Best of our wild blogs: 9 Apr 11


Dealing with urban wildlife: A response to Frederick Ow
from Lazy Lizard's Tales

Talk at Teaching and Learning Centre, Ngee Ann Polytechnic, 03 Mar 2011: 1200h from Otterman speaks

Moray eel at Tanah Merah!
from wild shores of singapore

Hunting octopus
from Compressed air junkie

Shameful slaughter of a Great Hornbill
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Aquaculture: where does the fish poop go?
from wild shores of singapore


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Flapping sounds give away bird smuggler

Andre Yeo Channel NewsAsia 8 Apr 11;

SINGAPORE: A car stopped at the Woodlands Checkpoint on Thursday by Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officers was found to have 240 Munia birds hidden under the passenger and driver seats.

ICA said in a statement on Friday that the Singapore-registered car was driven by a Singaporean man who looked nervous and avoided eye contact with ICA officers.

Checking the car, they heard flapping sounds from below the driver's seat and found the live birds, packed in plastic crates.

The 42-year-old man claimed he had bought the birds for religious purposes from a pet shop in Johor, Malaysia. The man, the birds and the vehicle, were referred to the Agri-food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) for further investigations.

The ICA and AVA would like to remind travellers against bringing live animals, birds and insects into Singapore without a proper permit.

The importation of any animals or live birds without an AVA permit is a violation of the Animals and Birds Act, which carries a maximum penalty of S$10,000 and/or imprisonment of up to one year.

-CNA/ac


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SCDF arms itself better against flash floods

Satish Cheney Channel NewsAsia 8 Apr 11;

SINGAPORE: In case of flash floods, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) wants to be even better prepared.

That was among key elements unveiled on Friday at its workplan for the year ahead.

Last year, Singapore experienced its worst flash floods in recent memory - including in some previously unaffected areas.

Not to be taken by surprise anymore, the SCDF has reviewed its equipment inventory, adding new ones that can tackle flood situations.

Among them are items such as personal flotation devices.

And to improve its response to flash floods, the SCDF has come up with a prototype of a multi-utility vehicle which can launch inflatable boats close to where people are trapped.

Minister of State for Home Affairs and Education Masagos Zulkifli welcomed the new equipment purchases and complimented the SCDF for being innovative.

He said: "You don't want to also over prepare by buying equipment that are configured for only one kind of emergency or one kind of situation. So for that purpose, the SCDF has been very innovative and creative to ensure that their vehicles are configurable and that the equipment can be deployed appropriately for the kind of emergencies we are likely to respond to."

Another innovation featured at the SCDF Workplan presentation is a Compressed Air Foam system which can put out fires about four times faster using using less water.

Also on show is a mechanical device that can assist in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). It delivers consistent chest compressions and will be fitted in 14 ambulances by June.

A nationwide programme was also launched on Friday to prepare Singapore families to take ownership and learn civil defence.

It will encourage residents to assess their household's level of emergency preparedness.

The project is a joint partnership involving SCDF, National Fire and Civil Emergency Preparedness Council and the People's Association.

- CNA/ir


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Time to step up clean-energy drive

The assumption of cheap conventional energy consumption is wrong and we can't wait for another energy shock to scramble for solutions.
Ron Mahabir Business Times 9 Apr 11;

ANYONE still keen on nuclear power generation after Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Idaho Falls and most recently Fukushima, should be encouraged to move their family within close proximity of the nearest nuclear power plant or radioactive waste disposal site.

The oil spill in the Gulf last year will result in hundreds of billions in clean up costs and years of lost revenue to local businesses. Significant changes in weather patterns have led to horrific floods in Pakistan and Queensland, destruction of crops and shortages of water.

Our consumption of conventional fuels comes at a huge cost that goes well beyond the per kilowatt hour price.

We have made significant progress in so many areas with advancements in technology, yet we are still in the dark ages where it relates to sourcing, generation, distribution and consumption of energy.

And we will remain in the dark and at the mercy of more resource-rich regimes until we truly commit to an accelerated and wide-ranging plan focused on efficiency, clean energy generation and alternative transport

What will it take though, for us to wake up to the economic, environmental, social and national security related costs of fossil fuel and nuclear consumption? We have entered an era of increasingly scarce resources with a planet that is many times oversubscribed. Not only do we have declining energy resources, but also we are facing crises in water, food production, pollution and climate change, all of which are fundamentally centred around energy.

We are making a major mistake in pricing resources on the basis of short-term supply and demand fundamentals without taking into account longer-term shortages and other environmental and social costs. The past century has been built on cheap conventional energy and despite all of the obvious warning signs we continue to use the same assumption of cheap resources.

Those nations that fully embrace cleaner, more sustainable and decentralised alternatives will dominate in the years ahead. Countries such as China, Germany, Israel, Korea and Sweden all get it because they realise that energy poses the greatest risk to their economic growth and political stability.

In fact, the 1973 oil crisis pushed Japan towards nuclear and coal as it was seemingly easier to obtain than oil from the Middle East. Now, as we have seen even those alternatives have significant pitfalls, and 'black swan' events keep showing up more often than we expect.

We have recently crossed a major tipping point in the energy sector. For three years in a row now, more than half of new power generation infrastructure installed annually in the US and Europe was renewable. Installed costs of clean power generation continue to decrease with improvements in technology and scale, while conventional power costs continue to increase.

Over recent years, we have seen impressive growth rates in areas such as wind and solar PV, but are we really making enough of an impact quickly enough to address the crises at hand?

Singapore, more than any other country, has no choice but to fully embrace the challenge of, and opportunity in, clean resources. Without any resources of our own and surrounded by countries that heavily subsidise fossil fuels and continue to demand more energy, Singapore needs to tap even further into its intellectual capital, governmental support, flexible business environment and ability to test-bed technologies and services.

With most major economic regions in the world distracted by unemployment and growing deficits, Singapore is extremely well positioned to take a leadership position in the new energy field.

But we can't make the mistake of having a 20-year view on this. We need to continue improving existing technologies and innovating new ones. We need the clean-energy equivalent of the Manhattan Project focused on this, looking into areas such as algae, ocean power, solar, capacitors and electric vehicles.

And, while philosophically subsidies are generally a bad idea, the incorrect assumption we are making in the pricing and supply of conventional fuels warrants support of clean technologies to accelerate advancement in technology and achieve scale.

Human ingenuity is at its best when economic incentives are there, but we do need to accept that the fundamental assumption of cheap conventional energy consumption is wrong. Those days are over and we can't wait for another energy shock to scramble for solutions.

Finally, we need to start factoring in the massive real costs that conventional fuels have on the environment and disasters like Fukushima as well as national security issues we are experiencing from tensions in the Middle East.

Resource scarcity and nationalism are approaching quickly, and the black swan is becoming more visible. Once you truly understand where we are headed, the solutions are not coming quickly enough. With kids of my own, the biggest question I ask myself is what kind of world are we creating for them?

Is Singapore sustainable in the longer-term? Will they have the same opportunities in a world centred on resources and geopolitical tensions?

