Best of our wild blogs: 13 Sep 11

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [5 Sep - 11 Sep 2011]
from Green Business Times

Jobs: Two RA positions immediately available in “Enhancing the Urban Native Biodiversity of Singapore” (26 Sep 2011) from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

The Air Is Better Underwater @ Pulau Semakau
from colourful clouds

Night at the Museum – the case of the missing Leaf Monkey
from Raffles Museum News

Feeding Spotted Dove: 20. Intelligent feeding II
from Bird Ecology Study Group

New articles on Nature in Singapore website
from Raffles Museum News

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New dual four-lane road in Bukit Brown to ease traffic

Channel NewsAsia 12 Sep 11;

SINGAPORE: The Land Transport Authority (LTA) will construct a new dual four-lane road by 2016 in Bukit Brown to alleviate congestion along Lornie Road and the PIE during peak hours.

Construction of the new road is expected to begin in early 2013 and will be completed by 2016, said a joint news release from the LTA, the Urban Redevelopment Authority and National Parks Board.

It added that the new road will serve as the new link connecting motorists travelling between Thomson Road, Adam Road and PIE, and is part of the road network that will support future developments in Bukit Brown.

Today with increased traffic, Lornie Road experiences heavier traffic than before, especially during the morning and evening peak hours.

This is also because Lornie Road currently functions as a strategic road link allowing motorists travelling between the east and the west of the island to bypass the city.

Lornie Road is also an essential road connection for traffic between PIE and residential estates in the central and northern parts of the island, such as Ang Mo Kio, Bishan and Thomson.

In line with long term plans, Bukit Brown area will also be developed for housing in the future and the new road will connect Bukit Brown with the rest of the road network.

It is estimated that the new road will affect about five per cent of the more than 100,000 graves in the Bukit Brown Cemetery.

A grave identification exercise will be conducted soon to confirm the actual number of graves affected.

- CNA/ck

New road to ease Lornie Road jams
Royston Sim Straits Times 13 Sep 11;

A NEW road will be built in Bukit Brown by 2016, easing peak-hour snarls along Lornie Road.

In a statement yesterday, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said construction of the estimated 2km road - four lanes in each direction - is expected to begin in early 2013.

The road will start from Lornie Road near Caldecott Hill and cut through the existing Bukit Brown cemetery before joining Adam Road near the slip roads leading to the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE).

It will connect motorists travelling between Thomson Road, Adam Road and the PIE.

An LTA spokesman said currently between 6,000 and 7,000 vehicles per hour use Lornie Road during peak hours.

Traffic is expected to increase between 20 per cent and 30 per cent by 2020 due to future developments in central and northern Singapore.

'The projected traffic volumes would be well beyond what the current Lornie Road can handle,' said the spokesman.

The LTA has also observed slow traffic on the slip roads connecting Lornie Road and the PIE.

The spokesman said the project's cost will be known only after the tender - not called yet - is awarded.

After the new road is completed, Lornie Road will be downsized to a dual-two lane road, from four lanes going towards Adam Road and three towards Braddell.

The freed-up space will be used for future park connectors alongside the existing nature reserve.

Lornie Road functions as a link in the Outer Ring Road System, a network of major roads that allow motorists travelling between the east and west of Singapore to bypass the city.

It is also a vital connection between the PIE and residential estates in the central and northern parts such as Ang Mo Kio, Bishan and Thomson.

Asked why the new road was not built when LTA widened Lornie Road in 2009, the spokesman said the agencies had to ensure that new roads would not adversely affect the nature reserves.

Accordingly, the LTA widened Lornie Road in the direction of Adam Road as an interim measure to alleviate congestion.

In its joint statement with the Urban Redevelopment Authority and National Parks Board, the LTA said various agencies have worked closely to plan an alignment that takes into consideration more immediate transport needs as well as long-term development plans for the area.

It said the agencies took care to avoid adversely affecting the nature reserves near MacRitchie Reservoir or acquiring private land for this road project.

It is also part of a road network that will support future developments in Bukit Brown.

The URA has already earmarked the area for future housing development due to its central location and proximity to established residential areas.

There are also plans for a future Circle Line MRT station to serve the area when it is developed.

The LTA estimates that the new road will affect about 5 per cent of more than 100,000 graves in the Bukit Brown cemetery.

It will call a tender this month to identify the graves and exhumation will take place in the fourth quarter of next year.

Motorists are happy that a new road will be built.

Piano teacher Jolly Liew, 45, said traffic flow on Lornie Road is quite bad after 8am on weekdays. She uses it up to three times a week during peak hours to take her father from their home in Clementi to his office in MacPherson.

On the way back, it can take more than an hour to reach home due to the congestion. She said: 'The new road sounds good. Anything to ease the traffic is good because traffic in that area can be quite bad.'

