Best of our wild blogs: 28 Nov 11

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [21 - 27 Nov 2011]
from Green Business Times

Toddycats Engage! is recruiting volunteers for our upcoming Geylang East Library Exhibition on Sat 10 Dec 2011! from Toddycats!

Chek Jawa intertidal walks for whole 2012 Jan-Mar dates open for booking from 1 Dec from wild shores of singapore

Closer look at Little Sisters
from wild shores of singapore

Shorebird: Red-necked Stint
from Life's Indulgences

flied giant mudskipper @ SBWR
from sgbeachbum

Butterfly Photography at Our Local Parks
from Butterflies of Singapore

Videos: Molluscs on our shores
from Psychedelic Nature

Reflections by students guiding at Chek Jawa
from Senior High Student Council EXCEL Exposure

Connecting urbanised youth with their natural heritage Woodlands Ring Secondary School students reflect on the Sungei Loyang mangrove cleanup from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Cars, Carparks and Parks, a matter of Perspective
from Nature Spies

Acorn Barnacles
from Monday Morgue

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Cleaning up Singapore's act

Top civil servant Lee Ek Tieng and his team made the Singapore River pristine
clarissa oon Straits Times 28 Nov 11;

It is hard to imagine, looking at the pristine, odourless water and chi- chi restaurants lining the river bank, that the Singapore River was once a cesspool of garbage and fuel oil.

Cluttering up the river mouth in the 1970s were hundreds of bumboats ferrying goods from warehouses along the river to cargo ships out at sea.

About 4,000 squatters lived in unsewered tenement buildings along the river bank. Hawkers and vegetable sellers thronged the five-foot-way. Their daily waste flowed into the Singapore River.

It took a massive government effort to clean up the river, led by then Environment Ministry Permanent Secretary Lee Ek Tieng.

A civil engineer by training, he remembers then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's public challenge to him and his team in 1977. It was to make fishing and other recreational activities possible along the Singapore River and Kallang Basin in 10 years' time. The Kallang Basin was being polluted by nearby pig and duck farms and cottage industries.

There was widespread scepticism as to whether the clean-up could succeed.

The 78-year-old civil engineer says with a grin: 'Many of my friends told me, 'Look, you're in for a hard time, you know. It's cheaper to buy fish and put them in the river every week'.'

He pulled it off within the deadline and was one of 10 civil servants awarded a gold medal in 1987 for transforming the river. At that time, he was also chairman of the Public Utilities Board (now the national water agency PUB), a position he held until 2000.

After cleaning up the river, he went on to hold important financial positions such as Permanent Secretary of the Finance Ministry and managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore. He was head of the Civil Service from 1994 till his retirement in 1999.

However, his biggest contributions were arguably in environmental protection and developing new water resources.

As PUB chairman, he commissioned a study in 1999 that gave birth to NEWater, the high-quality recycled water that now meets 30 per cent of Singapore's total water demand.

The name, a clever sell, was his idea, too. 'No point having a very good product if you are unable to get people to accept it,' he says. At his request, the interview is held in a no-frills meeting room in The Straits Times' office.

'I recall reading many years ago that in branding and advertising, there are two very powerful words: free and new. Something 'new' will always attract attention. The word NEWater is neutral, it doesn't tell you the source of the water. Very important,' he adds.

As for his other major achievement - the Singapore River clean-up - 'from an engineering point of view, we thought we could do it, no problem'.

'The biggest worry my colleagues and I had was whether we could get two things. One, political backing for some of the tricky problems such as moving out the hawkers and squatters. The other was if we could get the full cooperation of other government agencies. And looking back, frankly, we had very few problems,' he says.

His team stepped up programmes to find public housing for squatters and move street hawkers to hawker centres. A minority were unhappy, but most accepted hawker centres, which had proper sewerage and daily garbage collection. The point, he says, is 'you never throw out an unlicensed street hawker and say, 'You go and look for another job', we always give you an alternative'.

Agencies such as the Housing and Development Board (HDB) and the Port of Singapore Authority pitched in, the latter moving the bumboats to a new lighter anchorage at Pasir Panjang.