While extremely sad, I hope we view the recent tragedies as a major wake up call. We have an opportunity to act now, but time is another rapidly declining precious resource.

The author is the founder and managing director of Asia Cleantech Capital


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Malaysian Underwater Parks To Be Reopened Soon

Bernama 9 Apr 11;

BESUT, April 9 (Bernama) -- Nine scuba diving sites in the vicinity of several islands in the country are expected to be re-opened soon.

The diving sites closed were located off Pulau Perhentian, Pulau Redang, Pulau Tenggol and those off Pahang and Kedah.

Last June, the marine parks were closed due to bleaching of coral reefs which were badly damaged as a result of changes in sea temperature at that time.

The coral reefs had recovered by between 90 and 100 per cent, said Malaysian Marine Parks director-general Dr Sukarno Wagiman.

In view of the recovery, he said the department had asked the natural resources and environment ministry to decide on the most suitable time to reopen the marine parks.

"According to the department's monitoring efforts, we find the condition of the sea water has improved, resulting in 90 to 100 per cent regeneration of the coral reefs," he told reporters here Saturday.

Earlier, Dr Sukarno had launched the Bank Rakyat corporate social service which involved anchoring three sunken automated teller machines and cleaning the beach at the Pulau Perhentian marine parks here.

At the function, the bank, and private entity Dorken Reef Resources which is involved in research and manufacture of ceramic artificial reefs, contributed 75 ceramic enviro-reefs and several machine components for use as artificial reef.

Previously, confiscated foreign fishing boats served as artificial reef to breed coral reef and marine life.

-- BERNAMA


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Thailand seizes 2,000 monitor lizards

Yahoo News 8 Apr 11;

BANGKOK (AFP) – Thailand said on Friday it had made its largest-ever seizure of monitor lizards after finding more than 2,000 of the reptiles being smuggled in a convoy of pick-up trucks heading for the capital.

The live Bengal monitors were found in plastic baskets on the back of three vehicles when they were stopped by authorities in Prachuap Khiri Khan province, south of Bangkok, on Thursday.

Customs officials, who put the estimated street value of the reptiles at 1.8 million baht ($60,000), said officials believe they were destined for Chinese customers.

"They are from Malaysia and transported through southern Thailand and northeastern Laos to China for eating," said Seree Thaijongrak, head of the customs investigation and suppression bureau.

"We knew there was a monitor lizard racket... this time it's the largest seizure ever," he said.

Wildlife anti-trafficking organisation Freeland said monitor lizards are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and are threatened with extinction.

International trade in the reptiles is banned and they are protected under Thai and Malaysian law.


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Collectors threaten world's carnivorous plants

Mark Kinver BBC News 8 Apr 11;

The collection of specimens from the wild is one of the main threats facing the world's carnivorous plants, a study has recorded.

It found that the most common threat was habitat loss, while other factors that threatened the plants included invasive species and pollution.

Half of the meat-eating plant species that had been assessed were listed as threatened, the research observed.

The findings will appear in the journal Biological Conservation.

Co-author David Jennings, a researcher from the University of South Florida, US, said he had been quite surprised to see overzealous collectors listed as a such a threat, especially as a growing number of places were monitoring poaching behaviour.

"But it is still a problem because many of these species are fairly slow growing," he told BBC News.

"Even though there are good alternatives, such as growing them in greenhouses or labs, people who are after a quick fix will just go out and take them because it can take several years for the plants to reach a decent size."

He added that carnivorous plants were targeted more than any other taxa, probably as a result of the plants' exotic appearance.

"It is pretty safe to say that they are one of the most charismatic group of plants - one of the reasons why they interest me is because they are quirky, intriguing and capture their prey."

Biologists suggest that the plants evolved the ability to capture prey as a way to adapt to living in moist, nutrient-poor soils.

Usual suspects

Loss of habitat is, unsurprisingly, the main threat to the plants.

"The habitats that the plants are found in are quite easily disturbed," Mr Jennings explained.

"A lot of these areas get drained and used for agricultural land and farming. Any sort of change in the water-table can really affect them."

He added that a number of species, especially pitcher plants found in South-East Asia, had a very limited distribution and were only found over a small area - for example, the foothills of just a few mountains.

"Many of them have very restricted ranges, which is why we think that many of them are found on the IUCN's endangered list."

Across the globe, there are about 600 known species of carnivorous plants, spread across 17 genera.

Writing in their paper, the researchers said that out of the 107 species to have been assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), seven were listed as Critically Endangered; 11 Endangered, and a further 39 were listed as Vulnerable.

For their study, Mr Jennings and co-author Professor Jason Rohr gathered data on 48 species from nine genera.

When they examined the data collection, they said that they were surprised that pollution was considered to be such a problem for the plants.

"Habitat loss was not really that surprising because it is a major threat for many species, but pollution was quite surprising because it seems to have been listed as a threat without a lot of empirical evidence at this point," Mr Jennings said.

They found that 18 of the 48 species in their study were affected by pollution, such as urban waste, fertiliser and pesticide run-off.

"Some forms of pollution (such as herbicides) can be lethal to carnivorous plants directly, while other forms (such as nutrient additions) have a more indirect effect by degrading the habitat and making conditions more conducive for other plants," they explained.

Mr Jennings said that, as a group, carnivorous plants had been generally overlooked and more research and analysis was required, especially Africa and Australia, when there were very few records.

"We found next to nothing in terms of documentation for these regions, if though they are really diverse areas in terms of carnivorous plant species."


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Your number is up: Species doomed by mathematics

Kathy Marks The Independent 8 Apr 11;

It seems rather grim: a mathematical formula to calculate the probability of animals becoming extinct.

But its Australian creators say that it will aid any decisions on where to target resources – as well as helping to recognise species so close to the brink that they are beyond help.

The Red List of Threatened Species, produced by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), already ranks plants and animals in categories ranging from safe to critically endangered.

But it does not distinguish between species at the top and bottom of a category, which is where the new index – called Safe (Species Ability to Forestall Extinction) – comes in.

Devised by researchers from the University of Adelaide and James Cook University, in northern Queensland, Safe can determine how close a population is to its minimum viable size. Professor Cory Bradshaw, director of ecological modelling at Adelaide's Environment Institute, called it "the best predictor yet of the vulnerability of mammal species to extinction".

The issue is particularly sensitive in Australia, which has the world's worst record for mammal conservation. Of all the mammals that have disappeared in the past 200 years, nearly half were Australian.

The Safe index, detailed in a paper published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Environment, builds on previous studies into minimum population sizes required to survive in the wild. According to Professor Bradshaw, the tipping-point is 5,000; below that, the risk of extinction from extreme events such as bushfires or cyclones is much higher. Among the animals close to the tipping-point are the tiger and the African wild dog.

Professor Bradshaw acknowledged that, based on the index, some species – such as the Javan rhinoceros and the New Zealand kakapo, the world's largest parrot – might not be worth trying to save. There are just 40 to 60 rhinos left, and 120 or so kakapos.

