Best of our wild blogs: 12 Jan 12

Changi is full of seahares!
from wild shores of singapore

One of my favorite bird family group
from Life's Indulgences

Oriental Pied Hornbill feeding on palm fruits
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Read more!

Annual rainfall is increasing here: Experts

Panel's conclusion differs from NEA's view that there's no clear pattern
Grace Chua Straits Times 12 Jan 12;

NATIONAL Environment Agency (NEA) officials, who briefed a panel of drainage experts probing recent floods, were of the view that Singapore's rainfall will show no discernible pattern in the future.

But the experts did not quite believe the weatherman.

'It didn't seem physically plausible,' said panel member Lui Pao Chuen, 69, of the NEA's climate vulnerability study, which was first released in 2010 and is meant to project the climate in the future.

So the panel asked to see the rainfall data. And when they pored over the figures, looking at how much rain fell in different parts of Singapore, and which areas experienced the most intense rainfall in an hour, a different picture emerged.

Professor Lui found that there are significant differences in annual rainfall in different parts of Singapore - as much as 50cm between regions. For instance, Changi got 215cm of rainfall a year on average between 1980 and 2009, but the Central Catchment area received 265cm of rain.

Annual rainfall increased, on average, by 15mm a year between 1968 and 2008.

The number of days when there was at least 40mm of rain per hour - a relatively high intensity - went from 50 in 1980 to 65 in 2010.

And the number of days when there was at least 70mm of rain per hour went from five in 1980 to 13 in 2010.

Prof Lui is adviser to the National Research Foundation and advises several other government agencies. The physicist by training was Singapore's chief defence scientist for 22 years till his retirement in 2008.

He and others on the panel were briefed on the study on July 8 last year, which stated that local rainfall till the year 2100 would show 'no discernible trends'.

The 12-man expert panel, formed last June, was tasked with reviewing Singapore's drainage and flood-prevention measures, after the upmarket prime shopping belt of Orchard Road and other areas suffered floods in 2010 and June last year.

Even updated drainage codes may have to be changed further to account for future rainfall predictions.

'The bible may no longer be valid because things have changed,' Prof Lui said, referring to drainage planning parameters.

In news reports immediately after last June's floods, the NEA had also said that, based on its long-term records, its analysis of the rainfall patterns in Singapore showed no significant trend.

But from its data analysis, the panel believed that weather patterns have already been changing and will continue to do so.

It concluded that higher rainfall intensity, increased urbanisation, and a too-small Stamford Canal contributed to the flooding.

In its recommendations, which were released on Tuesday, it said Singapore needs to tackle rainwater at various points along its flow chain and improve monitoring and data collection to better predict possible floods.

It suggested building detention ponds, green roofs and porous roads, among other things.

While the work of national water agency PUB has cut Singapore's flood-prone areas to 56ha today, Prof Lui raised another concern - that that figure might have bottomed out.

That means that flood-prone areas would increase in future if rainfall intensity keeps growing.

Asked to explain the contradiction between the data provided to Prof Lui and its analyses, and if the data was shared with and used by drainage planners, the NEA did not respond by press time.

The PUB was also asked if it collected its own rainfall data, if this data was used by drainage planners, and if planners were aware that rainfall intensity was increasing.

For its part, the PUB said it will study the recommendations of the expert panel and respond at a later date.

Right data flow critical to flood control
Straits Times Editorial 13 Jan 12;

AN EXPERT panel set up to examine ways in which Singapore can tackle floods has come up with a list of comprehensive recommendations. These range from creating rain gardens to capture and retain rain, and erecting green roofs; to improving drain capacity, building porous pavements to soak up rain water, laying a diversion canal and installing flood barriers. These are valuable suggestions to make life less miserable for people and businesses caught up in sudden floods. A series of them in recent years has made Singaporeans intensely aware of how vulnerable they remain to the vagaries of nature even in a modern city-state.

