Best of our wild blogs: 19 Feb 11

Tue 22 Feb 2011: 5pm- Bosco Chan on “Conservation in Action: A journey in densely populated South China” from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

Photography Competition: Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters through My Lens from Green Drinks Singapore

Winds collapse trees at Mandai Road and other areas in Singapore from Habitatnews

Life History of the Psyche
from Butterflies of Singapore

Javan Mynas harassing a monitor lizard
from Bird Ecology Study Group and Feeding behaviour of herons: 4. Little Egret

A Safari to Cyrene with Coastal Parks
from wild shores of singapore and Hard at work on Cyrene

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No environmental impact from current Singapore desalination plant

Regular monitoring at new desalination plant
Letter from Tan Quee Hong Director Pollution Control Department National Environment Agency and Young Joo Chye Director, Policy and Planning PUB, the national water agency
Today Online 19 Feb 11;

The first desalination plant has been in operation for more than five years (since 2005) and monitoring has shown no environmental impact or change in seawater quality due to the desalination plant.

WE refer to the letter "Keeping abreast of green issues a must" (Feb 11).

The upcoming desalination plant at Tuas is the latest water supply infrastructure project carried out by the national water agency, PUB, under a Design, Build, Own Operate scheme, to expand Singapore's local water sources.

When completed, the plant will add another 70 imperial million gallons (or 318,500 cubic metres) of desalinated water a day to the nation's water supply.

Increasing the desalination capacity will further enhance resilience and reliability of Singapore's water supply.

The desalination plant will take in seawater to produce potable water using the reverse osmosis process.

After freshwater is drawn out, the concentrated residual seawater, which contains the natural components such as iron, suspended solids and boron, is returned to the sea.

At the outfall location, the diffusers of the desalination plant will ensure that the discharge stream is diluted to normal seawater levels after the 10m mixing zone.

The first desalination plant has been in operation for more than five years (since 2005) and monitoring has shown no environmental impact or change in seawater quality due to the desalination plant.

As with the existing desalination plant, the seawater quality around the new plant will be monitored regularly throughout the construction and operation of the upcoming desalination plant.

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Storm flattens section of Mandai forest

Tree fall in 1.2km-long, 40ha swathe may be largest in a decade here
Grace Chua Straits Times 19 Feb 11;

STRONG winds from last Friday's storm may have blown over some trees and branches in Mandai Road, but they wreaked far greater damage away from the public thoroughfare.

A 40ha, 1.2km-long swathe of trees in the secondary forest along the edge of Upper Seletar Reservoir - about 10,000 to 20,000 trees and saplings, going by a very rough estimate - also toppled or were damaged.

It was perhaps the largest tree fall in a decade here.

Mr Wong Tuan Wah, director of conservation at the National Parks Board (NParks), said: 'We've had people working in Mandai for 30 years who say this is the first time they've seen such a thing.'

The storm was the result of land areas heating up and pulling winds in towards the island, said the National Environment Agency, which added that such storms can happen any time of the year.

The Meteorological Service equipment nearest the site, in Sembawang, measured winds of up to 77.8kmh just before 5pm; across the island, maximum gusts recorded ranged from 10kmh to 61.2kmh.

But there are some who think the winds that cut through the thick stand of full-grown hardwoods could have been stronger, perhaps up to 100kmh.

'This is phenomenal. It's like someone took a blade and cut through the trees,' said landscaping specialist Veera Sekaran, who viewed the damage on Thursday.

'It's like something out of The X-Files,' he added, referring to the sci-fi television series.

The trees along Mandai Road brought down last Friday blocked two of the three lanes in the direction of the Singapore Zoo, leaving NParks and its contractors to clean up and check on other trees lining the road and a cycling path there.

As for the damaged forest, the trees will be replanted, and the area given a year to regenerate, said Mr Wong.

Tree fall in natural areas is not uncommon, he noted. Trees in an area of about 9ha fell three months ago in Chestnut Avenue, and about 200 trees fell in Jurong Country Club in 2009.

The last time that a tree fall close to the magnitude of the one in Mandai took place was a decade ago, in the Upper Peirce area.

Trees in parks, nature reserves and along roads are inspected yearly or so for structural weaknesses and poor health, but checks were stepped up in the middle of last year following severe weather.

Last weekend, Nature Society member Tony O'Dempsey, who is familiar with Mandai from his regular nature walks and studies of plant and animal life there, went to survey the damage.

The 50-year-old engineering director and Australia-born Singapore resident said the damage to the secondary forest might have been wrought by winds funnelling up the narrow water channels by the reservoir's edge, twisting and toppling trees as thick as a man's thigh.

But he said that in tearing down so many trees, the storm also uncovered a rare pulai tree (Alstonia pneumatophora) 50m tall, still standing, just metres into the forest.

The survivor was anchored by its sprawling roots or pneumatophores, which are common to mangroves and other wetland trees. The Nature Society and NParks now plan to gather its seeds to propagate it.

National Institute of Education botanist and Nature Society president Shawn Lum said that, left on its own, the rest of the damaged forest will first grow back a crop of fast-growing 'pioneer trees' which thrive in exposed conditions.

'Within two to three years, there should be luxuriant growth and within five to seven years, the casual observer may not even realise there had been a major disturbance there,' he said.

But primary forests, that is, untouched, pristine ones, harbour more species of plants and animals, and NParks is taking care to protect those here.

For example, it has planted a windbreak along Lornie Road to shield a small patch of primary forest from winds, and has programmes to grow rare plant saplings.

New life for rare trees and plants

Amid the damage at Mandai, experts found a previously hidden gem - a rare, critically endangered tree known as Alstonia pneumatophora.

The National Parks Board (NParks) and the Nature Society hope to collect some seeds from the tree, which was discovered after surrounding trees fell.

Other rare trees and plants that have been cultivated or resurrected here are:

# Sea teak (Podocarpus polystachyus): Found at coastal cliffs, sandy beaches and mangroves, this tree is valued for its wood. It grows wild at Sentosa's natural cliffs and is now widely planted in coastal parks such as Labrador Park.

# Aeschynanthus albidus, a member of the African violet family: This climbing plant, thought to be extinct here, was rediscovered by National University of Singapore researchers on a tree in Nee Soon swamp forest.

NParks officers collected another specimen last year and were able to cultivate hundreds of saplings. They plan to re-introduce them into the wild.

# Tiger orchid (Grammatophyllum speciosum): The tiger-striped flowers of the world's largest orchid were last seen in the wild in Tuas and Pulau Ubin.

But the plants, which bloom once a year, can now be seen in Orchard Road, where they were planted last year in a national orchid conservation programme.