"If an animal is so rare, and it's going to take a lot of money and resources and could be impossible to restore because the habitat is not there... it might not be worth saving," Professor Bradshaw told The Australian newspaper.

"It's controversial, but when you have a finite amount of resources, one species might be more likely to be brought back from the brink."

The index would assist "practitioners of conservation triage", he said, explaining that: "During wartime, medicos have to go out and say: 'Well, this guy's too far gone, we're not going to waste our time because there's too few of us.' So we have to say: 'These ones are probably too far gone.'"

The Safe index exposes subtleties within the Red List. Both the Javan rhino and Sumatran rhino are critically endangered, but while it may be too late to save the former, the latter – with a population of 220 to 275 – may still be capable of being rescued.

So it therefore makes no sense, argues Professor Bradshaw, to spend more on the Javan species, as is currently the case. "Not all critically endangered species are equal," he said.

To test their formula, designed to be used in conjunction with the Red List, researchers applied it to 95 mammal species. They found that nearly one-fifth were close to extinction, and more than half of those had populations that had already fallen to unsustainable levels.

The Australian animal species that may have to be "cut loose", based on the Safe index, include the hairy-nosed wombat, which is now a critically endangered mammal. The high extinction rate in Australia is believed to be mainly due to the introduction of feral cats and foxes.

Conservationists fear species index may lead to extinctions
ABC Net 8 Apr 11;

MARK COLVIN: Conservationists have criticised suggestions that some rescue programs for endangered species could and should be cut. Australian scientists have created a new tool which they say will help approach the conservation of threatened species in order of priority.

The index is a mathematical analysis that can be used to weigh up which creatures to bring back from the brink.

But it's worried Australian and foreign agencies which have been working to rescue vulnerable animals including the hairy nosed wombat. Adrienne Francis reports.

ADRIENNE FRANCIS: A new tool designed to improve conservation of vulnerable species has ignited concerns among some conservationists. Patrick Medway is the secretary of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Australia.

PATRICK MEDWAY: We could not accept that even any or some of these species should be allowed to become extinct. It would be against the grain of our members and our organisation who have worked so hard to save and conserve Australia's wildlife for the next generation.

ADRIENNE FRANCIS: The charitable organisation, staffed by volunteers has been working to rescue threatened species since 1909.

PATRICK MEDWAY: They used to shoot koalas, platypus, wombats and turn them into skins. Now we have gone past that, we've been able to get legislation through federal and state Parliament to protect Australia's wildlife.

To think that you might be allowed to, for some to become extinct, is contrary to what we would believe and what we would oppose.

ADRIENNE FRANCIS: The tool that has ignited this discontent was designed by a team of researchers from James Cook University and the University of Adelaide. They've created a 'SAFE index', which is a probability tool for conservation triage.

Co-author Corey Bradshaw says they based the index on existing research which suggests populations of less than 5,000 individuals are hard to rescue.

What are the Australian species that your index suggests we shouldn't save?

COREY BRADSHAW: Well you know I wouldn't go so far as to say we shouldn't save them but I mean if you take a strictly empirical view, you know things that are well below in sort of numbering in the hundreds; white footed rock rats, we've got certain types of hare wallabies, a lot of the smaller mammals that have been really nailed by feral predators like cats and foxes.

And in some cases it's probably not worthwhile putting a lot of effort because there's just no chance.

ADRIENNE FRANCIS: He says the WA dibbler and the hairy nosed wombat are among the Australian species where conservation is clearly not cost effective.

COREY BRADSHAW: Certain species like that, if they are truly numbering in the hundreds if not even lower than that, without a huge investment and a lot of time and effort they are pretty really probably not worth trying to throw too much at them.

ADRIENNE FRANCIS: The Wildlife Preservation Society of Australia strongly disagree. The society has been a long time advocate for efforts to increase the estimated 140 surviving northern hairy nosed wombats in central Queensland.

PATRICK MEDWAY: Now it's not a case of assessing it on a dollar basis. It's a commitment as a civil high group of people who do not want to have species go extinct on their watch.

ADRIENNE FRANCIS: That commitment is echoed among other conservation organisations. Dr Barry Trail is the director of the Australian arm of the US based philanthropic conservation organisation, the Pew Environment Group.

BARRY TRAIL: Unfortunately I do find is that there is a thread that has been coming up over the last few years of academics doing what I find is frankly a bit academic exercises, almost like a household budget showing oh this year we can't afford both a swimming pool and an overseas holiday, so we'll just go for the pool.

ADRIENNE FRANCIS: A spokeswomen for the Federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke says the Government welcomes the new tool which could assist the identification and support the recovery of threatened species.

The Wildlife Preservation Society of Australia fears the index could be used by the Government to knife some project funding. But the Pew Environment Group remain optimistic that the public and other organisations will continue to give generously.

MARK COLVIN: Adrienne Francis.


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Population boom threatens Indonesia

Antara 8 Apr 11;

Medan, N Sumatra (ANTARA News) - Head of the National Population and Family Planning Coordination Board (BKKBN) Sugiri Syarief has again warned of a possible population explosion threat.

"A population explosion will possibly happen in Indonesia if the government fails to control the pace of growth" Sugiri said here on Friday.

He explained that the total of Indonesian population at present is 237.6 million with its growth rate of 1.49 percent and it has caused a lot of problems related to garbage, floods, and even traffic jams.

According to him, the problem could get even worse if the possible population explosion was not overcome.

"Not to mention the difficulty of access to clean water, air, and other climate change issues. Then we can imagine what happens if the population continues to grow to reach 500 million people," Sugiri said.

He said it was possible for the population to grow if the government failed to suppress the rate of population increase.

"In the past ten years the population has increased by 1.49 percent to 32.7 million to be equal to the number of population in Canada and more than that of Malaysia," he said.

Sugiri added that if the population growth remained at 1.49 percent then it was predicted that in 2045 the population would reach 450 million people.

Therefore he said the government and the BKKBN are at present making every effort to revitalize family planning program and population issue to control its growth.(*)

Editor: Heru


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IUCN helps businesses value nature

IUCN 8 Apr 11;

Today, IUCN and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) released a Guide to Corporate Ecosystem Valuation (CEV) – a new message to enhance business understanding of the benefits and value of ecosystem services like fresh water, food, fibre and protection against natural disasters.

The economic value of nature and the services it provides us is enormous, but it is rarely taken into account in policies, financial systems and markets. The Guide to Corporate Ecosystem Valuation (CEV) aims to enable companies to better understand the value of nature’s services that they affect and depend on. This will improve business decision-making by creating more alignment between businesses’ financial, ecological and social objectives.

“Consumers are demanding more sustainable products,” says Nathalie Olsen of IUCN’s Economics and Environment Programme. “Companies that are able to demonstrate that they invest in natural capital and measure and reduce their environmental footprint will reap significant advantages in the market place. The Guide to Corporate Ecosystem Valuation can help provide information and insights about the value of ecosystem services in order to strengthen decision-making for both sound business decisions and more sustainable production.”

