Best of our wild blogs: 22 Apr 11

Blog Log: April 18, 2011
from Pulau Hantu

Sharing our shores with Pierre-Yves Cousteau
from wild shores of singapore

Conversation between 2 Fungus Weevils
from Macro Photography in Singapore

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New flora and fauna exhibition at HortPark

Millet Enriquez Channel NewsAsia 21 Apr 11;

SINGAPORE: The public will now have a chance to view some of the recent plant and animal discoveries in Singapore through an exhibition at HortPark Gallery starting today.

The National Parks Board (NParks) and the National University of Singapore's Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (RMBR) have put together an exhibition that features "A decade of biodiversity conservation and discoveries in Singapore."

About 500 species of plants and animals are said to be new to Singapore, of which, more than 100 species are also new to science, NParks said in a joint news release with the NUS.

Some of these discoveries will be featured in the free exhibition which will run from April 21 to May 2 from 7am to 10pm.

"Singapore has showed that a city need not be an enemy of nature and biodiversity. It demonstrates that achieving economic prosperity need not be at the expense of care for the environment," said Professor Tommy Koh, Ambassador-at-Large, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

NParks CEO, Mr Poon Hong Yuen said that through the exhibition, the organizers hope the public will become more aware and have better appreciation of the rich flora and fauna in Singapore.

After its run at HortPark Gallery, the exhibition will move to the libraries, City Square Mall and Wisma Atria throughout the year.

The exhibition is part of the activities lined up by NPArks to commemorate the United Nations' International Year of Forests this year.

Among these are the launch of a book featuring dragonflies discovered in Singapore and a one-stop integrated portal on plants and animals.

NParks said the public can access information on over 2,500 plant and 1,000 animal species here via the portal

Nparks said it is also organising a special contest where the public can share their photographs and experiences of their visits at the parks and nature reserves, or about their favourite tree, plant or forest animal.

Five winners will be selected every month until the end of the year.

- CNA/cc

500 species of plants and animals new to Singapore found
AsiaOne 21 Apr 11;

SINGAPORE - The National Parks Board and National University of Singapore's Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research have put together an exhibition to celebrate and showcase the finding or rediscovery of new species of flora and fauna in Singapore.

Themed "A decade of biodiversity conservation and discoveries in Singapore", the exhibition which is held in HortPark Gallery will feature specimens of plants and animals that are found in Singapore, such as green tree snails and long-legged flies to orchids.

Others, such as the Giant Clam, Pangolin, Jade Tree Snail and a locally-endangered plant called the Red Flowered Black mangrove will also be on display.

Launched yesterday by Professor Tommy Koh, Ambassador-At-Large, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Special Advisor, Institute of Policy Studies and the Patron of the Nature Society of Singapore, he said: “Singapore has showed that a city need not be an enemy of nature and biodiversity. It demonstrates that achieving economic
prosperity need not be at the expense of care for the environment."

The exhibition also features a new record of a rare damselfly which was discovered as part of a two-year dragonfly conservation project started in 2008. This amazing discovery has led to the production of a book on Singapore’s dragonflies. This is the first of a series of books that documents Singapore’s discoveries.

Also unveiled today is NParks’ new one-stop integrated portal on plants and animals in Singapore - Flora&FaunaWeb. The public can now access and search for information on more than 2,500 plant and 1,000 animal species in Singapore through the portal at

The exhibition is free for the public and is on display at the HortPark Gallery from 21 April to 2 May 2011, from 7.00am to 10.00pm. It will subsequently rove to the
libraries, City Square Mall and Wisma Atria throughout the year.

Found: 500 species of plants and animals new to Singapore (Singapore celebrates a decade of biodiversity conservation and discoveries)
NParks media release 21 Apr 11;

Singapore, 21 April 2011 - From green tree snails to long-legged flies to orchids, these are just some of the new species of flora and fauna which were found for the first time or rediscovered in Singapore in the last decade.

Found in our forests, as well as intertidal and subtidal habitats, about 500 species of plants and animals are new to Singapore, with more than 100 species also new to science. These findings underscore Singapore's commitment to biodiversity conservation in creating a unique urban ecosystem where biodiversity can thrive within our environment.

"A decade of biodiversity conservation and discoveries in Singapore" Exhibition

To showcase these amazing flora and fauna discoveries, the National Parks Board (NParks) and National University of Singapore's Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (RMBR) have put together an exhibition at the HortPark Gallery. Themed 'A decade of biodiversity conservation and discoveries in Singapore', the exhibition was launched today by Professor Tommy Koh, Ambassador-At-Large, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Special Advisor, Institute of Policy Studies and the Patron of the Nature Society of Singapore.

"Urbanisation is generally viewed as a threat to biodiversity. However, we cannot stop the process of urbanisation", said Professor Tommy Koh. "Singapore has showed that a city need not be an enemy of nature and biodiversity. It demonstrates that achieving economic prosperity need not be at the expense of care for the environment. It also shows that a small, densely populated city can still be clean, green and nature-loving, can play a positive role in the conservation of biodiversity and our campaign to reduce the loss of biodiversity."

Specimens of other plants and animals found in Singapore, such as the Giant Clam, Pangolin, Jade Tree Snail and a locally-endangered plant called the Red Flowered Black mangrove will also be on display at the exhibition.

NParks Chief Executive Officer, Mr Poon Hong Yuen said, "We are proud and excited to put this exhibition together with the Raffles Museum to showcase our natural heritage. We hope that through this exhibition, the public will be more aware and can better appreciate the rich flora and fauna that we have here."

Professor Peter Ng, Director of RMBR said, "Most people think Singapore is too small and too urbanised to have anything of biodiversity-significance. There is no point harping too much in the past and bemoan how much we have lost. Instead we have to understand and conserve what we still have and be proud of our natural heritage. And that is still a lot more to do."

The discoveries were made possible through the concerted efforts of the community who were committed in conserving our natural heritage. They include corporations, nature groups, researchers, graduate students and nature enthusiasts.

Dragonfly Book

The exhibition also features a new record of a rare damselfly which was discovered as part of a two-year dragonfly conservation project started in 2008. This amazing discovery has led to the production of a book on Singapore�s dragonflies, which was unveiled today. This is the first of a series of books that documents Singapore's discoveries.


Also unveiled today is NParks' new one-stop integrated portal on plants and animals in Singapore - Flora&FaunaWeb. The public can now access and search for information on more than 2,500 plant and 1,000 animal species in Singapore through the portal at

Celebrating the International Year of Forests 2011

The launch of the exhibition, dragonfly book, and the Flora&FaunaWeb are held in celebration of the United Nations' International Year of Forests this year. NParks has also lined up a series of activities throughout the year to raise public awareness of our forests and trees (Refer to Annex C: Factsheet on the International Year of Forests 2011). NParks is also organising a special contest for members of the public to share the photographs, as well as their experiences of their visits to our parks and nature reserves, or about their favourite tree, plant or forest animal. Five meaningful submissions will stand to win prizes every month till the end of 2011.

The exhibition was made possible with the contributions of main partner, PICO Art and supporting partners, City Square Mall, National Library Board, Sony South East Asia and Wisma Atria. The exhibition is free for the public and is on display at the HortPark Gallery from 21 April to 2 May 2011, from 7.00am to 10.00pm. It will subsequently rove to the libraries, City Square Mall and Wisma Atria throughout the year.

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Singapore: April 22 declared as "Youth for the Environment Day"

Lois Calderon Channel NewsAsia 20 Apr 11;

SINGAPORE: The government has declared April 22 as the "Youth for the Environment Day", coinciding with the annual celebration of the international Earth Day.

The move is part of efforts to promote clean and green living, according to the National Environment Agency (NEA), a statutory board of the Ministry for the Environment and Water Resources tasked to protect the city-state's air, land and water resources.

The NEA, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, said April 22 will be marked in the national education calendar for all schools in Singapore.

The schools will observe the day by organising environment-related activities to promote energy efficiency, recycling, good public health practices, nature appreciation and a litter-free environment.

Over 130 schools are expected to observe the Youth for the Environment Day.


Schools to mark April 22 as eco-friendly day for youth
Straits Times 22 Apr 11;

CLASS, attention please. Schools will be observing an environment day every April 22 in a bid by the National Environment Agency (NEA) to encourage youth to be pro-nature.

Launched on Wednesday, the Youth For The Environment Day will be included in the National Education calendar for all primary and secondary schools, junior colleges and the Institute of Technical Education.

April 22 also marks Earth Day which is celebrated in many countries.

The NEA believes that schools are a good start to getting young people committed to caring for the environment.

Schools are encouraged to mark the April 22 event by organising environment-related activities, such as visiting incineration plants to get an insight into waste management.

Mr Andrew Tan, chief executive officer of NEA, said he believes there is a growing awareness among young people here not to take their surroundings for granted.

Youth For The Environment Day is intended to give them their own platform to celebrate and nurture 'this culture of environmental ownership'.

At the event's launch, which was attended by Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, NEA also handed out the EcoFriend awards to 11 individuals, of whom six are young people.

The awards, launched in 2007, recognise outstanding environment champions.

