Best of our wild blogs: 5 Dec 11

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [28 Nov - 4 Dec 2011]
from Green Business Times

10 Dec (Sat): Talk on "Forests of the Sea" by Siti M. Yaakub
from teamseagrass

Why Sketch? (Also a post on SBAW)
from Diary of a Boy wandering through Our Little Urban Eden

Sungei Buloh 18th Anniversary Walk 2011
from lekowala!

Palm-sized Melibe
from Pulau Hantu

Videos: Fishes on our shores
from Psychedelic Nature

绿鹭Little heron@星和园Japanese garden
from PurpleMangrove

from Monday Morgue

Protections for indigenous rights, biodivesity weakened in latest REDD+ text from news by Rhett Butler

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Making Botanics a garden of learning

Transport for elderly visitors also on new director's agenda
Straits Times 5 Dec 11;

HE HAS been on the job for just over two months but the new director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Dr Nigel Taylor, already has big plans.

The 55-year-old Briton is planning to introduce transport in the gardens for the first time, to help elderly visitors get around.

During the week, he does his daily rounds in the 74ha gardens either on foot or in a buggy. At weekends, he visits with his wife and teenage daughters, traipsing over from their home in nearby Tanglin.

These rounds help him keep his ear to the ground.

'Elderly people who may not be able to walk far have repeatedly said they wish there was some transport,' he said. 'So we are looking into it.'

But the gardens' narrow paths mean any type of transport, if introduced, would have to steer clear of visitors who prefer not to use it.

The National Parks Board (NParks) is soliciting public feedback for ideas on its website.

Dr Taylor is also keen to make people's experience of the 16-year-old National Orchid Garden more educational, with more displays explaining the biology, geography and diversity of orchids, and using live specimens wherever possible.

He said: 'As a botanic garden, I would like there to be more botanical learning, to add to the experience that colourful mass plantings of orchids and those named after famous visitors currently provide.'

But while changes are afoot, there are some things that must be preserved, he said, such as the iconic bandstand area and Swan Lake.

This move towards a more educational and immersive experience is something he is applying from his 34 years at the world-famous Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in Britain.

For example, a Learning Forest, with thematic walks featuring giant trees and a conservation collection of rare fruit and nut species - to be ready here in 2013 - will hopefully offer a 'Kew-like experience', said Dr Taylor.

Kew Gardens, as it is known, is one of the world's leading botanical institutions. Dr Taylor joined as a horticultural taxonomist when he was 21 - his job was to name the plants. He rose through the ranks to become head curator of horticulture.

He left in September to fill the director's position at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, taking over from Dr Wong Wei Har, who is on an indefinite leave of absence due to family commitments. She had been director since last year.

NParks went on an international executive search, which took six months. Dr Taylor fit the bill as he was of 'notable and credible international standing as an accomplished botanical scientist', and was able to 'lead and motivate a group of professionals to contribute to the continued success of the Gardens', said NParks. He is in charge of about 100 people at the Gardens.

One other reason he snagged the job might be that he can communicate well - he was one of the main spokesmen at Kew. 'I love plants but I also love interacting with people,' he said.

This gift of the gab makes connecting plants with people easier. 'We have to get people into the gardens; that is very important,' he added.

He is not the first expatriate director of the Gardens. The first director, Henry Nicholas Ridley, served for 23 years from 1888. Another famous director was Professor Eric Holttum, also from Kew Gardens, who joined in 1925. He pioneered experiments in orchid breeding and hybridisation here.

Asked why he gave up his job at Kew, Dr Taylor said: 'The job had become too easy and I needed more of a challenge.'

In Singapore, he has to oversee the science and the scientists, visitor services, the visitor attractions and centre, and events such as the Singapore Garden Festival. And after years of dealing with temperate plants, working with plants that flourish in a humid, tropical atmosphere is an eye-opener, he says.

But there is another, more practical, reason: Bad times at home pushed him towards an economically stronger Asia. 'The British government was cutting funding to all its major institutions and Kew suffered in this respect. The economy here is much stronger, with more opportunities,' he said.

Searching for greener pastures meant uprooting his family of four: his wife, a botanist at Gardens By The Bay at Marina, and their two daughters, aged 14 and 16.

But a first glimpse of his new home on a taxi ride from Changi Airport boded well for his new job. 'There's this extraordinarily well-manicured row of plants in the middle of the highway, and you think, 'This cannot be real'. It is the most impressive arrival experience anywhere,' he said.

