Best of our wild blogs: 18 Feb 11

Crimson Sunbird confronting reflection
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Singaporean spiders spit venomous glue, work together, eat each other from Raffles Museum News

Read more!

Expect drier, hazier season in Singapore this year

my paper AsiaOne 18 Feb 11;

Singapore - Get your masks out – the traditional dry season between June and September is likely to be drier this year than that of last year.

This is because the La Nina effect, which has brought wetter weather to South-east Asia, will weaken over the second half of the year, with a return to neutral conditions.

Heavy rain helped keep the haze at bay last year.

But this year, the five countries under the Ministerial Steering Committee (MSC) on Transboundary Haze Pollution will have to be extra vigilant in managing haze from fires during the dry period, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, said yesterday.

Singapore, for instance, is looking to replicate in other fire-prone areas, such as South Sumatra, a haze-action programme that proved successful in the central Sumatran province of Jambi.

The number of hotspots in Jambi has been cut to 617 last year from 2,150 in 2006, said a National Environment Agency spokesman.

This can be attributed to the wetter conditions and measures taken by the Jambi provincial government to prevent forest fires, he added.

In April 2007, Singapore, Indonesia and the provincial government of Jambi jointly developed a master plan to deal with land and forest fires in Jambi. Under the plan, Singapore offered technical assistance to implement specific
programmes, such as training in fire prevention and suppression.

South Sumatra is a potential province for collaboration because of its similarity and proximity to Jambi, as well as its significant contribution to the haze in the region, said Dr Yaacob.

However, Indonesia will ultimately decide whether South Sumatra would be picked. Dr Yaacob was at the 11th meeting of the Sub-Regional MSC on Transboundary Haze Pollution, attended by representatives from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Asean Secretariat.

Indonesian Environment Minister Gusti Muhammad Hatta said his government plans toratify the haze agreement this year.

The agreement binds signatory nations to take steps to stop haze pollution from land and forest fires within their territories. Indonesian legislators rejected a ratification draft in 2008. Indonesia originally targeted to reduce the
number of hotspots by 20 per cent annually beginning from last year, but has exceeded targets by reducing the number by 72 per cent, said Prof Gusti.

Dry Spell To Hit Southeast Region In Coming Months
Zakaria Abdul Wahab Bernama 17 Feb 11;

SINGAPORE, Feb 17 (Bernama) - The Southeast Asian region may expect drier weather during the coming traditional dry season between June and September this year.

This is due to the possibility of the prevailing La Nina weakening to neutral conditions in the second half of the year, according to the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC) in its forecast.

This weather condition was reported by ASMC to the environment ministers from Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand who met at the 11th Meeting of the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee (MSC) on Transboundary Haze Pollution, here Thursday.

Malaysia was represented by Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Douglas Uggah Embas.

According to a statement issued after the meeting, the ministers also noted the ASMC's weather outlook of occasional periods of dry weather over the next two months in the region.

The MSC countries also agreed to continue to be vigilant and prepared for any occurrence of transboundary haze from fires during extended periods of dry weather in the coming months.

The statement said the ministers also expressed their appreciation to Indonesia for their enhanced and new efforts in implementing its Plan of Action (PoA) in Dealing with Transboundary Haze Pollution in the country.

Among the actions taken by Indonesia were strengthening the capacity of Community Fire Brigades on fire warning system and early suppression, enhancing the dissemination of information on hotspots, and campaigns on zero burning technique and socialisation of law and regulation in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Indonesia also has allocated about US$18.2 million for strengthening the Manggala Agni fire brigade in national parks and natural resources conservation units nationwide.

The ministers also noted the successful implementation of the Indonesia-Malaysia collaboration in Riau Province, and Indonesia-Singapore collaboration in Jambi Province, in the haze control management.


Read more!

Relief in sight as Indonesia pledges to sign haze agreement

Indonesia has already signed bilateral deals with Singapore and Malaysia
Lee U-Wen Business Times 18 Feb 11;

INDONESIA is committed to ratifying the trans-boundary haze agreement in South-east Asia, with a view to getting the proposal approved in parliament by the end of this year.

This was revealed by Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister Yaacob Ibrahim, who was speaking to reporters after the latest meeting of the sub-regional ministerial steering committee on trans-boundary haze pollution yesterday.

Indonesia is this year's Asean chairman and the only country left in the region that has not yet endorsed the haze agreement - first introduced in 2002 - after the Philippines did so last year.

'(Indonesia) is planning to go through the due process of going to parliament. We welcome the news from them and we look forward to the ratification as soon as possible,' said Dr Yaacob, who chaired the media conference at the Shangri- La Hotel along with his counterparts from Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand.

The Indonesian government had previously tried to seek House of Representatives approval to ratify the agreement back in 2008 as they argued that the treaty had to include illegal logging as part of the goal to prevent Asean countries from accepting wood taken illegally from Indonesian forests.

Indonesia is the largest forest nation in the region with 120 million hectares of rainforest.

Forest fires during the annual dry season have caused haze to blow toward neighbouring countries, leading to protests by Singapore and Malaysia leaders calling for Indonesia to clamp down hard on those responsible.

The haze is again expected to resurface in the second half of this year.

Indonesia has already signed bilateral deals with Singapore and Malaysia, with the two countries promising to help Indonesia stop land and forest fires.

Indonesia's State Minister for the Environment Gusti Muhammad Hatta said that his ministry was sticking to the target of reducing the number of hotspots by 20 per cent each year to meet Indonesia's pledge to bring down its emissions by 26 per cent in the next decade.

At the close of yesterday's meeting, the ministers also thanked Indonesia for rolling out its action plan to deal with the haze problem.

This includes sharing more information on hotspots to the provincial and district levels and organising campaigns on zero burning techniques.

Dr Yaacob said that Singapore was pleased with its cooperation with Indonesia in the fire-prone Jambi province and is now exploring the possibility of working together with other such affected Indonesian provinces in the future.

The next ministerial committee meeting on the haze issue - the 12th since the inaugural get-together in 2006 - is scheduled to take place later this year in Thailand.

Second haze project for Singapore, Jakarta?
Joint effort targeting South Sumatra will try to replicate success seen in Jambi region
Amresh Gunasingham Straits Times 18 Feb 11;

SINGAPORE has offered to collaborate with Indonesia on a second project in the fire-prone Sumatra region, a source of much of the haze that has come this way since the early 1990s.

Talks between government officials, which are at an exploratory stage, have identified the vast South Sumatra province as a possible area for the new collaboration.

This comes more than four years after both sides agreed to work on a $1 million project in neighbouring Jambi province.

Officials hope the second collaboration will replicate the success seen in Jambi, where the number of recorded hot spots from forest fires has dropped by more than 20 per cent in the past few years.

The funds there were invested in initiatives such as programmes to teach farmers how to cultivate crops without resorting to burning, and training local officials to interpret satellite pictures so they can monitor hot spots.

Discussions on the new plans took place at a meeting of Asean environment ministers here yesterday. At a press conference afterwards, Indonesia's Environment Minister Gusti Hatta said he was confident that the country's Parliament would ratify the 2002 Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution by the end of the year.

This comes more than two years after MPs rejected the pact, after pointing out that many foreign-owned plantation companies, not local farmers, were culpable for much of the forest clearing.

Yesterday, Professor Hatta said efforts to get the treaty ratified were also impeded by time constraints and the need to push through a raft of other legislation.

'Our ministry has in the past put the treaty up for ratification (in Parliament) but it has been resisted up to now,' he said, adding: 'At last ratification will be discussed in Parliament this year.'

