Best of our wild blogs: 7 May 11

Eagle ray at oil-slicked Tanah Merah!
from wild shores of singapore

Face to Face with a Stick Mantis
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Along Old Upper Thomson Road Part 1
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Butterfly enthusiasts saved an injured White-bellied Sea Eagle
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Indonesia to declare moratorium on forest exploitation

Antara 6 May 11;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono plans to sign a presidential decree on a moratorium on forest exploitation this month, Cabinet Secretary Dipo Alam said here on Friday.

"The decree will be signed soon by the President. Yes, after the ASEAN summit," he said after attending the moving of an African Baobab tree to the yard of state University of Indonesia.

He declined to disclose the exact date of the signing of the moratorium on primary forest and peat land forest exploitation, saying only it was the implementation of the Letter of Intent between Indonesia and Norway (Oslo agreement).

"For the details just ask the minister of forestry. They are all the same including size, REDD Plus mechanism, date of signing," he said about points in the decree which were reported to be different in wording from that in the proposal of the forestry ministry and the UN Task Force on REDD.

On the same occasion Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan said the signing of the decree would give legal certainty with regard to the implementation of the Oslo agreement.

The forestry ministry, he said, is the party that is intensively preparing the decree according to use of forestry sectors.

He admitted that the preparation had been done since September although the LoI was only made as of January 1, 2011 and would only be effective in the next two years.

"It will indeed be signed in May. Although without a presidential decree the forestry ministry however has already stopped issuing any kind of new license for primary natural forests," he said.

He admitted that under the presidential decree 40 to 50 hectares of primary forests and 12 million peat land forests may not be touched.

"The size has been agreed upon by the UN Task Force for REDD and the presidential decree will ease its implementation in the regions," he said.

The minister said although the LOI would be implemented it would not hinder government efforts in developing industrial forest (HTI) development as part of the country`s economic corridor development and efforts to meet national food needs.

"The HTI must go on. There are still 30 million hectare forest areas that have no forests and 12 million hectares of neglected areas. In principles the development of cane plantations and other efforts to assure food security will continue," he said.

He said the signing of the presidential decree will also be followed by the readiness of financial and funding institutions to implement more than US$1 billion in grant from Norway.

Besides financial institutions there will also be monitoring, reporting and evaluating institutions that would measure the results of efforts in reducing emissions and sustainable forest management in all regions. (*)

Editor: B Kunto Wibisono

WALHI hails planned moratorium on forest clearing
Antara 9 May 11;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian Environmental Forum (WALHI) has hailed the government`s plan to sign the presidential regulation (Perpres) on forest moratorium this May.

"WALHI supports the moratorium efforts with measurable and clear stages to improve the condition of forests and the environment in Indonesia by prioritizing the people`s safety," Deddy Ratih, executive forest campaign manager of WALHI, said here Monday.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is expected to sign the presidential regulation on forest moratorium this May as part of the implementation of the Letter of Intent (LOI) between Indonesia and Norway.

Since the government announced the moratorium plan in May 2010, there have been promises and media statement only, while forest clearing has continued massively, he said.

The delay in the implementation of moratorium is caused among other things by conflicts of interests among different sectors and lack of coordination among technical institutions.

The moratorium delay has also indicated that there is no serious will to protect the environment and forests in Indonesia.

WALHI hoped that the planned moratorium could become a starting point to recover the country`s environment for the sake of sustainable development for the future generation.

The planned moratorium should emphasize on banning new forest clearing for major-scale plantation industries and distributing land for farmers as well as developing community forest areas, according to WALHI.

The government should also revoke licenses of forest concession holders which have violated environmental regulations and should turn down carbon offset and carbon market offers which could reduce the country`s sovereignty.

The government is supposed to impose a moratorium on deforestation starting January 2011, but it has been delayed for the last four months.

Immediate implementation of moratorium has been called for especially by environmental NGO activists to protect Indonesia`s remaining 130-million-hectare forest, which is the world`s third largest after Brazil and Congo.


Editor: Suryanto

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Price Tags Needed for Gulf of Mexico’s Ecology

Brandon Keim Wired Science 6 May 11;

Of all the inadequacies revealed by the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, maybe none is as fundamental as the failure of companies, markets and government to put a price tag on natural assets.

From deep-sea fishing grounds to shallow-water nurseries to hurricane-blunting wetlands, multiple Gulf ecosystems have demonstrable utilitarian and economic value. Yet except for one think tank, nobody has tried to calculate that value.

As a result, the full economic costs and benefits of oil drilling were omitted — and still are — from consideration. Were that value considered, it would change the equations of business. The public might ask oil companies to cover their own risks, just as building contractors post bonds before starting renovations.

“There are precedents in other fields. In the construction industry and mining operations, assurance bonds are frequently used,” said economist Robert Costanza, director of the Institute for Sustainable Solutions at Portland State University. “What it does is force people to think about the liability that’s out there. Once they recognize that, they’ll say, ‘Whoah, the oil companies are externalizing all that risk, and not paying for it.”