One recipient is Mr Chua Ang Hong, 21, a first-year student at Nanyang Technological University's Nanyang Business School.

Last year, he organised an anti-littering campaign in Aljunied GRC where he is vice-chairman of the Ci Yuan Community Centre Youth Executive Committee.

The six-month campaign included house visits that saw his team reach out to 12,000 residents to educate them about the danger of killer litter.

Mr Chua, who is also business manager in Earthlink NTU, the school's environmental club, said: 'All of us have a part to play in conserving the environment because we are also taking resources from it.'

To find out more about the Youth For The Environment Day, visit


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First Singapore-built satellite now in orbit

It will be used to record ecological changes on Earth
Jermyn Chow Straits Times 21 Apr 11;

LIFT-OFF, finally. Singapore's first locally built satellite has officially been launched into space.

Riding on a rocket owned by the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), the micro-satellite X-Sat blasted off from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in India yesterday, more than four years late.

The 105kg fridge-size satellite, which will be used to take photographs to measure soil erosion and environmental changes on Earth, was one of three riding on Isro's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C16). The other two were built by India and Russia.

Yesterday's launch, at 12.42pm Singapore time, was PSLV's 18th successful lift-off since its maiden flight in 1994. Only two launches have failed.

X-Sat is designed and built from scratch by scientists and engineers from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Singapore's defence research body DSO National Laboratories.

Now in orbit, X-Sat is establishing communication contact with ground control in NTU, a process likely to take up to a week. Once contact has been made, an 'initial health status of the satellite will be ascertained and confirmed', said an NTU spokesman.

This includes checking its solar panels and communication systems and the Korean-made camera, dubbed Iris, that can capture forest fires and sea pollution.

It will then relay data and beam images back to the National University of Singapore's Centre for Remote Imaging, Sensing and Processing.

With the successful launch of X-Sat, Singapore is one of the first countries in South-east Asia to have its own satellite in space. Previous satellite launches by the Republic involved construction efforts by foreign companies.

The launch capped more than nine years of hard work by scientists and engineers. Experts say the series of starts and stops had sent the cost of X-Sat from $10 million to more than $40 million.

NTU president Su Guaning congratulated the team, and said the launch represents 'a huge leap' in Singapore's efforts to build space technology. He added that he hopes X-Sat's launch will 'excite and inspire' more youth to take up engineering and venture into space technology.

Other countries with more established space programmes such as China, the United States and Israel launch more sophisticated satellites weighing between 500kg and 1,000kg every year. While X-Sat is small, space analysts say its launch is a credible effort by Singapore.

But defence analyst Bernard Loo of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies does not see a 'strategic need' for Singapore to have its own space programme yet.

'Singapore's strategic space is so small, there is no need for such sophisticated technology for early warning of an impending attack,' he said.

Singapore's satellite capability gains traction with successful launch
Lois Calderon Channel NewsAsia 20 Apr 11;

SINGAPORE: Singapore has not yet joined the space programme bandwagon but its satellite capability is certainly gaining traction.

The Nanyang Technological University has confirmed India's successful launch into space of Singapore's first locally built micro-satellite on Wednesday.

University officials said the move did not signify any advanced space programme ambition. Rather, it was a testament to Singapore's enhanced satellite operations.

The micro-satellite, named X-SAT, was one of the three that lifted off on board India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle PSLV-C16 at 12.42 pm Singapore time on Wednesday.

The three satellites, which were launched into orbit 18 minutes after the rocket blasted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre launch pad in India, were meant to help scientists study and help manage natural resources.

"We are delighted with the successful launch of Singapore's first experimental micro-satellite into space. This represents a huge leap for our local research and development endeavours in space technology and building micro-satellites," said NTU President Su Guaning.

"The sky is not the limit. There are enormous amounts in the world of science and technology that have not been explored and our academics are continually exploring and pushing the boundaries," he added.

NTU began its work on the X-SAT project in 2003 with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) providing design consultancy, supply of solar and structural panels, as well as environmental testing and the launch.

An NTU spokesperson said the wholly made-in-Singapore satellite will orbit for three years at a height of 800 kilometres and take photographs that will help scientists to measure soil erosion and environmental changes.

NTU Provost-Designate Freddy Boey said more projects are in the pipeline, primarily the manufacturing of nano- and pico-satellites. The ultimate objective is to have a "constellation" of satellites launched into space with the help of other foreign space agencies, including India's ISRO.

"The challenge is to make the satellite smaller but doing the same functions or even more...we don't have ambitions of launching capability," Mr Boey told Channel NewsAsia.

India, competing with other Asian nations such as China, Japan, and South Korea, is aiming to tap the global satellite-launch industry. The country plans to develop a reusable launch vehicle to cut costs. It is also planning a US$2.5 billion mission to the moon by 2015.


Singapore-made satellite sent into space
Lois Calderon Today Online 21 Apr 11;

SINGAPORE - The Republic has not yet joined the space programme bandwagon but its satellite capability is certainly gaining traction.

The Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has confirmed India's successful launch into space of Singapore's first locally-built micro-satellite yesterday.

University officials said the move did not signify any advanced space programme ambition. Rather, it was a testament to Singapore's enhanced satellite operations.

The micro-satellite, named X-SAT, was one of the three that lifted off on board India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle PSLV-C16 at 12.42 pm (Singapore time).

The three satellites, which were launched into orbit 18 minutes after the rocket blasted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in India, are meant to help scientists study and manage natural resources.

"We are delighted with the successful launch of Singapore's first experimental micro-satellite into space. This represents a huge leap for our local research and development endeavours in space technology and building micro-satellites," said NTU president Su Guaning.

NTU began its work on the X-SAT project in 2003 with the Indian Space Research Organisation, providing design consultancy, supply of solar and structural panels, as well as environmental testing and the launch.

An NTU spokesperson said the wholly made-in-Singapore satellite will orbit for three years at a height of 800km and take photographs that will help scientists to measure soil erosion and environmental changes.

NTU provost-designate Freddy Boey said more projects are in the pipeline, primarily the manufacturing of nano- and pico-satellites. The ultimate objective is to have a "constellation" of satellites launched into space with the help of foreign space agencies.

"The challenge is to make the satellite smaller but doing the same functions or even more ... We don't have ambitions of launching capability," Mr Boey told MediaCorp. Lois Calderon

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Tackling nuke waste in Singapore backyard

Stringent measures in place here to ensure safety
Melissa Pang & Poon Chian Hui Straits Times 21 Apr 11;

TUCKED away in a secret location in Singapore is a storage facility where radioactive waste is kept, waiting to be disposed of safely.

It is operated by the little-known Centre for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Science, which regulates the import, export, sale, use, handling and disposal of radioactive material in Singapore.

That radioactive material exists here may come as a surprise to some, said Professor Tso Chih Ping, a visiting professor at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) who is trained in nuclear engineering.

However, such material has been used in Singapore and in most countries for a long time.

Nuclear experts interviewed by The Straits Times said hospitals were the biggest contributors of radioactive waste, due to their use of 'nuclear medicine' - for example, scans and radioactive treatments for conditions such as thyroid cancer.

The rest comes from industrial use and research facilities.

The Ministry of Health said there are 17 nuclear medicine specialists here, up from 15 in 2006. A total of 11 health-care institutions here - including five public hospitals and three national specialist centres - offer nuclear medicine services.

A National Environment Agency (NEA) spokesman said the increased use of nuclear medicine is one reason the amount of radioactive waste in Singapore has been rising.

About 1,450kg was generated last year. This is about 20 per cent higher than in 2008, when 1,210kg of radioactive waste was thrown away.

Radioactive waste, like toxic industrial waste, must be properly disposed of to minimise harm to the environment and human health, said Prof Tso.

Dr Daniel Quah of the National Cancer Centre Singapore pointed out how radioisotopes, used in cancer treatment, can be abused.

For example, people can use them to make radiation dispersal devices - known as 'dirty bombs'.

'These are designed to scatter radioactive debris over a wide area... and can possibly cause casualties through radiation sickness,' said the registrar from the centre's department of radiation oncology.

NTU's Assistant Professor Zhao Jiyun, who has done research in nuclear waste treatments, said radioactive materials generated from medical equipment typically do not pose much danger as they have short 'lives' - meaning the radioactivity will die off after some time.

'The waste is usually stored to wait for the radioactive materials to decay. Then, they are safely disposed of,' said Prof Zhao.

NEA's spokesman said that, in general, Singapore does not generate waste that is highly radioactive.

There are two types of radioactive waste. The first are items such as types of machinery, which emit radiation at levels above the limits set by the Radiation Protection Act.

Such radioactive sources have to be returned to the country of origin. Before shipping them back, they are securely kept at the nuclear centre's storage facility. They are packed according to the type and amount of radioactive material.

For example, those that emit low levels of radioactivity can be placed in ordinary metal drums.

The second type are objects that have been used to handle radioactive material. These could include needles, gloves and syringes used in hospitals, research institutes and universities.

