Best of our wild blogs: 8 Dec 11

Tiny Ctenophores!
from wild shores of singapore

The same old plods
from The annotated budak

金背三趾啄木鸟Common Flameback@星和园japanese garden
from PurpleMangrove

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Climate change: All countries have part to play, says Singapore

Grace Chua Straits Times 8 Dec 11;

DURBAN (South Africa): Developed countries must show leadership in cutting their carbon emissions, but developing countries can and must contribute too, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

He was delivering Singapore's national statement, which outlines each country's position and demands, at the United Nations climate change conference in the South African city of Durban yesterday.

Ministers and leaders from more than 190 countries are in town to discuss the future of the Kyoto Protocol, as well as a legally binding deal for all countries.

The Kyoto Protocol, a legal pact that requires developed nations to cut their carbon dioxide emissions, as well as other measures to help developing countries cope with the impact of climate change, will run out by the end of next year.

Singapore, DPM Teo said, associates itself with the developing-country Group of 77 and China, and with the 39-member Alliance of Small Island States.

At the opening of the high-level ministerial segment on Tuesday, representatives of these developing- and vulnerable-country groups pleaded for a new legally binding agreement and for international funding mechanisms to be implemented.

DPM Teo said the measures agreed on in previous talks should be carried out. For example, under last year's Cancun Agreements, all developed countries pledged to reduce their emissions, and developing countries undertook nationally appropriate mitigation actions.

By UN estimates, those pledges will result in 3-7 gigatonnes less carbon dioxide emissions. Global emissions from the burning of fossil fuels for energy alone, by comparison, were 30.4 gigatonnes last year - a record high.

In Cancun, governments also agreed that developing nations should get finance, technology and training to help them tackle climate change.

Those must translate into concrete measures like setting up and putting money into a Green Climate Fund previously agreed on.

Singapore suggested three guiding principles for the talks, which have two days left to go.

One, the system to combat climate change must be multilateral, meaning every country has to play by the rules.

Two, there should be transparency, meaning countries must be able to measure, report and verify that they made the emissions cuts they pledged.

And three, there should be universal participation, meaning all countries must participate according to their respective abilities.

'What this means is that the developed countries have to show leadership in emissions reductions. But developing countries too, can and must make a contribution to the process, taking into account their national circumstances and constraints,' he said.

Some 90 countries have already pledged to reduce their carbon emissions, he said, 'but we need to encourage others to come forward and make their pledge'.

Singapore had pledged in 2009 at the Copenhagen conference to cut carbon emissions by between 7 and 11 per cent without a legally binding agreement and 16 per cent with one.

DPM Teo outlined some of the actions that Singapore has already taken: switching from fuel oil to natural gas, which cuts carbon emissions, and implementing vehicle quotas and usage constraints like Electronic Road Pricing.

It also has research programmes in clean technologies, such as solar energy, electric vehicles and a new centre set up with Shanghai Jiaotong University this week to study energy from waste and pollution monitoring.

And as a member of the International Maritime Organisation and the International Civil Aviation Organisation, Mr Teo said, Singapore is also working towards multilateral measures to cut emissions in the international maritime and aviation sectors.

'Through these efforts, we hope to develop effective solutions that can address the challenges faced by Singapore, and also contribute to global efforts to mitigate climate change,' he said.

Big emerging nations call for Kyoto extension
They want developed countries to take on 2nd commitment period to climate change pact
Grace Chua Straits Times 8 Dec 11;

DURBAN (South Africa): As the world's heads of state arrive in Durban, South Africa, to begin the high-level segment of the United Nations climate negotiations, the largest emerging economies said they were united in wanting a legal agreement on the Kyoto Protocol.

In their first joint press conference of this instalment of the climate talks, Brazil, South Africa, India and China said on Tuesday they wanted a second commitment period to the 14-year-old Kyoto Protocol.

The first commitment period, which concludes at the end of next year, requires certain developed countries to cut emissions. Developing and vulnerable nations want these countries to sign on to a second commitment period, and others to sign up for binding targets as well.

Chinese lead negotiator Xie Zhenhua also dismissed talk of rifts within the group, known collectively as Basic and as the largest emerging-economy emitters.

But each member of the group had slightly different demands.

China - the world's largest emitter with 24 per cent of global emissions - said it would consider being subject to hard targets after the next scientific report of climate change evidence and risk by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is released, provided its pre-conditions were met. The report is due in 2014.

Those conditions included a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, and the focus to be equally on mitigation, which is cutting emissions, and adaptation, which means helping countries bear the impact of climate change.

Indian Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan wanted developed nations to shoulder more of the burden as they had started industrialising and polluting earlier.

'Developing countries should not be asked to make a payment every time an existing obligation becomes due on the part of developed countries,' she said.

The Basic countries also sought to get the Green Climate Fund, agreed on at last year's talks in Cancun, Mexico, up and running with money in the bank.

The fund is supposed to get US$100 billion (S$129 billion) a year by 2020 to countries that need help tackling climate change. But it is now empty, and details of who should fund it and how have not been decided yet.

At the start of high-level talks on Tuesday, developing and vulnerable countries also reiterated the need for developed countries to take the lead, and warned of dire consequences should negotiations not reach an agreement.

