Best of our wild blogs: 2 Jun 11


Cowfish at Tanah Merah
from wild shores of singapore

Butterfly Portraits - Common Red Flash
from Butterflies of Singapore

Wasps at Work
from Lazy Lizard's Tales

Examining the trash challenge at Pandan Mangrove
from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Green Wave 2011 - Singapore
from Garden Voices

Traditional Chinese medicine trade takes toll on Indonesia's geckos
from mongabay.com


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ACRES continues pressure on Resorts World Sentosa to free dolphins

Channel NewsAsia 2 Jun 11;

SINGAPORE: The Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) has once again called on Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) to retract its calls for more dolphins to be collected.

It said RWS had already bought 27 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, caught from the Solomon Islands for their Marine Life Park attraction, and two died.

ACRES, Thursday, disputed an RWS statement issued last Friday by a Park spokesperson, that to avert species crises, more controlled dolphin collections should be done from more locations and more facilities built to study and breed them.

ACRES said that efforts should instead focus on addressing why dolphins were disappearing in the wild.

It quoted a report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, that the threats facing the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins included live capture for oceanariums, pollution, overfishing, incidental catches and environmental degradation.

ACRES said establishing captive breeding programmes did not address or eliminate the cause of wild population declines, and subjected dolphins to the stress of capture, transport and captivity.

Catching them might drive them towards extinction, ACRES argued.

Mr Louis Ng, ACRES' executive director, said in less than a week, more than 6,000 people had joined ACRES in asking RWS to free the dolphins.

- CNA/cc

ACRES URGES RESORTS WORLD SENTOSA TO RETRACT ITS CALL FOR MORE DOLPHINS TO BE COLLECTED
From ACRES "Save the World's Saddest Dolphins" facebook page
PRESS RELEASE 2 June 2011

SINGAPORE, 2 June 2011 – ACRES urges Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) to retract its calls for more dolphins to be collected. RWS has already bought 27 wild-caught Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins from the Solomon Islands for their Marine Life Park attraction, and two have since died.

In a statement issued by a Marine Life Park spokesperson on 27th May 2011, RWS stated “It is our belief that to avert species crises, more controlled dolphin collections should be occurring from a multitude of places and more quality zoological facilities built to increase our understanding of vulnerable species and for breeding purposes.”

ACRES strongly believes in the need to protect dolphin species, but we should focus our efforts on addressing the root cause of the problem of why they are disappearing in the wild.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a leading authority on the environment and sustainable development, the threats facing the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins include live capture for oceanariums, pollution, overfishing, incidental catches and environmental degradation.

Establishing captive breeding programmes does not address or eliminate the root cause of wild population declines, and subjects countless dolphins to the stress of capture, transport and captivity.

Furthermore, catching more dolphins might drive species such as the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin towards extinction. IUCN states that “their preference (Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins) as a captive display species makes them vulnerable to depletion from such catches.”

RWS should also follow the progressive example set by other facilities with regard to dolphin captures. In the late 1980s, facilities in the United States implemented a voluntary moratorium on collection of bottlenose dolphins from the wild, and this remains in place.

“RWS believes in being environmentally responsible and is committed to marine conservation. They should now walk the talk and not only retract their call for more dolphins to be collected but also release the remaining 25 dolphins back into the wild. RWS should note that in less than a week, more than 6,000 people have joined ACRES in asking them to let the dolphins go” said Mr. Louis Ng, Executive Director of ACRES.

“In a world where so much that is wild and free has already been lost to us, we must leave these beautiful mammals free to swim as they will and must. They do us no harm and wish us none and we should leave them alone. The fact that Resorts World offered a cash incentive for captured dolphins is going to put the wild dolphin populations in great danger. It shows the world how hypocritical Resorts World is as they try to hide behind the dark curtain of "research and education.”” said Richard O’Barry of the Earth Island Institute and star of the Oscar Award-winning documentary “The Cove”.

Animal rights' group takes RWS to task over dolphins
Today Online 2 Jun 11;

SINGAPORE - The Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) has called on Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) to retract its calls for more dolphins to be collected.

It said RWS had already bought 27 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, caught from the Solomon Islands for their Marine Life Park (MLP) attraction, and two died.

ACRES on Thursday disputed an RWS statement issued last Friday by a park spokesperson that to avert species crises, more controlled dolphin collections should be done from more locations and more facilities built to study and breed them.