There are also tiger orchids at the Singapore Botanic Gardens and various neighbourhood parks.

Read more!

Watch out for flash floods over weekend

PUB warns that low-lying areas at risk due to heavy rain and tide levels
Daryl Chin & Royston Sim Straits Times 19 Feb 11;

FLASH floods could hit some low-lying areas here this weekend.

The combination of heavy rain with thunder in the afternoons and tide levels rising above 3m could spell trouble for residents and businesses in areas like Lorong Buangkok, Jalan Seaview, Meyer Road, Lorong 101 to 106 Changi and Everitt Road North.

National water agency PUB said yesterday that high tides of at least 3.3m were expected in the afternoon, from today to Monday. The weekend forecast on the National Environment Agency's website is for afternoon showers, thunder and windy conditions.

The temperature is expected to range between 24 deg C and 32 deg C.

Residents and businesses in areas at risk of flash floods told The Straits Times they were resigned to the possibility that their homes and premises might be flooded.

Mr Mark Ong, 31, who lives in the Jalan Seaview area, said his home has been hit by floods from time to time.

His front porch was flooded just a few weeks ago, he added. His family has raised the step at the front door to prevent flood waters from entering the house.

Businessman Low Eng Leng, 56, said last year's heavy rain caused damage worth $2,000. He lives on the second floor of a Changi Road shophouse used for his auto repair shop. Last July, he was shocked when he woke up at 5am to find the shop flooded.

'I spent a week cleaning it up,' he said, adding that he is more careful now to place items out of harm's way.

National University of Singapore climate scientist Matthias Roth said these flash floods are a result of high tides coinciding with heavy rain expected in the north-east monsoon season, which lasts from December to March.

When tide levels are high, sea water comes inland, filling up drains which might not be able to cope with the additional volume of water.

Wet weather has been wreaking havoc here recently, with businesses like plant nurseries and retailers suffering a drop in business over the rain-soaked weekend before Chinese New Year.

The PUB said it has already stepped up checks on drains along the areas likely to be hit this weekend.

Heavy rain and flash floods warning for the weekend
Channel NewsAsia 18 Feb 11;

SINGAPORE: High tides and heavy rain are expected over the weekend.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said high tides of at least 3.3 metres are expected from February 19 to 21.

NEA also said afternoons showers with thunder can be expected during this period.

Flash floods may occur in low-lying areas especially if the high tides coincide with heavy rain.

The low-lying areas include Lorong Buangkok, Jalan Seaview, Meyer Road, Lorong 101 - Lorong 106 Changi and Everitt Road North.

NEA will issue warnings through the media when heavy rain is expected.

The public can also call PUB's 24-hour Call Centre at 1800-284 6600 to report obstructions in drains or to check the flood situation.

- CNA/fa

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Singapore: Electric vehicle tests to start in mid-2011

Samuel Ee Business Times 19 Feb 11;

THE first batch of 10 Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric cars is likely to be launched in May for the start of a three-year test-bedding project here.

The i-MiEV is a pure electric vehicle (EV) that is part of a $20 million programme to test-bed EVs in Singapore.

'The test-bed will run for a period of three years, commencing from the middle of this year,' said Lew Yii Der, the Land Transport Authority's group director for corporate planning and research.

The LTA is one of the co-leaders of Singapore's multi-agency EV Taskforce, along with the Energy Market Authority (EMA).

Mr Lew was speaking yesterday at the UK-Singapore Partners in Science Electric Vehicles Symposium 2011. The event, hosted by the British High Commission and the National University of Singapore, brought together specialists from Singapore, the UK and China to discuss the latest EV research and related work in power systems, materials and infrastructure.

The symposium aims to offer a starting point for collaboration between UK and Singaporean specialists to further develop this area of research by sharing their expertise, views and experience.

Mr Lew said that the Republic is considered an ideal location for electric transport test-bedding because of its small size, compact urban environment, robust power grid, infocomm infrastructure, and R&D capabilities.

'We are positioning Singapore as a 'living laboratory' for companies to research, develop and test innovative solutions for EVs,' he said.

As for the upcoming test-bed project involving the first batch of Mitsubishi i-MiEV models, he said that some companies have indicated interest in buying the cars but so far, there has not been any firm commitment.

Only companies and organisations will be allowed to buy the cars, which will be exempt for the usual vehicular taxes under a special Transport Technology Innovation and Development Scheme or Tides+ scheme.

According to Mr Lew, the companies which have expressed interest are a mix of big and small, with some MNCs as well as local firms, and they want to find out more details about the car's cost and Tides+.

Another speaker at the symposium was Andrew Tay, the principal investigator of a project to develop an intelligent, high-performance battery system for EVs.

Prof Tay and his team are working on a super battery with a charging rate that is 10 times better than current batteries.

By September 2013, he expects to have a battery pack ready for installation in an electric passenger car currently being prepared by ST Kinetics, the team's industrial collaborator.

The day-long symposium also featured 10 other speakers who discussed subjects ranging from the electrical challenges for future transport, to electromobility in megacities.

Read more!

Singapore: Green vehicle rebate to be extended

Grace Chua Straits Times 19 Feb 11;

BUYERS of green cars will get a tax break for another 12 months as the Government looks at new ways to encourage motorists to use these vehicles.

The tax break on hybrid, electric and compressed natural gas (CNG) cars will be extended till Dec 31 next year.

It had been due to expire on Dec 31 this year.

Currently, buyers of such vehicles enjoy 40 per cent off the Additional Registration Fee (ARF), the main car tax, on passenger vehicles.

Even with the rebate, a hybrid Toyota Prius costs $130,988 today, comparable to a Toyota Camry sedan.

'In the meantime, we will undertake a comprehensive review of the measures to promote the adoption of green vehicles, as part of our overall efforts to promote sustainable development,' said Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam in his Budget speech yesterday.

The Green Vehicle Rebate scheme was introduced in 2001 to promote green vehicles which are more fuel-efficient and emit less air pollutants than conventional petrol and diesel ones.

While some welcomed it, they also felt more could be done.

Mr Clarence Woo, executive director of the Asian Clean Fuels Association, pointed out that tax rebates are only part of the solution.

What is really needed, he said, is infrastructure. He added: 'Even if I buy a green car, I still can't get to a charging station or CNG station close to my house.'

For example, Singapore's electric-car test-bed plan has been slow to take off.

Public infrastructure to charge electric cars here will be up and running only in the middle of this year, even though the first batch of Mitsubishi electric hatchbacks has arrived.

