Best of our wild blogs: 21 Oct 11

Lena Chow: A new breed of nature videographer
from Bird Ecology Study Group

MMS @ Pulau Semakau!
from Extraordinary Miracles

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Bukit Brown: Heritage group 'not consulted'

Society says it linked LTA, URA to experts only after being told of decision to build road there
Royston Sim Straits Times 21 Oct 11;

THE Singapore Heritage Society made clear yesterday that it was informed - but not consulted - about a decision by the authorities to build a 2km road in Bukit Brown.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) last month revealed plans for a dual four-lane road in the area. About 5 per cent of the more than 100,000 graves in Bukit Brown Cemetery will have to be exhumed.

In a statement, the society clarified that its only collaboration with the LTA and Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) was to connect the agencies with experts on Chinese cemetery documentation - after it was informed about the road.

The LTA and URA had previously said they would work with the society and relevant stakeholders to identify and document key heritage elements of the cemetery.

'There hasn't been an opportunity for any kind of consultation process,' said Assistant Professor Chua Ai Lin, an executive member of the society.

She noted, however, that the society will meet the URA next Monday.

In a joint statement yesterday, the URA and LTA said the cemetery was zoned for residential use under Concept Plan 1991 and it had been public knowledge since that the long-term plan was to use the area to meet housing needs. The statement added that to support that plan, basic infrastructure such as roads will need to be built. The new road, which will help relieve jams in Lornie Road, will also serve future housing developments in the area.

Noting that the authorities are aware of the site's rich heritage, the statement said they started 'engaging stakeholders such as the Singapore Heritage Society, the Hokkien Huay Kuan and scholars' this year to find ways to capture the history and memories of the cemetery.

Construction of the road will begin in 2013.

The society has asked the authorities to slow down the pace of redevelopment so that more stakeholders can be consulted. One such party, it noted, is the Singapore Polo Club, which uses Bukit Brown to exercise its horses. The society noted that completing basic data recording will be a challenge, given the large number of graves and the 'impossibly short time frame'.

The LTA has set next March as the deadline for affected graves to be registered, with exhumation taking place in the fourth quarter of next year.

The society added that more time is also needed for historical research.

In a letter to The Straits Times on Wednesday, Ms Chew I-Jin called for the preservation of Bukit Brown graves.

'The erasure of these grounds will deal a substantial blow to the cultural history of Singapore,' wrote Ms Chew, a descendant of Singaporean pioneer and businessman Chew Boon Lay.

Prof Chua said much new information about Bukit Brown has been discovered since LTA's announcement. Graves of important pioneers have been found, people whom Singaporeans may not be aware of.

'So much information can be gleaned,' she said. 'If the graves have to be exhumed, at least give us more time to experience (the area) before it goes.'

The society is co-organising a public forum on Bukit Brown with National University of Singapore Professor Irving Chan Johnson on Nov 19. It is also seeking expert views on how to balance conservation and development of the area.

Were local groups even consulted about Bukit Brown plan?
Letter from Danny G Tan Today Online 2 Nov 11;

The report "Affected Bukit Brown graves to be documented" (Oct 25) said the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Land Transport Authority will work with local groups to document the graves affected by the new road that will cut through Bukit Brown Cemetery.

The two agencies said the work and discussions "have been going on for a few months".

This contradicts what the Singapore Heritage Society said a few days earlier, that it was informed about the road but not consulted during the decision-making process.

Around the same time, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke in Parliament about citizens having "a say, a stake, and a sense of belonging" in Singapore.

But with the Bukit Brown road, it seems the agencies had made up their minds; involving the local groups was almost an afterthought.

This putting of the horse before the cart was probably not what Mr Lee had envisioned in the heartening speech he made.

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Shell refinery fire likely to have minimal impact on economy

Imelda Saad Channel NewsAsia 20 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE: Second Minister for Trade and Industry S Iswaran said the fire at Shell's Pulau Bukom refinery is likely to have minimal impact on the overall economy.

It took fire fighters 32 hours to put out the blaze which engulfed the oil refinery on September 28.

In response to questions by opposition MP Sylvia Lim in Parliament on Thursday, Mr Iswaran said even though there is a loss of petroleum output in the short term, the impact on downstream chemicals plants is small as there are alternative sources of feedstock.

While the Shell refinery accounts for a significant portion of the chemicals cluster, the cluster as a whole accounts for less than three per cent of Singapore's GDP.

Shell's efforts at restarting the refinery remains on track and Mr Iswaran said investor confidence in Singapore remains strong.

He added that the incident does not affect the country's electricity supply because the primary fuel for generation of electricity here is natural gas.

Mr Iswaran said: "While fuel oil is used for some power generation, our generation companies do not have any existing supply contracts with Shell for fuel oil.

"The generation companies also maintain a stockpile of fuel oil and diesel, in line with the Energy Market Authority's licence requirements. These are not stored on Pulau Bukom and hence the fuel reserve for electricity generation was unaffected by the fire.

"The Pulau Bukom fire has not had any impact on fuel oil prices, which continue to be driven by global demand and supply trends. Based on currently available data, we do not expect the Pulau Bukom fire incident to have an impact on electricity and gas tariffs.

Separately, Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean assured Ms Lim that emergency responses were adhered to.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force conducts annual audits on the company's emergency preparedness plan as well as participates in joint exercises with the team.

Mr Teo said both sides responded to the incident expeditiously and in a well-coordinated manner.

He added: "What the Ministry of Home Affairs will be doing is conducting an inquiry into the events - the events that led up to it, whether the safety arrangements were properly followed, and the response both of Shell and SCDF, and whether those responses were properly followed."

"We'll also look at whether the design of the safety regulations and requirements are appropriate. When we have completed that inquiry, then we'll be in a better position to say what we need to do for the future."

- CNA/fa/al

Pulau Bukom blaze to have 'no impact on economy, gas tariffs, electricity supply'
Tanya Fong Today Online 21 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE - Last month's fire at Shell's Pulau Bukom refinery had a minimal impact on the overall economy and would not affect Singapore's electricity supply and fuel prices, Second Minister for Trade and Industry S Iswaran said yesterday.

