Best of our wild blogs: 7 Feb 11

Juvenile Tiger Shrike takes a gecko
from Bird Ecology Study Group

How Assassins Multiply
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Little things
from The annotated budak

Lunar New Year Day 3: Chestnut Avenue
from wonderful creation and Singapore Nature

Monday Morgue: 7th February 2011
from The Lazy Lizard's Tales

Desalination plant at Tuas may have "a slight negative impact" on marine life from wild shores of singapore

Tribute to a Great Birdwatcher: Guy Charles Madoc (1911-1999)
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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New Tuas desalination plant to have 'slight negative impact' on marine life

Leong Wee Keat Today Online 7 Feb 11;

SINGAPORE - The construction of the second desalination plant at Tuas - which, when complete, would provide another viable source of water supply for Singapore - may have "a slight negative impact" on marine life, in particular, fish.

This, according to an environmental impact assessment study that was commissioned by national water agency PUB. The study was conducted by DHI Water and Environment over six months and its128-page report has been accepted by the PUB.

Among its findings: Habitat loss is also expected for plants and animals living at the bottom of the sea measuring more than 0.5mm in length - known as microbenthics - but they are predicted to recover in the short term.

Regarding water quality, the study noted that iron oxides, total suspended solids and boron at the plant's offshore diffuser as well as within a 10m mixing zone will exceed the National Environment Agency (NEA) Trade Effluent Discharge Standards.

A waiver has been agreed in principle with the NEA to permit the exceeding of these standards within the 10m mixing zone.

Desalination, the process of removing salt and other minerals from water to make it drinkable, is set to grow by 10 times and meet 30 per-cent of the water demand by 2060.

The PUB expects the Tuas Desalination Plant to add another 70 million gallons (318,500 cubic metres) of desalinated water a day to the nation's water supply when it is completed by 2013.

The tender to design, build, own and operate the plant will be awarded by March.

The Tuas desalination plant will be constructed within a 14-hectare plot of land at Tuas View, adjacent to the western straits of Johor and lies 850m offshore from the Singapore-Malaysia International Boundary.

The surrounding Singapore coastline comprises various industrial facilities, Tuas jetty and Raffles Marina.

However, there are no nature reserves within 5km of the proposed plant.

Construction is expected to last for a year and the presence of construction vessels may temporarily affect recreational boats from Raffles Marine plying the Tuas shoreline, said the report, which also expects the plant operator to complete a formal safety assessment to manage any risk of collisions during works.

However, the DHI study predicts no navigation and cross-border impact.

Asked if it had concerns over the plant's discharge, which could be swept by tides to other coastal areas, the PUB told MediaCorp that the plant has to meet the environmental requirement of diluting the outfall discharge stream within 10m of its diffuser.

Said a PUB spokesperson: "As such, after the 10m mixing zone, seawater quality will be back to ambient levels and no environmental impact is expected."

For now, DHI felt that no further mitigation measures are required but recommended some measures the plant should take under its environment management plan. These include regular monitoring of ambient seawater quality, sediment and discharge during the construction and operations.

Related link
Pollution Control Study for Tuas Desalination and Power Plant Project (pdf)
70 MGD Desalination Design Build Own Operate (DBOO) Project Tuas Singapore, Natural Gas Power Plant and R & D Facility
Prepared for TuasSpring Pte Ltd FINAL REPORT:31 AUGUST 2011

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Newly Discovered Deep Sea Lobster

ScienceDaily 5 Feb 11;

Some scientists receive prizes for their contributions to science, others find themselves on postage stamps. Rockefeller University's Jesse Ausubel name is now immortalized in the scientific name of a newly discovered, rare new genus of deep water lobster. Ausubel was given this honor as a tribute to his contributions to the success of the Census of Marine Life, which he co-founded.

Discovered by an international trio of scientists, the lobster, Dinochelus ausubeli, lives in the deep ocean water near the Phillipines. The lobster has movable, well-developed eyestalks and an inverted T-plate in front of its mouth. But its most striking feature is a mighty claw with a short, bulbous palm and extremely long, spiny fingers for capturing prey.

