Best of our wild blogs: 4 May 11

Coral spawning 2011
from Compressed air junkie

3 otters @ SBWR 30Apr2011
from sgbeachbum

eagles @ SBWR & Labrador
from sgbeachbum

White-bellied Sea Eagle feeding behaviour
from Bird Ecology Study Group

A wild find in a corner of Kranji
from wild shores of singapore

Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research Open House 2011 in conjunction with Children’s Season 2011 from Raffles Museum News

Exploring Tanah Merah Beach
from Nikita Hengbok

Read more!

From rail to reel: review of the movie "Red Dragonflies"

Film-maker Liao Jiekai's memories of hiking along railroad tracks inspired his debut film
boon chan Straits Times Life 4 May 11;

When local director Liao Jiekai wanted to make a film exploring the railroad tracks that fascinated him as a junior college student, he knew he had to do it quick.

There was some urgency in capturing that journey as he noted things could change in the blink of an eye.

'When we were shooting the film in June 2009, the 'No trespassing' signposts were from the Malaysian High Commission. A few months later, it was still 'No trespassing' but they were now from the Singapore Land Authority.'

Last September, Singapore and Malaysia finalised a land swop deal: the exchange of the Malayan Railway land in Tanjong Pagar, Kranji, Woodlands and Bukit Timah for other parcels of land in Singapore.

Liao's debut feature, Red Dragonflies, is a contemplative drama about friendships, growing up and exploring old railway tracks. It opens at Filmgarde Iluma tomorrow.

Over the past year, it has been screened at the Hong Kong International Film Festival, Bueno Aires International Festival Of Independent Films and Tokyo International Film Festival. It won a special jury prize at the Jeonju International Film Festival.

Its 26-year-old writer-director tells Life! that he has received a whole range of responses. He says: 'Best of all was when they asked, 'Why are you speaking English?'

'Audiences were also very intrigued about the Singapore they saw in the film as they think of it as a big metropolitan city, and yet half the film is set in the forest.'

He was inspired to make the film when he came across old video footage of him and his junior college schoolmates hiking along the old railway tracks.

It is a trek that fascinates him as it passes through very different neighbourhoods - backyards of private houses, HDB flats, forest, farms and even shrines.

Made on a shoestring budget of $30,000, including $6,000 from the Singapore Film Commission's script development grant, the film is a labour of love with Liao putting in about $20,000 of his own money into the project.

He acknowledges though that film-making has to be a financially sustainable process so that he can go on to make his next film. He points out: 'I cannot pour in all this money so it goes into this hole.'

Thus far, he has made back some of it from the Jeonju Film Festival prize money - around $7,000 - and screening fees.

He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and currently lectures on media education and visual arts at the School of the Arts.

Apart from Red Dragonflies, his work can currently be seen at the Singapore Biennale 2011 as he did the text scribblings for Nedko Solakov's The Flying Method Of An Artist With A Fear Of Flying, a whimsical site- specific piece at Old Kallang Airport.

The bachelor's next feature film project, There Once Was A Mountain, will be a history of Chinese communities in Singapore from the 1970s to the present.

As a film-maker, he would like to see local audiences varying their diet of Hollywood hits with less mainstream fare.

One reason Red Dragonflies is being screened only now, more than a year after he completed it, is because he was pushing for a commercial release rather than a smaller run at venues such as The Arts House or Sinema Old School.

He hopes the film will find an audience beyond the arthouse cinema crowd: 'I hope a regular person wondering what to watch will pass by and then take a leap of faith to try this Singapore film he has never heard of with no name actors because the poster or trailer attracted him.'

Even though the film has journeyed around the world, Liao says: 'I've not really felt the film is finished until I show it to a local audience. After all, this is a Singapore film.'

Exploration veers off-track
96 minutes/Opens tomorrow/
boon chan Straits Times Life 4 May 11;

The story: Junior college students Rachel (Oon Yee Jeng), Tien (Yeo Shang Xuan) and Jun (Ong Kuan Loong) explore disused railway tracks and then an accident happens. Years later, Rachel (played by Ng Xuan Ming as an adult) and Tien (played by Jason Hui as an adult) cross paths again.

The title references the 1990 Mandopop hit of the same name by the now-defunct boyband Little Tigers. The song is a light-hearted affair about youthful idyll and chasing after one's dreams.

While the film takes on some of the same themes, the mood here is different. It unfolds at a leisurely and ruminative pace and works best when it focuses on the friends as they follow the abandoned railway tracks. It is an exploration for the audience as well as they wend through tunnels and lush foliage, and past homes with backyards and walls with graffiti.

What also helps to draw one in is the unforced banter and naturalistic interaction among the non-professional actors.

But since this is not enough to fill out a full-length feature, writer-director Liao Jiekai adds another dimension to the story. A 26-year-old Rachel returns to Singapore from abroad to hold an art exhibition and she reconnects with Tien.

The fact that they never mention Jun is intriguing at first but it soon becomes frustrating. Also, the ending of the film introduces some unexpected elements and throws up questions which remain unresolved.

Subtlety and a low-key approach are too often under-rated qualities in local productions but in this case, they are taken to the extreme and the movie ends up feeling murky rather than illuminating, on themes such as nostalgia, growing up and how the past shapes people.