Mr Karl Hood, Grenada's Environment Minister, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States

(Aosis), which includes Singapore, said: 'We in Aosis have not come here to negotiate ourselves out of existence, but this is what will happen if we give in to some of the proposals put forward in the last couple of days.'

Singapore is also part of the Group of 77, the largest inter-governmental organisation of developing countries in the UN.

At the same time, Ms Connie Hedegaard, European Commissioner for climate action, held fast to the European Union's road map concept, which would require developed and developing countries to say when they would commit to binding greenhouse gas cuts under the Kyoto Protocol.

The EU has already committed to cutting emissions by at least 20 per cent by 2020.

Even so, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said in his opening statement that 'the ultimate goal of a comprehensive and binding climate change agreement may be beyond our reach - for now'.

With another two days of negotiations to go, what is left on the table is whether countries will make a legal decision to extend the Kyoto Protocol's first commitment period, or table the decision to next year.

Outcome of climate change talks will need to be "balanced" and "ambitious"
Today Online 8 Dec 11;

The outcome of the climate change talks in Durban should be guided by principles of multilateralism, transparency and universal participation, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

Speaking at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in the South African city, Mr Teo said that countries will need to push for a package of decisions "that is not only balanced, but also ambitious".

He said that without a strong multilateral system, "the risks of unilateral actions are high" and "will have serious distortive effects", and the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol would be "critical" to achieving commitment to a multilateral rules-based system to deal with climate change.

"It is also vitally important that the Cancun decisions on mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology and capacity building are implemented, he added.

To enhance transparency, it is also important to reach a decision on a framework for Measurable, Reportable and Verifiable (MRV) provisions to to monitor the implementation of individual and collective actions. T

"Transparency is the key to building confidence and trust in the multilateral process. Greater transparency will also create greater reciprocity of action, leading to even more ambitious targets over time to address climate change," said Mr Teo.

Mr Teo also urged universal participation by countries to combat climate change.

"What this means is that the developed countries have to show leadership in emissions reductions," he said. "But developing countries too can and must make a contribution to the process, taking into account their national circumstances and constraints."

He gave a rundown on Singapore's efforts so far, such as the switch from fuel oil to natural gas to generate electricity in 2001, and the building up of research capabilities in clean technology and test-beds for low-carbon sustainable solutions like smart grids and electric vehicles.

Singapore is also working to meet its unconditional pledge to achieve emissions of 7 to 11 per cent below BAU-levels by 2020, and has pledged to to achieve 16 per cent below Business-As-Usual (BAU) levels by 2020 if a legally binding global agreement is reached.

"Given our early mitigation actions and difficulties to switch to alternatives, our pledge is a substantial commitment and will entail significant efforts from all sectors of our economy and our population," he said.

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'Conserve mangroves as carbon sinks' and Singapore

Straits Times 8 Dec 11;

MANGROVES and coastal ecosystems are such large stores of carbon dioxide that they should be included in countries' carbon counts and protected, conservation groups have said.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Conservation International on Tuesday called for negotiators at the United Nations climate change conference in Durban to include coastal conservation in policies and financing processes.

Mangrove plants and their rich mud can sequester up to five times as much carbon dioxide as tropical forests, and destroying them can release substantial amounts of the greenhouse gas.

The IUCN said mangrove forests could be specifically included in the Redd+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) framework, meaning other governments and private investors can fund mangrove conservation projects in needy communities. The Redd+ scheme aims to boost the carbon stored in forests by keeping them intact and preventing forest degradation. It also aims to protect local communities and indigenous peoples.

A few countries, like Indonesia, already include their mangroves in national climate change plans, but these are not detailed.

Many countries already recognise the value of mangroves as fish nurseries and in preventing erosion. But scientific and policy work on mangroves as carbon sinks gives an extra reason to protect them, said IUCN marine programme officer Dorothee Herr.

To date, human activity has destroyed more than 35 per cent of mangroves, 30 per cent of seagrass meadows and 20 per cent of salt marshes worldwide.

Singapore has some seagrass meadows, including some globally vulnerable species. In 1950, mangroves covered some 13 per cent of the land area. By 2002, that had dwindled to 0.5 per cent.

But in recent years, Singapore has undertaken mangrove reforestation, especially to prevent coastal erosion and to protect against a rise in sea level. By 2008, mangroves covered 6.6 sq km or less than 1 per cent of the land area now.

Singapore-Delft Water Alliance researcher Daniel Friess said: 'Carbon (storage) is one of a multitude of ecosystem services that coastal wetlands provide, and another good reason to focus attention - and funding - on them.'


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Malaysia: Elephant gores tourist to death

Durie Rainer Fong The Star 8 Dec 11;

KOTA KINABALU: An Australian female tourist was gored to death by a bull elephant that charged at her as she was photographing it in Sabah's Tabin Wildlife Reserve.

Jenna O'Grady Donley, 26, a Sydney-based veterinarian, was attacked by the elephant, which was apparently startled by the sounds of the camera shutter and flash in the 6.30am incident yesterday.

Witnesses claimed that she could not flee in time as the elephant charged at her suddenly. Her woman companion and guide escaped the attack at the 123,000ha wildlife re-serve about 100km from Lahad Datu.

State Wildlife Department director Dr Laurentius Ambu said a group of women and their guide had gone to a nearby mud volcano and decided to take the wildlife trail on their way back to the resort.