As this kind of waste is not as radioactive, it is allowed to be disposed of in Singapore once its radioactivity has decayed to below-exemption levels. But before this is done, the waste producer has to complete a disposal form and obtain the nuclear centre's endorsement.

One of its inspectors will then conduct checks on samples of the waste to verify that the levels of radioactivity are indeed safe.

Last week, a newspaper in Hong Kong reported that at least 2,000 radioactive materials used in civilian sectors such as industry and medicine went missing in China as a result of poor management. In addition, more than 1,000 people were exposed to high amounts of radiation in China in about 300 accidents between 1988 and 1998.

Fortunately, stringent measures have kept radiation-related incidents to a minimum here, with just one such incident reported since the centre was set up in July 2007.

In December the same year, some workers failed to follow the work safety procedures when operating industrial X-ray equipment during an inspection of aircraft components. It led to one worker sustaining radiation burns on his fingers.

The company was subsequently prosecuted by the centre for failing to register two of the employees as radiation workers, and the supervisor was charged with failing to report the accident to the centre within 24 hours.

While acknowledging common fears about radiation, Prof Tso advised against being alarmist.

Last month, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority detected radiation on samples of vegetables from Japan. Its chief executive said then that an adult would need to eat 3.5kg of these vegetables to receive a level of radiation exposure similar to one X-ray, and 184kg to reach a level equivalent to the normal background radiation that a person is exposed to in a year.

Prof Tso said: 'The low radiation level must be viewed in the perspective of the natural radiation level that everybody in the world has been receiving, since the dawn of man.

'Somehow we don't have the same fear about fire accidents... That radiation is invisible and not understood by many could be part of the reason.'

How radiation heals
Straits Times 21 Apr 11;

RADIATION can kill - but in small doses it can also heal.

From detecting heart blockages and treating thyroid disorders to killing cancer tumours, nuclear medicine is increasingly being used all over the world.

Today, more than 10,000 hospitals worldwide use radioactive isotopes in medicine, with 90 per cent of procedures involving diagnosing medical ailments. In 2008, up to eight million nuclear medicine procedures were performed in Asia, out of 30 million done globally.

This number is growing at about 10 per cent every year, according to the World Nuclear Association. In cancer treatment alone, more than 15 types of radioactive isotopes can be used to weaken or destroy cancer cells, in the form of radiotherapy.

For instance, radioactive iodine is used to treat early-stage prostate cancer in men, said Dr Daniel Quah of the radiation oncology department at National Cancer Centre Singapore. Here, pellets containing the iodine are inserted into the patient's prostate gland. He will be discharged from hospital, carrying the pellet in his body. Low doses emitted from the pellets help to kill nearby cancer cells. The iodine will 'decay' in a few days.

A branch of nuclear medicine, nuclear cardiology, also uses radioactive elements to diagnose ailments. Commonly used is the myocardial perfusion imaging test, which assesses blood flow to the heart.

Here, a patient is first injected with a radioactive isotope. Then, gamma cameras - which capture radioactivity - are used to scan his heart during rest and exercise.

'The isotope is used to capture blood flow as the heart muscle would take it up,' said Dr Fahim Jafary, a nuclear cardiologist at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH). A healthy person would show the same degree of blood flow during both activities. 'There is no other technology that allows us to capture images of blood movement,' added Dr Jafary.

Other uses are bone scans to check for fractures, positron emission tomography (PET) scans to track cancer stages and radioactive treatments for thyroid problems and cancer, said Dr Anthony Goh, who is in charge of nuclear medicine and PET at Singapore General Hospital. The hospital runs the largest centre for nuclear medicine in the region.

The radioactive substances may be taken orally or by inhalation, while others may be injected into a vein or directly into a cancer tumour, said Dr Goh.

Although this branch of medicine has been well-established - it first came about in the 1950s - new developments are up and coming. New radioisotopes are in the pipeline - such as those which will turn radioactive only while inside the body, said Dr Quah, adding that researchers from Japan, Russia and Argentina are working on a device that will control the onset of radioactivity 'with a flip of a switch'.

This will do away with the need to set aside storage space at the hospital to keep these radioactive substances, he added.


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Downstream plants hit by Shell outage at Pulau Bukom

Ronnie Lim Business Times 21 Apr 11;

(SINGAPORE) An outage at Shell's ethylene cracker on Pulau Bukom - which has gone beyond a month now and expected to stretch at least for a second - has hit other downstream chemical plants on Jurong Island which rely on ethylene feedstock from the upstream Shell plant.

One such casualty is Ellba Eastern which has also been forced to declare 'force majeure' on supplies to its own customers.

Force majeure is a common clause in contracts that frees both parties from liability or obligations when an extraordinary event or circumstance beyond the control of the parties prevents one or both from fulfilling their contractual obligations.

Reflecting difficulties getting the cracker back up on stream, Shell - which first declared its own force majeure on March 21 for some of its contracted chemical supplies to customers due to the plant's 'operational issues' - yesterday indicated that it expects further delays.

'Our current estimate is that the earliest possible cracker start-up date is not expected before middle of May,' a Shell Singapore spokesperson told BT.

'Our manufacturing and technology teams have been working round-the-clock and continue to work hard to determine the cause of the technical problems,' she said.

These technical issues - which the company declined to specify, nor its level of seriousness - had forced Shell to earlier execute an unplanned shutdown on the ethylene cracker.

'Repairs are being carried out with the utmost urgency to fix these technical problems,' the Shell spokesperson added.

The Shell cracker - which produces 800,000 tonnes per annum of ethylene, 450,000 tpa of propylene and 230,000 tpa of benzene - is the main plant of the new US$3 billion Shell Eastern Petrochemicals Complex which the oil giant started up in March last year.

Earlier reports said that the cracker outage had also affected downstream production like that for monoethylene glycol (used to produce final products like polyester for clothing and bottles) as Shell's new MEG plant also uses ethylene feedstock from the cracker.

Meanwhile, the ethylene feedstock problem has also spread to Ellba Eastern - a BASF-Shell joint venture on the petrochemicals island.

Ellba coincidentally suffered its own technical outage at its catalyst plant on March 22 and had declared force majeure then for its supplies of styrene monomer, which is used by manufacturers for various plastic and rubber products.

When contacted yesterday, a BASF spokesperson told BT that Ellba then took the opportunity to carry out an unscheduled 2-3 week maintenance of its plant.

'This has since been completed,' she said, adding however, that Ellba has still been unable to lift its force majeure on its styrene monomer supplies to customers 'as we still can't get ethylene from the Shell cracker'.

Ethylene prices have spiked due to Shell's cracker outage, among other factors. Reports last week said that spot ethylene prices in South-east Asia on a cost-and-freight basis were estimated at around US$1,475 a tonne versus about US$1,325 a tonne in early-March.

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Top ten tips for eco-tourists from IUCN

IUCN 21 Apr 11;

With many people starting to plan their annual holidays, IUCN has released a list of top ten tips for tourists who want to visit some of the most beautiful natural sites in the world without damaging the environment. Tips range from choosing eco-hotels and being mindful of your carbon footprint to avoiding buying souvenirs made from Endangered species and making sure you know that what you’re eating isn’t under threat.

The tips accompany a recent report by IUCN, Sustainable tourism in natural World Heritage, which shows that tourism, if managed properly, can contribute to both conservation and development goals in or near natural World Heritage Sites. From a conservation point of view, tourism can raise funds for protecting natural areas, enhance awareness amongst locals and tourists of biodiversity and conservation issues, as well as discourage local people from carrying out activities that are harmful to nature. The report sets out a range of factors that support and hinder sustainable tourism development in World Heritage sites.

“Careful planning is at the heart of ensuring that World Heritage sites benefit from the high profile that comes with their global status, through collaboration between the private sector, local communities and site managers,” says Giulia Carbone, Deputy Director of IUCN’s Global Business and Biodiversity Programme. “If managed sustainably, World Heritage sites can give tourists the opportunity to visit some of the most beautiful places that the world has to offer while benefitting the natural environment at the same time.”

Top ten tips for eco-tourists:

1. Visit destinations which have conservation value, such as protected areas, World Heritage sites or areas where nature is a key attraction. Include in your trip visits and activities related to conservation projects.
Or take this a step further and plan a “doing” holiday! Many organizations plan expeditions where you can spend time working on a local conservation project. See for example

2. Travel light: limit the packaging you bring with you. This will become waste in your holiday destination.

3. Before you travel, learn as much as possible about your destination, about the natural assets, the local people and any environmental concerns (for example if there is a drought, if forest fires are a major threat ..). This should help to make your journey more enjoyable!

4. Use reputable local tour operators, preferably those who contribute to conservation themselves.

5. Pick nature-friendly accommodation: ask hotels if they are truly eco, for example do they have an environmental policy? Have they implemented energy and water saving measures? Do they contribute to local conservation efforts?

6. If you can, try to get to your destination by train or coach – you’ll see more of the country you’re travelling in as well as reducing your carbon emissions. Consider also offsetting your travel using a Gold Standard supplier (

7. When you’re on holiday, choose wisely what you put on your plate. Choose locally sourced produce that’s in season and be aware that certain Endangered species may be on the menu without your knowledge - ask local conservation organizations for a list of what to look out for.

