Best of our wild blogs: 30 Dec 11

Is the (sea)grass really greener on the other side?
from The Green Bush

Sit and wade
from The annotated budak

Kingfishers@Jurong lake
from PurpleMangrove

New survey dates for sign up: Jan-Jun 2012
from Mega Marine Survey of Singapore

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Campaign for a green corridor

Seven Singaporeans look back on 2011 to select and reflect on what they consider to be the political event of the year

Teo Wan Gek and Toh Yong Chuan Straits Times 30 Dec 11;

ALARM bells rang in Nature Society (Singapore) vice-president Leong Kwok Peng's head when he read a front-page report in The Straits Times announcing the relocation of Tanjong Pagar railway station to Woodlands.

That was on May 25 last year.

Mr Leong, 55, says the Nature Society had for years hoped to preserve the nature belt along the railway tracks.

With the railway land reverting to Singapore, future developments might encroach into the pockets of nature or break up the continuous stretch of greenery.

Mr Leong got to work. He wrote to The Straits Times Forum to propose a green corridor be preserved, and ended up spearheading the Nature Society's campaign on the matter.

He says with a laugh: 'That is how volunteers work. When you open your mouth, you volunteer yourself.'

A formal proposal to the Government followed in October last year. But they did not receive a response for eight months.

In June this year, Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan- Jin reached out to the society through Facebook.

'We were pleasantly surprised when the minister contacted us personally,' Mr Leong says.

Things moved swiftly thereafter.

He met Mr Tan, who entered politics in May this year, for the first time on July 9. Together, they walked the whole 23km-length of the railway tracks.

He recalls the junior minister was 'willing to listen, positive and enthusiastic'. That first encounter set the tone for future meetings between government officials and the Nature Society.

Mr Leong sees the green corridor preservation as the political event that made the most impact on non-governmental organisations this year, because it 'signals the Government's readiness to collaborate and engage civil society groups at a deeper level, with ministers personally involved'.

He adds: 'It also shows that the Government is willing to balance preservation of nature with physical development.'

Even though the dust has barely settled, the former chemical engineer, who now runs an outdoor education adventure training company with his brother, has his sights set on something new.

Pointing to a map, he wonders aloud: 'The green corridor is now separated from Sungei Buloh. If only they can be connected through the Mandai mangroves into a continuous stretch of nature reserve.'

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Singapore's community activism blossoming

Qiuyi Tan Channel NewsAsia 29 Dec 11;

SINGAPORE: More Singaporeans this year have spoken up and acted on a slew of social causes from heritage conservation and environmental protection to animal welfare.

In June, Singapore saw its first-ever public forum on animal welfare policies.

Observers said this is not unusual for a developed country with an educated population.

Assistant Professor Reuben Wong, from the National University of Singapore's Political Science Department, said: "Singaporeans find it remarkable because we've been used to a certain kind of politics which I'd describe as abnormal, where the citizenry has been depoliticised, where there is one overwhelming party or sometimes just one party in Parliament."

At the National Day Rally in August, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had urged Singaporeans to come forward to play a larger and positive role on issues affecting the country.

Leading the way in this effort are civil society groups such as the Cat Welfare Society.

The society has seen public support increase steadily over the years.

But what made 2011 a milestone for the group was its engagement with the government.

It has successfully lobbied authorities to start sterilising stray cats this year -- a shift from the old policy of culling them.

Its vice-president Veron Lau said the Stray Cat Sterilisation Programme, which was terminated in 2005, is now back and piloting in a number of housing estates like Ang Mo Kio and Tampines.

Under the programme, the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) works with town councils to microchip and sterilise stray cats, and pays for half the cost.

"I see the change from the government officers in the way they want to work together with us," Ms Lau said.

"It's because they have seen the results that are brought about when volunteers and residents in the community step forward to resolve issues, rather than just leaving it to the government officials to resolve them."

Separately, architect Tham Wai Hon got his friends and colleagues together to lobby the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) to preserve the full tract of KTM railway land recently returned to Singapore. They did that by proposing creative development ideas.

Mr Tham said: "What's so amazing was that, usually in Singapore, things are planned 10, 20 years in advance, but this time, things happened so suddenly, no one was ready except our group. And so in that way it lent us a bigger voice, and the URA was really keen to get any ideas for what they could do about the space."