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Malaysians urged to brace for the worst in face of changes in weather pattern

Sira Habibu and Yvonne Lim The Star 5 Dec 11;

PETALING JAYA: The changing weather pattern is disrupting the daily routine of Malaysians as heavy rains lashed most of Klang Valley and other parts of the country yet again.

Malaysians have been advised to brace for the worst, as flash floods could occur even in areas not usually known to be flood-prone, said Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Douglas Uggah Embas.

Attributing the unpredictable weather to global climate change, he said the public should be prepared for any eventualities, citing how Kajang, Selangor, was unexpectedly hit by floods on Friday.

Yesterday evening, almost 100 trees were uprooted in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor as strong winds ravaged the city.

The rains were so heavy that many motorists had to stop their cars, afraid to drive further due to poor visibility.

Douglas said he had also called on relevant agencies to be on stand-by to implement mitigation measures quickly.

“They must also ensure that the flood warning system in all states are in proper working condition,” he said.

As at yesterday, 870 flood victims were evacuated to seven relief centres in five states, as the National Security Council issued flood alerts in Ledang (Johor), Manjung and Kerian (Perak), Alor Gajah (Malacca), Sepang (Selangor) and Sri Aman (Sarawak).

Douglas said the severe floods in Thailand that lasted for weeks was also a result of global climate change.

“We will look into concerted efforts to address this change,'' said Douglas, who is in Durban, South Africa, for the United Nations Climate Change Conference.

Meteorological Department director-general Dr Yap Kok Seng said the current La Nina phenomenon provided “favourable conditions” for thunderstorms.

The department has issued a warning on strong winds and rough seas.

“Thunderstorms over waters off Selangor, east Johor (Kota Tinggi), Pahang, Terengganu, Kelantan, Kuching, Labuan, Sabah (interior, west Coast and Sandakan), Straits of Malacca and Layang-layang are expected to continue.”

Freak storm and strong winds wreak havoc across the Klang Valley
Steven Daniel The Star 5 Dec 11;

KUALA LUMPUR: A freak thunderstorm and strong winds referred to as a “mini-hurricane” by many, tore through the capital and parts of Selangor, wreaking havoc, uprooting trees and damaging properties.

The hardest hit areas in the 5pm storm were Kepong, Bandar Menjalara and Hartamas.

Road users on the MRR2 highway near Kepong turned to Twitter to report that the rain was so ferocious that many motorists stopped their vehicles by the roadside to wait it out.

A spokesman from the Fire and Rescue Department (FRD) said while there was very heavy rain, it was the ferocity of the wind which caused more damage as trees were uprooted, branches snapped, billboards and signboards fell, and roof tiles and tents for functions were blown off.

“There were also reports of cars crushed by fallen trees and branches but fortunately, there was no loss of life or injury. We had earlier been warned by the Meteorological Department of the possibility of storms in the Klang Valley and had been prepared for this,” he said.

Officials from the FRD and City Hall rushed to clear the debris and remove trees blocking the roads to get the traffic moving.

Massive traffic jams up to 9pm were reported all over the capital and highway entry points into the city as motorists were forced to slow down due to fallen trees, debris and minor accidents.

It was learnt that vehicles were stuck near KM23.9 of the LDP in Puchong because of flash floods and several motorists had to be rescued by FRD officials. Areas in Kepong, Hartamas and Subang Jaya were also flooded for a while.

City Hall officials said they received reports that more than 50 trees fell mainly in Kepong and the city centre. They noted that there were several cases involving buildings with zinc rooftops being blown away.

Batu MP Tian Chua said in his Twitter message: “Horrific storm: Batu residents suffer some losses several houses in Kampung Chubadak lost atap; a few fallen trees in Jln Kolam Air”.

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Malaysia: Contractors to restore degraded forest in Sabah

Muguntan Vanar The Star 5 Dec 11;

KOTA KINABALU: The Forestry Department is stepping up its efforts to rehabilitate degraded forest in Sabah's Ulu-Segama Malua forest reserve to save the orang utan.

The department awarded reforestation contracts to four contractors to rehabilitate some 800ha of the degraded forest in the state's east coast.

The area would be replanted with indigenous tree species and wild fruit trees within a year, Sabah forestry director Datuk Sam Mannan said yesterday.

He said the area was part of the 2,400ha to be restored jointly by WWF-Malaysia and the department.

