai, RM4mil per acre.

Development works in Pengerang would take 10 years while Tanjung Piai, 10 to 15 years.

According to AmResearch, this will make Benalec into one of the largest holders of prime seafront land earmarked for oil and gas activities within south Johor.

AmResearch said the Johor developments worked out to a combined GDV of about RM15bil over 10 to 15 years, based on a net saleable area of 75%.

Given its integrated approach, Benalec is targeting gross margins of 40%.

“Benalec is confident that Tanjung Piai, with its strategic location and natural depth of 20m, would be suitably positioned to complement the vibrant Jurong petrochemical hub in Singapore which is facing capacity constraints.”

AmResearch said three out of five major off-takers approached by Benalec concerning the Tanjung Piai projects had expressed their interest, and were looking at securing no less than 100 acres each.

Meanwhile, Kenanga Research said Benalec's management opted to execute the reclamation works based on by-demand and was likely to require upfront payments.

“Based on an 80:20 debt to equity structure, we expect Benalec to gear up to RM200mil per annum for project financing,” said Kenanga Research.

The research house also noted that Benalec seemed to be taking a different approach in Johor compared with its Malacca projects.

“For the Malacca land development, the reclamation works will take place before buyers are identified.”

Benalec is the largest “land manufacturer” in Malacca with an entitlement of some 1,360 acres.

AmResearch said Benalec has an outstanding landbank of about 800 acres in Malacca, which could potentially fetch a GDV of RM1.2bil based on a previous transacted price of RM28 per sq ft.

It is interesting to note that on Nov 24, Benalec directors Leaw Seng Hai, Datuk Leaw Tua Choon and Leaw Ah Chye sold a 7.95% stake in the group for RM76.56mil in dealings during closed period.

On Nov 22, Benalec's board had fixed an issue price of RM1.32 per placement share for the first and final tranche of a private placement, comprising 72,960,000 placement shares.

The private placement was to acquire funds for the the group's land reclamation projects.

Benalec, which was listed on Jan 17 this year on the Main Market of Bursa Malaysia, provides marine construction services (land reclamation, dredging) and vessel chartering.

At the time of its initial public offering (IPO), it had an estimated 17.9% market share in Malaysia, based on construction projects secured between 2006 and 2009.

Benalec's IPO entailed a public issue of 100 million new ordinary shares of 25 sen each at an issue price of RM1 each per share.

Benalec's market capitalisation stood at RM978.2mil, based on its closing price last Friday of RM1.34 per share.

For the financial year ended June 30 (FY11), it posted a net profit of RM96.08mil and revenue of RM214.49mil.

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Australia: Marine animals showing signs of recovery

Stephanie Fitzpatrick ABC News 29 Nov 11;

A Queensland Government scientist says there has been a decline in the number of marine animal deaths along the state's coast.

Dr Julia Playford, from Department of Environment and Resource Management, says there have been about 270 turtle strandings, 12 dugongs deaths and six dolphin deaths in central Queensland in the past year.

Dr Playford says some died from boat strikes, fishing lines and human activities and other from natural causes.

"The animals are beginning to obtain more food and therefore likely to be in better health because they have more food resources," she said.

"We're fairly clear on what's causing the deaths and it's largely around seagrass decline and lack of food resources, meaning that they are malnourished."

Dr Playford says a regrowth of seagrass beds has helped to reduce the number of dugong and dolphin deaths.

"It's obviously very distressing to see so many animals are unwell and dying," she said.

"Individuals in the population appear to be recovering as we do further health checks over time, once the seagrasses started to recover.

"In fact, in the last six weeks we've seen a real decline in the rate of strandings."

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UN mobilizes civil society for Rio's environment summit

AFP Yahoo News 29 Nov 11;

The United Nations on Monday launched a campaign to mobilize civil society ahead of next year's Rio environment conference which Brazil will chair.

Scheduled 20 years after the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Rio+20 will be held next June 20-22 and will bring together heads of state from around the world.

"The goal of Rio+20 will be to renew the political commitment for sustainable development with seven billion people," said Kiyo Akasaka, the UN Under Secretary-General for communications and public information as he launched the "Future We Want" campaign here.

"We must now show that it is possible to have development which generates wealth and protects the environment," he added.

He deplored the fact that rich countries "are not taking seriously the commitments made under the Kyoto protocol 14 years ago to cut their greenhouse gas emissions" which cause global warming.

The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on December 11, 1997 and entered into force on February 16, 2005.