Responding to Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) who had asked for an interim assessment on the impact of the Shell oil refinery fire and facilities shut down, Mr Iswaran said "the impact on downstream chemicals plants is small as there are alternative sources of feedstock" though there was a loss of petroleum output in the short term.

He added that while the refinery accounts for a "significant portion of the chemicals cluster", the cluster as a whole accounts for less than 3 per cent of Singapore's Gross Domestic Product.

As for local electricity supply, he said that Singapore's primary fuel for generation of electricity is natural gas and while fuel oil is used for some power generation, the generation companies here do not have any existing supply contracts with Shell for fuel oil. Instead, these power companies maintain their own reserve stockpiles of fuel oil and diesel which are not stored on Pulau Bukom.

Fuel prices, Mr Iswaran said, continue to be driven by global demand and supply trends.

He said that based on currently available data, the Government does not expect the Pulau Bukom fire to have an impact on electricity and gas tariffs.

Fire fighters took 32 hours to put out the blaze which engulfed the oil refinery on Sept 28.

To Ms Lim's question on the emergency preparedness of the Shell staff and responses from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean detailed the mandatory safety and emergency response requirements for all oil companies in Singapore, as well as how the fire was handled by the SCDF, police and Ministry of Health.

"Our preliminary assessment indicates that both Shell Bukom and SCDF responded expeditiously and in an organised and well-coordinated manner," said Mr Teo, who is also Home Affairs Minister.

"This was largely due to the close relationship established between Shell and SCDF through their regular joint exercises."

He added that Shell responded according to "established protocols", while the SCDF "deployed resources quickly and appropriately".

Shell Bukom fire had 'minimal impact'
Plant shutdown did not affect electricity supply or fuel oil prices, says Iswaran
Cai Haoxiang Straits Times 21 Oct 11;

THE recent shutdown of the Shell offshore refinery here, caused by a blaze, has had 'minimal impact' on Singapore's economy, said Second Minister for Trade and Industry S. Iswaran yesterday.

It did not affect electricity supply or fuel oil prices. Neither did it damage investor confidence.

The impact of the supply disruption on petrochemical factories was also 'small' as they have alternative supplies of petroleum, he added.

Mr Iswaran was replying to Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) on the impact of a 32-hour fire at the Pulau Bukom refinery.

It started on Sept 28 and led to a progressive shutdown of the refinery.

He explained that electricity and gas tariffs were not affected because these were determined by the prices of fuel oil.

And fuel oil prices are driven by global supply and demand trends.

Electricity supply too will not be affected because the primary fuel to generate it is natural gas.

While some power is generated using fuel oil, Shell does not have contracts with Singapore's power generation companies to supply fuel oil, Mr Iswaran said.

These companies also did not store their stockpiles of fuel oil and diesel on Pulau Bukom.

The Pulau Bukom refinery processes 500,000 barrels a day.

Ninety per cent of the products are exported to the Asia-Pacific region and beyond, and Shell has declared that it cannot be held liable on some supply contracts due to the fire.

Asked by Ms Lim to put an economic value on the cost of the fire and resulting refinery shutdown - which some economists have estimated at more than $100 million - Mr Iswaran said he was 'reluctant' to do so as any estimates will be inaccurate until it can be determined how quickly and smoothly Shell restores its operations.

Shell's effort to restart the refinery 'remains on track', he said, adding that a unit which accounts for 20 per cent of refining capacity has been up and running since Oct 10.

He also said that while the refinery forms a significant portion of the chemicals cluster, any disruption to the cluster will have little impact on gross domestic product (GDP).

This is because the cluster accounts for less than 3 per cent of GDP, which was $300 billion last year.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Teo Chee Hean also responded to Ms Lim, relating how prepared Shell and the Government were in tackling the fire.

Shell and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) reacted swiftly in an organised and well-coordinated manner, he said.

This was possible because of their close relationship, developed from joint emergency response exercises they hold.

Mr Teo also noted that Shell's in-house response team is audited annually by the SCDF, and they carry out joint exercises to test the emergency response plans at least once a year.

This year, the SCDF conducted audits and major deployment exercises with Shell in February and last month.

Mr Teo also said the SCDF worked closely with public agencies during the blaze.

These include the National Environment Agency on environmental pollution control issues; the Ministry of Defence on fast craft and helicopter support; the police on evacuation; and the Transport and Health ministries on the impact on shipping traffic and medical response-related matters.

Shell refinery fire: 'minimal impact' on economy
Lee U-Wen Business Times 21 Oct 11;

THE Singapore economy is likely to experience 'minimal impact' as a result of the shutdown of Shell's oil refinery on Pulau Bukom, the government said yesterday in its interim assessment of the Sept 28 fire on the southern island.

The incident is also unlikely to affect the country's chemical cluster in the long term, with investor confidence in Singapore still strong and new investment projects in the pipeline, said Second Trade and Industry and Home Affairs Minister S Iswaran.

He was speaking in Parliament in response to a query by opposition Member of Parliament Sylvia Lim (Aljunied), who wanted to know what impact the shutdown of the plant would have on Singapore's energy supply and prices in particular.

'Fuel oil prices are used to set our electricity and town gas tariffs,' Mr Iswaran told the House. 'The Pulau Bukom fire has not had any impact on fuel oil prices, which continue to be driven by global demand and supply trends. Based on currently available data, we do not expect the incident to have an impact on electricity and gas tariffs.'

Singapore's primary fuel to generate electricity is natural gas. While fuel oil is used for some power generation, the existing generation companies do not have any existing supply contracts with Shell for fuel oil, said Mr Iswaran.

'The generation companies also maintain a stockpile of fuel oil and diesel, in line with the Energy Market Authority's licence requirements,' he said. 'These are not stored on Pulau Bukom and hence the fuel reserve for electricity generation was unaffected by the fire.'