And there are just a handful of CNG filling stations here, mostly in far-flung locations such as Mandai.

Read more!

Rare birds and other wildlife seized at Jakarta Airport during busy month

TRAFFIC 18 Feb 11;

Jakarta, Indonesia, 18th February 2011 — A string of seizures at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport this January has turned up an array of illegally acquired wildlife including a pair of one of the world’s rarest birds, the Bali Myna.

With fewer than 50 mature individuals estimated to now survive in the wild, the seizure of a pair of Bali Mynas in the luggage of a Singaporean man is a significant find.

The Bali Myna Leucopsar rothschildi is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and all commercial trade in this species is prohibited as it is also listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Endemic to the island of Bali and once common across the north-west of the island, this Myna’s wild population has plummeted due to illegal poaching for the cagebird trade.

The seizure was made at Jakarta airport by Quarantine and Airport Security officers on 31st January. They also found four slow lorises Nycticebus spp. and eight Pig-nosed Turtles Carettochelys insculpta hidden in the suspect’s bag when it was x-rayed. Slow lorises are listed in Appendix I of CITES, while Pig-nosed Turtles are in Appendix II.

Chief of Division of control measures at the airport’s Animal and Plant Quarantine Office, Dr Wawan Sutian, confirmed the seizure saying all the animals were found alive at the time and are still in quarantine at the present time.

He said the suspect has been released on bail while the case is being investigated. He faces a maximum three years in jail and a maximum fine of 150 million rupiah if found to have wilfully violated Indonesian law.

All the species seized are protected under Indonesian law.

On 13th January, a passenger bound for Saudi Arabia was detained in Soekarno-Hatta Airport’s Terminal 2 when officers discovered two Hill Mynas Gracula religiosa (Appendix II) and other birds concealed in his luggage.

The birds were stuffed into 10 by 20 cm cylinders, which were then hidden underneath grapes, pears and apples in a carry-on paper bag. The suspect had purchased the birds in the Pramuka Bird Market. The species is protected under Indonesian law.

On 7th January, the same Quarantine Office also foiled an attempt to smuggle an Orang Utan Pongo spp. skull and Helmeted Hornbill Rhinoplax vigil casks to the Netherlands. Both species are listed in CITES Appendix I.

On 1st January, Quarantine officers and Forestry Police found 14 birds including six Black-Throated Laughingthrushes Garrulax chinensis hidden in 12 boxes in the luggage of a passenger bound for Bahrain. The smuggled birds were discovered after the bag underwent scanning.

“The number of recent seizures in the Soekarno-Hatta Airport illustrates the role Jakarta plays in the illicit global wildlife trade, as a major hub”, says Chris R. Shepherd, Deputy Regional Director of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.

“The authorities are to be congratulated for intercepting these smuggling attempts. It is efforts such as these that are needed in order to ensure unscrupulous smugglers will do not continue their trade from Indonesia’s capital”.

“We hope these activities are viewed as serious crimes, and the culprits are sufficiently penalized so as to deter further such activities”.

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Indonesia: Orangutan Sanctuary Haven For Illegal Loggers say Activists

Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 18 Feb 11;

Activists have warned that an 86,450-hectare orangutan sanctuary in East Kalimantan is open to illegal logging, thus leaving the endangered apes vulnerable to the same threats that drove them out of their original habitats.

The previously logged area was designated a sanctuary in August and awarded to Restorasi Habitat Orangutan Indonesia, a subsidiary of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, for a fee of Rp 13 billion ($1.5 million) over 60 years.

However, the foundation only received permission to begin releasing orangutans into the wild there last month and plans to release its first batch in May.

On Thursday, Hardi Baktiantoro, principal of the Center for Orangutan Protection, an NGO focusing on rescuing the apes, said the sanctuary in Muara Wahau district, a five-hour drive from the East Kalimantan capital Samarinda, was still rife with illegal activities.

“There are still forest crimes there, from illegal logging to oil palm plantations,” he said. “When we went down the Muara Wahau River, we found plenty of illegal sawmills, and orangutans being kept as pets.”

He added the COP had managed to rescue four orangutans from locals and shooed at least 10 of the apes out of oil palm plantations on the periphery of the sanctuary.

“Almost all oil palm plantations or mining concessions in this country are heavily guarded by the military or police, so the same should apply to orangutan concessions because orangutans are state assets,” Hardi said.

“If there isn’t tight security, the whole cycle will be repeated where we have to rescue the orangutans, rehabilitate them and reintroduce them into the wild.” He added it would cost at least $3,500 per year to rehabilitate an orangutan, and six to seven years to prepare them for release into the wild.

Togu Manurung, chairman of the BOS Foundation, agreed that protecting the orangutan sanctuary was the government’s job, but said the generally poor state of law enforcement made it unlikely to happen.

“It’s already widely known that no [forest] area in this country is safe from illegal logging,” he said. “We’ll conduct our own monitoring, do our own patrols and work with local people to guard the areas.”

Darori, director general of forest protection and natural conservation at the Forestry Ministry, said there was no need to increase security in orangutan release areas.

“If those areas are rampant with illegal logging or plantations, then we’ll need to find other, safer areas,” he said.

Read more!

Birds needing trees, trees needing birds focus of New Zealand forest project

WWF 18 Feb 11;

Wellington, New Zealand: The mutual dependence of a colorful pigeon and some of New Zealand’s iconic trees is at the centre of a landmark Year of the Forests project in that country.

A project to help the Kereru bird and native forests thrive once more throughout New Zealand’s Wellington region has received new funding from the Nikau Foundation with support from the Willscott Endowment Fund, and WWF-New Zealand in partnership with the Tindall Foundation.

"Kereru are beautiful birds, and their recovery is critical to the survival of New Zealand's unique and special forests," said Marc Slade, Terrestrial Programme Manager at WWF-New Zealand. "Kereru are one of the only surviving mainland native species able to swallow the fruit of some key forest trees, including miro, tawa, rimu and matai. Some of these seeds need to pass through the gut of a bird to germinate, meaning the health of the forests is absolutely dependent on Kereru.

The United Nations has designated 2011 as the International Year of the Forests

Throughout this year, WWF will be running a Living Forests Campaign that will combine cutting edge science, new perspectives from partners and decades of on-the-ground experience to help address the challenge of saving the world's forests.

"In the International Year of the Forests, WWF is getting behind this project because Kereru are the champions of New Zealand forest recovery, they're a keystone species and need looking after," Slade said.