Mr Tham's group -- Friends of the Rail Corridor -- is now part of an official dialogue process with the Rail Corridor Consultation Group on the Rail Corridor.

There are concerns lengthy consultations will slow down Singapore's efficiency and strong government.

But activists and observers said the dialogue process as well as active citizens and a strong civil society are vital to a mature and resilient society.

NUS' Assistant Professor Wong said: "Some of the younger ministers and younger Members of Parliament (MPs) understand more intuitively, but the rest of the cabinet and government might have to be convinced of the merits of a more consultative approach."

While some observers said activist groups are getting more organised and connected, others believe there will always be new issues that will get Singaporeans talking and moving.

But one thing all can agree with, though, is that Singapore's budding community activism looks set to grow in the years ahead.

- CNA/wk

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Camera Traps Spot 35 Rhinos in Indonesian Park

Jakarta Post 29 Dec 11;

An adult male Javan rhino is caught by a video trap at Ujung Kulon National Park in West Java. Camera traps in the Indonesian park have captured images of 35 endangered Javan rhinos, five of them calves. (AP Photo/Ujung Kulon National Park) An adult male Javan rhino is caught by a video trap at Ujung Kulon National Park in West Java. Camera traps in the Indonesian park have captured images of 35 endangered Javan rhinos, five of them calves. (AP Photo/Ujung Kulon National Park)

Camera traps in an Indonesian park have captured images of 35 endangered Javan rhinos, five of them calves.

Forestry Ministry official Bambang Novianto said Thursday that dozens of video cameras were placed earlier this year in the Ujung Kulon park — the animal’s original habitat.

Researchers studying the images that came back were able to identify 35 different rhinos, though the total number in the park is likely higher.

The Javan rhino was once the most widespread of Asian rhinoceroses, but was nearly wiped out when the Krakatau volcano erupted in 1883, spawning a tsunami that inundated the park.

The greatest threat they face today is from poachers and habitat destruction.

Experts estimate only 40 to 60 Javan rhinos remain in the park.

Associated Press

Cameras show 35 rare rhinos in Indonesia: official
AFP Yahoo News 31 Dec 11;

Hidden cameras in the jungles of Indonesia's Java island have captured images of 35 critically endangered Javan rhinos, including five calves, an official said Friday.

The forestry ministry set up 44 infrared cameras from January to October this year in the rugged Ujung Kulon National Park on the western-most tip of Java.

"The cameras captured the images of 22 male and 13 female rhinos. The five calves consisted of one female and four males," director of biodiversity conservation at the forestry ministry Bambang Novianto told AFP.

He said the discovery of the five calves "shows that its population continue to develop", but an imbalanced sex ratio could threatened the rare species.

"There are more male rhinos than females. We are worried that it will create dangerous competitions among the male rhinos in getting a partner. They may end up in a deadly fight," he said.

To boost conservation efforts, Novianto said his ministry was finalising a rhino breeding sanctuary in an area of 38,000 hectares inside the 122,000-hectare (300,000-acre) national park.

"It will be easier for us to monitor its population so that the breeding process would be more effective," he said, adding that such programmes will help the government to reach a target of 70 to 80 Javan rhinos by 2015.

The Javan rhino is distinguished from African rhinos by its small size, single horn and loose skin folds.

Around 44 Javan rhinos are believed to live in Ujung Kulon, a rare patch of wilderness on one of the world's most densely populated islands.

They form the world's only viable population of the critically endangered species capable of reproducing.

Asian rhinos have been driven to the brink of extinction because their horns are highly valued in traditional Chinese and Korean medicine, although most countries in the region have banned the trade.

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Record number of ivory seizures in 2011: WWF

Ed Stoddard Reuters Yahoo News 30 Dec 11;

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A record number of large scale ivory seizures will be recorded globally in 2011, pointing to a surge in elephant poaching in Africa to meet Asian demand for tusks for use in jewelry and ornaments, a monitoring group said Thursday.

TRAFFIC, a conservation group which tracks trends in wildlife trading, said there have been at least 13 large-scale seizures of over 800 kg (2,000 pounds) of ivory in 2011, more than double the 6 recorded in 2010.

"A conservative estimate of the weight of ivory seized in the 13 largest seizures in 2011 puts the figure at more than 23 totonesnnes, a figure that probably represents some 2,500 elephants, possibly more," it said in a statement.