As for the economy, he noted that while there was a loss of petroleum output in the short term, the impact on downstream chemical plants is small as there are alternative sources of feedstock.

He explained that while the refinery accounts for a significant portion of the chemicals cluster, the cluster as a whole makes up less than 3 per cent of Singapore's total GDP.

Mr Iswaran said Shell's efforts to restart its refinery remain on track, it having already partially restarted its largest crude distillation unit - which accounts for 20 per cent of its total refining capacity - on Oct 10.

Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean also weighed in on the issue, assuring Ms Lim that all the necessary emergency responses by Shell and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) were properly adhered to.

Mr Teo said both sides responded expeditiously and in a well coordinated manner. The Home Affairs Ministry, meanwhile, is conducting its own inquiry to look at areas such as whether safety arrangements were followed and if the design of safety regulations and requirements was appropriate.

Pulau Bukom is Shell's largest refinery in the world, processing 500,000 barrels a day. Ninety per cent of the products are exported to the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.

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Second Greenpeace campaigner deported from Indonesia

Reuters 20 Oct 11;

(Reuters) - Indonesia has been accused of attacking Greenpeace after the environmental group said on Thursday a second campaigner had been deported by immigration officials in less than a week amid a row over deforestation.

Last week, Greenpeace accused Indonesia of trying to undermine its work in halting deforestation after one of its directors was stopped from entering the country.

Andy Tait, a forests campaigner for Greenpeace, was detained by immigration authorities on Wednesday, the group said in a statement.

Tait's work focused on attempts to reform the work practices of Indonesian paper giant Asia Pulp and Paper, which it has accused of destroying rainforests.

"Greenpeace is coming under attack in Indonesia because of our work to stop deforestation in the country," said Nur Hidayati, head of Greenpeace's Indonesia office, describing the latest incidents as part of a smear campaign.

"Blocking Greenpeace campaigners from Indonesia won't stop our work to end deforestation in the country."

Indonesia's Immigration Office said Tait was deported for "purely immigration purposes".

"We suspect he was doing some journalistic activities, while the permit given to him was not for that purpose," Maryoto Sumadi, the spokesman for the Immigration office, told Reuters.

He said Tait was deported late on Wednesday.

Greenpeace said last week there had been accusations about the legal status of its Indonesia operation and the source of its funding over the past few weeks, as well as small demonstrations outside its Jakarta office.

Indonesia is seen as a key player in the fight against climate change and is under intense international pressure to curb its rapid deforestation rate and destruction of carbon-rich peatlands.

A year ago, Greenpeace accused palm oil giant Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology (SMART) of clearing peat land and forests that sheltered endangered species.

The palm oil producer said in February it would work with the government and a non-profit body to improve its forest conservation policies.

A moratorium on new permits to clear forests in Indonesia, the world's top palm oil producer, came into force in May for an initial two years.

In June this year, Greenpeace criticised toy manufacturers it accused of using packaging produced by Asia Pulp and Paper.

(Reporting by Michael Taylor and Olivia Rondonuwu; Editing by Paul Tait)

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Outraged conservationists demand US wildlife laws

Andrew Gully AFP Yahoo News 20 Oct 11;

Conservationists demanded action over non-existent US wildlife ownership laws after the slaughter of 49 animals, including 18 rare Bengal tigers, set free from a private Ohio farm.

"Quite frankly, nobody should have these animals in the first place so we need to take steps to change laws to make that a reality," Adam Roberts, executive vice president of Born Free USA, told AFP. "These animals belong in accredited facilities with people who can handle them appropriately."

Bears, lions, tigers, wolves and monkeys ran amok when owner Terry Thompson, 62, flung open the enclosures at his Muskingum County Animal Farm near the town of Zanesville on Tuesday evening and then shot himself.

Police officers following shoot-to-kill orders, some of them armed only with handguns, had no choice but to exterminate the animals to protect the local populace, and in some cases themselves, as darkness fell.

By the end of Wednesday, by which time experts with tranquilizer guns had been deployed on the 73-acre (29-hectare) property, 49 animals were dead. Only six were saved. One animal, a monkey, was still thought to be on the loose, if it hadn't been eaten by a lion.

Conservationists have for years demanded strict wildlife ownership laws in the United States, especially in Alabama, Idaho, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wisconsin, where rules are utterly non-existent.

"All eight states that don't have regulations should immediately have an executive order by the governor banning the keeping or sale of these animals," Roberts told AFP. "Stop people acquiring these animals full stop.

"I always ask myself what is it going to take. Is it going to take a woman getting mauled nearly to death by a chimpanzee as happened in Connecticut? Well no, people around the country can still have primates.

"Is this going to open up the eyes of the people in Ohio, which is one of the worst states in the country on the exotic pets issues? I sure hope it does, because this could have been worse, people could have been killed."

His call found one advocate in Congress in Democratic Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, also a leading animal rights advocate.

"I am hopeful that in light of this most recent tragedy, Governor (John) Kasich will heed the calls of the Humane Society of the United States and the public and quickly enact appropriate restrictions on the ownership of exotic animals," he said in a written statement.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) called on states to introduce a blanket ban on the private ownership of exotic animals.

"A ban is really the answer to this," Delcianna Winders, PETA's director of captive animal law enforcement, told AFP. "Private citizens just aren't capable of giving these animals what they need."

For the World Wildlife Fund, the loss of 18 Bengal tigers was particularly devastating as the number of tigers in the wild has declined rapidly, from around 100,000 at the beginning of the last century to as few as 3,200 today.

Leigh Henry, a leading WWF expert on captive tigers, told AFP there are thought to be an astonishing 5,000 tigers held in the United States, the vast majority of them, some 95 percent, in private hands.

"I would say the current patchwork of laws in the United States regulating these captive tigers is inexcusable," she said. "In Ohio and seven other states you can just go and buy a tiger with no requirement for any kind of license or permit."

A tiny number of pure-bred tigers are protected at federal level by the Endangered Species Act and a larger number, those used for commercial purposes such as circuses or road-side zoos, are regulated by the Department of Agriculture.

