Best of our wild blogs: 27 Jan 12

Sign up for the first year-round coastal cleanup @ Tanah Merah!
from Through The Backyards

Chinese New Year Intertidal Escapade
from Singapore Scene Gone Natural

Birders Behaving Badly
from G33k5p34k's Blog

Singapore Green Landscape 2012
from Green Business Times

Asian Green Youth Challenge Recruitment Drive‏
from ECO @ COP

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Malaysia: Habitat loss keeps orang utan on the 'danger list'

Roy Goh New Straits Times 27 Jan 12;

A WILDLIFE sanctuary and three forest reserves stretch over the Lower Kinabatangan area in Sandakan, but still the number of orang utans has been declining over the years.

Experts put the slide at 30 per cent of its estimated 1,000 population in the last eight years within the area of about 100,000ha. The main reason behind this is the loss of habitat because of fragmented forests.

Policies on land use, public attitude and awareness have been identified as key factors that could ensure survival of the species. However, the message does not appear to have reached its target -- stakeholders such as oil palm planters, local communities and government agencies.

Land for oil palm plantations is still being cleared, disconnecting forests where the apes and even other endangered species, such as the proboscis monkeys and pygmy elephants, are found.

Local communities, too, have not entirely embraced the idea of co-existing with the wildlife where many of them have long regarded orang utans as threats to their fruit orchards, plantations or even threats to their safety.

The only consolation lies in the tourism industry where the iconic orang utans along with Mount Kinabalu are considered the flagship products. The ever growing number of tourist arrivals at popular sites within Lower Kinabatangan, such as Sukau and Bilit, are testament to this.

It has helped raise awareness of how important wildlife is to boost the economy for those directly involved in the tourism industry, but the challenge to this are the high crude palm oil prices and the fact that many locals have become smallholders.

A Sukau-based resort executive Don Booysen said orang utans could be seen most days especially when certain trees are fruiting although there are times when none are around.

"Overseas guests are fascinated with orang utans and many of them come here specifically to see the apes. On our part, we do a special activity at Gomatong Caves to look for orang utans because that is probably the best place to see them," he said.

The prime example of how popular orang utans lies north of the Lower Kinabatangan area at the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre which attracts tourists, including day trippers who fly over from Kota Kinabalu, to catch a glimpse of the apes in the wild.

Sabah Wildlife director Dr Laurentius Ambu recently cited the conversion of small patches of forests for oil palm planting was the main cause for the decline of the orang utan population in Lower Kinabatangan.

"Without these small patches of forests, the wildlife within is not able to disperse and mate," he said and pointed out that the animals also did not have enough food sources because of the fragmentation of the land.

Ambu said the department had consistently pushed for the formation of forest corridors that linked pockets of forests, a crucial policy for Lower Kinabatangan that is "heavily broken up between protected and non-protected areas".

Within Lower Kinabatangan, an area of about 26,000ha has been gazetted as a wildlife sanctuary along with three forest reserves -- Trusan Kinabatangan Forest Reserve (40,471ha), Kulamba Wildlife Forest Reserve (20,682ha) and Kuala Maruap-Kuala Segama Forest Reserve (17,650ha). The three forest reserves also make up the biggest Ramsar site in Malaysia.

A non-governmental organisation known as the Kinabatangan Orang Utan Conservation Project or Hutan, with the support of other NGOs such as the World Wildlife Fund Sabah, Borneo Conservation Trust and Danau Girang Field Centre had surveyed and monitored the apes in the area. Hutan has been doing this from 2003 and has come up with a proposal that has since been implemented to stem the decline in their numbers.

Its director, Dr Marc Acrenaz, had proposed and thereafter built "bridges" that connected fragmented forests across rivers to allow orang utans and other wildlife species to meet and breed or find food. It also prevents "in-breeding" among orang utans.

In Sabah, the orang utan population is estimated to be around 11,000 and despite being a "stronghold" for the species, it has since 2000 been listed as endangered in the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List.

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Malaysia: 'Don't keep leopard cats as pets'

Nicholas Cheng New Straits Times 27 Jan 12;

THE leopard cat may look like an everyday domesticated feline but cat lovers are warned not to keep them as pets.

People rearing this wildlife species can be fined up to RM100,000 or jailed up to three years or both, according to Wildlife and National Parks Eco-tourism Department director Dr Sivananthan Elagupillay.

"Under the recently amended Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, the leopard cat is a fully protected species in Peninsular Malaysia.

"People should avoid keeping them as pets to prevent any interbreeding between leopard cats and domestic cats which can cause issues, such as spread of diseases."

Dr Sivananthan said leopard cats were sometimes crossbred or "hybridised" with domestic cats, resulting in a popular domestic breed, Safari Cat.

"Hybridisation of wildlife is an offence under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 and upon conviction, be liable to a RM50,000 fine or two years imprisonment or both."

World Wildlife Fund Malaysia Species Conservation Field Biologist Shariff Mohamad said these cats are not safe to keep as pets as they are known to be hard to domesticate.

"They are not as tame as the average cat and are normally kept in restrictive cages.

"Aggressive gestures such as clawing and biting are to be expected because of its natural wildlife instincts," he added.

Last week, a dead leopard cat was found on the Bukit Putus stretch of the Seremban-Kuala Pilah road.

Shariff said it was a common sight along most roads bordering forests.

"We have frequent reports of cases where leopard acts were killed during road accidents. They are active mainly at night and early morning, so road users need to be alert when driving during these periods along such roads."

