Best of our wild blogs: 6 Apr 11

Leelumnus radium, a new genus and species of pilumnid crab from marine encrusting communities in Singapore
from Raffles Museum News

Nudibranch at Tanah Merah!
from wild shores of singapore

First visit down Kranji Mangrove
from Urban Forest

Vocalisation of Coppersmith Barbet
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Mangroves: the "most carbon rich forests in the tropics"
from Celebrating Singapore's Biodiversity

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Singapore Environment Council chief steps down

Lester Kok Straits Times 6 Apr 11;

THE executive director of the Singapore Environment Council (SEC), Mr Howard Shaw, has stepped down to join the private sector.

Recognised by many as the public face of the non-profit, non-governmental organisation, he will be a corporate adviser to the council, helping to guide the new executive director, whose name has not been announced.

A well-known advocate of environmental sustainability, Mr Shaw, 40, has been at the Halcyon Group as its senior vice-president of corporate social responsibility since last Friday.

The group is an investment holding company headquartered in Singapore, with businesses in rubber plantations and the offshore and marine sectors.

When contacted by The Straits Times, Mr Shaw said he had been with the council for a very long time - 15 years - and that everybody needed to move on.

'SEC has built my knowledge in all areas of sustainability,' he said. He added that he would enjoy applying in the private sector what he has learnt, and that this was something he had always wanted to do.

'That is part of my passion, not just telling people what to do and talking about it, but also actually seeing it materialise in projects... looking at real, concrete, environmental performance and improvement.'

In his new role at Halcyon, he will oversee environmental management systems, conduct environmental impact studies and engage company stakeholders in corporate social responsibility activities, among other things.

At the council, Mr Shaw worked his way up from programme coordinator in 1996 to the executive director post, which he held for the last eight years.

The middle child of three, he is the younger son of Mr Shaw Vee King, managing director of cinema giant Shaw Organisation and son of its founder Runme Shaw.

Some of Mr Howard Shaw's work at the council included Bring Your Own Bag Day, which is now a weekly affair in supermarkets. It was launched in 2008 by the council and the National Environment Agency. The Eco-Foodcourt certification, for foodcourts that comply with a set of guidelines, including installing water-saving devices and providing only sustainable packaging, was another project. This was launched in January.

Mr Aloysius Cheong, chief executive of Olive Green, a local firm producing corn-based disposable tableware, had nothing but praise for Mr Shaw.

'He is a great guy, you can really see that he is passionate about what he does,' Mr Cheong said, adding that it was a shame Mr Shaw had stepped down just when the council was making waves in the green industry.

Mr Allan Lim, chief executive of Alpha Biofuels, a company that produces biodiesel from used cooking oil, said Mr Shaw was innovative and would always challenge conventions.

'He applied commercial sense to environmental sustainability and was able to find ways that were economically viable for companies to go green.'

Mr Lim said he looked forward to working with the new director.

'This would challenge the SEC to shift the paradigm set by Howard; to inject new ideas and to have more exciting things that can be done to raise more awareness about the environment.'

Singapore Environment Council not a one-man operation
tanya fong Today Online 7 Apr 11;

The Singapore Environment Council (SEC) said it will be "business as usual" at the council in the wake of Mr Howard Shaw's move to the private sector.

Mr Shaw was executive director - the highest-paid position in the non-profit organisation - of the SEC for eight years.

Yesterday, a press conference was held to pre-empt a possible reduction of confidence from its stakeholders, work partners and donors. The SEC said that the council will push on with its current projects as well as promote environmental awareness and action.

Its chairman, Ms. Isabella Loh, said although Mr Shaw is the face of SEC, the council is not a one-man show.

Said Ms Loh: "More importantly, I just wanted to make it clear publicly that it's business as usual. We serve the public sector, private sector, citizens as well as governments. All of us actually have a board, we have people to answer to."

She added that some of the projects that SEC is running such as the Singapore G1 is still happening, as well as other green audits, are still ongoing. The Singapore G1 is an annual event organised by the SEC to raise awareness of greener mobility options and to encourage the development and use of green technologies in transportation to reduce carbon emissions.

The SEC also announced that it was looking for a new executive director.