ACRES said that efforts should instead focus on addressing why dolphins were disappearing in the wild.

It quoted a report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, that the threats facing the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins included live capture for oceanariums, pollution, overfishing, incidental catches and environmental degradation.

When contacted by MediaCorp, MLP did not deny or confirm whether it would retract its calls for more dolphin collection, but pointed out that bottlenose dolphins were not endangered as ACRES said. And "scientific data" over the past several decades point to the fact that bottlenose dolphins can thrive in facilities, MLP added.

"Dolphins in marine parks have lived well over 40 years old, twice the average life span of dolphins in the wild. Dolphins have also been bred successfully in facilities, an important measure of successful adaption of dolphins to human care," it said.

But according to ACRES, establishing captive breeding programmes did not address or eliminate the cause of wild population declines, and subjected dolphins to the stress of capture, transport and captivity.

Catching them might drive them towards extinction, ACRES argued.

While it acknowledged that breeding programmes will "never address" the challenges marine life face in the wild, MLP said marine parks provide an important source of funding and expertise to conservation projects.

"Many have established laboratories, veterinary care and husbandry practices. They contribute heavily to current day's crop of marine mammal research and conservation projects ranging from field research, water quality studies, to reproduction and physiology, as well as rescue rehabilitation," it said.

It added that the park has been developed to exceed international standards for animal care and welfare, and is working towards international accreditation in these areas and educational and conservation programmes.

Meanwhile, ACRES' executive director Louis Ng said more than 6,000 people had joined ACRES in asking RWS to free the dolphins. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ESTHER NG

For more on the issue see ACRES "Save the World's Saddest Dolphins" facebook page


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Monkeys gone wild

Today Online 2 Jun 11;

At Southhaven 1 condominium near the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, monkeys often jump over the condo walls and enter the estate, proceeding to empty trash cans and litter around the swimming pool and at the playground. They are also known to enter homes in search of food.

Said reader Ritu Lall, who sent in a picture, in an email: 'They have courageously entered many a house and emptied every edible substance visible. Residents, especially children, are scared to carry their bags on the way back from their schools and markets. Young children playing fear being bitten.'

Efforts by the condo management and security guards to chase them away seem to bear little result, she added.


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PM Lee says Singapore must study nuclear option

Hoe Yeen Nie Channel NewsAsia 1 Jun 11;

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong again stressed that Singapore has not made a decision on nuclear power but it is an option that must be studied.

He said this at a news conference on Wednesday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is in Singapore for a two-day visit.

Germany had on Monday announced it would shut down its nuclear reactors by 2022.

It is Dr Merkel's first visit to Singapore as German Chancellor.

Mr Lee also noted that she is his first foreign visitor after he was re-elected to Parliament, just as he was her first foreign guest when Dr Merkel became Chancellor in 2005.

Both leaders made clear that Singapore-German relationship is an important one for the two countries.

Singapore is Germany's main trading partner in Southeast Asia, while German companies have long made their presence felt here, particularly in manufacturing.

Latest figures show that bilateral trade amounted to some S$20.5 billion in 2010.

Germany is also Singapore's biggest trading partner among the EU countries.

Both leaders agreed over the hour-long discussion to increase cooperation in R&D and support for enterprises.

They also agreed on the importance of ASEAN and the EU ties.

Dr Merkel said: "Cooperation between the EU and ASEAN needs to be further enhanced, needs to be further developed to the benefit of both, because these are after all two economic regions that wield quite considerable economic clout, and therefore lend themselves ideally to co-operate even more in the future."

What was not on the table was nuclear energy. He said Singapore is still exploring the option.

Prime Minister Lee said: "We need to understand it, because I think this is something which will not go away. And even if we don't do nuclear energy, our neighbours will do nuclear energy, and we need to understand the implications for us."

Asked about his choice for the post of IMF chief, Mr Lee said this would be decided on merit.

He said: "I would not say that I'm looking for an Asian candidate. I think we want to look for the best person who can do a very difficult job, which is crucial towards the stability of the global monetary system."

Asked by German media about the significance of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's retirement from the Cabinet, Prime Minister Lee said that even when Mr Lee Kuan Yew was still in the Cabinet, decisions were already being made by PM Lee and the younger ministers. The senior Mr Lee would interject and express his views at times.