Speaking to The Straits Times later, Prof Hatta reiterated his intention to give the issue priority.

He also said that work has continued on the ground to clamp down on illegal fire-starters.

'The important thing is, Indonesia is very serious about combating the fires,' he said.

Prof Hatta was here for the 11th meeting of the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee on Transboundary Haze Pollution, which was also attended by representatives from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Asean Secretariat.

At the press conference, Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister Yaacob Ibrahim said the haze could make a return after this June, due to anticipated drier conditions in the region at that time of year.

'This means that we have to continue to be vigilant,' he said.

Dry spells stretching over several weeks encourage farmers to clear the land for the annual plantation season.

Asked why South Sumatra was picked for the second collaboration project, he said that several areas were identified, but it was chosen as it is near to Jambi: 'That part of Sumatra contributes quite significantly to the haze here.'

The amount of resources to be committed is likely to parallel the Jambi project, although it will also depend on the needs on the ground, Dr Yaacob said.

'At the basic level, it will replicate the training, build up capacity (and) air quality monitoring station,' he added.

Three other Asean members - Brunei, Thailand and Malaysia - also expressed interest in projects to combat burning in fire-prone provinces. Malaysia, for example, has an ongoing collaboration with Indonesia in the fire-prone province of Riau.

At yesterday's meeting, the Asean ministers also agreed to build up the capacity of each country's weather and fire monitoring systems, as a way to standardise the way they manage the haze.

Weather patterns will also be studied over the long term to monitor for climate change in the region, said a spokesman for the National Environment Agency.

Indonesia committed to ratify ASEAN Haze Agreement
S Ramesh Channel NewsAsia 17 Feb 11;

SINGAPORE: Indonesia has given its commitment that it will ratify the ASEAN Haze Agreement this year.

Singapore's Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, announced this at the end of the 11th Ministerial Steering Committee on Transboundary Haze Pollution held in Singapore.

Echoing Dr Yaacob's point, the Indonesian State Minister for Environment, Professor Dr Gusti Muhammad Hatta, added that his country is committed to further reduce the number of hotspots by 20 per cent each year.

The ministers have also adopted a strategic review of their committee's programmes and activities.

These include enhancing haze control management - by having a fire danger rating system for early warning purposes - and peatland management.

National Environment Agency's chief executive officer, Andrew Tan, explained that a fire danger rating system gives countries a head-start before a haze period begins by looking at particular regions in the country which are prone to haze.

He explained that Malaysia and Indonesia have been working on this system and they have shown that it can work. The two countries want to improve upon it by collating the data from the rest of the ASEAN countries to make it available ASEAN-wide.

In a joint statement issued at the end of their Singapore meeting, the five countries (Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia) also agreed to stay vigilant and be prepared for any occurrence of transboundary haze from fires during the extended periods of dry weather in the coming months.

Dr Yaacob said: "The work at the ground continues and that is very important for us. And looking at the report in terms of hotspots last year and the forecast this year, a lot more needs to be done - we have been able to put in a lot of programme on the ground.

"The collaborations between Malaysia-Indonesia and Riau and Singapore-Indonesia and Jambi have both proven to be successful. There is now a sense that we can replicate this in other provinces and Indonesia is exploring this.

"And we will wait for the signal from Indonesia on how best we can replicate the experiences both in Jambi and Riau into other provinces. We have identified a couple of areas and we have spoken to our Indonesian colleague - one possible area is in south Sumatra."

- CNA/fa/al

Read more!

Demand for biofuels expected to rise 20%-30% annually

Rachel Kelly Channel NewsAsia 18 Feb 11;

SINGAPORE : This week, the European parliament voted for new rules that require lower emissions from commercial vehicles.

With governments globally continuing to set stiff targets for the use of "clean" energy, Biofuels Asia - a Singapore-based clean-energy company - is betting on Jatropha, a hardy plant that is a source of biodiesel.

One of the reasons Jatropha is gaining ground as a biodiesel alternative is that it can grow on tougher soil conditions.

Biofuels Asia said it expects demand for biofuels to increase between 20 and 30 per cent annually for the next decade. And it is rooting for Jatropha to tap that potential.

Richard Yong, CEO, Biofuels Asia, said: "The Europeans have come up with a renewable energy directive, which basically says by the year 2020, 20 per cent of their energy has to come from green and renewable sources such as biofuels. So we'll see the demand growing.

"Most varieties of Jatropha in the wild would produce 1.8 to 2 tonnes per hectare every year, but what we have done here is we have produced a plant that produces 5 tonnes of oil every year. And because of that, it makes the economics of biofuel very attractive.

"And in ... producing 5 tonnes of oil, you actually cleanse the atmosphere of about 10 tonnes of carbon dioxide, which is very good for the environment and it has effects on climate change as well."

Some analysts estimate that the 900,000 hectare of Jatropha planted globally could produce roughly 1.8 million tons of crude Jatropha oil every year.

To expand its operations, Biofuels Asia said it is in discussions to set up a 700 square kilometre plantation in China.

It is currently developing a 2,000 hectare plantation in Malaysia.

Mr Yong said: "There is a wholesale market for biodiesel - so we can either sell directly to the wholesale market or do long-term off-take contracts.

"So we are talking to Formosa group in Taiwan, ComfortDelGro in Singapore, and besides that we are also talking to the other big players like Neste which has just set up its biodiesel plant in Tuas. So we can actually sell to the wholesale market or we can do long-term off-take market."

As demand for alternatives such as biofuels continues to pick up, Biofuels Asia is expecting about 25 per cent growth in revenue for the next five years, and the company is planning to list in either Hong Kong, London or Singapore by the end of the year.

- CNA/al

Read more!

Thai raid nets 'top poacher' and 200 monitor lizards

Straits Times 18 Feb 11;

BANGKOK: A man believed to be one of Thailand's most prolific lizard poachers was arrested with hundreds of water monitors destined for Chinese dinner plates, the authorities said yesterday.

More than 200 reptiles were discovered in water-filled tanks in Mr Boonlue Prasitsom's warehouse in Ang Thong province, central Thailand, during a raid by the Thai nature crime police.

'At first, we didn't expect to find so many lizards, but it turned out to be a lot,' said Inspector Kiattisak Bamrungsawat, deputy commander of the wildlife force. He added that Mr Boonlue was believed to be planning to smuggle the creatures through Laos into China.

The arrest is part of a crackdown on lizard smuggling as Thailand struggles to stem the flow of protected species through its borders.

Conservation group Freeland Foundation said the raid was an important step in an investigation into a criminal network, which the authorities believe is behind the trafficking of a large number of threatened wildlife into China.

'Freeland congratulates the Thai nature crime police for acting swiftly and professionally on a tip-off... while freeing hundreds of wild animals,' said organisation director Steven Galster.

Mr Boonlue had allegedly been poaching lizards from the wild for more than 10 years, the organisation said. He faces a maximum of four years in prison and a 40,000 baht (S$1,670) fine.

Monitor lizards are a common sight in Thailand's waterways, and police said the protected species is poached for export, mainly to China and Vietnam, where it is prized for its meat.

Freeland said both countries are major consumers of South-east Asia's protected reptiles, and the region is a source of wildlife for traffickers supplying a global market.

Thailand is among several countries in the region coming down hard on wildlife smuggling syndicates. Malaysia also passed its Wildlife Conservation Act last August, under which higher fines and stiffer jail sentences for illegal wildlife hunting and trade will be meted out to offenders.

Enforcement raids by the Indonesian authorities have also resulted in the breaking up of one of the country's largest illegal wildlife smuggling operations, according to wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic.


Read more!