Looking at the longer term, the panel has recommended that a detention pond - which would hold water temporarily in case of intense rainfall - and a diversion canal could be potential solutions. This is in line with the thinking of the national water agency, PUB. However, this is a classic example of an area in which Singaporeans will have to consider carefully the trade-offs they will need to make between convenience and cost. Protection from floods would require major works of this nature, but the costs could be high in terms of the usage of space and money.

For example, for the pond to be viable, it would have to be the size of two to three football fields - something of a luxury in land-scarce Singapore. The canal in question - which would redirect water from Stamford Canal to the Singapore River - will cost between $300 million and $400 million. That would be a major infrastructural investment which would need to be justified by the extent of its contribution to the overall anti- flooding measures. Singaporeans do not want their country to be the Venice of South-east Asia, but they know that they can never be bone-dry in a tropical region. In the end, difficult choices will have to be made.

There is, however, one issue over which there can be little disagreement. This has to do with the collection and study of topographic and weather data. Going beyond existing drainage data collection - which is limited mostly to water movement within drains and canals - Singapore needs a digital map of the country's landscape and ground surface types to aid prediction of flood-prone areas. These are invaluable tools. The larger point is that, the more data that the Government can share with academics and the media, the better it is for Singapore. Public awareness of scenarios and options is an essential part of public confidence in the country's flood-fighting abilities. The alternative is the kind of shock, followed by anger, that some Singaporeans felt when unexpected floods came their way.

Read more!

Malaysia: Fencing off elephants

T.N. Alagesh New Straits Times 11 Jan 12;
Relief for villagers as RM2.5m is spent on electric fences to stop animal encroachments

KUANTAN: REPORTS of elephants terrorising settlements and destroying crops in Pahang will soon be a thing of the past.
A series of reports on elephants encroaching human settlements has prompted the state Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) to set aside RM2.5 million to build electric fences along the Kemasul, Som and Lesong forest reserves in Temerloh, Jerantut and Rompin respectively.

While the Kemasul project was completed in October last year, the other two would be ready by the end of next year, said state Perhilitan director Khairiah Mohd Shariff.

Khairiah added that the 7.2km-long fence constructed at Kemasul forest reserve at a cost of RM300,000 had brought relief to the more than 5,000 villagers in seven areas there.

The project had prevented elephants, as well as other animals like wild boars and tigers, from destroying their rubber and oil palm trees.

"The Kemasul forest reserve is home to between 20 and 25 elephants and with the fence, the elephants no longer stray into the villages for food.

"Villagers don't have to worry about crossing paths with the animals again," she told the New Straits Times.

The RM1.75 million Lesong project, meanwhile, would help prevent about 25 elephants in the jungle from wondering into nearby villages, including the Orang Asli settlements.

She said the 35km project would stretch over 17 villages, including Kampung Kurnia, Keladan, Setajam and Pianggu, while the Som fence project would be built at a cost of RM400,000.

The electric fence projects was the best solution to put a stop to elephant attacks and related problems faced by villagers, who normally used loud hailers and burned firecrackers to frighten the animals.

"The battery for the fences has to be re-charged using solar panels," she said, adding that Perhilitan provides spare batteries.

Khairiah also said the solar-powered fences would only provide light electric waves that would not kill or threaten the animals.

"We also placed signboards to notify villagers of the presence of the electric fences."

She urged private companies to install electric fences at their respective plantations to help safeguard their crops from wild animals.

Read more!

Rare Sumatran tiger rescued from trap in Indonesia

(AFP) Google News 11 Jan 12;

JAKARTA — An endangered Sumatran tiger found with serious arrow wounds all over its body was rescued from a wire trap in protected Indonesian jungle, officials said Tuesday.

The five-year-old male tiger was found on Monday in Bengkulu province on the lush island of Sumatra with nine arrow wounds estimated to be four days old, Bengkulu's conservation agency chief Supartono told AFP.