Dr Ambu said the group had gone off the trail to take photographs of the wild elephant, which he suspected was a single bull.

Single bull elephants, he said, tend to be loners and were dangerous with their unpredictable behaviour.

Dr Ambu said the women had stopped about 10m from the animal and started taking pictures.

He said this might have provoked the elephant.

He added that the others escaped but the woman could not as she was the closest to the animal.

The woman's remains have been sent to a hospital in Lahad Datu.

The department's wildlife unit chief veterinarian Dr Sen Nathan said a team had been sent to check on the bull and to ascertain the situation concerning the animal.

“We have to check if the elephant was in a state of musth (when testosterone levels are high and the animal becomes aggressive and unpredictable) and see what needs to be done,” he said.

Dr Sen said this was the first time such an incident had occurred within the wildlife reserve although there had been two other cases of elephants goring humans in Sabah over the last decade.

Question mark over fate of killer elephant
The Star 9 Dec 11;

KOTA KINABALU: Conservationists are unsure over the next course of action to take against a bull that gored an Australian tourist at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve.

The killer Borneo Pygmy elephant is among 300 to 500 elephants that roam the reserve.

A conservationist said the elephant had not trespassed into settlements occupied by humans.

“In this case, it is humans who have trespassed into their territory. How can we blame it?” asked a Sabah-based elephant conservationist who declined to be named.

On the other hand, the elephant had attacked a human and there is a possibility that it could do so again, he said.

Among the options are to relocate it to captivity or even putting the elephant to sleep, the expert added.

A single bull elephant, according to wildlife experts, can be dangerous and aggressive.

Jenna O’Grady Donley is the first person to be gored by an elephant in the Tabin reserve though there have been two fatalities – one in Tongod involving a villager and a plantation worker in Tawau.

In both cases, the elephants had strayed into settlements.

Meanwhile, a medical examination conducted at the Lahad Datu Hospital indicated that Jenna had died from multiple piercings by the tusk of the elephant.

The body of the 26-year-old is expected to be flown back to Australia today.

Little chance of escaping from a raging elephant
Roy Goh and Avila Geraldine New Straits Times 9 Dec 11;
JENNA O'Grady Donley had little chance of escaping from the raging elephant that gored her to death in Lahad Datu two days ago.

The Bornean pygmy elephant may seem slow and sluggish, but when it sets its sight on an enemy, it moves with unpredictable speed.

A veterinarian and a ranger, who were part of the State Wildlife department's Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU), came close to a similar fate last year.

Dr Sen Nathan and Jibius Dausip were releasing an elephant when it suddenly turned on them in the Ulu Segama area, forcing them to run up a hill.

Fortunately for them, they were alert and had years of experience handling wild elephants, unlike Donley, who was due to graduate as a veterinarian next week.

Tour guide Tham Yau Kong, who was with five foreign guests at the Tabin Wildlife Resort in the reserve for three days until Wednesday, said Donley and her friend looked keen on observing wildlife when they met on Tuesday.

They were looking forward to see wild animals and had engaged an in-house guide to walk the jungle trails in the 120,000ha reserve, which is also popular for its mud volcanoes.

In his 22 years as a guide, Tham believes no one could have anticipated the attack by the tunggal, or an elderly male elephant that roams on its own in the jungle.

"The two Australian women were eager and appeared to have good knowledge of animals," said Tham, but noted that would not be enough when faced with such an encounter in the forests.

A team from the WRU is now in the reserve to identify the elephant that killed Donley and monitor its movements.

The team may also consider moving it to other locations.

Former Sabah Tourist Association chairman L.P. Liew said safety guideline on wildlife viewing needed to be introduced for tourism players, rangers, guides and villagers.

Photographs of wild animals are prized collections by tourists and operators, but there is a need for the authorities to lay down some ground rules for the sake of their safety, Liew said.

Meanwhile, state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said Donley's family had contacted and instructed the Australian High Commission to make arrangements to fly her remains home.

Budding vet with a golden heart
Australian killed by bull elephant had real affinity with animals
Lee Shi-ian and Hariz Mohd New Straits Times 9 Dec 11;

AUSTRALIAN Jenna O'Grady Donley, who died on Wednesday after being gored by an elephant in Lahad Datu, Sabah, was described as a gifted would-be veterinarian with a keen interest in wild animals.

Jenna's mother, Liz Donley, said her daughter was respectful of the animal's environment and believed she had startled the bull elephant, causing it to attack.

She told The Australian newspaper and 774 ABC Melbourne that bull elephants were not only fast and could move unpredictably. They were also aggressive and protective. She added that it was a tragic accident.

"Jenna had a keen interest in wild animals, especially big ones," said Liz.

"She had gone to Africa several years ago to help injured animals at a wildlife sanctuary and had recently completed a thesis on renal failure in big cats, which Jenna was hopeful would assist in finding a cure.

"She was a very gifted child in the veterinary science field and had a good mixture of passion, intelligence and a complete devotion to the health of animals.

"It's difficult to accept losing my only child at the age of 25 when she had such a bright future ahead of her.

"But I hope that her work will leave a lasting legacy for others to follow.

"The tragedy has happened and from that, we have to move on with a positive note.

"From Jenna's work and from the type of person that she was, we know that she had many friends and a good family. Someone else now will take on that research and continue her work."