Indonesia Sending Apes to ‘Killing Field’: NGO

AFP & Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 17 Feb 11;

More than 1,000 captive orangutans set for release into the wild on Borneo island are being sent into a “killing field” of illegal logging and poaching, conservationists said on Thursday.

Indonesia has reserved 86,450 hectares of forest in Muara Wahau, East Kalimantan province, for the rehabilitation of 1,200 captive big apes over the next four years.

But the independent Center for Orangutan Protection warned that the endangered mammals were being sent to their deaths unless the government also managed to stop illegal logging and poaching, which is rampant in the region.

“Without law enforcement and security guarantees from the government, releasing them to the forest is like sending them to a killing field,” COP chief Hardi Baktiantoro told reporters.

He said local communities were responsible for most of the destruction of flora and fauna in Muara Wahau.

In the last three months of 2010, the COP rescued four orangutans which locals had caught and were offering for sale for up to 2.5 million rupiah ($280) each.

“The forestry ministry should deploy the forestry police to protect orangutans in the wild from poaching and save their habitat from illegal logging,” Baktiantoro said.

Experts say there are about 50,000 to 60,000 orangutans left in the wild, 80 percent of them in Indonesia and the rest in Malaysia.

They are faced with extinction due to poaching and the rapid destruction of their habitat.

This year, the government has issued a permit for the restoration of 86,540 hectares of forest in Muara Wahau district, East Kalimantan, to Restorasi Habitat Orangutan Indonesia, a subsidiary of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation Foundation (BOS).

“Law enforcement is crucial and also tight security because when we saw the areas, there is practically no security at all, which means that companies could just break into [the areas] and destroy orangutan habitat,” said Hardi Baktiantoro, a member of the Center for Orangutan Protection.

Indonesia set to free orangutans into 'killing fields'
AFP Yahoo News 17 Feb 11;

JAKARTA (AFP) – More than 1,000 captive orangutans set for release into the wild on Borneo island are being sent into a "killing field" of illegal logging and poaching, conservationists said Thursday.

Indonesia has reserved 86,450 hectares (214,000 acres) of forest in Muara Wahau, East Kalimantan province, for the rehabilitation of 1,200 captive big apes over the next four years.

But the independent Centre for Orangutan Protection (COP) warned that the endangered mammals were being sent to their deaths unless the government also managed to stop illegal logging and poaching, which is rampant in the region.

"Without law enforcement and security guarantees from the government, releasing them to the forest is like sending them to a killing field," COP chief Hardi Baktiantoro told reporters.

He said local communities were responsible for most of the destruction of flora and fauna in Muara Wahau.

In the last three months of 2010, the COP rescued four orangutans that locals had caught and were offering for sale for up to 2.5 million rupiah ($280) each.

"The forestry ministry should deploy the forestry police to protect orangutans in the wild from poaching and save their habitat from illegal logging," Baktiantoro said.

Forestry ministry conservation chief Darori said the COP's findings would be investigated.

"We will look into the findings. If what they said were true, we will certainly find a better forested location for the orangutans," he told AFP.

Experts say there are about 50,000 to 60,000 orangutans left in the wild, 80 percent of them in Indonesia and the rest in Malaysia.

They are faced with extinction due to poaching and the rapid destruction of their habitat.

Read more!

Environmentalists Say Indonesia's Moratorium on Forest Conversion an Empty Promise

Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 17 Feb 11;

Green activists said on Wednesday that the government’s much-hyped plan for a moratorium on new logging concessions would only apply to forests that were already protected in the first place.

The two-year moratorium on new concessions in peatland and primary forests is part of a bilateral agreement with Norway, in exchange for which Indonesia will receive $1 billion in funding for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD-plus) activities.

In order for the moratorium to be legally binding from its Jan. 1 start date, it must be backed by a presidential decree, which has yet to be issued.

The Civil Society Organization Common Platform, comprising the groups Greenpeace Southeast Asia, the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law and Sawit Watch, a palm oil industry watchdog, said even if enforced, the government’s claim that the moratorium would protect more forested areas was blatantly false.

“The government lied about the moratorium, because based on a map [of the affected forest areas], only 41 million hectares will be protected, but these are already categorized as conservation and protected areas,” said Teguh Surya, head of international liaison and climate justice at Walhi.

“[The moratorium] will be useless, because even without it, [those forests] are automatically protected anyway.”

There are two versions of the draft presidential decree, one submitted by the Forestry Ministry and the other by the presidentially appointed REDD task force.

The ministry’s version states the moratorium should apply only to primary forests and peatlands, while the task force’s version says secondary forests in peat areas should also be included.

The CSO’s newly released “Indicative Indonesian Moratorium Map” shows there are 32.9 million hectares of primary forest, 6.5 million hectares of non-forest peatland and 2.4 million hectares of secondary peat forest, all protected under prevailing regulations.

Kiki Taufik, a geographic information specialist with Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said both versions offered the same thing, though their wording differed.

“It’s just a name game between the two drafts,” he said.

“The ministry wants to save primary forests and peatland, but doesn’t specify what type of peatland. Meanwhile, the task force states it wants to protect primary forests, secondary forests and peatland, but the secondary forests it wants covered are only those in peat areas, so there’s no difference.”

He said the CSO wanted the moratorium to extend to all secondary forests, which account for the remaining 95 million hectares of the country’s forests.

Abetnego Tarigan, director of Sawit Watch, said almost all forested areas in the country were logging areas and categorized as secondary forests.

“The government doesn’t take into consideration a forest’s ability to recover on its own, so there are plenty of areas that have recovered but are still considered secondary forests,” he said.

“This is also why logging permits can be issued for these areas, because they’re still secondary forests even though they’ve recovered.”

Abetnego said incorporating secondary forests into the plan would not paralyze the industry.

“Those protesting about including secondary forests in the moratorium are from the extractive industries, such as mining and monoculture [plantations] because they need to cut down all the trees,” he said.

He also said businesses should fully support a moratorium because it would provide an opportunity to fix the complicated system for issuing concessions.

“It costs them a lot to get permits now, where you have several regulations overlapping one another,” Abetnego said.

“It’s completely wrong to say that we’d lose trillions as a result of the moratorium, because the truth is natural resources aren’t a creative industry but a basic industry. It’s not like software, which needs to be put into use as soon as possible. If we don’t use our natural resources, we can hold on to them for the future.”

Read more!

Rare leatherback sea turtle spotted in Indonesia

(AP) Google News 17 Feb 11;

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Conservationists say they got a rare glimpse of a 6-foot (2-meter) -long leatherback — the world's most endangered sea turtle — together with dozens of eggs in western Indonesia.

Khairul Amra, a member of a local conservation group, said Thursday that the giant turtle was spotted on a beach on Sumatra island over the weekend just before it plunged into the water.

Soon after 65 eggs thought to belong to the leatherback were found in a nest — the third such discovery on the same beach this year.

Leatherbacks, which can grow up to 9 feet (3 meters) long, have roamed the oceans for 100 million years, but the globe-trotting sea turtles today number only around 30,000.

Their biggest threats are commercial fishing and egg hunters.

Read more!

Frog hunt ends: Most still absent

Richard Black BBC News 17 Feb 11;

A mission to discover whether any of 100 amphibian species believed to be extinct are still alive has ended with few successes to report.

The five-month project took researchers to 21 countries; but only four of the targeted 100 were found.

Researchers describe these as "glimmers of hope" in a group of animals severely threatened by changing land use, disease, pollution and climate change.

Particularly galling was the failure to find the golden toad of Costa Rica.

This beautiful and iconic animal has not been seen since 1989 - killed off, it is thought, by the fungal disease chytridiomycosis.