Zimbabwe-based Tom Milliken, who manages TRAFFIC's Elephant Trade Information System, said it was the worst year for large seizures he had seen in the over two decades he has been running the database.

He said the poaching and illegal trade were consequences of China's investment drive into Africa to secure the mineral and energy resources it needs to fuel its economic growth.

"We've reached a point in Africa's history where there are more Asian nationals on the continent than ever before. They have contacts with the end use market and now they are at the source in Africa," he told Reuters.

"This is all adding up to an unprecedented assault on elephants and other wildlife," he said.

Milliken said some of the ivory that was making its way to illicit markets may be coming from African government stockpiles from previous seizures but the trade numbers and data from other wildlife monitors pointed to a rise in elephant killings.

"The trade data suggest that thousands of elephants are being killed a year ... I think central Africa has been brutally affected, especially Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)," he said.

Milliken said elephant poaching was also taking place in Zimbabwe, Zambia, northern Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya.

A global ban that was placed on the ivory trade in 1989 was widely credited with stemming a relentless slaughter of African elephants in countries such as Kenya. Occasional auctions from African government stockpiles have since been sanctioned.

Most of the illegal African ivory winds up in China or Thailand, according to TRAFFIC. Ivory is used in the making of jewelry and art carvings.

Estimates of Africa's elephant population vary widely from around 400,000 to 700,000.

In some southern African states such as Botswana there are large and growing populations and in South Africa there are concerns that elephant numbers have swelled to the point that they are damaging the environment in enclosed reserves.

But elsewhere the situation is far more bleak. In lawless regions of the DRC poaching is rampant.

(Editing by Giles Elgood)

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Malaysia: Flood situation improves in Johor and Sabah

The Star 30 Dec 11;

JOHOR BARU: The flood situation in both Johor and Sabah has improved with many of the evacuees allowed to return home.

In Johor, there were only 241 evacuees remaining at the relief centres yesterday, down from the 1,200 people taking shelter when the flood was at its worst on Monday.

The National Security Council's portal reported Segamat as the only district with six centres still open.

State police chief Deputy Comm Datuk Mokhtar Mohd Shariff said no break-ins had been reported during the floods, which affected several districts for more than a week.

All police personnel, he added, were also instructed to check on the homes affected by floods.

On a report that several men from Kampung Tanjung Endau in Mersing were staying back to guard their homes from being broken into, he reminded the public not to take their safety for granted.

“Floodwaters are unpredictable and it is dangerous for anyone to guard their belongings when their homes are hit by floods,” he said.

In KOTA KINABALU, 18 families in Kampung Gum-Gum in Sandakan were allowed to return home after being evacuated on Christmas eve while another 287 residents continued to remain in relief centres.

However, police personnel are on standby as the state braces itself for another round of bad weather.

Federal Internal Security and Public Order director Datuk Salleh Mat Rasid said police all over the country would monitor flood-prone areas and coastal settlements with king tides expected in Samarahan, Sarawak, and Likas Bay here yesterday.

Malaysia: Situation improves in flood-hit states
Punitha Kumar and Lavanya Lingan New Straits Times 30 Dec 11;

Worst-hit Sarawak sees highest reduction in number of evacuees

THE flood situation in the country took a turn for the better yesterday, with many evacuees returning home.

The number of evacuees in worst-hit Sarawak, which stood at 2,657 on Wednesday, dropped to 562 yesterday.

Sarawak Drainage and Irrigation Department director Wong Siu Hieng said floodwaters were expected to fully subside by tomorrow.

"The condition in Kuching is back to normal, only the coastal areas are still affected.

"It will take a couple of days for the coastal area to clear, provided there are no more downpours."

Wong said Sarawak saw the highest recorded rainfall at 610mm in 24 hours on Christmas day which was the cause of the flood.

According to the National Security Council's website, the relief centre in Samarahan had 451 victims, a huge drop from 1,407 yesterday.

This was followed by Sri Aman (102) and Sarikei with nine evacuees.

In Johor, the numbers dropped to 251 victims from 715 yesterday, all of whom were housed in six relief centres in Segamat.

Mersing and Batu Pahat had closed down their evacuation centres as the situation improved with all evacuees returning home.

The situation in Pahang remained the same as the number of victims still stood at 15, all in |Kampung Gadak.