In an earlier interview with the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries' newspaper Agriculture Today, Jenna had said she loved working with farmers during her various internships in the province.

"Caring about rural people, their land, livelihood, animals, becoming involved with their families... it is refreshing to be able to work with such genuine, down-to-earth people," said Jenna.

The Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur confirmed they were looking into the incident, but declined to comment on arrangements to fly Jenna's body back to Sydney for burial in her hometown.

In Wednesday's incident, Jenna was gored to death by a bull pygmy elephant at the Tabin Wildlife Sanctuary at 8.30am as she was taking photographs of the animal.

Jenna had reportedly gone to the wildlife sanctuary with a friend and tour guide at 7am. When they noticed a lone elephant, Jenna and her friend went closer to take pictures of the animal.

The elephant suddenly charged at Jenna and its tusk pierced her body, killing her on the spot. The guide and Jenna's friend managed to get to safety. Additional reporting by Carisma Kapoor

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Indonesian government says it is seriously protecting orang utans

Antara 5 Dec 11;

Bogor, West Java (ANTARA News) - Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan said the government was seriously committed to protecting wild life species such as orangutans.

"Whether they are individuals, companies or foreigners, the government will act firmly against anyone who injures or destroys wild life species. The sanctions for anyone found killing or trading in wild animals will be severe, they can be sentenced to up to ten years in jail," he said when met after opening the International Meeting of Indonesia Forestry Researchers (INAFOR) here on Monday.

He said two suspected killers of orangutans in East Kalimantan were arrested recently. Based on information from the two, the police had caught three other suspects.

"Therefore, no one must disturb orangutans. Any party involved be it a company or a foreigner in the violation of the law will be dealt with firmly," he said.

The minister said the government continued protecting wild animals in Indonesia.

So far his office had released six orangutans which are part of 40 others saved by the office from oil palm plantation land clearance.

He said the 40 animals would be released into the wild until 2015.

Based on IUCN Red list of 2002 edition orangutans in Kalimantan are categorized as endangered or rare animals. The number of the animal species in Central Kalimantan is around 31,300 heads.

According to experts` prediction, if conditions are not improving in ten years` time Indonesia may lose almost 50 percent of its present orangutan population.

A forest area in Hanau village in the sub-district of Hanau, Seruyan, was chosen to be the place for the release of the orangutans based on the results of a survey made in July 2007 by a research team from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture.

The area bordering with Tanjung Puting National Park is a peat land forest fit for an orangutan habitat.

The release of the orangutans was also supported by the Friends of Orangutan that helps with providing treatment of 330 orangutans in the International Foundation for Orangutan Care (OFI).

Police name orangutan killers in Kutai Timur suspects
Antara 7 Dec 11;

Tenggarong, East Kalimantan (ANTARA News) - Two people have been named suspects for killing an orangutan in Jukaya village in the sub-district of Telen, Kutai Timur, East Kalimantan.

"They have also been detained since December 1, 2011. The two are employees of palm oil company PT SRS in Kutai Timur," East Kalimantan police spokesman Senior Commissioner Anthonius Wisnu Sutarta said to newsmen here on Wednesday.

The two known by their initials as LI (32) and TA (21) were named suspects based upon evidence namely pieces of wood and a rope they used to kill the animal.

"The case is unveiled following information from environment researchers," Sutarta said.

He said according to the suspects they killed the animal on July 23, 2011 in the area of PT SRS.

"They said the killing occurred when two animals, a mother and a son, were eating palm oil fruits. One of them namely the orangutan child was saved and is now being treated at the East Kalimantan natural resource conservation agency (BKSDA) center," he said.

He said the police had not found any indication of the involvement of the company in the case.

"The police have not found correlations between the killing of the animal and the company`s policy. But we are still continuing the investigation," he said.

He said the case was separated from the case of orangutan killings in Puan Cepak, Muara Kaman, Kutai Kartanegara.

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M&S eco-label farmed fish 'not better for environment' – report

University of Victoria study finds many eco-labels are not much better at protecting oceans than conventionally farmed fish
Suzanne Goldenberg 7 Dec 11;

Farmed fish sold under the Marks & Spencer eco-label is no better for the environment than conventionally farmed fish, a study on the sustainability claims of major fish producers says.

The report from the University of Victoria found that many of the so-called eco-labels were not much better than conventional farmed fish when it came to protecting the oceans, and some – including those produced under the Marks & Spencer brand – were actually worse.

"They have set criteria that currently sit below the normative performance of conventional industry," said lead author John Volpe, who heads the Seafood Ecology Research Group at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. "What this analysis makes clear is that the criteria a producer might meet to acquire the Marks & Spencer label is already below industry-wide practice."

A spokeswoman for Marks & Spencer said that the company was very disappointed by the report and that its commitment to sustainable fishing went beyond labels. "We have developed an industry leading aquaculture standard that we apply to all the farmed fish we use in our business, including that used as an ingredient in prepared food, which very few other major retailers do," said Emma Johnson.

She criticised the report for including only two retailers – Marks & Spencer and Whole Foods – on its list of 20 standards developed by organic associations, industry groups and supermarkets in the US, UK, Europe and Australia.