Kick-starting the project

The organisations will invest $10,000 in the Kereru Discovery Project to kick-start a new phase of an existing conservation project that aims to increase populations of the native birds from Kapiti Island through to the Wairarapa. In turn, the growing numbers of Kereru will play a critical role in restoring native forest in the region. Today Kereru numbers are a tiny fraction of what they once were as a result of habitat loss and an associated lack of food, and introduced predators such as possums, ferrets and stoats.

The new phase of the project will launch later this year, and will involve local communities in helping Kereru thrive, calling on people to plant native trees which are food sources for the birds in their backyards, and to volunteer for pest control schemes.

In and around Wellington, New Zealand 98 % of the region was once cloaked in forest - of which only 28 % survives today.

"As a charitable trust that manages donors' money so that their one gift will give in perpetuity, the focus of Nikau Foundation is the Wellington region. We are delighted to be able to contribute, on behalf of our donor the Willscott Fund, to the recovery of Kereru numbers and the ongoing restoration of native forests in our region," said Adrienne Bushell, Nikau Foundation Marketing Manager.

Completing the circle of positive effects, the project's efforts to save native forest will help other native birds flourish, Slade said: "By looking after Kereru we save our forests, and by saving our forests we're protecting the habitat of other native species. It's an example of how everything connects in a cycle of life, and how conservation of species has flow on effects to benefit whole ecosystems," he said.

Read more!

Fewer big fish in the sea, say scientists

Kerry Sheridan Yahoo News 18 Feb 11;

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Fewer big, predatory fish are swimming in the world's oceans because of overfishing by humans, leaving smaller fish to thrive and double in force over the past 100 years, scientists said Friday.

Big fish such as cod, tuna, and groupers have declined worldwide by two-thirds while the number of anchovies, sardines and capelin has surged in their absence, said University of British Columbia researchers.

Meanwhile, people around the world are fishing harder and coming up with the same or fewer numbers in their catch, indicating that humans may have maxed out the ocean's capacity to provide us with food.

"Overfishing has absolutely had a 'when cats are away, the mice will play' effect on our oceans," said Villy Christensen, a professor in the UBC Fisheries Centre who presented the research findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference in Washington.

"By removing the large, predatory species from the ocean, small forage fish have been left to thrive."

The researchers also found that more than half (54 percent) of the decline in the predatory fish population has taken place over the last 40 years.

Christensen and his team examined more than 200 global marine ecosystem models and extracted more than 68,000 estimates of fish biomass from 1880 to 2007 for the study.

They did not use catch numbers reported by governments or fishing operators.

"It is a very different ocean that we see out there," said Christensen. "We are moving from wild oceans into a system that is much more like an aquaculture farm."

While the number of small fish is on the rise, the little swimmers are also being increasingly sought after for use as fishmeal in human-run fisheries, Christensen said.

"Currently, forage fish are turned into fishmeal and fish oil and used as feeds for the aquaculture industry, which is in turn becoming increasingly reliant on this feed source," he said.

The researchers said that despite the spike in small fish, the overall supply of fish is not increasing to meet human demand.

"Humans have always fished. Even our ancestors have fished. We are just much much better at it now," said UBC scientist Reg Watson.

Examining the 2006 numbers, 76 million tons of commercial seafood were reported, meaning about "seven trillion individuals were killed and consumed by us or our livestock," said Watson.

Watson said fishing efforts have been growing over the past several decades, reaching a collective point of 1.7 billion watts, or 22.6 million horsepower, worldwide that year.

In terms of energy use, that would amount to 90 miles (150 kilometers) of "Corvettes bumper to bumper with their engines revving," he said.

"It looks like we are fishing harder for the same or less result and this has to tell us something about the oceans' health. We may in fact have hit peak fish at the same time we are hitting peak oil."

Seafood makes up a large part of the global human diet according to research fellow Siwa Msangi of the International Food Policy Research Institute, who said the rise in demand is largely being driven by China.

"Meat provides about 20 percent of the per capita calorie intake and of that... fish is about 12 percent," he said, referring to global figures.

Almost 50 percent of the increase in the world's fish consumption for food comes from Eastern Asia, and "42 percent of that increase is coming from China itself," he said.

"China is a driver of both the demand and the supply side. That is really why the management issue becomes so important."

Jacqueline Alder from the United Nations Environment program suggested that the world needs to see a swift cut in the amount of fishing boats and fishing days in order to allow global fish stocks time to gain numbers.

"If we can do this immediately we will see a decline in fish catches. However, that will give an opportunity for the fish stocks to rebuild and expand their populations," she said.

Projections about future fish populations decline further, however, when coupled with forecasts about the impact of climate change.

"Our study indicates indeed we may get a double whammy from climate change," said Christensen. "In the sense that higher water temperatures... are going to mean there will be less fish in the ocean."

Eat more anchovies, herring and sardines to save the ocean's fish stocks
We should consume less of the fish at the top of the food chain and more of their prey to rebalance the marine ecosystem, says fisheries scientist
Alok Jha 18 Feb 11;

Cut back on tuna and salmon and load your plate instead with herring and sardines if you want to help save the world's fish. So says the scientist who led the most comprehensive analysis ever carried out of fish stocks in the world's oceans and how they have changed over the past century.

The study by Villy Christensen of the University of British Columbia's Fisheries Centre confirmed some previous indications that populations of predator fish at the top of the food chain, such as cod, tuna and groupers, have suffered huge declines, shrinking by around two-thirds in the past 100 years. More than half that decline occurred in the past 40 years.

Christensen found that the total stock of "forage fish", such as sardines, anchovy and capelin, has more than doubled over the past century. These are fish that are normally eaten by the top predators. "You remove the predator, you get more prey fish," said Christensen. "That has not been demonstrated before because people don't measure the number, they don't go out and count them."

His call for consumers to shift their attention down the marine food chain from predators like tuna and cod to more unusual fish echoes that by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who suggests we should eat more coley, mackerel, dab, pouting, herring and sardines.

"I know you like your fish suppers, but our appetite for the same fish, day in, day out, is sucking the seas dry," Oliver has said. "I wouldn't bother waiting for the politicians to sort this one out, guys, you can really help from the comfort of your own kitchen ... Lay off the cod, haddock and tuna, diversify and cook up a wider range of fish."

Christensen presented his findings on Friday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington, DC.

"Overfishing has absolutely had a 'when cats are away, the mice will play' effect on our oceans," said Christensen. "By removing the large, predatory species from the ocean, small forage fish have been left to thrive."

Christensen urged consumers to eat more of the burgeoning population of forager fish such as sardines and anchovies, while reducing their intake of top predators, in order to re-balance the world's fish species.