Redevelopment plans for Bukit Brown site
Straits Times 13 Sep 11;

A NEW dual four-lane road is the first step in the clearance and redevelopment of the Bukit Brown area.

When the road is completed by 2016, it will serve as a link between Adam Road, the Pan-Island Expressway and Thomson Road for residents of future developments there.

Provisions have also been made to connect future residents to the MRT network, with an area set aside for a Bukit Brown MRT station on the Circle Line.

However, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) could not give details of the other developments slated for the area.

Heritage enthusiasts have been lobbying to keep the area untouched after the URA announced in May that the 86ha Bukit Brown cemetery off Lornie Road is likely to make way for redevelopment.

The building of the new road alone will affect about 5 per cent of the more than 100,000 graves in the cemetery.

Once the graves that need to be exhumed have been identified, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) will contact families affected.

The exhumations and cremations of the remains in these graves will be done in the fourth quarter of next year.

Assistant Professor Chua Ai Lin, an executive member of the Singapore Heritage Society, said it was still unclear what the impact of the road would be on the cemetery.

'LTA has not confirmed where exactly the road will cut through and which graves are to be exhumed,' she said.

She pointed out that the graves of more prominent personalities are located on higher hillside.

These include the remains of the 19th-century tycoon Ong Sam Leong.

'What we feel should have been done was to give us more lead time in documenting these graves,' she said, noting that construction work for the road begins in 2013.

The society is in the midst of organising a team of experts to document the more than 100,000 graves.

She added, however, that the LTA seemed open and flexible to the suggestions of the society on preserving some of the more important graves.

Nature Society (Singapore) president Shawn Lum said it may be possible for the building of the road to be done in a particular way to minimise the impact on nature.

'As the road will divide Bukit Brown into two segments, LTA should look into building a connecter to allow wildlife to move between the two areas,' he said.

He added that the likelihood of roadkill should be minimised with fencing or other means to discourage animals from crossing the road.

The impact of noise on the animals in the area should also be looked into, he said.

The LTA said it was working with the various agencies to preserve, identify and document the key heritage elements of the cemetery.


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Haze worsens in Singapore

Seet Sok Hwee, Qiuyi Tan Channel NewsAsia 12 Sep 11;

SINGAPORE: The haze in Singapore has worsened. The 24-hour PSI reading was 69 as at 7pm Monday, the highest so far this year.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said this remains within the moderate range.

The worst hit are the northern and western parts of Singapore. Eastern Singapore remains within the good range, with a reading of 48.

As the haze continues, the number of respiratory cases here is expected to rise.

Healthway Medical reported a 15 per cent increase in the number of patients who came in with respiratory problems like asthma and sore throats.

Separately, childcare centres and kindergartens Channel News Asia spoke with said attendance has been regular.

But they're taking additional precautions if the haze worsens.

- CNA/cc

NEA giving hourly updates on air quality
Straits Times 13 Sep 11;

THE haze situation worsened slightly yesterday as the National Environment Agency (NEA) started providing hourly updates on the air quality here.

The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hit an average high of 62 yesterday, up from 55 the previous day. The level reached 69 in the evening.

Air quality is considered unhealthy when the index exceeds 100.

Hourly updates will be posted on the agency's website at and on its Twitter account @NEAsg.

An NEA spokesman said it was rolling out the service as the situation had worsened, but said it was likely to improve from the middle of the week when winds over Singapore are set to favour clearer skies.

The NEA also provided hourly updates last October during a similar haze period.

Experts said the higher PSI could be due to more intense fires in Indonesia or a change in wind direction.

Farmers and logging companies in Indonesia clear land using fire between June and September, the region's dry season.

The number of fires in Indonesia hit 700 last Friday, but slipped to 200 the next day. Figures for the past two days were not available. The NEA said the drastic fall could be due to satellites being blocked by rain clouds over the weekend.

Singaporeans The Straits Times spoke to said they were not concerned about the small rise in the PSI yesterday.

Shop owner Sim Kim Leng, 65, celebrated the Mid-Autumn Festival with 30 friends at an open space near his shop in Toa Payoh North.

He said: 'It's starting to rain in the afternoons now, so it should be safer to stay out in the evenings.'

Marketing consultant Agnes Tay, 40, who has an eight-year-old daughter, said younger children should stay indoors.

'Right now the problem does not seem so bad, but I noticed several kids were absent from my daughter's class today,' she said.

Dr Wong Tien Hua, 42, said he had noticed a 20 per cent increase in patients at his Mutual Healthcare Medical Clinic in Sengkang, although not all were there with haze-related illnesses.

'But I definitely treated more asthmatic patients yesterday than usual,' he said.


Read more!

Sumatra Haze Forces Flight Reroutes and Irks Malaysia

Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 12 Sep 11;

The unrelenting thick haze blanketing parts of Sumatra has now prompted Malaysia to complain and forced some flights in Indonesia to be rerouted.