The Guide complements The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) study, a key report released in October 2010 by the G8+5 Environment Ministers at the Convention on Biological Diversity summit in Japan. TEEB urges companies to support sustainable use and management of biodiversity as an integral part of their business plans. But businesses cannot manage what they don’t measure. With the CEV guide, they will be able to to value their ecosystem impacts, use and management.

“CEV allows business to fully recognize and value ecosystems and the services they deliver,“ said Bj√∂rn Stigson, President of the WBCSD.

The guide was developed through an 18-month process of close collaboration with four partner organizations – International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Environmental Resources Management (ERM), PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and IUCN Member World Resources Institute (WRI) – and businesses themselves. Fourteen WBCSD member companies ‘road-tested’ the guide, exploring and analyzing business risks and opportunities associated with ecosystems.

“IUCN’s work with Holcim suggests that expenditure on wetland restoration following extraction is an investment which pays dividends by ensuring continued access to minerals and a good corporate reputation”, said Nathalie Olsen. “This is essential to operate within communities which increasingly value their environment”.

IUCN also worked with Rio Tinto to investigate the value of forest ecosystems and the possibilities to capture it through innovative financial mechanisms such as Payments for Ecosystem Services and channel payments to communities affected by extractive industries, with the aim to develop sustainable livelihoods.

The Guide to Corporate Ecosystem Valuation (CEV) was unveiled today at a launch event in Geneva, Switzerland.

For a full copy of the guide: http://www.wbcsd.org/DocRoot/MFjSs2eRbr7dm6qV6efx/WBCSD_Guide_CEV_April_2011.pdf?bcsi_scan_F3293F689D82B9C2=0&bcsi_scan_filename=WBCSD_Guide_CEV_April_2011.pdf


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Drive to save Bangkok's old trees takes root

Young Thai professionals join hands to save Bangkok's ecosystem from urban sprawl
Nirmal Ghosh Straits Times 9 Apr 11;

BANGKOK: In my first year in Bangkok in 2003, a pair of giant squirrels would cross my balcony each morning to get to two big old rain trees in an empty plot next door. One day, men with chainsaws chopped down the trees and bulldozed the plot to make way for a hotel. I never saw the squirrels again.

My story is a familiar one in the Thai capital. Increasingly dense construction has crowded out nature in downtown areas, producing more traffic jams because more people with cars live in high-rise buildings. It also creates flooding problems because the plinths of many new buildings are higher than the narrow lanes.

And it destroys the last refuges of urban wildlife, a variety of birds and squirrels that live in the mini-ecosystems of big trees - like the banyan and rain trees.

The germ of a movement to save these trees, however, has now taken root. The Big Tree group was born inside a small design studio on a lane off busy Sukhumvit, when the young Thai designers there noticed several big, old trees at the top of their lane being marked to be chopped down to make way for a carpark of a massive new mall. There were dozens of trees big and small in the sprawling plot; the designers reckoned some were well over 60 years old.

Together with other concerned residents in the area, they approached the plot owner's son to persuade him to change the mall's layout and save the trees. He listened sympathetically, nodded a lot - but one day chopped all the trees down anyway.

That event just four months ago kick-started the group that today - based entirely on Internet social networking - has 13,000 members, with an active core of 30.

'To me, it is a question of protecting the value of a city. Big Tree is a stepping stone to more social or more civic responsibility,' co-founder Pongprom 'Joe' Yamarat, 38, an economist by training, said in an interview.

The group comprises fairly young professionals and not necessarily only misty eyed tree-huggers. Many are designers, architects and lawyers. Almost all are Thais. Every Saturday, they get together and go on a cycle tour of areas in the city, visiting landmark old trees in parks, Buddhist temples, universities and sprawling diplomatic compounds.

Outside these environs, old trees are endangered - mainly by the redevelopment of roads and booming real estate development.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA) is generally pro-environment, but under current laws only trees deemed to have economic value - such as teak - are protected from chainsaws. The rest are fair game.

The Big Tree group plans to change that.

It began by simply inviting ideas - and they flew thick and fast. At least one proved a novel move: a contest to find the 'best tree' in Bangkok.

'This is the first time we are doing this (contest),' said Mr Pongprom. 'We want to build awareness first; then we want to push the authorities into planting more trees in the city.'

The contest has drawn an enthusiastic response, with more than 200 trees nominated for the award.

Members can see the nominated trees online and click on them to vote.

There is no paperwork involved, and it hardly costs any money.

Big Tree co-founder Oraya Satabutr, 43, a former English teacher at the elite Thammasat University, said: 'It is encouraging that young people are getting involved because they bring creativity to this.

'The older generation just thinks in terms of seminars and protests and lawsuits.'

One of the nominated trees is an ancient 'lamphu' - a mangrove species - a symbol of what Bangkok once was.

The more than a century-old tree stands in several feet of water at the edge of the Chao Phraya river at the park called Santichai Prakarn. Once there were many like it; the district of Banglamphu - the historic heart of Bangkok - was named after these trees.

The group members gathered at the spot on a recent Saturday to start their bicycle tour. A woman in her 30s - a teaching assistant - who was not even a member but had read about the event in the newspaper, turned up with her bicycle.

So did Dr Oy Kanjanavanit, an early member of the group. She also runs the Green World Foundation, which tries to make the general public conscious of their immediate environment and monitor it.

'It's about ecological literacy,' she explained.

Eventually, about 40 members turned up. Many brought their own bicycles; others used the BMA's bicycles at a stand at the park where one can 'rent' a bicycle by depositing one's passport.

Deputy Governor of Bangkok Porntep Techapai-bul, who is pro-cycling, joined them as they wound their way through the roads of the old city, visiting giant peepul and tamarind trees.

At one park, eight members linked hands to show how broad across the base a giant, old peepul tree was. In this park, two generations ago, royalty once threw extravagant parties, with guests relaxing under the shade of this same tree.


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Steve Irwin trap saves Cambodian crocodile

Yahoo News 8 Apr 11;

PHNOM PENH (AFP) – A critically endangered Siamese crocodile was rescued in Cambodia with a trap designed by late Australian "crocodile hunter" Steve Irwin, but conservationists on Friday said other reptiles remain at risk.

Fauna and Flora International (FFI), which had spent two years planning the attempt to free about 10 crocodiles trapped by the construction of a hydropower dam, said it was "disappointing" that only one animal was caught.

Rescue workers from Cambodia and Australia tried for weeks to capture the animals isolated in a 750 metre (820 yards) stretch of river in southwestern Pursat province, FFI project manager Adam Starr told AFP.

But just one female crocodile took the bait in the mesh-net trap developed by Irwin, the world-renowned animal expert and environmentalist who was killed by a stingray barb in 2006.

Conservationists said other crocodiles in the colony had sometimes been too wily for Irwin's traps -- swiping the bait without getting caught.

FFI estimates there are just 250 Siamese crocodiles left in the wild, most of them in Cambodia.

The crocodile was transported by helicopter "to a different river 10 kilometres away from the construction site", Starr said.

The healthy female, measuring 2.1 metres, has been in her new environment since March 26.