"What has happened is that now that he has retired, this has become more visible, and that's all," he said.

Dr Merkel also met President SR Nathan at the Istana, as well as Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

The German Chancellor was also hosted to a state dinner by Prime Minister Lee. Her visit ends on Thursday.

- CNA/ir


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Malaysia: Conserving sea cucumbers

The Star 2 Jun 11;

BELURAN: The Fisheries Department will introduce the tagal (closed season) system to conserve the state’s sea cucumber resources said Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Yahya Hussin.

Under the unique system practised by the indigenous people of Sabah, fishing is allowed only once a year in certain rivers to allow fish to mature.

Yahya believed that the strategy could be extended to sea cucumber habitats to conserve the resources.

“In 2000, Sabah produced 159 tonnes of sea cucumber but last year, it dropped to 132 tonnes. This is due to excessive harvest and damage to its habitat due to pollution and trawler’s activities,” he said the opening of tagal for sea cucumber at Kampung Hujung, Jambongan island.

Sugut assemblyman Datuk Surady Kayong who represented Yahya had read out his speech.

Yahya said the tagal for sea cucumber would comprise two zones for sea cucumber breeding and for harvesting.

“Harvesting will only be allowed at certain period to be determined by the Fisheries Department and the tagal committee,” he said.

He said that if the system is, it would be an example to other fishermen in Pitas, Semporna, Sandakan, Kuala Penyu, Kudat, Pulau Banggi and Pulau Balambangan.

The state targets to implement at least 10 to 20 of such system in the 10th Malaysia Plan.

Sabah plans to produce 1,800 tonnes of sea cucumber worth RM45mil a year by 2015. — Bernama.


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Sabah Forestry Dept to appoint Honorary Forest Rangers after thorough selection process

The Star 2 Jun 11;

SANDAKAN: The Sabah Forestry Department (SFD) is establishing a pool of Honorary Forest Rangers, comprising largely of members of local communities to help keep an eye on the state’s forest reserves.

The appointment of Honorary Rangers is not new to Sabah as it has been practiced by other departments such as the Wildlife Department and Sabah Parks for many years.

Following the success of these departments, the motion on the establishment of Honorary Forest Rangers was passed in the state legislative assembly last August.

Once appointed, the Honorary Forest Rangers will have similar powers to that of the forestry department’s officers as provided under Section 3A of the Forest Enactment 1968.

Speaking at the closing ceremony of the Honorary Forest Rangers training course, department director Datuk Sam Mannan however reiterated that the appointment of the Honorary Forest Rangers must undergo a vigorous selection process to ensure only genuine, trusted and interested candidates are selected.

“This is crucial as there will always be elements of abuse,” he added.

The selection process began with a five day training course conducted by the department whereby a total of 38 potential Honorary Forest Rangers, comprising candidates from the forest concession holders and local communities, attended the course.

The course covers the aspects of arresting, surveying and reporting, as well as basic survey techniques, wood identification, wildlife and environmental education.

More such training will be conducted and candidates having attended the training will then be assessed internally by the department and those successful will be shortlisted for appointment and notified in the government gazette.

It is the department’s hope that the introduction and appointment of the Honorary Forest Rangers will not only help to reduce, if not eliminate forest offences, but also help in increasing public awareness on the importance of forest conservation.


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Thailand: Slow action to save coral reefs blasted

Bangkok Post 2 Jun 11;

The government and marine authorities have come under attack from experts for not moving swiftly enough to rehabilitate coral reefs in Andaman marine national parks bleached by warmer sea water.

Sakanand Plathong, a marine scientist at Prince of Songkla University who is a member of a special committee on rehabilitating coral reef bleaching, said there had been an absence of concrete measures to improve the situation since last year. The only exception was an order to close coral reef sites in national parks.

"We can't do anything right now. All we can do is wait for budget approval from the government so we can survey the coral to assess the recovery chances," Mr Sakanand said.

"Without credible information on the reefs, we can't even set up a correct plan to preserve and protect them."

Mr Sakanand said it was possible to rehabilitate the bleached coral reefs. But the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation had failed to set any policies to do so.

Because of the department's lethargic response, the situation had worsened and diving was still going on despite poor reef conditions. Part of the reason was incorrect information collected by the department.