Monday's UN campaign here aims to mobilize civil society for a global conversation via the Internet and social networks on what kind of future people want in their cities, villages, 20 or 40 years from now "before it is too late."

An Amazon Indian, Carlos Tucano, noted that indigenous people "were always forgotten in global discussions and were seen either as savages or exotic people."

He said indigenous people in fact "have extensive knowledge to protect the forest" and asked to know what the UN stance on the issue was.

Akasaka responded that the world body backed the indigenous community and stressed that Rio+20 would look into the issue.

"It's an important question: The UN has an annual meeting to discuss the rights of indigenous people around the world," he pointed out.

Rio+20 is also expected to discuss a green economic model that would take into account the environment, as well as promote better social development and the eradication of poverty.

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UN: farmers must produce 70% more food by 2050 to feed population

A quarter of farmland is highly degraded, according to the first report into the state of the world's land resources
Associated Press 28 Nov 11;

The United Nations has completed the first global assessment of the state of the planet's land resources, finding in a report that a quarter of all farmland is highly degraded and warning the trend must be reversed if the world's growing population is to be fed.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that farmers will have to produce 70% more food by 2050 to meet the needs of the world's expected 9-billion-strong population. That amounts to 1bn tonnes more wheat, rice and other cereals and 200m more tonnes of beef and other livestock.

But as it is, most available farmland is already being farmed, and in ways that decrease its productivity through practices that lead to soil erosion and wasting of water.

This means that to meet the world's future food needs, a major "sustainable intensification" of agricultural productivity on existing farmland will be necessary, the FAO said in its report, State of the World's Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture.

The report was released on Monday, as delegates from around the world meet in Durban, South Africa, for a two-week UN climate change conference aimed at breaking the deadlock on how to curb emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants.

The report found that climate change coupled with poor farming practices had contributed to a decrease in productivity of the world's farmland following the boom years of the "green revolution", when crop yields soared thanks to new technologies, pesticides and the introduction of high-yield crops.

Thanks to the green revolution, the world's cropland grew by just 12% but food productivity increased by 150% between 1961 and 2009.

But the UN report found that rates of growth had been slowing down in many areas and today were only half of what they were at the peak of the green revolution.

It found that 25% of the world's farmland was now "highly degraded" with soil erosion, water degradation and biodiversity loss. Another 8% was moderately degraded, while 36% was stable or slightly degraded and 10% was ranked as "improving".

The rest of the Earth's surface is either bare or covered by inland water bodies.

In western Europe, highly intensive agriculture has led to pollution of soil and aquifers and a resulting loss of biodiversity. In the highlands of the Himalayas, the Andes, the Ethiopian plateau and southern Africa, soil erosion has been coupled with an increased intensity of floods. In rice-based food systems of south-east and eastern Asia, land has been abandoned thanks in part to its loss of cultural value.

The report found that water around the world was becoming ever more scarce and salinated, while groundwater was becoming more polluted by agricultural runoff and other toxins.

In order to meet the world's water needs in 2050, irrigation must become more efficient because most systems perform well below their capacity, the FAO said.

The agency called for new farming practices such as integrated irrigation and fish-farm systems, as well as overall investment in agricultural development.

The investment deemed necessary until 2050 is $1tn (£642bn) for irrigation water management for developing countries alone, with another $160bn for soil conservation and flood control.

Quarter of world's landmass 'highly degraded': UN
Dario Thuburn AFP Yahoo News 28 Nov 11;

The UN food agency warned Monday that a quarter of the world's landmass is "highly degraded," making it difficult to meet the food needs of a booming population.

"Humankind can no longer treat these vital resources as if they were infinite," said Jacques Diouf, head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) based in Rome.

"The time for business as usual is over," Diouf told reporters, calling the FAO's assessment of the planet's resources, a first for the organisation, a "wake-up call."

The survey found that 25 percent of the world's land is "highly degraded" and 44 percent is "moderately degraded," while only 10 percent was classified as "improving".

The categories in the report entitled "The State of the World's Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture" (SOLAW) included classic soil and water degradation, as well as other aspects like biodiversity loss.

The report said land degradation was worst down the west coast of the Americas, across the Mediterranean region of southern Europe and north Africa, across the Sahel and the Horn of Africa and throughout Asia.

"Worldwide, the poorest have the least access to land and water and are locked in a poverty trap of small farms with poor-quality soils and high vulnerability to land degradation and climatic uncertainty," it said.

Some 40 percent of degraded lands are found in high poverty areas.

The report called for more efficient water use by agriculture as well as innovative farming practices such as conservation agriculture, agro-forestry and integrated crop-livestock systems.