In Sabah, there were no flood evacuees as all 101 families had returned home.

The evacuation centre at Sandakan was closed at 11am yesterday.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian Meteorological Department has forecast intermittent rain, occasionally moderate, occurring over states of Johor (Kota Tinggi and Mersing districts), Pahang (Rompin, Pekan and Kuantan districts) and Terengganu (Hulu Terengganu, Marang, Dungun and Kemaman districts) to continue till today (Friday).

The department added that the rainfall may cause floods over low-lying areas.

Strong Northeasterly winds over 60 kmph with waves more than 5.5 metres were expected to occur and continue till next Thursday, over the waters of Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, East Johor, Samui, Tioman, Bunguran, Condore, Reef North and Layang-Layang.

The third category warning meant it was dangerous for all coastal and shipping activities, including workers on oil platforms.

In addition, the coastal areas of East Coast of the Peninsular are vulnerable to sea level rise.

This condition is expected to continue until Monday.

Places such as Sarawak, Labuan and Sabah (West Coast, Interior and Kudat) were expecting winds between 50 and 60kmph with waves up to 4.5 metres till next Thursday.

Flood Situation In Affected States Under Control
Bernama 29 Dec 11;

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 29 (Bernama) -- The flood situation in the affected states were under control in the evening Thursday, with most of the evacuees having returned to their homes.

In SARAWAK, the flood situation was improving and up to 6pm today, only 687 evacuees from 222 families were still housed at the relief centres.

According to a statement from the state operations room, still at the relief centres in Samarahan were 451 flood victims from 163 families, Sri Aman (102 from 33 families), Sibu (125 from 25 families) and Sarikei (nine from one family).

Incessant rain over the past four days in Sarawak has not only caused flooding in low-lying areas but also landslides, includng at KM77 and KM78 Jalan Serian-Sri Aman at 8.45pm yesterday, causing the Trans Borneo road to be cut off still.

Meanwhile, the National Security Council portal reported that in JOHOR, only Segamat district was still affected by floods, with 241 evacuees housed at six relief centres.

The relief centres are in Kampung Spangloi, Kampung Batu Badak, Kampung Sanglang, Kampung Pogoh, Kampung Tandong and Kampung Kuala Paya.

The Drainage and Irrigation Department portal reported that the water levels in three rivers were still above the dangerous level; Sungai Muar at Buloh Kasap, Segamat (at 9.40 metres), Sungai Muar at Bukit Kepong, Muar (3.23 metres) and Sungai Simpang Kiri at Sri Medan, Batu Pahat (2.31 metres).

IN PAHANG, 15 flood evacuees are still at the relief centre in Rompin.

A spokesman for the state police contingent headquarters' operations room said that as at 5pm today, flood victims housed at the Kampung Gadak community hall were still waiting for the situation to return to normal after the area had been hit by the high-tide phenomenon.

"Only Kampung Gadak is still inundated while the situation has returned to normal in other areas," he said when contacted.

Pahang Meteorological Department director, Azemi Daud said the high-tide phenomenon would disappear by the year-end.

"Huge waves that have hit the East Coast states in the peninsula have been caused by the strong northeasterly winds and this is expected to continue today.

"The high-tide and huge waves phenomenon can hamper rain water flowing out to sea, causing the floods to subside slowly," he explained.

He advised the people to reduce activities at the beaches and sea due to the prevailing phenomenon, to take safety precautionary measures if involved in such activities and to follow safety instructions given by the relevant authorities.

In SABAH, the flood situation in Sandakan has improved, with all the flood evacuees at the relief centres allowed to return home this morning.

A spokesman for the Sandakan Municipal Council's flood operations room said the remaining 64 evacuees from 18 families from Kampung Gum-Gum were allowed to return home after the river water level in the village dropped to the alert level.

He said Dewan Sri Gum-Gum ceased to be a flood relief centre this morning but the flood operations centre was still open to monitor the flood situation in the district.

In Beluran, its assistant district officer, Roger Appolonius has advised residents in three areas in the district, namely Sugut, Paitan and Tangkarason to be alert and to evacuate if the water level of the river in their area rose suddenly.


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Australia: Plastic not fantastic for turtles

Paul Appelkamp Northern Star 30 Dec 11;

AUSTRALIAN Seabird Rescue general manager Rochelle Ferris had some surprises in store when she took people on a tour of the organisation's Ballina headquarters yesterday.