Leopard cats are about the size of a domestic cat but have longer legs with well-defined webs between their toes.

They are one of the most common feline species found in South East Asia, though no proper population estimates are available from a nationwide or worldwide perspective.

Leopard cats are known to be a highly adaptable species and are commonly seen in secondary forests, oil palm plantations, rubber plantations, fruit orchards and also settlements located at the forest fringe.

These cats are occasionally hunted for their fur and sometimes sold as pets.

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World's only venomous primate 'under threat from pet trade'

BBC News 25 Jan 12;

An Oxford anthropologist has warned that the world's only venomous primate is under threat from the pet trade.

The slow loris is nocturnal and native to south-east Asia. They secrete venom from their elbows, which they mix with saliva resulting in a toxic bite.

Videos of the creatures as pets have attracted millions of hits online because of their cute appearance.

Dr Anna Nekaris, Oxford Brookes University primologist, said growing numbers were caught for the pet trade.

She said they were easy to catch because they often slept in the day and did not run or leap very far.

On a recent trip to Java to study the primate, Dr Nekaris noted that an increasing number of slow lorises were being offered for sale at markets.

But she found they were becoming a rarer sight in their native forest homes.

Dr Nekaris said: "Most of the animals that get into people's homes as pets are wild animals.

"They aren't captive bred and it's a real dark pathway through which they have to go to get there.

"In order to get into someone's house, the animals have to go through a lot of cruelty and suffering in order to be pets and that's really decimating the population.

"The real threat to the slow loris is that in order to avoid being bitten [pet traders] pull out the loris's teeth with pliers or nail clippers.

"So the animals, once they're in the trade, they can't be reintroduced to the wild because they have no teeth."

Those that are rescued from the pet trade without teeth would not be able to feed properly or fend for themselves.
Critically endangered

Despite it being illegal to catch lorises and to keep them as pets, the law is not being enforced. They are also used for traditional medicine.

Dr Nekaris's work is featured in a BBC Two documentary to be shown later.

She added: "The whole film was always a worry - 'Are we going to see it? Are we going to find it? - Because they are critically endangered primates.

"There was a fear that we'd never even see one in the wild [during filming].

"We knew that we would see lots for sale in markets where they are being sold openly as pets.

"The conservation side was very easy to film because they're so prevalent in trade and rescue centres, but the science side was harder to film because there are so few left in the wild."

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Indonesia: Almost 1,500 pig-nosed turtles “crammed like sardines” into suitcases

TRAFFIC 26 Jan 12;

The 1,495 turtles were concealed inside two suitcases en route to Jakarta, the nation’s capital and a major hub for illicit wildlife trade.

Valued as pets, and possibly consumed as meat in some countries, Pig-nosed Turtles are smuggled out of Indonesia by the thousands.

Sources allege that shipments such as this one are common, with dealers in Jakarta buying the turtles from hunters and agents in Papua, then selling them on to dealers and retailers abroad.

Many are destined for the pet markets of East Asia, to places such as Hong Kong, where demand for this species is rising. The turtles are often concealed in shipments of tropical aquarium fish.

There are also indications that many of the turtles are bound for the kitchen table, or to be used in traditional medicines.

Pig-nosed Turtles Carettochelys insculpta are totally protected in Indonesia, making collection for export illegal. Yet the trade large scale persists.

Close to 3,500 Pig-nosed Turtles were seized in February 2010 in Jakarta, while in October last year, more than 600 seized in Hong Kong were returned to Indonesia for reintroduction to the wild. Most, however, once removed from their native habitat, never make it back.

“The authorities involved in intercepting this shipment are to be congratulated” said Chris R. Shepherd, Deputy Regional Director of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.

“However, the fact that dealers continue to smuggle shipments of this size indicates a serious problem in Indonesia, where illegal reptile trade is rife.”

Pig-nosed Turtles are listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which requires permits for all international trade and for the animals to have been obtained in accordance with national legislation.

The Pig-nosed Turtle is threatened by habitat degradation and by illegal and unsustainable harvest for local consumption and international trade. It is listed as Vulnerable to extinction in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Jakarta—renowned illegal wildlife trade hub
Observations by TRAFFIC in December 2011 of three wildlife markets and a reptile expo in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, found a host of protected and endangered turtles and tortoises openly for sale, plus other protected species of reptiles, mammals and birds.

Among them were 19 Green Turtles Chelonia mydas and eight Malaysian Giant Turtles Orlitia borneensis, both listed as Endangered by IUCN and Totally Protected in Indonesia.

A host of non-native species were also seen, including a single Ploughshare Tortoise Astrochelys yniphora and 10 Radiated Tortoises Astrochelys radiata, both Critically Endangered species endemic to Madagascar and listed in Appendix I of CITES, meaning international commercial trade in them is prohibited.

“Illegal and unsustainable trade in turtles and other reptiles in Indonesia is a serious threat to the conservation of many species. Indonesia’s enforcement agencies must take firm action against traders in Indonesia flouting the law,” said Shepherd.

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Indonesia to revoke mining permit after Bima protests

Reuters 26 Jan 12;

* Sumbawa island operations hit by local protests
* Company Sumber Mineral Nusantara planned gold mining
* In joint venture with Arc Exploration
* Minister says permit revocation will take time

JAKARTA, Jan 26 (Reuters) - The Indonesian government said on Thursday it will revoke the exploration permit of mining company Sumber Mineral Nusantara whose operation on Sumbawa island has been hit by violent protests by residents in which two people have died.