The project team had previously announced the rediscovery of three species - the Mexican cave splayfoot salamander (last seen in 1941), the Mount Nimba reed frog from Ivory Coast (last seen in 1967), and the Omaniundu reed frog from Democratic Republic of Congo (1979).

The only addition to the final list is the Rio Pescado stubfoot toad (Atelopus balios), a critically endangered Ecuadorian species that frequents lowland rainforest streams.

But they did also rediscover by chance a few amphibians not on the original list; and a parallel search in India also turned up some "lost" species, including one found in a rubbish bin.

"Rediscoveries provide reason for hope for these species, but the flip side of the coin is that the vast majority of species that teams were looking for were not found," said Robin Moore, the conservation scientist who conceived the project.

"This is a reminder that we are in the midst of what is being called the 'Sixth Great Extinction', with species disappearing at 100 to 1,000 times the historic rate - and amphibians are really at the forefront of this extinction wave."
'Brilliant colours'

More than 100 scientists took part in the project, which concentrated principally on Africa and South and Central America.

It was funded and managed by the charity Conservation International (CI) and the Amphibian Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The Indian project, co-ordinated by SD Biju from the University of Delhi, found five missing species, including the chalazodes bubble-nest frog (Raorchestes chalazodes) that was last seen in 1874.

It is a striking creature with blue thighs and eyes of gold-flecked black, which lives inside reeds during daytime.

And the Silent Valley tropical frog (Micrixalus thampii) turned up in a rubbish bin at a field station.

"I was so excited to see the Chalazodes bubble-nest frog in life after 136 years," said Dr Biju.

"I have never seen a frog with such brilliant colours in my 25 years of research."

The Indian project is set to continue, as is a parallel mission in Colombia.

Overall, amphibians are the most threatened group of life-forms on the planet, with about two in five species on the internationally-recognised Red List of Threatened Species.

See also Photos: Bubble-nest Frog, Other "Extinct" Species Found on National Geographic News

Read more!

Huge Sydney bat colony in botanic gardens to be evicted

Sydney Morning Herald 17 Feb 11;

A 22,000-strong colony of flying foxes will be evicted from Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens after an animal welfare group failed in its legal bid to allow them to stay.

Bat Advocacy had challenged a 2010 decision by then federal environment minister Peter Garrett to approve the relocation of up to 22,000 individuals of the threatened grey-headed flying fox species.

The Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust made the request on the grounds that the animals were destroying important species of trees and palms.
Advertisement: Story continues below

It plans to disturb the bats using loud industrial noise, a successful ploy used on bats in Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens.

Mr Garrett's approval came with strict conditions, including supervision by an independent observer group with expertise in animal biology and grey-headed flying foxes.

But Bat Advocacy argued in the Federal Court that Mr Garrett had failed to take into account the gardens were a critical roosting habitat, and that he did not consider conflict with humans elsewhere.

Bat Advocacy also argued the minister failed to consider information concerning previous unsuccessful attempts to relocate colonies elsewhere.

In his judgment on Thursday, Federal Court Justice Dennis Cowdroy rejected the applicant's submissions and dismissed the application, saying Mr Garrett had properly considered the issues.

He ordered Bat Advocacy to pay the minister's and the Gardens' costs.

Gardens executive director Tim Entwisle said he was pleased with the outcome.

"This means we can continue monitoring and preparing for the relocation in May 2011," he said in a statement.

"A seasonal peak of more than 22,000 flying foxes is just not sustainable in one of the world's great botanic gardens."

Grey-headed flying foxes are a threatened species protected under both state and national environment law, and play a crucial role in pollination and seed dispersal in native forests.

But the Gardens said that to date the bats had destroyed 27 mature trees and more than 20 palms since they took up residence there 20 years ago.

Another 300 trees were at risk, Dr Entwisle said.

Several sites have been identified as possible homes for the bats, including existing flying fox camps at Ku-ring-gai, Cabramatta and Parramatta.

Botany Bay National Park and Lane Cove National Park were also named, although the Gardens has said it could not be certain whether the bats would settle in any specific location.

The conditions imposed on the dispersal activity include that it must happen within a limited timeframe to avoid disrupting the camp during the sensitive breeding and roosting season.

The Gardens will be responsible for the project, including ensuring the colony relocates to an appropriate site, and will be accountable for any safety risks.

Comment is being sought from Bat Advocacy.


Read more!

UK forest Sale Plan Scrapped After Outcry

Mohammed Abbas PlanetArk 18 Feb 11;

The British government on Thursday scrapped its controversial plans to sell the bulk of England's publicly owned forests after intense public opposition.

"I am sorry, we got this one wrong. But we have listened to peoples' concerns," farming and environment minister Caroline Spelman told parliament, to jeers from opponents.

A consultation into the proposed sale of large swathes of historic woodland was met with hostility by countryside and environment groups who feared a sale would damage nature and restrict public access.

The Forestry Commission currently owns 258,000 hectares of land -- about 18 percent of total English woodland -- and the government had been taking soundings on selling 85 percent. Thursday's announcement means that plan has been scrapped.

A separate commitment to sell the remaining 15 percent is on hold while ministers review criteria of the sale.

The government had planned to sell woodland on 150-year leases to the private sector to help it tackle a record budget deficit, now at about 10 percent of national output.

Opponents of the sale hailed the cancellation as a victory while Labour accused the coalition of the biggest U-turn since it was formed after last May's general election.

To gleeful shouts of "timber!" from the opposition benches in parliament, Prime Minister David Cameron admitted on Wednesday that he was not happy with the planned privatization.

David Babbs, of campaign group 38 Degrees, said: "Some say signing petitions and emailing (MPs) never changes anything. But it did this time. This is what people-power looks like, and over half a million of us are feeling very proud."

(Editing by Steve Addison)

Forest sale axed: Caroline Spelman says 'I'm sorry'
BBC News 17 Feb 11;

Controversial plans to sell 258,000 hectares of state-owned woodland in England have been abandoned.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman told MPs the government had "got this one wrong", as she announced the current consultation was being halted.

Instead, it is understood a new panel of experts will be set up to look at public access and biodiversity within the publicly owned woodland.

Labour said it showed the government was "incompetent" and "out of touch".

The plans were intended to give the private sector, community and charitable groups greater involvement in woodlands by encouraging a "mixed model" of ownership.

'Wrong impression'

But critics argued it could threaten public access, biodiversity and result in forests being used for unsuitable purposes.

The public outcry over the plans led to half a million people reportedly signing a petition against the sell-off.

In a statement to MPs, Mrs Spelman announced the policy was being removed from the Public Bodies Bill currently going through Parliament.

She said: Ms Spelman said: "I would first like to say that I take full responsibility for the situation that brings me before the House today.

"Let me make it clear that we have always placed the highest priority on preserving access and protecting our forests.

"But the forestry clauses in the Public Bodies Bill, published well before we launched the consultation, gave the wrong impression as to the government's intentions."
'My choice'

Mrs Spelman added: "I'm sorry. We got this one wrong, but we have listened to people's concerns."

She also said: "One of the things we teach our children to do is say sorry. It is not a humiliation; it is my choice."

David Cameron hinted on Wednesday that he was backing away from the policy. Asked during Prime Minister's Questions whether he was happy with the plans, he said no.

Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh welcomed the U-turn, saying to Mrs Spelman: "Can I begin by welcoming your full and frank apology to this House and to the nation on getting this so very wrong. I am sure the last 48 hours have not been easy for you."