The neighboring country’s environment minister, Douglas Uggah Embas, has sent a letter to the Indonesian government regarding hundreds of high-temperature hot spots on Sumatra, which are likely the result of fires started as part of land-clearing efforts, according to Malaysian news agency Bernama.

Arief Yuwono, Indonesia’s deputy minister for environmental damage control, said on Sunday that he had not yet received the letter, but said the Environment Ministry would conduct an investigation into the claim.

He said he would consult with Indonesian authorities on the location of fires and recent wind patterns to establish whether any haze over Malaysia was likely to be the result of blazes in Indonesia.

The deputy minister said the situation in Sumatra would likely be on the agenda at an upcoming gathering of environment ministers from member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, including Indonesia and Malaysia. The two-day meeting, starting on Sept. 22 and to be held in Bangkok, is part of an annual series to discuss transboundary haze issues.

The Sumatra haze has also affected flights. Lion Air diverted planes on the route between Jakarta and Jambi, a province in southern Sumatra, because of low visibility.

“The planes could not land in Jambi because of thick smog and the pilot decided to land in South Sumatra,” said Edward Sirait, Lion Air’s director. The airline operates three flights per day to Jambi.

Edward said it was the first time this year Lion Air had been required to abort a landing and divert a plane due to thick haze.

“We will keep on landing in South Sumatra until the conditions improve in Jambi,” he said, adding that other destinations had not been affected by haze.

Arief said land and forest fires were difficult to manage because there were few signs of the coming rainy season. “At the moment, Jambi’s haze is quite thick, different from Riau and South Sumatra, which have already experienced rain,” he said.

“We have already deployed rain-making aircraft to try and prevent fires. However, the fires are becoming more unpredictable because we are supposed to be entering the rainy season this month, but so far there has been no rain.”

Three CASA 212-200 aircraft were deployed on Friday — two went to South Sumatra and one to Riau — to begin 30 days of rain-inducing operations starting today.

The initial targets for the operations are Riau, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan, but the latter two were dropped because they have already entered the rainy season.

“For Jambi, we need to look at the data first, before we take any further steps, especially if we decide to conduct rain-making operations there,” Arief said.

He added that the ministry was working with local police to investigate instances of slash-and-burn activity. “We will have a meeting with local police on Tuesday or Wednesday to start law enforcement over these practices,” he said.

Sumatra fires worsen as dry season peaks
Officials use cloud seeding to induce rain and stop spread of fires
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja Straits Times 13 Sep 11;

JAKARTA: Forest and plantation fires have intensified in recent days in southern and central Sumatra as Indonesia's dry season hits a peak, casting a blanket of haze over parts of neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore.

Singapore's daily PSI registered a reading of 66 as at 9pm last night, which is in the moderate range. This was higher than the reading of 55 (moderate) on Sunday and 41 (good) on Saturday.

The dry hazy conditions have caused some concern as Singapore gears up for the Sept 23-25 Formula One night race, and Palembang and co-host Jakarta prepare to host more than 6,000 athletes to the biennial SEA Games in November.

Malaysia has complained to Indonesia about the haze, which has caused air quality to drop in many areas.

The town of Tanjung Malim in Perak recorded the highest reading of 107 at 5pm yesterday, falling into the 'unhealthy' range. Subang and Petaling Jaya had the lowest recorded visibility of 3km and 4km respectively at 4pm.

The Indonesian authorities have used cloud seeding to induce rain in a bid to cool temperatures and to prevent the fires from spreading.

The rainy season in Indonesia is not expected to start until late this month, according to weather officials.

The national disaster management agency is coordinating the efforts of the various local authorities as well as the Meteorological, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), which are focused on South Sumatra province, about 400km away from Singapore.

On Sunday, South Sumatra was found to have 135 hot spots while Jambi province in central Sumatra had 30, BMKG data showed. The number of hot spots in West Kalimantan province has also been rising in the past week.

Jambi is the worst-hit by the haze because of its proximity to the hot spots in South Sumatra.

Last Friday, flights at its Sultan Thaha Syaifuddin airport could not take off until late afternoon because of poor visibility.

A minimum visibility level of 1.8km is required for landing and 1km for take-off, according to Mr Olan Simanjuntak, an information officer at the airport.

'We have had planes diverted to Pa-lembang airport because of the very bad haze here. Other planes were told not to fly here,' said Mr Olan, who spoke to The Straits Times on the phone from Jambi.

Rain could be on the way.

'The haze is carried by the winds that are mainly northerly and north-easterly there. But now clouds have begun to form above South Sumatra, the northern part of Jambi, which according to our satellite images, have the potential to trigger rain,' said Mr Kukuh Ribudiyanto, head of the extreme weather desk at BMKG.

