Best of our wild blogs: 31 Jan 12

Year of the (Water) Dragon
from The annotated budak and Duskhawks

Year of the Dragon: Dragon Slugs
from Lazy Lizard's Tales

Biofouling part-time and full-time Jobs @ TMSI
from ecotax at Yahoo! Groups

Mega Marine Survey digs up 100 species!
from wild shores of singapore

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Map outlines climate danger for Singapore

Jessica Cheam Straits Times 31 Jan 12;

A GLOBAL average temperature rise of 4 degC could have a severe impact on Singapore, including flooding, coastal land loss and heat-related deaths.

That is according to a new map launched here yesterday by the Hadley Centre of the United Kingdom's Met Office, one of the leading centres for climate prediction. The map shows the potential impact of climate change in South-east Asia.

Under the scenario, global average sea levels could rise by up to 80cm by the end of the century, translating to a local sea-level rise of about 65cm.

'For a small country with a high population density and surrounded by sea, this could have implications for flooding, coastal land loss and salt water intrusion of groundwater aquifers,' said the centre.

Water supplies could also be affected, as parts of South-east Asia could see droughts occurring more than twice as frequently, it found.

Singapore's unique geography makes rising temperatures a further health concern, as they could lead to an 'urban heat island' effect, which makes a built-up area significantly warmer than its surroundings. Increased temperatures are a major factor in heat-related mortalities, the Hadley Centre said.

Singapore could also be affected by more haze pollution, as higher temperatures would increase the risk of forest fires across Indonesia.

Presenting the map to reporters at the Hilton Hotel yesterday, Dr Chris Gordon, the centre's head of science partnerships, said this scenario was considered 'moderate'. In a worse scenario, temperatures could go up by 6 deg C, he said.

The objective of the map is 'an attempt to bring climate change home to people, to help people relate to it in different areas of the world'.

In preparing the map, the Hadley Centre used its in-house climate model, which was run as many as 34 times on scenarios developed by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The map predicts that a 4 deg C temperature rise would have a negative impact on Indonesia's fishing industry, and could lead to a drop in rice production in Thailand, and more cyclones in the Philippines.

Dr Gordon said the timescale for this depends on the rate of increase of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.

'If we carry on at the rate we are now, it could happen perhaps by the 2060s... if action is taken, it could be delayed,' he said.

Dr Gordon added that the Hadley Centre was collaborating with Singapore's Meteorological Services Division on climate data and research.

The interactive map is now on Google Earth, and can be accessed at

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PUB to spend $750m on drainage projects

It accepts expert panel's recommendations, will take steps to tackle floods
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 31 Jan 12;

NATIONAL water agency PUB has accepted the recommendations of an expert panel to tackle floods and will roll out a slew of measures in the next five years.

These include short-term engineering solutions such as increasing Stamford Canal's flow capacity by 10 per cent within a year to reduce floods in the prime Orchard area.

PUB, which announced the measures yesterday, will also spend $750 million over the next five years on 20 drainage projects. It will deepen and widen six other major canals, in places such as Bukit Timah, Geylang and Bedok, to increase their capacity by 30 to 45 per cent.

The panel of foreign and local experts, appointed by the Government last June after a spate of floods here, released its recommendations earlier this month.

It said PUB would need to implement a range of solutions at buildings and along pathways to handle more intense storms and mitigate the effects of increased urbanisation.

PUB should also review its drainage-system planning guidelines as well as improve its flood-warning system, the panel added.

It noted that more data on rainfall patterns and how rain water flows across the land would need to be collected.

PUB chief executive Chew Men Leong yesterday called the new moves 'a multi-pronged plan... to minimise and mitigate the impact of flash floods in Singapore'.

Besides engineering solutions, the agency will also improve flood-prediction and warning systems, such as posting closed-circuit television images of flood-prone areas on its website from March.

By year end, the National Environment Agency (NEA) will roll out an improved heavy-rain alert system.

PUB will also create digital land height maps of the major catchment areas by next year to be used in a new flood-prediction model by 2014.

In Orchard Road, hit by three floods in the past two years, PUB will smoothen the walls of Stamford Canal between Cuscaden and Grange roads to speed up water flow. Pipes in the canal will be removed to increase its capacity.

These projects will be completed within a year.