How Green Is Your Eco-Label? looked at the environmental impacts of farming 11 species of fish, including three varieties of salmon – Atlantic, chinook and coho – as well as Atlantic cod, European seabass, barramundi and turbot. It did not look at farmed freshwater fish such as tilapia.

Overall, most eco-labels for farmed marine fish produced no more than a 10% improvement over conventional varieties. A third of the 20 eco-labels in the study were at the same level as, or below, standard industry practice, Volpe said. "When you start looking into how much time and money has been poured into the development of these labels, which are the banner of the sustainable seafood movement, and just how much return there is on the investment they are receiving, then on the whole it is quite modest," said Volpe. "That was a bit of a shocker to us."

The study, which was reviewed and was supported by the Pew Environment Group, used 10 factors to rate the eco-labels including feeding, antibiotic use and energy use.

Marks & Spencer scored at the bottom, or second from the bottom, on all four sets of rankings. Of any of the labels, it was the furthest from reaching the voluntary standards set by the Monterey Bay Aquarium seafood watch guide and the Blue Ocean Institute seafood guide.

Both are seen as the authorities on sustainable farmed and wild caught seafood, and the Monterey Bay guidelines have been adopted by leading chefs and restaurants in the US.

Marks & Spencer described the guidelines used in the report as "niche standards".

"Whilst we believe the report is wrong to compare a standard we apply to all our sourcing with niche standards, it does not remove our commitment to further improve our standards in the future," Johnson said.

She said the company had worked closely with the World Wildlife Fund to develop the Salmon Aquaculture Dialogue and that it was aiming to introduce it on a number of its supplier farms next year.

Volpe said the researchers focused on the major producers, which included organic associations, industry groups and retailers.

But he noted that Marks & Spencer faced a much higher bar on eco-label salmon than other producers on other types of fish. Conventional salmon farming had already come some distance to improving its environmental footprint, he said.

"It's like going on a diet," Volpe said. "Losing the first 10lbs is easier than losing the last 10lbs or the last 2lbs."

The study claims to be the first to take an in-depth look at how eco-labels on farmed fish stand up to conventional options in the marketplace.

Volpe said it was aimed at helping consumers find their way through a confusing thicket of claims from the fishing industry and supermarkets about the sustainability of their products.

A number of recent news investigations in America have focused on false labelling of fish, and Volpe argued consumers were more savvy at assessing claims made by beef or poultry farmers than seafood producers.

Among the researchers' other main findings, organic labels are ahead of trade associations and retailers in living up to their sustainability claims – although a few do fall short.

The study warns that looking at the environmental footprint of a single fish farm, or group of fish farms, could be misleading. The overall impact of the farmed fish industry could overwhelm any of the efforts to reduce the toll on the environment.

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Ecologists fume as Brazil Senate OKs forestry reform

AFP Yahoo News 7 Dec 11;

The Brazilian Senate has passed a forestry reform bill which is backed by the country's powerful agribusiness sector but opposed by environmentalists who see it as a threat to preservation of the Amazon.

The legislation, which received 59 votes in favor and seven against in an overnight vote, still has to be approved by the Chamber of Deputies before being submitted to President Dilma Rousseff.

The current forestry code, which dates back to 1965, limits the use of lands for farming and mandates that up to 80 percent of the Amazon, the world's largest tropical rainforest, remain intact.

"This shameful vote legalizes environmental crime," said Senator Marinor Brito in explaining her no vote.

Speaking from Durban on the sidelines of a UN-sponsored climate change talks, Marina Silva, who ran as the candidate of Brazil's small Green Party in last year's presidential election, also slammed Senate approval of the reform.

"The bill that was approved yesterday by the Senate undermines protection of the forest, provides amnesty for those who deforest and will increase deforestation", she told a press conference.

"Our only hope is President Dilma, who during the election campaign had pledged to veto any measure which might increase deforestation or amnesty those who engage in deforestation," said Silva, who served as environment minister under former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

But the agrobusiness sector, which has a large representation in Congress, defends the reform, stressing the need to extend farm land to bolster Brazil's food security.

"With this, we are ending the confrontation between environmentalists and farmers," said Senator Jorge Viana, a sponsor of the bill, pointing out that the text strikes a balance between farm development and environmental conservation.

But ecologists are fiercely opposed to the reform, fearing an irreversible impact on government commitments to combat deforestation and global warming.

The new Forestry Code would reduce the area which must be preserved, protected and reforested and would effectively lift sanctions and obligations that were imposed on rural landowners under the 1965 code.

It would threaten 690,000 square kilometers (266,000 square miles) of forest, an area bigger than France, and prevent Brazil from meeting its target of reducing deforestation by 80 percent, environmentalists have warned.

Brazil said Monday that the pace of deforestation in its Amazon region fell to its lowest level since authorities began monitoring in 1988.

WWF warns on looming Amazon deforestation disaster as Brazil senate votes to dismantle protections
WWF 7 Dec 11;

Brasilia, Brazil: Brazil’s Senate has decided to pursue short term gain over long term security in a vote to do away with long standing protections for the Amazon and other key forested areas, WWF warned today.

The new law, promoted by some rural and agribusiness interests, opens vast new areas of forest to agriculture and cattle ranching and extends amnesties to illegal deforestation conducted prior to 2008. Areas formerly held to be too steep or vital to the protection of watersheds and watercourses are among those now open to destruction.