Padang in West Sumatra province and Pekanbaru in Riau province have had intermittent rain in the past few days.

Every year, farmers and plantation companies clear their land for planting. But many of them often use the cheaper but illegal slash and burn method, which is the chief cause of haze. South Sumatra has many oil palm and rubber plantations.

Mr Mukri Priatna, head of advocacy at the Indonesian Environmental Forum (Walhi), hailed the government's ongoing efforts to put out the fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

'But enforcing the laws against those who are responsible for the fires is most important to putting an end to this annual fire affair. Currently, a party responsible for starting a fire could get away easily.'

Indonesia Smokes Up its Neighbors
Asia Sentinel 12 Sep 11;

Haze from illegal logging, oil palm planting becomes a hazard

Despite numerous promises by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono that it would stop, the burning of Indonesia’s rainforest is continuing, to the point where the haze is so thick that schools are closing, airplanes are being diverted and has reached the point where 60 percent of Malaysia is experiencing moderate pollution.

Indonesia’s immediate neighbors are expected to bring up the choking haze on Sept. 22 at a two-day meeting of environment ministers from member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to be held in Bangkok. The meeting is part of an annual series to discuss cross-boundary haze issues, so far to no avail.

In May, Yudhoyono signed a much-publicized two-year moratorium as part of a US$1 billion climate deal with Norway for emissions credits to cut global levels of greenhouse gases. However, Indonesia’s forestry ministry makes billions of dollars handing out permits to oil palm plantations to clear forest for oil palm production. The moratorium has been described as a disaster by environmentalists who say it is full of loopholes that favor the oil palm companies.

Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil, the country’s fourth largest export category, contributing 8.54 percent of export earnings to the country’s coffers. In addition, although agriculture provides only 15.3 percent of gross domestic product, it employs 38.3 percent of the population. Indonesia is also the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, much of it from illegal the logging of primary forest and burning the remains and the peatlands that undergird the forest.

The government has said it intends to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases by 26 percent against current levels, now producing something on the order of 2.05 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually. Almost 80 percent of Indonesia’s current emissions stem from deforestation and land use change. Indonesia’s ability to control greenhouse gases is important because, according to the United Nations, 15-20 percent of the world’s gas reduction potential will come from forest and peat.

Behind the haze, however, is an even denser air of bureaucratic inertia and entrenched corruption that continues to thrwart the aims of the international compact known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD). REDD had proposed including secondary forest as well as untouched primary forest, less and less of which continues to exist each year. Officials estimate that some 35 million hectares have already been degraded. The forestry ministry can’t agree on how much primary forest remains and is subject to REDD, saying 55 million hectares of primary forest are subject to the moratorium. The president’s office, however, says it should be 64 million hectares of primary forest and another 20 million hectares of peatlands.

Despite the complicated plans for REDD, the burning is continuing unabated. It appears likely to stay that way. A deeply detailed article in August by Reuters news service reporters described just one multimillion dollar project covering 90,000 hectares that had been intended as a showcase forest preservation project. It was near collapse, however, “a casualty of labyrinthine Indonesian bureaucracy, opaque laws and a secretive palm oil company” that wanted the deep peatland forest for development. After the expenditure of more than US$2 million in development costs, the project was cut in half by the forestry ministry, making it unviable.

The ministry, according to the article, earns $15 billion a year in land permit fees from investors. Those fees are regarded as a limitless source of corruption for forestry officials and politicians. Indonesia Corruption Watch, a private watchdog, was quoted by Reuters as saying illegal logging and violations in issuing forest use permits deliver ill-gotten gains estimated at Rp20 trillion ($2.3 billion) each year.

In the meantime, Indonesia’s neighbors are getting fed up with the haze, which occurs every year but seems worse in 2011. The Malaysian Environment Minister, Douglas Uggah Embas, last Friday sent a letter to his Indonesian counterpart, Gusti Muhammad Hatta, complaining about the hundreds of fires on Sumatra that have blanketed his country in smoke. Routinely school children are issued thousands of face masks in Johor and Negeri Sembilan provinces of Malaysia because of the smoke. Tourism in the resort city of Penang has often been badly affected by the haze.

Embas was quoted by the national news agency Bernama as saying Malaysia would push for the establishment of a regional fire-fighting squad to combat fires in ASEAN member countries. That pretty much comes down to Indonesia as the culprit.

Singapore has also expressed concern that haze from fires in Riau Province, across the Strait of Malacca, could affect the Formula 1 race and qualifying round scheduled from Sept. 23-25. There are fears that the racers, in cars which reach speeds over 300 kilometers per hour on Singapore’s streets at night, will be unable to see far enough ahead to negotiate the track.