The spirit of exploration is alive and well in Red Dragonflies but, unfortunately, this feature debut feels like it may have wandered off the tracks.

More details of the movie on the We Support the Green Corridor in Singapore facebook page.

Read more!

Malaysia: Elephant rampage on the rise

New Straits Times 4 May 11;

KOTA BARU: The increase in incidents of elephants rampaging farms and villages in three districts here is worrying, the state Wildlife Department said.

Department director Rahmat Topani said a total of 111 cases of rampage, mostly in Gua Musang, Jeli and Kuala Krai, were reported so far this year.

He said an elephant was caught in each of the three districts when rangers followed up on reports.

"The latest case was reported yesterday morning by an estate owner who claimed that a herd of elephants had destroyed some 500 of his oil palm trees in Kampung Limau Kasturi in Gua Musang.

"Normally, elephants would enter a smallholding or farm only during the fruit season. But the incidents are now also taking place out of season, thus causing much concern."

Read more!

Halting species loss has economic benefits, says EU

Christopher Le Coq Reuters 3 May 11;

(Reuters) - The European Union should halt the rapid extinction of plant and animal species by 2020 because it will cost less than trying to repair the damage once it is done, Europe's environment chief said on Tuesday.

Worldwide, species extinction rates are between 100 and 1,000 times the natural rate, the European Commission said in its latest biodiversity strategy.

It quoted research estimates that by 2050, $2-6 trillion in business opportunities could be realized should the private sector invest in preserving biodiversity.

The Commission set a target of halting biodiversity loss by 2020.

It also set a broader goal to restore biodiversity and ecosystem services provided by nature itself, such as air and water purification, by 2050.

"It is a much smarter economic investment to protect the diversity of life and healthy ecosystems ... than face tragedy once diversity has been lost," EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik told a news conference.

The Commission did not provide details on how it hoped to achieve this, but Potocnik hopes a forthcoming overhaul of EU agricultural and fisheries policies will contribute.

In the EU's 27 member countries, 25 percent of animal species are under threat of extinction and 88 percent of fish stocks are seriously threatened.

Without action from business, as well as proper public policies, species loss will inexorably march on, largely through climate change, invasive foreign species and land-use changes.

Though the concept is abstract, the economic costs of continued species loss are real, according to the Commission and environmental campaigning organizations.

Overfishing leads to an annual loss of $50 billion of income for the industry, according to research by The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB).

Biodiversity loss leading to a decline in insect pollination, which is essential in sustaining crops, would have serious consequences for farmers and agribusiness.

The EU executive says pollination has an economic value to the 27-state European Union of 15 billion euros ($22 billion) per year.

Globally the figure is about 153 billion euros, representing 9.5 percent of global agricultural output for human food, according to TEEB.

But environmental organizations criticized the new 2020 biodiversity plan, noting that it lacks measurable targets.

"The EU's new biodiversity strategy is an important signal of good intentions but it does not have the real power to stop biodiversity loss," said Alberto Arroyo, conservation policy coordinator at WWF.

In March last year, EU leaders recognized their previous 2010 biodiversity objectives would not be met, with species loss continuing unabated.

(Reporting by Christopher Le Coq; Editing by Rex Merrifield)

Europe faces extinction of many species, EU says
Associated Press Google News 17 May 11;

BRUSSELS (AP) — The Iberian lynx that prowls the grasslands of southern Spain. The Mediterranean monk seal swimming waters off Greece and Turkey. The Bavarian pine vole that forages in the high meadows of the Alps.

These are among hundreds of European animal species — up to a quarter of the total native to the continent — that are threatened with extinction according to a warning issued this month by the European Union.

"Biodiversity is in crisis, with species extinctions running at unparalleled rates," said a statement from the European Union's Environment Commissioner, Janez Potocnik.

The threatened species include mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds and butterflies. Plant life is under threat as well. The crisis is due to several factors, including loss of habitat, pollution, alien species encroachment, climate change and overfishing.

Critics say the EU's proposed solutions don't go far enough and lack funding.

"Life is possible because of biodiversity," said Ana Nieto, with the International Union for Conservation of Nature. "Everything comes from biodiversity. Everything comes from having well-functioning ecosystems."

The crisis threatens humans as well, potentially wreaking economic and social havoc in Europe, said Potocnik spokesman Joe Hennon.

The continuing loss of birds can allow insects to breed at alarming rates, harming crops, Hennon said. A reduced number of bees inhibits plant pollination. Diminishing forests mean water is not cleaned naturally and the soil is loosened, too, making floods and mud slides more likely.

All of that, Hennon said, means governments should spend money preserving species from extinction.

"People say, 'Yes, but we don't have the money to spend on environmental protection. Surely growth and jobs are more important,'" Hennon said. "You have to say, 'Well, look what happened in Pakistan last year. You can have catastrophic flooding because forests have been cut down. So it ends up costing you more in the long run."

The strategy proposed this month by Potocnik sets a variety of targets — among them, halting the loss of species in the European Union countries by 2020, putting management plans in place for all forests, restoring at least 15 percent of degraded ecosystems, controlling invasive species, and more.

Environmentalists have generally welcomed the targets but expressed skepticism.

"There needs to be funding and there's not really funding," said Nieto.