The agency will decide by May whether to build a diversion canal or water-storage pond or both to ease the canal's burden in the long term. Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan had said in Parliament earlier this month that the canal would divert rain water to the Singapore River, and the pond would be about the size of two to three football fields.

Other engineering solutions include fresh guidelines for new buildings by the year end.

These may include green roofs that can help slow and retain rain water, and flood barriers at buildings in low-lying areas. The agency said it would consider making the guidelines mandatory in high-risk places and may work with building managers to retrofit existing structures.

In the long term, PUB will update its drainage masterplan every three years, compared with every five years now. This will help the agency keep on top of weather changes and make adjustments or interventions, or change drainage-design standards, said Rear-Admiral (NS) Chew. PUB will publish the masterplan next year.

He added that an inter-agency committee convened in 2010 to tackle floods, comprising PUB, the Housing Board, Singapore Land Authority, Land Transport Authority, Building and Construction Authority, National Parks Board and industrial landlord JTC Corporation, will continue to work on the new measures together.

Head of the expert panel Chan Eng Soon said the agency's solutions are in line with the panel's recommendations. 'These are significant commitments and I am glad to note the emphasis on a holistic approach that covers the entire drainage system in each of the catchments,' he added.

But Mr Chik Hai Lam, building supervisor of Liat Towers which has been hard-hit by floods three times, said increasing Stamford Canal's capacity may not be enough.

PUB has to take care 'of the debris in the canal as well. We went into the canal to have a look ourselves, and there was so much debris - sand, branches', he added.

What PUB will do to fight floods

THE following are the measures to be rolled out by national water agency PUB:


Increase Stamford Canal's flow capacity by 10 per cent within a year to reduce floods in Orchard Road

Set up fresh flood prevention and alleviation guidelines for new buildings, which may include roofs with plants to slow and retain rain water and flood barriers at buildings

Make available closed-circuit television images of flood-prone areas on the PUB's website from March

Roll out an improved heavy-rain alert system by year end. This will be undertaken by the National Environment Agency


Launch a new flood-prediction model by 2014, which will take into account cloud patterns, rainfall and water levels; digital maps will predict where rain water will flow


Expand six major canals in places such as Bukit Timah, Bedok and Geylang, to increase their capacity by 30 to 45 per cent in the next five years

Build a diversion canal or water-storage pond to ease Stamford Canal's burden. The PUB will decide which measure to adopt by May

Review drainage masterplan every three years instead of every five, as is being done now. The PUB will publish a masterplan next year


Republic's drainage standards not up to other cities': Panel
Straits Times 31 Jan 12;

SINGAPORE'S drainage-design standards still lag behind those in other places, said an expert panel, despite the standards being raised after the 2010 Orchard Road flood.

The panel, comprising 12 foreign and local experts, was convened by the Government last June to help reduce floods here. It made its recommendations earlier this month.

It noted in its full report - published yesterday on the Environment Ministry's website - that drainage systems here are designed according to the size of the area they serve and the type of installations on the land.

Catchments here have to handle at most storms that are predicted to occur once every 100 years.

In other places such as Britain and Hong Kong, drainage standards are based on land use and are more stringent. Trunk systems in urban areas in Hong Kong, for example, have to handle storms that may occur once every 200 years.

The panel said PUB should review its drainage-design standards and look into a risk-based approach which balances the probability of a flood happening in an area against the damage it would cause.

It said the current standards 'do not explicitly take into account the damage that flooding may cause in terms of... damage to assets flooded and other damages to the economy, such as interruption of traffic'.

It added: 'While PUB has incorporated some elements of a risk-based drainage design and flood management approach, what (it) currently lacks is a systematic approach to tackling flooding that reflects good practice elsewhere in the world.'

The panel noted that many global cities have adopted this risk-based approach and added that it is a cost-effective way to prioritise areas which need investment in flood prevention. It added that future drainage-system guidelines should take into account less than ideal situations, such as hydraulic systems malfunctioning or drains and canals being clogged by debris.

PUB said yesterday that it would review its drainage masterplan once every three years from next year, compared with once every five years previously.

It added that it would carry out 'a systematic analysis of each major catchment and propose a range of interventions to achieve the required level of flood protection'.


PUB commits S$750m to fight flooding
Hoe Yeen Nie Channel NewsAsia 30 Jan 12;

SINGAPORE: National water agency PUB has committed at least S$750 million over the next five years to increase the capacity of Singapore's drains by up to 45 percent.