More than 80% of the coral reefs in the Andaman Sea are believed to have suffered bleaching since April last year. Only 7% have shown signs of recovery so far.

The department in January ordered 18 coral reef sites in seven national parks in the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand closed in a bid to save them from bleaching caused by unusually high water temperatures.

The special committee, comprising academics and state agency representatives, was set up to take care of the issue.

Department chief Sunan Arunnoparat conceded there had been delays but the department was ready to act once funds were approved.

"We accept there has been a delay as we have many things to do at the moment. But we are not ignoring the issue," he said.

Mr Sunan said he was worried about the coral reefs in the Similan and Surin islands in Phangnga province which have yet to show significant signs of recovery.

Napan Sevikul, a freelance divemaster, said he had shared information with other dive master networks on the coral reefs and found many places have a good chance of recovery, especially in Koh Ha Yai and Koh Hin Muang Hin Daeng in Krabi province; and Tarutao, Adang-Ravi and Lipe islands in Satun province.


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Biologists Mount Webby Amphibian Rescue Campaign

Katie Scott, Wired UK 1 Jun 11;

Biologists are mounting a campaign to save amphibians around the world using the power of social networks.

The Global Amphibian Blitz is a website that lets amateur naturalists upload images of beasties they encounter on their travels, along with the date and their location. Experts will then browse and filter the submissions in a bid to identify rare species or amphibians found out of their normal habitat.

The initiative has been launched by the University of California, Berkeley’s AmphibiaWeb, which is a database of nearly 7,000 amphibians; Amphibian Ark; the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute; the Amphibian Specialist Group of the Species Survival Commission, which is part of the International Union for Conservation of Nature; the Center for Biological Diversity; and iNaturalist.org, a social network for naturalists.

Amphibian lovers hope that crowdsourcing sightings of these species could give a greater indication of which species are threatened, but in a cost-effective way.

“The distributions of many amphibian species are so poorly known that every observation helps,” herpetologist Michelle Koo, a UC Berkeley research scientist who helps manage AmphibiaWeb, said in a press release. “Museums can’t be everywhere we need to be at once to get the data sets we need. Using social networks to partner with amateurs is a powerful new tool for scaling biodiversity data for science and conservation.”

The ultimate aim is to take a census of “every one of the world’s surviving amphibian species” which, according to AmphibiaWeb, currently stands at 6,813.

Global Amphibian Blitz: contribute your amphibian sightings anywhere in the world


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Nature 'is worth billions' to UK

Richard Black BBC News 1 Jun 11;

The UK's parks, lakes, forests and wildlife are worth billions of pounds to the economy, says a major report.

The health benefits of merely living close to a green space are worth up to £300 per person per year, it concludes.

The National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA) says that for decades, the emphasis has been on producing more food and other goods - but this has harmed other parts of nature that generate hidden wealth.

Ministers who commissioned the NEA will use it to re-shape planning policy.

"The natural world is vital to our existence, providing us with essentials such as food, water and clean air - but also cultural and health benefits not always fully appreciated because we get them for free," said Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman.

"The UK NEA is a vital step forward in our ability to understand the true value of nature and how to sustain the benefits it gives us."

The economic benefits of nature are seen most clearly in food production, which depends on organisms such as soil microbes, earthworms and pollinating insects.

If their health declines - as is currently happening in the UK with bees - either farmers produce less food, or have to spend more to produce the same amount.

Either way there is an economic impact; and on average, the costs are growing over time.

Degrading report

"Humans rely on the way ecosystems services control our climate - pollution, water quality, pollination - and we're finding out that many of these regulating services are degrading," said Bob Watson, chief scientific adviser to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and co-chairman of the NEA.

"About 30% of the key ecosystem services that we rely on are degrading.

"About 20% are getting better, however - our air quality has improved a lot - and what this report says is that we can do a lot better across the board," he told BBC News.

The 1940s saw the beginning of a national drive to increase production of food and other products such as timber.

Although that was successful, the NEA finds there was a price to pay - England, for example, has the smallest percentage of forest cover anywhere in Europe, while many fish stocks are below optimum levels.

The report says the problem arises largely because currently, only material products such as food carry a pricetag in the market.

By calculating the value of less tangible factors such as clean air, clean water and natural flood defences, it hopes to rebalance the equation.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) welcomed the assessment.