Injured sea turtles were being nursed back to health in eight on-site pools and people viewed the laid-back reptiles up close as they were being fed squid.

Ms Ferris also talked to visitors about seabird and sea turtle conservation.

"A lot of visitors to the area are unaware of the endangered species we have living in the area," Ms Ferris explained.

"If anyone sees nesting turtles that we don't know about, we'd like them to be able to tell us."

Seabird Rescue has saved an unprecedented number of sea turtles in the past six weeks.

"It's the worst we've seen since we started (operating) in '98," Ms Ferris said.

"We usually average 11 (turtle rescues) a month, but this November we had 28 and in December we're still counting but we've had similar numbers."

The main reason turtles have been turning up sick on North Coast shores was due to the countless plastics filling the oceans.

"About 40% of turtles that come to the rescue centre are here because they've ingested plastic," Ms Ferris said.

"And that's because plastic resembles food."

During their stay at the group's Ballina headquarters, each turtle eats about a 1kg of squid a day.

Ms Ferris said sourcing squid for turtles was the organisation's biggest ongoing cost and a challenge for the volunteer-run organisation.

Every morning for the next month Seabird Rescue will conduct tours on which people can donate, but in the meantime, Ms Ferris had some wildlife conservation tips.

"What you can do to help is get to know your backyard, get to know the local wildlife and get to know when there's changes in the local environment."

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Tide of plastic bags that started wave of revulsion

Since Rebecca Hosking reported the plastic pollution in the Pacific, levies and bans on single-use bags have spread
Juliette Jowit 29 Dec 11;

Plastic bags became almost a national symbol of waste and decadence thanks to BBC camerawoman Rebecca Hosking, who travelled to the remote Pacific island of Midway to film a nature documentary.

As the Guardian reported at the time: "Instead of finding some prelapsarian wilderness, she and a colleague were confronted with the horror of hundreds of albatrosses lying on the sand. The great birds' stomachs had been split open by the heat and bits of plastic were spewing out between the feathers and the bones. All kinds of plastic – toys, shopping bags, asthma inhalers, pens, cigarette lighters, toothbrushes, combs, bottle tops. The birds had swallowed them and choked to death."

Later, Hosking and her colleagues found humpback whales, seals and turtles, "all dead or dying from the plastic", which rolled in on every tide.

Hosking came back to the UK, finished the film, and returned to her home town of Modbury in Devon, where she set about persuading all 43 shopkeepers to stop using plastic bags.

Modbury's example inspired communities across the country to attempt the same thing, and led to a national debate about whether all shoppers in the UK should pay a levy to deter plastic bag use.

By the time Modbury became a national name, the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, South Africa, Zanzibar and at least one state in India (Karnataka) had already banned distribution of single-use plastic bags, while the environment minister of Rwanda suggested using such bags was breaking environmental protection laws.

Meanwhile, Ireland introduced a levy of 15 euro cents (now 22c) a bag, slashing plastic bag use from 328 bags per person a year to just 18 last year – and cutting plastic bags from 5% of litter to a quarter of 1%.

Since then Kenya, Uganda, several more Indian states and China have introduced bans, while many European retailers charge for bags.

As with so many environmental "improvements", however, banning and charging for plastic bags has not been without controversy: earlier this year an unpublished report by the Environment Agency was leaked, showing that popular alternatives to plastic bags needed to be used many times over to generate less carbon pollution: paper bags at least four times, and cotton bags more than 171 times over.

That has not stopped the momentum, however. In May the European commission launched a consultation on an EU-wide ban. And in October Wales introduced a 5p charge a bag, which it hopes will cut use by 90%.

Juliette Jowit

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Japan streets ahead in global plastic recycling race

At 77%, country's plastic recycling rate is about twice that of the UK, and well above the 20% figure for the US
Justin McCurry 29 Dec 11;

Japan is one of the most successful countries in the world for recycling plastics. In 2010, 77% of plastic waste was recycled, up from 73% in 2006 and 39% in 1996, according to the nation's Plastic Waste Management Institute.

The country has passed several recycling laws to address the disposal and treatment of plastic waste since 1997, when businesses and consumers were obliged to separate plastic waste for the first time.