Costanza’s specialty is so-called ecosystem services: quantifying the value of natural resources that, unlike mineral deposits or oil fields or timber harvests, are usually taken for granted. It’s a rich academic field, and countries like Costa Rica have used it to guide policy and balance the competing claims of farming and tourism. The European Union has even pledged to turn ecosystem service valuations into policy.

Ecosystem services were not, however, considered by anyone involved in Deepwater Horizon: not corrupt regulators who fast-tracked BP’s experimental deepwater drilling proposals, not negligent wellhead operators, not company officials, not the public. The cost of disaster was both uncalculated and deferred. Even as Deepwater Horizon became one of the nation’s greatest single environmental catastrophes, nobody could put a price tag on it.

A year later, the value of damaged natural assets is being calculated retrospectively and messily — the standard operating procedure for oil spills. People who can demonstrate immediate economic loss, such as fishermen or tour boat operators, can file claims or lawsuits. Environmental damage is determined by the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (.pdf), a sprawling, federally-run process established after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Under NRDA, spill-caused ecological change is measured and oil companies required to pay for restoration.

NRDA has its strengths and weaknesses, say conservationists. It has a certain you-break-it, you-buy-it fairness, but the science is messy. In the Gulf, it will be hard if not impossible to measure deep-sea and long-term impacts. The process is also susceptible to political influence, and the government may agree to a settlement rather than pressing BP for full compensation.

Even if NRDA is done right, however, it’s not intended to be an ecosystem-valuation tool. It can name the price for restoring an acre of wetlands, but it can’t say how much those wetlands are worth. “You may find studies for particular resources, for particular functions, but I’m not aware of any model that tells you about the Gulf’s services and translates that into values,” said Tony Penn, an economist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Damage Assessment Center.

According to Penn, NOAA doesn’t have the resources to support ecosystem service valuation. Without it, the public is left with a paradox: Gulf residents benefit economically from their ecology, but that ecology is exempt from official and corporate consideration. As pressure in Congress — which has completely ignored the National Oil Spill Commission’s post-Deepwater recommendations — mounts to expand deepwater drilling and make it even harder to regulate, the public again stands to inherit the risk by default.

“In many other parts of society, we require private interests to buy insurance to deal with the risks they impose on the public,” wrote Costanza and a group of economists and ecologists in a June 2010 article in Solutions. “The Deepwater Horizon incident, like the banking crisis, resulted from inadequate attention to the risks that the public was left to bear. Precautionary measures were known but not taken. Investments in safety devices, like the acoustic blowout-preventer, were not made. Corners were cut. Short-term private profits motivated taking high risks with public assets.”

That article was a followup to the researchers’ attempt to put a value on Mississippi Delta ecology. They pegged the annual worth of its services — fresh water, waste treatment, storm mitigation, carbon sequestration, fish and animal habitat — at between $12 billion and $47 billion. An acre of brackish wetland is worth at least $2,700 per year; an acre of forested wetland is worth at least $3200 per year; and so on.

Were the Mississippi Delta considered as a revenue-generating company, it would be valued at between $339 billion and $1.3 trillion. Most of that value was concentrated in wetlands areas near the Mississippi’s mouth, not far from where the Deepwater Horizon blowout occurred.

Costanza’s group recommended formal ecosystem service valuations for the Gulf. From this, the cost of worst-case-disasters could be calculated, and companies required to post “assurance bonds” large enough to cover those damages. The bond would be used to pay whatever damages did occur, and the remainder returned after a project’s completion. Environmental costs would be part of the original market equation, not an afterthought.

“If oil companies that want to drill have to post a bond large enough to cover the costs of their actions, it would provide the right incentives for them to do things differently,” said Costanza. “They would have to find a way to drill safely and convince us to lower the bond.”

Valuing ecosystem services would have another beneficial effect: forcing attention to important but generally low-profile issues, such as the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone, which is caused by farm waste draining into the Mississippi watershed. Attempts to fix it are invariably met with opposition from the agriculture industry, which cites the financial costs of reform. The dead zone also has costs, but those aren’t calculated now, said Cynthia Sartou, executive director of the Gulf Restoration Network.

“It’s one of the biggest dead zones in the world, yet it doesn’t get a lot of attention,” said Sartou. “I’ve worked on marine issues for 15 years. If you can’t see it, if you can’t put an economic value on it, then politically it’s difficult to push an issue against any sort of controversy.”

“Make the market tell the truth,” said Costanza. “It’s not right now. The market is lying to us.”

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Study: Global warming reduced corn, wheat harvests

Yahoo News 6 May 11;

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Climate change has stunted the worldwide increase in corn and wheat yields since 1980 by 3.8 and 5.5 percent respectively, according to a new study in the journal Science.