In 2007, the northern Ulu Segama area was found to have a large population of orang utan.

Mannan said the orang utan were entrapped in a poor secondary logged forest environment, with limited sources of food and shelter.

He said the objective of the programme was to improve the forest's condition.

“In the years to come, the forest will regenerate rapidly to provide fruits and nesting sites for the orang utan population and ensure their survival,” he added.

WWF-Malaysia forest restoration manager Joseph Gasis said by nature the orang utan built their sleeping nest each night and only sleep at one per night.

He noted that without sufficient food and suitable trees for building nests, the orang utan would need to travel long distances, and ultimately become extinct.

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6 Chinese arrested for turtle catch in Philippines

(AP) Google News 4 Dec 11;

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Six Chinese fishermen have been arrested in western Philippine waters for catching endangered sea turtles, officials said Sunday.

The fishermen, from China's southern island province of Hainan, were arrested Friday in waters off western Palawan province's Balabac township, said Maj. Niel Estrella, a Philippine military spokesman.

They are expected to be charged in court Monday for violating the Philippines' wildlife act and fisheries code provisions against catching endangered animals, said Adelina Villena, chief lawyer at the government's Palawan Council for Sustainable Development.

The fishermen's speedboat was intercepted by a joint team from the navy, coast guard and environment department.

Glenda Cadigal, a wildlife specialist at the Palawan Council, said the catch included 12 green sea turtles. Three turtles were alive and have been released, while nine were dead.

Villena said that if found guilty, the fishermen face a jail term of up to four years for violating the country's wildlife act, and up to 20 years for violating the fisheries code.

Estrella said the arresting team suspects that the Chinese fishermen's mother ship may have escaped when the speedboat was intercepted.

Palawan is the nearest Philippine province to the disputed Spratly Islands, which are claimed by China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei.

Endangered sea turtles are often caught for food and for use in traditional medicine.

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Mozambique's new forests may not be as green as they seem

Johannes Myburgh AFP Yahoo News 5 Dec 11;

Foreign companies are spending billions of dollars to plant forests in Mozambique, but conservationists fear the investments aren't as good for the environment as they might initially seem.

Mozambique has about 400,000 square kilometres (155,000 square miles) of largely untouched forests, an area larger than Germany that covers half of the country, making it a prime target in the African land rush that has seen foreign firms staking large claims for agri-business across the continent.

Three of Mozambique's biggest forestry investors tout their "green" credentials, with schemes to plant trees to filter carbon from the atmosphere and help slow global warming.

But the projects have drawn the ire of local communities who sometimes claim they were never consulted, and of activists who fear the consequences of replacing natural forests with commercial plantations of pine and eucalyptus.

Norwegian forestry group Green Resources and Portuguese paper producer Portucel have started on eucalyptus plantations, investments each worth more than $2.2 billion covering a total of 250,000 hectares (600,000 acres).

Both companies say their programmes comply with international schemes that aim to remove carbon from the atmosphere while creating economic benefits for Mozambique by processing wood for paper and building materials.

"The forestry plantations are planted in areas degraded by (human activity), therefore no felling of valuable indigenous trees will be required," Portucel spokeswoman Ana Nery told AFP.

But environmentalists argue the plantations will threaten Mozambique's biodiversity, saying degraded forests should be allowed to regenerate naturally.

"It is easy to say it is degraded zones. There is still so much biodiversity left and it recovers quickly," said Philip Owen, president of South African environmental NGO Geasphere.

When companies create new plantations, "especially with eucalyptus and pine, it has a terrible impact on resources", he said.

The Global Solidarity Forest Fund, run by churches in Norway and Sweden, holds around 23,000 hectares for pine and eucalyptus in a similar programme.

But Geasphere has accused the Fund of chopping down trees "at an alarming rate to give space to monoculture tree plantations."

The group criticised "the extremely high water consumption of the alien plants," with a single eucalyptus able to suck up 50 litres (13 gallons) of water a day, and the occupation of fertile land "vital to the food security" of small farmers.

The Swedish Cooperative Centre, a charity that supports small farmers, accused the Fund of bribing local leaders known as regulos to win approval for the plantations, resulting in conflicts with nearby communities.

"The community consultation was not done properly and the community does not feel involved," said Kajsa Johansson, the charity's chief in Mozambique.

Over the past three years small farmers have set fires to plantations out of frustration, she said.

"They uprooted plants. They also burnt the storage room of the company," she added.

The Fund has since replaced its management team.