Today, the vast majority of forage fish that are being caught are used inefficiently in fish farms to feed salmon, for example. "Currently, forage fish are turned into fishmeal and fish oil and used as feeds for the aquaculture industry, which is in turn becoming increasingly reliant on this feed source," said Christensen.

The rise in wild forage fish populations has knock-on effects on marine ecosystems. These fish eat more of the zooplankton in the oceans, which means that the next stage down the food chain – the plant plankton normally consumed by the zooplankton – blooms. "You get into a situation where you get a green soup, you get anaerobic conditions [low oxygen levels]. There are clear examples in the Black Sea," said Christensen.

In their analysis, Christensen's team collated data from more than 200 models of marine ecosystems around the world, using a technique called Ecopath, to estimate the mass of various fish in the world's oceans and how it has changed from 1880 to 2007.

Predators in general are an important component in food chains, said Christensen, preventing the spread of disease, for example. "In England some years ago, there was a crisis where they had killed a lot of the predators such as eagles. You had rabbits that got problems with diseases, there was massive die-off, the sick ones were not being eaten by the predators. We see less stable ecosystems if we do not have predators there."

The precipitous drop in top predator fish was also linked, in a separate study presented at the AAAS, to the rise in global fishing capacity. This has increased by 54% from 1950 to 2010 with no sign of a decrease in recent years.

"We need to cut back fishing efforts," said Christensen. "Society needs to decide what we want with the ocean – do we want to turn it into a farm? Or do we want to have something that is more of a natural ecosystem?"

Fishing Down Food Web Leaves Fewer Big Fish, More Small Fish in Past Century
ScienceDaily 18 Feb 11;

Predatory fish such as cod, tuna, and groupers have declined by two-thirds over the past 100 years, while small forage fish such as sardine, anchovy and capelin have more than doubled over the same period, according to University of British Columbia researchers.

Led by Prof. Villy Christensen of UBC's Fisheries Centre, a team of scientists used more than 200 marine ecosystem models from around the world and extracted more than 68,000 estimates of fish biomass from 1880 to 2007. They presented the findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting in Washington, DC.

Their finding of the simultaneous decline of predatory fish and increase of forage fish provides the strongest evidence to date that humans are indeed "fishing down the food web" and impacting ecosystems globally. The UBC team also found that of the decline in predatory fish population, 54 per cent took place in the last 40 years alone.

"Overfishing has absolutely had a 'when cats are away, the mice will play' effect on our oceans," said Christensen, a professor in the UBC Fisheries Centre. "By removing the large, predatory species from the ocean, small forage fish have been left to thrive."

While the doubling of forage fish amounts to more fish production, Christensen cautioned that the lower trophic-level food web is more vulnerable to environmental fluctuations.

"Currently, forage fish are turned into fishmeal and fish oil and used as feeds for the aquaculture industry, which is in turn becoming increasingly reliant on this feed source," said Christensen. "If the fishing-down-the-food-web trend continues, our oceans may one day become a 'farm' to produce feeds for the aquaculture industry. Goodbye, wild ocean!"

Christensen's presentation was part of an experts' panel to answer the question "2050: Will there be fish in the ocean?" The panel predicted that while there would be fish in 2050, it would consist mostly of the smaller variety.

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Coral bleaching at Ningaloo Reef, Australia: citizens enlisted

Bleaching study seeks aid
Rashelle Predovnik Science Alert 18 Feb 11;

WA citizens have been enlisted to help scientists monitor the extent of coral bleaching on the 300km long Ningaloo Reef.

The Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) has detected patches of coral bleaching due to abnormally high sea temperatures.

The DEC uses satellite technology to assess water temperatures however Ningaloo Marine Park visitors are also being asked to report sightings of bleached coral.

DEC marine science program leader Dr Chris Simpson says over the next three months observations by the public will greatly assist in determining the spatial extent and severity.

“By continually monitoring [the reef] we can look at changes over time and determine the significance of temperature induced bleaching events,” he says.

Coral bleaching is a phenomenon where algae, which gives coral its colour, is expelled from inside the reef's tissue because of stress, leaving the white skeleton of the coral behind.

Surface ocean temperatures at Ningaloo reef have been 3°C higher than average since October and peaked at 29°C recently, the ‘trigger level’ for bleaching.

The reef has experienced minor coral bleaching events caused from both elevated and lowered sea surface temperatures in the past 20 years with no apparent long-term effects.

However, the spate of recent high temperatures concerns scientists.

Dr Simpson says Ningaloo Reef has not experienced widespread bleaching to date.

“In the past, sea temperatures [at Ningaloo] above 29°C were considered uncommon and temperatures above 31°C, very rare,” he says.

“The threat of elevated sea temperatures being an early symptom of climate change, and coral bleaching a clear sign temperature stress, has prompted concerns we are seeing a disturbance on Ningaloo Reef that has not occurred before.”

“Atypical weather patterns such as the recent cyclonic activity can suppress normal weather patterns causing a higher residence times of lagoon waters and less flushing by cooler oceanic waters.”

Dr Simpson says one of the important factors for recovery is the presence of source reefs. This generates new larvae to repopulate, but requires good water quality and a strong herbivorous fish population to prevent algae colonising the reef.

“We are trying to understand the significance of this event on Ningaloo Reef and the future impact of climate change on coral reefs.”

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Tropical forests 're-shaped' by climate changes

Mark Kinver BBC News 18 Feb 11;

Future climate change could change the profile of tropical forests, with possible consequences for carbon storage and biodiversity, a study says.

It suggests that if current trends continued, the drier conditions would favour deciduous, canopy species at the expense of other trees.

US researchers based their findings on the changes they recorded in a Costa Rican forest over a 20-year period.

The team's paper has been published in the journal Global Change Biology.

"It is important because - depending on the rate of change, and the type of species that are found in the forests - it will influence a lot of ecosystem services and processes," explained co-author Brian Enquist from the University of Arizona.

"For example, we need to know how much carbon tropical forests are storing, and will store in the future. We also need to know how much CO2 they are taking out of the air."

Professor Enquist and his team examined how an area of forest had changed between 1976 and 1996.

"We were fortunate that between the two dates, there was a series of quite impressive droughts - those droughts have been increasing in severity over the longer term," he told BBC News.

He said that there had been a "tremendous reduction" in the total number of trees in the forest.

"Most of that reduction was in the smallest trees - such as the saplings and the smaller trees in the understorey," Professor Enquist observed.

"That was the first change that we immediately noticed, but then we began to look very closely and asked what was causing those trees to die.

"What we found was that there was a very distinctive signal in the types of trees that tended to survive and the types of trees that died - it came down to basic differences on how these trees functioned and worked.