As the 10-year deadline approached, his tensest moment - ironically - came when the last source of pollution was removed. That was the relocation of Chinatown street hawkers who were slaughtering pythons, ducks and chickens with the waste blood going into drains connected to the Singapore River.

'It's just like how a doctor gives you medicine for your cough, but will the medicine work? You've identified all the pollution sources, now the last major source of organic pollution is gone, but will the Singapore River really turn clean?' he says.

He got the answer within a week when the stench disappeared from the river. It was then dredged and the river walls repaired - the final act of the clean-up.

Today, much of what he engineered as the Environment Ministry's top civil servant or Permanent Secretary from 1972 to 1986 is taken for granted - namely, that streets and public eating places are clean, mosquitoes and rodents are under control, and domestic and industrial waste water captured in sewers are treated properly before being discharged into the sea.

PUB chairman Tan Gee Paw, 68, says: 'These were pressing issues in Singapore as a young nation coming out from the poverty of the past. Ek Tieng truly set the pace for a standard of environmental public health that is unrivalled in this region to this day.'

Mr Tan has known Mr Lee since the late 1960s, when they were engineers in the Public Works Department (PWD), which handled drainage and sewerage.

But the highest accolade yet paid to Mr Lee comes from Mr Lee Kuan Yew who wrote in volume two of his memoirs: 'There would have been no clean and green Singapore without Lee Ek Tieng.' The former prime minister said his vision of a spruced-up nation could not have been realised without the latter's engineering know-how.

What does Mr Lee think of the former PM's praise? 'He's very kind and over-generous. I think, never mind me, my team of people in Environment appreciate it very much that something we did over a period of 10 years is recognised,' he says.

Most Singaporeans will not know him, but this does not bother him.

'Engineers are not very sentimental people. We are different from architects. I always like to take a dig at architects; unlike them, we have little to show, no fancy building,' he quips.

'Humble', 'approachable' and 'hands-on' are how longtime associates describe the man whose first job in 1958 was overseeing night soil stations as an engineer with the now-defunct City Council. In the days before flush toilets, buckets of faecal matter or 'night soil' from households were collected and taken to these stations to be emptied and washed.

By the late 1960s, he was in charge of planning and designing a modern sewerage system in the PWD.

In 1972, he rose to head the Environment Ministry, which he started, bringing together the PWD's sewerage and engineering services and environmental public health functions under the Ministry of Health, such as hawkers and pest control.

Being a top civil servant never went to his head. 'After office hours, he would play ping-pong with the workshop mechanic or anyone who wanted a game with him,' says Mr Daniel Wang, 68, a former commissioner of public health who worked under him at the PWD and Environment Ministry.

Though in the hot seat of policy planning, Mr Lee kept in touch with ground operations, often making unannounced spot-checks on refuse collection trucks or sewerage treatment plants.

Mr Chen Hung, 77, the ministry's former director of environmental engineering and sewerage, says: 'He is a meticulous and factual, no-nonsense type of person. He never behaved like a boss, he was always one of the team.'

Mr Lee admits that he has always preferred getting his hands dirty to writing up policy papers.

The second youngest of eight children of a Methodist pastor enjoyed repairing shoes as a child. He was the family handyman, scaling the roof of their bungalow in Serangoon Gardens - where he still lives - to fix the television antenna.

He was in the first batch of engineering students who graduated from the University of Malaya in Singapore in 1958.

His first high-profile gig came when he was appointed head of the newly formed Air Pollution Unit in 1970, after being interviewed by Mr Lee Kuan Yew in his office for nearly two hours.

Early on in Singapore's industrialisation, the Government had identified air pollution as a potential problem if factory emissions were not brought under control. Hence the unit, set up amid a blaze of publicity under the Prime Minister's Office. Its functions were later transferred to the Environment Ministry.

It was at the unit that the engineer honed his skills dealing with people and other government departments.

He recalls a hairy situation involving a ceramics factory permitted by the Ministry of National Development's planning department to operate in Hillview Estate, a residential area in Bukit Batok.

He says: 'The factory was emitting a white plume of dust because it didn't have proper filters. I used to get telephone calls on Sunday mornings from very angry residents.' He managed to persuade the department to offer the factory an alternative site.