But the vast majority of tigers are either unregulated or regulated at the state level. WWF's principal concern is that their body parts could end up being traded on the traditional medicine market.

Rising wealth in Asia has seen demand soar and the international trade in wildlife products is now an estimated $6 billion-a-year business.

"Wild products are preferred because they are always seen as more pure and potent," explained Henry. "They always carry a premium on price. As long as that market is there, the threat to wild tigers will increase."

Exotic Pets Are Dangerous to Health
Rachael Rettner Yahoo News 22 Oct 11;

The ownership of exotic pets poses a danger to human health, advocates say, and the recent incident in Zanesville, Ohio, highlights the need for strict laws to ban the possession of these animals by ordinary citizens.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed an executive order this afternoon cracking down on unlicensed exotic animal auctions, following Tuesday's (Oct. 18) incident in which Terry Thompson, of Zanesville, set loose his menagerie of lions, tigers, bears, monkeys and other animals from their cages before committing suicide. Authorities had little choice but to shoot and kill nearly 50 of the untamed animals before they injured people.

Born Free USA, a nonprofit advocacy organization that strives to end the ownership of wild animals, has documented some 1,500 attacks, escapes and other incidents involving exotic pets since 1990. The organization collects data on where each incident occurred, the type of animal involved and the fate of the animal (whether it was transferred to a zoo, euthanized or returned to its owner).

Born Free has documented 75 human deaths since it began collecting data. But this number and the number of attacks are likely underestimates, the organization said, because it relies on local and national news reports.

Besides deaths and injuries, there's also a chance these animals will transmit deadly infections to humans.

"It's not just about bites, scratches or mauling," said Adam Roberts, executive vice president at Born Free USA. "It's also about disease." Reptiles can carry salmonella bacteria, and monkeys can carry the herpes B virus, both of which can be deadly in humans.

Though he had not yet seen the text of Kasich's order, Roberts said, "It's not just about the auctions and people who sell these animals, it's about the people who keep these animals."

"Nobody should have wild animals," he said. "It's just not worth the risk."

Animal attacks

Born Free's database is full of horrible and bizarre events involving exotic pets. On Sunday (Oct. 16), a 4-year-old boy in Texas was mauled by a pet mountain lion kept by his aunt, and hospitalized for his injuries. In September, an 80-year-old man in Ohio was attacked by a 200-pound kangaroo at an exotic animal farm. And in June, a Nebraska man in his 30s was strangled to death by his pet boa constrictor.

Over the last two decades, the number of attacks from exotic pets has been stable, Roberts said. But it's likely that more people are keeping wild animals as pets today than previously because the animals have become easier to acquire, Roberts said.

Monkeys and other primates are more dangerous to people than other exotic pets because of their tendency to bite and scratch, Roberts said. Exotic snakes and reptiles are also particularly dangerous. Born Free has tracked 443 incidents involving exotic reptiles since 1990, the most of any animal group.

Turtles, snakes and other reptiles can be carriers of salmonella. Born Free's database lists eight cases in which young children fell ill after contracting salmonella from an exotic reptile pet. Another case of disease transmission involved a 37-year-old man who contracted the fungal disease blastomycosis after being bitten by his pet kinkajou, a rainforest mammal related to the raccoon.

Opponents argue these pets offer companionship, and the right to own them should not be restricted. "Most of these fatalities are owners, family members, friends and trainers voluntarily on the property where the animals were kept," said Zuzana Kukol, co-founder and president of Responsible Exotic Animals Ownership, or REXANO, a nonprofit organization committed to protecting the rights of animal owners. "These were voluntarily accepted hazards, not a public safety issue."

Owners should take responsibility to properly care for and house their pets, REXANO says. Bans may increase the number of illegal animals and contribute to the number of animals in need of a home, the organization says.

Loose laws

Just what type of wild animal can be kept as a pet varies depending on where you live. Some states, including Iowa and Massachusetts, completely ban the keeping of exotic pets. Some states require owners to have a permit. And others, including Ohio, have little to no regulation at all, Roberts said.

Ohio has seen 86 incidents involving exotic pets over the last two decades, according to Born Free. The state ranks second in terms of the number of incidents that occur per capita (Florida has the most incidents of any state, many involving snakes).

But even states with strict laws, such as California, can have a large number of cases because people break the law, Roberts said.

To find out whether there are exotic animals in your neighborhood or town, Roberts recommended contacting your local law enforcement officials or Born Free, and asking if there are any known wild animal keepers or breeders in the area.

Pass it on: Exotic pets are not safe and should not be kept in homes, advocates say.

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Polar bear habitats expected to shrink dramatically

AFP Yahoo News 20 Oct 11;

Habitats of polar bears are expected to shrink dramatically over the coming decades, the International Union for Conservation of Nature warned Thursday, urging immediate action to save the Arctic animals.

"A study by IUCN predicts a dramatic reduction in polar bear habitats over the next 10 to 50 years, due largely to global warming," said the conservation group in a statement.

The IUCN noted that annual sea ice is expected to shrink between 10 and 50 percent by 2100, due to climate change.

A recent study has also projected that summer sea ice would be gone in as early as a decade's time, said the environmental group.

"Now is the time to act in order to save the waning polar bear population," said Dag Vongraven, who chairs the IUCN's polar bear group.

"If we fail to make a stand to save this species, we risk having the population become severely decimated, and quite certainly they will have disappeared from many areas where they're found today," he added.

Action now to save polar bears
IUCN 20 Oct 11;

A study by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) predicts a dramatic reduction in polar bear habitats over the next 10 to 50 years, due largely to global warming.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species assesses Polar Bears (Ursus maritimus) as Vulnerable, with trends that suggest the population is decreasing. Polar Bears rely almost entirely on the marine sea ice environment for their survival, so much so that large scale changes in their habitat will have a devastating impact on the population.

