Best of our wild blogs: 18 Mar 11

What can I do for conservation from so far away?
from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

Nest building with the wrong material
from Bird Ecology Study Group

First time to Mandai mangroves!
from wild shores of singapore

Damselfly (16a) - Amphicnemis gracilis
from Nature Photography - Singapore Odonata

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Faber access road: Joint effort by agencies to minimise environmental impact

Straits Times Forum 18 Mar 11;

WE THANK Ms Bhavani Prakash for her feedback ('Don't cut a road across the green corridor'; March 8).

We understand the concerns that the construction of the new access road into the Faber area could affect the environment. The Land Transport Authority (LTA) had taken this into consideration when planning this new access road.

We are working closely with the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and National Parks Board (NParks) to minimise any impact on the existing environment and the number of trees affected.

This includes planting a dense row of trees along the new stretch of road.

NParks is also selecting the appropriate species of trees which not only provide shade but also attract birdlife.

We have taken a holistic approach in ensuring a quality living environment. It includes having not just a green environment but also a congestion-free one. The new access road is important in ensuring that the living environment is not affected as traffic increases in the future due to new housing developments in the area.

Prior to the start of this project, LTA had consulted the adviser and members of the neighbourhood committee, grassroots leaders and residents on the new road at various dialogues. As in many things, there are difficult trade-offs to be made and this access road is necessary for the wider public interest.

Helen Lim (Ms)
Deputy Director, Media Relations
Land Transport Authority

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RM274,000 collected from No Plastic Bag campaign

Jade Chan The Star 18 Mar 11;

THE “No Plastic Bag” campaign introduced by the Selangor government has netted RM274,000 from consumers who have to pay 20sen for each plastic bag they use at retail outlets.

According to state tourism, consumer affairs and environment committee chairman Elizabeth Wong’s office, more than 100 hypermarkets, supermarkets, pharmacies, convenience stores, bookstores and other retailers are taking part in the campaign.

With the campaign in place for more than a year in Selangor, there is also the question of where the funds collected are channelled to.

Wong’s office said the onus was on the retailers to collect and channel the funds to environment-friendly initiatives on their own.

This could offer an opportunity for some retailers to reap more profits, because the funds could easily be channelled into their own coffers.

Some like The Body Shop, Ikea, Bangsar Village, Origins and soon Carrefour and Tesco, have chosen to channel the funds to the Malaysian Nature Society’s (MNS) environmental conservation projects like its tree-planting campaign.

MNS head of communications Andrew Sebastian said the “green sin money” was used for their tree-planting campaign that made it easy for the people to monitor the expenditure.

Sebastian said each retailer had their own way of collecting the funds.

“One of our key focus right now is to rehabilitate the mangrove ecosystem in Sepang and the Kuala Selangor Nature Park which were devastated by aquaculture farms,” he said.

Sebastian feels that the recycling practice among Malaysians in general is still poor.

While there are community recycling centres available at selected locations, he said a lack of awareness and education, compounded by different perceptions of recycling, had hindered a successful recycling practice.

Centre for Environment, Technology and Development Malaysia (Cetdem) executive director Anthony Tan said the government could do much more in terms of enforcing laws and policies, like extending the campaign to hawkers and market traders, getting retailers to offer incentives to those who bring their own bags and containers, offering cash incentives for households and community composting, and setting a minimum recommended price for recyclable materials.

“There are not enough recycling centres to promote the 3R (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) habit, plus an acute shortage of large bins that can cater to the huge amount of recyclable material.

Sebastian said the government should provide sufficient avenues for people to practise recycling and come up with an education campaign to promote recycling.

“One long-term measure would be to make recycling a way of life either through enforcement or legislation.

“Housing areas or apartment blocks should provide their own recycling bins to serve as collection points,” he said.

Most importantly, Sebastian said the public should practise sustainable consumerism by buying only what they need and consuming less.

He said for the campaign to be effective there should be a gradual phasing out from minimal to eventually zero use of plastic bags.