"The traditional view of economic growth is based on chasing GDP, but in fact we will all end up richer and happier if we begin to take into account the true value of nature," said its conservation director, Martin Harper.

"Of course no-one can put a pounds and pence value on everything in nature - but equally we cannot ignore the importance of looking after it when we are striving for economic growth."

The NEA seeks to include virtually every economic contribution from eight types of landscape, such as woodlands, coasts and urban areas.

It also provides some local flavours by looking at variations across the UK.

Some figures emerge with precision, such as the £430m that pollinating insects are calculated to be worth, or the £1.5bn pricetag on inland wetlands, valued so high because they help to produce clean water.

Other aspects of the evaluation are less precise because the costs and benefits are harder to quantify, and may change over time.
World view

Ian Bateman, an economist from the University of East Anglia who played a principal role in the analysis, said that putting a single price on nature overall was not sensible.

"Without the environment, we're all dead - so the total value is infinite," he said.

"What is important is the value of changes - of feasible, policy-relevant changes - and those you can put numbers on."

The full 2,000-page report is stacked full of such numbers. The government intends to use some of them in its forthcoming Natural Environment White Paper and other initiatives that could reform urban and rural planning.

Professor Watson said this did not imply an end to development, but that costs and benefits of each proposed development could be assessed more accurately in advance.

"Urban green space, for example, is unbelievably important - if affects the value of houses, it affects our mental wellbeing.

"This report is saying 'this has got incredible value, so before you start converting green space into building, think through what the economic value is of maintaining that green space' - or the blue space, the ponds and the rivers."

On the global stage, several countries have previously evaluated the economic worth of specific factors such as forests or fisheries.

And two international studies - the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) and The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (Teeb) - have given broader views of society's environmental trajectory, and the costs and benefits.

But the UK is the first nation to produce such a detailed assessment across the piece.

Britain puts price on nature
Yahoo News 2 Jun 11;

LONDON (AFP) – Britain has put a price on the benefits of parks, lakes and wildlife for the first time in a government-commissioned study released on Thursday attempting to make the financial case for protecting nature.

It says the health benefits of simply living near to a green space are worth up to £300 ($500, 340 euros) per person per year.

The assessment showed that until now, the focus has been solely on the market value of resources that can be exploited and sold, such as timber and food crops, while caring for the environment was seen as a cost.

This has meant some habitats and resources have been allowed to decline and degrade.

The National Ecosystem Assessment will be used to determine planning policy.

By highlighting the value of services such as views of urban parks and green spaces, it is hoped that developers will allow for more natural areas when planning housing developments.

Environment minister Caroline Spelman said: "The UK National Ecosystem Assessment is a vital step forward in our ability to understand the true value of nature and how to sustain the benefits it gives us."

However, Stephen Tapper, president of the Planning Officers Society, warned that quantifying the value of nature was "a slippery slope".

"Local spaces have an intrinsic value, they are cherished by their local communities and it's very difficult to put any financial value to that," he told BBC radio.

The study puts a precise value on some aspects of nature, while others are harder to define.

Inland wetlands are considered to be worth £1.5 billion for their benefits to water quality while bees and other insects which pollinate fruit and crops have a value of £430 million a year to British agriculture.

The study shows that a third of the services that nature provides to Britain, from fish stocks to the pollination of plants on farmland, are being damaged.

Professor Bob Watson, chief scientist at the environment ministry and co-chairman of the project, said: "Roughly 30 percent of all ecosystem services are still declining or degrading. We are going in the right direction but there's still a long way to go."

He said one of the big challenges was to balance the production of food and resources with sustaining the other 'services' nature provides.

Professor Ian Bateman, of the University of East Anglia and one of the study's lead authors, said the point of putting economic values on environmental goods and services was "to ensure their incorporation on equal footing with the market-priced goods which currently dominate decision-making.

"Without such representation we will get a persistence of the situation where we have these services being used as if they were free and had no value."


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Brazil approves huge Amazon power plant

Yahoo News 1 Jun 11;

BRASILIA (AFP) – Over the strong objections of indigenous groups, activists and environmentalists, Brazilian authorities gave a green light Wednesday to what will be the world's third largest hydroelectric plant and dam.

The massive $11 billion project is to be built in western Para state, along the Xingu river in Brazil's Amazon rainforest.