"When we found him, he was lying weak on the ground with his front left leg held up in the air, entangled in a wire trap attached to a tree branch," Supartono said.

The trap was likely set up by poachers looking to sell the rare animal's body parts on illegal markets, Supartono said.

"They use steel wire to trap it by the leg so it doesn't destroy its body. These traps are designed for tigers, not the wild boars that the community here hunt."

Supartono said it was likely local people had shot the arrows at the tiger out of fear after finding it trapped in the forest.

The conservation agency found several similar traps in the province last year and was working with police to find a suspected group of poachers.

There are fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers left and environmental activists say the animals are increasingly coming into conflict with people as their natural habitat is rapidly deforested.

Earlier this month, Thai customs officials seized four boxes of smuggled tiger skins and bones worth $60,000 believed to be en route from Indonesia to China.

Bangkok-based anti-trafficking group Freeland said that poaching and trafficking of tiger meat, bones and skin was a key cause of a precipitous decline in Asia's wild tiger populations.

Numbers are estimated to have fallen to only 3,200 tigers worldwide, from approximately 100,000 a century ago.

Injured sumatran tiger dies during medical treatment
Antara 14 Jan 12;

Bengkulu (ANTARA News) - A Sumatran tiger injured in a trap in Bengkulu and transferred to Bogor for treatment has died during surgery at the Safari Park Veterinary Hospital in Cisarua, a local nature conservation official said.

The endangered animal died at around noon on Saturday while being treated in intensive care by a team of veterinarians, said Amon Zamora, head of Bengkulu`s Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA).

The tiger sustained serious injuries in many parts of its body after falling into a trap in the protected Gedang Hulu Lais forest area in Lebong district. Locals who had found the trapped animal had apparently tried to kill it with spears.

But the tiger survived the locals` assaults until it was rescued and evacuated to Bengkulu city by BKSDA personnel and police.

After it was taken to the office of Bengkulu`s BKSDA it was still able to eat and drink but the agency lacked the needed medical knowhow and equipment to treat its wounds. The situation was reported to the Forestry Ministry which eventually ordered the tiger to be transferred to Jakarta by plane last Thursday for further transportation to the Safari Park Veterinary Hospital in Cisarua, Bogor.

Another official of Bengkulu`s BKSDA, Supartono, said the tiger that weighed about 75 kg and was five to six years old had run into the trap that appeared to have been intended for animals the size of full-grown tigers.

Meanwhile, Lebong district police were reported to have assigned a team to investigate the case and find the owner of the animal trap.(*)

Editor: Aditia Maruli

Read more!

Indonesia: Tiger population in Bengkulu drops due to poaching

Antara 11 Jan 12;

Bengkulu, Sumatra (ANTARA News) - The population of Sumatran tigers (Pantera Tigris Sumatrae) in Bengkulu Province has dropped due to poaching, a local official said.

Two years ago, the tiger population in Bengkulu had been estimated at around 50, and currently it was around 19 based on an estimation from conflicts and encounters between human beings and the animals lately, Anom Zamora, the head of the Bengkulu Natural Resource Conservation Agency (BKSDA), said here on Wednesday.

"Over the past few years, local residents have encountered sumatran tigers among other things in forest and plantation areas in the districts of Seluma, Bengkulu Tengah, Kaur, Kepahiang, North Bengkulu, Lebong and Rejang Lebong," he said.

Last year, tigers had reportedly killed livestock such as goats and cows, and a number of humans.

Human encroachment into tiger habitats has triggered conflicts between man and tigers.

Supatono of the Bengkulu BKSDA said the latest case in which a tiger became a victim of human beings was reported several days ago when a tiger was trapped and wounded at Gedang Hulu Lais vilalge,

Lebong Selatan sub district, Lebong District, Bengkulu Province.

"The Sumatran tiger`s condition is weak, it weighs around 60-70 kg and is five or six years old. The tiger is dehydrated because it has probably been trapped for four days," he said.