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Suspected Trader of Tiger Parts Arrested in West Sumatra

Dessy Sagita Jakarta Globe 13 Mar 11;

West Sumatra’s Natural Resources Conservation Age ncy on Friday announced the arrest of a man suspected of involvement in the trade of tigers’ body parts.

The man was apprehended in his home in Payakumbuh on March 3, after the agency, also known as BKSDA received a report that a tiger had been poisoned near Rimbang Baling wildlife reserve in late February, the head of the Riau BKSDA, Kurnia Rauf, said on Friday.

Together with West Sumatran officials, Riau BKSDA had for several days been following a courier carrying tigers’ body parts. The trail led them to the man in Payakumbuh.

Kurnia said the suspect, identified only as F.N., was likely to have a wide network in the wildlife trade in West Sumatra.

When officials apprehended him, F.N. denied that was involved in the illicit trade. However, one official detected the smell of a chemical substance often used to preserve tiger skin. It led to the discovery of a room where F.N. kept his wares.

Along with the tiger’s skin, BKSDA officials also confiscated a live python snake and pieces of other animals.

Chairul Saleh, coordinator of the World Wildlife Fund’s Indonesian branch, said the arrest was only a start.

“We want to help the government to break the cycle of tiger smuggling because it has brought the Sumatran tiger to the brink to the extinction,” he said.

F.N. is being held by the Payakumbuh Police and faces charges of illegal trading in parts of endangered species.

Last year, a 92-year-old man named Wiryo Armada was arrested in Riau who confessed to having killed at least 44 tigers in Riau since 1960.

Authorities believe Wiryo was part of an international network and said he told them he had customers in Singapore. Wiryo died before he was brought to trial.

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Indian Ministry considering bio-shields against tsunami

Economic Times 18 Mar 11;

NEW DELHI: The Environment Ministry is considering the idea of developing bio-shields comprising mangrove and non-mangrove species in coastal areas adjoining critical infrastructure projects such as power plants and oil storage depots.

The idea of promoting mangroves and other biological shields to provide a 'speed breaker' was suggested by agricultural scientist and Rajya Sabha MP MS Swaminathan . The suggestion is being followed up by the expert group appointed by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh to evaluate additional safeguards against the risk of tsunami.

In a letter to Ramesh, Swaminathan referred to the manner in which dense mangrove forests served as a "speed breaker, reducing the damage done" during the 2004 tsunami which affected Tamil Nadu and other southern states. "The concern now about the safety of nuclear power plants located along the coast such as Kalpakkam and Kudangulam in Tamil Nadu makes me feel that in addition to other steps we should promote bio-shields comprising mangrove and non-mangrove species in coastal areas adjoining nuclear power plants," Swaminathan wrote.

Swaminathan has also suggested that suggested that the coastal areas adjoining the nuclear plants could be declared as critically vulnerable coastline. The senior agricultural scientist said that the idea of using mangroves as line of defence against coastal storms and tsunamis came following a discussion with older generation of Japanese scientists in 1989.

Ramesh has asked the expert group headed by former secretary department of ocean development AM Muthunayagam to follow up on this suggestion.

The four member group is undertaking a review of the current systems for assessing tsunami-type risks as part of the environmental impact assessment of projects in coastal areas. The group will also evaluate additional safeguards that are needed for existing projects and suggest measures to be taken for environmental impact assessments for future projects.

Additionally, the ministry's expert appraisal committees relating to industry, infrastructure, thermal power, and nuclear power have been to "deliberate on tsunami-related risks and to examine how they can be included in the terms of reference for environment impact assessment for future projects."

Ramesh has said that since a large number of critical infrastructure projects would have to be developed in coastal areas, there was a need to establish the carrying capacity of the 5,400 km of the country's main coastline. The ministry has already initiated the exercise of hazard line mapping along the coastlines.

This is being undertaken by the Survey of India and will be completed in 24 months.