“Now is the time to act in order to save the waning polar bear population,” says Dag Vongraven, Chair IUCN/Polar Bear Specialist Group, Norwegian Polar Institute. “If we fail to make a stand to save this species we risk having the population become severely decimated, and quite certainly they will have disappeared from many areas where they’re found today.”

Climate change poses the most substantial threat to the habitat of Polar Bears. Recent trends for sea ice extent and thickness predict dramatic reductions over coming years— declines of roughly 10 to 50% of annual sea ice are predicted by 2100. A recent study by the Norwegian Polar Institute suggests that summer sea ice in the Polar Basin might be gone in a decade, not 50 to 100 years as most models project. The long term trends reveal substantial global reductions of the extent of ice coverage in the Arctic and the length of time ice when is present each year.

“Climate change will be one of the major drivers of species extinctions in the 21st century,” says Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission. “In order to slow the pace the adverse effects of climate change are having on species around the world, we must work to reduce use of energy from fossil fuels and ensure that our leaders make and adhere to strong commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions now.”

Polar Bears reside throughout the ice-covered waters in Canada, Greenland, Norway, the Russian Federation, and Alaska in the United States, and their range is limited by the southern extent of sea ice. Polar Bears that have continuous access to sea ice are able to hunt throughout the year. However, in areas where the sea ice melts completely each summer, Polar Bears are forced to spend several months on land fasting on stored fat reserves until freeze-up.

Other population stress factors that also impact the species survival include toxic contaminants, shipping, recreational viewing and oil and gas exploration. The Polar Bear is unique among species protected under the Endangered Species Act because it is the first to be designated as threatened due to global warming.

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Climate change migration warning issued through report

Pallab Ghosh BBC News 20 Oct 11;

Governments and aid agencies should help the world's poorest to move away from areas likely to be hit by flooding and drought, a UK report says.

The government-commissioned report warns of potential humanitarian disasters because of climate change. It says the cost of acting now would be much less than the cost of the conflicts and huge loss of life that would otherwise ensue.

The report focused on the issue of human migration patterns.

The Migration and Global Environmental Change Foresight Report is the most detailed study carried out on the effect of flooding, drought and rising sea levels on human migration patterns over the next 50 years.

The government's chief scientist, Professor Sir John Beddington, who commissioned the study, said that environmental change would hit the world's poorest the hardest and that millions of them would inadvertently migrate toward, rather than away from, areas that are most vulnerable.

"[These people] will be trapped in dangerous conditions and unable to be moved to safety," he said.

One of the reasons the report was commissioned was to examine concerns that the environmental degradation caused by climate change would lead to millions of so-called climate refugees abandoning sterile farmland and migrating to countries less affected by the problem.

Detailed analysis commissioned specifically for the study found that this was unlikely to be the case. Three-quarters of the migration, it says would be within national borders - predominantly from rural to urban areas.

The issue, according to Professor Beddington, was to ensure that the migration was properly managed - otherwise, he said, it was likely there would be widespread humanitarian disasters on an unprecedented scale.

"It is essential that we do all we can to both address environmental change and make sure that people are as resilient as possible. This means recognising the role migration can play in helping people cope," he said.

But the idea of managed migration is controversial. Traditionally, migration has been seen as a bad thing by the aid agencies as it uproots communities and can create conflict. But observers think the challenge for many policy makers trying to tackle climate change will be to make an ideological leap of faith in beginning to see migration as a good thing.

Professor Richard Black, of Sussex University, who chaired the expert group that produced the report, said that his team's analysis provided a "substantial evidence base" to justify such a shift in thinking.

"The report will provide policy makers with a firm basis with which to tackle the migration challenges in the future," he said.

One idea is to make it easier for one or two family members to leave their communities to work elsewhere and send money home. This has the effect of maintaining communities and avoiding the need for greater migration of entire communities.

The report also says that greater thought ought to be put into planning cities so that they would be able to cope with increased migration. This would include better water management.

Some cities likely to act as a magnet are in flood plains. In these instances, governments should consider building entirely new cities, with the support of richer governments through aid agencies if necessary, the report argues.

The cost of not developing policies to plan for the impact of climate change on populations will be much greater, and more tragic, the authors say, than pre-empting the problem now.

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5 Ways the World Will Change Radically This Century

Natalie Wolchover Yahoo News 20 Oct 11;

In terms of evolution, the species Homo sapiens is extremely successful. The populations of other species that are positioned similar to us on the food chain tend to max out at about 20 million. We, by contrast, took just 120,000 years to achieve our first billion members, and then needed only another 206 years to add 6 billion more. According to the United Nations Population Division, our population will hit 7 billion on Oct. 31, and though fertility rates have begun to decline across much of the globe, we're still projected to reach 9 billion by mid-century and level off at around 10 billion by 2100.

A panel of academics met at Columbia University's Earth Institute on Monday (Oct. 17) to discuss the impacts of the human population explosion, including the ways in which it will change the face of the Earth this century. Here are five striking changes you — or your kids or grandkids — can expect to see.

Shifting people

Currently, it's a well-known fact that China is the most populous country in the world, and that Africa, though riddled with problems, is not necessarily overpopulated considering its size. These facts will drastically change. China's one-child policy has significantly curbed its growth, while in some African countries, the average woman gives birth to more than 7 children. [How Many People Can Earth Support?]

According to Joel Cohen, a population biologist at Columbia University and the keynote speaker at Monday's conference, India's population will overtake China's around 2020, and sub-Saharan Africa's will overtake India's by 2040. Furthermore, "In 1950, there were three times as many Europeans as sub-Saharan Africans. By 2100, there will be five sub-Saharan Africans for every European. That's a 15-fold change in the ratio," Cohen said. "Could you imagine that that might have an impact, geopolitically and on international migration?"

Jean-Marie Guehenno, former UN Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations and director of the Center for International Conflict Resolution at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, said the migration of people from Africa to Europe will present a major challenge in the near future. "You can look at it as an enormous potential from a European standpoint … or you can say, '[Africa] is a continent that still has 15 percent that are not going to school,' and that can be seen as a threat," Guehenno said. "How are you going to manage that immigration so that this aging continent of Europe benefits from it while managing it? That is going to be a huge question."