That measure, along with better awareness off the benefits of separating out plastic, is what has had the impact.

The list of plastic items that can be recycled has grown to include boxes and cases, wrappings, cups and containers, plates and trays, tube-shaped containers, lids and caps. Most is processed together, with plastic bottles and other containers treated separately.

In 2006, according to the institute, Japan recycled 2.1m tonnes of plastic waste, while 4.8m tonnes undergoes so-called "thermal recycling" which includes conversion into useful chemicals and burning to generate energy.

The number and types of plastic waste separation differ among municipalities, but most households are required to separate plastic wrappers and packages from polyethylene terephthalate [PET] bottles, whose labels must be torn off before they are thrown away.

The law was tightened amid a rise in the amount of waste generated by Japan's 127 million people, and a shortage of landfill space.

Household items such as food wrappers and PET bottle labels are clearly marked to indicate they need to be treated as plastic waste. The items are usually collected for free, on different days from regular kitchen waste.

At 77%, Japan's plastic recycling rate is about twice that of the UK, and well above the 20% figure for the US, which still depends largely on landfill, according to institute spokesman Takushi Kamiya. One major driver has been the lack of space for landfill close to

crowded and sprawling metropolitan areas.

"Japan has been able to make progress in plastic recycling because waste-processing agencies have won the support of manufacturers," he said.

Japan recycled 72% of PET bottles in 2010, compared with 48% in Europe and 29% in the US.

The recycled material is used in textiles, sheeting, industrial materials and household items such as egg boxes. Large quantities are shipped to China, Hong Kong and other parts of Asia, where it is used to make toys and games.

New technology is helping raise the PET-bottle recycling rate. The food company Ajinomoto recently unveiled a plastic bottle made entirely from recycled PET. The firm expects to use 4,500 tonnes of recycled PET in its drink bottles every year.

Japan's plastic recycling operation would be easier if manufacturers reduced the amount of wrapping they use, said Kevin Carroll, representative director of EA International, an environmental and engineering risk management consultancy in Tokyo.

"Japan differs from other countries in that it tends to overwrap," Carroll said. "You buy a bento boxed lunch and it comes in a plastic box with a lid, and then it's put into a plastic bag. Lots of other foodstuffs are the same.

"There's a tremendous amount of plastic around. The real problem is with household plastic, a lot of which gets burned or buried. The amounts involved are phenomenal."

Kamiya agrees that Japan needs to address the 27% of plastic waste that is simply incinerated or buried in increasingly scarce landfill sites.

"We are looking at ways to deal with what's left over, but it's difficult to imagine at this stage that we'll get the recycling rate to 100%," he said. "But I think we do very well compared with other countries."

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UN Launches Biodiversity Decade

Alex Abutu 29 Dec 11;

The United Nations has declared 2011 to 2020 as biodiversity decade with emphasis on the fact that a future of life in harmony with nature was possible, if the world takes action now.

The United Nations Decade on Biodiversity (UNDB) was launched in Kanazawa, Japan, in a ceremony organized by the United Nations University, in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment of Japan, Ishikawa Prefecture and Kanazawa City, and the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

The global launch of the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity counted on the participation of United Nations agencies, Parties to the CBD, and representatives of all levels of government in Japan. The three-day event included a workshop on national biodiversity strategies and action plans.

The idea of declaring 2011-2020 the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity was initiated by Japan and endorsed at the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Conventon on Biological Diversity, held in Nagoya, Japan, in 2010. It was formally proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly at its sixty-fifth session.

The United Nations Decade on Biodiversity which builds on the achievements of the successful celebration of the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity aim to implement the first Aichi Biodiversity Target of the Strategic Plan on Biodiversity 2011-2020, namely to ensure that by 2020 all the people of the world will be aware of biodiversity and its value.

In his message addressed to participants, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, called "on all the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity and to all the biodiversity-related conventions, as well as all members of the United Nations system, the private sector, civil-society groups and individual citizens and consumers worldwide, to rally to the call of the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity.

"In conclusion, he stated, "Let us work together to live in harmony with nature, let us preserve and wisely manage nature's riches for prosperity today and for the future we want."