"We found that those species that tended to require more moist conditions were the ones that dropped out very quickly, and those that were able to handle more drought-like conditions persisted."

Professor Enquist said the species that favoured such conditions were deciduous, canopy trees, and if the trend of drier conditions continued into the future then it would change the characteristics of tropical forests.

"The ecosystem implication is that those types of forests (dominated by deciduous, canopy species) tend to store less carbon and hold less biomass, which would then have a detrimental impact in terms of the entire biosphere's ability to help regulate or mitigate the effects of global climate change."

He said the study's findings, when combined with other results from other similar projects, created a picture of tropical forests that were changing "rather quickly".

Professor Enquist added that these forests appeared to be quite suseptible to changes in rainfall, and that future projections of changes in rainfall patterns were likely to have "immediate or very quick consequences".

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Cargo ship leaking oil in Norway's only marine reserve

Yahoo News 18 Feb 11;

OSLO (AFP) – Norwegian authorities struggled Friday to contain an oil spill after an Icelandic cargo ship holding hundreds of tonnes of fuel ran aground inside Norway's only marine natural reserve.

The oil slick had by Friday afternoon reached the fragile shoreline in at least two places in the Ytre Hvaler marine park, which is home to a wide variety of sea birds, marine life and large cold-water coral reefs, the Norwegian Coastal Administration (NCA) said in a statement.

Late Friday afternoon, the NCA said however the spill was not as serious as first feared.

The Godafoss, which contained a total of 800 tonnes of fuel, struck a rock on a well-indicated reef late Thursday near the mouth of the Oslo Fjord shortly after leaving port in the southeastern town of Fredrikstad for Helsingborg in southern Sweden.

A yet undetermined quantity of fuel leaked out from the middle of tanks lining both sides of the ship, each holding 250 tonnes.

"It appears that the leak has been halted," NCA operation chief Johan Marius Ly told reporters.

Norwegian and Swedish authorities rushed out anti-pollution vessels, tugboats and two surveillance planes and helicopters to assess the situation.

Floating barriers were also set up around the ship to limit the damage.

Owned by Icelandic shipping firm Eimskip, the Godafoss was transporting 439 containers, including one filled with 12 tonnes of dynamite.

"As long as it has been loaded correctly and there is no fire, there is no risk of an explosion," Ly insisted.

The weather conditions were considered relatively favourable to a clean-up, with a calm sea and moderate winds.

Nevertheless, environmental groups stressed a lot was at stake.

According to the WWF, more than 6,000 marine species live in the area, including 220 on Norwegian and Swedish lists of endangered species.

"WWF is asking the authorities to ban all maritime traffic in the most vulnerable zones, that oil be banned as fuel and that this influences decisions concerning oil production in fragile regions," the group said in a statement.

The Ytre Hvaler park, which was created in June 2009 and stretches across 354 square kilometres (137 square miles), is Norway's only marine natural reserve and is located not far from the Swedish Kosterhavet marine national park.

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Taiwan: Disasters spur on draft coastal protection plan

LONG PROCESS: An academic said he has doubts about the effectiveness of the act, should it be passed, given complexities over areas where private properties are built
Lin Yi-chang Taipei Times 18 Feb 11;

In light of numerous typhoon disasters in recent years, the Ministry of the Interior has drafted a coastline law in an effort to better care for land restoration and conservation.

The draft proposes having the nation’s coastline divided into “preserved areas” and “protected areas,” and that a special unit should be set up to screen coastal developments from a preservationist point of view.

According to an official with the ministry’s Construction and Planning Agency, the spirit of the draft law is to set up a special governmental unit that could preview every coastal -development project with the goal of -preserving coastal geology.

The drafted coastline law would require central authorities to compile basic databases for coastal areas to facilitate research and coastal management, the official said.

Under the proposed law, the nation’s coastal areas would be divided into first and secondary level protected areas.

The first level would prohibit change to the shoreline or restrict uses to those that would keep it in its natural state, said the official, unless approval for other uses is granted by the central authorities.

Secondary level status would designate areas as “buffer zones,” where violations that cause a -natural disaster to occur because of alterations to the natural environment would be punishable with fines of up to NT$600,000 and up to 10 years in prison.

Meanwhile, the draft proposes that areas suffering from erosion, saltwater encroachment and land subsidence be categorized as national geological revitalization areas, requiring them to have a protection plan. The entire coastal management plan, preservation plan and protection plan would be reviewed every five years, the official said.

As it is currently written, the draft act would empower local governments to remove any buildings or land modifications that are obstacles to the implementation of the law. It also proposes granting the Council of Agriculture the power to abolish fishing rights, as well as empowering the Ministry of Economic Affairs to halt all mining and quarrying activities in coastal areas.

However, Lin Tsung-yi (林宗儀), an assistant professor at National Taiwan Normal University, has doubts about the effectiveness of the act, should it be passed.

While the shoreline is public property, there is also private property where hotels are built, such as in Kenting (墾丁), he said.

“It’s like they own the whole beach,” he said. “In such cases, how would the government intercede and manage the coast?”

Some officials also doubt that the proposed bill would make it through the legislature, noting that since its initial draft in the 1990s, it has not won the support of the lawmakers.

Conflict of interest and the noncommittal attitudes of the legislators means the draft only has a slim chance of being put up for review, an official said.

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Malaysia’s decision on nuclear power should come after due process

Ken Yeong The Star 19 Feb 11;

THE recent establishment of the Malaysia Nuclear Power Corp is yet another indicator that the Government is moving ahead with nuclear power (NP).

Despite earlier assurances that public consultations will help determine the NP decision, this critical process appears to have been bypassed.

Public opposition to NP has been small compared with the proposed 100-storey Warisan Merdeka tower or the genetically-modified mosquito field trials, for example. Perhaps most Malaysians agree with the Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water (KeTTHA) that nuclear is the best option for cheap, reliable and low carbon power. But there is more to NP than our electricty bills may reflect.

KeTTHA, being entrusted with the stewardship of Renewable Energy (RE) and its myriad options in solar, wind, geothermal, marine and others, should compare in depth NP with RE for 2020 deployment. It should also compare NP with energy efficiency (EE), efforts to reduce the energy required to produce products and services and the most cost effective solution in meeting energy demand now.

The government only stands to gain the people's support for NP if it is measured favourably against EE and RE and its higher standards in an independent feasibility study.

The analysis of NP needs to be grounded on three main considerations:

Malaysia needs to diversify its energy mix, as gas and coal reserves are dwindling and costs are rising

The country now has 40% more power than it needs an amount that will meet projected demand even in 2020

Malaysia is seeking to become a developed nation in an era of climate change and sustainability.