"We are aware that afforestation has to be done very carefully," Fund spokeswoman Kinna Brundin told AFP.

"We are taking measures in identifying possible problems and will strengthen the consultation."

Globally, programmes to encourage poor countries to preserve large forests are a key part of the UN climate talks underway in the South African city of Durban, after the last round of talks in Mexico agreed to standards on the protection of forests.

South African agronomist Coert Geldenhuys said the trick is to find a balance between natural and planted forests.

"The question is, the new trees need to be integrated in the landscape," he said.

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Farming crucial for threatened species in developing world

University of East Anglia EurekAlert 4 Dec 11;

A number of threatened species in the developing world are entirely dependent on human agriculture for their survival, according to new research by the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Published today in the journal Conservation Letters, the study concludes that many species, rather than just using farmland to supplement their natural habitat, would actually be driven to extinction without it. Species such as the White-shouldered Ibis in Cambodia, the Sociable Lapwing in Kazakhstan and the Liben Lark in Ethiopia rely on local people and their agriculture.

Greatest benefit comes from local communities practising traditional agriculture with low ecological impact. Valuable practices include grazing animals on land where rare species breed and feed, and growing cereal crops which provide a rich source of food.

"Conservation efforts in the developing world focus a lot of attention on forest species and pristine habitats – so people have usually been seen as a problem. But there are a number of threatened species – particularly birds but probably a whole range of wildlife – which heavily depend on the farmed environment," said lead author Hugh Wright of UEA's School of Environmental Sciences.

"Many of the traditional farming systems that benefit these species are now under threat both from industrial, large-scale agriculture and from more local economic development. We need to identify valuable farmland landscapes and support local people so that they can continue their traditional farming methods and help maintain this unique biodiversity."

Conserving biodiversity by supporting or mimicking traditional farming methods has long been a feature in Europe, but it has rarely been applied in developing countries. The UEA researchers found at least 30 threatened or near threatened species relying on farmland in the developing world, but further research is likely to find many more.

Where local communities are threatened by industrial agriculture, which often results in people being thrown off their traditional lands, conservation may be able to provide a win-win solution, helping to safeguard farming livelihoods for local people and for wildlife. In other cases, local communities could receive economic or development benefits in return for continuing valuable farming practices that benefit wildlife. Conservation must not prevent development so any lost livelihood opportunities must be adequately compensated for.

"We have seen some of the poorest villagers denied access to their traditional grassland grazing and fishing lands, once these have been allocated to large businesses for intensive rice production," said co-author Dr Paul Dolman.

"Although this helps produce food for export and helps the national economy, local people can suffer along with threatened birds which once nested in these grasslands. By identifying this link between people and threatened wildlife, we hope to help both."


'Agriculture – a key element for conservation in the developing world' by Hugh Wright (UEA), Iain Lake (UEA) and Paul Dolman (UEA) is published online by Conservation Letters on Monday December 5 2011.

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Science takes on the global food challenge

ECOS Magazine Science Alert 5 Dec 11;

The Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change (CSACC) – an independent global commission of eminent scientists – has released a blueprint for urgent action to deal with the global challenge of feeding the world in the face of climate change, population growth, uneven food distribution, volatile markets and degraded ecosystems.

The summary for policy makers, ‘Achieving food security in the face of climate change’, can help governments, agribusiness and food companies deliver evidence-based and long-term regional solutions to this global challenge.

The summary was released in the lead-up to the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Durban, South Africa.

CSIRO Chief Executive, Dr Megan Clark, represents Australian science on the CSACC.

‘This global science effort has analysed existing diverse scientific and cultural knowledge to determine leverage points in the world’s food system and to identify policy actions to address the growing challenges,’ Dr Clark says.

The Commission’s Chairman, Professor Sir John Beddington, says the challenge is to reorient the whole global food system – not just agricultural production, and not just in developing countries.

‘We need a socially equitable, global approach to produce the funding, policy, management and regional initiatives that will deliver nutrition, income and climate benefits for all.’

The Commission emphasises that food security is a problem for everyone, with rich and poor countries facing different but equally challenging problems.

Its recommendations support climate-resilient agricultural production, efficient resource use, low-waste supply chains, adequate nutrition and healthy eating choices that, together, will constitute a sustainable food system.

‘Climate change is already causing more extreme weather events, such as high temperatures, altered rainfall patterns and more intense extreme events such as droughts and floods, and will affect those people who already live on the brink of vulnerability,’ Sir John says.