"For everyone on the team, it was pretty disappointing we only caught one female, especially when we know there are more crocodiles there," Starr said.

He added that they were now taking a break from the labour-intensive and expensive rescue mission before considering their next move.


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How Bad Is Japan’s Radioactive Contamination of the Ocean?

LiveScience.com Yahoo News 8 Apr 11;

On Friday (April 8), Japan officials announced that workers at the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant would be able to stop pumping contaminated water into the ocean on Saturday.

Now that the radioactive release is finally drawing to a close, experts on the ecological effects of radioactivity are stepping back to assess its impact. They say the contamination is probably a mere drop in the ocean.

While iodine-131 and cesium-137 concentrations near the nuclear reactors' drainage outlets are high, "the diluting capacity of the ocean is great, and radioactivity concentrations decrease with distance from the source," said Pal Andersson, a radioecologist with the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority.

Contaminants quickly disperse and sink to the seafloor. As a result, "the concentration in sea water 30 km [19 miles] from the nuclear power plant is comparable to levels suggested as reference values, below which there is no concern about effects on wildlife," Andersson told Life's Little Mysteries, a sister site to LiveScience. Radioactive substances such as uranium are naturally present in the ocean.

The ecological impact will thus be limited in scope, according to Ward Whicker, professor emeritus in the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences at Colorado State University and author of several books on the environmental impact of radiation.

"Any ecological effects are likely to be somewhat localized near the points of discharge," Whicker said.

The Fukushima fish

Even in the vicinity of the plant, seawater has probably shielded the marine life from a lot of the harmfulness of radioactivity. "The relatively high mineral (potassium, iodine and calcium) concentrations in seawater tend to reduce marine food chain concentrations of cesium-137, iodine-131 and strontium-90 dramatically, as compared to freshwater systems," Whicker said. The data he has seen from offshore water samples indicates that levels of radioactivity would need to be "orders of magnitude higher" to yield dangerous doses to local fish.

Any mutant fish that have been born are likely to quickly die out.

"Genetic effects can occur as a result of the releases, but it seems unlikely that they will be observed because of rapid natural selection of abnormal individuals in such a huge, open environment," Whicker explained.

"Levels of cesium-137 especially, and possibly iodine-131 for a few more weeks, may approach concentrations in fish, shellfish and seaweed that might exceed guidelines for human consumption."

Even so, consumption poses minimal danger. As Robert Peter Gale, a hematologist who helped coordinate medical relief efforts after both the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear disasters, told Bloomberg last week, "No one could afford to consume enough sushi to get radiation damage."

The future is bright

"Any local ecological effects are likely to be temporary due to the vast marine ecosystem and its ability to re-colonize local areas," Whicker said.

Even the ocean ecosystem of the Bikini Atoll, which was severely radiation-damaged by 20 nuclear tests conducted there in the late 1940s and 1950s, recovered in good stead, he said. "The atoll recovered significantly within a decade or so and now provides spectacular diving." The marine life there is flourishing, and safe to eat.

This article was provided by Life's Little Mysteries, a sister site to LiveScience.


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EU declares war on plastic litter in Mediterranean

Yahoo News 8 Apr 11;

ATHENS (AFP) – EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik on Friday declared war on marine litter fouling the Mediterranean, calling for continental mobilisation including a possible ban on plastic bags.

"Marine litter is a big, big problem. I am determined to address it," he told an Athens conference attended by environmentalists and representatives of the plastic industry. "I invite you to join us and say no to the 'plastic monster'."

"In the Mediterranean Sea, it has been estimated that there are around 250 billion floating plastic particles and 500 tonnes of plastic," he added. "It's an increasingly serious threat to biodiversity, human and ecosystem health, our economy."

Potocnik, a Slovenian, noted that the "serious impact" of single use plastic bags on the environment was discussed by EU ministers in March, with an agreement to work together on developing effective responses.

Greek participants at the conference underscored the problem posed by the many open-air landfills on Greek islands.

"We must consider and analyse the impact of all options, including a Europe-wide ban of plastics bags," said Potocnik, who was flanked by EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki of Greece.

He also stressed the need for better waste management to protect the marine environment, pointing out that 80 percent of marine litter originates from land, while the rest is caused by merchant or fishing vessels.

And Potocnik called for EU funding of waste collection schemes by fishermen modelled on an existing pilot project on the French Riviera.

He also praised Greece for its efforts to shut down hundreds of illegal landfills while noting that the country was still lagging in the area of waste management.

"They are doing a serious job and if they continue in that way, then I do believe that there will be no need to go to the court for a second time," he noted.

He said Athens in December put forward an "ambitious action plan" to close all illegal landfills by the end of June, and to rehabilitate all the closed ones by the middle of next year.

"They are reporting to us on a monthly basis," Potocnik said. "Waste management is the main problem."


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Facebook shares green data centre technology

Maggie Shiels BBC News 8 Apr 11;

Facebook has announced that it will share the design secrets behind its new energy-efficient data centre with rival companies.

The social network's facility in Prineville, Oregon is said to use 38% less power than existing centres.

It hopes, by making make the innovations public, to cut the amount of electricity the industry consumes.

Despite Facebook's advances, some environmental groups have criticised the firm over its green credentials.

Working under the title "Open Compute Project", Facebook will release specifications and mechanical drawings of the building and its servers.

"It's time to stop treating data centres like Fight Club [do not talk about them]," said Jonathan Heiliger, the company's vice president of technical operations.

His comments are likely to be interpreted as a dig at other web firms, such as Google, Twitter and Amazon which have kept their own designs under wraps.
Power hungry

Data centres use vast amounts of electricity to run their computer equipment and also to keep it cool.

Environmental group Greenpeace has estimated that their total global energy use will have reached 2 trillion kw/h by 2020.

Until now, Facebook has paid to lease its servers and storage space from other companies.

The Prineville plant is its first custom-built facility and cost $188m (£117m). Much has been made of its environmentally friendly specifications.

Among the innovations, the centre make extensive use of outside air, as opposed to air conditioning, to cool the rows of servers.

The machines themselves are also specially designed to maximise the new cooling system.

"The best way to reduce CO2 and improve the environment is to cut energy consumption and that is what we are doing," said Mr Heiliger.

Facebook has stripped out nonessential parts, paint, logos and stickers - saving, it claims, more than 6 pounds of materials per server.

However, Greenpeace said the company could have gone further to prove its commitment to sustainability.

"If Facebook wants to be a truly green company, it needs to reduce its gas emissions," said Casey Harrell, a climate campaigner.

"The way to do that is decouple its growth from its emissions footprint by using clean, renewable energy to power its business instead of dirty coal and dangerous nuclear power."

Greenpeace launched a campaign last year calling on Facebook to stop powering its business with energy from suppliers that use coal.

More than 101,000 Facebook users have so far clicked the "like" button on Greenpeace's campaign, dubbed "Facebook: Unfriend Coal" .
Customised cool

As well as saving money on power, the company said that running its own data centre would help it to push through future changes on the site.