Lion Air, now Indonesia’s biggest private airline, said it was diverting flights on the route between Jakarta and Jambi, a southern Sumatran province. Officials said it was the first time this year that the airline had been forced to divert a flight because of thick haze. Indonesia was deploying three aircraft for a month to South Sumatra and Riau to attempt to sow clouds with silver iodide crystals in an attempt to induce rain. Rain has already started in West and Central Kalimantan, on Borneo, so the rainmakers will skip those two areas.

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Malaysia: 326,000 Hectares Of Mangroves In Sabah Gazetted As Forest Reserves

Bernama 13 Sep 11;

SANDAKAN, Sept 13 (Bernama) -- About 326,000 hectares of the 340,000 hectares of mangroves in Sabah have been designated Mangrove Forest Reserves, according to Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman.

This represents 59 per cent of the nation's total. Although not very large in terms of the world's mangrove coverage, Sabah has one of the best natural mangrove ecosystems in the world, Musa said.

"Most importantly, the state is also actively promoting sustainable development, particularly in forest management, through such programmes as Sustainable Forest Management, which now covers mangrove forest reserves," he said in his speech at the General Assembly of International Society for Mangrove Ecosystems (ISME), at the Rainforest Discovery Centre, here Tuesday.

His text of speech was delivered by Minister of Youth and Sports, Datuk Peter Pang En Yin.

The ISME was established in 1990 to promote research, conservation, rational management and sustainable use of mangrove ecosystems.

Headquartered at the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, Japan, the ISME now has more than 1,000 members from 90 countries.

With funding from the federal government, the Sabah Forestry Department (SFD) has formulated a Strategic Guidelines and Framework for Sabah's Mangrove Master Plan, and devised a model for the Management of the Mangroves Forest.

In addition, SFD has rehabilitated a total of 736 hectares of Mangroves Forest Reserve, through separate funding for the restoration of coastline under the Ninth Malaysian Plan and the Sabah Development Corridor initiative.

"Our mangrove restoration efforts also include a joint collaborative effort established last year between SFD and ISME, with generous funding and support from Tokio Marine and Nichido Fire Insurance Co Ltd Japan.

"It is pledged that 50 hectares of mangrove areas will be rehabilitated annually for three years, between April 2011 and March 2014," he added.


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Report: Myanmar to proceed with controversial dam

(AP) Google News 12 Sep 11;

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar has decided to go ahead with construction of a major dam along its main river despite opposition from ethnic minorities and environmentalists, reports said Monday.

Ethnic Kachin people and environmental groups say the Myanmar-China Myitsone Hydroelectric Project in Kachin state will damage the Irrawaddy River and submerge a culturally important site where the Malikha and Maykha rivers meet and form it.

The weekly Eleven journal and other media reported that Electric Power Minister Zaw Min said construction of the dam, to be built by China, would proceed despite the objections.

They quoted Zaw Min as saying the dam will take eight years to construct and Myanmar will receive 10 percent of the electricity it generates.

The $3.6 billion dam would flood an area the size of Singapore.

Kachin and environmental groups have formed a "Save the Irrawaddy" movement to stop the dam.

Zaw Min, however, said the government "will not back down," Eleven journal reported.

In response to the minister's remarks, pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday reiterated her appeal to Myanmar and China to re-evaluate the project, calling the Irrawaddy "the most significant geographical feature of our country."

Suu Kyi said in August that about 12,000 people from 63 villages had already been relocated because of the dam. The government, however, said only 2,146 people from five villages had been relocated.

For decades, several ethnic groups have waged guerrilla wars for greater autonomy, including more control over resources in their regions. In March, fighting broke out between the 8,000-strong Kachin militia and the government.

That fighting was related to dams and other large projects being built by China, the Environmental Working Group, a coalition of 10 exile groups, said in a report in July.

Two months before the fighting erupted, the Kachin Independence Organization issued a strong protest against the Myitsone dam.

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Rio+20 must 'unenvironmentalise' green issues, says G77 negotiator

Focus should shift to economics to make notion of sustainability more widely accepted, says senior organiser for Brazil
Jonathan Watts 12 Sep 11;

Next year's Rio+20 United Nations summit must "un-environmentalise" the world's approach to sustainability so that it can reach out beyond the converted, according to a senior organiser in the host nation.

André Corrêa do Lago, the chief negotiator for Brazil, said the once-in-a-generation gathering should focus on economic opportunities so the principles of sustainability are accepted beyond the "usual suspects" of environment ministries and green NGOs.

The effort to broaden the principles of the original 1992 Rio Earth summit are likely to prove controversial. Supporters say the world needs a new, more inclusive approach to sustainability that emphasises the benefits to humanity because current efforts to protect nature are failing. Critics warn the increased emphasis on technology and markets will simply greenwash destructive levels of consumption and development.

The first Rio summit 20 years ago is seen as one of the most ambitious gatherings in the history of the United Nations. More than 100 heads of state signed up to a raft of actions, including efforts to halt the deterioration of the ozone layer, tackle climate change and reduce the loss of biodiversity. These issues have taken centre stage in international negotiations for the past two decades.