Globally, the number of people living in urban areas matched and then overtook the number of rural people sometime in the past two years. The trend will continue. According to Cohen, the number of people living in cities will climb from 3.5 billion today to 6.3 billion by 2050. This rate of urbanization is equivalent to "the construction of a city of a million people every five days from now for the next 40 years," he said.

Of course, new cities don't tend to get constructed; instead, cities that already exist tend to balloon. Guehenno argues that megacities become chaotic. "Urbanization is going to change the face of conflict in a big way. When you live in small towns and rural areas, there are all sorts of traditional conflict- resolution mechanisms. They are not all nice, but they create a sort of stable equilibrium," he said. "With the megacities that you see now in Africa, such as Monrovia (Liberia) and Kinshasa (Republic of Congo), we see cities where the dynamics are no more under control or have been lost. We are, I think, heading toward new types of conflicts — urban conflicts — and we haven't really thought through the implications of that."

Water wars

Not only has the human population exploded in the past two centuries, but the per-person consumption of resources — especially in industrialized nations — has grown exponentially. Scientists think that resource shortages will cause an escalation of conflicts during this century, and will widen the gulf between the rich and the poor — the haves and the have-nots.

No resource is more precious and vital than water, and, according to economist Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia, there are already parts of the world that, because of the rapidly changing climate, are at a severe crisis point. "Take the Horn of Africa for example: Somalia's population has risen roughly fivefold since the middle of the 20th century," Sachs said. "Precipitation is down roughly 25 percent over the last quarter century. There's a devastating famine under way right now after two years of complete failure of rains, and [there is] the potential that this is entering a period of long-term climate change."

Conflicts over water shortages will probably play out as class warfare, said Upmanu Lall, director of the Columbia Water Center. "Wealth inequality tends to grow as a country's population grows, and this is a very important point to note because per capita consumption of resources has been increasing dramatically. Couple that with inequity in income and couple that with [the issue of] the availability of water," Lall said. [How Much Water Is On Earth?]

When you add it all up, you get this dire picture: As the population grows, there is less water per person. Meanwhile, the gap between the rich and the poor widens, and the rich demand more resources to accommodate their lifestyles. Inevitably, they will commandeer the water and other resources of the poor. In all likelihood, Lall said, this will lead to challenges, and perhaps class conflict.

Future energy

Currently, there isn't enough energy being extracted from known sources of fossil fuels to sustain 10 billion people. This means that humans will be forced to turn to a new energy source before the end of the century. However, it's a mystery what that new source will be.

"Energy is the basic resource which underlies every other," said Klaus Lackner, director of the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy. "And actually, technology is not quite ready to solve the [energy] problem. We know there's plenty of energy in solar, in nuclear, in carbon itself — in fossil carbon — for probably 100 or 200 years (if we are willing to clean up after ourselves and pay the extra to make that happen). But none of these technologies are quite ready. Solar has its problems and is still too expensive."

Carbon storage — a technology that prevents carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from escaping into the atmosphere when fossil fuels are burned — is still on the drawing board, though it looks possible, he added. "And lastly, nuclear energy: if we were betting on that, we may have just lost that one," Lackner said, referring to the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, earlier this year.

"Let me just give you a feeling how big today our energy consumption is: In New Jersey, the energy consumption exceeds the photosynthetic productivity of the same area if it were left pristine," Lackner said. "We have to have technology help us out. I am optimistic … that the technologies can be developed to solve these problems … but I am a pessimist because we lack the societal structures which would enable us to employ these technologies, and we could very well fall on our own faces."

In short, the future will match one of these two pictures: Either some new, superior form of energy extraction (such as highly efficient solar panels) will be widespread, or the technology, or its implementation, will fail, and humanity will face a major energy crisis.

Mass extinctions

As humans spread, we leave scant room or resources for other species. "There is good evidence that we are in the sixth massive species extinction of the history of the planet, because of the incredible amount of primary production that we take as a species to maintain 7 billion of us," Sachs said.

Aside from the lack of land and resources left for other species, we've also caused rapid changes to the global climate, with which many of them cannot cope. Some biologists believe that with the current rate of extinction, 75 percent of the planet's species will disappear within the next 300 to 2,000 years. These disappearances have already begun, and extinction events will become more and more common over the course of the century. [10 Species Our Population Explosion Will Likely Kill Off]

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Companies call for tougher climate action

Richard Black BBC News 20 Oct 11;

Leaders of nearly 200 major companies around the world have called for tougher action on climate change.

The 2C Challenge, co-ordinated by the Prince of Wales Corporate Leaders Group, says that climate change puts society's future prosperity at risk.

But the window to keep global warming below 2C has "almost closed", it warns.

Companies signing up include UK retailer Tesco, energy provider EDF, electronics company Philips, chemicals giant Unilever, eBay and Rolls-Royce.

The communique is published six weeks before governments of 192 countries convene in Durban, South Africa, for the annual UN climate summit.

Analyses show that at current rates, greenhouse gas emissions are not being curbed quickly enough to keep the global average temperature rise since pre-industrial times below 2C, which is what many governments say they want.

A majority prefer the tougher target of 1.5C, which is almost certainly out of reach without investment in climate "technical fixes".

The Corporate Leaders Group has issued similar calls before, but has this time reached out to 30 countries - more than in previous years.

"The expansion of the network to include business groups from other countries shows that, far from losing interest in climate change as an issue, there is an emerging and increasingly international consensus amongst enlightened corporate leaders of the need for urgent action," said Eliot Whittington, director of the UK Corporate Leaders Group.

On Wednesday, the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, representing more than $20 trillion in assets including banking giants HSBC and BNP Paribas, made a similar call.

They argue that governments acting quickly to implement tough climate policies would reap the biggest investments and the biggest rewards.
'Concerted effort'

The corporate leaders communique says that the scientific and economic case for tackling climate change remains clear.