The potential danger of NP is relatively well documented, but perhaps less well known is the debilitating costs of nuclear.

Economic costs

Firstly, NP is not going to be cheap. Various studies estimate the cost of nuclear electricity to be higher than Malaysia's national average of RM0.30/kWh. Wall Street and independent energy analysts, whose cost projections have been the most accurate to date, put NP at an average of RM0.50/kWh.

A 2009 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study noteworthy for being pro-nuclear power and the first of its kind states that potential NP cost improvements are only theoretical, but not demonstrated today. In fact, actual projects in South Korea and Japan have seen a 25% increase in average costs and in Finland that figure is 90%.

And, the cost of NP is trending upwards. Since the 1970s, nuclear has experienced, for the same amount of power generated, a five-fold cost escalation in the US and three-fold in France, countries with the most vibrant NP usage.

Most nuclear plants worldwide have suffered significant delays, contributing to cost overruns endemic to the industry. As a result, the financial uncertainty of NP is so severe almost all projects require extensive government backing in terms of loan guarantees and subsidies. Wall Street has made it clear that nuclear projects cannot be funded in capital markets.

Malaysia's reputation for mega-projects with its associated cost overruns, delays, corruption and leakages, will only exacerbate the already huge financial risks due to the country's inexperience in NP.

Expecting private investors to fund 90% of the nuclear project, as envisioned by the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP), appears naively optimistic at best.

Realistically, in the very likely case of a cost blow-out, the Government and ultimately taxpayers will have to bail out any private investors, potentially to the tune of RM50bil according to an upper range estimate by Standard & Poor's, far exceeding the Government's proposed RM21.3bil budget. Furthermore, NP's extreme complexity in set-up, as well as operations and maintenance, will require large corporations, most likely foreign representing a wasted multi-billion ringgit chance to invest in homegrown small and medium enterprises (SMEs), Malaysia's growth engine.

Social costs

The Government estimates 2,600 jobs will be created by the NP project. A comprehensive study by the University of California, Berkeley, revealed that EE and RE in the form of solar photo-voltaics (PV or solar panels), solar thermal, wind and geothermal will yield, on average, 2.7 times more jobs than nuclear. Clearly, investing in NP is not the best way to create jobs.

NP jobs are also highly-skilled, benefitting the well-educated and trained. This is to be desired as Malaysia strives to be a higher income economy. However, consider the distressing situation that 34% of Malaysian workers, or 1.3 million, earn less than RM700 a month, below the poverty threshold. While EE and RE jobs would need upgrading of workers' skills, it is nowhere near as big a jump as nuclear jobs, and having RM21.3bil is a golden opportunity to boost this group's chances of career development, instead of fuelling feelings of disenfranchisement.

In Hot, Flat and Crowded, author Thomas Friedman suggests climate change offers a fresh chance of doing things more sustainably and fairly, in a big way. Increased energy autonomy to the people is one such foundational shift, modernising mindsets on power consumption. As consumers can choose when and at what costs they consume electricity, they can optimise usage with increased savings while reducing their carbon footprint. NP largely misses out on this opportunity due to its business-as-usual model of inefficient centralised power generation and ownership and the need to maximise consumption to recoup its massive infrastructure, operations and maintenance costs.

Nuclear is only a new way of doing the same old thing, and is thus a stumbling block to Malaysian society's progression with the greening times.

Safety and security

Most Malaysians who object to NP fear the public service's poor maintenance culture might allow a repeat of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. To be fair, the global record on catastrophic nuclear accidents since Chernobyl in 1986 has been strong, partly due to improved operations. However, effective and independent regulation, a management committed to safety and a skilled workforce factors necessary for the safe operation of a NP plant are not Malaysia's strong suits.

Yet power plant accidents are not the most feared fallout from NP that distinction belongs to nuclear weapons proliferation. The fuel used in NP plants, uranium, is the same material or the precursor to that used in nuclear bombs. As more NP plants are operated, more materials for nuclear bombs become available. Even the pro-nuclear MIT study concedes proliferation is a grave consequence of a worldwide expansion of NP, saying “with modest nuclear infrastructure, any nation could acquire material needed for several (nuclear) weapons”.

Compounding this situation is a nuclear black market that has grown to be sophisticated and audacious, involving movement of equipment and even blueprints for nuclear bombs. At the uncovering of this black market in 2003, the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), reacted with shock at how international safeguards had proved wholly inadequate. Hence, the international security climate today is rightfully one of apprehension: what separates NP from nuclear weapons is mostly intention.

Some say nuclear arms act as a deterrent to all-out war, but who wants to gamble on the likes of North Korea being able to obliterate other countries?

And it doesn't stop there: proliferation experts have warned that North Korea and Iran's nuclear advancements will spark arms races, and that's just among countries. Could we be seeing the rise of military motives disguising and incubating as civilian NP programmes now?

Nuclear, whether fuel, bomb or power plant, is also the terrorist's dream weapon, as the al-Qaeda's gameplan has shown even before 9/11. Many scenarios of attack on a NP plant are plausible and have occurred in the past, while other buildings within the site complex other than the reactor can be targeted to result in a nuclear catastrophe. By choosing NP, Malaysia is voting in favour of an industry with devastating side effects, not just for Malaysians but globally a move that is at best, unnecessary.

Environmental costs

NP violates the sustainability principle that civilisation needs to embrace for its continued survival. The mining of uranium fuel causes severe damage to land often inhabited by indigenous people whose lives are closely entwined with their environment. Communities like the Navajo Indians in the US and Malaysians in Perak's Bukit Merah-Papan continue to suffer from hazardous waste from mining of radioactive minerals.

The problem of discarding spent nuclear fuel has dogged every nation employing NP. There is yet no long term solution. Proponents of NP might cite Finland's Onkalo, the world's first permanent geologic repository, as the answer. But a repository like Onkalo costs RM12.5bil to build, nuclear waste must be isolated for at least 100,000 years, and we have to tell an extremely distant future generation to monitor the said repository a feat the US Academy of Science deems impossible.

Humanity has never handled such mind-bending timelines as we know very little beyond even 100 years. So-called permanent repositories are really a leap into the unknown.The long timeline 10 years at least to bring NP on stream and the inevitable channelling of resources away from swifter yet more long term and more effective low carbon power solutions such as RE, will mean climate change remains inadequately addressed in the interim.

The scientific journal Nature put it this way in 2007: “To avert catastrophic global warming, why pick the slowest, most expensive, most limited, most inflexible and riskiest option? nuclear generation is just an impediment to sustainable electricity.”