Mr. Katsuhiko Yokomitsu, Senior Vice-Minister of the Environment in the Government of Japan, speaking on behalf of Mr. Goshi Hosono, Minister of Environment of Japan and current President of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention, said: "The intensive efforts of all participants enabled the Conference of the Parties to achieve substantial results at its tenth meeting, including the adoption of new global targets for biodiversity. Given the current status of biodiversity, it is incumbent upon us to endeavour continually and unfailingly to achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

To pass on to our children the abundant natural blessings of this planet, we must harness the collective wisdom of humanity and begin and extend concerted efforts across the globe to create societies that exist in harmony with nature."

Mr. Kazuhiko Takeuchi, Vice-Rector of the United Nations University, stated: "It is not too late to prevent the further loss of biodiversity. The presence of the representatives gathered here today from national governments, United Nations organizations, NGOs, the private sector and the public demonstrates the resolve of the international community to find inclusive global solutions to address this complex problem."

The international launch of the Decade was preceded by regional launches in the Republic of Korea, India, the Philippines, Cuba, Ethiopia, Ecuador and Costa Rica.

More about the Decade and how you CAN make a difference for biodiversity in Singapore.

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EU warns wasting environmental resources could spark new recession

Janez Potočnik, European Union commissoner for green affairs, says unless habits change scarcity could see prices spike
Fiona Harvey 29 Dec 11;

The overuse and waste of valuable natural resources is threatening to produce a fresh economic crisis, the European Union's environment chief has warned.

Janez Potočnik, the EU commissioner for the environment, linked the current economic crisis gripping the eurozone with potential future crises driven by price spikes in key resources, including energy and raw materials.

"It's very difficult to imagine [lifting Europe out of recession] without growth, and very difficult to imagine growth without competitiveness, and very difficult to be competitive without resource efficiency."

Unless consumers and businesses take action to use resources more efficiently – from energy and water to food and waste, and raw materials such as precious metals – then their increasing scarcity, rising prices and today's wasteful methods of using them will drive up costs yet further and reduce Europe's standard of living, Potočnik warned.

He said: "We have simply no choice. We have to use what we have more efficiently, or we will fail to compete. Resource efficiency is a real competitiveness issue for European companies."

Some European regulations will have to be altered in order to ensure the efficient use of energy, water and raw materials, and to protect the natural environment.

Potočnik gave notice that his department was scouring through existing regulations and proposed new ones in order to ensure that none would encourage resources to be used profligately, and to safeguard the EU's natural resources for the future.

The stark warning highlighted the increasing scarcity and rising price of some key resources, including energy and water, but also food and raw materials from metals, ores and minerals.

Although most of the west is still mired in economic woes, much of the developing world including rapidly emerging economies such as China and India are forging ahead financially, and as a consequence are consuming a far greater share of the world's resources.

The current economic models used by businesses and governments have failed so far to take this rapid change into account, and one of the associated problems is that many business models are predicated on cheap resources and an inefficient use of raw materials and energy.

"This is an issue of competitiveness," Potočnik said. "China is understanding that this is a megatrend. We can't ignore it."

Resources are under increasing constraint, as developing countries lift more of their population out of poverty. "If our current living standards are to be maintained, and the aspirations of developing countries satisfied, then the global economy will need to be changed drastically," Potočnik said.

"If we want things to stay the same, things will have to change." He added: "This will be an enormous pressure on resources, which we are already overusing."

Labour costs now make up a much smaller proportion of most manufacturers' overheads than the cost of raw materials and energy, according to Potočnik. A greater proportion of those resources is also coming from overseas, with the attendant potential problems around security of supply. "Europe is importing more than half its resource use in many areas," he said.

Concerns have grown in recent months over the supply of some key resources, such as rare earths. These are used in many modern products, from mobile phones to renewable energy equipment, but the supply is small and China controls many of the sources.

China has about a third of global rare earth deposits in its territory, but it accounts for nearly all of the production because of its efforts in this key market. Recently, the Beijing government has made moves to reduce exports, in order to help its indigenous manufacturers, and this trend has worried western governments.

But these supply constraints are not yet fully priced in to world markets, and while the economic crisis continues the issue is likely to remain overshadowed – which could lay up future problems, according to the European commission.

"There are real problems with security of supply and this is not yet on the radar screen," Potočnik said.

Potočnik called for resource use to become a "mainstream" issue in economics. Recalling his own education as an economist, he noted: "I was taught that water was a free commodity, like air. We really do need to have the internalisation of these costs."

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