"We found a lot of stuff mass manufacturers were putting out wasn't what we needed, so we customised it to better fit social applications," said Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Jonathan Heiliger explained further: "Having this control over our infrastructure gives us a ton of flexibility especially when turning on a new feature.

"Live commenting or searching for friends of friends requires this massive amount of computing and the fact we can do this and innovate and have all this control gives our engineers the flexibility to develop those products that wouldn't exist potentially."
Money and power

Facebook claims that, by sharing its design innovations, the wider web economy will benefit, especially small start-up companies.

Social gaming firm Zynga said it was looking at perhaps using some of the designs, while computer maker Dell said it definitely would.

"It's a very important step in helping the industry drive efficiency end-to-end," Forrest Norrod, Dell's vice president of servers told BBC News.

"This project is also very important in promoting the understanding of this technology and presents an opportunity to turbo charge innovation around data centre efficiency."

Dell announced that it plans to spend $1bn (£600m) building 10 data centres around the world.

The PC manufacturer is a partner in the Open Compute Project along with HP, AMD and Intel.

Rackspace, which manages servers for smaller companies, believes the cost savings cannot be ignored.

"This is a huge leap forward and will save millions and millions of dollars," said Graham Weston, chairman of Rackspace.

"A good sized data centre probably spends about $10m a year on power and these new designs should drive down that cost by about 40% or $4m."

Facebook claimed that if one quarter of US data centres used specifications released by the Open Compute Project, the energy saved could power more than 160,000 homes.
Blue, not green

While Facebook hopes to make significant savings with its new data centre, the company has not been penny-pinching completely.

One area the team splurged on was lighting for the servers.

Engineer Amir Michael said he wanted to use blue LEDs but was told they cost 7 cents each, compared to green ones which were 2 cents per LED.

He opted for the blue ones anyway.

"I thought it would be really cool if the data centre glowed in blue. It's a pretty big environment and I wanted to add a little bit of character, a little bit of style to it," said Mr Michael.

Facebook makes data centers greener and cheaper
Glenn Chapman Yahoo News 7 Apr 11;

PALO ALTO, California (AFP) – Facebook on Thursday presented an Internet-obsessed world with a gift -- greener, cheaper data centers to more efficiently power online services.

The social networking star custom-designed hardware, power supply, and architecture of a new US data center that is 38 percent more power efficient and costs 24 percent less than the industry average.

Schematics and designs for Facebook's revolutionary data center in the Oregon city of Prineville were made available to the world as part of an Open Compute Project announced by founder Mark Zuckerberg.

"We found a lot of stuff mass manufacturers were putting out wasn't what we needed, so we customized it to better fit social applications," Zuckerberg said during a press conference at Facebook's campus in Palo Alto, California.

"We are trying to foster this ecosystem where developers can easily build startups."

A shift to hosting software applications as services in the Internet "cloud" is driving enormous growth of data centers globally, according to Graham Weston, chairman and founder of US computer network hosting giant Rackspace.

Cheaper data centers should translate into lower costs for Internet startups that typically rent computing capacity, providing a "turbo-charge" for innovation, according to Dell computer vice president of server platforms Forrest Norrod.

"Facebook's design is really a leap forward, because it is much simpler, cheaper and greener," Weston said. "I think it's the biggest reduction in server infrastructure cost in a decade."

San Francisco-based social game sensation Zynga is looking to use Facebook's technology in its data centers, which host popular online games such as "FarmVille" and "Zynga Poker."

"We think it is going to make a big difference in how we bring play to the Internet," Zynga chief technology officer Allen Leinwand said while taking part in the Facebook press conference.

"It should be fun for people to play on the Internet, but you need a lot of infrastructure behind that," he said. "We are really intrigued by what is going on here.

The power efficiency gains of the Open Compute Project design promises to shave millions of dollars off the electricity bill of a typical large data center, according to Weston.

If a quarter of the data centers in the United States switched to the new model it would save enough energy to power more than 160,000 homes, Facebook estimated.

"It's time to stop treating data centers like 'Fight Club' and demystify what is going on in there," Facebook vice president of technical operations Jonathan Heilinger said in a playful reference to a film based on secret gatherings for bare-knuckle matches.

Other Internet firms such as Google build their own data centers, but haven't made designs freely available as Facebook has at the website opencompute.org.

Developing countries where outdated and inefficient data centers are common could be prime beneficiaries of the free Facebook technology.

India, China and other countries are racing into an Internet Age that demands data centers, Dell's Norrod noted.

"There will be the opportunity for Internet companies in the developing world to take a leap forward, jumping over the past 15 years of learning," Norrod said. "That's going to happen."

Computer makers Dell and Hewlett-Packard along with chip companies Intel and Advanced Micro Devices worked with Facebook to develop the data center technology.

Facebook engineers hoped to get feedback and ideas to improve the designs.

"It is like the launch of the (Toyota) Prius, only you gave people the plans on how to make the Prius," said Intel data center group general manager Jason Waxman. "There are a lot of places around the world that could benefit from this kind of information."


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New York set to be big loser as sea levels rise

Richard Black BBC News 8 Apr 11;

New York is a major loser and Reykjavik a winner from new forecasts of sea level rise in different regions.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in 2007 that sea levels would rise at least 28cm (1ft) by the year 2100.

But this is a global average; and now a Dutch team has made what appears to be the first attempt to model all the factors leading to regional variations.

Other researchers say the IPCC's figure is likely to be a huge under-estimate.

Whatever the global figure turns out to be, there will be regional differences.

Ocean currents and differences in the temperature and salinity of seawater are among the factors that mean sea level currently varies by up a metre across the oceans - this does not include short-term changes due to tides or winds.

So if currents change with global warming, which is expected - and if regions such as the Arctic Ocean become less saline as ice sheets discharge their contents into the sea - the regional patterns of peaks and troughs will also change.

"Everybody will still have the impact, and in many places they will get the average rise," said Roderik van der Wal from the University of Utrecht, one of the team presenting their regional projections at the European Geosciences Union (EGU) meeting in Vienna.

"But places like New York are going to have a larger contribution than the average - 20% more in this case - and Reykjavik will be better off."

Of the 13 regions where the team makes specific projections, New York sees the biggest increase from the global average, although Vancouver, Tasmania and The Maldives are also forecast to see above-average impacts.

Gravity trap

One peculiarity of the projections is that areas closer to melting ice sheets will experience a smaller sea level rise than those further away.

This is because ice sheets such as those on Greenland or Antarctica gravitationally attract the water.

This pulls the water towards the coast, effectively making it pile up to an extent that can be measured in centimetres.

If the ice begins to melt, it raises the average sea level simply by entering the sea; but the gravitational pull is now smaller, so locally the sea level may go down.

"So if the Greenland sheet melts more, that's better for New York; but if Antarctica melts, that's worse for New York - and it's equally true for northwestern Europe," Professor van der Wal told BBC News.

The effects are particularly pronounced for Reykjavik, the closest capital to Greenland, which is projected to receive less than half the global average sea level rise.