The follow-up in June 2012 will also try to set the global agenda for the next 20 years, predicted do Lago, but he said the outcome would take a different shape.

"There is fatigue of conventions. We have enough," he said. Instead, he anticipates measures on water, energy and sustainable cities, and more discussion on technology and work on how to develop a "green economy", while eradicating poverty.

The shift partly reflects a change in the global balance of power. Twenty years ago, the west – particularly the US – dominated the world economy and political agenda. Today, such older industrial powers are struggling to recover from the 2008 financial crisis while fast developing nations, like China, India and Brazil are in the ascendant.

But a gap has opened up as the former group lose influence, while the latter are reluctant to accept more responsibility.

"I think that this conference may symbolise a moment in which these large emerging economies have more clout. There is no doubt about that," said de Lago, who is also chief climate negotiator for the G77+China UN grouping of developing countries. "This is misinterpreted by some developed countiries as a moment when we must assume more obligations. China, India, South Africa and Brazil are fully conscious that we are developing countries. We are convinced that we cannot be compared to countries that have financial and technical circumstances that are more important than ours."

Disputes between developed and developing nations are partly to blame for the dire progress in UN climate negotiations, which were also started by the 1992 summit. After the acrimony of talks in Copenhagen in 2009 and the weak outcome of Cancún last year, there is a danger that another poor result in Durban this winter could undermine the entire UN negotiating process and turn the follow-up Rio summit into a crisis meeting to rebuild the multilateral framework.

The Brazilian diplomat said he remained hopeful of a climate deal this year – particularly if developing nations can find common ground with Europe – but admitted a bad outcome could contaminate next year's gathering.

"Durban will have an impact on Rio. If it goes well, people will arrive in Rio trusting the multilateral system. If it fails, people will arrive maybe with the necessity of regaining trust in the multilateral system."

Even if the hosts can stick to their desired agenda, the emphasis on technology and "ecological service payments" has already alarmed many environmental commentators, who feel core values are being diluted and losing out to pressure from big corporations.

The Brazilian said the change of focus was a sign of the times. In 1992, environmentalists, he said, were the outsiders who were very vocal because they had to make their voices heard. But now, their views were mainstream and the priority was to for them to become a majority.

"It is like an election strategy. There is now a core of 30% that is sure to vote for you. Now, we must go for the others to get over 50%," said do Lago. "We need to get the people who make the big decisions to take environmental factors into account."

A furious debate looks likely to ensue between those calling for traditional protection for nature and those looking to collaborate with companies, markets and accountants in the creation of a green economy.

One NGO that has shifted is the US group Conservation International.

"Anyone honest would have to say we are totally failing. We need to recallibrate the development model," said Peter Seligmann, the founder of Conservation International, during a visit to Beijing last week. "We had the wrong mission. We can't just protect biodiversity. We must show it is essential for humanity."

His organisation – which was always close to major institutions – is now devoting the bulk of its resources to developing a green economy.

Read more!

Himalayas in danger of becoming a giant rubbish dump

Suzanne Goldenberg The Guardian 12 Sep 11;

Nepal wants to lift itself out of poverty by expanding its tourism industry but there is no strategy for waste disposal

There's nothing like waking up to bright clear skies with spectacular views of the Lhotse and Amu Dablam ranges – and a rubbish dump.

This heap of beer cans, mineral water bottles and other material was just a few minutes' walk outside the village of Tengboche.

It represents about a season's rubbish.

The dump is not on the regular trekking trails which are, aside from the stray Fanta and instant noodle wrapper, admirably clean.

And most trekkers have no idea of their impact on the remote Everest landscape, said Alton Byers, who is leading our expedition as director of the Mountain Institute.

But the dump exposes the risks of Nepal's strategy of lifting itself out of poverty by expanding its tourism industry.

"At this altitude and in this environment, this [rubbish] will be here for 1,000 years," Byers said.

The government has declared 2011 Nepal tourism year, and has sought to double the number of visitors to 1 million.

But can remote communities handle those numbers?

Only a fraction of tourists to Nepal make it to the Everest region – about 31,000 last year.

But those numbers are already taxing local villages.

In high season, which runs from mid-September through December, it can be hard to find a room on some of the trekking routes.

It's even harder to clean up after the trekkers once they are gone.

"Thirty years ago, there was no garbage. There was no plastic," said Byers. Now, he said: "we see this in every village all the way up to Everest base camp."

Even the village of Namche Bazaar, the biggest in the region, does not have a waste treatment system. Sewage from the 45 lodges is dumped directly into a canal, which eventually feeds into the Khosi river,

according to Orenlla Puschiasis, a researcher from the University of Paris West-Nanterre, who is working on water quality in the region.