According to Professor Tekalign Mamo, Advisor to the Ethiopian Minister of Agriculture and CSACC Commissioner: ‘Climate, such as high temperatures, droughts and floods, and will particularly harm those people who already live on the brink of hunger and malnutrition.

‘Food insecurity produces widespread human suffering, even in the world’s wealthiest countries, as well as political and economic instability, so it is clear the status quo is not an option.’

The Deputy Director of CSIRO’s Sustainable Agriculture Flagship, Dr Peter Carberry, says Australia has its part to play.

‘Australian agriculture (including land clearing) accounts for at least 25 per cent of the country’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – a figure similar to the global average.

‘We need to contribute to the global challenge of reducing GHGs from agriculture by 50–80 per cent by 2050 while, at the same time, contributing to a 30–80 per cent increase in global food production.

‘Mitigating agricultural emissions and storing more carbon in soils and forests are critical needs but such actions have to be balanced with Australian and international requirements for food security.

‘For our nation, this report reinforces the critical role our science plays in the global food system, identifying priorities at the global scale across sometimes conflicting issues.

‘CSIRO is working with Australian farmers, industry and government to enable the continued productivity of agriculture in Australia, while reducing our environmental footprint.

‘Overseas, we are seeing increased commitment to agricultural research in regions like Africa – where AusAID, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and CSIRO are working with African scientists, farmers and key players along the production chain to address critical food security challenges.’

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Fiscal Crisis Failed to Curb Global Warming Emissions

Wynne Parry Yahoo News 5 Dec 11;

Believe it or not, there is a potential upside to the global financial crisis that began in 2007. However, it now appears that benefit — namely, putting the brakes on greenhouse gas emissions, and, as a result, global warming — never fully materialized, according to an analysis of two important sources of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

While a decline in economic activity means fewer greenhouse gas emissions, the most recent crisis seems to have created only a dip in the road to a warmer planet, the analysis indicates.

In fact, after the predictable downturn, emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from two prominent sources climbed to a record high, the researchers found.

"The (global financial crisis) was an opportunity to move the global economy away from a high emissions trajectory," write the researchers, led by Glenn Peters of the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Norway, today in the journal Nature Climate Change. "Our results provide no indication of this happening, and further, indicate that the global financial crisis has been quite different from previous global crises."

The rebound in emissions makes the goal of limiting global warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) more difficult to achieve. Negotiators, gathered in Durban, South Africa, are attempting to figure out a solution. [How 2 Degrees Will Change Earth]

Economic crises mean fewer things are sold or built and less fossil fuel is burned as individuals and corporations keep tighter grips on their pocketbooks. This research relied on two crucial sources of carbon dioxide — the burning of fossil fuels, such as gasoline in cars, and cement production, which accounts for 5 percent of human carbon dioxide emissions.

Global carbon dioxide emissions from these sources have dropped in years past; one example was the oil crisis of 1979. And in 2009, during the financial crisis, global emissions dropped by 1.4 percent.

But last year, emissions of carbon dioxide increased by 5.9 percent, reaching a record high and swallowing up any reduction that occurred during the crisis, according to preliminary estimates.

The rapid rise may have been the result of easing energy prices, government investment intended to speed economic recovery and high economic growth in the developing world, the researchers write.

Fossil-fuel emissions unbraked by financial crisis
AFP Yahoo News 5 Dec 11;

Emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from fossil fuels and the cement industry scaled a record high in 2010, rocketing by 5.9 percent over 2009 in a surge led by developing countries, scientists reported on Sunday.

For the first time ever, annual CO2 from these sources topped nine billion tonnes, reaching an estimated 9.1 gigatonnes, they said in a letter to the journal Nature Climate Change.

The year-on-year rise was the highest ever recorded and more than wiped out a 1.4-percent fall in 2009 which occurred as a result of the 2008 global financial crisis.

"After only one year, the global financial crisis has had little impact on the strong growth trend of global CO2 emissions that characterised most of the 2000s," said the letter, led by Glen Peters of the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Norway.

The rebound may be explained by a swift easing in energy prices and injections of government funds to help recovery, the authors suggested.

CO2 emissions from rich countries fell by 1.3 percent in 2008 and 7.6 percent in 2009, but increased by 3.4 percent in 2010. The United States, historically the world's biggest emitter and currently ranked second after China, saw an increase in 2010 of 4.1 percent.