It said developing countries will need around $1.0 trillion (755 billion euros) in investments between 2007 and 2050 for irrigation. Land protection will require $160 billion over the same period, it added.

The FAO stressed that erosion, desertification and climate change were endangering key production systems across the world from the Mediterranean to southern Africa to Southeast Asia.

The publication coincided with the start of UN talks on climate change in Durban, South Africa, amid signs of a deepening political rift on how to slow the carbon juggernaut.

Topping the agenda of the talks is the fate of the Kyoto Protocol, the only global pact with targets for curbing greenhouse-gas emissions, whose first round of pledges expires at the end of 2012.

The conference must also push ahead with a "Green Climate Fund" to channel up to 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 to countries exposed to drought, flood, storms and rising seas, which scientists forecast will worsen.

The FAO said many farming areas "face the risk of progressive breakdown of their productive capacity under a combination of excessive demographic pressure and unsustainable agricultural use and practices."

It said that between 1961 and 2009 the world's cropland grew by 12 percent while farming production expanded 150 percent -- mainly thanks to a significant increase in yields of major crops because of scientific advances.

But rates of productivity are now decreasing in many areas -- key "warning signs" for the state of the land, the organisation said.

The worst indicator was for East Asia, where the FAO found that cereal production grew at an annual rate of 2.5 percent between 1961 and 2006 but was expected to advance by just 0.3 percent a year between 2006 and 2050.

Productivity has however increased in Central America and Eastern Europe.

The FAO said production would have to increase above the rate of population growth because of rising incomes and dietary changes, such as growing consumption of dairy and meat products in the developing world.

With pressure on natural resources, competition for land and water will become "pervasive" including between city and rural dwellers, the FAO said.

"These systems at risk may simply not be able to contribute as expected in meeting human demands by 2050. The consequences in terms of hunger and poverty are unacceptable," Diouf said.

Scarcity and degradation of land and water: growing threat to food security
New FAO report profiles the state of the natural resource base upon which world food production depends
FAO 28 Nov 11;

28 November 2011, Rome – Widespread degradation and deepening scarcity of land and water resources have placed a number of key food production systems around the globe at risk, posing a profound challenge to the task of feeding a world population expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050, according to a new FAO report published today.

The State of the World’s Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture (SOLAW) notes that while the last 50 years witnessed a notable increase in food production, “in too many places, achievements have been associated with management practices that have degraded the land and water systems upon which food production depends.”

Today a number of those systems “face the risk of progressive breakdown of their productive capacity under a combination of excessive demographic pressure and unsustainable agriculture use and practices,” the report says.

No region is immune: systems at risk can be found around the globe, from the highlands of the Andes to the steppes of Central Asia, from Australia’s Murray-Darling river basin to the central United States.

At the same time, as natural resource bottlenecks are increasingly felt, competition for land and water will become “pervasive,” the report suggests. This includes competition between urban and industrial users as well as within the agricultural sector – between livestock, staple crops, non-food crop, and biofuel production.

And climate change is expected to alter the patterns of temperature, precipitation and river flows upon which the world’s food production systems depend.

As a result, the challenge of providing sufficient food for an ever-more hungry planet has never been greater, SOLAW says — especially in developing countries, where quality land, soil nutrients and water are least abundant.

“The SOLAW report highlights that the collective impact of these pressures and resulting agricultural transformations have put some production systems at risk of breakdown of their environmental integrity and productive capacity. These systems at risk may simply not be able to contribute as expected in meeting human demands by 2050. The consequences in terms of hunger and poverty are unacceptable. Remedial action needs to be taken now,” said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf.

Warning signs

Between 1961 and 2009, the world’s cropland grew by 12 percent, but agricultural production expanded 150 percent, thanks to a significant increase in yields of major crops.

But one of the “warning signs” flagged by the SOLAW report is that rates of growth in agricultural production have been slowing in many areas and are today only half of what they were during the heyday of the Green Revolution.

Overall, the report paints the picture of a world experiencing an increasing imbalance between availability and demand for land and water resources at the local and national levels. The number of areas reaching the limits of their production capacity is fast increasing, the report warns.

25 percent of the earth’s lands are degraded

SOLAW provides for the first time ever a global assessment of the state of the planet’s land resources. Fully one quarter are highly degraded. Another 8 percent are moderately degraded, 36 percent are stable or slightly degraded and 10 percent are ranked as “improving.” The remaining shares of the earth’s land surface are either bare (around 18 percent) or covered by inland water bodies (around 2%). (These figures include all land types, not just farmland.)