"There is nothing sustainable about it," she said. "To be sustainable they have to think about the future and manage the waste and the sewage water."

Trekking companies are supposed to carry their rubbish out with them – but most do not. Lodge operators balk at the idea of paying to cart out beer cans by yak.

And even if they do carry the rubbish down to Kathmandu, what then?

There is no developed recycling industry in Nepal – not even in Kathmandu.

Maybe it's time for some waste treatment plants right in the Everest region.

Read more!

E-waste ‘may spread worldwide’

CRC CARE Science Alert 13 Sep 11;

So dire is the electronic waste contamination problem in Asia that it can potentially spread worldwide, a leading environmental researcher told the CleanUp 2011 Conference in Adelaide today.

Professor Ming Hung Wong from Hong Kong Baptist University says that the illegal shipping of e-waste to developing countries in recent decades, coupled with inadequate handling and disposal methods, can potentially return the pollutants to developed nations.

Thousands of tonnes of toxic e-waste are entering the world’s atmosphere, oceans, fresh waters, soils and foodstuffs every year. This is now spreading round the planet, including back to the societies that originally produced them.

Using China as an example, Prof. Wong says that it used to be a popular dumping site for e-waste, with 70 per cent of the world’s e-waste sent there: “In recent years, a lot of these waste products have been rejected due to stricter rules. However, these shipments are either abandoned in Hong Kong, or now find their way to other countries, such as Pakistan or India.

“In 2009 alone, 53 million tonnes of e-waste were generated worldwide. It’s the fastest growing waste source in the world, which includes discarded products such as computers, refrigerators, phones, televisions, printers and more.”

In spite of the development of newer technology and methods to recycle e-waste, the recycling process in many developing regions is still primitive, with few or no facilities or trained professionals to ensure safe disposal of toxic products, he says.

Piles of wire with plastic casings are often burned to recover the metal, and circuit boards are slowly grilled over coal to release valuable chips.

“The slow burning of these products releases large quantities of hazardous chemicals to the surroundings, while the ashes are often contaminated with lead and other metals,” he says. “These persistent pollutants end up everywhere – the air, the ocean, or leak into soil and groundwater. This problem has been identified in China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Pakistan and India.

“It’s no longer a problem that is confined to the villages that deal with e-waste, because when water and soil is polluted, everyone is vulnerable to the food products that are exported from these regions.

“The adverse health effects of the workers and residents of the e-waste recycling sites, due to various toxic chemicals have been demonstrated by different studies. What is more important is that these chemicals are transferred to the next generation through pregnant mothers – placenta transfer – and lactating mothers through breast feeding."

Steps have been taken by some manufacturers to reduce the generation of hazardous e-waste in the first place, Prof. Wong says, but vigilance and rigorous surveillance are necessary to ensure that they all adhere to the rules and stop shipping e-waste to Asia.

“Although some hazardous chemicals, including flame-retardants and heavy metals such as mercury, chromium, cadmium, and lead have been banned from use in the manufacture of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE), these regulations were set five years ago, which means that we still have a vast amount of older electrical and electronic equipment once they’re discarded.

“The key is to ensure that e-waste is not smuggled from developed countries to poorer nations where they dispose of it with out-dated and unsafe methods. This includes validating that products labelled ‘re-usable’ are genuinely so, and not simply disguised as such when they are really intended for recycling."

Prof. Wong says the world should consider imposing a tax on all EEE to ensure that when the equipment is discarded, the cost of recycling it properly is covered.

“This is a worldwide problem where everyone should take heed, because the lifespan of EEEs is getting shorter, and the turnover rates are faster. This means we are producing more and more toxic contaminants every year – and they have to end up somewhere.”

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Switch From Coal To Natural Gas No Boon To Climate

Deborah Zabarenko PlanetArk 12 Sep 11;

Relying more on natural gas than on coal would not significantly slow down the effects of climate change, even though direct carbon dioxide emissions would be less, a new study has found.

Burning coal emits far more climate-warming carbon dioxide than natural gas does, but it also releases lots of sulfates and other particles that block incoming sunlight and help cool the Earth, according to a study to be published in the peer-reviewed journal Climate Change Letters in October.

Using more natural gas for fuel could also produce leaks of methane, a heat-trapping greenhouse gas more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, study author Tom Wigley said in a statement.

"Relying more on natural gas would reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, but it would do little to help solve the climate problem," said Wigley, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Adelaide in Australia.

"It would be many decades before it would slow down global warming at all, and even then it would just be making a difference around the edges," he said.

A global, partial shift from coal to natural gas would speed up global warming slightly through at least 2050, even with no methane leaks from natural gas operations. If there were substantial methane leaks, the acceleration of climate change would continue through as late as 2140, according to Wigley's computer simulations.