Future prospects

Malaysia's choice of NP has to be scrutinised in light of future prospects of the technology. The impact of the multi-billion ringgit investment can be just electricity, or electricity with well orchestrated long term spillover benefits. Does NP have a future of vibrancy and continuity in Malaysia? A look at the global situation is instructive.

The pro-nuclear MIT study stressed that all four critical problems of cost, safety, waste and proliferation must be overcome before NP can flourish, but latest developments are not in favour of three out of the four. Today, a crippling global shortage of skilled NP workers threatens the safe operation of plants. The scenario of 30% global electricity supply from NP would exhaust current uranium reserves in less than 20 years. New generation NP reactors known as Gen IV reactors that are expected to produce a hundred times the energy now achievable, are not expected till 2045 and remain theoretical today. The future of NP is fraught with uncertainties, at best. Malaysia may be about to invest billions in a dead-end industry.


EE and RE, on the other hand, do not suffer the safety, waste and weapons proliferation woes that plague NP. In addition, the cost of electricity from some forms of RE, like concentrating solar thermal, could be as cheap as RM0.15/kWh by 2020 far lower than the average RM0.30/kWh Malaysians now pay.

A long term strategic outlook on Malaysia's energy needs is sorely needed to modernise the power sector. This is not an easy task, but the potential rewards could be game-changing innovations like smart grids for efficiency and cost savings, nanotechnology for revolutionary performance jumps in solar PV, and a green power manufacturing and R&D hub, just to name a few. Significantly more jobs for Malaysians are in the offing for truly green power too.

Finally, a Stanford University study last year found that 100% renewable energy can be achieved globally by 2030 with the only obstacle being political will. Contrast that with a 2009 report commissioned by the German Federal Ministry of Environment, Nature Conservation and Reactor Safety, which concludes “there is as yet no obvious sign that the international nuclear industry could eventually turn the empirically evident decline into a promising future”.

A single nuclear plant does not a country's future determine. Rather, the assessment process on NP indicates a country's state of affairs; a signpost to its ultimate destiny. We Malaysians have not been well informed nor engaged by our Government on accepting nuclear power despite its immense costs and far-reaching consequences. Nuclear power is being pursued without due process, as if Malaysians care only about electricity. And it is this lack of due process that could very well be the costliest result of going nuclear.

Ken Yeong is a Malaysian post-graduate student in Australia and a volunteer for an NGO called Beyond Zero Emissions.

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Tough action on climate change is 'cost-effective', EU report shows

Higher emissions targets are more efficient, according to a draft policy document setting out a low-carbon roadmap to 2050
Fiona Harvey 18 Feb 11;

Proposals to raise Europe's ambitions on tackling climate change have been strongly boosted by a new analysis showing tougher action on greenhouse gases is "cost-effective" and already achievable in practice.

Europe's existing targets will be easily surpassed on current policies, according to the analysis. This means that taking on a higher target now is more efficient in the longer term.

Green campaigners said the document demolished the arguments against more ambitious targets. "The case is now unanswerable," said Ruth Davis, chief policy adviser at Greenpeace.

The plans, contained in a confidential draft policy document circulating in the European commission, could cost heavy industry an extra €12bn (£10bn) to €20bn within the next few years, and would have profound effects on a broad sweep of economic sectors, from construction and transport to farmers, who will fall under the environmental spotlight as never before.

But imposing stricter limits on emissions would let Europe regain its international leadership on climate change, and breathe new life into the stalled United Nations negotiations, according to EU officials.

The draft briefing document shows that Europe is on track to comfortably exceed its existing climate change targets of cutting emissions by 20% by 2020, and on current policies will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by that date.

This means that without any extra effort, by 2020 Europe will be well within reach of the higher target of an emissions reduction of 30% which some member states, including the UK, are pushing for.

Raising the current emissions-cutting goal to 25% would be "cost-effective", according to the draft, and by 2030 the EU should aim to cut emissions by 40%, rising to 60% by 2040.

The briefing, which sets out a low-carbon roadmap for the EU to 2050, includes controversial proposals to reform the EU's emissions trading scheme by reducing the number of carbon permits available for companies to buy. This would force businesses to cut their carbon output by substantially more than many have planned for, and would cost about €12bn to €20bn at current carbon prices.

The confidential 13-page document is being passed around the various commission departments and member states for comments. A leaked copy has been shown to the Guardian.

It forms the basis for the discussion on whether the EU should retain its current target of reducing emissions by 20% by 2020, compared with 1990 levels, or toughen this target to 30% cuts.

Some member states – including the UK, Germany, France and Denmark – have argued for the tougher target, but the EU's energy commissioner, Günther Oettinger, has warned it would lead to the "de-industrialisation" of Europe, an analysis disputed by other experts.

Among the recommendations in the 2050 roadmap are:

• A 25% emissions cuts by 2020, 40% by 2030, 60% by 2040.

• Businesses covered by the EU's emissions trading scheme should have their surplus carbon permits set aside. The surplus arose because of the effects of the recession, but if companies are allowed to hang on to all the spare permits, they will scarcely need to cut emissions at all for the next five years.

• All new buildings should be designed as "intelligent low- or zero-energy buildings", with any extra costs from this repaid by fuel savings.

• At least €10bn should be invested annually in carbon capture and storage technology, which must be used "on a broad scale" after 2035.

• Farmers could halve the greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture by 2050, with improved practices. But the need to grow more food, and the reduction in emissions from energy generation will mean agriculture will account for a third of EU emissions by the middle of the century, putting farmers at the centre of any climate policy.

• The use of biofuels, which has been attacked by environmentalists, could be reduced if the EU steps up its efforts on electric cars.

Achieving the low-carbon energy and transport systems needed would cost about €270bn a year over the next 40 years, according to the roadmap, equivalent to about 1.5% of GDP on top of the 19% of GDP that is invested in infrastructure and new technology annually.

Although this sounds like a lot, the commission notes that the increase would "simply take us back to the investment levels before the economic crisis", and is still much lower than the rate of investment in key emerging economies such as China (48%), India (35%) and Korea (26%).

Davis said the document showed that the current EU climate targets were too weak, and should be strengthened. "This analysis demonstrates that Europe will easily meet a 25% emission reduction target by fully implementing existing policies," she said. "The implication is that the more ambitious 30% target, which is an essential part of the strategy to kick-start growth in the vital clean-tech sector, is now easily within reach. If we can hit the commission's trajectory simply by staying in neutral then the case for stepping up a gear and aiming for 30% is now unanswerable."

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