Dinochelus is derived from the Greek words dino, meaning terrible and fearful, and chelus, meaning claw. All told, the Census of Marine Life sponsored 540 expeditions over 10 years, carried out by 2700 researchers from more than 80 countries. It was, Ausubel says, the biggest project in the history of marine biology.

"Like editors of 18th century encyclopedias and almanacs and dictionaries, the Census of Marine Life has made much more accessible a lot of preexisting but poorly organized information," says Ausubel, who is the director of the Program for the Human Environment at Rockefeller. "It has also led to the discovery of many new things."

In addition to the discovery of Dinochelus ausubeli, notable contributions from scientists involved in the Census include:

* a diagram correlating the genetic relatedness of 5000 marine species from 10 phyla;
* a map of highways and neighborhoods of about 20 species of top predators in the Pacific, revealed from birds, fish, whales, and other animals carrying small tags; and
* unprecedented estimates of deep ocean marine biomass, drawing on about 200 studies carried out under the Census, that show surprising abundance of seafloor biomass at high latitudes.

The Census also exposed many gaps in our knowledge of what is known and unknown. For example, the Arctic Ocean remains strikingly unobserved. "The Russians may plant a flag, but neither they nor anyone else knows what lives near the North Pole," says Ausubel.

Findings from the project are linked to the Barcode of Life database and pages on the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL), as well as being published in open access papers at the Public Library of Science.

Dinochelus ausubeli already has its own page in the EOL.

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Johor floods: Waters recede but Johor stays on alert

New Straits Times 6 Feb 11;

JOHOR BARU: Fewer evacuees in Johor returned home yesterday compared with previous days as the authorities remained wary of the floods taking a turn for the worse.

As of 5pm, there were still 28,099 people at 105 relief centres as compared with 28,970 on Saturday.

State flood operations room spokesman said relief centres still open were in Ledang (19), Segamat (18), Muar (28) and Batu Pahat (38).

The other 230 relief centres in Kluang, here, Kota Tinggi, Pontian and Kulaijaya had been closed as those districts have almost totally recovered from the floods.

"The number of evacuees who returned home since Saturday is just about 800 because we are still on high alert in some areas," the spokesman said.

As of 4pm yesterday, Sungai Muar at Buloh Kasap was still at 9.83m, which was higher than its danger level of 9.14m.

The Bekok dam at Sungai Batu Pahat was also still above its danger mark of 17.5m at 18.73m.

The situation in Pahang had returned to normal, with the remaining 12 flood victims at a relief centre in Rompin allowed to return home yesterday morning.

A spokesman from the Pahang police operations room said the victims, who were at the relief centre at SK Aur Ibam, began returning to their village at Kampung Aur at 9am.

In Malacca, the number of flood victims at two relief centres in Jasin dropped to 330 people yesterday from 407 people the day before.

A spokesman from the state flood operations room said the victims, from 74 families, were from the Sungai Rambai state constituency.

He expected the situation to improve further as the water level at Sungai Kesang was receding.

Meanwhile, Puteri Umno said it intends to play its role to step up a cleanliness programme, particularly in flood-stricken states.

Its head, Datuk Rosnah Abdul Rashid Shirlin, said the programme, in collaboration with the district health office, would increase awareness among flood victims and prevent them from being inflicted with diseases.

The deputy health minister said assistance given to flood victims normally focused on efforts to send them to evacuation centres, as well as other forms of aid.

However, she noted that cleanliness was not given priority.

More flood evacuees expected to go home
The Star 7 Feb 11;

JOHOR BARU: Although it has been a week since major floods hit the state, a total of 28,177 evacuees still remain at 107 relief centres.

A spokesman from the state flood operations room, however, said the number was slowly going down.

“Our relief centres in six districts (Johor Baru, Kluang, Pontian, Kota Tinggi, Mersing and Kulaijaya) have already ended operations and we expect more centres to shut down soon,” he said.

The spokesman added that it was likely that the number of evacuees would drop steadily as the Meteo­rological Department had reported that the weather should improve in the coming week.

“The weather has been good these past few days but we are still receiving flood evacuees, especially in Batu Pahat and Ledang.

“Hopefully by the end of the week, the waters will recede completely and residents can all return home,” he said.