FAO’s definition of degradation extends beyond soil and water degradation per se and includes an assessment of other aspects of affected ecosystems, for instance biodiversity loss.

Large parts of all continents are experiencing land degradation, with particularly high incidences down the west coast of the Americas, across Mediterranean region of Southern Europe and North Africa, across the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, and throughout Asia. The greatest threat is the loss of soil quality, followed by biodiversity loss and water resources depletion.

Some 1.6 billion hectares of the world’s best, most productive lands are currently used to grow crops. Parts of these land areas are being degraded through farming practices that result in water and wind erosion, the loss of organic matter, topsoil compaction, salinization and soil pollution, and nutrient loss.

Water scarcity and pollution on the rise

Water scarcity is growing and salinization and pollution of groundwater and degradation of water bodies and water-related ecosystems are rising, SOLAW also reports. Large inland water bodies are under pressure from a combination of reduced inflows and higher nutrient loading — the excessive build up of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. Many rivers do not reach their natural end points and wetlands are disappearing.

In key cereal producing areas around the world, intensive groundwater withdrawals are drawing down aquifer storage and removing the accessible groundwater buffers that rural communities have come to rely on.

“Because of the dependence of many key food production systems on groundwater, declining aquifer levels and continued abstraction of non-renewable groundwater present a growing risk to local and global food production,” FAO’s report cautions.

Distribution of world water scarcity: map

A poverty trap

“Worldwide, the poorest have the least access to land and water and are locked in a poverty trap of small farms with poor quality soils and high vulnerability to land degradation and climatic uncertainty,” the report notes.

Some 40 percent of the world’s degraded lands are found in areas with high poverty rates. Still, in a sign that degradation is a risk across all income groups, 30 percent of the world’s degraded lands are in areas with moderate levels of poverty while 20 percent are in areas with low poverty rates.

Prospects for the future

FAO estimates that by 2050, rising population and incomes will require a 70 percent increase in global food production. This equates to another one billion tonnes of cereals and 200 million tonnes of livestock products produced each year.

“For nutrition to improve and for food insecurity and undernourishment to recede, future agricultural production will have to rise faster than population growth and consumption patterns adjusted,” says SOLAW.

More than four-fifths of production gains will have to occur largely on existing agricultural land through sustainable intensification that makes effective use of land and water resources while not causing them harm.


Improving the efficiency of water use by agriculture will be key, according to the report. Most irrigation systems across the world perform below their capacity. A combination of improved irrigation scheme management, investment in local knowledge and modern technology, knowledge development and training can increase water-use efficiency.

And innovative farming practices such as conservation agriculture, agro-forestry, integrated crop-livestock systems and integrated irrigation-aquaculture systems hold the promise of expanding production efficiently to address food security and poverty while limiting impacts on ecosystems.

FAO recently highlighted its vision for the sustainable intensification of agricultural production in its publication, Save and Grow: A New Paradigm for Agriculture, released earlier this year.

Another area where improvement is needed is increasing investment in agricultural development. Gross investment requirements between 2007 and 2050 for irrigation water management in developing countries are estimated at almost $1 trillion. Land protection and development, soil conservation and flood control will require around $160 billion worth of investment in the same period, SOLAW reports.

Finally, greater attention should be paid not only to technical options for improving efficiency and promoting sustainable intensification, but also to ensuring that national policies and institutions are modernized, collaborate together and are better equipped to cope with today’s emerging challenges of water and land resource management.

SOLAW contains numerous examples of successful actions undertaken in various parts of the world, which illustrate the multiple options available that are potentially replicable elsewhere. Given increasing competition for land and water resources, choices of options inevitably require stakeholders to evaluate trade-offs among a variety of ecosystem goods and services. This knowledge would serve to mobilize political will, priority setting and policy-oriented remedial actions, at the highest decision-making levels

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Last chance to save Kyoto deal at climate talks

Jon Herskovitz and Agnieszka Flak Reuters 28 Nov 11;

(Reuters) - Almost 200 nations began global climate talks on Monday with time running out to save the Kyoto Protocol aimed at cutting the greenhouse gas emissions scientists blame for rising sea levels, intense storms, drought and crop failures.

Poor nations say wealthy countries became rich using coal, oil and gas and that they must be allowed to burn fossil fuels to escape poverty. Rich nations say major developing economies, such as China, India and Brazil, must submit to emissions cuts if the world has any chance of halting dangerous climate change.