"If we do not act, climate change risks seriously undermining future global prosperity and inflicting significant social, economic and environmental costs on the world," it reads.

"If we take the right steps, we can secure a low carbon-emission economy that is more resilient, more efficient and less vulnerable to global shocks."

Those "right steps" include, it says, breaking the deadlock that has prevented progress in the UN climate process, eliminating financial incentives for using fossil fuels, conserving forests and speeding up the promised transfer of funding from rich countries to poor to help them develop climate-friendly infrastructure.

But, it says, many governments do not appear to realise the negative impacts that climate change can have on their societies and economies.

One government that has taken the issue of climate impacts on board is China, where official reports in recent years have spoken of damage from flooding, drought and rising temperatures.

Andrew Brandler, CEO of energy utility CLP Hong Kong, said he was endorsing the corporate leaders' call partly because a strong international agreement on climate change would improve the prospects for rolling out renewables.

"Clean energy remains expensive vis-a-vis coal, the dominant fuel of choice in the Asia-Pacific region," he told BBC News.

"If we are to see the region growing in a sustainable manner, clear international policies with well-designed incentives (and penalties) provides the long-term certainty needed to mobilise the massive amount of investment required."

China, he said, was "putting action behind its words" - a reference, among other things, to the recent prioritisation of environment and energy issues in the 12th Five-Year Plan.

Many of the leaders involved in the initiative have ties with their home governments, and organisers hope that through these links, they can persuade those governments to work harder for a deal in Durban and take more unilateral action.

"Climate change is one of the most important environmental issues of our time," said Truett Tate, vice-chairman of Lloyds Banking Group.

"Effecting change will require a concerted effort between businesses, governments as well as individuals."

The communique is being left open for signature through the Durban meeting up to the Rio+20 summit next year in Brazil, which marks 20 years since the original and seminal Earth Summit.

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Global warming 'confirmed' by independent study

Richard Black BBC News 20 Oct 11;

The Earth's surface really is getting warmer, a new analysis by a US scientific group set up in the wake of the "Climategate" affair has concluded.

The Berkeley Earth Project has used new methods and some new data, but finds the same warming trend seen by groups such as the UK Met Office and Nasa.

The project received funds from sources that back organisations lobbying against action on climate change. "Climategate", in 2009, involved claims global warming had been exaggerated.

Emails of University of East Anglia (UEA) climate scientists were hacked, posted online and used by critics to allege manipulation of climate change data.
Fresh start

The Berkeley group says it has also found evidence that changing sea temperatures in the north Atlantic may be a major reason why the Earth's average temperature varies globally from year to year.

The project was established by University of California physics professor Richard Muller, who was concerned by claims that established teams of climate researchers had not been entirely open with their data.

He gathered a team of 10 scientists, mostly physicists, including such luminaries as Saul Perlmutter, winner of this year's Nobel Physics Prize for research showing the Universe's expansion is accelerating.

Funding came from a number of sources, including charitable foundations maintained by the Koch brothers, the billionaire US industrialists, who have also donated large sums to organisations lobbying against acceptance of man-made global warming.
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“Start Quote

Our biggest surprise was that the new results agreed so closely with the warming values published previously”

Richard Muller Berkeley group founder

"We were concerned that the climate scientists were not putting all their data into the public domain, whether using Freedom of Information rules or anything else," he told BBC News.

"Science should be open, and data should be open, as a matter of principle."

The group's work also examined claims from "sceptical" bloggers that temperature data from weather stations did not show a true global warming trend.

The claim was that many stations have registered warming because they are located in or near cities, and those cities have been growing - the urban heat island effect.

The Berkeley group found about 40,000 weather stations around the world whose output has been recorded and stored in digital form.

It developed a new way of analysing the data to plot the global temperature trend over land since 1800.

What came out was a graph remarkably similar to those produced by the world's three most important and established groups, whose work had been decried as unreliable and shoddy in climate sceptic circles.

Two of those three records are maintained in the US, by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa).

The third is a collaboration between the UK Met Office and UEA's Climatic Research Unit (CRU), from which the e-mails that formed the basis of the "Climategate" furore were hacked two years ago.

"Our biggest surprise was that the new results agreed so closely with the warming values published previously by other teams in the US and the UK," said Professor Muller.

"This confirms that these studies were done carefully and that potential biases identified by climate change sceptics did not seriously affect their conclusions."

Since the 1950s, the average temperature over land has increased by 1C, the group found.

They also report that although the urban heat island effect is real - which is well-established - it is not behind the warming registered by the majority of weather stations around the world.

They also showed that in the US, weather stations rated as "high quality" by Noaa showed the same warming trend as those rated as "low quality".
'Time for apology'

Professor Phil Jones, the CRU scientist who came in for the most personal criticism during "Climategate", was cautious about interpreting the Berkeley results because they have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

"I look forward to reading the finalised paper once it has been reviewed and published," he said.

"These initial findings are very encouraging, and echo our own results and our conclusion that the impact of urban heat islands on the overall global temperature is minimal."

The Berkeley team has chosen to release the findings initially on its own website.

They are asking for comments and feedback before preparing the manuscripts for formal scientific publication.

In part, this counters the accusation made during "Climategate" that climate scientists formed a tight clique who peer-reviewed each others' papers and made sure their own global warming narrative was the only one making it into print.

But for Richard Muller, this free circulation also marks a return to how science should be done.

"That is the way I practised science for decades; it was the way everyone practised it until some magazines - particularly Science and Nature - forbade it," he said.

"That was not a good change, and still many fields such as string theory practice the traditional method wholeheartedly."

This open "wiki" method of review is regularly employed in physics, the home field for seven of the 10 Berkeley team.

Bob Ward, policy and communications director for the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment in London, said the warming of the Earth's surface was unequivocal.

"So-called 'sceptics' should now drop their thoroughly discredited claims that the increase in global average temperature could be attributed to the impact of growing cities," he said.