Without global warming, total harvests of both crops would have been significantly larger than they were, the statistical analysis found.

The shortfall equals the annual yield of corn in Mexico, some 23 metric tonnes, and wheat in France, about 33 metric tonnes.

One of the country's with the largest crop loss was Russia, where wheat production fell some 15 percent.

The study estimates that the global drop-off in production may have caused a six percent hike in consumer food prices since 1980, some $60 billion per year.

Net impact on rice and soybean was insignificant, with gains in some countries balancing losses in others, according to the study.

The researchers, led by David Lobell of Stanford University, noted one "startling exception": the United States isn't getting hotter, nor are its crop yields less than they might have been without climate change.

"The results are a reminder that while the relationship between crop production and climate change is obvious on a global scale, models that zoom in... on a country-by-country basis won't necessarily see the same effects," the researchers said in a press release.

To carry out the study, Lobell and colleagues compared two mathematical models, one tracking actual increases in temperatures and the other projecting 1980 temperatures over the next three decades.

Cereal Killer: Climate Change Stunts Growth of Global Crop Yields
A crop-yield analysis reveals that warming temperatures have already diminished the rate of production growth for major cereal crop harvests during the past three decades
David Biello Scientific American 5 May 11;

The people of the world get 75 percent of their sustenance—either directly, or indirectly as meat—from four crops: maize (corn), wheat, rice and soybeans. The world's rising population—now predicted by the United Nations to reach 10.1 billion by century's end—has been fed thanks to rising yields of all four of these crops during the past century. Humanity's predilection for burning fossil fuels, however, is now contributing to the slowing of such rising yields, cutting harvests of wheat 5.5 percent and maize 3.8 percent from what they could have been since 1980, according to a new analysis of yields.

"On a global scale, we can see pretty clearly significant changes in the weather for most places where we grow crops," explains agricultural scientist David Lobell of Stanford University's Woods Institute for the Environment, who led the analysis published in the May 6 issue of Science. "Those changes are big enough to sum up to pretty big losses for wheat and corn."

Using U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization data going back to 1980 for crop yields in all major crop-growing regions of the world, and pairing that with temperature and precipitation data for their growing seasons, Lobell and his colleagues found that warming temperatures were reducing yields—although changes in precipitation did not appear to be having an effect, yet.

Those temperature changes are the result of increasing concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), largely as a result of burning fossil fuels and agricultural practices. But CO2 also helps rice, soybeans and wheat grow. In fact, the researchers suggest the extra CO2 boosted yields for these crops by roughly 3 percent during the period studied. Unfortunately, in the case of wheat, that wasn't enough to overcome the loss in yields resulting from warming temperatures. "Temperature effects are already overriding CO2 effects," Lobell notes.

Of course, this loss of yield translates directly into food prices, which have been rocketing upward in recent months and years. The new analysis suggests that the climate-related yield loss has contributed as much as 18.9 percent to the average price of a given crop during the period of the study. Climate change "is not disastrous but it's a multibillion-dollar-per-year effect already," Lobell says.

More troubling, further climate change is already locked in: Current CO2 levels imply warming of at least another degree Celsius by 2100. That means areas that have not been affected to date, such as the "corn belt" of the U.S., may soon see the same or worse impacts. "No climate change [in the U.S. corn belt] meant productivity improvements all went to increased yields. By contrast, in Europe the improvements [in yield] went to counteracting the effects of higher temperature," says agricultural economist Gerald Nelson of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), who was not involved in the study but found it convincing. "We need to think seriously about breeding crops for dealing with higher temperatures."

Already, agricultural companies such as Monsanto are investing in developing such strains for maize and soybeans, but that leaves less profitable wheat and rice at the mercy of shrinking public sector agricultural research budgets. "Working on a trait like drought resistance is more complex than introducing a trait like insect resistance," says plant breeder Robert Reiter, vice president of biotechnology at Monsanto. "We don't have a lot of genes [to work with] that help produce more grain under water stress."

Nevertheless, Monsanto plans to begin field trials of such a hybrid corn next year, and hopes to introduce it for sale as early as 2013. "Our first gene close to commercialization—what it seems to be doing is helping the plant basically maintain more normal metabolic levels as opposed to trying to shut those processes down under stress," Reiter explains. "We may be taking [genetic] leads from corn and putting them into wheat to help it be drought tolerant and high-yielding."

But IFPRI's Nelson also noted that extreme weather at "fragile points" in a crop's growing cycle, such as high temperatures during the few weeks of flowering in maize and rice plants, could have big impacts. "There are these narrow windows where a small spike in temperature can have a big effect…. Agronomists know these sensitivities but they haven't been looking at them in the context of future climate change."

Adapting agriculture to face a hotter—and potentially drier—future has become a necessity. "We're not saying the sky is falling and food is becoming scarcer and scarcer," Lobell adds. "But there's a real drag on food production from climate change already."

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