Hennon, the EU spokesman, acknowledged Monday that funding so far is insufficient to meet the EU's goals. A paper explaining the new proposals said the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, is "assessing the funding needs" for implementing the 2020 goals. The EU failed to meet its biodiversity targets for 2010.

The European Environmental Bureau, a confederation of grassroots environmental organizations, said the EU strategy "appears to fall short of delivering what is needed to protect Europe's valuable natural resource base."

Nieto said the loss of biodiversity is more acute in Europe than in many other parts of the world because of the scale of residential and industrial development. With an average of nearly 70 people per square kilometer (180 people per square mile), Europe is the second most densely populated continent, behind only Asia — and about three times as densely populated as North America.

"Today, biodiversity doesn't simply mean the protection of rare plants and species," said Sarolta Tripolzsky, with the European Environmental Bureau. "It's about protecting a system people rely on to live. The costs of replacing nature's free services would be devastating."

Conservationists argue that ecosystems over time find a complex balance and changing one seemingly small aspect can have significant consequences that cannot always be foreseen. They say there's also an obligation to preserve species, regardless of the consequences.

"The species was here before we were even here, so there's also a moral issue," Nieto said.

Read more!

IAEA panel to advise Malaysia on rare earths plant

Reuters 3 May 11;

VIENNA May 3 (Reuters) - The U.N. nuclear agency will organise an expert panel to advise the government of Malaysia on the potential radiation risks of a rare earths facility planned by Australian miner Lynas, the agency said on Tuesday.

The move comes after Malaysia asked the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for assistance in addressing public concerns about the project by forming an panel to review radiation heath and safety factors.

It reflects growing public pressure to scrap the plant as environmental activists say it could make Malaysia a dumping ground for radioactive by-products from the refining process, creating health risks.

"Through the IAEA Technical Cooperation Programme, the agency will support the international expert mission to review the Lynas project's compliance with relevant international safety standards and good practices and to provide an independent expert opinion on the radiological safety aspects of the Lynas Project," the IAEA said in a statement.

"This mission is scheduled to depart by May 29, 2011."

Lynas last month said a one-month Malaysian review of its rare earths processor for radioactive pollution risks would not pose a delay for the project's completion.

State news agency Bernama had reported Trade Minister Mustapa Mohamed as saying at the time that an independent panel would be set up to review the health and safety aspects of the Lynas plant in the central state of Pahang, potentially delaying output outside of top producer China.

Lynas's Malaysia plant was supposed to process rare earth concentrate shipped in from the firm's Mount Weld site in western Australia.

Rare earths are crucial to production of high-tech goods from fibre optic cables to smartphones and electric cars.

Big buyers such as Japan, the United States and Europe rely on these metals and have been looking to cut their reliance on China, which accounts for around 95 percent of global output.

The strategy would make Lynas a key global supplier after top rare earths producer China last year imposed export quotas to retain resources.

Company officials have said annual output from the Malaysian plant would hit 22,000 tonnes, meeting roughly a third of total global demand outside China by 2013. (Reporting by Michael Shields; Additional reporting by Niluksi Koswanage in Kuala Lumpur, editing by Jane Baird)

Read more!

SE Asian palm oil firms go on African land safari

Niki Koswanage and Harry Suhartono
Reuters 29 Apr 11;

SINGAPORE/KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Southeast Asian palm oil firms are turning to Africa as land runs out back home and world demand for cheap cooking oil soars, but the continent's harsh weather, high costs and land disputes could derail their plans.

Malaysia's Sime Darby and Singapore's Golden Agri Resources have joined a slew of global firms entering Africa by snapping up hundreds of thousands of hectares of land in Liberia, but it could still take years to turn the region into a net exporter and help ease high palm oil prices.

With an increasing number of firms rushing to Africa as part of a global grab for land in the face of soaring food prices, African governments such as Nigeria and Tanzania have also thrown open their doors to planters by offering tax breaks and big land concessions.

But a lack of clear land titles, poor margins and weak yields could turn out to be massive stumbling blocks.

"Africa is not a dream continent for palm oil. We have been here for 30 years and we get on by with small profits," said Gert Vandersmissen, director of operations in Gabon for Belgium's Siat Group. "The costs can be high."

But with Malaysia and Indonesia, which together account for 85 percent of the world's palm oil output, likely to run out of land soon, the two Southeast Asian countries don't have many alternatives.

Nomura said in a recent note that strict environmental rules will see both Southeast Asian countries run out of land by 2020-2022, a century after colonial planters introduced oil palms to the region.


Top palm producer Indonesia is preparing for a forest clearing ban this year as part of a $1 billion climate change deal with Norway, and No.2 supplier Malaysia has used up nearly all its land.

At the same time, the world faces a supply deficit of palm oil -- used in a range of products from biscuits and shampoo to biofuels -- that may exceed 246,000 tonnes in the current marketing year to September, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Malaysian palm oil futures, the benchmark for the market, are forecast to average a record $1,114 this year.

The potential to ramp up output by tapping Africa is huge.

World Bank studies show Sub-Saharan Africa holds 201.5 million hectares suitable for crops, nearly half the world's total, or 16 times the combined oil palm acreage in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Unlocking Africa's land at a pace of 1 million hectares a year over two decades could boost its output to 38 million tonnes from 1.9 million tonnes in 2010, Reuters calculations based on Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) data showed.