"More broadly, this study also proves once again how false it was for 'sceptics' to allege that the e-mails hacked from UEA proved that the CRU land temperature record had been doctored.

"It is now time for an apology from all those, including US presidential hopeful Rick Perry, who have made false claims that the evidence for global warming has been faked by climate scientists."
Ocean currents

The Berkeley group does depart from the "orthodox" picture of climate science in its depiction of short-term variability in the global temperature.

The El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is generally thought to be the main reason for inter-annual warming or cooling.

But by the Berkeley team's analysis, the global temperature correlates more closely with the state of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) index - a measure of sea surface temperature in the north Atlantic.

There are theories suggesting that the AMO index is in turn driven by fluctuations in the north Atlantic current commonly called the Gulf Stream.

The team suggests it is worth investigating whether the long-term AMO cycles, which are thought to last 65-70 years, may play a part in the temperature rise, fall and rise again seen during the 20th Century.

But they emphasise that anthropogenic global warming (AGW) driven by greenhouse gas emissions is very much in their picture.

"Had we found no global warming, then that would have ruled out AGW," said Professor Muller.

"Had we found half as much, it would have suggested that prior estimates [of AGW] were too large; if we had found more warming, it would have raised the question of whether prior estimates were too low.

"But we didn't; we found that the prior rise was confirmed. That means that we do not directly affect prior estimates."

The team next plans to look at ocean temperatures, in order to construct a truly global dataset.

Global warming study finds no grounds for climate sceptics' concerns
Independent investigation of the key issues sceptics claim can skew global warming figures reports that they have no real effect
Ian Sample 20 Oct 11;

The world is getting warmer, countering the doubts of climate change sceptics about the validity of some of the scientific evidence, according to the most comprehensive independent review of historical temperature records to date.

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, found several key issues that sceptics claim can skew global warming figures had no meaningful effect.

The Berkeley Earth project compiled more than a billion temperature records dating back to the 1800s from 15 sources around the world and found that the average global land temperature has risen by around 1C since the mid-1950s.

This figure agrees with the estimate arrived at by major groups that maintain official records on the world's climate, including Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa), and the Met Office's Hadley Centre, with the University of East Anglia, in the UK.

"My hope is that this will win over those people who are properly sceptical," Richard Muller, a physicist and head of the project, said.

"Some people lump the properly sceptical in with the deniers and that makes it easy to dismiss them, because the deniers pay no attention to science. But there have been people out there who have raised legitimate issues."

Muller sought to cool the debate over climate change by creating the largest open database of temperature records, with the aim of producing a transparent and independent assessment of global warming.

The initial reluctance of government groups to release all their methods and data, and the fiasco over emails from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit in 2009, gave the project added impetus.

The team, which includes Saul Perlmutter, joint winner of this year's Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery that the universe is expanding at an increasing rate, has submitted four papers to the journal Geophysical Research Letters that describe their work to date.

Going public with results before they are peer-reviewed is not standard practice, but Muller said the decision to circulate the papers before publication was part a long-standing academic tradition of sanity-checking results with colleagues.

"We will get much more feedback from making these papers public before publication," he said.

Climate sceptics have criticised official global warming figures on the grounds that many temperature stations are poor quality and that data are tweaked by hand.

However, the Berkeley study found that the so-called urban heat island effect, which makes cities warmer than surrounding rural areas, is locally large and real, but does not contribute significantly to average land temperature rises. This is because urban regions make up less than 1% of the Earth's land area. And while stations considered "poor" might be less accurate, they recorded the same average warming trend.

"We have looked at these issues in a straightforward, transparent way, and based on that, I would expect legitimate sceptics to feel their issues have been addressed," Muller said.

Nevertheless, one prominent US climate sceptic, Anthony Watts, claimed to have identified a "basic procedural error" concerning time periods used in the research, and urged the authors to revise the paper.

Jim Hansen, head of Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said he had not read the research papers but was glad Muller was looking at the issue, describing him as "a top-notch physicist". "It should help inform those who have honest scepticism about global warming.

"Of course, presuming that he basically confirms what we have been reporting, the deniers will then decide that he is a crook or has some ulterior motive.

"As I have discussed in the past, the deniers, or contrarians, if you will, do not act as scientists, but rather as lawyers."

"As soon as they see evidence against their client (the fossil fuel industry and those people making money off business-as-usual), they trash that evidence and bring forth whatever tidbits they can find to confuse the judge and jury."

Peter Thorne at the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites in North Carolina and chair of the International Surface Temperature Initiative, said: "This takes a very distinct approach to the problem and comes up with the same answer, and that builds confidence that pre-existing estimates are in the right ballpark. There is very substantial value in having multiple groups looking at the same problem in different ways.

"Openness and transparency is a must, particularly now with climate change being so politicised, but more to the point, with the huge socioeconomic decisions that rest on it."

Phil Jones, the director of the Climatic Research Unit at UEA who was at the centre of the Climategate incident, said: "I look forward to reading the finalised paper once it has been reviewed and published. These initial findings are very encouraging and echo our own results and our conclusion that the impact of urban heat islands on the overall global temperature is minimal."

The Berkeley Earth project has been attacked by some climate bloggers, who point out that one of the funders runs Koch Industries, a company Greenpeace called a "financial kingpin of climate science denial".

Muller points out the project is organised under the auspices of Novim, a Santa Barbara-based nonprofit organisation that uses science to find answers to the most pressing issues facing society and to publish them "without advocacy or agenda".

Other donors include the Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research (funded by Bill Gates), and the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley Lab. The next phase of the project will focus on warming trends in the oceans.

Some scientists were critical of the project and Muller's decision to release the papers before they had been peer reviewed.

Peter Cox, professor of climate system dynamics at Exeter University said: "These studies seem to confirm the global warming estimated from the existing datasets, which is pleasing but not exactly a surprise to those of us who know how carefully the existing datasets are put together.

"It is surprising, however, that the authors believe that this news is so significant that they can't wait for peer review, especially when their conclusions aren't exactly revolutionary."

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