Thousands of people rioted and burned a government office on Sumbawa on Thursday to demonstrate their rejection of the company's gold exploration plan, which they say will damage their land and livelihoods, according to police and local media.

The protests are the latest example of scattered demonstrations by some citizens in Southeast Asia's top economy against foreign-owned companies they fear will exploit the country's natural resources at their expense.

Residents including villagers and students in the town of Bima on Sumbawa have for nearly a year demanded that Bima's regent revoke the permit for a joint venture between PT Sumber Mineral Nusantara and Australian-listed Arc Exploration Limited .

Bima is approximately 1331 km (827 miles) east of Jakarta.

Footage from the Metro TV station showed thousands of people massing outside the office of the regent and setting fire to it. Clouds of smoke rose into the air as the police fired warning shots.

"The preliminary information from Bima is that people were acting anarchist by burning the regent's office ... We don't know if there are any casualties," said national police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar. Another spokesman said police had made no arrests and the situation remained unstable.

Energy Minister Jero Wacik said the exploration permit would be revoked but the process would take some time.

Two people were killed and eight wounded in clashes with police on Dec 24 as protesters occupied Sape port.

The Arc Exploration Ltd announced on Jan. 3 that its exploration license has been temporarily suspended for one year since Dec. 23. (Reporting by Olivia Rondonuwu, Reza Thaher and Heru Asprihanto; Editing by Matthew Bigg)

Bima district chief revokes PT SMN's exploration permit
Antara 27 Jan 12;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Jero E Wacik said the Bima district chief in West Nusa Tenggara has revoked the exploration permit of mining company PT Sumber Mineral Nusantara (PT SMN).

"Just now I heard the Bima district head has revoked it (the exploration permit of PT SMN)," he said after making an expose in connection with his first 100 days in office here on Thursday.

People in Bima had rejected PT SMN`s exploration activities in the region and in a demonstration on Thursday they burned the office of the district head.

The director general of minerals and coal at the ministry of energy and mineral resources, Thamrin Sihite, said he contacted the Bima district head immediately after the burning of his office.

At the time the district head insisted that he would not revoke the permit. Later "I told him that many people had already fallen victim and as a public official he would then have to face the consequences. Finally, hesitantly he said he would do it," he said.

He said however that PT SMN could resume explorations if the local people agreed. "If the local people give their support it is possible for the company to resume its operations," he said.

Jero Wacik said in the future the local government had to listen to the people`s aspirations before issuing a permit.

"Local leaders must be careful before issuing mining permits. Familiarization must first be done intensively among the people," he said.

The central government, Jero said, would increase its supervisory role.

PT SMN earlier said it hoped it could still continue its exploration activities as it has carried them out according to the law.

The activities are aimed at confirming whether or not there are indications of gold or other mineral reserves potential for economic exploitation there.

PT SMN has already postponed survey activities carried out by 10 geological experts and the activities of administrative staff members and around 100 local workers from villages in the exploration areas. (*)

Editor: B Kunto Wibisono

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Australia: Loggerhead sea turtle baby boom

Fleur Bainger ABC News 26 Jan 12;

Ningaloo Marine Park on Western Australia's Coral Coast is preparing itself for a baby boom.

But not of the human kind - the World Heritage Listed strip is on track for a larger than expected hatching of loggerhead turtles, one of the most endangered species of sea turtle in the world.

Environmental scientists volunteering at the Gnaraloo Turtle Conservation Program, 150kms north of Carnarvon, say turtles started laying earlier than expected late last year.

Kimmie Riskas, from the USA, says this points to a likely increase in baby turtle numbers.

"When the turtles arrive earlier on, then it's a good indicator that the season's off to an early start, and that can either mean that the season will end earlier aswell, or that there's actually more turtles coming up to nest," she says.

The region has recently been named the planet's third most important breeding ground for loggerheads.

Gnaraloo Bay is at the southern end of Ningaloo and where the international crew of scientists, who donate their time and services to the conservation program for months at a time, are gathering data on the behaviour of these rare turtles.

Unusually, the program is fully funded by the station owner who leases the land.

Both he and the volunteers hope to ensure the turtles' and the land's preservation through stronger data recording, pointing to the significance of the species and the site.

The bay is exceptionally remote, and with its ochre soils, contrasting white beaches and marine-life jammed ocean, it's an eye-popping destination for anyone who braves the corrugated dirt roads to get there.

Fiona Morgan, from Perth, says she volunteers for the love of the animals, as well as worthy experience on her CV. She remembers the first time she saw a turtle lay eggs.

"I was sitting about a metre away, getting sand thrown over me as she was digging her pit; I got to watch her lay the eggs and walk off. It was a feeling and a rush I've never had before, 2am, laying on a pristine beach, watching shooting stars and having a turtle throw sand over you. I don't think many people can say they've done that."

The turtles only start to reproduce at about 30 years of age, and only nest every two to five years, so there is much still to be learnt. The conservation program hopes to record about 400 loggerhead, green and hawksbill turtle nests - all endangered - by the end of the 2011/12 laying season.

To the north of the known egg laying beaches, the scientists say they've just stumbled upon a new rookery, and are holding further surveillance work in January and February.

Kimmie Riskas says the potential discovery could have world-wide significance.

"Since this new area hasn't been monitored before, it would mean that our current numbers that we have for Gnaraloo Bay for nesting loggerheads, is an under estimation. That could further bump up the numbers we already have for the WA rookery and it would add to our understanding of the area and the global significance of the rookery."