Polls showed a majority of the population opposed to the revision of the Forest Code, with a vocal majority of experts warning that the new version of the law will hinder Brazil’s long-term development and not help it.

“We have a powerful minority condemning the future of millions of Brazilians, all in the name of quick financial gain,” stated WWF-Brazil’s CEO, Maria Cecilia Wey de Brito. “No thought has been given to the social and economic costs of destroying our forests. The Senate has adopted, once again, the outdated and false notion that conservation and development are somehow at odds, something we know is not true.”

If signed into law by Brazil President Dilma Rousseff, the changes will jeopardize Brazil’s significant environmental achievements of recent years and severely undermine global efforts to fight climate change and halt biodiversity loss. The changes are also expected to expose poor Brazilians to larger risks from floods and droughts.

Brazil has committed to 2020 targets of a nearly 40 percent cut in its growth curve of greenhouse gas emissions and a reduction of Amazon deforestation levels by 80 percent compared to average rates registered for the period of 1996-2005. These are commitments of global interest, now almost certainly out of reach because of the revisions to the Forest Code.

The Senate decision also comes in the midst of international climate talks in Durban, South Africa, and precedes Brazil’s hosting of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, or “Rio+20”, in June 2012. Brazil’s credibility as it hosts this and other key global events (2014 World Cup, 2016 Summer Olympics) will be severely compromised if it passes environmental legislation favoring deforestation of the Amazon and other globally-important regions, WWF warned.

“WWF-Brazil has gone along with the legislative processes, has worked with others to help bring science to the political debate and has defined common points with good agribusiness and others,” said Wey de Brito. “Now we must urge President Rousseff to consider the severe implications of signing the revisions into law, including irreparable harm to Brazil’s natural resources, its economic development, and to the future health and well-being of millions of Brazilians and billions of people around the world.”

WWF-Brazil is supported by WWF’s entire international network in urging President Rousseff to act in Brazil’s interests rather than a sectional interest – noting that the President has already said she would not support an amnesty for illegal deforestation.

“We're at a time in history when the world seeks leadership in smart, forward-thinking development,” said WWF International Director-General Jim Leape. “Brazil was staking a claim to being such a leader.

“It will be a tragedy for Brazil and for the world if it now turns its back on more than a decade of achievement to return to the dark days of catastrophic deforestation.”

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Urban ecology model 'needs to change'

Mark Kinver BBC News 6 Dec 11;

The way researchers assess urban ecology needs to change in order to take into account the way modern cities are developing, a study suggests.

Scientists in Australia said urban areas were expanding rapidly in a complex "non-linear" way that existing models failed to capture effectively.

Assessments needed to be modified if ecologists were to get an accurate picture of the environment, they added.

The findings appear in the Trends in Ecology and Evolution journal.

"Our paper aims to raise the awareness that the ingrained perception in ecology that urbanisation intensity and age - and associated environmental changes - vary in a [uniform manner] from the core to the city fringes, does not apply easily to contemporary patterns of urbanisation," said co-author Cristina Ramalho, a researcher from the University of Western Australia's School of Plant Biology.

"It is necessary, therefore, that ecologists adjust the way they think and conduct research to the reality of contemporary cities."

'Dramatic impacts'

She explained that, historically, cities grew slowly in a relatively compact manner, through progressive rings of urban development.

However, Ms Ramalho added, contemporary patterns of expansion were "markedly different".

"Cities are growing very rapidly, they are increasingly expansive and dispersed, sprawling in... spider-like configurations across large distances, and embedding fragments of other land uses in the rapidly changing landscape," she said.

Ecologically, this type of expansion was having "dramatic impacts".

"It is driving the large-scale loss and fragmentation of natural and semi-natural habitats in several countries and cities worldwide," she told BBC News.

"In countries such as the US and Australia, urbanisation is one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss."

The researchers said current models used by ecologists to assess urbanisation looked at this issue in a "rather simplified" way - such as using broad categories, including urban, suburban and rural.

Ms Ramalho explained why this needed to be updated: "If contemporary cities expand in a complex, non-linear manner, then the assumption that urbanisation intensity and age can be assessed based on a site's position along a linear urban-to-rural gradient can be misleading."

She added that the measures also failed to adequately capture the effects of important drivers, such as landscape fragmentation and disturbances. She also said that the changing nature of urbanising landscapes were not reflected in systems that did not have a temporal dimension.

Sharper focus

The researchers suggested, as an alternative, that the impacts of an urbanising landscape should be assessed by looking at the changing attributes of a particular area, or the characteristics of a neighbouring landscape.

"Ecologists should move beyond the use of aggregated urbanisation measures and consider a comprehensive set of driving factors selected based on the characteristics of the study area and ecological question of interest," Ms Ramalho said.

"Ecologists should also consider the temporal dynamics of landscape change, and the effects of land-use history and time lags on biodiversity responses to on-going environmental change."

By adopting such an approach would provide information that would help policymakers and planners, she added.

"A temporal perspective considering the fragmentation and land-use history can provide insight into the remnants environmental conditions and conservation value and, therefore, be used in prioritising conservation.

"Priorities could be, for instance, those remnants without significant land-use legacies and those that were recently fragmented."