Despite being protected by law, tigers have been poached because they are in high demand in the black market.


Editor: Ella Syafputri

Read more!

World's smallest frog discovered

Richard Black BBC News 11 Jan 12;

A frog species that appears to be the world's smallest has been discovered in Papua New Guinea by a US-based team.

At 7mm (0.27 inches) long, Paedophryne amauensis may be the world's smallest vertebrate - the group that includes mammals, fish, birds and amphibians.

The researchers also found a slightly larger relative, Paedophryne swiftorum.

Presenting the new species in PLoS One journal, they suggest the frogs' tiny scale is linked to their habitat, in leaf litter on the forest floor.

Finding the frogs was not an easy assignment.

They are well camouflaged among leaves on the forest floor, and have evolved calls resembling those of insects, making them hard to spot.

"The New Guinea forests are incredibly loud at night; and we were trying to record frog calls in the forest, and we were curious as to what these other sounds were," said research leader Chris Austin from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, US.

"So we triangulated to where these calls were coming from, and looked through the leaf litter.

"It was night, these things are incredibly small; so what we did after several frustrating attempts was to grab a whole handful of leaf litter and throw it inside a clear plastic bag.

"When we did so, we saw these incredibly tiny frogs hopping around," he told BBC News.
Littering the leaves

The Paedophryne genus was identified only recently, and consists of a number of tiny species found at various points in the eastern forests of Papua New Guinea.

"They're occupying the relatively thick leaf litter of tropical forest in low-lying parts of the island, eating incredibly small insects that typically are much smaller than insects that frogs eat," said Professor Austin.

"And they're probably prey for a large number of relatively small invertebrates that don't usually prey on frogs."

Predators may well include scorpions.

Intriguingly, other places in the world that also feature dense, moist leaf litter tend to possess such small frog species, indicating that amphibians are well placed to occupy this ecological niche.

Before the Paedophrynes were found, the title of "world's smallest frog" was bestowed on the Brazilian gold frog (Brachycephalus didactylus) and its slightly larger Cuban relative, the Monte Iberia Eleuth (Eleutherodactylus iberia). They both measure less than 1cm long.

The smallest vertebrates have until now been fish.

Adult Paedocypris progenetica, which dwells in Indonesian swamps and streams, measure 7.9-10.3 mm long.

Male anglerfish of the species Photocorynus spiniceps are just over 6mm long. But they spend their lives fused to the much larger (50mm long) females, so whether they should count in this contest would be disputed.

Paedophryne amaunensis adults average 7.7mm, which is why its discoverers believe it how holds the crown.

The remote expanses of Papua New Guinea rank alongside those of Madagascar as places where hitherto undiscovered amphibian species are expected to turn up, as they are largely undeveloped and not well explored.

Tiny frog claimed as world's smallest vertebrate
Janet McConnaughey Associated Press Yahoo News 11 Jan 12;

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A frog that can perch on the tip of your pinkie with room to spare has been claimed as the world's smallest vertebrate species, out-tinying a fish that got the title in 2006. But the discoverer of another weensy fish disputes the claim.

A tempest in a thimble, some might say.

An article Wednesday in the journal PLoS One named Paedophryne amauensis as the world's smallest animal with a spine.

The adult frogs are about three-tenths of an inch long, and a millimeter or so smaller than a carp found on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The frogs are so small that Louisiana State University herpetologist and environmental biologist Christopher Austin had to enlarge close-up photos to describe them.

But the males of a species of deep-sea anglerfish are about 2 mm smaller, said University of Washington ichthyologist Theodore Pietsch, who described them in 2006. The males don't have stomachs and live as parasites on 1.8-inch (4.57-centimeter)-long females.

Austin discovered the tiny frogs — along with another small frog species — in August 2009 while on a trip to Papua New Guinea to study the extreme diversity of the island's wildlife. He said he knew about the anglerfish but felt that average species size made more sense for comparison.