Kimmie Riskas, the team leader with the Gnaraloo Turtle Conservation Program, north of Carnarvon in Western Australia; Fiona Morgan, environmental volunteer from Perth and GIS cartographer

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Only Civil Society Can Save Rio+20, Say Activists

Mario Osava IPS News 24 Jan 12;

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan 24, 2012 (Tierramérica) - Large-scale social mobilisation, including street protests and parallel activities, is the only thing can save the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) from ending in nothing but frustration, according to activists and analysts.

A repeat of the failure of recent conferences to negotiate an international climate change pact seems inevitable, said Cândido Grzybowski, the director general of the Brazilian Institute of Social and Economic Analysis (IBASE) and one of the founders of the World Social Forum, the largest global civil society gathering.

Grzybowski based his pessimistic outlook on a number of factors. Chief among them is the economic/financial crisis in the wealthy nations, combined with the fact that this a year of elections in many of them, including France and the United States, moving international commitments to the bottom of their leaders’ agendas. He also blamed what he calls the limited convening power of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, particularly when it comes to environmental issues.

Only strong pressure from civil society as a "unified voice" at parallel events to Rio+20 can potentially force clearer commitments out of the world’s governments to tackle global imbalances, beginning with "financial hegemony", Grzybowski told Tierramérica.

The Thematic Social Forum taking place Jan. 24-29 in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre will bring together representatives of social movements and organisations from around the world to prepare for their participation in the UN summit to be held Jun. 20-22 in Rio de Janeiro.

The meeting in Porto Alegre is one of the many local forums or gatherings addressing a specific theme that are linked to the World Social Forum (WSF) and take place in even-numbered years. The WSF itself is now held every two years.

However, according to Eduardo Viola, a professor at the University of Brasilia who studies the consequences of climate change on international relations, the WSF movement has lost strength and will be unable to attract the numbers needed for a march that could make Rio+20 more than a "mega-meeting" devoted exclusively to declarations and have a "major impact on Brazil" in terms of environmental awareness.

Bringing together "a million demonstrators on the streets" is a "rather unlikely but not impossible" feat that could revive the impact of the original 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, which first brought environmental issues to the attention of the Brazilian public in a major way, Viola commented to Tierramérica.

He sees little chance of the Rio summit making a significant impact internationally, however. It will be a largely "reiterative" conference with "diffuse" objectives, at a time of "enormous international impasses," he said.

But civil society actions must not be limited to Rio de Janeiro, say activists. The Brazilian Forum of NGOs and Social Movements for the Environment and Development (FBOMS) is planning to promote demonstrations in many other cities around the world, with the aid of the internet and social networks.

"Rio has global significance," and a great deal of successful experience has been accumulated in the organisation of large mobilisations through social networks, stressed FBOMS activist Ruben Born.

The Thematic Social Forum in Porto Alegre will help to coordinate these initiatives, with the participation of representatives of civil society movements like the Indignados (Indignant) movement in Spain and the Occupy movement in the United States, Born told Tierramérica.

Civil society attendance at Rio+20 is to be facilitated by the Brazilian government, which is reportedly interested in promoting strong "popular" participation at least, given the likely absence of heads of state and government at the conference’s official activities.

The People’s Summit, a parallel event to Rio+20 being held Jun. 15- 23, will bring together three times the number of participants in the intergovernmental conference, according to observers. Its slogan, like that of the Thematic Social Forum this month, is "Social and Environmental Justice".

"To propose a new way of life, in solidarity, against the commodification of nature and in defense of the commons" is the objective of the summit, according to the Brazilian Civil Society Facilitating Committee for Rio+20, which is organizing this major international event.

The People’s Summit aims to build a Permanent People’s Assembly with the goal of "reinventing the world" through the convergence of the different struggles against capitalism, class divisions, racism, patriarchy and homophobia. It is highly critical of the agenda of the official conference, which focuses on the so-called green economy and a global institutional framework.

But these views do not enjoy a consensus of support from civil society. Born, who is also the founder of Vitae Civilis, a non- governmental group active in climate-related issues, highlighted the ideological discrepancies with those who consider environmental initiatives that do not begin with the overthrow of capitalism to be "false solutions".

Grzybowski stressed the divergence of focus between those who place priority on environmental or social justice, categorising his organisation, IBASE, among the latter.

Chico Whitaker, another World Social Forum founder and radical defender of its egalitarian and participatory principles, was critical of the name chosen for the parallel event: "People’s Summit" maintains a traditional hierarchical vision as opposed to the horizontal structure defended by the WSF from its very inception, he said.

But all of them concur in their rejection of the current world order, described as the "large-scale production industrial model" by Whitaker, as capitalism by the members of the Civil Society Facilitating Committee, and as financial hegemony by Grzybowski, who also attacked such current world "disorders" as transporting millions of tons of Brazilian iron ore to Asia and then bringing it back in the form of steel.

And they are all critical of the official Rio+20 conference itself and the recently released "zero draft" meant to serve as a starting point for a final declaration, because they believe it evades the real challenges.

The whole format of big United Nations summits is no longer viable, said Viola. It is impossible for over 190 countries with "different perceptions of vulnerability" and divergent interests to reach a consensus on climate issues, he explained.

In the meantime, indigenous activists plan to express their cultural and ethnic identity at Rio+20 by calling on their counterparts around the world to participate in the Carioca Village to be set up in Rio de Janeiro.