Labour leader Ed Miliband MP said: "Virtually every person in the country could see selling off our forests was a foolish and short-sighted policy but they went ahead regardless. Now they are panicked into a retreat hours after Mr Cameron said they would carry on with their consultation.

"This is a chaotic and incompetent way to run government."
'No win situation'

Former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine said he was "rather surprised" by the climbdown as there was little evidence that forests were better run in the public sector than in private hands.

"I know of no argument that says a government department is more likely to run a forest better than the National Trust," he told an edition of BBC One's Question Time to be broadcast later on Thursday.

Lord Heseltine, who advises David Cameron on regional economic issues, said ministers could not "win" in such a situation as "if you don't change your mind you are accused of being obstinate and pig-headed and if you do change you mind you are accused of being weak".

He added: "I think it does show a degree of strength as long as you don't do it too often because then you become prone to making mistakes."

The government is allowed to sell off 15% of England's woodlands in each four-year public spending period.

The current planned 15% sale of about 40,000 hecates is on hold while criteria are examined to ensure public benefits are protected, ministers say, but it is due to go ahead over the next four years - raising an estimated £100m.

Labour also expressed concern over job cuts due at the Forestry Commission, which will see it lose a quarter of its workforce.

Read more!

UN sounds alarm on ocean plastic and pollution

Yahoo News 17 Feb 11;

PARIS (AFP) – Tonnes of throw-away plastic and massive runoff from chemical fertilizer are choking the world's oceans, the UN's environmental watchdog warned Thursday.

Taken together, the two sources of pollution threaten biodiversity, harm water quality, poison fish stocks and undermine coastal tourism, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said in its annual Year Book report.

Released ahead of a key meeting next week of environment ministers in Nairobi, the report highlights the need to protect marine environments already rendered fragile by over-exploitation and acidification caused by climate change.

Only better waste management and a coordinated shift towards cleaner engines of economic growth can insure the future health of the planet's aquatic commons, it said.

"The phosphorus fertilizer and marine plastic stories bring into sharp focus the urgent need ... to catalyze a global transition to a resource-efficient Green Economy," UNEP executive director Achim Steiner said.

Recent research suggests that both problems are more widespread -- and deleterious -- than once thought.

In the United States alone, for example, the costs associated with phosphorus pollution are estimated at more than two billion dollars a year, with the global tally in the tens of billions.

Some three dozen countries mine the phosphate rock found in growth-enhancing fertilizers. While a finite resource, supplies are not about to run out -- at current production rates, supplies will last an estimated 300 to 400 years.

Use of chemical-based fertilizers increased worldwide by 600 percent during the second half of the 20th century, but precisely how much flows into the environment is not known.

One study estimates that 22 million tonnes of phosphorus wind up in marine environments each year, while concentrations in freshwater and land have grown by at least 75 percent since 1960.

Recycling waste water in the developing world's mega-cities could help stem that flow, the report said.

Marine plastics have also emerged as a growing threat, the Year Book warns.

Scientists have long observed that birds and aquatic animals can become entagled in plastic filaments, causing them to drown, or mistake them for food such as squid or jellyfish.

But a new concern is microplastics, tiny particles smaller that five millimetres in length discharged as pellets by industry or broken down by waves and sunlight.

Recent research suggests that microplastics could be moving through the food chain, becoming more toxic along the way.

Just how much plastic has been discarded into the sea in unknown, but consumption of plastic products continues to rise worldwide.

In North America and western Europe, per capita annual use stands at about 100 kilos (220 pounds), an amount like to increase by 40 percent within five years. The developing world only consumes at a fifth that level, but is catching up.

The report calls for stepped up recycling efforts.

"If plastic is treated as a valuable resource rather than just a waste product," it would create stronger incentives for collection and reprocessing, it argues.

UNEP Year Book: Phosphorus and Plastic Pollute World's Oceans
Environment News Service 17 Feb 11;

NAIROBI, Kenya, February 17, 2011 (ENS) - Enormous amounts of the fertilizer phosphorus are discharged into oceans due to inefficiencies in farming and a failure to recycle wastewater, the United Nations Environment Programme warns in its 2011 Year Book released today.

An emerging concern over plastics pollution of the oceans is identified in the Year Book as "persistent, bio-accumulating and toxic substances" associated with plastic marine waste.

Research indicates that tiny pieces of plastic are adsorbing and concentrating from the seawater and sediments chemicals from polychlorinated biphenols, PCBs, to the pesticide DDT.

"Many of these pollutants, including PCBs, cause chronic effects such as endocrine disruption, mutagenicity and carcinogenicity," states the 2011 Year Book.

UNEP released the Year Book 2011 ahead of the annual gathering of the world's environment ministers that opens on Monday in Nairobi.

Experts cited in the book say that both phosphorus discharge and new concerns over plastics underline the need for better management of the world's wastes and improved patterns of consumption and production.

"The phosphorus and marine plastics stories bring into sharp focus the urgent need to bridge scientific gaps but also to catalyze a global transition to a resource-efficient Green Economy in order to realize sustainable development and address poverty," said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

"Whether it is phosphorus, plastics or any one of the myriad of challenges facing the modern world, there are clearly inordinate opportunities to generate new kinds of employment and new kinds of more efficient industries," Steiner said.

Demand for phosphorus has soared during the 20th century, and the Year Book 2011 highlighted the nutrient in part because of the heated debate over whether or not finite reserves of phosphate rock will soon run out.

An estimated 35 countries produce phosphate rock. The top 10 countries with the highest reserves are: Algeria, China, Israel, Jordan, Russia, South Africa, Syria and the United States.

New phosphate mines have been commissioned in countries such as Australia, Peru and Saudi Arabia and countries and companies are looking further afield, even to the seabed off the coast of Namibia.

The Year Book recommends a global phosphorus assessment to more precisely map phosphorus flows in the environment and predict levels of economically viable reserves.

"While there are commercially exploitable amounts of phosphate rock in several countries, those with no domestic reserves could be particularly vulnerable in the case of global shortfalls," the Year Book notes.

There is an enormous opportunity to recover phosphorus by recyling wastewater, the Year Book advises. Up to 70 percent of this water is laden with nutrients and fertilizers such as phosphorus, which currently is discharged untreated into rivers and coastal areas.

Heavy doses of nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen increase the risk of harmful algal blooms, which can prompt the closure of fisheries and swimming areas.

Other measures to reduce discharges include cutting erosion and the loss of topsoil where large quantities of phosphorus are associated with soil particles and excess fertilizers are stored after application.

The Year Book advises that further research is needed on the way phosphorus travels through the environment to maximize its use in agriculture and livestock production and cut waste, while reducing environmental impacts on rivers and oceans.

Fertilizer and plastic pollution are main emerging issues in 2011 UNEP Year Book
UNEP Year Book 2011 Spotlights Urgent Need for Fundamental Green Economy Shift
26th Session of UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum 21-24 February
UNEP 17 Feb 11;

Nairobi, 17 February 2011 Massive amounts of phosphorus—a valuable fertilizer needed to feed a growing global population—are being lost to the oceans as result of inefficiencies in farming and a failure to recycle wastewater.

Phosphorus pollution, along with other uncontrolled discharges, such as nitrogen and sewage, are linked with a rise in algal blooms which in turn harm water quality, poison fish stocks and undermine coastal tourism.

In the United States alone, the costs are estimated to be running at over US$2 billion a year, indicating that globally and annually the damage may run into the tens of billion of dollars.

At the same time there is also growing concern over the impact of billions of pieces of plastic, both large and small, on the health of the global marine environment.