Meanwhile, Ms. Loh will be helming the council. Ms. Loh was previously Shell's CEO and VP for Global Marine Fuels and Lubricants, and president and CEO of SembCorp Environmental Management Pte Ltd.

Mr Shaw, who had been with SEC for 15 years, is widely known for driving sustainability efforts among local enterprises and government. He joined the Halcyon Group as senior vice-president of Corporate Social Responsibility last Friday.

He was responsible for developing the Singapore Environmental Achievement Award, Singapore's first award scheme to recognise the efforts of local enterprises that practice proactive environmental management and the Singapore Green Labelling Scheme.

Said Mr Shaw: "I am not only passionate about the environment but I am very passionate about this organisation as well. SEC has grown into an organisation that has become very relevant in this changing world where we need to really focus on sustainable urbanisation and the greening of business."

Mr Shaw said he will continue to have an active role in SEC as a corporate adviser. Being in the private sector would allow him many opportunities to help SEC, he said.

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New toad species found in Vietnam

Vietnam Net 5 Apr 11;

VietNamNet Bridge - Australian and Vietnamese scientists have found a new species of toads in Bi Doup - Nui Ba National Park in the Central Highlands Province of Lam Dong.

The toads, a new species of Leptobrachium leucops, or Eastern Spadefoot Toads, were found in the evergreen forest between 1558-1900 m above sea-level on the Lang Bian Plateau in Lam Dong and Khanh Hoa provinces.

Leptobrachium leucops is nocturnal, has a length of 4.5 cm and have partly white pupils, ridges on their skin and several stripes on their four limbs.

The megophryid frog genus Leptolalax is a relatively recently described genus of about 29 species in Asia that often inhabit the forest floor near rocky streams in hilly topography, covered with evergreen forest.

There has been a rapid increase in the number of known Leptolalax species in recent years, with 21 of the known species described in the past two decades.

Eleven species have been reported from Indochina and all but two of those also have been reported from Vietnam.

Vietnamese Leptolalax are known to exist in the suitable habitat in northern and central Vietnam, and records to date show their southernmost habitats to be in the Kon Tum Plateau.

The same team recently discovered a new species of Rhacophorus vampyrus or Vampire Tree Frogs in the same national park after several field studies from 2008 to 2010.

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World's Reef Fishes Tussling With Human Overpopulation

ScienceDaily 5 Apr 11;

"Coral reefs provide a range of critical goods and services to humanity -- everything from nutrient cycling to food production to coast protection to economic revenues through tourism," says Camilo Mora at Dalhousie University and lead researcher of the study. "Yet the complex nature and large-scale distribution of coral reefs is challenging scientists to understand if this natural ecosystem will continue working to deliver goods and services given the ongoing loss of biodiversity in coral reefs."

"Numerous experiments have showed that biodiversity has positive effects on several ecosystem processes, although the number of species required to ensure the functionality of a given process is fairly low, as many species often have similar ecological roles," says Michel Loreau from McGill University, a co-author of the study. "What remains largely unknown, however, is whether the results of experimental studies reflect what happens in real ecosystems."

To fill this unknown, 55 researchers, in a two-year study, collected the necessary data to determine whether biodiversity influences the efficiency of reef fish systems to produce biomass, and if so, elucidate the role of humans in such a linkage. The team collected demographic data on human populations as well as environmental and biological data on the identity of species, their abundances and body sizes in almost two thousand coral reef locations worldwide. The data on abundance and body size were used to calculate the cumulative weight of all fishes on each reef (also called standing biomass), which is one of the main services reef fishes provide to humanity through food supply but also a very close proxy for how effectively ecosystems produce biomass.

"The results of the study were stunning," says co-author Kevin Gaston at Sheffield University. "While experimental studies have elucidated that the biomass production of ecosystems stabilizes after a certain number of species is reached, this field study demonstrated that the production of biomass in reef fish systems did not saturate with the addition of new species."

"This study shows, quite simply, that the more biodiversity, the better," says co-author Marah Hardt with OceanInk. "The benefits appear limitless, if we allow ecosystems to operate at their full potential."