That could turn Africa into a major net exporter. Last year, the continent imported 3 million tonnes, an increase of 15 percent, according to Malaysian Palm Oil Council.

"Those who have announced their expansion into Africa, for example, Sime Darby ... are only looking for first mover's advantage," said Citigroup analyst Penny Yaw in Malaysia.

Golden Agri Resources, Singapore's second largest palm oil firm, plans to invest in Liberia-based Golden Veroleum, which has signed a $1.6 billion deal with the government of Liberia for a 500,000 acre estate in the southeast of the country.

The world's largest listed planter by land holdings, Sime Darby, has a 220,000 hectare concession in Liberia. It started planting this year with first maturity expected after the fourth year of planting.


Investors are often lured by the fact that land in Africa can be rented or bought at a fraction of the price in Malaysia, where estates are priced at $6,000 to $7,000 per hectare, but there are other hidden costs.

Projects can get delayed if deals between land-hunting firms and African states do not ensure local people in the world's hungriest continent reap any benefit, leaving the door open to potential social tension.

Compensation and mapping of land rights can also be expensive, adding to production costs which range between $600 to $800 for a tonne of palm oil in Africa compared to around $300 in Asia, a survey of five planters in Africa showed.

"Some might argue that shipping from Africa to Europe can reduce costs but it's not enough," said a planter in Ghana. "For every advantage there is a cost. Labour is cheap but it takes time to teach them and this leads to lower productivity."

There are other disadvantages such as low yields.

Estates in Africa's top grower, Nigeria, yield about a tenth of Malaysia's 21.3 tonnes of fresh fruit bunches a hectare, FAO data shows, due to poor planting materials and the region's long dry season that stresses out water-loving oil palms.

Despite these problems, there is opportunity in Africa.

The World Bank in April lifted an 18-month ban on lending to palm oil on social and environment concerns to focus on financing projects that help small farmers -- a move that may help spur expansion.

Malaysia's state-linked FELDA Global Group, the world's largest palm estate operator, wants to replicate its smallholder co-operative model in Africa and sell planting materials and technical expertise in exchange for long-term supplies.

"Buying land in Africa is tricky and we prefer to cater to government requests to start up the FELDA model. We have one project in Sierra Leone," said FELDA Global Group President Sabri Ahmad. "We can be the palm oil salesman in Africa."

Read more!

Malaysia: Plan to curb rising food prices

Koi Kye Lee New Straits Times 3 May 11;

PUTRAJAYA: With world food prices increasing steadily, the government is fast mobilising players in the business to help cushion the imminent economic impact on the people.

Food operators, importers, exporters and hypermarkets, among others, will be sitting with the government soon to plan methods that both the government and industry players can adopt in addressing the global food crisis.

Deputy Domestic Trade, Consumerism and Cooperatives Minister Datuk Tan Lian Hoe said with the escalation in world food prices, it was also important for the people to learn to be self-sufficient.

"Those who own small pieces of land or even a garden plot can start to learn how to plant vegetables for their own consumption," she said.

However, the Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca) said the government must adopt a more dynamic agricultural policy as a long-term plan to address the issue of rising food prices.

Its chief executive officer, Datuk Paul Selva Raj, told the New Straits Times that it was pivotal for the government to nurture and promote food production locally and depend less on imports.

"Food security is very important and at present we depend quite heavily on imported food," he said.

He added that that for the short-term, the government must continue with subsidies.

He also called for the setting up of a solid social safety net to ensure the poor had at least a minimum standard of living.

This, he said, was because findings showed the poor spent more money on food -- between 40 and 60 per cent of their money compared with between 15 and 20 per cent for those in the upper and middle-income brackets -- and so would be more affected.

Tan, meanwhile, also called on consumers to consume local food products and produce, and not resort to buying imported ones.

"Consumers should purchase local products as these produces are reasonably priced. Instead of frequenting hypermarkets all the time, consumers could also purchase their goods from the local farmers' markets or farms because the produce are very reasonably priced.

Tan reminded the people that soaring global food prices was a phenomenon that the government could not control.

"The world population rises four per cent yearly, and this can affect the food prices, even more so when demand is more than the current supply," she said.

Tan added that the people must also strive to cut down on food wastage.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) had reported that world food prices, which surged 30 per cent in the first two months of the year, has threatened to push millions of Asians into extreme poverty and cut economic growth.

ADB, in its report, had stated the surging prices translated into domestic food inflation of 10 per cent on average in many Asian economies. This could drive 64 million people into poverty while eroding the living standards of poor families.

Food prices have been driven higher by surging oil prices, production shortfalls due to bad weather and export restrictions by food-producing countries.

Paul said it was critical for the government to educate consumers on how food prices were determined.

"For a majority of consumers, there is often a misconception that the government has a big influence on food prices and essential items."

Read more!

U.N. Forecasts 10.1 Billion People by Century’s End

Justin Gillis and Celia W. Dugger The New York Times 3 May 11;

The population of the world, long expected to stabilize just above nine billion in the middle of the century, will instead keep growing and may hit 10.1 billion by the year 2100, the United Nations projected in a report released Tuesday morning.