Once completed, the Belo Monte plant will generate some 11,200 megawatts of energy, equivalent to about 11 percent of the power currently produced in Brazil.

Indigenous communities, ecologists and the Catholic Church have spent more than a year campaigning against the dam, which will flood an area of 516 square kilometers (198 square miles) along the banks of the Xingu.

Construction of the dam will displace 16,000 people, according to government figures.

Local communities also fear the arrival of thousands of workers in the jungle area.

Norte Energia said the hydroelectric project will create 18,000 new jobs and an additional 23,000 more jobs indirectly. Counting families, the dam will support some 96,000 people.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an arm of the Organization of American States, had asked the government to halt construction to allow more time to hear objections from indigenous communities affected by the project.

"This criminal project will lead to the destruction of a large area of the rainforest, and will affect tens of thousands of people," said Antonia Melo, an indigenous leader.

"We will not back off our efforts to stop this dam," he added.

The project was also opposed by American filmmaker James Cameron, whose blockbuster hit film "Avatar" told the story of a peaceful native people on another planet forced to wage a bloody fight against strip miners from Earth.

The government says the country desperately needs the energy provided by the hydroelectric plant.

"Belo Monte will guarantee Brazil's energy security" said Energy Minister Edson Lobao, in announcing the plan.

The Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Resources (IBAMA) said the dam was "based on a serious technical analysis" which included compensation for the indigenous population.

At a capacity of slightly more than 11,000 megawatts, Belo Monte will rank behind the 18,000-megawatt Three Gorges Dam in China and the 14,000-megawatt dam in Itaipu on the Brazil-Paraguay border.

Brazil's current energy capacity is 112,000 megawatts, and is expected to double by 2019, surpassing 240,000 megawatts, the government says.

Officials said the first building stage for Belo Monte will be finished in 2015, with construction expected to be completed in 2019.


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Seed Maker Races For Crops As Climate Changes

Christine Stebbins PlanetArk 1 Jun 11;

A changing climate that many scientists fear will hurt global crop production means seed makers must work harder to meet food needs as world population grows by 30 percent by 2050, a top world seed executive said.

"Agriculture production is moving to the north because those climates are becoming warmer. Some of those environments are also very conducive to some good agricultural production," Paul Schickler, president of Pioneer Hi-Bred, a unit of chemicals giant DuPont, told Reuters on Friday.

"But when you move north you've got less of a season, less sun, less heat units. Now you need to make hybrids and varieties that have shorter maturities but still generate the appropriate amount of yield," Schickler said when asked about the company's long-term growth strategy.

"Soils are also becoming more saline -- so you've got to have crops that can tolerate more saline," he added.

The need to increase crop yields is in the spotlight now across the globe. Food demand, always rising with population and wealth, has exploded in recent years as China and, to a lesser extent, India, speedily grow their economies. That has brought millions more hungry mouths with ample money to eat grain-fed beef, pork, poultry and dairy.

Worries about the shrinking "pie" of food supplies has led to a fresh spike in food prices, as seen in 2008. Corn and other grain prices are up at least 70 percent in the past year, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization.

Yet demand for more food grains has come as biofuels have cut into grain use. More ominous are shrinking amounts of arable land with soils to grow wheat, corn, rice, oilseeds and other major crops. Climate, scientists say, is a big cause.

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned years ago mankind is likely facing a future of crop-growing perils, starting with tropical zones growing too hot and dry.

A typical study, published this month in the respected journal Science, concludes that climate change has trimmed potential global wheat production 5.5 percent and corn output 3.8 percent over the last three decades.

VOLATILITY, THE NEW NORMAL-

Extremes in weather -- fears of things to come -- tested world farmers in 2010 and this year looks little different. But Schickler said volatile weather is stock in trade for Pioneer.

"Clearly the volatility of climate is occurring at the same time climate is changing," Schickler said.

"That is emblematic of what we have to deal with all the time ... deliver better products that improve productivity," he added. "You need to bring in defensive traits -- whether it is for disease, insects, stalk strength, grain quality."

Pioneer launched a new conventionally bred drought-tolerant corn hybrid seed in the western U.S. Corn Belt this spring that has about 5 percent yield advantage over other varieties, which should help pave the way for expansion of the new molecular technology on other markets, such as Africa, Schickler said.

The next step will be a genetically modified (GMO) seed "to go after drought and heat tolerance, but that's probably something more in the later part of this decade," he said.