"The reasons leading to a non-saturating relationship between diversity and biomass production are intriguing," says coauthor Michel Kulbicki at the French Institute for Research and Development. "Nevertheless, this strong relationship clearly indicates that species interact in such a way that their combined effect is larger than the addition of their individual parts and that the loss of species can have far-reaching consequences in the functioning of coral reefs."

The study also demonstrated that standing biomass reduced with increasing human density, although for the same number of people the reduction of biomass was significantly larger in more diverse ecosystems. The authors presume that the stronger deleterious effect of humanity on more diverse reefs is due to the selective extirpation of large fishes, which are often more efficient at turning food into biomass and lack competitors precluding their ecological replacement by other species.

"It's been usual to expect that diverse ecosystems could lose a few species without it mattering very much because the high redundancy of species should allow to replace any species that is lost," said Peter F. Sale, assistant director of the Institute for Water, Environment and Health of the United Nations University, who was not involved in the study. "The results of this study now suggest that we do not have such insurance and that reef ecosystems are at greater risk from human pressures than we previously thought."

The study documented that the deleterious effect of humanity on reef fish systems can be widespread, as some 75% of the world's coral reefs are near human settlements and could worsen, as 82% of countries with coral reefs are expected to double their human populations within the next 50 to 100 years.

"Human overpopulation is a very sensitive topic across endeavors from science to religion and politics," Mora says. "Unfortunately, we find again and again that our global population cannot be sustainably supported without the deterioration of the world's natural resources and the resulting backlash on human welfare. Thus, identifying socially and politically acceptable solutions to curb human population growth is at the core of finding ultimate solutions for the protection of biodiversity and the prevention of unnecessary hardship."

"We found that dense human populations were associated with heavy overfishing, land use, and coastal development," says coauthor David Booth at the University of Technology, Sydney. "This highlights the challenge behind the management required to adequately protect coral reefs and the need to focus on alternative economic and policy tools that address the root drivers of reef degradation."

"This is a critical situation," says coauthor Sebastian Ferse from the Leibniz Center of Tropical Marine Ecology. "It underlines once again that current management approaches are insufficient to protect marine biodiversity on a large scale, and that holistic approaches combining natural and social systems are needed."

"Not everything was doom and gloom," says coauthor Maria Beger at the University of Queensland. The study reported that at least 25% of the world's reefs remain distant from direct human effects. Those reefs are located on small and isolated areas where human habitation is harsh. "These few reefs are in stark contrast with degraded sites, and may still be able to act as sources to replenish others. This is a fortunate situation that can buy us some time while we figure out effective solutions to this coral reef crisis," she adds.

"Coral reefs are the most diverse ecosystem on the planet, hosting thousands of species and generating numerous goods and services to millions of people worldwide," says Enric Sala, a National Geographic fellow and co-author of the study. "The future of coral reefs and the services they provide to a growing human population depend on how soon countries become seriously committed to regulating human threats."

Journal Reference:

Camilo Mora, Ransom A. Myers, Marta Coll, Simone Libralato, Tony J. Pitcher, Rashid U. Sumaila, Dirk Zeller, Reg Watson, Kevin J. Gaston, Boris Worm. Management Effectiveness of the World's Marine Fisheries. PLoS Biology, 2009; 7 (6): e1000131 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1000131

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British garden birds are bouncing back

Emma Brennand BBC News 31 Mar 11;

A national survey has recorded an encouraging rise in small bird populations in the UK.

In January, over 600,000 people took part in the Big Garden Birdwatch run by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

The results, published this week, show a promising increase in garden bird populations since last year.

Over 10.2 million birds were counted. Goldcrest sightings doubled, while long-tailed tits rose by a third.

The annual survey, now in its 32nd year, was held on Saturday 29 January.

The survey asked people to take to their gardens and public open spaces to count the number of birds during a given hour.

The harsh winter conditions of 2009-10 caused significant drops in the number of small birds recorded in last year's Big Garden Birdwatch.

"We were really interested to see how the small birds fared after such a disastrous last year," says Big Garden Birdwatch co-ordinator Sarah Kelly.

"It appears that many may have had a decent breeding season and have been able to bounce back a little."

This year's results suggest an encouraging increase in long-tailed tits, goldcrests and coal tits.