Whether curbing air pollution or overhauling the Singapore River, he was able to bring about good cooperation between different agencies. He attributes this to the just-do-it mindset of the civil service in the early days. 'We tried to avoid politicking and too much debating, to just be objective and get on with the job.'

Times have changed and Singaporeans are more demanding. He says: 'In the current situation, you've got to debate, consult. Everybody needs an explanation.'

But he no longer has to agonise over such things. The man, who at the height of his career was juggling five different portfolios, can finally stop and smell the roses. He credits his wife, Patricia, 74, an information officer-turned-housewife, for bringing up their two sons, now in their 40s. They have three grandchildren.

Trim and healthy from regular golf and gym sessions, he keeps his mind active by reading newspapers and current affairs magazines and scanning the daily headlines on his iPad.

His biggest worry these days is no longer sewerage, but the fact that he recently lost 5kg from exercising. 'All my pants couldn't fit, I had to buy new ones.'

He relishes the slower pace and relative anonymity. He recalls a recent episode when one of his grandsons went on a school trip to a NEWater plant.

'The boy told the teacher, 'My grandfather gave the name NEWater'. The teacher didn't believe him. Not that I mind at all,' he says with a laugh.

Background story

'The night soil station at People's Park was one of the most smelly parts of Singapore in the 1960s. But I got used to it. It's a job, somebody's got to do it anyway'

On his first job overseeing night soil stations, where buckets of household waste were emptied and washed

'I always told my officers, especially the health inspectors: You cannot be everywhere all the time, so take complaints from Singaporeans as feedback or intelligence. There is litter here, people dumping rubbish there, go over and get it cleaned up'

On his attitude towards complaints from the public

'NEWater is very good for whisky. You know why? Because the water is very soft water, it's got very few minerals and therefore no taste, so it doesn't add any taste to the purity of the whisky. Not that I drink a lot but I tried it myself'

On the finer points of NEWater

'Trust, but verify... former US President Ronald Reagan said that. You've got to trust people, you cannot be suspicious all the time. But you also have to verify'

On the motto he lives by

'The problem is not literally that Singapore has become too clean. It's that people have become too cleanliness- conscious. We are too critical about little specks of dirt here and there'

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Indonesia: Paradise Lost at Hands of  Palm Oil Companies

Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 27 Nov 11;

Life was idyllic in the village of Muara Tae, in East Kalimantan’s West Kutai district — before palm oil companies moved in, Petrus Asuy says.

“Before then, we’d never experienced unrest,” the Muara Tae villager said in Jakarta on Friday. “But from 1995, when the first of the palm oil companies came in, things got worse because they didn’t respect our way of life. Without letting us know, they began clearing the forest as they saw fit.”

In 1996, he went on, the villagers had seen enough and began demonstrating against the deforestation. But the move backfired when several of the demonstrators were arrested and jailed for up to five months. Asuy only evaded arrest by hiding out in the jungle for three months.

“Because of the palm oil plantations, our water has become polluted and many of our springs have dried up,” he said. “We took our case to the local government, but they ignored us. We are completely against these companies because they have compromised our way of life. What hope is there now for our grandchildren?”

The Muara Tae villagers are currently in a standoff with the oil palm firm Munte Waniq Jaya Perkasa, which has begun bulldozing 683 hectares of forested land that the former have long considered their own.

The UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency said on Wednesday that the company, backed by police and other security personnel, had been clearing approximately five hectares a day for the past week.

“With the situation at crisis point, the EIA and its Indonesian partner Telapak fear the conflict could spill over into violence,” the group said on its Web site.

Asuy was adamant that the land belonged to the villagers. He said what happened was that a neighboring village, Muara Ponak, had sold the land to the company on the pretext that it belonged to them.

“But they never owned that land. That is land that we have always worked on, but they claimed it as theirs and sold it to the company,” he said, adding that the land in dispute was sold for just Rp 1 million ($110) a hectare.

“We are pleading for help for our situation and for this activity to stop.”

Abu Meridian, a forest campaigner with Telapak, the EIA’s Indonesian partner, said the Muara Tae case was just one of several thousand similar disputes playing out across the country.

“Muara Tae is a comprehensive object of study because it involves not just palm oil companies but also mining firms, so it’s a pretty complex case,” he said.