Nearly half the money will be spent on expanding the capacity of six major canals, including Rochor and Bukit Timah canals. Other waterways are Alexandra Canal, Geylang River, Sungei Bedok and Sungei Kallang.

PUB is also studying ways to better manage storm water upstream and is developing a model to predict floods with greater accuracy.

These are among comprehensive measures PUB announced on Monday to cope with increasingly intense rainfall, in response to earlier recommendations by an expert panel.

PUB said that as Singapore becomes more urbanised, its approach to flood management needs to go beyond just improving drainage capacity.

Its chief executive, Chew Men Leong, explained: "We have to take a much more sophisticated approach, where we want to look at a whole range of solutions. That will include managing and reducing run-off at source, as well as better protect buildings and facilities at the receiving end so they can better handle residual risk."

Measures include roof-top canopies and retention ponds to absorb rainwater once it hits the ground.

There will also be new flood protection guidelines for buildings, due in a year's time.

And over the next two years, the agency is also piloting a system to better predict floods, using data on rainfall and the amount of run-off from catchment areas.

But there will still be challenges, as rainfall data is not always accurate.

PUB's director of catchment and waterways, Tan Nguan Sen, said: "...storms in Singapore are tropical storms. It's very difficult to forecast the intensity and the location of where the storms will appear. That is where it's difficult, because without that accurate prediction, the (flood prediction) model will not be able to generate the accurate forecast."

PUB will also review its drainage masterplan every three years, instead of the current five, to ensure the system keeps up with Singapore's needs.

The masterplan, first developed in the 1970s, maps out Singapore's drainage system, and it will be made public for the first time. PUB plans to release the document by the end of 2013.

Recent floods on Orchard Road have been traced back to Stamford Canal. To resolve this in the immediate term, PUB will line the walls of the canal with a polymer coating to reduce friction and increase water speeds.

PUB will also remove sewer and NEWater pipes located in the canal and place them elsewhere.

PUB says these measures will expand capacity by about 10 per cent within the year.

It is also studying more permanent solutions like a diversion canal and detention ponds, and will finalise plans by May.

- CNA/ir

Shops hope anti-flood measures can be speeded up
Sharon See Channel NewsAsia 30 Jan 12;

SINGAPORE: Businesses in Orchard Road have welcomed PUB's latest drainage improvement projects, especially the efforts to increase Stamford Canal's flow capacity.

But some are worried the measures may not come quick enough.

Parts of Orchard Road - like the basement of Lucky Plaza and Liat Towers - have in recent years been victims of flash floods during intense thunderstorms.

The most recent flooding took place just last month.

To reduce such occurrences, national water agency PUB is carrying out improvement works at Stamford Canal, which serves the flood-hit Orchard Road area.

PUB will line the walls of the canal with a polymer coating to reduce friction and increase water speeds.

PUB will also remove sewer and NEWater pipes located in the canal and place them elsewhere.

The agency hopes these short-term measures will increase the canal's flow capacity by 10 per cent within a year.

Steven Goh, executive director of Orchard Road Business Association, said: "We appreciate PUB putting in effort in improving the capacity of the Stamford Canal...I think it does help, but I think 10 per cent is not a lot."

The association is hoping for more long-term solutions from PUB, which is considering building a diversion canal and detention ponds.

Mr Goh said: "We find that detention ponds as well as diversion of the canal will be more urgent to meet the changing weather patterns. There's a piece of land behind Ngee Ann City (that) could be set aside for an underground holding tank, and then above (it) we still can keep...a a recreation (area) for the shoppers of Orchard Road."

But such improvement works could take a few years to complete.

In the next five years, PUB will carry out 20 drainage improvement projects across the island to increase the capacity of its drains by up to 45 per cent.

Many Lucky Plaza shopowners Channel NewsAsia spoke to said they are glad to hear about PUB's flood improvement measures. But owing to the unpredictable weather, some added that they hope to see the works completed within a shorter time.

Orchard Road Business Association's Mr Goh said: "We wish that the government and the PUB will hasten up this programme and make it a priority so that it'll ease our fear of the next flood that may come again."

And shopkeepers say what's also helpful is an enhanced flood alert system which can send out alerts earlier so that they have more time to react.