Steven J. Beaupre, a University of Arkansas scientist and president-elect of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, said many vertebrates have males and females of very different sizes, "so it is reasonable that the world's smallest vertebrate may end up being either the males or the females of some specific fish or amphibian species."

He said he doesn't pay attention to "tiniest" reports, but the frogs themselves are a significant discovery.

"The discovery of two new frog species comes as great news against the background of more prevalent accounts of tropical amphibian extinction," he wrote in an email.

Knowing about such tiny creatures and their ecology, he said, helps scientists "better understand the advantages and disadvantages of extreme small size and how such extremes evolve. Fundamentally, these tiny vertebrates provide a window on the principles that constrain animal design."

Austin said that since these frogs hatch out as hoppers rather than tadpoles and live on the ground, their existence contradicts the hypothesis that evolution at large and small extremes is linked to life in water.

At least 29 species of minuscule frogs in equatorial regions worldwide live in leaf litter or moss that is moist year-round and eat even tinier invertebrates, creating a previously unknown "ecological guild" of similar animals with similar life habits, he said.

"We realized these frogs were probably doing something incredibly different from what normal frogs do — invading this open niche of wet leaf litter that is full of really tiny insects that other frogs and possibly other creatures weren't eating," Austin said.

In August 2009, Austin and graduate student Eric Rittmeyer were collecting and recording the mating calls of frogs at night in a tropical forest near the village of Amau in eastern Papua New Guinea, when they heard a chorus of high-pitched "tinks."

"This frog has a call that doesn't sound like a frog at all. It sounds like an insect," he said. The calls seemed to surround them, and it took a while to be sure they were coming from the ground.

Since they couldn't locate the noise-maker, they snatched up some habitat, expecting to find a six-legger in it.

"We found it by grabbing a whole handful of leaf litter and putting it into a clear plastic bag and very, very slowly going through that litter leaf by leaf by leaf until we saw that small frog hop off one of those leaves," he said.

Getting photos took some effort — the frogs can leap 30 times their own length. After hopping around for a bit, they settled down long enough for a close-up or two, Austin said.

Their expedition, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, later turned up another new species of tiny frog, found farther west along the island's coast. The other is closely related, but a millimeter or so larger, and it had a different call.

Austin estimated that they found 20 previously unknown species in New Guinea, which is such a hotspot of diversity that scientists figure they've described only about six-tenths of all the species living there.

Maurice Kottelat, a Swiss scientist who found the tiny carp called Paedocypris progenetica, wrote in an email that it's hard to compare frogs and fish, because they're measured differently: frogs from nose-tip to the excretory vent, and fish from nose to tail.

"It is not so interesting to know which is really the smallest. Tomorrow will bring another smallest anyway," he wrote.

He concluded a long email, "I have a great concern. It is not when will we discover the next smallest, but whether habitats where to discover them will still be there. Or how long will the habitats survive.

"Since the discovery of Paedocypris most of the fragile peat swamps that it inhabits have been destroyed."



AP interactive -

Read more!

Eight dead rhinos found in South Africa's Kruger

AFP Yahoo News 11 Jan 12;

Eight dehorned rhino carcasses have been found in South Africa's Kruger National Park, in a poaching attack blamed on gunmen who slipped across the Mozambican border, a park spokesman said Wednesday.

Officials made the gruesome discovery Tuesday near the border, said spokesman Reynold Thakuli.

"Three were found in the Pretoriuskop section and five in the lower Sabie region of the Kruger Park," he told AFP. "All of them had been shot with AK-47s. The wounds were fresh."

"It looks like the guys came in from Mozambique and went back into Mozambique."

Kruger, South Africa's most famous national park, lies on the border with Mozambique, where more relaxed policing means poachers can move around more easily.

Around 450 rhinos were poached in South Africa last year, 252 of them in Kruger.