Ice sheet question

Roderik van der Wal is one of scientists working on the sea level projections that will be included in the next IPCC assessment, due out in 2013-4.

Before then, other scientists are likely to have completed more regional models that can be put into this mix

"We're right at the beginning of making regional projections, and at this point there is still a lot of uncertainty," commented Stefan Rahmstorf, a sea level specialist from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

"But it is clear that some parts of the world will feel sea level rise much more quickly than other parts; and an additional factor is land movements.

"In some places such as a lot of the Scandinavian coastline, the land is rising so fast that they will not have any problem with sea level rise in the near future, whereas in other places the land is subsiding - that includes some of the world's big delta cities."

Just before the last IPCC report came out in 2007, Professor Rahmstorf published research showing that sea levels had been rising faster that climate models predicted.

Since then, he and others, using various techniques, have concluded that somewhere between half a metre and two metres is likely by the end of the century.

He came to the EGU with a further analysis putting the likely range at 0.75-1.9m - the range reflecting uncertainties in how ice sheets may melt, and in how society may or may not respond to the findings of climate scientists by controlling greenhouse gas emissions.


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World's Cities Unprepared for Climate Change

LiveScience.com Yahoo News 8 Apr 11;

Cities — home to half the world's population — face potentially dire consequences from climate change. However, they often fall short when it comes to addressing the issue, according to an analysis of urban policies.

“Climate change is a deeply local issue and poses profound threats to the growing cities of the world,” said Patricia Romero Lankao at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Colorado, who conducted the analysis. “But too few cities are developing effective strategies to safeguard their residents.”

Romero Lankao cited cities for not reducing their own greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate global warming and for not preparing for the likely effects of climate change.

Scientists expect that climate change will bring with it more extreme weather, such as storms and heat waves. Because of their density and locations, cities are often at greater risk for natural disasters caused by extreme weather. Heavily paved cities can magnify heat, worsening air pollution and causing widespread health problems, for example.

But even after recent natural disasters, such as the Russian heat wave of 2010, leaders are often failing to prepare, according to Romero Lankao. This is because fast-growing cities are overwhelmed with other needs, leaders are pressured to foster economic growth at the expense of health and safety standards, and climate projections rarely offer insight into the effects on individual cities, according to Romero Lankao.

And in spite of their potential to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, cities often take a hands-off approach, she said.

“Cities can have an enormous influence on emissions by focusing on mass transit systems and energy- efficient structures,” Romero Lankao said. “But local leaders face pressures to build more roads and relax regulations that could reduce energy use.”

Meanwhile, another recent study found that people's acceptance of global warming waxes and wanes with the weather, so if the day is unusually cold, they would be less likely to believe humans are causing global temperatures on average to rise.

Romero Lankao’s studies appear this month in a special issue of the journal Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability (with co-author David Dodman of the International Institute for Environment and Development) and in an upcoming issue of the journal European Planning Studies. The research was conducted in association with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme and funded by the National Science Foundation, NCAR's sponsor.

Climate Change Targets Developing World's Cities
Reuters PlanetArk 8 Apr 11;

Many fastest-growing cities, especially those in the developing world, stand to suffer disproportionately from the effects of climate change, a new study reported on Thursday.

Few urban areas are taking the necessary steps to protect their residents -- billions of people around the globe -- from such likely events as heat waves and rising seas, according to research to appear in Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability and European Planning Studies.

They are also failing to cut their own emissions of climate-warming greenhouse gases, the study found.

"Climate change is a deeply local issue and poses profound threats to the growing cities of the world," study author Patricia Romero Lankao, a sociologist specializing in climate change and urban development, said in a statement.

Because half of Earth's population is in cities, scientists like Romero Lankao are focusing on the potential climate change impacts in these areas.

The mere fact that they are cities, with densely packed construction, places their populations at greater risk from natural disasters, including those expected to be made worse by climate change.

Storm surges can inundate heavily populated coastal areas and heat waves can warm up paved cities more than surrounding areas, Romero Lankao found. And these events can be amplified in an urban environment.

500 CITIES WITH A MILLION OR MORE

In cities, prolonged hot weather can exacerbate existing levels of air pollution, causing health problems. Poorer urban neighborhoods that lack reliable sanitation, drinking water or roads are at increased risk, according to Romero Lankao, of the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research.

The number of city-dwellers worldwide has quadrupled since 1950, the study found, projecting that by 2020, more than 500 urban areas will have a million residents or more.

But urban leaders are largely failing to prepare for coming natural disasters that could affect their people, including building public transport that would cut greenhouse emissions, Romero Lankao said.

"Cities can have an enormous influence on emissions by focusing on mass transit systems and energy efficient structures," she said. "But local leaders face pressures to build more roads and relax regulations that could reduce energy use."

She noted that some cities' efforts to cut emissions are part of a larger push to ease traffic and other problems. She cited central London's Congestion Charging Zone, which aims to encourage more use of public transit, as one example. In Latin America, Curitiba, Brazil, and Bogota, Colombia, are integrating new development with mass transit systems.

Romero Lankao's study was conducted in association with the United Nations Human Settlements Program and funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation.

(Editing by Laura MacInnis)


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World stumbles toward climate summit

Denis D. Gray Associated Press Yahoo News 9 Apr 11;

BANGKOK – Nineteen years after the world started to take climate change seriously, delegates from around the globe spent five days talking about what they will talk about at a year-end conference in South Africa. They agreed to talk about their opposing viewpoints.

Delegates from 173 nations did agree that delays in averting global warming merely fast-forward the risk of plunging the world into "catastrophe." The delegate from Bolivia noted that the international effort, which began with a 1992 U.N. convention, has so far amounted to "throwing water on a forest fire."

But the U.N. meeting in Bangkok, which concluded late Friday after delegates cobbled together a broad agenda for the December summit, failed to narrow the deep divisions between the developing world and the camp of industrialized nations led by the United States. These may come to plague the summit in Durban.

Generally, developing nations, pointing to the industrialized world as the main culprit behind global warning, want an international treaty that would legally bind countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Washington and others reject it, focusing instead on building on the modest decisions made at last December's summit in Cancun, Mexico.

The Durban agenda calls for discussion on both viewpoints.

"I believe that we now have a solid basis to move forward collectively and that governments can deliver further good results this year, provided every effort is made to compromise," the U.N.'s top climate change official Christiana Figueres said. She expressed regret that the road to Durban is proving a slow one.

Although the Bangkok conference was not geared to tackle the core issues, some movement was at least expected in implementing decisions reached at Cancun. These included the formation of a multibillion-dollar Green Climate Fund to aid developing nations obtain clean-energy technology, setting up a global structure for these nations to obtain patented technology for clean energy and climate adaptation and rounding out a plan to compensate poorer nations for protecting their climate-friendly forests.

Some deadlines for accomplishing these have already passed and it appears little of substance was accomplished in Bangkok, with that work being passed on to the next meeting set for June in Bonn, Germany.

Although also not a pledging session, there was no indication that nations were prepared, in U.N. parlance, to "raise their ambitions," or reduce emissions of greenhouse gases above earlier pledges.