- CNA/ir

PUB to pump S$750m into drainage projects
But even as measures are being rolled out, businesses want authorities to act even faster
Esther Ng Today Online 31 Jan 12;

SINGAPORE - Over the next five years, national water agency PUB will spend at least S$750 million on expanding canal capacity and other drainage projects.

Under the initiatives, the capacity of six major canals across the island - Bukit Timah First Diversion Canal, Rochor Canal, Alexandra Canal, Geylang River, Sungei Kallang and Sungei Bedok - will be increased by between 30 and 45 per cent.

But even as some measures - such as earlier warnings of heavy rain and making available CCTV images of selected flood prone areas - are set to be rolled out in the coming months, businesses along Orchard Road, which have been hit by flash floods, want the authorities to move even faster.

Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA) executive director Steven Goh said: "We wish that the Government and the PUB will ... make it a priority so that it'll ease our fear of the next flood that may come again."

Yesterday, the PUB said it has accepted the recommendations of an expert panel - which were unveiled earlier this month - which include green roofs, local storage tanks and ponds and rain gardens to better manage surface run-off at source.

Between now and 2017, the PUB will be investing heavily on 20 drainage improvement projects. It will also carry out "an in-depth examination of each catchment and implement catchment-specific solutions to achieve the higher drainage and flood protection standards".

PUB chief executive Chew Men Leong said: "In the past, dealing with drainage was simpler ... but given the trends of increasing urbanisation and higher rainfall intensity, we have to take a much more sophisticated approach."

Over the next two years, the PUB will pilot a flood forecasting system to better predict floods, using three-dimensional digital elevation maps, water level sensors and flow meters in canals, rain gauges and weather data from the Meteorological Service Singapore.

As the flood forecasting system is only a pilot, Mr Chew cautioned that the "accuracy of the data" will be "limited in the beginning".

Unlike Australian storm forecast models, storms in Singapore are tropical, said PUB director of catchment and waterways Tan Nguan Sen. He added: "It's very difficult to forecast the intensity and the location of where the storms will appear … Without that accurate prediction, the model will not be able to generate the accurate forecast."

In the near term, the public can look forward to an enhanced warning system, including earlier warnings - expected to be introduced by the met services later this year - of heavy rain with a better indication of the expected severity of rainfall.

Businesses along Orchard Road - which is served by the Stamford Canal - will also be better protected from flash floods.

By February next year, the removal and diversion of sewer and NEWater pipelines and the coating of canal walls with polymer will increase the flow capacity of Stamford Canal by 10 per cent. The Stamford Canal work is expected to cost around S$2 million, said Mr Tan. Long-term solutions such as the construction of a diversion canal and detention ponds are currently being studied and will be finalised in May.

While he appreciates PUB's efforts, ORBA's Mr Goh noted that "10 per cent is not a lot" and he urged the Government to hasten the longer term measures to improve Stamford Canal.

But Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for the Environment and Water Resources, cautioned against rushing the measures. Said Ms Lee: "We are investing in a lot of money on drainage and flood protection. We should not rush and then find gaps in between and have to go back to patch up."

Concurring, Nanyang Technological University civil engineering lecturer Susanto Teng said: "All these proposals sound simple but are not easy to do as they involve engineering work in an urban area."

The PUB said it will make public, for the first time, its drainage masterplan by December next year. The masterplan will also be reviewed every three years, instead of five.

Over the next 12 months, the PUB will work with public sector agencies, developers and professional bodies to develop new guidelines to manage surface run-off for new developments and improve flood protection guidelines for buildings.

Timeline of measures
- By March: Images from CCTVs at selected flood-prone areas on PUB's website

- By May: Long-term solutions finalised for Stamford Canal

- By June: Trial version of flood forecasting system at Marina Catchment areas

- By Oct: Polymer lining to reduce friction of Stamford Canal wall

- By Dec: 3-D terrain mapping and hydrodynamic modelling of Marina Catchment to measure surface run-off

- By Jan 2013: New guidelines on surface run-off for new developments and flood protection for buildings

- By Feb 2013: Sewer and NEWater pipelines in Stamford Canal removed and diverted to increase capacity of canal

- By Dec 2013: Pilot of flood forecasting system. Review and publication of Drainage Master Plan

- By Dec 2017: Expansion of capacity of major canals

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Jakarta to spend $190 mln on controlling floods

Antara 31 Jan 12;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Jakarta administration is planning to spend US$190 million on controlling floods in the capital under the Jakarta Urgent Flood Mitigation Project (JUFMP).