8. Many wild plants and animals are in great danger … you can contribute to protecting them by avoiding buying souvenirs made from Endangered species (jewellery made from red coral and turtle carapace,shatoosh and many others). For more information go to :
Be careful if you’re bringing plants or seeds back from your travels – check that they couldn’t become invasive species.

9. Wildlife watching can be an incredible experience… but don't disturb wildlife, for your own safety and theirs!

10. Maintain a relationship with your new friends in the destination, become a member of local conservation organizations.

More than two million tourists visit the Jiuzhaigou Valley Scenic and Historic Interest Area in China each year, generating an annual turnover of US$ 200 million. Effective management of the tourist trade, such as by using a ‘green’ bus system to ferry tourists around, allowing no other transport within the park’s boundaries and banning visitors from staying in the park overnight, have led to Jiuzhaigou being seen as a model for other protected areas in China. Continued careful planning is needed to ensure that such high visitor numbers and the mushrooming of hotels and restaurants just outside the park’s boundaries doesn’t put the long-term sustainability of the site at risk.

“From a development perspective, income from tourism may reduce poverty by creating jobs, which can in turn help with biodiversity conservation. Many conservation organizations are seeing the value of setting up small businesses that are based on or benefit the environment,” says Tim Badman, Director of IUCN's World Heritage Programme. “However, if tourism is badly planned and not managed responsibly, it can lead to biodiversity loss, ecosystem degradation and negative impacts to local communities.”

The report outlines several World Heritage sites which have suffered from the impacts of tourism, one of them being the Belize Barrier Reef System where uncontrolled lease and development of land for tourism within the site has led to it being included on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2009. Some of the environmental impacts of this include mangrove cutting and coral dredging.

Sustainable tourism and natural World Heritage report 307KB

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India: Olive Ridley baby turtles emerge from mass nesting site

Express India 20 Apr 11;

Millions of rare baby Olive Ridley turtles have begun emerging from the egg-shells along the one kilometre long tranquil Gahirmatha beach off the sea in Orissa.

Since Monday evening, the baby turtles have begun emerging out of eggshells marking the culmination of the annual rendezvous of this marine species, wildlife officials said on Wednesday.

Newborn hatchlings have begun emerging from their nests at the nesting grounds at south eastern Nasi islands of Gahirmatha marine sanctuary.

"Adverse weather conditions prevented forest personnel from witnessing the matchless natural phenomenon. The area is now inaccessible because of rough sea and tide-infested rivulet.

However, the forest patrol squad is stationed at the desolate beach to ensure the safe seaward voyage of turtle hatchlings," said Manoj Kumar Mahapatra, Divisional Forest Officer, Rajnagar Mangrove (Wildlife) Forest Division.

Wildlife guards of the Bhitarkanika national park stationed at these nesting grounds are the sole witnesses to this unique natural heritage involving birth of babies sans mother.

The emergence of hatchlings from egg shells is expected to continue for at least three-four more days.

The babies came out of the eggshells and wandered around the sandy beach for nearly an hour before making a beeline towards the sea.

No wildlife researcher made it to the place this time to witness the rare natural phenomenon because of prohibition on visit to the place, sources said.

Earlier in February, an estimated 3.6 lakh turtles had embarked on their annual sojourn at the Gahirmatha beach for mass nesting as the female turtles had dug out pits to lay eggs. After the mass-nesting, the mother turtles had made seaward journey leaving the eggs to incubate naturally.

After the eggs are incubated under natural process, the hatchlings come out after 45-55 days hiatus. The phenomenon of babies' emergence from the nests is a unique proposition in itself as the babies grow sans mother.

The mortality rate of hatchlings is very high as one out of a thousand survives the life cycle to grow into an adult, according to wildlife researchers.

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Major ivory seizures in Thailand, China and Viet Nam

TRAFFIC 20 Apr 11;

20th April 2011—Three significant ivory seizures this April provide further insight into the markets being targeted by organized crime syndicates smuggling elephant ivory from Africa to Asia.

Chinese media yesterday reported one of the largest ivory seizures in recent years—a staggering 707 tusks, 32 ivory bracelets and a rhino horn—found during a routine inspection of a large truck at a toll station on a highway in Guangxi, China, just a few kilometers from the border with Viet Nam.

The seizure comes hot on the heels of 247 tusks seized by Customs in Thailand concealed in a consignment of frozen fish from Kenya on 1st April, while yesterday, media in Viet Nam reported police had confiscated another 122 ivory tusks from a warehouse in Mong Cai, a port in north-east Viet Nam, right on the border with China.

“The enforcement authorities in all these cases are to be congratulated for making these interdictions, but these tusks attest to the poaching of more than 500 elephants, which is a major conservation concern,” said Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC’s expert on the illicit ivory trade.

“While we still await official confirmation, this pattern of seizures helps corroborate our suspicions that Thailand and China remain the primary end-use destinations for large quantities of ivory being smuggled out of Africa, with Viet Nam now serving as the leading conduit for trade into China,” Milliken added.

Milliken leads work on elephant and rhino trade and manages the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) to track illegal trade in ivory on behalf of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

ETIS is the world’s largest database of elephant product seizure records. The most recent analysis listed Thailand, together with Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo as the three countries most heavily implicated in the global illicit ivory trade, while Viet Nam was identified as one of the major transit countries for illicit consignments of ivory believed to be destined for China.

TRAFFIC sounded an alarm call when the last ETIS analysis showed a seriously escalating illegal ivory trade from 2004 to 2009. Since 2009, however, there has been almost no respite as China, Thailand and Viet Nam alone have seized nearly 20 tonnes of elephant ivory, not counting these latest hauls.

“Sophisticated criminal networks are utilizing every means available—road, sea and air—to smuggle their contraband from African source countries to lucrative markets in Asia, often via circuitous routes to avoid detection,” said Milliken.

“While major seizures, arrests and prosecutions are certainly deterrents to these smuggling operations, the only long-term solution to curtail elephant poaching has to be to reduce the demand for illegally sourced ivory to negligible levels.”

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Australia: NSW bid to remove 'threatened species' protection for grey-headed flying fox

Robert Burton-Bradley 19 Apr 11;

THE New South Wales Government plans to make it easier for farmers to cull a threatened species of flying fox by halving the time it takes to get a special shooters licence.

The grey-headed flying fox is listed as “vulnerable” under state and federal laws and it currently takes 48 hours for a culling licence to be approved.

Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson said the Government plans to reduce this to 24 hours and also fast track approval for the forced relocation of colonies.

“There is no question something must be done to stop the destruction of valuable fruit crops like apples and stone fruit,” Ms Hodgkinson said.

"Where there are no alternatives, licences for the control of flying foxes will continue to be issued.”

She said the Coalition could also call on the Federal Government to re-assess the flying fox’s listing as a vulnerable species under the Threatened Species Conservation Act.

The move breaks a pre-election promise to end the culling within two years. It comes after extensive lobbying by farmers who say the fruit-eating mammals cause hundreds of thousands of dollars in crop losses.

A 2009 independent review commissioned by the former state government found that shooting flying foxes did not protect orchards and was hastening the decline of the species, whose numbers have dropped 30 per cent nationally in the past decade.

They are listed as under threat mainly because of habitat loss. The animals are considered essential to a number of plants that require seed pollination. It is estimated a single flying fox can disperse up to 60,000 seeds a night.

NSW Greens MP and environment spokesperson Cate Faehrmann said the move was another instance of the Government lowering the status of the environment and selling it out to commercial interests.

“I'm extremely worried about what is yet to come," Ms Faehrmann said.

In Sydney, the Royal Botanic Gardens recently won a High Court challenge to evict a colony of up to 22,000 grey-headed flying foxes permanently.

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Genetically modified mosquitoes offer malaria hope

James Gallagher BBC News 20 Apr 11;

Scientists believe they are closer to being able to change the DNA of wild mosquitoes in order to combat malaria.

In the laboratory, they made a gene spread from a handful of mosquitoes to most of the population in just a few generations, according to a report in Nature.

If the right gene can be made to spread then researchers hope to reduce the number of cases of malaria.

Other academics have described the study as a "major step forward".

The World Health Organisation estimated that malaria caused nearly one million deaths in 2008.
Spreading resistance

Research groups have already created "malaria-resistant mosquitoes" using techniques such as introducing genes to disrupt the malaria parasite's development.

The research, however, has a great challenge - getting those genes to spread from the genetically-modified mosquitoes to the vast number of wild insects across the globe.

Unless the gene gives the mosquito an advantage, the gene will likely disappear.

Scientists at Imperial College London and the University of Washington, in Seattle, believe they have found a solution.

They inserted a gene into the mosquito DNA which is very good at looking after its own interests - a homing endonuclease called I-SceI.

The gene makes an enzyme which cuts the DNA in two. The cell's repair machinery then uses the gene as a template when repairing the cut.

As a result the homing endonuclease gene is copied.

It does this in such a way that all the sperm produced by a male mosquito carry the gene.

So all its offspring have the gene. The process is then repeated so the offspring's offspring have the gene and so on.