The current total pledges are deemed by the United Nations to fall way short of cuts required to keep temperatures rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.8 F) above preindustrial levels — an agreement reached in Cancun by 193 countries.

"We have regrettably spent the entire week negotiating the agenda," said Dessima Williams from the Caribbean island of Grenada. "This is unacceptable, and especially so for small islands who are running out of time if we are to avoid damage from rising sea levels and other climate change impacts. We cannot go on negotiating forever."

But that's what seems in the cards.

Developing countries are keen to preserve the landmark 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the only international existing agreement on reducing emissions. It is expiring at the end of 2012 and some countries, including Russia and Japan, have signaled that they would not make further pledges under an extended protocol.

The European Union is undecided and the United States, which rejected Kyoto, favors each country setting its own targets for emissions but has not ruled out an international pact if all major economies, including China, now the world's no. 1 emitter, are parties.

"We are not prepared to go forward with the binding obligation for ourselves which would not apply to the other major economies," chief U.S. delegate Jonathan Pershing told a news conference.

Environmental activists at the conference mostly backed the developing world position, and, noting the unfolding nuclear plant disaster in Japan, urged a global move away from both fossil fuels and nuclear power toward clean, renewable energy sources.

"For five years, rich countries have been ducking and weaving over their commitment to legally binding targets. The Bangkok meeting has finally given us clarity on countries' real intentions — most of them have been paying lip service to being serious about tackling climate change," said Asad Reham of Friends of the Earth.

Pablo Solon, the Bolivian delegate, said that even reaching the 2-degree goal would prove "unsafe for millions of lives and livelihoods across the world."

Citing figures from the U.N. and Stockholm Environment Institute, he said that to meet even that target, the world would need to cut emissions by 14 gigatons each year by 2020. At best, he said, countries currently have pledged to reduce emissions by 8.7 gigatons, at worst 6.6 gigatons with more of the pledges coming from the developing rather than industrialized world.

Under the 1992 U.N. treaty, the world's nations promised to do their best to rein in carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases emitted by industry, transportation and agriculture.

Since then, scientists have warned that without dramatic reductions in emissions, the world will risk inundation of islands and coastal areas as polar ice caps melt. Other foreseen dangers include the melting of river-feeding glaciers, the extinction of plant and animals species and extreme, unpredictable weather conditions.

U.N. Climate Talks Risk Backsliding on Cancun Outcome
David Fogarty PlanetArk 8 Apr 11;

Arguments over the agenda that have stalled U.N. climate talks in Bangkok this week show that some nations are trying to row back from hard-won agreements reached last December, Russia said on Wednesday.

The December deal in Cancun included a Green Climate Fund to manage $100 billion a year in aid to poor nations by 2020 and to limit a rise in average world temperatures to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial times.

It also won consensus on measures to protect tropical forests and a framework to help poorer nations adapt to rising seas and greater weather extremes, in a series of agreements viewed as saving the fraught U.N. climate negotiations from collapse.

But the April 3-8 talks in Bangkok, the first major climate meeting since Cancun and meant to agree on a plan to build on the December agreements, have stalled because of a dispute over an agenda presented by the 131-member G77 grouping plus China.

Rich nations say that agenda doesn't reflect all the agreements in Cancun and pushes for the resolution of key outstanding issues by the end of the year instead of trying to work through things step-by-step as agreed in Cancun.

"The hopes and the expectations were that after Cancun we will start more focused work on building up on the outcome of Cancun," said Oleg Shamanov, head of the Russian delegation.

He said the idea was to come up with the specific elements of what would become the formal decisions at major climate talks in the South African city of Durban at year's end.

"Instead we are now trapped and locked into purely procedural discussions about the agenda that could have been avoided.

"That highly disappoints me that we are pulling back from the dynamics that we achieved in Cancun," he told Reuters in an interview.

FIREWALL

Cancun left unresolved tougher issues such as the fate of the Kyoto Protocol, the U.N.'s main weapon in the fight against climate change. Poor nations want Kyoto's fate resolved by Durban.

Kyoto's 2008-12 first phase binds nearly 40 rich nations to emissions targets. But no successor pact that would expand or replace Kyoto from 2013 is in sight and rich and poor nations are deeply divided on the shape of any new pact.

Poorer nations want Kyoto to remain as the main agreement. Under the pact, developing nations are obliged to take voluntary steps to curb emissions.

"My assessment is that some parties that are a bit scared of the outcomes of Cancun, that they are too far reaching and that they are trying to take a precautionary position," said Shamanov, adding that Russia was keen to see progress in the talks.

"I would like to see the work focused on specific elements where we have more or less clear mandates emanating from Cancun. We have to go step by step."He said poorer nations needed to understand it was impossible to renegotiate or revise the Cancun Agreements "through the backdoor of procedural disputes on the agenda."

"I think that is what it is about. It's all about a firewall between the actions of developed countries, commitments of the developed countries and the possible actions by developing countries."

(Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

EU warns climate talks too slow
Yahoo News 8 Apr 11;

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The European Union warned Friday that diplomacy on climate change was moving too slowly after UN-led talks in Bangkok eked out an agreement on an agenda for further negotiations this year.

"Our overall sense is things are moving slow, too slow for Europe's taste. And we cannot achieve what we need to achieve before the end of this year with this speed," EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said.

"Too often too much time is spent on how to proceed," she told reporters on a visit to Washington. "What we need is to come down to the content side of this and that is urgent."

The four-day session in Bangkok, which was marked by feuds between wealthy and developing countries, eventually achieved its goal of setting an agenda leading up to an annual UN climate conference in South Africa in November.

But the Bangkok talks largely put aside big picture issues on how nations will cut their greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming.

Hedegaard said it was critical to move soon on cutting emissions, pointing out that national pledges have not come close to the UN-led goal of containing global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit).

"What people sometimes forget is that there is a time factor when we talk about the climate. It actually does matter whether we start acting globally sooner or later," she said.

The European Union has championed international action on climate change, including through its "cap-and-trade" system that restricts carbon emissions but allows businesses to trade in credits.

Before Washington, Hedegaard visited California, which is launching the first cap-and-trade system in the United States. The effort by the largest US state marks a sharp contrast with skepticism over climate change in the US Congress.

Hedegaard said she agreed with Governor Jerry Brown to keep in touch so that the EU and California systems may eventually be linkable.

"California is not just a very huge American state, it's also the seventh or eighth largest economy of the world. So of course it's a rather strong signal if it gets done," Hedegaard said.

A bill supported by President Barack Obama to set up a nationwide cap-and-trade system died last year in the Senate, with the rival Republican Party arguing that it would be too costly.

Hedegaard met in Washington with lawmakers from both parties as well as officials at the Environmental Protection Agency, which Obama has tasked with regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

Hedegaard said she was fully aware of the political realities in Washington but hoped the United States could move forward.

"It is very hard to understand that in this country it would not be possible to make a policy on, for instance, how to address energy efficiency, because the potential is just that big," she said.


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