Around 350 indigenous representatives from different regions of Brazil and 700 from abroad will gather in four "ocas" (traditional houses), one of which will be used for plenary meetings, while another will be equipped for videoconferencing with indigenous peoples in other countries and continents, Marcos Terena told Tierramérica. Terena is one of the organisers of indigenous participation at Rio+20, reprising a role he played 20 years ago at the Earth Summit.

*The writer is an IPS correspondent. This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank.

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Europe: Biodiversity Loss Costs EU 450 Billion Euros a Year

Environment News Service 26 Jan 12;

BRUSSELS, Belgium, January 26, 2012 (ENS) - A silent crisis of biodiversity loss is costing the European Union 450 billion euros (US$590 billion) a year, adding to the stress of the ongoing financial crisis, the European Parliament heard on Tuesday.

The loss estimate was presented in a draft report to the Environment Committee by Dutch MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, Special Rapporteur on Biodiversity of the European Parliament. He represents the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, ALDE, the third largest political group in the European Parliament.

"A quarter of the plants and animals in Europe are in danger of extinction," Gerbrandy told the committee. "This destruction of nature will cost about three percent annual economic growth - equivalent to that which Europe needs at present to rescue the Euro. Biodiversity loss, though, continues year after year."

Gerbrandy advocates the "No Net Loss" principle whereby governments and companies must make up for the damage they cause to nature through the funding of compensation projects - similar to the "Polluter Pays" principle.

"Natural capital needs to be integrated into the national accounts," said Gerbrandy. "It is profitable to cut down a forest. We need to make it economically worthwhile to preserve it too."

"This is the most effective way to stop the decline of biodiversity. Subsidies that cause damage to nature must be eliminated as soon as possible. Now we pay twice: we first finance the destruction of nature and then pay to fix it."

In 2012 the European Union has a historic opportunity to make significant steps towards halting the loss of biodiversity, he said.

While the world missed its agreed target to stem biodiversity loss by 2010, the European Parliament is trying again with a strategy to end biodiversity loss by 2020.

In June 2011, the European Council of Ministers endorsed the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2020, as presented by the European Commission. In its conclusions, the Council said it is, "DEEPLY CONCERNED that the EU and the global biodiversity 2010 targets have not been met and that Europe's biodiversity remains under severe threat from, inter alia, changes in land use, pollution, invasive alien species, unsustainable use of natural resources and climate change..."

The European Parliament is drafting and adopting its own report on the Strategy to put forward its own recommendations to the Commission.

"The overhaul of the Common Agricultural Policy, Cohesion Policy and policy on Fisheries presents a golden opportunity to integrate and mainstream the preservation of biodiversity into sectoral legislation that has the greatest impact," urged Gerbrandy.

In its June 2011 resolution, the Council listed reasons for the failure of the previous attempt, saying, "...the Strategy responds to the main obstacles and threats that prevented the achievement of the 2010 target, including insufficient sectoral integration across EU policies in particular in the areas of agriculture, fisheries, water, climate and energy and other policies such as forestry, and shortcomings in the implementation of existing environmental EU legislation; inadequate funding and specific policy gaps, relating to, among others, invasive alien species, green infrastructure, including ecological connectivity, and ecosystem services, within and beyond protected areas, as well as scientific knowledge and data gaps;"

Said Catherine Bearder of the UK, a Liberal Democrat who drafted the opinion for Parliament's Regional Policy Committee, "Biodiversity loss and overconsumption of natural resources are problems affecting all our regions and have a big impact on the lives of all EU citizens."

"Local and regional governments must consider these threats in their planning policies and the EU must make sure that environmental proofing is built into Structural and Cohesion Funding," said Bearder.

Europe's natural heritage is showing a steep decline, according to the latest research, published last November. The European Red List, compiled by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as part of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, assessed a about 6,000 species of Europe's native animals and plants, finding that a large proportion of molluscs, freshwater fish and vascular plants are now at risk of extinction to some degree.

The assessment shows that 44 percent of all freshwater molluscs, 37 percent of freshwater fish, 23 percent of amphibians, 20 percent of a selection of terrestrial molluscs, 19 percent of reptiles, 15 percent of mammals and of dragonflies, 13 percent of birds, 11 percent of a selection of saproxylic beetles, nine percent of butterflies, and 467 species of vascular plant species are now under threat.

Included in the vascular plant category are the wild relatives of crop plants which are vital for food security yet are often neglected in terms of conservation. The Critically Endangered Beta patula is a close wild relative of cultivated beets and an important gene source for enhancing virus resistance.

Other crop plants that show worrying levels of threat are sugar beet, wheat, oat and lettuce - all economically important crops in Europe.

European Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik said in November, "The well-being of people in Europe and all over the world depends on goods and services that nature provides. If we don't address the reasons behind this decline and act urgently to stop it, we could pay a very heavy price indeed."

Freshwater molluscs are the most threatened group assessed so far. Spengler's freshwater mussel, Margaritifera auricularia, once widespread, is now restricted to a handful of rivers in France and Spain. Currently listed as Critically Endangered, it was considered to be nearly extinct in the 1980s. The species is one of two for which a European-level Action Plan was designed, and there are ongoing conservation programs which allow hope for its future.

"The figures confirm the worrying condition of European molluscs," said Annabelle Cuttelod, IUCN Coordinator of the European Red List. "When combined with the high level of threats faced by freshwater fishes and amphibians, we can see that the European freshwater ecosystems are really under serious threats that require urgent conservation action."

Freshwater fish across the European Union are threatened by pollution, overfishing, habitat loss and the introduction of alien species. Sturgeon are particularly at risk, with all but one of the eight European species now classed Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

One year into this United Nations Decade on Biodiversity, all of these concerns are on the radar of a brand new executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias of Brazil.