The stakes are high. Two U.N. reports this month said greenhouse gases had reached record levels in the atmosphere and a warming world would likely bring more floods, stronger cyclones and more intense droughts.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said global average temperatures could rise by 3-6 degrees Celsius by the end of the century if governments failed to contain emissions, bringing unprecedented destruction as glaciers melt and sea levels rise.

It said an 80 percent rise in global energy demand was set to raise carbon dioxide (Co2) emissions by 70 percent by 2050 and transport emissions were expected to double, due in part to a surge in demand for cars in developing nations.

E.U. climate negotiator Artur Runge-Metzger told a news conference unless progress was made: "(People) will just lose confidence in this travelling circus. How high must the water get in these conference places before the negotiators start deciding?"

Flash flooding from heavy rain killed at least six people in Durban the night before the talks opened.

For graphic on the world's biggest CO2 emitters: click

The Kyoto Protocol commits most developed nations to legally binding targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The talks in Durban are the last chance to set another round of targets before the first stage of the protocol ends in 2012.

"It may seem impossible, but you can get it done," Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, told delegates.


Diplomats hope there will be some progress on funding to help developing countries most at risk from the effects of global warming, particularly in Africa and small island states.

Rich nations have committed to a goal of providing $100 billion a year in climate cash by 2020. But the United States and Saudi Arabia have objected to some aspects of the Green Climate Fund that will help manage it.

There is also a chance that some nations will pledge deeper emissions cuts.

But the debt crisis hitting the euro zone and the United States makes it unlikely those countries will provide more aid or impose new measures that could hurt their growth prospects.

E.U. envoys said they want a new deal for emissions cuts reached by 2015 and in place by 2020, and it will only be effective if major polluters sign on.

Any accord depends on China and the United States, the world's top emitters, agreeing to binding action under a wider deal by 2015, something both have resisted for years.

Russia, Japan and Canada say they will not sign up to a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol unless the biggest emitters do too. The United States, which never ratified the protocol, warned its commitments would be tied to pledges made by major emerging economies.

"The structure of a legal agreement in which we are bound and those economies are not is untenable. It will not solve the problem. It will not be accepted in the United States," U.S. climate envoy Jonathan Pershing said.

Negotiators said there may be a deal struck with a new set of binding targets but only the European Union, New Zealand, Australia, Norway and Switzerland were likely to sign up

The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) said: "If Durban puts off a legally binding agreement and closes the door on raising mitigation ambition before 2020 many of our small island states will be literally and figuratively doomed."

Despite nations' individual emissions-cut pledges and the Kyoto pact, the United Nations, International Energy Agency and others say they are not enough to prevent the planet heating up beyond 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times, a threshold beyond which scientists say the climate risks becoming unstable.

Countries agreed last year in Cancun that deep emissions cuts were needed to hold temperature rises below 2 degrees C.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz and Agnieszka Flak; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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Best of our wild blogs: 28 Nov 11

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [21 - 27 Nov 2011]
from Green Business Times

Toddycats Engage! is recruiting volunteers for our upcoming Geylang East Library Exhibition on Sat 10 Dec 2011! from Toddycats!

Chek Jawa intertidal walks for whole 2012 Jan-Mar dates open for booking from 1 Dec from wild shores of singapore

Closer look at Little Sisters
from wild shores of singapore

Shorebird: Red-necked Stint
from Life's Indulgences

flied giant mudskipper @ SBWR
from sgbeachbum

Butterfly Photography at Our Local Parks
from Butterflies of Singapore

Videos: Molluscs on our shores
from Psychedelic Nature

Reflections by students guiding at Chek Jawa
from Senior High Student Council EXCEL Exposure

Connecting urbanised youth with their natural heritage Woodlands Ring Secondary School students reflect on the Sungei Loyang mangrove cleanup from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Cars, Carparks and Parks, a matter of Perspective
from Nature Spies

Acorn Barnacles
from Monday Morgue

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Cleaning up Singapore's act

Top civil servant Lee Ek Tieng and his team made the Singapore River pristine
clarissa oon Straits Times 28 Nov 11;

It is hard to imagine, looking at the pristine, odourless water and chi- chi restaurants lining the river bank, that the Singapore River was once a cesspool of garbage and fuel oil.

Cluttering up the river mouth in the 1970s were hundreds of bumboats ferrying goods from warehouses along the river to cargo ships out at sea.

About 4,000 squatters lived in unsewered tenement buildings along the river bank. Hawkers and vegetable sellers thronged the five-foot-way. Their daily waste flowed into the Singapore River.

It took a massive government effort to clean up the river, led by then Environment Ministry Permanent Secretary Lee Ek Tieng.