After that, the switch to more natural gas would start to slow the increase in average global temperature, but only by a few tenths of a degree, he said.

The number of rigs drilling for natural gas in the United States fell by three this week to 892, the third straight weekly decline, according to oil service firm Baker Hughes.

This includes rigs used to exploit natural gas contained in the vast Marcellus shale formation in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast through hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. Critics blame the process for polluting underground water supplies; the industry disputes this.

The Center for American Progress has characterized natural gas as a "bridge fuel" that could ease the shift to greener energy in the United States.

With less than half the carbon dioxide emissions of coal, the center said a transition to natural gas trucks and buses could cut oil use by at least 1.2 million barrels per day by 2035 if U.S. legislation were passed to encourage the shift.

Oilman T. Boone Pickens has also joined the push to fuel more vehicles with natural gas.

But Joe Romm, who blogs at, a project of the Center for American Progress, says this latest study should be sobering.

"If your goal is to avert serious catastrophic global warming, then natural gas is not a bridge fuel," Romm said.

"What this study shows ... is the way people think about natural gas is just wrong, and that from a climate perspective, you have to get off of all fossil fuels as quickly as possible."

(Editing by Christopher Wilson)

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Honduran Earthquake of 2009 Destroyed Half of Coral Reefs of Belizean Barrier Reef Lagoon

ScienceDaily 12 Sep 11;

Earth's coral reefs have not been faring well in recent decades, facing multiple threats from pollution, disease, elevated water temperatures, and overfishing. Often referred to as the "rainforests of the Sea," coral reefs support a wide variety of marine life, help protect shorelines, and contribute significantly to tourism and the fishing industry. A new study looks at a rare but catastrophic impact on reefs: the damage caused by natural disasters such as an earthquakes.

In May of 2009, a powerful, magnitude-7.3 earthquake shook the western Caribbean, causing lagoonal reefs in Belize, 213 kilometers (132 miles) from the epicenter, to avalanche and slide into deeper water. As reported in a preprint article of Ecology, a journal of the Ecological Society of America, Richard Aronson of the Florida Institute of Technology and colleagues analyzed data that suggest how the history of the reef will influence its recovery.

During the quarter-century before the earthquake struck, the reefs had gone through mass mortalities of two sequentially dominant coral species. Novel events in their own right, these mass mortalities were instantly "rendered moot" on half the reefs, which were destroyed when the earthquake hit.

Aronson and colleagues' work focused on a 375-square-kilometer (144-square-mile) area of the Belizean Barrier Reef, which they monitored from 1986 to 2009. The group revisited 21 sites in 2010 to determine the impacts of the earthquake. They found that approximately half the reef slopes had slabbed off and slid into deeper water. Only sediment and the skeletal debris of corals remained.

Beginning in 1986, a bacterial infection called white-band disease killed virtually all the then-dominant staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) in the study area. By 1995, lettuce coral (Agaricia tenuifolia) had taken over the number-one spot. But when high temperatures from the 1998 El Nino-Southern Oscillation, which were aggravated by global climate change, caused mass coral bleaching, lettuce coral disappeared. An encrusting sponge (Chondrilla caribensis) colonized its skeletal remains, along with seaweed. What's astonishing about this series of events, say the authors, is that -- as evidenced by radiocarbon-dating of reef cores -- staghorn coral had dominated the reefs for nearly 4,000 years.

"The prior losses of both staghorn and lettuce corals drastically weakened the resilience of the coral assemblages on the reef slopes," says lead author Aronson. "In other words, if neither white-band disease nor bleaching had occurred, staghorn coral might have continued its millennial-scale dominance of the areas not destroyed by the quake."

The authors project that recovery to a coral-dominated state is unlikely in the near future, because corals in the undamaged areas had been killed previously. The situation is unlikely to change unless the way we manage reef resources improves dramatically.

Marine protected areas are meant to sustain an area's ecological, cultural, and economic benefits for future generations. Yet creating and managing these areas is easier said than done. Aronson and colleagues contend that extreme events, such as earthquakes, lava flows, and tsunamis, should be taken into account when determining the size of and managing such protected areas.

"The rhetoric of conservation often includes the appeal of preserving ecosystems so that our children's children can enjoy Nature's bounty," says Aronson. "That translates to about 200 years, but ecosystems last far longer than three generations of their human stewards. We challenge marine conservationists to plan on a millennial scale. Rare, catastrophic events are the backdrop to human actions. Those rare events should be factored into determining the sizes of marine reserves and their levels of protection, whatever else might be expected to happen along the way. After all, a once-in-a-thousand-year disaster could still occur next week."

Journal Reference:

Richard B. Aronson, William Precht, Ian G. Macintyre, Lauren Toth. Catastrophe and the Lifespan of Coral Reefs. Ecology, 2011; : 110912084141001 DOI: 10.1890/11-1037.1

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