On Monday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Dias to the post; he is currently the national secretary for biodiversity and forests at the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment.

As a member of the Brazilian delegation, Dias has been deeply involved with the negotiations and implementation of the biodiversity treaty from its beginnings. He replaces Ahmed Djoghlaf of Algeria.

The Convention on Biological Diversity was opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992 and entered into force on December 29, 1993.

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Even worse Thai flood crisis this year unless govt is decisive

The Nation/Asia News Network AsiaOne 26 Jan 12;

Water experts yesterday urged the government to be decisive about flood-prevention measures in order to prevent a repeat of last year's severe flooding, as the La Nina phenomenon is expected to bring early rains and more storms this year.

They expressed concern that a lack of clear decisions from the government would leave the flood-prevention efforts in disarray.

Seree Supharatid, director of Rangsit University's Centre on Climate Change and Disaster, warned that due to the La Nina climatic phenomenon, early rainfalls were expected between March and May, which would force dams to release water from their reservoirs.

He said major dams such as Bhumibol and Sirikit were holding water at 90 per cent of their capacity.

Although there would be fewer rains between September and November, storms were likely towards the latter part of the year, given the statistics over the past five decades.

"There will also be many storms this year," Seree said.

"If this year's water volume is as much as last year's, I believe floods will be inevitable. We cannot implement flood-prevention measures in the short term. The negotiation over floodways has hit snags," he said, referring to opposition to a plan to designate certain farming areas as floodways.

Pramote Maiklad, former director-general of the Royal Irrigation Department, said yesterday there had been no clear guidelines on how to deal with future flooding in Bangkok and the surrounding provinces, and the government had yet to come up with a water resources management proposal.

He called on the government to follow His Majesty the King's suggestions, made as early as 1980, about designating floodways and green belts to prevent flooding in the capital and its surrounding provinces.

He added that the royal advice had been largely ignored by previous administrations.

Pramote said floodways - or even water tunnels - were needed as a sustainable measure to prevent severe flooding in the lower parts of the Chao Phraya River basin.

Seree and Pramote were speaking at a panel discussion on "Mega-projects against Floods: Are they well thought, rightly thought, and carefully thought?", at Chulalongkorn University.

The event was organised by the university's Asia Studies Institute and King Prajadhipok's Institute, an independent academic organisation under the Parliament.

Both are members of the government's Strategic Committee for Water Resources Management, which was set up late last year following the floods in many Central plains provinces, including Bangkok.

Seree, who is also director of the Sirindhorn International Environmental Park's Energy and Environment Centre, noted that out of the country's 77 provinces, only four announced their city plans.

"Without the city plans being enforced, there are problems" in preventing floods, he said.

Borwornsak Uwanno, secretary-general of King Prajadhipok's Institute, said at yesterday's seminar that without good preparation and management plans, this year's flood problems would be worse than last year's.

Meanwhile, in a petition filed with the Central Administrative Court yesterday, the Stop Global Warming Association (SGWA) demanded that the government award the same amount in compensation to those affected by floods as it will be giving to victims of political unrest.

"The government should not resort to preferential treatment," SGWA president Srisuwan Janya said.

According to the Cabinet's resolution on January 10, the family of every person killed during political unrest in recent years shall be entitled to about Bt7.75 million (S$310,835) in compensation. Critics have slammed the resolution, suggesting that the government is favouring its red-shirt supporters.

"If the government compensates flood victims in the same manner, it will win even more love from the people," Srisuwan said yesterday, adding that the government should be fair to those affected by its own mismanagement of the flood crisis.

Thailand Remains At Risk Of Floods Until 2014

Bernama 31 Jan 12;

BANGKOK, Jan 31 (Bernama) -- An expert has cautioned that Thailand remains at risk of repeated floods over the next three years, Thai News Agency reported Tuesday.

However, the lessons learned from a worst flooding crisis late last year, should attribute to authorities' improved solutions to flood-related problems this year, said Pramote Maiklad, a member of the Thai government's Strategic Committee for Water Resources Management (SCWRM) and a former Royal Irrigation Department Director-General.

Pramote voiced his support for the Royal Irrigation Department's water management policy on reserving 80-85 per cent of water at upstream areas of dams for farmers' use during the upcoming dry season.

Explaining further, he said that a gradual release of water from the dams for local farming until May is foreseen to timely welcome the rainy season, as water levels at the dams will be then lower to cater new seasonal downpours.

According to him, it is impossible to now release all water from the dams to be prepared for this year's rainy season, as reserved water is needed for power production, marine transport and agricultural use, as well as for ecological conservation.

He also denied reports that he has quit the SCWRM, suggesting, however, that the SCWRM hold regular meetings to quickly work out Thailand's short-term and long-term flood prevention strategies, and that a single agency be mainly tasked with the government's water management plans for the sake of unified work and implementations for effective solutions.


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First report on UK climate impact

David Shukman BBC News 25 Jan 12;

Climate change this century poses both risks and opportunities, according to the first comprehensive government assessment of its type.

The report warns that flooding, heatwaves and water shortages could become more likely.

But benefits could include new shipping lanes through the Arctic, fewer cold-related deaths in winter and higher crop yields.

The findings come in the Climate Change Risk Assessment.

This 2,000-page document has been produced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

It forms part of the government's strategy for coping with global warming.

The research was carried out over the past three years and involved studying the possible impacts in 11 key areas including agriculture, flooding and transport.