As of 3pm, online records from the operations room showed that there are about 6,808 families still in relief centres.

These families are mainly from Muar with 2,621 families, Batu Pahat (1,973), Ledang (1,801) and Segamat (413).

Number Of Flood Victims In Johor And Melaka Drops
Bernama 7 Feb 11;

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 7 (Bernama) -- The number of flood victims staying at relief centres in Johor and Melaka is declining as the flood situation in the affected areas has improved.

A total of 27,737 victims from 6,680 families were still taking shelter at relief centres in four districts in Johor as of this morning.

As at 8am, all victims in the districts of Muar, Batu Pahat, Segamat and Ledang were staying at 100 relief centres, according to the official portal of the Johor state government,

The Muar district recorded the higher number with 10,574 victims from 2,633 families, followed by Batu Pahat (8,775 victims, 1,944 families), Ledang (6,750 victims, 1,698 families) and Segamat (1,638 victims, 405 families).

Out of the 100 relief centres that were set up, 28 were in Muar, 37 in Batu Pahat, 16 in Segamat and 19 in Ledang.

To date, five people were reported to have drowned due to the flood in Johor.

In MELAKA, the number of flood victims seeking shelter at two relief centres in the district of Jasin was reported to have dropped to 227 compared with 254 yesterday afternoon.

A spokesman of the state flood operations room said 197 victims from 41 families were being accommodated at the relief centre at Sekolah Kebangsaan Parit Penghulu while 30 victims from nine families were staying at the Sekolah Kebangsaan Seri Mendapat.

All the victims were residing in the Sungai Rambai state constituency, the spokesman said when contacted here.

Clear weather was reported in the whole state, added the spokesman.


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Malaysia: Mangrove log smugglers forging documents and using false permits

Stuart Michael The Star 7 Feb 11;

WITH the authorities cracking down on mangrove log smugglers, the thieves have changed their modus operandi by forging documents and getting false approval permits.

Over the last 10 days, the Selangor Forestry Department together with the Marine Police and Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency have seized two vessels carrying 4,000 mangrove logs worth RM40,000 that were smuggled from Indonesia.

Eight men, including the tekong of the two vessels, were caught in the raid at the barter trade jetty off Port Klang recently.

On both vessels, the mangrove logs were concealed underneath about 600 bags of charcoal.

Selangor Forestry Department assistant director (operations and enforcement) Mohd Yussainy Md Yusop said the irony was that the import approvals came from the Customs Department and the Malaysian Timber Industry Board.

“How can the state prevent the stealing of mangrove logs when such things happen. The smugglers are getting inside help to obtain approved permits to bring timber into Malaysia.

“In the permits, it was stated that the vessels were carrying mangrove logs. Mangrove logs are banned in Malaysia, Indonesia and the authorities should know better than to issue these permits,’’ he said.

Mohd Yussainy added that the two tekong also failed to show any evidence of the logs being felled in Indonesia.

“This indiscriminate approval of permits to import mangroves is affecting conservation efforts in the state.

“The smugglers, a majority of whom are Indonesians, are getting inside help to obtain the permits.

The permits, he claimed, were given without proper investigation into the source of the harvested logs, a majority of which he suspected were felled illegally in Malaysia.

Mohd Yussainy identified four areas — Sungai Rambai and Kuala Linggi in Malacca, Muar and Batu Pahat in Johor — as having mangrove logs shipped from Indonesia or via the Straits of Malacca illegally.

He said these logs were then transported by a vessel to Port Klang with legal permits.

Mohd Yussainy said syndicates were hoodwinking the authorities as they apply for APs for timber but instead were bringing in mangrove logs.

“Unfortunately, the National Forest Act 1984 does not stipulate that agencies which issue import permits to smugglers can be taken to court.

“Smugglers will use the AP as an excuse to bring in logs and this will worsen the situation. This should be prevented,” said Yussainy.

He added that the Selangor Forestry Department had stopped issuing licences allowing the harvesting of mangroves in July last year but that such activities were still rampant in the state.

Between July last year and Jan 15, nine people have been prosecuted for smuggling, while the department has seized over 200,000 logs.