Earlier this year, the ministry had delinked the management of Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep Islands from the coastal regulation zone notification. This was done in recognition of the dangers posed to these islands by the natural disasters including earthquakes and tsunami. A separate Island Protection Zone notification had been issued in January. This calls for an Integrated Island Management Plan for each of the 340 islands of A&N and 32 islands of Lakshadweep taking into account the natural disasters including the tsunami like event.

Tsunami-related risks: Experts’ panel formed
Manan Kumar Express News Service 18 Mar 11;

NEW DELHI: Waking to the colossal devastation in tsunami-hit Japan, the Environment Ministry has set up an Expert Group to evaluate additional safeguards needed for the existing projects and also suggest measures to be taken for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the future projects, including nuclear power plant.

According to the current guidelines, tsunami or tremors are not part of the parameters to be looked at by the EIA.

The four member expert group, constituted under the chairmanship of Dr A M Muthunayagam, former Secretary in the Department of Ocean Development, will specifically evaluate measures that are needed for high value and critical projects such as nuclear power plants, oil storage depots and refineries situated near the coastal areas. Giving top priority to the threat, the expert group has been asked to submit its report with in three months.

The other members of the expert group are Dr Shetye, Director of National Institute of Oceanography and Prof R Ramesh, Director of the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management, Chennai.

Dr Senthilvel, Project Director of the Society of Integrated Coastal Management has been made the member secretary.

Another project of Hazard Line Mapping, worth Rs 1200 crore, already taken up by the Environment Ministry for identification, delineation and demarcation of the hazard line, along the 5,400 km of the main coastline of India has special importance in view of the tsunami-type tragedies, the ministry said.

The mapping of the hazard line is important to deal with impacts of the climate change and the coastal catastrophes.

Besides, in view of the dangers posed to Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep Islands by natural disasters, including earthquakes and tsunami, the Ministry has already de-linked the management of these islands from Coastal Regulation Zone notification by issuing a separate Island Protection Zone (IPZ) Notification on January 6, 2011.

According to the notification, an Integrated Island Management Plan would be prepared for each of the 340 islands of Andaman & Nicobar and 32 islands of Lakshadweep taking into account the natural disasters, including the tsunami-like event.

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Deadly heatwaves will be more frequent in coming decades, say scientists

'Mega-heatwaves' like the one estimated to have killed tens of thousands in western Europe in 2003 will become up to 10 times more likely over the next 40 years, a study suggests
Damian Carrington 17 Mar 11;

The heatwave that scorched eastern Europe in 2010, killing thousands of people and devastating crops, was the worst since records began and led to the warmest summer on the continent for at least 500 years, a new scientific analysis has revealed.

The research also suggests that "mega-heatwaves", such as the prolonged extreme temperatures that struck western Europe in 2003 will become five to 10 times more likely over the next 40 years, occurring at least once a decade. But the 2010 heatwave was so extreme – 10C above the average for the first week of August between 1970 and 2000 – that similar events are only expected to occur once every 30 years or so.

Searing temperatures in July and August 2010 across Russia are estimated to have killed 50,000 people, say the researchers, who were led by David Barriopedro at the University of Lisbon in Portugal. Mortality rates in Moscow doubled compared with the previous year, filling morgues to capacity as people succumbed to heatstroke and respiratory problems. More heat-related deaths are expected to have occurred in the Baltic states Ukraine and Kazakhstan, though these figures have not yet been estimated.

The mega-heatwave also cut the Russian grain yield by 25%, sending food prices soaring, and left a million hectares of land burned. The nation's losses are estimated at $15bn.

The team examined the temperature, duration and spatial extent of the 2010 heatwave and found it exceeded the previous record year of 2003, which had also caused tens of thousands of deaths. The analysis, published in the journal Science, revealed the unprecedented nature of the 2010 heatwave using temperature measurements dating back to 1871 and estimates from tree rings and other proxies going back to 1500.

Record extremes were seen over an area of two million square kilometres. The heatwave was caused by high pressure weather systems lingering over the continent.