That GMO technology could be applied to other crops such as sorghum, soybeans or rice, he said, but added that it will be a decade or so before Pioneer has a GMO wheat seed for sale.

Both hybrids and GMO seed development are much further along in rice than wheat, Schickler said.

The first step in boosting rice has been hybridization through conventional plant cross-breeding. In China, about half the rice is grown from hybrids but in India only 2 to 3 percent, he said. Scientists are working to add transgenic genes to rice to fight insects or add resistance to herbicides or drought, but no GMO rice is yet in commercial use by farmers.

"That's why it is positioned as a strategic crop," said Schickler. "Not only is it a big crop in Asia but there is so much we can do with it from a productivity standpoint, insect standpoint and water utilization -- growers and consumers in Asia really need it."

(Editing by Lisa Shumaker)


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Mayors reach climate deal with World Bank

Yahoo News 1 Jun 11;

SAO PAULO (AFP) – Leaders of the C40 Mayors Summit on climate change said Wednesday the group had reached a financing agreement with the World Bank to help the world's major cities better adapt to climate change

"The partnership with the World Bank creates opportunities for financial support," said New York city Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"If we don't stop polluting our world right now, and continuing to spill greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the consequences may be very well irreversible," Bloomberg said.

The 40 major cities whose mayors are attending the Sao Paulo conference -- including New York, Jakarta, Mexico City, Berlin, Barcelona, Rio de Janeiro and Paris -- are responsible for 12 percent of global greenhouse emissions.

"Cities are also paying big price of climate change," said World Bank president Robert Zoellick.

Zoellick told the mayors that he would make it easier for cities to use the Bank, as part of an effort to make available as much as $6.4 billion the Bank has earmarked for climate relief programs.

Private initiatives, said Zoellick, could lift that amount to as much as $50 billion.

"The memo of understanding between the World Bank and C40 is a window of access for cities," added Zoellick, and should help them gain "more access to develop strategies, mitigation, technical assistant".

Former US President Bill Clinton, whose foundation works with the C40 group, also praised the agreement.

But he said one of the biggest problems with going green was financing.

This is the fourth C40 summit, but the first one held in the southern hemisphere.

On Thursday, the mayors meet with local authorities to discuss urban planning, public transport, capturing contaminated gas, and green industry.


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World Bank warns of 'failing' international carbon market

Report shows collapse in market with just $1.5bn of credits traded internationally last year
Fiona Harvey guardian.co.uk 1 Jun 11;

The international market in carbon credits has suffered an almost total collapse, with only $1.5bn (£916m) of credits traded last year - the lowest since the market opened in 2005, according to a report from the World Bank.

A fledgling market in greenhouse gas emissions in the US also declined, and only the European Union's internal market in carbon remained healthy, worth $120bn. However, leaked documents seen by the Guardian appear to show that even the EU's emissions trading system is in danger.

The international market in carbon credits was brought about under the Kyoto protocol, as a way of injecting much-needed investment into low-carbon technology in the developing world. Under the system, known as the clean development mechanism, projects such as windfarms or solar panels in developing countries are awarded carbon credits for every tonne of carbon avoided. These credits are bought by rich countries to count towards their emissions reduction targets.

From its start in 2005, when the Kyoto protocol finally came into force, to 2009 the system generated a total of $25bn for developing countries. But last year's $1.5bn was less even than the amount paid for credits in the first year of operation.

"This bodes very badly for the countries we are trying to help," said Andrew Steer, envoy for climate change at the World Bank. "The [carbon] market is failing us. It has done very good things in the past but it is not delivering what we feel is necessary."

If the poor performance continued, it would mean increasing greenhouse gas emissions, he predicted. "We are heading for a 3C or 4C world [temperature rise]."

Part of the problem is uncertainty over the future of the Kyoto protocol. The current provisions of the 1997 treaty, which took years to come into force because of wrangling among governments, are due to expire in 2012 and there is no agreement yet on a continuation.

The US refuses to take part in the treaty, and Russia, Japan and Canada said at the recent G8 meeting they would not continue under Kyoto.

The UN is now trying to ensure that the trade in credits continues even if the protocol is not renewed. Christiana Figueres, the UN's climate chief, said there was broad agreement among countries that carbon trading should continue, but said investors also needed to look beyond the carbon markets to ways of financing emissions reductions independently of the protocol – for instance through "green bonds" issued by governments or the World Bank.