Growth in Africa remains so high that the population there could more than triple in this century, rising from today’s one billion to 3.6 billion, the report said — a sobering forecast for a continent already struggling to provide food and water for its people.

The new report comes just ahead of a demographic milestone, with the world population expected to pass 7 billion in late October, only a dozen years after it surpassed 6 billion. Demographers called the new projections a reminder that a problem that helped define global politics in the 20th century, the population explosion, is far from solved in the 21st.

“Every billion more people makes life more difficult for everybody — it’s as simple as that,” said John Bongaarts, a demographer at the Population Council, a research group in New York. “Is it the end of the world? No. Can we feed 10 billion people? Probably. But we obviously would be better off with a smaller population.”

The projections were made by the United Nations population division, which has a track record of fairly accurate forecasts going back to the 1950s. In the new report, the division also raised its forecast for the year 2050, estimating that the world would likely have 9.3 billion people then, an increase of 156 million over the previous estimate for that year, published in 2008.

Among the factors behind the upward revisions is that fertility is not declining as rapidly as expected in some of the world’s poorest countries, and has shown a slight uptick in some wealthier countries.

The director of the United Nations population division, Hania Zlotnik, said the world’s fastest-growing countries, and the wealthy Western nations that help to finance their development, face a choice about whether to renew their emphasis on programs that encourage family planning. Though they were a major focus of development policy in the 1970s and 1980s, such programs have stagnated in many parts of the world, partly because they got caught up in ideological battles over abortion, sex education and the role of women in society.

Over the past decade, foreign aid to pay for contraceptive commodities — $238 million in 2009 — has barely budged, according to United Nations estimates. The United States has long been the biggest donor for such programs, but the budget compromise in Congress last month reduced support for such efforts.

“The need has grown, but the availability of family planning services has not,” said Rachel Nugent, an economist at the Center for Global Development in Washington, a research group that monitors such issues.

Dr. Zlotnik said in an interview that the new numbers were based on an extensive revision of the methodology her division uses in its forecasts, incorporating new computer techniques and the latest demographic trends. She said that while her division was confident in the new approach, she cautioned that any forecast looking 90 years into the future comes with a slew of caveats.

That is particularly so for some fast-growing countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East whose populations are projected to skyrocket over the next century. For instance, Yemen, a country whose population has quintupled since 1950 to 25 million, would see its numbers quadruple again, to 100 million, by century’s end, if the reports projections proved accurate. Yemen is heavily dependent on food imports and facing a critical shortage of water, and many experts do not believe its fast population growth can be sustained.

In Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, the report projects that population will rise from today’s 162 million to a whopping 730 million by 2100. Malawi, a small country of 15 million people today, could grow to 129 million, the report projected.

The implicit, and possibly questionable, assumption behind these numbers is that food and water will be available for the tens of millions yet unborn, and that potential catastrophes ranging from climate change to wars to epidemics will not serve as a brake on population growth. Yet attempts to raise agricultural output in African countries have been highly uneven, ground water is being pumped at unsustainable rates in some countries of Asia, and this century, rising sea levels from global warming are expected to displace millions.

The projections “represent what would happen if today’s recipe continues to apply,” Dr. Zlotnik said. “But it is quite possible for several of these countries that are smallish and have fewer resources, these numbers are just not sustainable.”

Despite the lack of focus on population policy, ample proof has become available that well-designed programs can bring down growth rates even in the poorest countries, and can do so without the kind of restrictive policies put into place in China. Providing women with information and voluntary access to birth-control methods has contributed to their having fewer children in societies as diverse as Iran, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Mexico and Thailand.

One message from the new report is that the AIDS epidemic, devastating as it has been in many parts of the world, has not been the demographic disaster that was once predicted. Prevalence estimates and projections for the human immunodeficiency virus made for Africa in the 1990s turned out to be too high, and in many populations, treatment with new drug regimens has cut the death rate from the disease.

But the survival of millions of people with AIDS who would have died without treatment, and falling rates of infant and child mortality on the continent — both heartening trends — also mean that fertility rates for women need to fall faster to curb population growth, demographers said.

Numerous other factors have slowed change in Africa, experts said. They include women’s lack of power in their relationships with men, traditions such as early marriage and polygamy, and a dearth of political leadership. “In many African countries, the leaders there are not convinced that they have an issue with population,” Dr. Zlotnik said.

While about three-quarters of married American women use a modern contraceptive during their child-bearing years, the comparable proportions were only at a quarter of women in East Africa, one in 10 in West Africa, and a mere 7 percent in Central Africa, according to United Nations statistics.

“West and central Africa are the two big regions of the world where the fertility transition is happening, but at a snail’s pace,” said John F. May, a World Bank demographer.

And some studies suggest that providing easy, affordable access to contraceptives is not always sufficient to bring about a significant reduction in unwanted births. A randomized trial conducted by Harvard researchers in Lusaka, Zambia found that only when women had greater autonomy to decide whether to use contraceptives did they have significantly fewer children.

Other studies have found that general education for girls plays a critical role in that literate young women are simply more likely to understand that family size is a choice.