“To coin a phrase, they’re being eaten by a tiger, a crocodile and a snake at the same time.”

Abu called for greater focus on the case, arguing that if it was properly managed, the 11,000 hectares of ancestral forest in Muara Tae could be restored to primary forest, which would put it out of the reach of palm oil, mining or logging operations.

Indonesian Palm Oil Dispute at ‘Crisis Point’
Ulma Haryanto Jakarta Globe 25 Nov 11;

Villagers in East Kalimantan’s West Kutai district are demanding an inquiry to resolve an ongoing land dispute with a palm oil company, an environmental group said on Thursday.

Sheila Kartika, a spokeswoman for the environmental group Telapak, said the residents of Muara Tae village no longer trust the authorities to resolve the dispute over the 683 hectares of ancestral forest land that palm oil firm Munte Waniq Jaya Perkasa has started bulldozing.

“A representative is coming to Jakarta to seek out an independent team for help,” Sheila said.

Telapak’s British counterpart, the Environmental Investigation Agency, said on Wednesday that the palm oil firm had moved into the forests around Muara Tae to clear land for palm oil production. It said the firm was backed by the police and other security personnel, who witnesses alleged were out-of-uniform military officers.

The EIA said sources reported that the firm’s bulldozers had been clearing approximately five hectares a day for the past week.

“With the situation at crisis point, the EIA and its Indonesian partner Telapak fear the conflict could spill over into violence,” the group said in a statement posted on its Web site.

The group said a major cause of the conflict was the failure to recognize traditional ownership of the forest land, which the indigenous Dayak Benuaq people have used for generations.

Sheila said the palm oil firm had actually purchased land from residents of a neighboring village, Kampung Ponaq. Because the village borders had not been clearly defined, she said, the villages were still trying to determine their respective land ownership when “suddenly the bulldozers came and cleared everything away.”

Residents in Muara Tae presented their case to the East Kalimantan legislature during a public hearing, Sheila said.

“Previously, the subdistrict office offered to help mediate in the dispute, but the people refused because the office never involved them in the first place when it was drafting the area’s zoning map,” she said.

Munte Waniq Jaya Perkasa seems to hold a valid commercial plantation license, Telapak said. However, the company does not yet possess a commercial usage right permit from the National Land Agency (BPN).

In a similar land conflict in the Mesuji district of Lampung, a villager was killed and several others were injured after security officers at a palm oil company there opened fire on them. When the shooting occurred the villagers were harvesting crops from their ancestral land, which was in dispute with the company.

Hadi Daryanto, the Forestry Ministry secretary general, said the central government was powerless to provide villages a direct solution to such disputes because local authorities were in charge of land management.

“What we can do is help coordinate with the BKPTN [National Spatial Planning Coordination Agency], the Home Affairs Ministry and the Industry Ministry,” he said.

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Seizures From Illegal Indonesian Loggers Show Deforestation Impact

Farouk Arnaz Jakarta Globe 27 Nov 11;

Kubu Raya, West Kalimantan. With millions of hectares of forests being cleared each year to make way for palm-oil plantations, even illegal loggers are now starting to see the impact of dwindling rainforests in Indonesia.

Unlike previous years when illegal loggers were spotted with top quality wood, the National Police this year have only been able to seize low quality goods during a series of raids conducted between Nov. 8 and Nov. 26.

“The quantity and quality of illegal logging has dropped significantly, but that’s because there isn’t as much forest area,” West Kalimantan police chief Brig. Gen. Unggung Cahyono said.

“We have been conducting a joint operation between the National Police and West Kalimantan Police in terms of enforcement, intelligence, preemptive and preventive measures designed to reduce deforestation and state losses.”

A total of eight suspects were arrested during the operation.

During the operation 6,300 logs of woods were confiscated, but they were mainly under 1 meter in diameter. It is estimated that the logs were worth Rp 1.5 billion to Rp 2.5 billion ($165,000 to $275,000).

The dwindling rate of illegal logging seems to confirm earlier estimates from the Indonesian Forestry Ministry that there is now less forest to log.

Indonesia had been losing 3.5 million hectares of forest per year since 2003, but this number was reduced to 1.1 million hectares in 2009 and 700,000 hectares in 2010.