A civil engineer by training, he remembers then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's public challenge to him and his team in 1977. It was to make fishing and other recreational activities possible along the Singapore River and Kallang Basin in 10 years' time. The Kallang Basin was being polluted by nearby pig and duck farms and cottage industries.

There was widespread scepticism as to whether the clean-up could succeed.

The 78-year-old civil engineer says with a grin: 'Many of my friends told me, 'Look, you're in for a hard time, you know. It's cheaper to buy fish and put them in the river every week'.'

He pulled it off within the deadline and was one of 10 civil servants awarded a gold medal in 1987 for transforming the river. At that time, he was also chairman of the Public Utilities Board (now the national water agency PUB), a position he held until 2000.

After cleaning up the river, he went on to hold important financial positions such as Permanent Secretary of the Finance Ministry and managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore. He was head of the Civil Service from 1994 till his retirement in 1999.

However, his biggest contributions were arguably in environmental protection and developing new water resources.

As PUB chairman, he commissioned a study in 1999 that gave birth to NEWater, the high-quality recycled water that now meets 30 per cent of Singapore's total water demand.

The name, a clever sell, was his idea, too. 'No point having a very good product if you are unable to get people to accept it,' he says. At his request, the interview is held in a no-frills meeting room in The Straits Times' office.

'I recall reading many years ago that in branding and advertising, there are two very powerful words: free and new. Something 'new' will always attract attention. The word NEWater is neutral, it doesn't tell you the source of the water. Very important,' he adds.

As for his other major achievement - the Singapore River clean-up - 'from an engineering point of view, we thought we could do it, no problem'.

'The biggest worry my colleagues and I had was whether we could get two things. One, political backing for some of the tricky problems such as moving out the hawkers and squatters. The other was if we could get the full cooperation of other government agencies. And looking back, frankly, we had very few problems,' he says.

His team stepped up programmes to find public housing for squatters and move street hawkers to hawker centres. A minority were unhappy, but most accepted hawker centres, which had proper sewerage and daily garbage collection. The point, he says, is 'you never throw out an unlicensed street hawker and say, 'You go and look for another job', we always give you an alternative'.

Agencies such as the Housing and Development Board (HDB) and the Port of Singapore Authority pitched in, the latter moving the bumboats to a new lighter anchorage at Pasir Panjang.

As the 10-year deadline approached, his tensest moment - ironically - came when the last source of pollution was removed. That was the relocation of Chinatown street hawkers who were slaughtering pythons, ducks and chickens with the waste blood going into drains connected to the Singapore River.

'It's just like how a doctor gives you medicine for your cough, but will the medicine work? You've identified all the pollution sources, now the last major source of organic pollution is gone, but will the Singapore River really turn clean?' he says.

He got the answer within a week when the stench disappeared from the river. It was then dredged and the river walls repaired - the final act of the clean-up.

Today, much of what he engineered as the Environment Ministry's top civil servant or Permanent Secretary from 1972 to 1986 is taken for granted - namely, that streets and public eating places are clean, mosquitoes and rodents are under control, and domestic and industrial waste water captured in sewers are treated properly before being discharged into the sea.

PUB chairman Tan Gee Paw, 68, says: 'These were pressing issues in Singapore as a young nation coming out from the poverty of the past. Ek Tieng truly set the pace for a standard of environmental public health that is unrivalled in this region to this day.'

Mr Tan has known Mr Lee since the late 1960s, when they were engineers in the Public Works Department (PWD), which handled drainage and sewerage.

But the highest accolade yet paid to Mr Lee comes from Mr Lee Kuan Yew who wrote in volume two of his memoirs: 'There would have been no clean and green Singapore without Lee Ek Tieng.' The former prime minister said his vision of a spruced-up nation could not have been realised without the latter's engineering know-how.

What does Mr Lee think of the former PM's praise? 'He's very kind and over-generous. I think, never mind me, my team of people in Environment appreciate it very much that something we did over a period of 10 years is recognised,' he says.

Most Singaporeans will not know him, but this does not bother him.

'Engineers are not very sentimental people. We are different from architects. I always like to take a dig at architects; unlike them, we have little to show, no fancy building,' he quips.

'Humble', 'approachable' and 'hands-on' are how longtime associates describe the man whose first job in 1958 was overseeing night soil stations as an engineer with the now-defunct City Council. In the days before flush toilets, buckets of faecal matter or 'night soil' from households were collected and taken to these stations to be emptied and washed.

By the late 1960s, he was in charge of planning and designing a modern sewerage system in the PWD.