The report also highlighted a converse problem that is beginning to plague some developed countries: populations that are stagnant or even falling. Fertility has fallen below replacement level in many of the world’s rich countries and unless they open their borders to extensive immigration, some face a future with too few young workers to pay the carrying costs for retirees.

The new report suggests that China, once plagued by runaway population growth, could soon enter the ranks of countries with declining populations. The report projects that the Chinese population will peak at 1.4 billion in the next couple of decades, then begin falling, declining to 941 million by 2100. India would become the world’s largest country by mid-century, with a 2050 population projected at 1.7 billion, up from today’s 1.2 billion.

Whether the Chinese population actually peaks that early will likely depend, in part, on whether that country lifts its one-child-per-family policy. Many demographers expect the government to lift the policy entirely in the next few years.

The United States is growing faster than many of the world’s other rich countries, largely because of high immigration and a higher fertility rate among Hispanic immigrants. The new report projects that the United States population will continue to grow throughout this century, rising from today’s 313 million to reach 403 million by 2050 and 478 million by 2100.

Neil MacFarquhar contributed reporting.

Read more!

Oceans could rise 1.6 metres by 2100: study

Marlowe Hood Yahoo News 3 May 11;

PARIS (AFP) – Warming in the Arctic occurring at twice the global average is on track to lift sea levels by up to 1.6 metres (5.3 feet) by 2100, a far steeper jump than predicted a few years ago, a consortium of scientists reported Tuesday.

Melting ice and snow has accounted for 40 percent of recent increases in ocean levels and are likely to play an even larger role in future, according to the Oslo-based Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Project (AMAP).

"Global sea level is projected to rise 0.9 to 1.6 metres (3.0 to 5.3 feet) by 2100, and the loss from Arctic glaciers, ice caps and the Greenland Ice Sheet will make a substantial contribution to this," AMAP said in a report.

Even the low end of this range would have devastating consequences for coastal cities and densely-populated, low-lying deltas in Bangladesh, Vietnam, China and many other countries, scientists have warned.

Higher seas would literally cover some small island nations, ruin vast expanses of land used to grow food, and boost the intensity of deadly hurricanes and other extreme weather events.

In early 2007, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said the world's oceans would creep up 18 to 59 centimetres (7 to 23 inches) by century's end.

But the panel's landmark report did not include the potential impact of melting ice, especially from the massive Greenland Ice Sheet, which alone holds enough frozen water to push up sea levels by at least five metres (16 feet).

The new study shows that the past six years have been the warmest period ever recorded for the Arctic, and that summer temperatures were higher in the past few decades than at any time in the last 2,000 years.

"The changes that are emerging in the Arctic are very strong, dramatic even," said Mark Serreze, director of the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, and a contributor to the report.

"But this is not entirely a surprise. We have known for decades that, as climate change takes hold, it is the Arctic where you are going to see it first, and where it is going to be pronounced," he said by phone.

The report forecasts that the Arctic Ocean, within three or four decades, will likely become nearly ice free during the summer months.

Three of the last four years have seen polar sea ice shrinking to its smallest area since satellite images became available, with a record low in 2007 of 4.13 million square kilometres (1.56 million square miles).

The report also highlights new evidence that changes in Arctic snow and ice conditions may actually be accelerating the warming process.

"The fact that highly reflective snow and ice surfaces are diminishing means that darker land or ocean surfaces are absorbing more of the sun's energy, warming the Earth's surface and the air above," the researchers said.

Rather than being bounced back into space by white surfaces, in other words, the sun's heat is trapped inside the atmosphere.

The study identified eight of these so-called natural "feedback mechanisms" that have become both symptom and cause of climate change.

Rising average temperatures, for example, threaten to unlock long-frozen stores of carbon dioxide and methane -- at least 20 times as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2 -- from the region's permafrost.

"The amount of carbon that is locked up in permafrost is equivalent to what is in the atmosphere today," said Serreze. "The question is how much of it is going be released."

Drawing from the research of several hundred climate scientists and glaciologists, the report comes ahead of a May 12 meeting in Greenland of foreign ministers from Arctic Council nations: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States.

Founded in 1991, AMAP is now a working group of the Council.

Report sees sharper sea rise from Arctic melt
Karl Ritter and Charles J. Hanley, Associated Press Yahoo News 5 May 11;

STOCKHOLM – The ice of Greenland and the rest of the Arctic is melting faster than expected and could help raise global sea levels by as much as 5 feet this century, dramatically higher than earlier projections, an authoritative international assessment says.

The findings "emphasize the need for greater urgency" in combating global warming, says the report of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP), the scientific arm of the eight-nation Arctic Council.

The warning of much higher seas comes as the world's nations remain bogged down in their two-decade-long talks on reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

Rising sea levels are expected to cause some of global warming's worst damage — from inundated small islands to possible flooding of New York City's subways. Oceans will not rise uniformly worldwide, because of currents, winds and other factors, but such low-lying areas as Bangladesh and Florida will likely be hard-hit.

The new report, whose executive summary was obtained by The Associated Press, is to be delivered to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and foreign ministers of the other seven member nations at an Arctic Council meeting next week in Greenland. It first will be discussed by some 400 international scientists at a conference this week in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Drawing on improved research techniques and recent scientific papers, the AMAP report updates forecasts made by the U.N.'s expert panel on climate change in its last major assessment in 2007.