Despite government efforts, Indonesia still has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, according to a survey released by British risk analysis and mapping firm Maplecroft last week.

Indonesia ranked second after Nigeria in terms of deforestation rate among the 180 countries surveyed.

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Indonesia: Torrential Rains and Flooding Kill Two in Riau

Jakarta Globe 27 Nov 11;

Pekanbaru, Riau. Torrential rains since Friday triggered widespread flooding and landslides in Kampar district in Riau, killing two people and rendering thousands homeless over the weekend.

Officials said the heavy rains caused the Kampar River to overflow and flood entire villages in the district.

Zurizal, the head of the Kampar Kiri Hulu subdistrict, said the flash flood claimed two lives in Gajah Batelut village when rising waters in the Sebayang River, an offshoot of the Kampar, swept away two members of the same family.

“Residents found the body of one of the victims at around 9 a.m. on Sunday,” Zurizal said, identifying the victim as Budi, 23.

The other person swept away was his 6-year-old niece, Naiada. Rescuers recovered her body later the same day.

The flash flood also destroyed hundreds of homes in 11 villages in the area, one of the worst-affected being Subayang Jaya village, where the spike in water level caused a reservoir to burst.

This also resulted in 4,000 meters worth of pipes, used for a clean water network, to burst. Elsewhere, the flooding destroyed at least five hectares of rubber plantations.

Some residents fleeing their inundated homes sought refuge on higher ground, but most returned after the water began subsiding on Saturday, prompting concerns about more fatalities should another flash flood occur.

Hamdi Hamid, a lecturer in social and environmental affairs at Riau University, urged the district administration to relocate villagers from the worst-hit areas for the time being.

“This is very important in light of the high potential for more flooding and landslides, which could lead to more loss of life,” he said.

“The residents shouldn’t be allowed to go back to their flooded homes just yet because a flash flood could spring up at any moment. The biggest risk is if it occurs late at night or just before dawn, when people are least prepared for it.”

Hamdi also called on the authorities to use the clean-up period as an opportunity to remap local zoning boundaries, pointing out there was no better time to identify which areas were at high risk from flooding and thus should be off-limits for human settlement.

“Re-zoning the area will be an important step in the district administration’s long-term disaster management policy,” he said.

The administration has come under fire for its late response to the disaster. Zurizal said that as of Saturday, the only aid supplies reaching the area were those supplied by political parties and companies.

“We’ve had bottled water and instant noodles brought in by the PPP [United Development Party] and the PKS [Prosperous Justice Party], as well as other items from RAPP [Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper],” he said.

Relief supplies from the administration began trickling in on Sunday.


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Australia: Isolated reefs ‘recover faster’

ScienceNetwork Science Alert 28 Nov 11;

A recent study published in CSIRO’s Marine & Freshwater Research reveals isolated reefs may have a better ability to regenerate compared to those closer to human activity.

The study focussed on WA’s Ashmore Reef, located on the north-west shelf, which is home to 275 species, making it one of the most diverse coral systems in the region.

Like many reefs in the Indian Ocean, it experienced severe bleaching in 1998 and 2003, resulting in extensive damage to its coral cover.

Researchers approached the study expecting to find little change between field results from 2006 and 2009, hypothesising that isolated coral systems would recover more slowly due to limited opportunities for larval replenishment from nearby reefs.

Counter to expectations, however, recovery at Ashmore Reef has been robust. From 2005 to 2009, the per cent cover of live hard coral tripled, while soft corals doubled, showing consistent replenishment at all six sites surveyed. These included exposed, sheltered and lagoonal habitats.

Explaining the original hypothesis, study co-author Dr Daniela Ceccarelli says, “When coral populations on a reef become severely depleted, that reef is unlikely to provide enough larvae for successful recovery.”

“The reef will rely on larval supply from elsewhere. [But] the findings of our study imply that a well-protected reef has a good chance of recovering from disturbances.”

The reason for this growth is tied to a combination of factors, including the reef’s structure, biodiversity and a reduction in stress from human activities.

“The resilience of Ashmore’s coral community is enhanced by isolation because it is far away from human pressures such as fishing, pollution and run-off from land,” says Dr Ceccarelli.