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Fish farming promises abundance for food security

Michael Richardson, for The Straits Times 7 Feb 11;

AMID rising prices of food and concerns over future shortages, fish farming has been a bright spot in the generally challenging outlook for global food production. This is why Singapore and many other Asian countries are so interested in aquaculture.

In the past, most fish were caught in the wild. However in recent decades, a rapidly growing volume and range of fish have been raised in tanks and ponds on land, or in cages and nets in oceans, lakes and rivers, helping to meet the growing demand for protein. Aquaculture is now a US$100 billion (S$127 billion) industry.

Asia has led the way in the production and export of both wild capture and farmed fish, making an increasingly important contribution to the region's food security, while providing expanded employment opportunities and alleviating poverty.

South-east Asia accounts for one-quarter of all fish farmed for human consumption in Asia. Worldwide, fisheries support the livelihoods of about 540 million people, or about 8 per cent of the population.

But the most striking development has been in fish farming. The latest estimate from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is that aquaculture will meet more than half of all food fish consumption by next year.

Most traditional wild fisheries are being overexploited, or harvested at the maximum yield at which their stocks can be sustained. So fish farming is seen as a key way to increase supply in a world hungry for protein.

The growing supply of affordable fish in Asia has contributed to rapid urbanisation and industrialisation, and thus to economic growth.

Global production of food fish from aquaculture, including fin fishes, crustaceans, molluscs and other aquatic animals, reached nearly 53 million tonnes in 2008, according to the FAO's annual report on the state of world fisheries, published last week. In 1950, production was less than one million tonnes a year.

As demand grew and technology improved, aquacultural output rose at an average annual rate of 8.3 per cent between 1970 and 2008, while the world population increased much more slowly, at just 1.6 per cent a year.

Aquacultural production has been growing at three times the rate of world meat production since 1950.

In China, the world's largest fish farmer, just over 80 per cent of fish consumed by humans in 2008 was from aquaculture, up from 24 per cent in 1970. Asia as a whole accounts for nearly 90 per cent of global production from fish farming and over three-quarters of its value.

Of the 15 leading producers, 11 are Asian economies. The top six are all in Asia. While China is by far the biggest, it is followed by India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and Bangladesh.

The expansion of fish farming in Asia has been impressive. But will it continue?

The Global Aquaculture Alliance, a trade association, says that output must double in the next 10 years to keep pace with demand, particularly from a growing middle class in Asia and other parts of the developing world.

Ideally, as fish farming expands, it should provide breathing space for wild fisheries to recover.

Said Mr Alfred Schumm, a fisheries specialist with conservation group World Wide Fund for Nature: 'In a world likely to face a future of increasing food prices and decreasing food security, it is becoming more and more apparent that running down one fishery after another is a disaster in the making.'

The FAO report found that the proportion of marine fish stocks estimated to be underexploited or moderately exploited declined from 40 per cent in the mid-1970s to 15 per cent in 2008, whereas the ratio of overexploited, depleted or recovering stocks increased from 10 per cent in 1974 to 32 per cent in 2008.

The proportion of fully exploited stocks has remained relatively stable, at about 50 per cent of the total since the 1970s.

Said senior FAO fisheries expert Richard Grainger, one of the report's editors: 'That there has been no improvement in the status of stocks is a matter of great concern. The percentage of overexploitation needs to go down, although at least we seem to be reaching a plateau.'

Aquaculture is not as separate from wild fishing as it may seem. This is because wild fish are widely used to make the fish meal and fish-oil components for feeding farmed fish.

The availability and high cost of feed is one of the constraints of future aquacultural expansion. Pollution and environmental degradation are some problems.

So, too, is the shortage of land, fresh water and suitable baby wild fish to build stocks of farmed fish.

Meanwhile, in South-east Asia, the trend in fish farming is to go offshore, because most countries in the region have extensive coastlines. As a result, mariculture, the cultivation of marine organisms for food and other products, has become the fastest-growing part of the business.

The writer is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South East Asian Studies.

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Higher food prices here to stay: analysts

Paul Handley Yahoo News 6 Feb 11;

WASHINGTON (AFP) – From McDonald's burgers in the United States to sugar in Bolivia and chilis in Indonesia, food prices across the globe are soaring.