The melting of Arctic glaciers and ice caps, including Greenland's massive ice sheet, is projected to help raise global sea levels by 35 to 63 inches (90 to 160 centimeters) by 2100, AMAP said, although it noted that estimate was highly uncertain.

That's up from the 2007 projection of 7 to 23 inches (19 to 59 centimeters) by the U.N. panel. The U.N. group had left out the possible acceleration of melting in Greenland and Antarctica, saying research on that hadn't advanced sufficiently by the mid-2000s. The U.N. estimate was based largely on the expansion of ocean waters from warming and the runoff from melting land glaciers elsewhere in the world.

Now the AMAP assessment finds that Greenland was losing ice in the 2004-2009 period four times faster than in 1995-2000.

In addition, the cover of sea ice on the Arctic Ocean is shrinking faster than projected by the U.N. panel, threatening the long-term survival of polar bears and other ice-dependent species. Summer ice coverage has been at or near record lows every year since 2001, said AMAP, predicting the ocean will be almost ice-free in the summer in 30 to 40 years.

Arctic temperatures in the past six years were the highest since measurements began in 1880, and "feedback" mechanisms are believed to be speeding up warming in the far north.

One such mechanism involves the ocean absorbing more heat when it's not covered by ice, because ice reflects the sun's energy. That effect has been anticipated by scientists "but clear evidence for it has only been observed in the Arctic in the past five years," AMAP said.

It projected that average fall and winter temperatures in the Arctic will climb by roughly 5 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit by 2080, even if greenhouse gas emissions are lower than in the past decade.

"The observed changes in sea ice on the Arctic Ocean, in the mass of the Greenland ice sheet and Arctic ice caps and glaciers over the past 10 years are dramatic and represent an obvious departure from the long-term patterns," AMAP said.

A leading American ice specialist, Richard Alley of Pennsylvania State University, who did not take part in the AMAP assessment, agreed that recent scientific estimates generally support its central finding.

A sea level rise of more than 3 feet this century "fits well within these estimates, and a somewhat higher value cannot be excluded," Alley said.

Scientists have steadily improved ways of measuring the loss of ice into the oceans.

In research reported in March in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, U.S. and European scientists used two independent methods to corroborate their findings: the on-the-ground measurement of ice thickness and movements using GPS stations and other tools, and the measurement of ice mass through gravity readings from satellites.

Led by Eric Rignot of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, they calculated that the accelerating melt of the vast Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets would contribute to an overall sea-level rise of some 13 inches by 2050. They didn't project sea levels to 2100 because of long-range uncertainties, but their work, like AMAP's, significantly updates previous projections.

The AMAP report said melting glaciers and ice sheets worldwide have become the biggest contributor to sea level rise. Greenland's ice sheet alone accounted for more than 40 percent of the 0.12 inches (3.1 millimeters) of sea-level rise observed annually between 2003 and 2008, AMAP said.

The AMAP group's main function is to advise the nations surrounding the Arctic — the U.S., Canada, Russia, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland — on threats to its environment.

The updated projections should supply further scientific ammunition in the uphill struggle for concerted global action to rein in greenhouse emissions. The failure of emissions-capping legislation in the U.S. Congress last year was one major setback.

"I'm not sure what is more alarming, the glacial pace of Congress to reduce carbon pollution or the astounding rate of melting Arctic ice," Lou Leonard, climate chief at the World Wildlife Fund, said of the new report.


Hanley reported from New York.

Seas Could Rise Up To 1.6 Meters By 2100: Study
Alister Doyle & Pete Harrison Reuters 4 May 11;

Quickening climate change in the Arctic including a thaw of Greenland's ice could raise world sea levels by up to 1.6 meters by 2100, an international report showed on Tuesday.

Such a rise -- above most past scientific estimates -- would add to threats to coasts from Bangladesh to Florida, low-lying Pacific islands and cities from London to Shanghai. It would also, for instance, raise costs of building tsunami barriers in Japan.

"The past six years (until 2010) have been the warmest period ever recorded in the Arctic," according to the Oslo-based Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), which is backed by the eight-nation Arctic Council.

"In the future, global sea level is projected to rise by 0.9 meters (2ft 11in) to 1.6 meters (5ft 3in) by 2100 and the loss of ice from Arctic glaciers, ice caps and the Greenland ice sheet will make a substantial contribution," it said. The rises were projected from 1990 levels.

"Arctic glaciers, ice caps and the Greenland ice sheet contributed over 40 percent of the global sea level rise of around 3 mm per year observed between 2003 and 2008," it said.

Foreign ministers from Arctic Council nations -- the United States, Russia, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway and Iceland -- are due to meet in Greenland on May 12. Warming in the Arctic is happening at about twice the world average.


The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in its last major report in 2007 that world sea levels were likely to rise by between 18 and 59 cm by 2100. Those numbers did not include a possible acceleration of a thaw in polar regions.

"It is worrying that the most recent science points to much higher sea level rise than we have been expecting until now," European Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard told Reuters.

"The study is yet another reminder of how pressing it has become to tackle climate change, although this urgency is not always evident neither in the public debate nor from the pace in the international negotiations," she said.

U.N. talks on a global pact to combat climate change are making sluggish progress. The United Nations says national promises to limit greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels, are insufficient to avoid dangerous changes.