Ashmore was able to recover by self-recruitment and regrowth of fragments or colonies that suffered only partial mortality.

These included fast-growing pioneer coral such as Acropora and Montipora and surviving robust species such as Porites, which took longer to come back.

More generally, Dr Ceccarelli notes the complexity of a reef’s structure helps in recovery, as in theory, the more nooks and crannies it offers for different species to live in, the more biodiversity it can host and contribute to a reef’s recovery.

As to the application of her findings, Dr Ceccarelli offers a simple conclusion.

“If we want reefs to stay coral-dominated in the face of global climate change, we need to reduce the other things that have detrimental effects on reefs, especially extractive activities like fishing and activities that cause water quality to deteriorate.”

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Climate set to worsen food crises: Oxfam

AFP Yahoo News 28 Nov 11;

Storms and drought that have unleashed dangerous surges in food prices could be a "grim foretaste" of what lies ahead when climate change bites more deeply, Oxfam said on Monday.

In a report issued at the start of the UN climate talks here, the British charity pointed to spikes in wheat, corn and sorghum, triggered by extreme weather, that had driven tens of millions into poverty over the past 18 months.

"This will only get worse as climate change gathers pace and agriculture feels the heat," said Oxfam's Kelly Dent.

"When a weather event drives local or regional price spikes, poor people often face a double shock.

"They have to cope with higher food prices at a time when extreme weather may have also killed their livestock, destroyed their home or farm."

In 2010, a heatwave in Russia and Ukraine sparked a rise of 60 to 80 percent in global wheat prices in three months, reaching 85 percent in April 2011, Oxfam said.

In July 2011, the price of sorghum was 393 percent higher in Somalia, while corn (maize) in Ethiopia and Kenya was up to 191 and 161 percent higher respectively compared to the five-year average, reflecting the impact of drought in the Horn of Africa.

Rainstorms and typhoons in Southeast Asia, meanwhile, have driven up the price of rice in Thailand and Vietnam. In September and October, the cost of this staple was 25-30 percent higher there than a year earlier.

In February, the World Bank estimated that 44 million people in developing economies had fallen into extreme poverty as a result of spiralling food prices.

In the November issue of its "Food Price Watch" report, the Bank said that a global index of food prices peaked in February but had dipped by five percent since then.

Even so, the index was still 19 percent higher than in September 2010, although the figure varied greatly according to the country and the commodity, it said.

Oxfam said price hikes were a source of despair for the needy.

"For the poorest who spend up to 75 percent of their income on food, price rises on this scale can have consequences as families are forced into impossible trade-offs in a desperate bid to feed themselves," it said.

It pointed to a just-published investigation by the UN's panel of climate scientists, which said man-made global warming had already boosted heatwaves and flood-provoking rainfall and was likely to contribute to future disasters.

"More frequent and extreme weather events will compound things further, creating shortages, destabilising markets and precipitating price spikes, which will be felt on top of the structural price rises predicted by the models," Oxfam said.

It appealed to the conference of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to slash greenhouse gases and activate a planned fund to help poor countries.

One goal of the Durban talks is breathe life into a "Green Climate Fund" that, by 2020, would channel as much as 100 billion dollars a year to countries that are in the brunt of climate change. But approval has been held up by squabbles over the fund's design.

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Climate summit faces big emitters' stalling tactics

Richard Black BBC News 27 Nov 11;

Some of the developing world's biggest greenhouse gas emitters are bidding to delay talks on a new climate agreement.

To the anger of small islands and other vulnerable countries, India and Brazil are joining rich nations such as the US and Japan in wanting to start talks on a legal deal no earlier than 2015.

The EU and climate-vulnerable blocs want to start as soon as possible, and have the deal finalised by 2015.

The UN climate summit opens on Monday in Durban, South Africa.

Some observers say small island states, which traditionally aim their criticism at the industrialised world's big emitters, may begin "naming and shaming" developing countries that are also delaying progress.

"They're on the edge of a mess," one experienced delegate told BBC News, "and they may not be able to resolve this mess".

Developing countries will certainly target rich governments such as Japan, Canada and Russia over their refusal to commit to new emission cuts under the Kyoto Protocol, whose current targets expire at the end of next year.