New research suggests that the plastic broken down in the oceans into small fragments —alongside pellets discharged by industry—may absorb a range of toxic chemicals linked to cancer and impacts the reproductive processes of humans and wildlife.

Experts say both phosphorus discharges and new concerns over plastics underline the need for better management of the world's wastes and improved patterns of consumption and production.

The two issues are spotlighted as among key issues —deemed persistent, re-emerging or newly emerging— in the United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) Year Book 2011 which is being presented today in advance of the annual gathering of the world's environment ministers opening on 21 February.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: "Science is central for assisting governments to prioritize action on persistent and emerging challenges—indeed emerging issues will be a key theme over the next 15 months as ministers prepare for the crucial Rio+20 conference in Brazil next year."

"The phosphorus and marine plastics stories bring into sharp focus the urgent need to bridge scientific gaps but also to catalyze a global transition to a resource-efficient Green Economy in order to realize sustainable development and address poverty," he added.

'Starting here¬-at UNEP's Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum—we will begin global and regional consultations on a short-list of key scientific challenges that need to be addressed in order to aid that transition and assist governments at Rio+20," said Mr. Steiner.

"The focus will also be on the solutions and opportunities. Whether it is phosphorus, plastics or any one of the myriad of challenges facing the modern world, there are clearly inordinate opportunities to generate new kinds of employment and new kinds of more efficient industries," he added.

"Ones that bring more intelligent management, a recycling imperative to transforming waste and its environmental and health impacts from a serious problem into a valuable resource and keep humanity's footprint within planetary boundaries," he added.

Phosphorus—the Waste of a Precious Agricultural Resource

The UNEP Year Book 2011 has highlighted phosphorus, demand for which has rocketed during the 20th century, in part because of the heated debate over whether or not finite reserves of phosphate rock will soon run out.

An estimated 35 countries produce phosphate rock with the top ten countries having the highest reserves being Algeria, China, Israel, Jordan, Russia, South Africa, Syria and the United States.

New phosphate mines have been commissioned in countries such as Australia, Peru and Saudi Arabia and countries and companies are looking further afield, including on the seabed off the coast of Namibia.

Some researchers are suggesting that the consumption of phosphorus globally is in the medium to long term unsustainable and that peak production, with a decline afterwards, could occur in the 21st century.

Others disagree. The International Fertilizer Development Centre recently revised upwards estimates of reserves from around 16 billion tonnes to 60 billion tonnes—at current production rates, these could last 300 to 400 years. The United States Geological Survey also recently adjusted their estimates to 65 billion tonnes. Nevertheless, proponents of the peak phosphorus theory argue that even if the timeline may vary, the fundamental issue, that the supply of cheap and easily accessible phosphorus is ultimately limited, will not change.

The Year Book calls for a global phosphorus assessment to more precisely map phosphorus flows in the environment and predict levels of economically viable reserves.

According to the Year Book, the global use of fertilizers that contain phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium increased by 600 per cent between 1950 and 2000.

It adds that population growth in developing countries and increased levels of dairy and meat in the global diet are likely to increase fertilizer use further.

"While there are commercially exploitable amounts of phosphate rock in several countries, those with no domestic reserves could be particularly vulnerable in the case of global shortfalls," the Year Book notes.

Further research is also needed on the way phosphorus travels through the environment in order to maximize its use in agriculture and livestock production and cut wastage while reducing environmental impacts including on rivers and oceans.

• Currently humans consume—via food—around only a fifth of the phosphorus mined with the rest retained in soils or released to the aquatic environment.

• Over the last 50 years concentrations of phosphorus in freshwaters and land has grown by at least 75 per cent.

• The estimated flow of phosphorus to the marine environment from the land is now running at around 22 million tonnes a year.

The Year Book points to the enormous opportunity of recycling wastewater: in the mega-cities of the developing world up to 70 per cent of this water—laden with nutrients and fertilizers such as phosphorus—is discharged untreated into rivers and coastal areas.

• Sweden, for example, aims to recycle 60 per cent of the phosphorus in municipal wastewater by 2015.

Other measures to reduce discharges include cutting erosion and the loss of topsoil where large quantities of phosphorus are associated with soil particles and excess fertilizers are stored after application.

• In Africa soil losses are running at close to 0.50 tonnes per hectare a year and in Asia it is even higher, at almost 1.70 tonnes per hectare per year.

Land management measures include contour ploughing; contour planting of hedgerows on steep slopes and applying mulches and planting cover crops and other vegetation on land.

Boosting recycling rates at phosphate rock mines can also assist in conserving stocks and reducing discharges to local water systems.

Marine Plastics—A New Toxic Time Bomb?

The second emerging issue highlighted in the Year Book 2011 is a need for more intensified research on the impact of plastics entering the oceans.

Scientists are becoming concerned not only about the direct damage to wildlife, but the potential toxicity of some kinds of materials called microplastics.

These are tiny pieces smaller than five millimeters in length discharged as pellets by industry or formed as a result of bigger pieces of plastic broken down by, for example, wave action and sunlight.

The exact quantities of plastics, including microplastics entering or forming in the oceans from the land-based discharge—but also from shipping and fishing boats— is unknown.

What is known is that per capita consumption of plastics, from packaging to plastic bags and from industry to consumer goods, has been rising sharply.

• In North America and Western Europe each person now uses around 100kg of plastic materials annually—this is likely to increase to 140kg by 2015.

• People in rapidly developing countries in Asia each use around 20kg of plastic per year—this is set to grow to about 36kg by 2015.

Currently recycling and re-use rates vary enormously even among developed countries.

In Europe recycling rates of plastics for energy generation ranged from 25 per cent or less in several European countries to over 80 per cent in Norway and Switzerland.

Previous concerns about plastics included damage and death of wildlife after becoming entangled.

There is also concern about wildlife eating plastics often in mistake for food. Albatrosses, for example, may mistake red plastic for squid, similarly turtles confuse plastic bags for jellyfish. Young sea birds of some species may suffer poor nutrition if they feed on too much plastic, mistaken as food.

But the Year Book flags a new and emerging concern termed "persistent, bio-accumulating and toxic substances" associated with plastic marine waste.

Research indicates that the small and tiny pieces of plastic are adsorbing and concentrating from the seawater and sediments a wide range of chemicals from polychlorinated biphenols (PCBs) to the pesticide DDT.

"Many of these pollutants including PCBs cause chronic effects such as endocrine disruption, mutagenicity and carcinogenicity," reports the Year Book.

"Some scientists are concerned that these persistent contaminants could eventually end up in the food chain, although there is great uncertainty about the degree to which this poses a threat to human health and ecosystem health," it adds.

Species such as swordfish and seals—which are at the top of the food chain—are cited as potentially vulnerable. These are also species consumed by humans.

A recent survey of PCB concentrations in pellets washed ashore has been carried out at 56 beaches in nearly 30 countries.

• The highest concentrations were found in plastic pellets in the United States, Western Europe and Japan—the lowest in tropical Asia and southern Africa

The Year Book chronicles a range of existing and new initiatives, guidelines and laws aimed at reducing plastic and other waste discharges.

These range from the UN's International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships to UNEP's Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities.

The Year Book calls for better enforcement of such rules, better consumer awareness and behavioral changes and improved support for national and community-based initiatives.

There is also an urgent need for improved and more innovative monitoring of plastic throughout the marine environment given that real gaps remain in understanding the ultimate fate of these materials.

There is evidence that some plastics are not floating but sinking and piling up on the seabed.

"Plastic debris has been observed on the ocean floor from the depths of the Fram Strait in the North Atlantic to deepwater canyons off the Mediterranean coast—much of the plastic that has entered the North Sea is thought to reside on the seabed," says the Year Book.