The dramatic spike in rhino killings -- up from 13 in 2007 -- has been driven by demand for its use in Asian traditional medicine, especially in China and Vietnam, where it is believed to cure cancer despite scientific evidence to the contrary.

Rhino horns are made of the same substance as human fingernails.

South Africa's army has been called in to police the Kruger National Park in the north, but authorities have struggled to stop poaching syndicates that use helicopters, night vision equipment and high-powered rifles to hunt their prey.

S. Africa boosts efforts to protect Kruger rhinos
Claudine Renaud (AFP) Google News 15 Jan 12;

PRETORIA — South Africa announced Sunday it was beefing up the number of rangers in the world-renowned Kruger national park after an alarming jump in the number of rhinos slain by poachers for their horns.

"This ongoing poaching of our rhino population is a source of great concern for the government... It requires of us all as a collective to take drastic measures to help combat it," said Environment Minister Edna Molewa.

Kruger, one of South Africa's top tourist destinations, has been plagued by poachers, with 252 rhinos killed there in 2011 -- more than half the estimated record 448 slaughtered last year across South Africa. The 2010 figure was 333.

The fate of the critically endangered black rhino species is particularly worrying. Nineteen were felled last year, including eight in Kruger.

The dramatic spike in rhino killings has been driven by demand for its use in Asian traditional medicine, especially in China and Vietnam, where it is believed to cure cancer despite scientific evidence to the contrary.

Poachers are using high-powered weapons and veterinary tranquilisers to dart rhinos before hacking off their horns.

"The government of South Africa views the illegal killing of this national treasure in a very serious light and will continue to prioritise our fight against this crime jointly with our law enforcement agencies," Molewa said.

She told a press conference in the capital Pretoria that the government would be boosting the number of rangers in Kruger by 150 from 500 currently to try to address the poaching onslaught.

A 150-kilometre (95-mile) electric barrier will also be installed along the border between the Kruger and neighbouring Mozambique, where many of the poachers are recruited.

Since April 2011, South African soldiers have been patrolling the Mozambique border but the move appeared to have done little to deter poachers.

In the last two years, at least one rhino is killed on average every day by heavily armed poachers, some who carry kalashnikovs or use helicopters or bribe rangers to help spot the rare animals.

"The police are very under-resourced," Pelham Jones, who heads the association of private rhino owners, told AFP.

"For every rhino poached, there are three or four guys to be arrested, we are talking about thousands and the number of the police are very small," he added. Last year, police arrested 232 people, up from 165 in 2010.

Some 7,000 reserves in South Africa are privately owned, including 400 in which rhinos can be found.

Jones' association is calling for trade in rhino horn to be legalised, as part of an effort to combat illegal commerce.

A feasibility study into the viability of legalising such trade within South Africa -- currently the subject of a national moratorium -- is due to be concluded by August this year.

South Africa is home to about 20,000 rhinos, or between 70 and 80 percent of the global population of the giant mammal.

Read more!

Confiscated bushmeat 'poses virus threat'

BBC News 11 Jan 12;

Scientists have documented potentially dangerous viruses entering the US through illegally imported wildlife products.

Testing of meats confiscated at American airports has revealed the presence of several pathogens that could pose a risk to human health.

Retroviruses and herpesviruses were identified, some of them isolated from remains of endangered monkey species.

The research study is reported in the journal PLoS One.

Its authors say better surveillance measures are needed to ensure this trade does not result in the emergence of new disease outbreaks in humans.

"Although the findings to date are from a small pilot study, they remind us of the potential public health risk posed by illegal importation of wildlife products - a risk we hope to better characterize through expanded surveillance at ports of entry around the country," said Dr Kristine Smith, from EcoHealth Alliance, who led the investigation team.

Scientists estimate that some 75% of emerging infectious diseases affecting people have come from contact with wildlife.

Some of this is the result of animals biting humans, but the handling and consumption of infected meats is also considered a significant route of transmission.