They see this as a breach of previous commitments and of trust.

But some of the most vulnerable nations say the impasse should not delay talks on a new deal, arguing that to do so would be, in one delegate's wording, "the politics of mutually-assured destruction".

However, on one of the summit's other main topics - financial aid for poor countries - there is a strong chance of progress at the fortnight-long summit.

Seismic shift

The politics of the UN climate process are undergoing something of a fundamental transformation.

Increasingly, countries are dividing into one group that wants a new global treaty as soon as possible - the EU plus lots of developing countries - and another that prefers a delay and perhaps something less rigorous than a full treaty.

The divide was evident earlier this month at the Major Economies Forum (MEF) meeting in Arlington, US - the body that includes 17 of the world's highest-polluting nations.

There, the UK and others argued that the Durban summit should agree to begin work on a new global agreement immediately, to have it in place by 2015, and operating by 2020 at the very latest.

The US, Russia and Japan were already arguing for a longer timeframe.

But BBC News has learned that at the MEF meeting, Brazil and India took the same position.

Brazil wants the period 2012-15 to be a "reflection phase", while India suggested it should be a "technical/scientific period".

China, now the world's biggest emitter, is said by sources to be more flexible, though its top priority for Durban is the Kyoto Protocol.

"The planet has no other sustainable alternative other than to ensure the continuity of the Kyoto Protocol, through a second commitment period starting in 2013," said Jorge Arguello, leader of the Argentinian delegation, which this year chairs the powerful G77/China bloc of 131 nations.

"The adoption of a second commitment period for the reduction of greenhouse gases emissions under the Kyoto Protocol is not only a political imperative and a historical responsibility, but a legal obligation that must be faced as such."

Although the EU does not oppose a second commitment period, other developed nations do.

And as the US left the protocol years ago, nations still signed on account only for about 15% of global emissions - which is why there is so much emphasis on a new instrument, with some legal force, covering all countries.

Cooling wish

The US, Russia, Japan and Canada have all argued for delaying negotiations on this for various domestic political reasons.

But the news that big developing countries are also lobbying for a delay is likely to lead to fireworks in Durban.

Many of the countries most at risk from climate impacts want to cut emissions fast enough to hold the global average temperature rise from pre-industrial times under 1.5C.

Scientific assessments say that for this to happen, global emissions should peak and begin to fall before 2020, adding urgency to these nations' quest for a new and effective global agreement.

President Nasheed of the Maldives is virtually the only leader who has spoken openly of the need for major developing countries to begin cutting emissions soon.

Equating the need to develop with the right to emit greenhouse gases is, he has said, "rather silly".

But sources in Durban indicate that delegates from other small developing countries may join him before the fortnight elapses, and demand more of the big developing nations.

China, Brazil and India are also being blamed for blocking moves to phase out the climate-warming industrial HFC gases, which small island states tabled at the Montreal Protocol meeting in Bali last week.

"The global response to climate change simply does not have time for advancing self-serving national interests," said Mark Roberts, international policy advisor for the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

Funding gap

Sources say, however, that there is real prospect of agreement in Durban on rules and mechanisms for a Green Climate Fund.

This would raise and disburse sums, rising to $100bn per year by 2020, to developing nations.

There is no agreement on where the money should come from.

Developing countries say the public coffers of industrialised nations should be the main source, whereas western governments say the bulk must come from private sector sources.

That is unlikely to be resolved until the end of next year.

But finalising the fund's rules in Durban would be a concrete step forward.

Tim Gore, Oxfam's chief policy adviser, said UK Climate Minister Chris Huhne must push for "getting the money flowing through the Green Climate Fund that poor people need to fight climate change now.

"A deal to raise resources from international transport could be on the table, and Huhne must convince other ministers to strike it," he said.

However, there is widespread scepticism about the much smaller funds - $10bn per year - that developed nations are already supposed to be contributing under the Fast Start Finance agreement made in 2009.

Developing countries say only a small fraction of what has been pledged is genuinely "new and additional", as it is meant to be; and that little has actually materialised.

The summit may also see a row over the EU's imminent integration of aviation into the Emission Trading Schemen, which India and some other developing nations oppose.

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