It also calls for phasing in changes in the collection, recycling and re-use of plastics. "If plastic is treated as a valuable resource, rather than just a waste product, any opportunities to create a secondary value for the material will provide economic incentives for collection and reprocessing," the Year Book points out.

Notes to Editors

The UNEP Year Book 2011 is available at

Read more!

U.N. Biodiversity Panel Could Guide On Trade, Farms

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 18 Feb 11;

A U.N. scientific panel meant to help safeguard animal and plant species should help guide governments with practical studies of issues such as trade, farming or energy, experts said on Thursday.

They said the panel, whose role has not yet been clearly defined, should also do more to value nature. Past studies have estimated, for instance, that the world's coral reefs provide annual services worth $172 billion, from fisheries to tourism.

"Knowing likely consequences of alternative policy options is critical to the choice of the best strategy," four leading experts wrote in the journal Science, urging the panel to help predict the impact of government choices on nature.

Environment ministers from around the world will meet in Nairobi next week to discuss how to set up the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), inspired by a U.N. panel on climate change.

The panel of climate experts focuses largely on impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, often over a century and on a global scale. The authors urged a more practical, shorter-term focus for the IPBES, often looking at regional effects.

"The IPBES should be given rather more specific policies and programs," lead author Charles Perrings of Arizona State University told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Governments agreed last year to set up IPBES after warnings that the world is facing the fastest pace of extinctions since the dinosaurs vanished 65 million years ago, hit by factors such as expanding cities, farms, pollution and climate change.

Perrings said studies might be, for instance, of the impacts of stricter world trade rules to try to slow a spread of insect pests, or of the effects on nature of setting aside more cropland to produce biofuels.


In recent years, efforts to promote biofuels had often fallen short of hopes for curbing greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels and contributed to driving up world food prices. Biofuels could also add pressures for deforestation.

" stimulate biofuels production in the United States moved too fast," Harold Mooney, of Stanford University and one of the authors, told Reuters. A scientific assessment in advance might have rung alarm bells.

Perrings said that scientists still knew little about the value of natural services despite a U.N. backed study, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity.

"It will be a critical part of IPBES," he said of efforts to value nature. One study, for instance, showed that planting mangroves along a coastline in Vietnam cost $1.1 million but saved $7.3 million a year in maintaining dykes.

Governments agreed at a meeting in Japan last year to stem the loss of animal and plant species with a sweeping plan of targets for 2020.

Read more!

Governments gear up to fight environmental crimes

Experts call for better coordination to curb trade in illegal products
Nirmal Ghosh, Straits Times 18 Feb 11;

BANGKOK: Last November, detectives from India's Directorate of Revenue Intelligence seized an innocent-looking shipment of gas cylinders that had arrived in New Delhi from the Middle East. They were labelled as R-134A, a gas used in refrigeration that does not deplete the ozone layer.

But the enforcers had received a tip-off. The 1,139 cylinders, weighing 13.6kg each, did not contain R-134A. Instead, they contained R-22, an ozone-depleting gas restricted under the Montreal Protocol - a global treaty that aims to phase out ozone-destroying substances.

The haul in India was just the latest in a series. A coordinated global drive between May and November last year yielded 7,500 cylinders containing 108 tonnes of illegal ozone-depleting substances, and more than 650 shipments of goods containing outlawed ozone-depleting chemicals.

Ozone-depleting substances include a range of chemicals used in refrigeration, foam and fumigation.

The smuggling of cheap but outlawed chemicals is expected to rise, as the Montreal Protocol mandates their substitution with more ozone-friendly but expensive substances, making the profits from illegal trade substantial.

Mr Atul Bagai, the United Nations Environment Programme's senior coordinator for the Asia-Pacific, warned in an interview: 'Illegal trade could undermine the success of the Montreal Protocol and delay recovery of the ozone layer.'

The ozone layer is a thin film of ozone gas in the stratosphere that protects life on Earth from harmful solar radiation.

The smuggling of illegal or restricted ozone-depleting substances is among a range of transnational environmental crimes that also include illegal trade in plants, wildlife and hazardous waste, and governments are scrambling to keep pace with the thriving trade.

To address one aspect - the illegal wildlife trade, which, according to a recent estimate, is worth around US$10 billion (S$12.8 billion) a year globally - eight South Asian countries last month set up the South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (Sawen), which links enforcement agencies across the region, to coordinate anti-smuggling efforts.

But whether the contraband is ozone-depleting substances or illegal wildlife, enforcers have a challenging job. Shipments are usually either concealed among legitimate goods or mislabelled, and technical skills and specialised equipment are often required to spot and identify ozone-depleting chemicals, products from endangered species and hazardous waste.

Governments also tend to allocate more resources to other types of crime. At the India-Nepal border, for instance, Customs and other enforcement agencies focus mostly on the smuggling of drugs, gold and counterfeit currency notes.

Analysts and enforcement experts in Asia say information sharing should be ramped up considerably to curb growing international environmental crime.

Sawen, for instance, is an effort to link enforcement agencies more closely in an increasingly open region. There are hopes that it could, in future, formally link up with a similar network among the 10 Asean countries that was set up in 2005.

Mr Samir Sinha, head of the regional office of wildlife crime-monitoring organisation Traffic, told The Straits Times: 'This is a very major step, an essential piece of a collective effort to conserve a region of outstanding biological diversity.'

Such networks could help governments counter the opening up of land routes between South Asia, South-east Asia and China, a process that offers new opportunities for transboundary crime, from human trafficking to commodity smuggling.

But observers note that while occasional seizures of contraband make the news, they remain just 'blips' in overall enforcement terms.

Environmental crime officer Justin Gosling from Interpol's Bangkok office noted: 'When an enforcement agency seizes the commodity and makes perhaps a minor arrest, the commodity doesn't reach the market. But often, the person who organised the shipment is not prosecuted, and you still have a market out there.'

He added: 'The key is that a network has to act as a network, not just a club one belongs to. Most countries operate within their borders, but we have to target criminals who operate across borders.'

To make a real impact, it is essential for enforcement agencies to share information, he said. 'Having accurate information is like having a map, compared to walking in the dark.'

Read more!

Reducing poverty by growing fuel and food

New FAO study shows integrated food and energy crops work for poor farmers
FAO 17 Feb 11;

17 February 2011, Rome - Producing food and energy side-by-side may offer one of the best formulas for boosting countries' food and energy security while simultaneously reducing poverty, according to a new FAO report published today.

The study, "Making Integrated Food-Energy Systems (IFES) Work for People and Climate - An Overview", draws on specific examples from Africa, Asia and Latin America as well as from some developed countries to show how constraints to successfully integrating production of food and energy crops can be overcome.

Benefiting smallholders

"Farming systems that combine food and energy crops present numerous benefits to poor rural communities," said Alexander Müller, FAO Assistant Director-General for Natural Resources.

"For example, poor farmers can use leftovers from rice crops to produce bioenergy, or in an agroforestry system can use debris of trees used to grow crops like fruits, coconuts or coffee beans for cooking," he explained, noting that other types of food and energy systems use byproducts from livestock for biogas production.

"With these integrated systems farmers can save money because they don't have to buy costly fossil fuel, nor chemical fertilizer if they use the slurry from biogas production. They can then use the savings to buy necessary inputs to increase agricultural productivity, such as seeds adapted to changing climatic conditions — an important factor given that a significant increase in food production in the next decades will have to be carried out under conditions of climate change. All this increases their resilience, hence their capacity to adapt to climate change," said Müller.