In the laboratory experiments, the gene was spread to half the caged mosquitoes in 12 generations.
Defeating malaria

Professor Andrea Crisanti, from the department of life sciences at Imperial College London, said: "This is an exciting technological development, one which I hope will pave the way for solutions to many global health problems.

"At the beginning I was really quite sceptical and thought it probably would not work, but the results are so encouraging that I'm starting to change my mind."

He said the idea had been proved in principle and was now working on getting other genes to spread in the same way.

He believes it could be possible to introduce genes which will make the mosquito target animals rather than humans, stop the parasite from multiplying in the insect or produce all male offspring which do not transmit malaria.

Professor Janet Hemingway, from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, said the work was an "exciting breakthrough".

She cautioned that the technique was still some way off being used against wild mosquitoes and there were social issues around the acceptability of using GM technology.

"This is however a major step forward providing technology that may be used in a cost effective format to drive beneficial genes through mosquito populations from relatively small releases," she added.

Dr Yeya Touré, from the World Health Organisation, said: "This research finding is very important for driving a foreign gene in a mosquito population. However, given that it has been demonstrated in a laboratory cage model, there is the need to conduct further studies before it could be used as a genetic control strategy."

Scientists Manipulate Mosquitoes In Malaria Fight
Kate Kelland PlanetArk 21 Apr 11;

Scientists working on malaria have found a way of genetically manipulating large populations of mosquitoes that could eventually dramatically reduce the spread of the deadly disease.

In a study in the journal Nature, researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Washington, Seattle found that after making specific genetic changes to a few mosquitoes and then allowing them to breed on, genetic alterations could be spread through large mosquito populations in a few generations.

This is the first successful proof-of-principle experiment of its kind, they said, and suggests the method may in future be used to spread genetic changes in wild mosquito populations to make them less able to transmit malaria.

"This is an exciting technological development, one which I hope will pave the way for solutions to many global health problems," said Andrea Crisanti of Imperial's life sciences department, who led the study.

Malaria is an infectious disease that affects more than 240 million people every year, and kills around 850,000 annually -- many of them children in Africa.

Health experts have called for malaria eradication and genetic ways of manipulating or eradicating mosquitoes have been suggested as possible alternatives to existing control methods such as pesticides and bednets. But the success of a genetic approach depends on getting the genetic modification to spread effectively in large mosquito populations.


In these new experiments, the scientists showed that a modified genetic element -- a homing endonuclease gene called I-SceI -- can efficiently spread through caged populations of mosquitoes. The genetic element 'homes' to a particular portion of the DNA, they explained, where it becomes integrated into the broken chromosome.

This process -- known as genetic drive -- could be used to transmit a genetic change through a population of mosquitoes that affects the insects' ability to carry malaria.

Crisanti's team bred mosquitoes with a green fluorescent gene as a marker that can easily be spotted in experiments. They allowed these insects to mate with a small number of mosquitoes that carried a segment of DNA coding for an enzyme which can permanently inactivate the fluorescent gene. After each generation, they counted how many still had a green gene.

The results showed that after starting with almost 99 percent of fluorescent mosquitoes, more than half had lost their green genes in just 12 generations.

There are around 3,500 species of mosquito in the world, but only a few transmit the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum. The researchers said this technique should allow scientists to focus on controlling just the most dangerous species.

"In our mosquitoes the homing endonuclease gene is only passed on... directly to the carrier's offspring. This makes for a uniquely safe biological control measure that will not affect even very closely related mosquito species," said Imperial's Nikolai Windbichler, who also worked on the study.

The team is now working on targeting genes that the mosquito needs for reproduction or malaria transmission. With this technology, the release of a few modified mosquitoes could eventually cause a dramatic reduction in malaria-carrying mosquitoes in countries where the disease is endemic, they said.

(Editing by Gareth Jones)

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Disease hits wheat crops in Africa, Mideast

Yahoo News 20 Apr 11;

PARIS (AFP) – Aggressive new strains of wheat rust disease have decimated up to 40 percent of harvests in some regions of north Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and the Caucasus, researchers said Wednesday.

The countries most affected are Syria and Uzbekistan, with Egypt, Yemen, Turkey, Iran, Morocco, Ethiopia and Kenya also hit hard, they reported at a scientific conference in Aleppo, Syria.

"These epidemics increase the price of food and pose a real threat to rural livelihoods and regional food security," Mahmoud Solh, director general of the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), said in a statement.

In some nations hit by the blight, wheat accounts for 50 percent of calorie intake, and 20 percent of protein nutrition.

"Wheat is the cornerstone for food security in many of these countries," said Hans Braun, director of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), near Mexico City, singling out Syria.

"Looking at the political and social situation, what they don't need is a food crisis," he told AFP by phone.

Wheat rust is a fungal disease that attacks the stems, grains and especially the leaves of grains including wheat, barley and rye.

Several factors have contributed to the rapid spread of the new disease strains, known as stem rust and stripe rust, experts say.

Global warming and increased variability of rainfall have weakened the plants even as these emerging rust strains have adapted to extreme temperatures not seen before.

"To combat the problem, farmers in these regions need to adopt new varieties of wheat that have durable resistance to both stem and stripe rust," said Ronnie Coffman, a professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and vice chairman of the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative.

"All of these countries have under-invested in research and preparation for this kind of scenario," he said by telephone from the United States.

While some resistant breeds are in the pipeline, national and international development efforts must be stepped up if they are to deliver in time to make a difference, he said.

New wheat varieties must also have improved yield performance, drought tolerance and regional suitability, he added.

Most of the countries affected have only meagre capacity for research and development.

More than 100 scientists and policymakers from 31 countries are meeting at the International Wheat Stripe Rust Symposium to discuss strategies for slowing the spread of disease.

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In Cleaning Oiled Marshlands, A Sea Of Unknowns

Elizabeth Shogren NPR 20 Apr 11;

On a coastal marsh south of New Orleans, oil still saturates a 30-foot-wide stretch. Where hip-high grass should be, the oil has formed a hard, dark mat. If you dig though that crust, you find a thick, oozy layer of oil.

"It hasn't weathered or degraded much since it came ashore in early June," says scientist Scott Zengel, a contractor for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who is overseeing the marsh survey crews.

A year ago, after the Deepwater Horizon exploded, one of the biggest fears was that BP oil would inundate the coastal wetlands that produce so much of the country's seafood. Some oil still can be found on about half of the 1,000 miles of marsh and beach that got hit by BP oil.

Scientists were surprised by how much oil still saturates some stretches of coastal wetlands, such as in the area known as Bay Jimmy.

"It knocked down the vegetation and it formed this tarry coat on top and trapped oil underneath," Zengel says.

Crews documented this oil for weeks, but it was September before one scientist dug into the matted grass.

Zengel digs down about six inches, and his shovel reveals what that scientist also found: a layer of glistening oil, with the consistency of peanut butter. The wind, rain, sun and even waves can't get to it to break it down.

"We just saw how bad it was," he says. "I don't think anyone had quite seen this before" in any previous oil spill.

'A Mad Science Experiment'

Zengel has spent so much time here that he barely notices as frequent loud shots ring out. Biologists are so worried about birds getting oiled here, they set up what they call scare cannons to try to keep them away.

Scientists generally agree that after an oil spill, marshes fare best when they're left to recover on their own. Cleaning them usually does more harm than good.

These marshes not only provide a nursery for the Gulf's shrimp, crabs and fish; they also protect New Orleans from storm surges. Even before the oil spill, they were rapidly disappearing.

Zengel decided to use this strip of marsh to test a variety of cleanup methods to see whether some technique could help save this marsh and other heavily oiled areas.

"It's kind of like a mad science experiment," he concedes.

Zengel shows the plots where he had workers try everything from vacuums to power washing to chemicals. Nothing worked. Then he came up with the idea of raking the marsh with pitchforks to get the tarry plants to stand up, and cutting them with a hedge clipper. That uncovers the gooey stuff scientists call mousse.

"We tried to smear a lot of that mousse up onto the vegetation that we were raking up so that when we cut it, we could remove the material," he says.

The plots where Zengel used this technique do look better than the others. The tarry mat is gone, the surface oil is weathering and when he digs, the oozy layer is barely visible.

"And also compared to where we just were, you see a good bit more vegetation sprouting," he says. Some bright green grasses are starting to emerge in the dark chocolate-colored soil, and a few tiny black mangrove plants have taken root. "Now, is it anywhere close to recovered or looking like the natural marsh behind this area? No."

The Green Light For Cleanup

Some scientists argue that this area should be excavated and replaced with fabricated marsh, and Zengel is the first to admit his work is risky.

"Some of these treatments may still end up more damaging in the long run. We just don't know, and we had to make a decision," he says. "Winter and early spring are the time to be in the marsh if you're going to do something."

But early indications were positive, and he got the green light to go ahead. First, manual crews started using the technique. Now heavy machines are mimicking the method — a massive long-arm excavator pulls a makeshift rake across the marsh.