Classic examples of infections that have jumped across the species include HIV/Aids, which is thought to have originated in primates, and Sars, an infection that caused global concern in 2003.

Follow-up work traced its beginnings to Chinese restaurant workers butchering the cat-like Asian palm civet.

The PLoS One study is a first attempt to screen for potentially hazardous pathogens in confiscated meat products entering the US.

The scientists examined animal remains passing through five international airports, including John F Kennedy in New York - one of the busiest hubs in the world.

The smuggled meats - some found in postal packages, some discovered inside suitcases - were tested first to make a species identification.

This showed up several non-human primates, included baboon and chimpanzee, but also rodents.

The raw, smoked and dried meats were then tested for a number of viruses known to be capable of infecting humans.

Among the pathogens identified were a zoonotic retrovirus, simian foamy viruses, and several nonhuman primate herpesviruses.

No-one really knows the scale of the illegal trade in wildlife meat, or bushmeat as it is often called, but a 2010 study estimated that five tonnes of the material per week was being smuggled in personal baggage through Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, France.

And in addition to the meat products, there is a big trade in live wild animals. Much of this is perfectly legal and supplies the pet industry. Nonetheless, these animals also require improved pathogen surveillance, say the researchers.

"Exotic wildlife pets and bushmeat are Trojan horses that threaten humankind at sites where they are collected in the developing world as well as the US. Our study underscores the importance of surveillance at ports, but we must also encourage efforts to reduce demand for products that drive the wildlife trade," said Ian Lipkin of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.

One key aspect of concern highlighted by the team was the identification in the samples of some endangered species, including the Guinea baboon and the sooty mangabey, an Old World monkey.

Marcus Rowcliffe, from the Institute of Zoology in London, UK, and who was not connected with the research, commented: "The extent to which an intercontinental luxury meat market may be developing is of major concern, because if that is happening it could have very worrying impacts on wild populations.

"This whole area is marked by a lot of unknowns which is why we need more studies like this."

Read more!

Decisions must be made at Rio Earth summit, urges UN official

The summit must not be a talking shop for world leaders, says Brice Lalonde, UN executive co-ordinator of the conference
John Vidal 11 Jan 12;

The Earth summit in June must be the place where decisions on the future of the planet are made, and not just another talking shop for world leaders, the head of what will be 2012's largest political conference has urged.

Speaking as the first draft of the UN declaration for Rio+20 was released in New York on Tuesday night, Brice Lalonde, the UN's executive co-ordinator of the conference and former French environment minister, said: "[The draft] is a good start. Most topics are on the table: from efficient international co-operation to sustainable development goals, from a regular review of the state of the planet to an agency for the environment, from universal access to energy to social safety floors. What is missing now is one verb: to decide. Because to stress, urge, call, recognise, underscore, encourage, support or reaffirm is not enough. When heads of state meet, it should be to decide."

As revealed by the Guardian early on Tuesday, world leaders will be called on to sign up for 10 new sustainable development goals for the planet and promise to build green economies. They will also be asked to negotiate a new agreement to protect oceans, approve an annual state of the planet report, set up a major world agency for the environment, and appoint a global "ombudsperson", or high commissioner, for future generations.

John Major, Fidel Castro and George H W Bush were among the leaders who attended the original earth summit, which was the world's biggest ever political gathering. But David Cameron has said he is not planning to attend Rio+20, despite promising to lead the "greenest government ever" and the date of the summit being changed to avoid a clash with the Queen's diamond jubilee.

International groups on Wednesday reacted to the draft. Diana Bronson, a spokeswoman for ETC group in Canada, said: "The draft declaration calls for bold and decisive action and then offers weak and equivocal statements, reiterating commitment to the same old policies that have failed to deliver on sustainable development for 20 years. Alarmingly, business is called upon show leadership on the green economy – completely ignoring how well-entrenched and increasingly consolidated private interests have steered us away from sustainable development thus far. We need a clear commitment to support peasant agriculture and food sovereignty."

Read more!