IFES are also beneficial to women as they can eliminate the need to leave their crops to go in search of firewood. Women in developing countries can also significantly lower health risks by reducing the use of traditional wood fuel and cooking devices — 1.9 million people worldwide die each year due to exposure to smoke from cooking stoves.

Benefiting the climate

Integrating food and energy production can also be an effective approach to mitigating climate change, especially emissions stemming from land use change. By combining food and energy production, IFES reduce the likelihood that land will be converted from food to energy production, since one needs less land to produce food and energy.

Additionally, implementing IFES often leads to increased land and water productivity, therefore reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing food security.

Generating more cash

In the Democratic Republic of Congo an agro-forestry IFES is currently being implemented on a large-scale. The 100 000 hectare Mampu plantation, located about 140 km east of Kinsasha, combines food crops and acacia forests, enabling farmers to grow high yielding cassava and other crops at the same time that they process wood into charcoal.

Total charcoal production from the plantation currently runs from 8 000 to 12 000 tonnes per year, while farmers produce 10 000 tonnes of cassava, 1 200 tonnes of maize and six tonnes of honey annually. Each farmer, using 1.5 hectare of land generates an income of about $9 000 per year ($750 per month). In comparison, a taxi driver in Kinshasa earns between $100 and $200 per month.

In Viet Nam, an IFES programme combines crop, livestock and fish production with the generation of "biogas" used for cooking. In addition to providing them with fuel, the programme has allowed farmers to save money by replacing chemical fertilizers with the compost generated from the production of biogas. This enabled farmers to earn at least three to five times more income compared to what they derived from growing two rice crops per year over the same area.

"Promoting the advantages of IFES and improving the policy and institutional environment for such systems should become a priority," said Olivier Dubois, an FAO energy expert. "FAO is well placed to coordinate these efforts by providing knowledge and technical support for IFES implementation."

Enhancing IFES practices will contribute to the progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), including MDG 1 to end poverty and hunger and MDG 7 on sustainable natural resource management, FAO said.

Read more!

Vietnam: Comprehensive climate change strategy a ‘matter of life and death'

Vietnam News 17 Feb 11;

HA NOI — Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung asked relevant agencies to rapidly complete and publish the latest climate change and rising sea level scenarios for likely affected localities.

The PM was speaking to members of the Steering Board of the National Target Programme (NTP) on Climate Change in the capital city yesterday.

That was the second time the National Steering Board had met to discuss orientations and plans for the implementation of the NTP for the 2011-15 period.

It is forecast that Viet Nam is one of several developing countries that will be seriously affected by climate change, particularly rising sea levels.

Climate change will seriously affect people's livelihoods, the environment and infrastructure as well as the gains Viet Nam has achieved in poverty reduction in recent years.

As a proactive response to climate change, Viet Nam ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol in 2008, with the country adopting its own NTP.

Viet Nam has successfully mobilised more than US$1.2 billion from international donors for activities in response to climate change. So far funding of about $1.3 billion has been committed or is in the process of negotiation with international donors for the NTP.

During their discussions, members of the steering board agreed to focus on drafting legal documents in response to climate change while reviewing the contents of the NTP. The meeting focused on immediate points of action.

They also agreed on the need to have international donors involved in the programme's activities and management unit, with specific tasks assigned to each locality and agency.

"In the comprehensive strategy on climate change and rising sea levels we have to highlight the importance of the issue – a matter of life or death of the nation," said Dung adding "Having a good strategy will guide us developing action plans to ensure the NTP is successfully executed."

He asked all sectors and localities to make best use of their internal resources while mobilising external support to invest in projects to respond to climate change and the sea level rises.

He ordered the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to co-ordinate with other ministries, sectors and localities to specify activities that must be urgently undertaken to cope with the negative impact of climate change, including the reduction of the greenhouse gases. — VNS

Read more!

Governments To Debate Kyoto Climate Dilemma

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 18 Feb 11;

Governments are looking at ways to keep the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol going beyond 2012 in some form to defuse a standoff between rich and poor nations that threatens efforts to tackle global warming.

Negotiators from almost 200 nations will meet in Bangkok from March 3-8, after side-stepping the Kyoto issue at their last meeting in Mexico in December.

"There is some creative thinking going on" about Kyoto's future, said Jennifer Morgan, director of the climate and energy program of the Washington-based World Resources Institute.

The Kyoto Protocol obliges almost 40 industrialized nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions and is meant to underpin carbon trading, but existing curbs expire on December 31, 2012 and developed and developing nations are at odds over its future.

The U.N.'s climate chief, Christiana Figueres, said early this month the world needed an "intermediate solution" for Kyoto -- whose text says it will be extended beyond 2012 -- since demands by rich and poor nations are diametrically opposed.

Japan, Russia and Canada insist they will not extend cuts in greenhouse gases under Kyoto and want all top emitters, led by China and the United States, to agree a new treaty beyond 2012.

Emerging nations, led by China and India, say rich nations must extend Kyoto to show leadership in combating climate change and averting what the U.N. panel of climate scientists says will be more floods, heatwaves, droughts and rising sea levels.

Kyoto obliges cuts in greenhouse gas emissions averaging at least 5.2 percent below 1990 levels during the period 2008-12. The United States is the only rich nation outside Kyoto and emerging nations have no binding goals.


Experts say all intermediate solutions have drawbacks.

One option is to preserve elements of Kyoto, such as a mechanism that promotes carbon-cutting investments in developing nations, while allowing each rich nation to set its own cuts in greenhouse gas emissions beyond 2012.

Another is to extend existing emissions cuts under Kyoto, perhaps until 2015, by when it may be clearer if a legally binding treaty is possible. But prospects for a binding deal have faded since a U.N. summit in 2009 fell short.

A radical idea is to revive an "Article 10," rejected by developing nations in 1997 when Kyoto was agreed, that would let developing nations list "voluntary commitments" to curb their rising greenhouse gas emissions as part of the text.

Or the European Union and other backers of Kyoto might push ahead and persuade Japan and others to commit to new, tougher emissions goals under an extended protocol. A continued small Kyoto group is likely to face calls to impose trade barriers on cheaper energy-intensive imports.

Or Kyoto might be abandoned and replaced by a new deal, as urged by Japan and others. That looks an unlikely outcome.


For 2011, governments want to focus on details of a deal to set up a Green Climate Fund, measures to combat deforestation and ways to adapt to climate change, as agreed in Cancun, Mexico in December.

They also agreed to a goal of limiting the rise in global temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) above pre-industrial times. The United Nations says pledges so far for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are inadequate to reach that goal.

"In Cancun, the U.N. negotiations took their hand off the self-destruct button. That button is Kyoto and legally binding emissions targets," said Jonathan Grant, director of carbon markets and climate policy at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

"The problem is that some developing countries are insistent on legally binding targets," he said. "The uncertainty from the United Nations talks filters to uncertainty at the EU level. Combined with fraud in the market, it's knocking the confidence in new investment."

In a cyber attack on some European Union carbon registries last month, carbon permits worth about 50 million euros ($67.66 million) were stolen.

A big problem with designing Kyoto is that major emitter the United States is not a participant. Former President George W. Bush said Kyoto wrongly omitted curbs on greenhouse gas emissions for developing nations and would cost U.S. jobs.

Hermann Ott, a member of the German Bundestag for the Green Party and author of a book about Kyoto, said one option was to let countries work at different speeds. "The United States won't be part of a treaty for 10 or 15 years," he said.

President Barack Obama failed last year to get the U.S. Senate to agree to cuts in emissions.

(Additional reporting by Krittivas Mukherjee in New Delhi; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Read more!