About a third of the 436 miles of Louisiana coastal wetlands hit with BP oil still show some visible signs. But less than 10 miles has enough oil to warrant such an aggressive cleanup, and in many once-oily stretches of marsh, green plants now are sprouting.

Still, scientists say BP oil is in this ecosystem for the long term. Tulane University oceanographer Brad Rosenheim says it's very important to tease out whether BP oil is behind bad things that happen to wildlife and plants in the future.

"For instance, if a section of our wetlands disappears in the next few years, the natural question would be: Was that because of the oil spill or was that because of business as usual on the Louisiana coastline? In order to answer that question, we obviously need a pretty good fingerprint of that oil. We need to monitor it through time," says Rosenheim, who has been regularly sampling oil from the marshes to pinpoint chemical markers that will identify BP oil.

He says one thing already is clear: The oil will be in the beaches and marshes for decades to come.

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Can Nuclear Power Plants Float?

Alissa de Carbonnel PlanetArk 19 Apr 11;

A tsunami-crippled nuclear power plant might give some countries pause over the risks of exposing reactors to the power of the oceans. Not Russia.

Moscow is pushing ahead with the world's first offshore atomic plant, despite increased safety fears and costs amid the fallout over Japan's nuclear emergency.

"We are not worried. Even Japan has no alternative to atomic energy. The safety on Russian reactors is many times higher," said Andrey Fomichev, head of St. Petersburg's Baltiysky shipyard, which is building the 144 meter-long (472 ft) barge that will be towed into place in an as yet undisclosed location next year.

The seaborne plant is at the heart of Russia's strategy to exploit the Arctic's vast energy resources in the coming decades -- an expansion into one of the world's last true wildernesses. Consisting of two small reactors that will generate 70-megawatts of electricity, enough to light up more than 35,000 homes, the plant will sit at dock or anchor close to shore so that it can hook up to cables to transmit electricity.

The floating reactor, named the Akademik Lomonosov after the renowned 18th-century Russian scientist and poet Mikhail Lomonosov, is based on "tried-and-true" Cold War submarine and atomic icebreaker technology, Fomichev told Reuters by telephone. "All possible emergency situations have been tested. Safety testing began under the Soviet Union."

But nuclear-energy skeptics warn that Russia's plans, which call for construction of at least seven more such reactors, could be the most dangerous in the atomic energy sector in years -- not only because of the risk of an accident but because they could fuel proliferation and terrorism.

"You can't promise an inherently safe nuclear reactor... and by floating these things and towing them off to remote locations you multiply the risks," said Paris-based independent nuclear-energy consultant Mycle Schneider. "It's entirely ridiculous."


Russia is not the only country to move toward shrinking its reactors, but it is pushing the idea more vocally than others, touting projects from nuclear-powered spacecraft to reactors small enough to fit in a backyard.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) predicts that at least 40 and as many as 90 such mini reactors will be in operation worldwide by 2030.

Fomichev said small plants can be built to power remote areas in the developing world, power-hungry industrial projects, or military bases, without the need for expensive energy grids. "Such facilities can be built for the far north, the desert," he said. "It's a quick fix for hard-to-reach regions. Deploy it and you can build factories, army bases, oil rigs. You have electricity, water and heat."

Russia's state nuclear-energy giant Rosatom has plans to build 12 floating plants, which it hopes to sell for export. One of the pilot barge's most-touted selling points, energy-intensive seawater desalination, is clearly aimed to appeal to Middle Eastern and African nations. Rosatom said more than 20 countries have voiced interest in the project, including China, South Korea, Indonesia, The Philippines, Namibia, Chile and Brazil.

The first reactor will likely end up costing $550 million to build, more than four times the initial estimate but still a fraction of the price of a traditional, large-scale reactor.

Oleg Chernikov, the deputy director of the operating company, Rosenergoatom, argues that the floating plants will be earthquake-proof by the sheer fact it will be moored out at sea.

But antinuclear activists warn that if a floating plant is deployed in the tsunami-prone, volcanically active seas off Russia's far-eastern Kamchatka region -- as reports have suggested the first plant might be -- a nuclear accident would be "unavoidable."

"The danger is not an earthquake itself, but the tsunami it generates. If a working floating nuclear reactor were dashed against the shore in a tsunami, it would mean an unavoidable nuclear accident," said Alexander Nikitin, a former Soviet submarine naval captain and atomic safety inspector turned antinuclear campaigner.

One industry source familiar with the plans said the plant was not bound for a seismically active location. "There are rumors... but the contract names a different location," said the source, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak to the media.


But one of the men who first authorized the project now doubts the logic behind it. Bulat Nigmatulin, Russia's deputy minister for atomic energy between 1998 and 2002, said floating plants have no potential market and are a waste of state funds. "Nobody needs this. We're funding this useless thing ourselves, out of the state coffers," Nigmatulin told Reuters.

Setting reactors afloat anywhere in the Pacific, where they risk being capsized by tsunamis, is "simply crazy," he said, dismissing with a sweep of his hand a map of possible interested client nations around the globe. "Everywhere else is full of pirates and terrorists."

Nigmatulin believes the project highlights the worst of Russian industry: massive subsidies, unprofitable projects and a lack of transparency that leads to delays and corruption.

Moscow's ambitious plans have also fueled concerns over terrorism and what do to with highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel. Antinuclear activists say Rosatom's list of potential clients raises concerns over nuclear proliferation. "They are all countries who want to gain access to nuclear submarine technology," Greenpeace energy expert Vladimir Chuprov said.

"While Fukushima may not spell the funeral of atomic energy, it has shown up the industry's unsolved safety problems, including the threat of terrorism," adds Konstantin Simonov, director of the Moscow-based National Energy Security Foundation.

Far from being innovative, environmentalists said Russia is dusting off risky, outdated designs in its drive to capitalize on the recent boom in global demand for nuclear energy. The technology used in the floating plants caused at least 10 accidents aboard Soviet submarines between the 1970s until the early 1990s, according to the Oslo-based antinuclear group Bellona.

"Any history of nuclear submarines is a history of accidents," Bellona campaigner Nikitin said.

Russia says it will deal with the nuclear waste produced by any plant it sells. But Nikitin said no solution has yet been found to process the spent fuel, which is highly radioactive. In traditional reactors, the spent fuel is removed and stored in pools -- like those under threat at Japan's Fukushima plant. But in the marine reactor models Russia is promoting, the fuel is frozen and stored along with the reactor cores.

Hundreds of those spent fuel rods still litter the Russian Arctic today -- a dirty legacy of Soviet the submarine program.

"The phobia over atomic energy is not going to fade fast. Who will want these things now?" Simonov asked.

(Editing by Simon Robinson)

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Warming Seas Could Push Some Fish Species To Limit: Study

David Fogarty PlanetArk 19 Apr 11;

Rapidly warming ocean temperatures in some parts of the world could be pushing some fish species to the limit, stunting their growth, increasing stress and raising the risk of death, a study shows.

An Australian study, published on Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, focused on the long-lived fish species called the banded morwong in the Tasman Sea, between Australia and New Zealand.

Scientists, using long-term and current data, found that the morwong's growth in some areas has been slowed by a jump in sea surface temperatures of nearly 2 degrees Celsius over the past 60 years in the Tasman Sea, one of the most rapid increases in the southern hemisphere's oceans.

The results have implications for other fish species, including commercial fisheries, as seas heat up and become more acidic, affecting coral reefs and multi-billion dollar fisheries dependent on them.

Generally, cold-blooded animals respond to warming conditions by boosting growth rates as temperatures rise, said marine ecologist Ron Thresher of Australia's state-backed research body the CSIRO. But there was a limit.

"By examining growth across a range that species inhabit, we found evidence of both slowing growth and increased physiological stress as higher temperatures impose a higher metabolic cost on fish at the warm edge of the range," Thresher told Reuters from Hobart, Tasmania.

"A lot of commercial fish don't move very much," said Thresher, a co-author of the study with colleagues from the University of Tasmania's Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies.

"They tend to return to the same spawning grounds or they live on the same reefs. And those are the ones that are going to be most affected," he said. This was particularly so for long-lived fish and those that live near the shore and at shallow depths. The banded morwong can live nearly 100 years.

Some species, though, such as tuna, are far more mobile and are moving further south into cooler waters.

Thresher and his colleagues used data on the morwong going back to 1910 that focused on bony structures called otoliths. These have annual growth rings that are similar to growth rings in trees.

Studying data from samples of the species in the Tasman Sea, they found increased growth for populations in the middle of the species' range in Australian waters where temperatures have increased, but are still relatively cool.

But growth slowed with rising temperatures at the warmer northern edge of the range around New Zealand.

The scientists found that the drop in growth could be related to higher stress levels from rising temperatures, increased oxygen consumption and a drop in the ability to swim for long periods.

(Editing by Robert Birsel)

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Rising sea levels trigger disasters in China - Xinhua

Ben Blanchard Reuters 20 Apr 11;

BEIJING, April 20 (Reuters) - Gradually rising sea levels caused by global warming over the past 30 years have contributed to a growing number of disasters along China's coast, state news agency Xinhua said on Wednesday.