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Protecting nature makes sense: IUCN and Rio Tinto assess conservation’s costs and benefits

IUCN 7 Dec 11;

Gland, Switzerland, 7 December 2011 – A new study by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) finds that by financing the restoration or protection of natural areas, companies can offset the negative impacts of their operations and generate significant economic benefits, but the needs of local communities must be properly addressed.

“Companies are increasingly interested in how to minimize and compensate for the negative impacts of their development projects,” says Nathalie Olsen of IUCN’s Economics Programme and lead author of the report. “Information about distribution of costs and benefits of conservation action, such as who gains and who loses, is essential to know who should be compensated, by whom, and by how much.”

Rio Tinto recently commissioned IUCN to estimate the monetary value of the biodiversity benefits of conserving the Tsitongambarika forest in Madagascar and examine the costs of such conservation.

The company, in collaboration with some of its biodiversity partners, is exploring conservation opportunities to compensate for the unavoidable residual impacts of its mining operations in the region. It supports local non-governmental organizations and communities in conserving parts of the Tsitongambarika forest, to produce the conservation gains needed to achieve a net positive impact on biodiversity for this operation.

“There are many types of values associated with biodiversity and the services provided by tropical forests, such as food, wildlife habitat and carbon storage,” says Dennis Hosack of IUCN’s Business and Biodiversity Programme. “Some of these values can be quantified and expressed in monetary terms, which allows them to be better integrated into decision-making by both companies and governments.”

“For example, we have found that global economic benefits of conserving the Tsitongambarika forest are worth at least US$17.3 million over 30 years, mainly due to climate regulating functions”, says Olsen. “When deciding whether to restore or protect land, demonstrating the positive economic values of nature and the benefits to people, makes conservation a more competitive option.”

The Tsitongambarika forest is the largest expanse of lowland humid forest in southern Madagascar and contains high levels of biodiversity, with more than 80% of species found nowhere else on earth. It is while also an important source of local livelihoods. The forest is being lost at a rate of 1-2 % per year, mainly due to slash and burn cultivation by local communities.

To assess the benefits of conserving the forest, IUCN took into account the value of wildlife habitat, hydrological regulation and carbon storage. It also examined the costs of conservation, such as up-front investment, the maintenance of protected areas, as well as the opportunity costs that local people bear if they lose access to natural resources that have traditionally provided them with food and income.

The study found that while substantial economic benefits associated with the conservation of tropical forests accrue to global populations, it is often local people who bear most of the costs of conservation action and need to be compensated for the losses they incur. This can be achieved through Payments for Ecosystem Services, which provide incentives for local communities to protect or sustainably manage land. Another opportunity to recognize this value is through the UN programme Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), considering local needs and the objectives of national strategies.

“Although the study focuses on southern Madagascar, its findings can be applied to conservation actions globally and are relevant for many companies as they increasingly aim to compensate for their negative impacts on biodiversity,” adds Hosack.

Report “Exploring ecosystem valuation to move towards net positive impacts on biodiversity in the mining sector” can be downloaded at:

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Rio+20 - World must learn to 'manage the planet': UNEP chief

Marlowe Hood AFP Yahoo News 7 Dec 11;

The Rio+20 summit next year should focus on reshaping the world economy to better "manage the planet," the UN's top environment official told AFP at climate talks in Durban.

"Rio will help the world look at climate change in the broader context of the changes we need to bring about in our global economy," United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Achim Steiner told AFP on the sidelines of the 12-day negotiations, which end Friday.

"We are moving toward a world of nine billion people that will face food and climate insecurity, economic shock, unemployment."

The June 20-22 event in Rio de Janeiro is taking place 20 years after the landmark 1992 Earth Summit that set down UN conventions for protecting biodiversity and tackling global warming.

Steiner called on leaders to rethink the way they define economic growth because, he said, the current approach is straining the planet's coping capacity to the breaking point.

"We need a new indicator of wealth. GDP growth is too crude, even misleading," Steiner said in an interview.

"It served us well as long as the world was full of resources. But the world has reached the point where it has to optimise the way it manages the planet."

One way to visualise the problem is this: beginning in the 1970s, humankind demanded more than the planet could provide.

Earth's seven billion denizens, in other words, are using more water, cutting down more forests and eating more fish than Nature can replace.

At the same time, we are disgorging more CO2, pollutants and chemical fertilisers than the atmosphere, soil and oceans can soak up without crippling the ecosystems upon which we depend.

"Rio+20 is about the future of our economies, but not in the narrow sense," Steiner said. "It must address this question: how sustainable will our societies be if we do not address these issues more clearly?"

But better management of the planet does not mean redressing Earth's growing imbalances through brute re-engineering, he added.

Faced with deepening impacts from global warming and chronic deadlock in UN climate talks, attention is turning to a raft of untested technological fixes ranging from seeding the atmosphere with radiation-repelling particles to sowing the ocean with iron.

"People are advocating experimenting with our planet with very inadequate knowledge," said Steiner.

"Learn how Nature has developed carbon capture and sequestration capacity, in forests, soils, and sea marshes. Why try and second guess nature? These are proven methods."

The conference, recently rescheduled to avoid a scheduling clash with Queen Elizabeth II's diamond jubilee to ensure that world leaders could come, will also consider an upgrade for UNEP.

As a UN "programme," it does not have an guaranteed budget but depends on voluntary contributions from member nations. Gaining the same status as the World Health Organisation (WHO), for example, would considerably increase it clout.