But Sarah Kelly warns that people must not be complacent: "Another hard winter could see numbers back down so it's important everyone continues to feed their garden birds."

Many other previously declining populations, such as the blackbird and robin, also appear to be doing better, with numbers having stabilised when compared to last year.

Starlings and blackbirds have swapped positions on this year's leader board, with starlings now at number two and blackbirds at number three.

Starling sightings have increased by a quarter since last year, but their numbers are still down from when Big Garden Birdwatch began in 1979.

The house sparrow retained its top spot for the eighth year running with an average of four seen per garden, a population increase of 10% since last year. However, the 58% decrease in house sparrow numbers since 1979 is still a cause of concern.

Numbers of great tits were up by 12% while sightings of blue tits increased by 22%.

More than 7,000 sightings of the striking waxwing were recorded. These winter migrants arrive in the UK from Scandinavia in search of food.

"We knew this was going to be a bumper year for waxwings as we'd had so many reports from all over the UK," says RSPB scientist Mark Eaton.

"But the Big Garden Birdwatch is the first indicator of exactly how many were seen in gardens, and we're pleased that so many people got to enjoy sightings of these beautiful birds."

Waxwings are very particular feeders and are attracted only to gardens that contain berries.

The RSPB believes the increase in waxwings shows that people are encouraging the right plants for wildlife and reaping the rewards.

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British food waste activist wins Norwegian environmental prize

Yahoo News 5 Apr 11;

OSLO (AFP) – British food waste activist Tristram Stuart won Norway's Sophie Prize for environment and sustainable development Tuesday, the foundation behind the award said.

In his 2009 book, "Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal," the British activist, born in 1977, denounces that massive quantities of food are thrown away while one billion of people worldwide suffer from malnutrition.

According to Stuart, a third of all the food that is thrown away in the United States and Europe would suffice to feed all the hungry in the world.

"Tristram Stuart is awarded the Sophie Prize of 2011 for his innovative, energetic, humorous and thoughtful contributions to raising consciousness about one of today's the most palpable environmental and moral scandals: food waste," the foundation said.

It quoted a new study saying each Norwegian throws away a kilo of food each week, which amounts to some 300,000 tonnes of food wasted annually in Norway.

Stuart turned his word into actions in December 2009 by organising "Feeding the 5000" on Trafalgar Square in London, where some 5,000 people were fed a meal made with ingredients that would have gone to waste.

Set up in 1997 by Norwegian writer Jostein Gaarder, the author of the bestselling novel "Sophie's World", and his wife, the award recognises work for the protection of the environment with the winner receiving a 100,000 dollar (70,000 euro) cheque.

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New fresh water in Arctic could shift Gulf Stream

Arthur Max Associated Press Yahoo News 5 Apr 11;

AMSTERDAM – Scientists are monitoring a massive pool of fresh water in the Arctic Ocean that could spill into the Atlantic and potentially alter the key ocean currents that give Western Europe its moderate climate.

The oceanographers said Tuesday the unusual accumulation has been caused by Siberian and Canadian rivers dumping more water into the Arctic and from melting sea ice. Both are consequences of global warming.

If it flushes into the Atlantic, the infusion of fresh water could, in the worst case, change the ocean current that brings warmth from the tropics to European shores, said Laura De Steur of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research.

German researcher Benjamin Rabe, of the Alfred Wegener Institute, said the Arctic's fresh water content had increased 20 percent since the 1990s — about 8,400 cubic kilometers. That is the equivalent of all the water in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron together or double the volume of water in Lake Victoria, Africa's largest lake.

Increased runoff from the great northern rivers "could potentially impact the large scale ocean circulation in the Atlantic Ocean. This is important for us in Western Europe because our climate is pretty much dictated by the Thermohaline ocean circulation," said De Steur.

The Thermohaline current loops like a conveyer belt from the tropics to the North Atlantic, driven by the differences in salt content and wind patterns. Warm water from the south gains in salinity and grows heavier as it cools. At its northern end, the current is further chilled by cold air and sinks, warming again and rising as it travels south.

That cycle could be affected when the pool of fresh water is released into the Atlantic, said De Steur and Rabe. The icy water has been kept bottled up in the Arctic by wind patterns, which have not shifted their general clockwise direction for the unusually long time of 12 years. Normally, the winds change at intervals of five to 10 years.