The decade up to 2010 was also exceptional, the researchers found. Across the whole of Europe, records that had held for 500 years were broken over two-thirds of the land mass.

Climate scientists expect increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to raise both average temperatures and summer variability in Europe, leading to more heatwaves. The findings of the study are consistent with this, said Barriopedro: "Under global warming this kind of event will become more common. Mega-heatwaves are going to be more frequent and more intense in the future."

Previous research has shown that global warming made the 2003 heatwave at least twice as likely, but modelling studies have not yet been done that might demonstrate the link between climate change and the 2010 heatwave. Last month, scientists showed that climate change made the 2000 floods that swamped England two to three times as likely to happen.

Barriopedro said his team's new work shows there are serious risks of major harm to people and crops in the future unless action is taken. Some countries took additional precautions after the 2003 heatwave, for example providing early warning systems, cool rooms in homes for the elderly and by creating green spaces in cities that help control temperatures.

Recent Heat Waves Likely Warmest Since 1500 in Europe Yahoo News 17 Mar 11;

The intense heat wave that centered on western Russia last summer was truly a record breaker. It surpassed even 2003's scorcher in western and central Europe — which has been blamed for 70,000 deaths. And together, both of these mega heat waves have secured a place in the 500-year weather history of Europe, according to a new analysis.

The researchers also looked ahead, and found that a variety of different climate models predict an increase in mega heat waves similar to these in the 21st century for two regions within Europe.

From late July until the second week in August 2010, record heat settled across 772,204 square miles (2 million square kilometers) in Russia and Eastern Europe. In Moscow, the daytime temperatures reached 101 degrees Fahrenheit (38.2 degrees Celsius), in Kiev, nights reached 77 F (25 C), crops were destroyed, fires swept across western Russia, and preliminary estimates now put the Russian death toll at 55,000.

Researchers, led by David Barriopedro of the Instituto Dom Luiz at the University of Lisbon in Portugal, compared this mega heat wave with the one that struck western Europe seven years earlier, and found that 2010's heat wave was not only more severe, but also covered a greater area.

For a longer historical perspective, they also looked back 500 years for Europe. Since recorded weather measurements go back only to the 19th century, they looked at reconstructions of summer temperatures made by pulling together a variety of evidence, including that from tree rings, Greenland ice cores and old documentary sources.

Even taking into account the uncertainties in the reconstruction, they found that 2010 and 2003 were most likely the warmest summers since 1500. A number of other summers in the past decade were also close contenders.

Barriopedro cautions against blaming the heat waves on climate change caused by humans' greenhouse gas emissions.

"It's very difficult, if not impossible, to attribute a given extreme event, like the 2003 mega heat wave, to climate change," he told LiveScience. "What we can do is estimate what has been the contribution of humans to increase or decrease the likelihood of an analogue, an event like that."

For instance, after the devastating 2003 heat wave, British researchers led by Peter Stott, found that human activities had doubled the risk for a heat wave of the same magnitude. As for 2010's heat wave, that appears to have been caused mainly by natural, atmospheric phenomena, rather than humans' greenhouse gas emissions, wrote researchers led by Randall Dole of the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA) in a study to be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Even if we can't blame our greenhouse gas emissions for recent events, our activities do raise the likelihood of similar events in the future.

Barriopedro and his colleagues used 11 climate models to examine the outcome of a moderate scenario for greenhouse gas emissions. All models projected an increase in the frequency of mega heat waves during the 21st century in parts of Europe. In particular, they found that mega heat waves of magnitude similar to 2003 would increase by a factor of five to 10 for regions of western and eastern Europe. (The western European region included France and parts as of surrounding countries, and the eastern region included northwestern Russia and parts of the Baltic nations).

Last summer's heat wave; however, was so intense that the likelihood that these regions would suffer a heat wave of that magnitude remains fairly low until the second half of this century.

This study supports previous work that has predicted an increase in extreme weather as the Earth's surface warms, according to Barriopedro.