In 1972, he rose to head the Environment Ministry, which he started, bringing together the PWD's sewerage and engineering services and environmental public health functions under the Ministry of Health, such as hawkers and pest control.

Being a top civil servant never went to his head. 'After office hours, he would play ping-pong with the workshop mechanic or anyone who wanted a game with him,' says Mr Daniel Wang, 68, a former commissioner of public health who worked under him at the PWD and Environment Ministry.

Though in the hot seat of policy planning, Mr Lee kept in touch with ground operations, often making unannounced spot-checks on refuse collection trucks or sewerage treatment plants.

Mr Chen Hung, 77, the ministry's former director of environmental engineering and sewerage, says: 'He is a meticulous and factual, no-nonsense type of person. He never behaved like a boss, he was always one of the team.'

Mr Lee admits that he has always preferred getting his hands dirty to writing up policy papers.

The second youngest of eight children of a Methodist pastor enjoyed repairing shoes as a child. He was the family handyman, scaling the roof of their bungalow in Serangoon Gardens - where he still lives - to fix the television antenna.

He was in the first batch of engineering students who graduated from the University of Malaya in Singapore in 1958.

His first high-profile gig came when he was appointed head of the newly formed Air Pollution Unit in 1970, after being interviewed by Mr Lee Kuan Yew in his office for nearly two hours.

Early on in Singapore's industrialisation, the Government had identified air pollution as a potential problem if factory emissions were not brought under control. Hence the unit, set up amid a blaze of publicity under the Prime Minister's Office. Its functions were later transferred to the Environment Ministry.

It was at the unit that the engineer honed his skills dealing with people and other government departments.

He recalls a hairy situation involving a ceramics factory permitted by the Ministry of National Development's planning department to operate in Hillview Estate, a residential area in Bukit Batok.

He says: 'The factory was emitting a white plume of dust because it didn't have proper filters. I used to get telephone calls on Sunday mornings from very angry residents.' He managed to persuade the department to offer the factory an alternative site.

Whether curbing air pollution or overhauling the Singapore River, he was able to bring about good cooperation between different agencies. He attributes this to the just-do-it mindset of the civil service in the early days. 'We tried to avoid politicking and too much debating, to just be objective and get on with the job.'

Times have changed and Singaporeans are more demanding. He says: 'In the current situation, you've got to debate, consult. Everybody needs an explanation.'

But he no longer has to agonise over such things. The man, who at the height of his career was juggling five different portfolios, can finally stop and smell the roses. He credits his wife, Patricia, 74, an information officer-turned-housewife, for bringing up their two sons, now in their 40s. They have three grandchildren.

Trim and healthy from regular golf and gym sessions, he keeps his mind active by reading newspapers and current affairs magazines and scanning the daily headlines on his iPad.

His biggest worry these days is no longer sewerage, but the fact that he recently lost 5kg from exercising. 'All my pants couldn't fit, I had to buy new ones.'

He relishes the slower pace and relative anonymity. He recalls a recent episode when one of his grandsons went on a school trip to a NEWater plant.

'The boy told the teacher, 'My grandfather gave the name NEWater'. The teacher didn't believe him. Not that I mind at all,' he says with a laugh.

Background story

'The night soil station at People's Park was one of the most smelly parts of Singapore in the 1960s. But I got used to it. It's a job, somebody's got to do it anyway'

On his first job overseeing night soil stations, where buckets of household waste were emptied and washed

'I always told my officers, especially the health inspectors: You cannot be everywhere all the time, so take complaints from Singaporeans as feedback or intelligence. There is litter here, people dumping rubbish there, go over and get it cleaned up'

On his attitude towards complaints from the public

'NEWater is very good for whisky. You know why? Because the water is very soft water, it's got very few minerals and therefore no taste, so it doesn't add any taste to the purity of the whisky. Not that I drink a lot but I tried it myself'

On the finer points of NEWater

'Trust, but verify... former US President Ronald Reagan said that. You've got to trust people, you cannot be suspicious all the time. But you also have to verify'

On the motto he lives by

'The problem is not literally that Singapore has become too clean. It's that people have become too cleanliness- conscious. We are too critical about little specks of dirt here and there'

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Indonesia: Paradise Lost at Hands of  Palm Oil Companies

Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 27 Nov 11;

Life was idyllic in the village of Muara Tae, in East Kalimantan’s West Kutai district — before palm oil companies moved in, Petrus Asuy says.