The two scientists spoke to The Associated Press as part of a European Union initiative, called Clamer, to collate and publicize information from 300 EU-funded research projects conducted over the last 13 years on climate change and marine ecology. Rabe and colleagues from the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany, published their research last year in the journal Deep Sea Research on the effects of higher river runoff on ocean salinity.

De Steur said most of the excess fresh water has collected in the Canada Basin, but in the last three years changes also have been noticed in the Eurasian side of the Arctic Ocean.

"It's important to monitor this to see if this can be transported to the Atlantic, where it might potentially effect the Gulf Stream and the Thermohaline circulation," she said.

Rabe cautioned that scientists have not been studying the situation long enough to predict what may happen, and the results of model simulations also were inconclusive.

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Ozone depletion over Arctic at record level: WMO

Yahoo News 5 Apr 11;

GENEVA (AFP) – Depletion of the ozone layer over the Arctic has reached record levels, and Nordic countries will have to watch for higher than normal ultraviolet radiation in coming weeks, the UN weather agency said Tuesday.

The Arctic ozone layer suffered a loss of about 40 percent from the beginning of winter to late March, up from the previous record of about 30 percent over the entire winter, according to the World Meteorological Organisation.

"Depletion of the ozone layer -- the shield that protects life on Earth from harmful levels of ultraviolet rays -- has reached an unprecedented level over the Arctic this spring because of the continuing presence of ozone-depleting substances in the atmosphere and a very cold winter in the stratosphere," the WMO said in a statement.

With the ozone deficient region shifting away in late March from the pole to cover Greenland and Scandinavia, these Nordic regions would have to watch for higher than normal ultraviolet radiation in coming weeks.

"As the solar elevation at noon increases over the next weeks, regions affected by the ozone depletion will experience higher than normal UV radiation," said the WMO.

"The public is recommended to stay informed through national UV forecasts," it said.

The stratosphere is the second major layer of the atmosphere, and about 90 percent of the ozone in the atmosphere is found here.

Stratospheric ozone provides a natural protective filter against harmful ultra-violet rays from the sun, which can cause sunburn, cataracts and skin cancer and damage vegetation.

Its depletion is caused by extreme cold temperatures at high altitude and a particular type of pollution, from chemicals often used in refrigeration, some plastic foams, or aerosol sprays, which have accumulated in the atmosphere.

Most of the chemicals, chloroflurocarbons (CFCs), are being phased out under the 1987 Montreal Protocol, but they linger in the atmosphere for many years.

Thanks to the accord, however, the ozone layer outside the polar regions is projected to recover to its pre-1980 levels at around 2030 to 2040.

Over the Antarctic, the ozone layer is expected to recover at around 2045 to 2060 while over the Arctic, this should happen one or two decades earlier.

"The degree of ozone loss experienced in any particular winter depends on the meteorological conditions," noted Michel Jarraud, WMO secretary-general.

"The Arctic stratosphere continues to be vulnerable to ozone destruction caused by ozone-depleting substances linked to human activities," he said.

"The 2011 ozone loss shows that we have to remain vigilant and keep a close eye on the situation in the Arctic in the coming years," added the UN weather chief.

Ozone layer faces record 40 pct loss over Arctic
John Heilprin Associated Press Yahoo News 5 Apr 11;

GENEVA – The protective ozone layer in the Arctic that keeps out the sun's most damaging rays — ultraviolet radiation — has thinned about 40 percent this winter, a record drop, the U.N. weather agency said Tuesday.

The Arctic's damaged stratospheric ozone layer isn't the best known "ozone hole" — that would be Antarctica's, which forms when sunlight returns in spring there each year. But the Arctic's situation is due to similar causes: ozone-munching compounds in air pollutants that are chemically triggered by a combination of extremely cold temperatures and sunlight.

The losses this winter in the Arctic's fragile ozone atmospheric layer strongly exceeded the previous seasonal loss of about 30 percent, the U.N.'s World Meteorological Organization in Geneva said.