Even so, emissions from developed countries in 2010 remained lower than their average emissions when measured over 2000-2007.

In contrast, emissions from developing countries increased by 4.4 percent in 2008, 3.9 percent in 2009 and 7.6 percent in 2010.

This growth was concentrated especially in China, which saw a year-on-year increase of 10.4 percent, and in India, where there was a rise of 9.4 per cent.

The letter, authored by six prominent scientists, was published at the midway point at the UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa.

Nations are struggling for agreement on how to tame CO2 and other "greenhouse" gases which trap solar heat and thus create a man-made trigger for climate change.

One of the biggest bones of contention is whether emerging giant economies should be part of a global, legally-binding treaty.

The United States says a pact can only be envisaged if China and India, in particular, have constraints.

Right now, the developing countries have no specific curbs under the Kyoto Protocol or under the wider agreement in the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The letter published on Sunday concurs with data published last month by the US Department of Energy that focused on fossil-fuel consumption.

According to an analysis on Thursday released by a British risk-analysis firm Maplecroft, five countries -- China, the United States, India, Russia and Japan -- account for more than half of all emissions of man-made greenhouse gases.

Brazil, Germany, Canada, Mexico and Iran lie just behind.

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Durban will help fix balance in climate fight: UN official

Marlowe Hood AFP Yahoo News 5 Dec 11;

Climate talks in Durban are on track to help poor and vulnerable nations deal with increasingly fierce heatwaves, storms and drought, the UN's top climate official said Saturday.

"I am pretty confident that we are going to come out of Durban at the end of next week with probably the strongest package to support adaptation that we have ever had," Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), told AFP in an interview.

Climate change initiatives fall into two broad categories of "cut" and "cope": cutting the greenhouse gas emissions that drive global warming, and coping with the impacts already hitting regions across the world.

How to allocate scarce climate resources across this divide is a keenly debated issue at the 12-day climate negotiations under the UNFCCC, which runs through Friday.

Most developing countries would like to see more money going into projects that help small-scale farmers cope with climate-enhanced weather extremes, or coastal communities deal with amped up storm surges and rising seas.

So far, however, the lion's share of funds have gone to mitigation, the term used for schemes to reduce the amount of CO2 humans pump into the atmosphere.

Some 95 percent of the approximately 97 billion dollars channeled into climate-related finance each year is earmarked for mitigation, according to a report by Climate Policy Initiative, an international research centre based in San Francisco.

"The split between mitigation and adaptation contrasts with some of the rhetoric in global climate change negotiations, where many countries and commentators have remarked that climate finance should be split 50-50," lead author Barbara Buchner notes in the study.

New initiatives on the table in Durban should help shift the balance in this direction, Figueres said.

Some are only preliminary steps, such as forming a work group to examine "loss and damage" that can be attributed to climate change, or a program that allows the most exposed nations to highlight priority targets for assistance.

All of these are to be piloted by an umbrella adaptation committee that exists on paper but has yet to be set up.

More contentious is a Green Climate Fund, to be ramped up to 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 to help with both mitigation and adaptation in poorer nations. Again, the mix has yet to be defined.

For Figueres, the yardstick for progress in the UN talks as a whole is how well they serve this constituency.

"I firmly believe that the success of this process must be measured by its effect on the most vulnerable populations of the world, not those that are least vulnerable," she said.

Earlier in the day, some 6,500 people, mostly from South Africa and other parts of the continent, marched through the streets of Durban calling for "climate justice".

Many were highly critical of the UN talks, saying they were moving too slowly and slanted too heavily toward market-driven initiatives based on carbon markets.

When asked, Figueres acknowledged that she felt sympathy with the marchers and their call for equity.

"Being the daughter of a revolutionary, that's certainly part of me," she said with a smile. "I would like to be there because I have high expectations and ambition."

"I am very committed to the fact that civil society is just as important a participant in this process as the governments and the private sector."

But the demonstrators were wrong, she added, to think that progress was not being made.

"I have witnessed extraordinary progress over the last year, and even in the seven days since we have been here."

The first of some 130 ministers began to arrive over the weekend for the high-level segment of the talks starting on Tuesday.

They will decide the fate of the Kyoto Protocol, the only international treaty limiting greenhouse gases, and whether to set the Green Climate Fund in motion.

Also on the table is a proposal from the European Union to set a 2015 deadline for hammering out a legally-binding climate deal covering all major emitters, to be implemented by 2020.

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