The assessments rely on multiple scenarios based on computer modelling of the future climate.

The authors admit that there are large uncertainties leading to a wide range of possible results.

The relatively small size of the UK means that modelling at a regional and local level remains a serious challenge.

A further limitation is that the studies share the assumption that no sectors of the economy will make any attempt to adapt to future conditions.

This is designed to provide a "baseline" for the assessment so that it is easier to demonstrate the risks unless action is taken.

However it is acknowledged that many bodies are already responding in different ways.

Headlines for possible negative outcomes, assuming nothing is done in preparation, include:

Hotter summers leading to between 580-5900 deaths above the average per year by the 2050s.
Water shortages in the north, south and east of England, especially the Thames Valley area by the 2080s.
Increased damage from flooding could cost between £2.1bn-£12bn by the 2080s.

The report's positive findings include:

The melting of Arctic sea ice opening shorter shipping routes to Asia.
Milder winters leading to 3,900-24,000 fewer premature deaths by the 2050s, significantly more than those forecast to die as a result of hot weather.
Wheat yields to increase by 40-140% and sugar beet yields by 20-70% because of longer growing seasons by the 2050s.

Such widely-varied outcomes may lead to the criticism that the results are too vague to be useful for policy makers, businesses and local authorities.

All the scenarios rely on computer models of the future climate and therefore inherently involve uncertainties.

The report itself acknowledges that the sea-level in London could rise later this century by anything between 30cm and 190cm.

"We do not know," the document says, "how fast greenhouse gas emissions will rise, how great the cooling effects are of other atmospheric pollutants or how quickly the ice caps may melt."

One of those involved in the report, defending the reliance on models, told me: "They're the best we've got, they're all we've got."

One aim of the work is to raise awareness of the scale of possible changes and to encourage key organisations to plan ahead.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said of the report: "It shows what life could be like if we stopped our preparations now, and the consequences such a decision would mean for our economic stability."

Flooding rated as worst climate change threat facing UK
Defra report lists 700 impacts, including flood risk for 3.6 million people, water shortages, soil erosion and wildlife disruption
Juliette Jowit The Guardian 26 Jan 12;

Flooding is the greatest threat to the UK posed by climate change, with up to 3.6 million people at risk by the middle of the century, according to a report published on Thursday by the environment department.

The first comprehensive climate change risk assessment for the UK identifies hundreds of ways rising global temperatures will have an impact if no action is taken. They include the financial damage caused by flooding, which would increase to £2bn-£10bn a year by 2080, more deaths in heatwaves, and large-scale water shortages by mid-century.

Unusually for such documents, it also highlighted ways in which the country could benefit from milder winters and drier summers, such as fewer cold-related deaths, better wheat crops and a more attractive climate for tourists.

"If you had to pick one particular issue I think the flooding issue is the most dominant," said Sir Bob Watson, chief scientist at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Lord John Krebs, chairman of the adaptation committee of the independent advisory group Committee on Climate Change, said that without planning and investment to deal with the threats the UK would "sleepwalk into disaster". The benefits of climate change should also not be taken as reason to stop worrying about it, even with policies to reduce the threats, said Krebs: "Whether it will result in a net benefit we simply can't tell."

Scientists and other experts, led by Defra, identified 700 impacts of climate change in the UK, including the possibility of refugees arriving from wars over dwindling water and food.

High-impact events expected by mid-century included decreased forestation caused by red band needle blight, shortages in public water supply (especially in the north, Midlands and south of England), and worse water quality.

The assessors selected the 100 most pressing threats and opportunities and rated these according to their impact, the confidence of the modellers, and how soon the threats might occur. All the report's forecasts assume no governmental action to reduce or remove the threats.

The four most immediate "high consequence" risks all concerned flooding, with the expectation that in 10 years or so there will be increased flood damage to homes, with knock-on effects on insurance premiums and mental health.

Between 1.7 million and 3.6 million people are expected to be at risk of flooding by 2050, without investment to lessen the threat.

Surface water flooding would be likely to get worse, Watson added.

Other issues highlighted by the report include changes in wildlife migration, alterations in species communities as plants and animals fail to move fast enough to thrive, sewer overflows polluting the coast, changes in the soil, erosion from heavier rains, loss of staff working-time from heat stress, changes in fish stocks, and wildfires in drier summers.

The findings follow controversy over cuts to the UK flood defence budget.

However, Caroline Spelman, the environment secretary, said the report justified the department's decision to ask for more capital and fewer revenue funds from the Treasury, and said government money would be supplemented by contributions from local communities.

"[Comparing] the last four years of the Labour government and the first four years of this government there will be a reduction of 6% … but you can get more homes protected for the same amount of money," said Spelman.

The report was widely welcomed as a way to help government departments, businesses and councils plan ahead.

But Mary Creagh, the shadow environment secretary, said: "In 2010 Labour invested £354m in protecting homes from flooding, which has been cut by 27% to £259m a year for the next four years under this government.

"Ministers are playing Russian roulette with people's homes and businesses by cutting too far, too fast, and could leave communities blighted, with homeowners unable to insure, mortgage or sell their homes after 2013, when Labour's deal with the insurance industry runs out."

It will be seized upon by lobbyists to argue for spending priorities, and used by government to prepare the national adaptation plan, due to be published next year.

Julian Hunt, emeritus professor of climate modelling, at University College London, said the report's finding that there would be longer periods of "static weather" and cloud cover, could threaten solar and wind energyfrom solar and wind sourcesenergy.