Sea levels along China's coastline had risen 2.6 mm per year over the past three decades, Xinhua said, citing documents from the State Oceanic Administration.

Average air and sea temperatures in coastal areas had risen about 0.4 and 0.2 degrees Celsius respectively over the past 10 years, the news agency added.

"As a 'gradual' marine disaster, the cumulative effect of rising sea levels could 'aggravate storm tides, coastal erosion, seawater invasion and other disasters'," Xinhua cited the oceanic administration as saying.

An expert at the administration, Liu Kexiu, said the rising sea levels were a result of global warming.

"Other key factors are land subsidence caused by human activities, including over-exploitation of groundwater and massive construction of high buildings in coastal areas," Liu said.

China's high and rapidly climbing output of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas pollutant from burning coal, oil and gas, has put it at the centre of negotiations for a new world pact to reduce the emissions responsible for global warming.

The government has vowed to cut the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from fossil fuels per unit of gross domestic product growth by 17 percent in the next five years.

But China has repeatedly said it will not accept a more stringent, absolute cap on total emissions, calling it an unfair burden on developing nations that have much lower emissions per person than rich economies. It has also refused to say when its emissions could peak and begin to fall.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in its last assessment report that China could be one of the biggest casualties of global warming in coming decades.

Northern regions faced dwindling water supplies, plunging crop yields and increasing sandstorms, while melting glaciers would increase flood risks in the south, it predicted. (Editing by Chris Lewis and Robert Birsel)

China's seas rising at faster rate than global average
People's Daily Online 21 Apr 11;

The "2010 China Sea Level Communiqué" was released by the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) on April 20, and shows that China's coastal sea level fluctuations have been experiencing an overall upward trend over the past 30 years, and the sea level has been rising at an average rate of 2.6 millimeters per year, higher than the global level of 1.7 millimeters per year. The rising sea level has aggravated marine disasters.

The report also shows that China's coastal sea level in 2010 was 67 millimeters higher than normal years and basically maintained the same level as 2009. In addition, the sea level of the Bohai Sea and the Yellow Sea in February and the sea level of the South China Sea in October reached their highest levels compared with the same period over the past 30 years.

Liu Kexiu, director of the Product Research and Development Department under the SOA Information Center, said that the main reason for the rising sea level in China is global warming. In addition, surface subsidence caused by human activity, such as groundwater exploitation and the construction of tall buildings in coastal areas, are also important reasons leading to the rising sea level.

By People's Daily Online

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One Glacier Range Found to Contribute 10 Percent of World's Melting Ice Yahoo News 20 Apr 11;

A glacier range the size of the state of New York surprisingly contributes 10 percent of the world's melting ice, making it a primary contributor to rising sea levels.

"The Canadian Arctic, which we previously thought wasn't contributing very much to ice loss, has actually become one of the largest contributors," said study researcher Alex Gardner at the University of Michigan. "Most of the world's fresh water is stored in these glaciers and caps, and they are one of the primary drivers of sea level change."

Researchers have been watching this glacier range in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago for decades, but because of its remote location they weren't able to get accurate readings of how much it was being affected by the gradually increasing temperatures, particularly in summer, attributed to global warming.

NASA, in making ice loss estimates in the early 1990s, had determined that the glacier had been losing volume. Gardner looked at more recent changes: during the years 2004 to 2009. Over that study period, he found, the glacier lost a volume equivalent to about 75 percent of Lake Erie, the majority of that loss happening between 2006 and 2009. In these years, the loss was four times what it had been in the late 1990s.

Studying remote glaciers

The Canadian Arctic Archipelago includes thousands of islands covering 550,000 square miles (1.4 million square kilometers), nearly the size of Alaska. It is home to one of the largest freshwater glacier ranges on Earth, which has 3½ times the volume of the combined Great Lakes.

To test how much ice these glaciers were losing, Gardner's team created a computer model and used climate data from 2004 to 2009. They noticed this dramatic loss of ice and called colleagues to confirm their findings.

A team from Trent University in Ontario, working with the ICESat, a NASA satellite that can measure elevation using a laser beam from space, confirmed Gardner's findings that the glaciers had been losing volume. A third team, working with the GRACE satellite, a joint venture between NASA and the University of Texas, also confirmed the findings.

GRACE works to measure the tiny gravity fields created by these massive blocks of ice. Over time, as the glaciers lose volume, their gravity decreases.

Slippery ice slope

With these findings, the archipelago snags third place among locations of the world's greatest ice loss, though it contains a very small portion of the world's land ice. The huge ice sheets covering Greenland and Antarctica, which contain 99 percent of the Earth's ice, also come in first and second place, respectively, in volume lost.

The archipelago — which makes up a third of the remaining 1 percent — is able to compete with these behemoths because it is in an area where a few degrees of temperature change can have a great effect on melt. Essentially it's not as cold there as it is in Antarctica and Greenland.

"The big ice sheets have large areas at high elevations and large areas that are very cold," Gardner said. "Despite their very large size, proportionally they experience less melt."

All of this water has to go somewhere, and it ends up in the oceans. "In winter these ice sheets don't melt at all, so it's very confined to summer months," Gardner said. "It's like a giant faucet turns on for two months, then shuts off." The fresh water in the glacier range is lost into the oceans and the sea level rises.

Gardner is currently working to apply his glacier melt model to go back in time, using historical climate data, to put this ice melt into a longer-term perspective on the health of the glacier.

Melting ice on Arctic islands boosts sea levels: study
Yahoo News 20 Apr 11;

PARIS (AFP) – Melting glaciers and ice caps on Canadian Arctic islands play a far greater role in sea level rise that previously suspected, according to a study published Thursday.

Between 2004 and 2009, the 30,000 snow-and-ice covered islands in the Canadian Archipelago shed 363 cubic kilometres (87 cubic miles) of water, equivalent to three-quarters of contents of Lake Erie, the study found.

During the first half of this six-year period, the average loss was 29 cubic kilometres (seven cubic miles) per year. But during the second three-year period, the average jumped to 92 cubic kilometres (22 cubic miles) annually.

Over the full six years, this added a total of one millimeter to the height of the worlds oceans, the researchers calculated.

"This is a region that we previously didn't think was contributing to sea level rise," said Alex Gardner, a researcher at the University of Michigan and lead author of the study.

"Now we realise that outside of Antarctica and Greenland, it was the largest contributor for the years 2007 through 2009. This area is highly sensitive and if temperatures continue to increase, we will see much more melting," he said in a statement.

Ninety-nine percent of all the world's land ice is trapped in the massive ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland.

Despite their size, however, they currently only account for about half of the land-ice bleeding each year into the oceans, mainly because they are so thick and cold that ice melts only at their edges.

The other half of the ice melt contributing to sea-level rise comes from smaller mountain glaciers and ice caps such as those in the Canadian Arctic, Alaska and Patagonia.

The study's results, published in Nature, show that the impact of these regions on sea level rise has been largely overlooked.

Gardner cautioned that the relatively short time span of the study -- six years -- is not long enough to constitute a climate trend, but said the results should be taken as a warning.

"This is a big response to a small change in climate," he said. "If the warming continues and we start to see similar responses in other glaciated regions, I would say it's worrisome."

Most experts on climate change and sea levels project that the ocean watermark will rise roughly a metre by century's end.

This could be devastating for tens of millions of people living in low-lying deltas, many of which are also sinking at the same time.

Rising sea levels could poison aquifers and amplify the impacts of storm surges and tsunamis, experts say.

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Scientists: Soot may be key to rapid Arctic melt

Randolph E. Schmid Associated Press Yahoo News 21 Apr 11;

WASHINGTON – An international research team is in the land of snow and ice, in search of soot. Though the Arctic is often pictured as a vast white wasteland, scientists believe a thin layer of soot — mostly invisible — is causing it to absorb more heat. They want to find out if that's the main reason for the recent rapid warming of the Arctic, which could have a long-term impact on the world's climate.

Soot, or black carbon, is produced by auto and truck engines, aircraft emissions, burning forests and the use of wood- or coal-burning stoves.

"The Arctic serves as the air conditioner of the planet," explained Patricia Quinn of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, one of the research participants. Heat from other parts of the Earth moves to the Arctic in the circulating air and ocean water, and at least some of that warmth can radiate into space.

At the same time, some of the incoming heat from the sun that tends to be absorbed in other locations is reflected by the ice and snow, allowing the polar regions to serve as cooling agents for the planet.

But that may be changing.

In recent years, the Arctic has been warming more rapidly than other regions and, Quinn pointed out, the "warming of the Arctic has implications not just for polar bears, but for the entire planet."

Cutting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases is the backbone of any effort to combat warming, both globally and within the Arctic, Quinn said.

But studies indicate that cutting the concentration of short-lived pollutants, such as soot, will reduce the rate of warming in the Arctic faster than cuts in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, which last far longer in the atmosphere, she said. "This is a buying-time approach."

In February, the United Nations Environmental Program urged cuts in soot emissions for a variety of reasons, including the threat to human health from inhaling it and the potential warming of the polar regions. And others have also raised concerns about pollution from soot.