It blamed the combination of very cold temperatures in the stratosphere, the second major layer of the Earth's atmosphere, just above the troposphere, and ozone-eating CFCs from aerosol sprays and refrigeration.

"This is pretty sudden and unusual," said Bryan Johnson, an atmospheric chemist who works in the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Earth System Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado.

Atmospheric scientists concerned about global warming focus on the Arctic because that is a region where the effects are expected to be felt first.

"The Arctic stratosphere continues to be vulnerable to ozone destruction caused by ozone-depleting substances linked to human activities," the U.N. weather agency's secretary-general Michel Jarraud said.

Although the thinner ozone means more radiation can hit Earth's surface, the ozone levels in the Arctic remain higher than in other regions such as in the equatorial regions, said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, whose recent Arctic findings mirror those of the U.N. agency.

Ozone losses occur over the polar regions when temperatures drop below -78 degrees Celsius (-108 Fahrenheit) and iridescent ice clouds form. Sunlight on icy surfaces triggers the ozone-eating reactions in chlorine and bromine that comes from air pollutants such as chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, once widely used as refrigerants and flame retardants in household appliances.

"As sunlight returns, it all comes together to trigger significant thinning of the ozone," Johnson explained.

"Mostly the concern, for the Arctic ozone depletion, is for people that live in northern regions, more towards Iceland, northern Norway, the northern coast of Russia," he added, saying they should be more careful outside, wearing sunscreen and sunglasses.

As of late March, the U.N. said, the thinning ozone was shifting away from the pole and was covering Greenland and Scandinavia.

For the planet, Johnson said, there's the concern that "if this were to happen every year — even though the ozone naturally regenerates itself — you might see a trending downward of the atmospheric ozone layer."

After scientists raised warnings in the early 1970s — later earning a Nobel Prize — virtually all the world's nations agreed to the 1987 treaty called the Montreal Protocol to cut back on CFCs used in air conditioning, aerosol sprays, foam packaging and other products.

But the compounds have long atmospheric lifetimes, so it takes decades for their concentrations to subside to the pre-1980 levels agreed to in the Montreal Protocol. The ozone layer outside the polar regions isn't expected to recover to pre-1980 levels until sometime between 2030 and 2040.

The ozone treaty also encourages industries to use replacement chemicals less damaging to ozone.

Some scientists say if that treaty hadn't been adopted, two-thirds of the world's protective ozone layer would be gone about a half-century from now and the CFCs, which also are long-lived potent greenhouse gases, would have pushed the world's temperature up an extra few degrees.

Arctic ozone conditions vary more than the seasonal ozone "hole" that forms high in the stratosphere near the South Pole each winter and spring, and the temperatures are always warmer in the Arctic than over Antarctica.

Because of the changing weather and temperatures that some Arctic winters experience, there have been times where there is almost no ozone loss, and others when the exceptionally cold stratospheric conditions has led to substantial ozone depletion, U.N. scientists say.

This year, the Arctic winter was warmer than average at ground level but colder in the stratosphere than normal. Average Arctic temperatures in January range from about -40 to 0 C (-40 to 32 F) and in July from about -10 to 10 C (14 to 50 F).

U.N. officials say the latest losses — unprecedented, but not entirely unexpected — were detected in satellite observations and weather balloons that show at what altitudes the ozone loss is occurring.



UN ozone:

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Kyoto Pact Rift Threatens Progress At U.N. Climate Talks

David Fogarty PlanetArk 6 Apr 11;

Poorer nations upped the ante on rich countries at U.N. climate talks on Tuesday by demanding that the world's main climate treaty be extended from 2013 and for industrialized countries to deepen carbon-cutting pledges.

Failure to do risked scuttling drawn-out and often fraught negotiations on ways to slow the growth of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions and avoid greater extremes of weather and rising sea levels.

The talks in Bangkok formally began on Tuesday and are the first major session after talks last December in the Mexican resort of Cancun ended with a series of agreements on a $100 billion climate fund and other steps, such as a scheme to transfer clean technology for poorer nations.

But Cancun put off the tougher issue over the fate of the Kyoto Protocol, which binds nearly 40 industrialized nations to emissions targets during its 2008-12 first phase.

