Best of our wild blogs: 23 Sep 11

WWF Movie Preview: Dolphin Tale
from Green Drinks Singapore

Green Corridor via Sunset Way
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Eco warriors Unfazed by Gloomy Weather at Pandan Mangrove!
from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore and Reflections on a Saturday Morning

Animal picture of the day: world's tiniest rhino for World Rhino Day
from news by Jeremy Hance

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Our CBD is losing its green edge

As parks disappear, Singapore's downtown loses part of what makes it so attractive
Richard Hartung Today Online 23 Sep 11;

"Great cities are defined as much by their parks and open spaces as they are by their architecture," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said when plans for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation were announced in 2003. The city spent more than US$100 million (S$129 million) on 20 parks in that downtown area.

In Seoul, the government spent about US$280 million on the Cheonggyecheon Restoration Project and created a new park in the middle of the city.

In contrast, patches of green here in Singapore seem to keep disappearing. One of the latest is Robinson Green, in the heart of the Central Business District.

At the end of June, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) announced that it had launched the commercial site at Robinson Road/Cecil Street for sale. A sign invites companies to submit a bid to the URA so they can turn the park into an office building.

While Robinson Green is tiny, it's an oasis of trees and flowers that brings a brief respite to workers pausing for a break or rushing past. And despite plans for small "pocket parks" in the urban centre, Robinson Green's demise seems emblematic of a continuing loss of greenery in the CBD.

Singapore used to seem more focused on greenery. Indeed, the National Parks Board states that "Singapore's development into a Garden City started four decades ago with the establishment of the greening programme. The driving force behind this was the former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew who identified a green Singapore as a key competitive factor in attracting foreign investments to the country".

New plans, however, have brought change. The end of Robinson Green is part of Master Plan 2008, which the URA says will guide Singapore's development "over the next 10 to 15 years".

The Master Plan is in turn part of the Concept Plan, a "strategic land use and transportation plan to guide development in the next 40 to 50 years".

When the URA released the Master Plan in 2008, few other than developers may have looked seriously at what would change in the coming decade. The Plan shows that Robinson Green, along with nearby Telok Ayer Park, are among the "interim green" areas slated for redevelopment. The lawns above Tanjong Pagar MRT station, in contrast, are "park/open space" areas. Even some of that greenery seems to be disappearing, though, following the sale of land at Peck Seah Street earlier this year.

It is easy to sell off green spots and build buildings. It's far harder to retain the greenery that differentiates Singapore's downtown from the many drab valleys of skyscrapers elsewhere in Asia.

By eliminating these pocket parks, Singapore seems out of sync with trends in other cities and risks losing the greenery that makes it so attractive. The Sustainable Cities database says that Copenhagen and Chicago, for example, are among a number of cities actually acquiring more land to create small parks.

An increasing body of research also shows the importance of urban parks. Georgia Institute of Technology professor Joe Hughes, for example, found that "parks play a role in market restoration, value creation, job creation, green space development and neighbourhood stabilisation". Other research shows that urban parks are part of what attracts everyone from Fortune 500 companies to knowledge workers.

Admittedly, it can be hard to prove the value of these green spots. As former mayor of Bogota Colombia Enrique PeƱalosa said, "we cannot prove mathematically that wider sidewalks, pedestrian streets, more or better parks make people happier, much less measure how much happier. However if we reflect, most things that are important in life cannot be measured either: Friendship, beauty, love, loyalty are examples. Parks and other pedestrian places are essential to a city's happiness".

Studies by Rotman Research Institute researcher Marc Berman do, however, help demonstrate that parks benefit people. The Wall Street Journal reports that Mr Berman found "performance on memory and attention tests improved by 20 per cent after study subjects paused for a walk through an arboretum" whereas "no cognitive boost was detected" when they strolled down a busy street. Even "a quieter city street with interesting natural elements to look at" can help, Mr Berman found. A stop in a place like Robinson Green might actually improve performance.

Rather than losing the tiny parks and open spaces in the CBD that help make Singapore green and bring so many benefits, perhaps it's time to re-examine the headlong rush into building and consider how to preserve or expand what makes Singapore so attractive.

Richard Hartung is a consultant who has lived in Singapore since 1992.

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Yao Ming urges Chinese to give up shark fin soup

(AFP) Google News 22 Sep 11;

SHANGHAI — Basketball star Yao Ming and British entrepreneur Richard Branson on Thursday launched a campaign urging Chinese to stop eating shark fin soup to help save the predators.

Shark fins are used in a thick soup that is viewed as a delicacy by Chinese people and served at luxury restaurants in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The method of shark-finning -- slicing off the fins of live animals and then throwing them back in the water to die -- is condemned by animal rights campaigners and blamed by scientists for a worldwide collapse in populations.