The AMAP study, drawing on work by hundreds of experts, said there were signs that warming was accelerating. It said the Arctic Ocean could be nearly ice free in summers within 30 to 40 years, earlier than projected by the IPCC.

As reflective ice and snow shrink, they expose ever bigger areas of darker water or soil. Those dark regions soak up ever more heat from the sun, in turn stoking a melt of the remaining ice and snow.

"There is evidence that two components of the Arctic cryosphere -- snow and sea ice -- are interacting with the climate system to accelerate warming," it said.

The AMAP report was due for release on Wednesday but AMAP officials released it a day early after advance media leaks.

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)

FACTBOX-Arctic experts warn of higher sea level rise
Reuters AlertNet 3 May 11;

May 3 (Reuters) - World sea levels could rise by between 0.9 and 1.6 metres (2ft 11in to 5ft 3in) this century, stoked by accelerated climate change in the Arctic, a study showed on Tuesday. [ID:nLDE7421AX]

The projection, by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme, is higher than most past estimates including a 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the main U.N. scientific group.

Rising sea levels are a threat to cities from New York to Buenos Aires, coasts from the Netherlands to China and low-lying islands in the Pacific or Indian Oceans.

Following is a history of sea level rise and projections:

HISTORY - Sea levels rose about 120 metres (almost 400 ft) after a thaw at the end of the last Ice Age about 21,000 years ago released vast amounts of water frozen on land.

Sea levels stabilised about 2,000 to 3,000 years ago, with "no significant change from then until the late 19th century", the IPCC said in 2007. During the 20th century, they rose about 17 cms. Since 1993, rates have accelerated to about 3 mm per year.


May 2011 - "Global sea level is projected to rise by 0.9 to 1.6 metres by 2100 and the loss of ice from Arctic glaciers, ice caps and the Greenland ice sheet will make a substantial contribution," according to a report overseen by the AMAP, part of the eight-nation Arctic Council.

Sept. 2009 - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said "by the end of this century, sea levels may rise between half a metre and two metres".

March 2009 - Sea-level rise may well exceed one metre by 2100, according to a group of leading scientists meeting in Copenhagen and updating IPCC findings from 2007.

Feb. 2007 - The IPCC said sea levels could rise by between 18 and 59 cms by 2100. Another 10 to 20 cms could be added if flows of Greenland and West Antarctic ice accelerated in line with rising temperatures. It also said sea level rise would continue for centuries.

2001 - Sea levels could rise by between 9 and 88 cms by 2100, with a central estimate of 48 cms, according to the IPCC.

1995 - Sea levels could increase by between 13 and 94 cms by 2100, according to the IPCC.

1990 - The IPCC said seas could rise by between 31 and 110 cms under "business as usual policies" this century, ie without action to combat global warming.


In 2007, the IPCC said the biggest contributor to sea level rise would be thermal expansion -- water increases in volume as it warms. It said thermal expansion would contribute about 70 to 75 percent to sea level rise this century.

Glaciers from the Andes to the Alps, ice caps and Greenland were also expected to contribute water. Most of Antarctica is too cold to melt and was expected to get more snow, meaning it will take water from the oceans, the IPCC said.


Antarctica contains enough ice to raise sea levels by about 57 metres if it ever all melted. Worries include that a collapse of ice shelves around the coast may allow inland ice to slide faster towards the ocean. Greenland's ice would raise sea levels by 7 metres if it all vanished. (Editing by Janet Lawrence) (For Reuters latest environment blogs, click on:

Read more!

Public will push China on environment: EU climate chief

Yahoo News 3 May 11;

SEOUL (AFP) – Pressure from a growing middle class will encourage China's leaders to push ahead with cleaning up the environment, the European Union's climate action commissioner said Tuesday.

Beijing also acknowledges the need to combat climate change and sees big business opportunities in green energy projects, Connie Hedegaard told a briefing during a visit to South Korea.

China, the world's second largest economy, is the top producer of carbon emissions blamed for climate change. But it is also the world's green investment leader, according to a survey by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Hedegaard cited its latest five-year plan, which envisages major pilot projects to test market-based "cap and trade" emissions control systems.

"I believe China has realised there is a limit to how much it can grow its economy without taking into consideration energy considerations, environmental considerations, air pollution, water quality, things like that," she said.

"In the end it's also about social stability, because when China now has had some 400 million citizens entering the middle class, they also demand clean water and air their children can breathe, like others will do."

Hedegaard said China had for the first time introduced a carbon target "because they can see that it's necessary, but it's very much because they can see it benefits their own economy".

The country already has 50 percent of the global wind power market, she noted.

Hedegaard said her visit to South Korea was partly aimed at discussing "cap and trade" market-based emissions trading schemes pioneered by Europe but now becoming more popular internationally.

"What was only recently more or less a European thing, where the whole idea originally was to make a global system and a system where we have a global price on carbon dioxide, now (this) actually seems to be moving forward," she said.

In Europe, GDP and manufacturing output had been increasing while emissions had been decreasing, "actually rather dramatically", and more than three million green jobs had been created, she said.

"We (Europe) really believe that to pursue this green growth strategy is the way to create growth in the 21st century," she said.

Read more!