The April 3-8 Bangkok meeting is meant to expand on the Cancun agreements but arguments over Kyoto's future risk overshadowing progress.

"It is essential to find a way forward on this issue, which is particularly pressing given the growing possibility of a gap after 2012," U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres told delegates.

The tiny Pacific island state of Tuvalu, which faces being wiped off the map by rising seas, urged the meeting to focus solely on the future of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

"We are concerned that we are going around in circles and making no progress. We are concerned that we have no guarantee that there will be a Kyoto Protocol at the end of this year," Tuvalu delegate Ian Fry told the gathering.

He urged nations that did not support an extension of Kyoto to leave the room, triggering applause.

Japan, Canada and Russia say they are opposed to extending the pact from 2013, saying all major emitting nations be brought under a new and broader legally binding agreement. This includes the United States which never ratified Kyoto and says it will never join it.


Developing nations say Kyoto is the only legally binding instrument and rich nations must boost their pledges to help the world stay below an average rise of 2 Celsius, a pledge nations agreed to in Cancun.

Under Kyoto, developing nations only have to take voluntary steps to curb emissions growth from industry. They are firmly opposed to taking any targets and say they must let their economies grow to lift millions out of poverty.

Impatience is growing during the talks, which began with a series of informal workshops on Sunday, with poorer nations pointing to the increasing impact of climate change, such as storms, droughts and crop failures.

The Cancun meeting put off a decision on Kyoto until a major meeting at the end of this year in Durban, South Africa. But the United Nations fears no decision will be taken on the shape of a new pact at those talks, almost certainly leading to a gap between the end of Kyoto's first phase at end-2012 and any future agreement.

This is a major worry for investors because there will be no certainty on how a $20 billion carbon market under the Kyoto Protocol would function. The market also underpins billions in investments in clean energy projects in poorer nations.

Australia, on behalf of an umbrella group of nations including Japan, Russia and Canada, said group members were "all committed to be part of a balanced, environmentally effective and comprehensive global deal."

But Dessima Williams of Grenada, speaking on behalf of a 43-member alliance of small island states, said it was time for rich nations to show if they had the appetite to deepen their emission cut pledges.

The United Nations says the pledges on the table are far below what is needed to have a medium chance of avoiding a 2C rise.

"To KP or not to KP is not the question," Saudi Arabia told the meeting, referring to the Kyoto Protocol, adding the world had repeatedly missed chances to decide on the shape of new climate pact.

(Editing by Robert Birsel)

UN climate talks begin amid Kyoto Protocol feud
Karl Malakunas Yahoo News 5 Apr 11;

BANGKOK (AFP) – United Nations talks aimed at combating global warming began on Tuesday with countries feuding over who should commit to cutting greenhouse gas emissions under an updated Kyoto Protocol.

The four days of negotiations in Bangkok are the first for the year, kicking off a race to try and achieve consensus on a wide range of hot-button issues in time for a crucial annual UN climate summit in South Africa in November.

In her opening address to the talks, UN climate chief Christiana Figueres warned that breakthroughs made at the last summit in the Mexican resort of Cancun could be jeopardised by the stalemate over the Kyoto Protocol.

"The full implementation of the Cancun agreements can only become an important step forward for the climate if there's a responsible and clear way ahead on the Kyoto Protocol," Figueres said.

Signed in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol saw most developed nations agree to legally binding commitments on curbing their greenhouse gas emissions that are blamed for global warming.

Those commitments are due to expire at the end of 2012 and, if there is to be a second round of legally binding pledges, they would need to be made at the UN's next climate summit in Durban.

But Japan and Russia have firmly opposed extending the protocol because it excludes the world's two biggest polluters -- China and the United States -- and therefore only covers about 30 percent of global emissions.

Australia has also said it would only agree to a second round of commitments if all major emitters were part of the process.

Developing countries, including China, did not have to commit to cutting emissions as part of the Kyoto Protocol and most of them maintain this should remain the case.

Meanwhile, the United States, which refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, has given no indication it would agree to any future legally binding emission reduction commitments.

In the first session of the Bangkok talks, parties gave few signs of changing their positions.

Delegates from a diverse range of developing countries, including China, Tuvalu, Egypt and Venezuela, insisted that rich nations must commit to a second phase of emission reduction commitments at the Durban summit.