"Whatever the scenario you look at, you will have more frequent, more intense and longer-lasting heat waves in the upcoming decades in many places in the world," he said.

Barriopedro's collaborators are Erich Fischer of the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH Zurich; Jürg Luterbacher of Justus-Liebig-University in Germany; Ricardo Trigo of the University of Lisbon and Ricardo Garcia-Herrera of the Agencia Estatal de Meteorologicia in Spain.

The research will be published in the March 18 issue of the journal Science.

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World To Warm If Japan Panic Spreads

Daniel Fineren and Nina Chestney PlanetArk 17 Mar 11;

Global warming will intensify if leading carbon emitter China drops the world's most ambitious nuclear power building program and Germany shuts down its nuclear plants amid panic over Japan's atomic energy crisis.

Wednesday's decision by the world's biggest coal burner and largest climate-warming carbon emitter to suspend approvals for new nuclear plants follows a decision by Europe's biggest carbon emitter Germany to shut seven nuclear plants.

Japan, already the world's fifth biggest carbon emitter before Friday's tsunami shut several of its nuclear plants, has little choice but to burn more gas and coal to make up for the loss of its low-carbon reactors.

Reacting to the crisis caused by a earthquake and tsunami in Japan, China's decision to freeze plant approvals threatens to increase carbon emissions. A similar response in land-locked Switzerland and major earthquake-free Germany may also mean much more is emitted by the European energy sector.

"This will definitely increase emissions as it will affect the long-term demand for gas," Isabelle Curien, analyst at Deutsche Bank, said.

"If we want to have a low-carbon economy by 2050, not using nuclear would require huge access to renewable energy and I am not sure that can be done in such proportions."

As well as being the leading cause of man-made climate change, burning coal is also a leading cause of smog, acid rain, bronchitis, aggravated asthma and premature death, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

China, which U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern estimates could be emitting 60 percent more carbon than the United States by the end of the decade, had been banking on nuclear power to cut its dependence on coal over the next decade, with a target to start building 40 gigawatts of new capacity by 2015.

It seems unlikely Beijing will abandon those plans and it has not yet ordered its existing ones to shut. But the freeze could delay their construction while coal-fired power plant building continues unabated.

Germany's decision to shut seven of its oldest reactors at least until June will also likely lead to more pollution being billowed into the atmosphere.

"I would expect plants that burn coal to be the most likely replacement for those reactors. Which means you will have between 8 and 11 million additional tons of CO2 in the coming months," said Matteo Mazzoni, a carbon analyst at Italy's Nomisma Energia.

Should Germany go a step further and shut all of its exiting reactors down, replacing them with fossil fuels could boost its emissions by at least 400-435 million tons between now and 2020, analysts estimate.

The head of Greenpeace International's renewable division said the closure of the nuclear plants would have no carbon impact because Germany's coal plants already run flat out most of the time.

"They are usually running 24/7 anyway so an increase in output is almost impossible," Sven Teske said.

"We do have a lot of surplus wind power we could add which are usually switched off," he said, adding that more energy efficiency and a little more gas-fired production could fill in the gap.

The global impact of Japan's nuclear problems on climate change is impossible to judge with the plant's operators still trying to avert a major nuclear disaster.

The International Energy Agency, which advises the world's biggest industrial member countries of the OECD, warned against a knee-jerk reaction against nuclear and said it was impossible to slash carbon emissions without atomic energy.

But as the global panic around Japan's nuclear problems grew, Europe's energy chief raised the prospect of a nuclear-free future, which environmental groups say could and should be greener but others say will likely be gassier.

"The Japanese tragedy could lead to a setback for the world's nuclear renaissance (except perhaps in China)," analysts at French bank Societe Generale said, adding that gas will likely become the fuel of "no choice" in OECD countries where voters may decide against nuclear power.

SocGen estimates that if all 34 countries in the OECD, which does not include China, were to shut their nuclear power plants and replace them with gas plants before technology to capture their carbon emissions is developed, OECD carbon emissions could rise by nearly one billion tons of CO2 a year.

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