"We are in desperate need of a more effective system for international envirornmental governance," said Steiner.

More than 120 nations have requested that boosting UNEP's status be put on the Rio+20 agenda, he said.

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Climate Negotiations Fail to Keep Pace with Science

The latest research shows that climate talks must be more aggressive to avoid the catastrophic effects of global warming
David Biello Scientific American 7 Dec 11;

DURBAN, South Africa—By 2020, human activity could produce some 55 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases per year, up from roughly 36 billion metric tons per year currently. All the accumulating gas is enough to raise the global average temperatures by more than 3 degrees Celsius by century's end—more than triple the amount of warming that has already occurred. Emission reductions pledged under the Cancun Agreements, which cover some 85 percent of all national greenhouse gas emissions in the world, are meant to slow that warming. "I think its safe to say the current commitment is scientifically sound," argued Xie Zhenhua, vice chairman of China's National Development and Reform Commission and lead climate envoy, in a press briefing here on December 6.

Most climate scientists, however, would beg to differ. The latest science suggests that international negotiations are proceeding far too slowly to have any significant impact on global warming and may well dawdle too long to prevent catastrophic climate change. To meet the international target of restraining the warming of global average temperatures to just 2 degrees Celsius will require greenhouse gas emissions of just 44 billion metric tons in 2020. And even that amount might not be enough: James Hansen of NASA said this week at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco that the 2 degrees C target "is a prescription for disaster."

What's happening is that research keeps finding new trouble signs. Thanks to a rebound in global economic activity, 2010 saw the biggest single year increase in emissions ever—5.9 percent higher to be exact, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Another analysis, published December 4 in Nature Geoscience, found that nearly all of the nearly 1 degree C warming observed over the last century or so could be attributed to human emissions of greenhouse gases. The U.K. Met Office stated in a December 5 report that as many as 49 million people could be at risk from increased coastal flooding because of climate change and many others from a drop in the production of staple food crops. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) argues that emissions must be halved by mid-century to have any hope of restraining warming to 2 degrees C. "After four rounds of IPCC reports, is the science not clear enough?" asked Jato Sillah, Gambia's minister of forestry and environment during a speech on December 6.

"You can look at the science and see the trajectories, and it ought to inform what ought to be done. It might well cause us to say 'Gee, we need to do more'" to meet a 2 degree C target, says U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern.

In fact, if the world does nothing about greenhouse gas emissions and continues growing at the present rate, Earth could warm by as much as 6 degrees C, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Implementing the Cancun Agreements, negotiated at last year's climate meeting, would bring that temperature rise down to 3.5 degrees C. But to hit the 2 degree C target, the energy sector would need to decrease CO2 output after its peak in 2020, explains Laura Cozzi, principal analyst in the office of the chief economist of the IEA. "Oil demand and coal demand will have to go down from current levels."

In other words, the world's present infrastructure—cars, power plants, steel mills and the like—already emits 80 percent of permissible greenhouse gas emissions, leaving essentially no room for growth after 2017. "After that point, we will have to build all zero carbon infrastructure," Cozzi notes thanks to known amounts of oil, coal and natural gas that, if burned, would produce much more CO2 than would be consistent with greenhouse gas concentration target of 450 parts-per-million.

The alternative is more expensive. The IEA's latest World Energy Outlook notes that for every dollar not spent on emissions reductions in the next decade, an additional $4 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate.

The challenge, however, may be less about slow-to-change infrastructure as about an expected lifestyle for Americans, Europeans, Japanese and, more recently, Chinese and Indians. "There is a lock-in effect in terms of habits and lifestyles," such as driving cars and wasting electricity, notes economist Leena Srivastava of The Energy and Resources Institute in New Delhi. The resistance to changing a way of life is perhaps best embodied by a statement from President George H.W. Bush back in 1992: "The American way of life is not up for negotiation."

In the U.S., change instead has focused on renewable sources of energy and improved efficiency, such as higher miles per gallon fuel standards for cars and trucks. "We're about 6 percent below 2005 levels right now," says U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern, and committed to reducing 17 percent from that level by 2020. Still, the U.S. remains the world's second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China.

Rising incomes around the world will make greenhouse reductions ever more challenging, and the latest data prove it: Developing countries such as China, India, Brazil and Indonesia now emit more in aggregate than developed countries, according to a study published December 4 in Nature Climate Change. "In the next 10 years, our energy consumption will definitely still increase," says Liu Qiang of the Energy Research Institute in Beijing. "That is our practical demand and a practical need," in China, particularly given the 128 million Chinese still living on $1 per day. Plus, for the growing Chinese middle class, "it is not so easy to change the lifestyle," Qiang notes. The goal in China is to increase the share of renewables and nuclear generation to 15 percent of primary energy in the next decade, which will still leave coal and oil—and their attendant greenhouse gas emissions—the lion's share.

Fortunately, improving access for the roughly 2 billion people without modern energy could also help slow the momentum of climate change by reducing deforestation (done to obtain fuel wood) and cutting emissions of soot from cooking fires. "We're all grappling with two defining challenges: overcoming inequality and climate change," observed economist Lord Nicholas Stern at the same event, dubbed "Momentum for Change" by the U.N. "If we fail on one, we fail on the other."

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