The Australian and Japanese delegates, meanwhile, reiterated their countries' positions that all big polluters should have to commit to cutting emissions.

The debate has increased the likelihood of the Kyoto Protocol commitments expiring with only a framework of non-legally binding pledges from most developed and developing countries to fill the void.

Those pledges were made at the Cancun summit.

But developing nations warned this would lead to a greatly diluted global effort to combat climate change involving voluntary targets for rich countries.

"We cannot allow ourselves to move to a weaker structure and a less demanding regime," Venezuelan delegate Claudia Caldera said in her address to the Bangkok forum.

At the Cancun summit, all nations also pledged "urgent action" to keep temperatures from rising no more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

But Figueres has repeatedly warned those Cancun pledges are not nearly good enough to keep temperatures from rising less than the crucial two degrees Celsius threshold.

She called again on Tuesday for all countries to offer much more ambitious emission reduction pledges in time for an updated Kyoto Protocol.

"For Durban to be a success, the unanswered political questions need to be addressed. Most importantly the level of ambition and the legal nature of mitigation (emission reduction) commitments after 2012," she said.

The talks in Bangkok, preceded by two days of informal negotiations, will be followed by similar lower-level meetings in Germany in an effort to lay the foundations for ministers and heads of state to reach agreement in Durban.

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No 'business as usual' on nuclear after Fukushima: IAEA

Simon Morgan Yahoo News 4 Apr 11;

VIENNA (AFP) – The world cannot take a "business as usual" approach to nuclear power in the wake of the disaster in Japan, UN atomic watchdog chief Yukiya Amano said Monday.

Amano suggested however that not enough was learned from an earlier incident in Japan where another nuclear power plant was damaged in an earthquake smaller than the one that caused last month's disaster.

"Thinking retrospectively, the measures taken by the operators as a safety measure (were) not sufficient to prevent this accident," Amano told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting on the Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS).

The CNS is a treaty -- currently with 72 signatory countries -- drawn up after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster to ensure the safety of the world's atomic reactors.

Amano said the crisis in Japan caused by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami "has enormous implications for nuclear power and confronts all of us with a major challenge."

"We cannot take a 'business as usual' approach," he said.

The ageing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, 250 kilometres (155 miles) northeast of Tokyo, was hit by a 14-metre (46-foot) tsunami on March 11, triggering the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

It is not the first such incident in quake-prone Japan: in 2007, the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant was also damaged in an earthquake.

"That earthquake was much smaller than this one. And this time, the earthquake was followed by a huge tsunami," Amano said.

"I believe there are certainly ways to avoid the repetition of such an accident and for that purpose we are now thinking collectively and that is why we are preparing a ministerial meeting to launch the process."

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is to host the conference with its 151 member states from June 20 to 24 to discuss lessons to be learned from the Fukushima disaster.

Li Ganjie of China's National Nuclear Safety Administration agreed that the Fukushima incident "has left an impact on global nuclear power development and has become a major event in nuclear history."

It had triggered "heated discussion on whether we should develop nuclear power."

IAEA chief Amano said that while the immediate priority at Fukushima "is to overcome the crisis and stabilise the reactors ... we must also begin the process of reflection and evaluation."

"The worries of millions of people throughout the world about whether nuclear energy is safe must be taken seriously," he said.

The Vienna-based IAEA, set up in 1957, is responsible for drawing up international safety standards for nuclear power plants, even if it has no powers to legally enforce those standards.

It has already dispatched expert teams to help monitor radiation release from the damaged reactors and sent two reactor experts to the plant to get first-hand information.

Amano said "more needs to be done to strengthen the safety of nuclear power plants so that the risk of a future accident is significantly reduced."

Many countries are reviewing their plans to set up nuclear power programmes in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

But Amano insisted that the basic drivers behind the interest in nuclear power -- which included rising global energy demand, concerns about climate change, volatile fossil fuel prices and energy security -- "have not changed as a result of Fukushima."

He said he was "confident that valuable lessons will be learned from the Fukushima Daiichi accident which will result in substantial improvements in nuclear operating safety, regulation and the overall safety culture."

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