Henry Derwent, chief executive of the International Emissions Trading Association, said the relative health of the EU's emissions trading system showed that carbon trading was still going strong. He pointed out that the total value of the carbon market was $142bn in 2010, of which 97% came from the EU. "That is 1.5% smaller than [the previous year] during a period of turmoil. That is no big deal," he said. "The carbon market is working – it is still quite a big thing."

But the future of the EU's emissions trading system (ETS) is also in doubt, according to leaked documents. If the EU meets its target of improving energy efficiency by 20% by 2020, then the price of carbon permits under its trading system is likely to fall dramatically. This will in turn make it less financially attractive for companies to invest in low-carbon technologies.

Under the EU system, energy-intensive companies are awarded a quota of carbon permits, each representing a tonne of CO2, and cleaner companies can sell their spares to big emitters. The current price of about €17 a tonne is regarded as too low to stimulate the investment in low-carbon technology envisaged under the system, however, and any further falls would remove even more of the incentive to clean up.

The UN carbon market is deeply dependent on the European system, because European heavy industries are the biggest buyers of UN carbon credits, which they can use to top up their own carbon quotas.

The European commission said: "Energy efficiency is key to reduce emissions. All energy efficiency measures are welcome. This said, we have to make sure that the energy measures are compatible with the ETS. This is why the commission proposed in the 2050 roadmap to recalibrate the ETS cap and set aside a number - to be determined - of [carbon] allowances for the next phase of the ETS from 2013 to 2020."

Ruth Davis, chief policy adviser at Greenpeace UK, said: "A small group of dirty companies have spent years trying to undermine the European emissions trading scheme - in the process netting billions of euros of free polllution permits. Now these same companies are arguing that Europe should 'rescue' the ETS by abandoning its energy-saving plans. With global climate pollution going through the roof, and the Arctic ice cap melting, only a lunatic would argue that now is the time to waste more energy. The only 'rescue package' the scheme needs is a new 30% emissions reduction target for the EU – a target supported by a a growing movement of Europe's biggest businesses and employers, including Unilever, Google, Ikea and Vodaphone."


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Global warming should be limited to 1.5C, UN climate chief says

Christiana Figueres tells carbon trading conference that the current limit of a 2C temperature rise is 'not enough'
Fiona Harvey guardian.co.uk 1 Jun 11;

The world should be aiming to limit global warming to just 1.5C instead of the weaker current target of 2C, the United Nations' climate chief said on Wednesday.

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, told an audience of carbon traders: "Two degrees is not enough – we should be thinking of 1.5C. If we are not headed to 1.5 we are in big, big trouble."

She said she had the support of the group of about 40 small island states – many of which are in danger of disappearing as sea levels rise – as well as most African countries and other least developed countries.

Figueres said estimates from the International Energy Agency, revealed by the Guardian, that showed a record rise in carbon emissions from energy last year strengthened the case for urgent action on greenhouse gases.

However, her remarks are likely to cause consternation among developed country governments. The question of whether the world should aim for a 2C limit, which scientists say marks the point beyond which the effects of climate change become catastrophic and irreversible, or a more stringent 1.5C limit, which would provide greater safety, is a sore point in the long-running UN negotiations.

At the 2009 summit in Copenhagen, the reopening of the debate over the 2C limit was one of the worst sources of conflict, setting developed countries against a large section of the developing world. That conflict was widely regarded as one of the key factors in derailing the summit, which ended in a partial agreement amid scenes of chaos and recriminations.

At last year's follow-up conference in CancĂșn, Mexico, countries compromised by opting for a 2C target while asking for a review of the science to show whether the target should be tougher.

Figueres was speaking on Wednesday in Barcelona, at a Guardian-chaired conference at Carbon Expo, the annual conference of the International Emissions Trading Association.

Another indication of how difficult it will be to reach Figueres' target came from the World Bank, which unveiled research showing that the market in carbon credits under the 1997 Kyoto protocol collapsed last year. Only $1.5bn of Kyoto-based credits were issued, which the bank said was nowhere near enough to help developing countries cut emissions and deal with the effects of climate change.

The carbon markets are supposed to be one of the key ways of reaching the world's target of halving emissions by 2050.


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