The campaign, launched in Shanghai, includes advertisements featuring the two celebrities and a website for people to make an online pledge to stop eating the soup, said the organiser, international conservation group WildAid.

Yao, who retired from the sport in July but remains one of China's biggest sporting names, made a pledge to stop eating shark fin soup five years ago and has since served as an ambassador for WildAid, the group said in a statement.

Branson is backing the campaign through his non-profit foundation Virgin Unite.

"I simply cannot imagine a world without sharks -- we must not let this happen," he said in the statement.

WildAid, which seeks to halt the trade in wildlife, estimates up to 73 million sharks are harvested annually, mainly for shark fin soup.

"The ongoing and increasing demand for shark fin is holding many species on the brink of extinction, further threatening marine ecosystems the world over," it said.

Earlier this year, a member of China's parliament proposed a ban on the trade in shark fins.

Ding Liguo, a businessman delegate to the National People's Congress, said China should lead the world in banning the trade since 95 percent of shark fin is consumed in mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

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Philippines eats, sells biodiversity riches

Cecil Morella (AFP) Google News 23 Sep 11

MANILA — A Philippine brown deer hobbles on three legs in a tiny mud pit of a pen at a government-run wildlife rescue centre, a grim symbol of the country's rapidly vanishing flora and fauna.

The deer was a victim of a snare set by villagers hunting it for food that claimed its front right foot six years ago, forcing the old male to live out the rest of its days a long way from home at the animal shelter in Manila.

The deer is just one of hundreds of local species that are being hunted close to extinction mainly by the rural poor who want them for food or to sell to dealers as part of an increasingly lucrative global pet trade.

"It is in our culture to catch, kill, and or cook anything that moves," said Mike Lu, treasurer of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, who has observed a dramatic decline in bird species over many years.

Massive habitat loss compounds the problem, according to Theresa Mundita Lim, head of the government's protected areas and wildlife bureau.

"One-fifth of our major fauna species will disappear within 20 years' time if we don't do something," Lim said.

With more than 53,000 species, environment group Conservation International lists the tropical Southeast Asian nation among 17 "megadiverse" countries that harbour two-thirds of Earth's species.

But it also says the Philippines is one of the world's most threatened hotspots, with just seven percent of its original forests left and one of the world's fastest-growing populations that needs ever-greater amounts of land.

But, with roughly a third of the 95 million Filipinos living on a dollar a day or less, the immediate value of the country's biodiversity is one of its greatest threats, according to Lim.

As an example, Lim said the poor rural villagers had nearly wiped out the country's indigenous orchid species by collecting and selling them.

"It is the main livelihood for some communities," she said.

The Philippines' biodiversity riches makes it a major force in the global illegal wildlife trade, which is worth up to $20 billion annually, according to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Wildlife Enforcement Network.

The network says wildlife is the world's third-largest black market trade, surpassed only by arms and drugs.

Among the higher-profile animal species to have all but vanished in recent years due to hunting are the brown deer and the national bird, a monkey-eating eagle.

And only about 200 tamaraw, a wild buffalo, remain at a protected mountain range.

Some of the prices are astounding.

Several species of geckos, colourful nocturnal lizards, are collected for the alternative medicine trade, with those believed to cure AIDS selling for up to $1,200 dollars, while some of the rarest Philippine birds of prey are rumoured to fetch upwards of 20,000 dollars, according to Lim.

She said trappers -- typically poor farmers -- got as little as 500 pesos ($12) for a coveted Philippine parrot, but middlemen then sold the critically endangered bird for five times that.

President Benigno Aquino's government, which came to power last year, has stepped up efforts to combat the rampant wildlife trade.

High-profile police raids of pet-shop and trophy suppliers this year have uncovered a wide range of rare or critically endangered species, including sea turtles, snakes and corals.

Protected wildlife used to be openly hawked at big pet markets such as Arranque in Manila's Chinatown and Cartimar near the financial district.

A recent AFP visit to Arranque found no prohibited species, and market administrator Rene Sese said the shopkeepers now observed a wildlife ban.

"Before that was a practice here. Now they only sell those bred in captivity," Sese told AFP.

But the government acknowledges that, despite the higher-profile markets appearing to be better behaved, the illicit trade in protected species continues to flourish under the table.

"Traders are aware that they can be monitored so what they do is offer it for sale clandestinely... you can get it if you want. You can order," Lim said, adding the Internet also fuelled the trade.

Ashley Fruno, senior Asia campaigner for the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, also said penalties remained far too light to dissuade people from participating in the lucrative trade.