"This leads to dangerous urban heat island temperatures and droughts. But it also indicates the danger of lengthy, very low, wind conditions, or cloudy conditions – so low-carbon energy alternatives to wind and solar are essential," said Hunt.

Peter Mallaburn, reader in climate policy at De Montfort University, said the need to save energy was in conflict with government policies not pushing for higher energy efficiency standards for commercial buildings.

"This report says, for the first time, that not only are our homes and offices leaky, but that they will start to overheat in a warmer world," said Mallaburn. "We need a coherent strategy to sort out this mess. Let's hope that this report acts as a wake-up call."

A website has been set up asking for the public's views on the national adaptation programme.

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How Climate Change, Urbanization Are Changing Disaster Aid

Katie Nguyen and Megan Rowling PlanetArk 27 Jan 12;

Picture this: a terrible drought forces you to abandon your meager plot of farmland, so you migrate to a city where the jobs are, only to end up living in a slum regularly submerged by floods.

It's a scenario that's going to become more and more familiar in coming years as climate change and rapid urbanization play an ever-greater role in shaping humanitarian crises, according to an AlertNet poll of the world's biggest aid organizations.

To adapt to the new reality, aid agencies will need to invest more in disaster prevention and learn a trick or two from the private sector about how to make more efficient use of limited resources, the survey of 41 relief organizations shows.

"The rising trend in the number of disasters over the past five years shows no sign of slowing down," said Gareth Owen, humanitarian director at Save the Children UK.

"Year on year, we are responding more frequently and on a larger scale to increasing numbers of disasters."

Asked to rank the factors most likely to intensify humanitarian needs, 28 of 41 aid agencies put the risk of more frequent and destructive climate-related floods, droughts and storms at the top.

This was followed by mass displacement due to climate change and environmental damage, urbanization, high and volatile food prices, and the expectation of more failing states.

With needs expected to grow and national budgets squeezed by the global financial crisis, some rich donor states are pressing the charities they fund to boost value for money in relief efforts.

One way to do that is to slash the overheads, bureaucracy and transaction costs of U.N. agencies that often lead aid operations, many of those polled said.

Other suggestions included investing in disaster-prone communities to make them more resilient and adopting the bottom-line approach of big business.

"We need to increase competition and create an aid 'market', where donors don't need a budget breakdown but rather a set of outcomes they will pay for based on how many are achieved," said Francesco Paganini, director of disaster response for World Relief.

Another U.S.-based agency echoed the need for a hard-nosed, performance-based approach.

"If our industry could find a way to create a compensation system that provides personal financial reward for results -- as is found in for-profit businesses -- it could radically alter the approach to delivering value to beneficiaries," said one program manager, who declined to be identified.

The survey by AlertNet (, a global humanitarian news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation, targeted the world's biggest aid groups by spending and operational scope, excluding U.N. agencies.

The agencies included Oxfam, Save the Children, CARE, Danish Refugee Council, Medecins Sans Frontieres, Muslim Aid and World Vision, as well as the global Red Cross movement.

AlertNet asked experts to assess the future of humanitarian need, the challenges of delivering relief, spending and funding trends, and value for money in the international aid system.


More than half the agencies said focusing more on disaster risk reduction (DRR) -- everything from building more durable houses and schools in safer places to teaching children to swim -- would help the sector cope better in the long run.

Experts have long argued that it makes more economic sense to pour money into helping local governments and communities minimize their exposure to disasters than mopping up afterwards.

In its 2009 yearly "World Disasters Report," the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said $1 spent on prevention saves $4 on emergency response.

But rallying donor interest is hard, some aid groups said.

"Funding for disaster risk reduction and disaster preparedness is not very 'sexy' for donors -- global, domestic and private," said Jouni Hemberg, director of international cooperation for FinnChurchAid.

For many donors, installing a city drainage system or devising a program to help coastal villagers cope with rising sea levels just doesn't sound as appealing as distributing food rations to 100,000 earthquake survivors or vaccinating 20,000 children in a refugee camp.

Lack of donor interest in risk reduction was reflected in the poll. Of the 23 agencies that disclosed what proportion of their annual spending goes to this activity, 16 said it was 10 percent or less.

However, 25 of the 41 said they planned to increase this kind of spending or would like to if the money could be found.


In 2010, governments gave $12.4 billion in humanitarian aid, almost three times as much as private contributions, which amounted to $4.3 billion, according to estimates from Global Humanitarian Assistance, a British-based aid monitoring group.

But 22 agencies forecast a drop in government funding for humanitarian aid over the next five years.

Of those, 10 expected private contributions would also decrease while 12 thought donations from individuals and companies would make up the shortfall.

The remaining 19 agencies predicted that governments would still provide the bulk of humanitarian funding as they do today.

Asked about the main challenges to effective delivery of aid, many agencies cited the exploitation of aid for political ends, increasingly complex disasters, squeezed government budgets and violence against aid workers.

Tackling these problems means raising public awareness about delivering aid according to the key humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality, and giving local communities more say in managing aid, some experts said.

Others argued the sector should rely less on government donors, and seek longer-term, more flexible funding.

But according to IFRC's Matthias Schmale, the best way to increase value for money was simple: "Provide more credible leadership through less marketing and spinning, and ensure actions match words."

(AlertNet is a humanitarian news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation. Visit

(For more on the future of humanitarian aid, including info-graphics, videos, stories, blogs and full poll results, visit

(Editing by Tim Large and Sonya Hepinstall)

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