The Arctic Council, which represents the eight countries that border the Arctic, is deciding whether to seek reductions in soot from other nations and will be using data from the international research project in its deliberations.

The research team includes scientists from Norway, Russia, Germany, Italy and China. They are working from Svalbard, Norway, a group of nine mountainous, ice- and snow-covered islands inside the Arctic Circle, about halfway between the northern tip of Norway and the North Pole. Once used for whaling, the islands are now home to seals, reindeer and Arctic foxes as well as about 2,000 people who make a living mining coal, hosting researchers and greeting hardy tourists.

The scientists will track carbon's movement through the atmosphere, its deposit on snow and ice surfaces, and its effect on warming in the Arctic. Two NOAA unmanned research aircraft will collect aerosol soot in the air and a Norwegian craft will study the reflectivity of the surface. Researchers also will collect snow samples and send up balloons to study atmospheric chemistry.

Soot warms the atmosphere by absorbing heat from the sun, explained Quinn, who works in NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle. And while it may not be visible like a black scar on the snow surface, even a little soot can mean less energy is reflected.

Tim Bates, co-leader of the NOAA contingent with Quinn, likened the process to wearing a black shirt on a sunny day. "If you want to be cooler, you would wear a light-colored shirt that would reflect the sun's warmth." When carbon covers snow and ice, the radiation is absorbed and not reflected.

The surface air temperature in the Arctic has increased about twice as fast as the global average rate over the past 100 years, Quinn said in an interview by email. "Over the past 50 years, annual average surface air temperatures have increased from 2 to 3 degrees Celsius (3.6 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in Alaska and Siberia. The annual average temperature globally has increased by about 0.7 degree C (1.3 F) over the same time period."

That Arctic warming has resulted in an earlier spring melt, a longer melt season, and a decrease in sea ice extent, she said. That has raised concerns for polar bears, which depend on ice to hunt.

The warming problem is compounded because, when the highly reflective snow and ice melt, the dark surfaces of land and ocean that were beneath absorb more heat, further heating the atmosphere.

Jack Dibb, an atmospheric chemist at the University of New Hampshire, said he thinks soot's greatest effect in the Arctic is likely to be warming caused by the particles floating in the atmosphere. It may also reduce the reflectivity of the snow and ice enough to cause warming, but that is going to be harder to document, he said in a telephone interview.

Either way, the research is important, Dibb said, because soot has a short life span in the air, so reducing it can have a faster effect than other efforts to slow climate change.

Will the research lead to action? "I would hope," he said cautiously. There are a lot of concerned parties, particularly in Europe, he said, noting he recently attended a conference in St. Petersburg, Russia, where there were discussions of the soot produced by widespread forest fires in that country last summer.

The Norway research will continue through mid-May. The teams then will spend months analyzing their data and report the results at scientific meetings and in journals.



NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory:

Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences:

Arctic Vision and Strategy:

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How to make climate change projects bigger and better?

Megan Rowling Reuters 20 Apr 11;

As aid agencies have become more adept at thinking about climate change in their work, the burning question is how to expand successful programmes that help local people cope with climate shifts or develop in a green way.

Last month, scientists, development practitioners and policy makers gathered in Dhaka for an international conference to review existing efforts by communities to adapt to more extreme weather patterns and rising seas. Participants explored how to take the lessons emerging at the local level and scale them up.

They concluded there's a need for better communication of what works, and stronger engagement with a wider range of players, as well as more scientific analysis of community-based adaptation.

"We need to identify incentives for the private sector to support adaptation at the community level and we need to involve governments, youth groups and faith-based organisations," said Saleemul Huq, a senior fellow at the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development, which co-organised the conference.

Participants plan to publish a peer-reviewed book of their findings to help raise the profile of community-level adaptation in the next major scientific report from the U.N. climate panel, due out in 2014.

"The final element is to spread our knowledge," Huq said. "We have to be better at communicating from what non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other practitioners learn on the ground, and better at supporting communities and drawing out lessons from their activities."

This month I was at another conference in the British city of Oxford, organised by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), which also aimed to encourage climate experts to make a bigger impact in poor countries.

High-fliers who've worked on successful initiatives in areas ranging from ethical finance and fair trade to deforestation, farming and sanitation delivered a series of case study presentations to give participants some food for thought. I listened to two of them.

The first covered a community sanitation programme in Indonesia, called SANIMAS, which has been rolled out to several hundred towns and cities across the southeast Asian nation. It also has been expanded to include climate change aspects such as the production of biogas, and solid waste management through composting and anaerobic digestion. The organisations running it are now applying to sell carbon credits under the U.N.'s Clean Development Mechanism.

The second looked at an agricultural production system in Brazil's semi-arid northeast, which has put drip irrigation into the hands of local farmers, helping them cultivate fruit and vegetables amid increasingly unreliable rainfall patterns. Before, they had been using government grants to buy cattle, which contributes to deforestation as trees are cut down for grazing.

Under the Adapta Sertao scheme, irrigation technology is sold to farmers through cooperatives which offer competitive prices together with micro-credit from a revolving fund. Tested in 50 pilot projects, the approach is set to be used as a reference point for climate change adaptation at the national and regional level.

Why have these initiatives worked so well? What has allowed them to take on a life of their own and spread beyond their initial testing grounds? I noticed some similarities in how they've been designed and implemented that provide a few clues:

They involve the local community in choosing what they need

In the Indonesian scheme, communities are asked to consider what kind of sewerage system is most appropriate for them, including toilets, piping and waste treatment, and whether they want it to produce biogas. This results in different arrangements and designs, producing a sense of ownership and some colourful artwork. In one boarding school, a sanitation system for 625 students also provides fuel for 10 biogas stoves. Pupils no longer have to buy kerosene, helping them overcome their reservations about cooking with the residue from their loos. In Brazil, the idea of introducing irrigation technology sprung from a long-established network of women working on community radio programmes, who said they were fed up of using buckets to water their food crops.

They ensure local people make a financial investment in the project

For every 100 million rupiah ($11,500) invested in a SANIMAS sewage system, Indonesian communities contribute around 6 to 12 million rupiah, giving them a financial stake in making it work. The rest comes mainly from local governments and international contributions. In Brazil, farmers purchase their own irrigation equipment from cooperatives - a cheaper alternative than buying direct from retailers - with small loans to help them out.

They provide job opportunities and a boost to the local economy

Thais Corral, who coordinates the Adapta Sertao project, says increased profit opportunities have attracted younger people back into farming, giving them a reason not to migrate to urban areas. Surplus fruit and vegetables are being sold on local markets, boosting the economy too.

They train local people to manage the technical aspects, and create a sense of commitment and excitement

The Indonesian scheme trains local people to act as project facilitators in their own communities, and has developed a certification process which involves taking tests. It also hands out awards, as does the Brazilian initiative, bringing the winners to ceremonies and forums in cities where they can share their experiences with politicians and the like. "It creates energy," says Corral. "People really need to be involved in the learning process."

They bring in local authorities but don't compromise

Environmental engineer Yuyun Ismawati of the Basic Needs Services network, which coordinates SANIMAS, said some local governments in Indonesia have tried to cut corners after realising they had to cough up $25,000 to $40,000 for a sanitation system, because they are used to allocating only small amounts of money for community projects. "We said, no, we need a proper standardised construction, and these specifications have to be followed," she said. "For local governments, it was a bit shocking for them because this NGO is asking for something expensive, and for the poor. How will the poor manage those kind of fancy things? We managed to reassure them that we will do proper training, and we will accompany and assist the community until they can run this facility in a sustainable way."

They use external funding to establish a model but local financing to keep it going

Ismawati says backing by international donors was needed to formulate the SANIMAS project and launch pilots to refine it into a successful model. But once tried and tested, local government funding has been essential to rolling it out across the country. Some of the community organisations that run the sanitation systems charge a monthly fee and others charge according to use. Any profits they make are reinvested in other projects. In Brazil, Adapta Sertao has partnered with local financing institutions to set up revolving funds that provide micro-loans enabling farmers to acquire irrigation technology. After five years, the initiative requires very little external funding, according to Corral.

They monitor the results and learn lessons

Adapta Sertao monitors 15 of its more than 50 pilot projects on a continuous basis, and analyses them according to socio-economic and environmental indicators. The results are fed back into the process, to improve the model and contribute to wider climate change policy.

They are pragmatic and accept a small level of failure when scaling up

In rolling out the Indonesian sanitation initiative, 10 to 20 percent of local projects have not worked out, in some cases because they were run by outside consultants rather than the community, Ismawati said. To keep failure to a minimum, local enthusiasm, ownership and involvement in decision making are essential, she said. But pragmatism is also necessary. For example, it's no use trying to set up a community sanitation system in an illegal slum because it needs to be maintained by people who are settled and not at risk of being kicked out of their homes.

These are encouraging initiatives, but many development organisations are only just beginning to work out how to "scale up" climate change projects that have worked well in the communities where they've been tested.

They now have the tough task of boosting momentum on the ground and at national level without a clear lead from U.N. climate negotiators who are still struggling to patch together a new international agreement to tackle global warming.

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