“Before then, we’d never experienced unrest,” the Muara Tae villager said in Jakarta on Friday. “But from 1995, when the first of the palm oil companies came in, things got worse because they didn’t respect our way of life. Without letting us know, they began clearing the forest as they saw fit.”

In 1996, he went on, the villagers had seen enough and began demonstrating against the deforestation. But the move backfired when several of the demonstrators were arrested and jailed for up to five months. Asuy only evaded arrest by hiding out in the jungle for three months.

“Because of the palm oil plantations, our water has become polluted and many of our springs have dried up,” he said. “We took our case to the local government, but they ignored us. We are completely against these companies because they have compromised our way of life. What hope is there now for our grandchildren?”

The Muara Tae villagers are currently in a standoff with the oil palm firm Munte Waniq Jaya Perkasa, which has begun bulldozing 683 hectares of forested land that the former have long considered their own.

The UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency said on Wednesday that the company, backed by police and other security personnel, had been clearing approximately five hectares a day for the past week.

“With the situation at crisis point, the EIA and its Indonesian partner Telapak fear the conflict could spill over into violence,” the group said on its Web site.

Asuy was adamant that the land belonged to the villagers. He said what happened was that a neighboring village, Muara Ponak, had sold the land to the company on the pretext that it belonged to them.

“But they never owned that land. That is land that we have always worked on, but they claimed it as theirs and sold it to the company,” he said, adding that the land in dispute was sold for just Rp 1 million ($110) a hectare.

“We are pleading for help for our situation and for this activity to stop.”

Abu Meridian, a forest campaigner with Telapak, the EIA’s Indonesian partner, said the Muara Tae case was just one of several thousand similar disputes playing out across the country.

“Muara Tae is a comprehensive object of study because it involves not just palm oil companies but also mining firms, so it’s a pretty complex case,” he said.

“To coin a phrase, they’re being eaten by a tiger, a crocodile and a snake at the same time.”

Abu called for greater focus on the case, arguing that if it was properly managed, the 11,000 hectares of ancestral forest in Muara Tae could be restored to primary forest, which would put it out of the reach of palm oil, mining or logging operations.

Indonesian Palm Oil Dispute at ‘Crisis Point’
Ulma Haryanto Jakarta Globe 25 Nov 11;

Villagers in East Kalimantan’s West Kutai district are demanding an inquiry to resolve an ongoing land dispute with a palm oil company, an environmental group said on Thursday.

Sheila Kartika, a spokeswoman for the environmental group Telapak, said the residents of Muara Tae village no longer trust the authorities to resolve the dispute over the 683 hectares of ancestral forest land that palm oil firm Munte Waniq Jaya Perkasa has started bulldozing.

“A representative is coming to Jakarta to seek out an independent team for help,” Sheila said.

Telapak’s British counterpart, the Environmental Investigation Agency, said on Wednesday that the palm oil firm had moved into the forests around Muara Tae to clear land for palm oil production. It said the firm was backed by the police and other security personnel, who witnesses alleged were out-of-uniform military officers.

The EIA said sources reported that the firm’s bulldozers had been clearing approximately five hectares a day for the past week.

“With the situation at crisis point, the EIA and its Indonesian partner Telapak fear the conflict could spill over into violence,” the group said in a statement posted on its Web site.

The group said a major cause of the conflict was the failure to recognize traditional ownership of the forest land, which the indigenous Dayak Benuaq people have used for generations.

Sheila said the palm oil firm had actually purchased land from residents of a neighboring village, Kampung Ponaq. Because the village borders had not been clearly defined, she said, the villages were still trying to determine their respective land ownership when “suddenly the bulldozers came and cleared everything away.”

Residents in Muara Tae presented their case to the East Kalimantan legislature during a public hearing, Sheila said.

“Previously, the subdistrict office offered to help mediate in the dispute, but the people refused because the office never involved them in the first place when it was drafting the area’s zoning map,” she said.

Munte Waniq Jaya Perkasa seems to hold a valid commercial plantation license, Telapak said. However, the company does not yet possess a commercial usage right permit from the National Land Agency (BPN).

In a similar land conflict in the Mesuji district of Lampung, a villager was killed and several others were injured after security officers at a palm oil company there opened fire on them. When the shooting occurred the villagers were harvesting crops from their ancestral land, which was in dispute with the company.

Hadi Daryanto, the Forestry Ministry secretary general, said the central government was powerless to provide villages a direct solution to such disputes because local authorities were in charge of land management.

“What we can do is help coordinate with the BKPTN [National Spatial Planning Coordination Agency], the Home Affairs Ministry and the Industry Ministry,” he said.

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