But consumers and governments should brace themselves for even higher prices, experts warn, as demand in populous emerging economies will put pressure on supplies for years to come.

A "perfect storm" of bad weather, rapid growth in emerging economies -- with people eating more higher-value, resource-intense food -- and low interest rates has sent prices for a broad range of farm and non-farm commodities climbing often at double-digit rates: from wheat to corn, cotton to rubber, and oil to boot.

And while it resembles the sharp spike in food and oil prices of 2007-2008, analysts say the current trend is less speculative in nature and not likely to end with a price collapse, as it did two years ago.

"Things were quite different in 2008... You had price spikes, it was a couple of food grains," said Chris Delgado, an agriculture specialist at the World Bank.

"What is going on now is more broadbased... It's not led by grains."

And it's widespread, and feeding into political worries, not just in the Middle East.

In Indonesia, where even the price of chilis has soared, the government suspended import duties on key food items after inflation hit an annual rate of seven percent in January.

In Bolivia, sugar is being rationed despite a 64 percent price hike.

In the United States, much higher meat prices are forcing restaurants from fancy steak houses to McDonald's to hike their prices, even though the pocketbooks of consumers remain tight.

On Thursday, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said food prices have reached their highest level since it began measuring them in 1990, and pointed to the political problems that can spark.

"Not only is there a risk, but there have already been riots in some parts of the world because of rising prices," FOA chief Jacques Diouf said.

There is little relief in sight, say experts.

"I think commodity prices are going to be trending higher," said Gerard Lyons, chief economist for Standard Chartered Bank.

"What's interesting is that even commodities that aren't heavily traded are rising in price. ... That suggests this is fundamental, not speculators," he told AFP.

The 2008 commodity spike was only a handful of food grains plus oil, and driven in large part by political decisions amounting to hoarding and heavy trader speculation.

This year the problem is more fundamental: prices are being driven by growing demand from huge emerging economies like China, India, Russia and Brazil that is unlikely to slacken until prices get much higher, say analysts.

The World Bank's Delgado said that supply shocks are exacerbating the price hikes: weather and policy moves that have cut grain supplies from Russia, Argentina and Australia, among others.

But the trend is rooted in the fundamentals of soaring demand, say economists.

"More and more people are moving up the scale of income, so they tend to have higher value food," said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at IHS Global Insight.

Lyons said there is not much relief on the horizon because of the time it takes farmers to expand acreage and production.

"It takes a long time, two to three years, for new supply to come on stream," Lyons said.

"I think commodity prices are going to be trending higher."

Commodity traders are saying the same thing.

Last week Morgan Stanley commodities specialist Hussein Allidina said key items like corn, soybeans and wheat still face strong upward price pressure -- with corn possibly going up another 20 percent from the current level of $6.60 a bushel before demand weakens.

"We see record tightness across the agriculture complex and believe that higher prices will be necessary to ration demand and incentivize acreage," he said in a report.

Behravesh said he thinks the problem is mainly a short-term one, more like 2008, and have limited economic impact overall.

But policy-wise, he said governments don't have many tools to bring down the cost of food and other commodities, especially if they are import-dependent.

Aside from pushing up interest rates to slow growth, said Behravesh, "There's not much central bankers can do about food prices."

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Asia faces climate-induced migration 'crisis'

Martin Abbugao Yahoo News 5 Feb 11;

SINGAPORE (AFP) – Asia must prepare for millions of people to flee their homes to safer havens within countries and across borders as weather patterns become more extreme, the Asian Development Bank warns.

A draft of an ADB report obtained by AFP over the weekend and confirmed by bank officials cautioned that failure to make preparations now for vast movements of people could lead to "humanitarian crises" in the coming decades.

Governments are currently focused on mitigating climate change blamed for the weather changes, but the report said they should start laying down policies and mechanisms to deal with the projected population shifts.

"What is clear is that Asia and the Pacific will be amongst the global regions most affected by the impacts of climate change," said the report entitled "Climate Change and Migration in Asia and the Pacific".

"Such impacts include significant temperature increases, changing rainfall patterns, greater monsoon variability, sea-level rise, floods and more intense tropical cyclones," it said.