A wildlife protection law was passed in the Philippines in 2001, but fewer than 20 people have been convicted and judges often fine them instead of sending them to jail, said Josefina de Leon, wildlife section head of the environment ministry.

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Fears for koalas as study reveals 'marked decline'

(AFP) Google News 22 Sep 11;

SYDNEY — Australia's much-loved koala is under increasing threat and should be considered a vulnerable species, an official report found Thursday, with habitat loss seeing their numbers plunge.

The furry native marsupial has experienced a "marked decline" as the species faced down threats on a range of fronts including dog attacks and car accidents, according to a government inquiry into koala protection.

Thought to number in excess of 10 million before British settlers arrived in 1788, there are now believed to be as few as 43,515 left in the wild, though their existence high in the treetops makes them difficult to count

Drought, land-clearing, urban development, wildfires and disease were among other serious dangers to the tree-dwellers.

"The koala is an instantly recognisable symbol of Australia as well as being an integral part of Australian cultural heritage," the inquiry said.

Habitat loss was the single greatest threat facing the koala population, leaving them more susceptible to diseases including chlamydia and the koala retrovirus, and fragmenting breeding populations.

Groups in Australia's north were more endangered than those in the south, where they were so abundant in some areas food was running scarce, and the dangers varied from region to region, meaning there were "no easy solutions".

The report urged the government to consider the koala for classing as a vulnerable species, warning that urgent action was required to keep it from drifting "ever closer to the threatened species list."

"The committee is deeply concerned about the sustainability of Australia's koala population," it said.

Mapping and monitoring populations across Australia and genetic research were also among the inquiry's 19 recommendations, which called for the establishment of protected habitat areas, especially on government land.

Disease studies were also vital, including possible vaccination against chlamydia and retrovirus and the impact of changing leaf chemistry.

Wild dog management in priority areas was key, as was lowering speed limits, fencing off danger zones and, if required, building overpasses or underpasses to protect the native creatures, the report said.

Female koalas typically live for 15 years, males for 12, subsisting on a diet of native eucalyptus leaves.

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Welcome baby seven billion: we've room on earth for you

The modern Malthusians' lament at overpopulation is a mask for misanthropy. It's sustainable if the rich world consumes less
Lynsey Hanley 22 Sep 11;

On one day – one minute – in the next month, the world's 7 billionth human resident will be born. The United Nations is marking the occasion on the last day of October with what it describes it as an "opportunity" to promote "7 billion actions" for environmental sustainability and women's education, estimating that the world's population will top out at 9 or 10 billion mid-century before declining as economic development matures in countries with higher birth rates.

They appear to be right. Worldwide, fertility rates in countries such as Mexico and Bangladesh have fallen vastly in a single generation – thanks, in large part, to what the economist Amartya Sen terms "development as freedom". Yet Thomas Malthus, who at the turn of the 19th century predicted that population growth would inevitably lead to famine, still has his fans among those inclined to believe that humans mean little but bad news.

In Britain Population Matters, the Green party and the naturalist David Attenborough are united in agreeing that the UK population is too big and needs to be "encouraged" to bring about the conditions for its managed decline. Rather than place their focus on the waste and overconsumption endemic to rich nations such as ours, their solution to environmental pressure is to make sure there are fewer of us around in the future to mess things up.

The Greens have had a discrete population policy for more than 20 years and encourage the promotion of "informed debate on a sustainable population for the UK", coyly refraining from suggesting its own preferred figure. That's not to say the party's leaders haven't in the past: two years ago its former leader, Jonathon Porritt, described our over-fecundity as "the ghost at the table".

For its part, Population Matters reveals the moral crusade beneath its rational concern in a summary of its UK policy. First, it advocates reducing the rate of immigration so that it matches the rate of emigration – leaving us with a reduced population of ageing people. Second, it plans to "reduce the number of teenage pregnancies": an interesting target for attention, considering the age of the average first-time mother is now very close to 30. Third, it proposes that families "stop at two" children, which is what the overwhelming majority of households do already.

At 62.3 million, Britain's population in 2010 was about 10 million short of mid-1960s estimates for the year 2000. Back in 1965, the Central Statistical Office projected that 1,527,000 live births would take place in the first year of the new millennium, based entirely on trends at the time. The actual figure, when that year came around, was 604,441, suggesting that greater equality and opportunities for women had led them to "stop at two" without having to be told to.

Around the world, policies to promote family planning only work when people of child-bearing age are able to factor in the prospect of stability and choice in other areas of their lives. We have found ways of making it possible to sustain ourselves at a time when the world population has increased exponentially. What prevents the world being fed equitably and healthily is the fact that rich-world governments can't bear the thought of doing two unpopular things.

First, they won't encourage individuals to reduce their own consumption; and second, they won't facilitate moving that consumption away from petrol, meat, imported fruit and other adoptive "necessities" of the world middle class. Stuffed and Starved, the incisive 2008 book by Raj Patel, shows the symbiosis between obesity in rich nations and undernourishment in poor ones, caused by the hogging of food markets by those best placed to profit from them.

Even Population Matters admits that "managing population decline is like trying to hit a moving target". The question is, then, why even try? Nevertheless, let's assume that the world's population could be engineered to decline significantly from seven billion. For there to be any significant impact on the environment, that decline would have to take place in countries that already consume a far more than sustainable share of the world's resources.

Looked at from any angle, advocates of population control put across subjective moral arguments that masquerade as practical concerns. We now have the grotesque spectacle of the government of Australia, a continent-sized country with a minuscule population, simultaneously inviting people from other rich countries to live and work there while producing YouTube videos intended to deter people from poor countries from trying to enter.

To paint humans in their struggle for healthier, more prosperous, lives as somehow grabbing and greedy is as miserly and unimaginative as it gets. So let's see this apparent rationalism about population for what it is: fear and misanthropy wearing a mask of concern.

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Carbon capture progress has lost momentum, says climate change agency

Meeting of senior ministers in Beijing hears that CCS is being left behind due to financial crisis and weakening political will
Jonathan Watts 22 Sep 11;

The financial crisis and fading government support for climate action have seriously eroded global plans to capture and store carbon, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned on Thursday.

Sequestration – the depositing of greenhouse gases underground rather than into the atmosphere – was supposed to account for a fifth of the world's emissions reductions under the agency's roadmap for keeping global temperature rise within 2C (4F) by the end of the century.

But delegates including the US energy secretary, Steven Chu, heard at a meeting, held in Beijing, that the global temperature is on course to rise by 3.5C, due to poor progress both on carbon capture and storage, and on acceptance of a carbon price and other carbon-cutting efforts.

IEA deputy executive director, Richard Jones, told the meeting, hosted by the Washington-based Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum, that this would wreak havoc on human wellbeing. He added that time was running out to avoid this scenario because of slow progress on carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).

"Every year that passes makes it more difficult," Jones said. "With current policies, CCS will have a hard time [being] deployed ... There is less of a global push for climate action, and tighter government finances."

According to the IEA, global energy demand has more than doubled in the past 40 years and even with the most favourable assumptions will grow another 35% by 2035, which will take carbon dioxide emissions above 35 gigatonnes per year.

Projects to capture and bury a major chunk of that are behind schedule and finding it harder to secure funds.

To reach the 2C goal, the IEA estimates there will have to be 1,500 large-scale CCS projects around the world by 2035. However, only 74 have been announced, and the trend is in the wrong direction.

"We're seeing a decline in new projects due to a softening global economy and an uncertain carbon price," said Brad Page, head of the Australia-based Global CCS Institute.

Outside Europe, few countries have set a price for carbon. Australia's government is now trying to do just that, and is expected to set a level of about $23 per tonne of carbon.

This alone will not be enough. US energy secretary Steven Chu told the meeting the price of carbon would have to be $80 a tonne for CCS to be economically viable with current technology.

But, he continued, the US has yet to even set a price, which makes it difficult for companies to invest and financial institutions to make loans to CCS projects.

"The US needs a price on carbon sooner rather than later," said Chu. "This is something where we are losing time. It is very important that we get moving."

The US has 24 CCS projects – more than any other country – but they are mostly for enhanced oil extraction, which is more economical but has a relatively limited capacity for carbon sequestration.

Delegates said other forms of CCS need more state aid to get going but cash-strapped governments are backing away from financial commitments. Industry representatives said the sector was plagued by delays, doubts and weak policy support.

China has soared through the global economic crisis with double-digit economic growth but it is cautious about taking the lead with expensive CCS technology. Adoption by the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitter is crucial as China is expected to account for a third of the global growth in emissions over the next 25 years. According to the International Energy Agency's plan to keep carbon dioxide in the atmosphere under 445 parts per million, China should have 270 major CCS projects by 2035. So far it has six at the planning stage. Xie Zhenhua, vice-chairman of the powerful National Development and Reform Commission, said carbon capture and storage was a "last resort" for China.

With little political and financial capital behind CCS, however, its prospects are diminishing. Delegates said commodities firms – who are profiting from the rise in energy prices – should step in.

"Time has been lost as a result of the financial crisis. No one can deny that," said Martin Ferguson, who called on mining companies to make a greater financial contribution to the development of CCS technology. "Coal companies must look at themselves as beneficiaries of the rise in the price of coal."

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