The report, expected to be released in the next few weeks, comes as flooding overwhelms parts of Asia-Pacific, most recently in Australia, where a powerful cyclone worsened the impact of weeks of record inundations.

"Asia and the Pacific is particularly vulnerable because of its high degree of exposure to environmental risks and high population density. As a result, it could experience population displacements of unprecedented scale in the next decades," said the report, primarily targeted at regional policymakers.

Research carried out for the United Nations showed that 2010 was one of the worst years on record worldwide for natural disasters.

Asians accounted for 89 percent of the 207 million people affected by disasters globally last year, according to the Belgium-based Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED).

Summer floods and landslides in China caused an estimated $18 billion dollars in damage, while floods in Pakistan cost $9.5 billion dollars, CRED's annual study showed. Not to mention the catastrophic human cost.

"Governments are not prepared and that is why ADB is conducting this project," said Bart Edes, director of the Manila-based lending institution's poverty reduction, gender and social development division.

"There is no international cooperation mechanism established to manage climate-induced migration. Protection and assistance schemes to help manage that flow is opaque, poorly coordinated and scattered," he told AFP.

"Policymakers need to take action now," he stressed, noting that negotiating treaties and efforts to raise funds takes time.

Last year's natural disasters in the Asia-Pacific, including millions of people displaced in Sri Lanka and the Philippines, "give us a flavour of what to expect in the future", said Edes.

"Migration in general is not being properly addressed and the situation is going be made worse," added Edes, referring to the additional impact of climate change on migration patterns, fuelled by economic needs and armed conflicts.

"Now we have another driver of migration."

The draft ADB report said the people forced to leave due to the extreme weather changes "have come to incarnate the human face of climate change" and while many of them will return home, many will be displaced permanently.

Those expected to suffer the most will be the poor as they lack the means to easily pack up and leave for safer havens, the report said.

"The issue of climate-induced migration will grow in magnitude and will take different forms," the report added, urging national governments and the global community to "urgently address this issue in a proactive manner."

"Failure to do so could result in humanitarian crises with great social and economic costs," it warned.

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Could carbon markets become obsolete?

Esther Ng Today Online 7 Feb 11;

SINGAPORE - It should be a happy headache for environmentalists. Yet the possibility of carbon markets becoming obsolete within the next one or two decades - as industralised countries cut their carbon emissions - could have dire consequences, according to three researchers.

Currently, carbon markets provide a rich source of funding for United Nations-backed conservation scheme REDD+. The idea is for industrialised countries to offset their own emissions by buying carbon credits from developing countries, thereby giving communities in the latter group an incentive to protect their forests and preserve endangered species.

More than just preventing deforestation and forest degradation, REDD+ also includes the possibility of offsetting emissions through "sustainable forest management", "conservation" and "increasing forest carbon stocks".

But in a paper recently published in a journal of the Society for Conservation Biology, Assistant Professor Edward Webb and PhD student Jacob Phelps from the National University of Singapore and research fellow Koh Lian Pin from Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich), pointed out that REDD+ was designed to buy time for developed countries to come up with new low-carbon technologies.

However, Mr Vinod Kesava, managing director of carbon consulting firm Climate Resources Exchange, disagreed that carbon markets could become obsolete in two decades.

He said: "Carbon sequestration, renewable energy and energy efficiency in themselves are inherently the foundation of carbon markets, because had there been no action taken to invest in the R&D for such technologies and specific methods to validate and monitor them, more carbon emission would have been produced otherwise."

Environmental group Conservation International (CI) told MediaCorp that it estimates that $12 billion to $35 billion annually is needed to make significant gains in reducing emissions from deforestation.

In response to the researchers' paper, CI reiterated that public funding will need to remain a major source of finance for REDD+. However, it noted that the scheme could turn to alternative sources of financing.

For instance, the scheme could allow the private sector - instead of governments - to offset carbon emissions by financing actions to reduce emissions in developing countries.

Other innovative sources of financing, not just for REDD+, but also for other mitigation and adaptation actions in developing countries should also be considered, CI added. For example, taxes on international maritime and aviation transport could provide significant, sustainable and predictable sources of funds. ESTHER NG

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