"US$140 million of the funds will come from World Bank loans and US$50 million from the central government and the Jakarta city administration," Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo said in a press conference held after receiving chief of the World Bank representative for Indonesia Stefan Koeberle here on Monday.

Fauzi said construction of the project also known as Jakarta Emergency Dredging Initiative (JEDI) would be started in September 2012 and was scheduled for completion in 2016.

"Most of rivers in Jakarta still cannot be dredged in an integrated way. Dredging must be done from the upstream to downstream of the rivers," he said.

Stefan Koeberle said the project appeared to be complicated and therefore, it needed in-depth study of social and legal aspects as well as of material losses caused by floods in the capital.

"This project will improve the Jakarta flood-controlling system so that it will meet international standard in terms of environmental and social security," he said.

Under the project, 11 sections of main canal covering a length of 67.5 km would be rehabilitated and four dams covering an area of 65 hectares would be dredged to restore their operating capacity, Fauzi said.

The rehabilitation project would affect a number of areas in the capital including Sunter Hulu, Jelakeng river, Krukut river, Ciliwung river, Cideng, west flood canal, Sentiong Utara river, Sunter Utara dam and Sunter Selatan dam.

Editor: Ella Syafputri

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Malaysia: NGO uses Google Earth to protect forests

Using Google to save Earth
Isabelle Lai The Star 30 Jan 12;

PETALING JAYA: Google Earth, the virtual globe, map and geographical information program, is proving to be a favoured tool by environmental groups and the authorities to check on illegal forest clearing and land occupation.

Terengganu Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Said had said last week that the state government was using it to detect illegal occupation of government-owned land in the state, adding that stern action would be taken from this year against the culprits, which included civil servants.

Commenting on this, Malaysian Nature Society Selangor branch vice-chairman Lim Teck Wyn said Google Earth was effective in getting a general overview of any area.

“There’s a useful function which allows us to do a time lapse observation by comparing older satellite images with recent ones,” he told The Star yesterday.

Lim, a forestry consultant, said this helped to detect recent logging activities as the change in forest mass would be obvious.

However, he stressed that there was no substitute for ground checks as Google Earth images are not al­­ways recent or detailed.

WWF-Malaysia chief executive officer and executive director Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma said Google Earth was helpful in calculating an overview of forest loss or land changes.

“It helps us to see whether the Go­­vernment is keeping its pledge to maintain 50% of the country’s land mass under forest cover,” he said.

Dr Sharma added, however, that the organisation mostly derived its information regarding illegal logging or animal smuggling from its on-site staff.

He said WWF-Malaysia employs some 185 people, spread around the country on its projects of interest.

“That is the fastest way we pick up information. The problem with using satellite tools is that by the time we detect changes, it’s probably a foregone conclusion,” he said.

Originally called EarthViewer 3D, Google Earth was created by Keyhole Inc, a company funded by the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency and acquired by Google in 2004.

It maps the Earth from satellite image­­ry, aerial photography and geo­graphic information systems (GIS) 3D globe.

It is available as a free version with limited functions and a paid ver­­­­­sion, with additional features, for commercial use.

As at October last year, Google Earth had been downloaded more than a billion times.

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Malaysia: Bridging wild habitats in oil palm estates

The Star 31 Jan 12;

Scientists and oil palm growers gathered recently in Kota Kinabalu for a common cause – to find ways to protect the wildlife of Sabah.

ENSURING the future survival of the endangered pygmy elephant, orang utan and rhinoceros in the state of Sabah hinges on these steps: stop further fragmentation and conversion of forests; establish wildlife corridors, such as along riparian reserves to connect forest fragments; and stringent enforcement against poaching.

These are the key strategies highlighted in the five-year action plans to conserve the three species drafted by the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and launched early this month at the two-day Sabah Wildlife Conservation Colloquium in Kota Kinabalu.

“Today, Sabah is considered as being rich in wildlife but in actuality, much has been lost and what we are trying to do today is damage control, which is why we have prepared action plans for keystone species,” says SWD director Dr Laurentius Ambu at the meeting, organised by SWD and the Malaysian Palm Oil Council, and supported by Borneo Conservation Trust, Danau Girang Field Centre and Hutan.

He says Sabah’s wildlife remains under threat despite 15.5% of the state being gazetted as totally protected areas. Surveys estimated that 300 orang utans were lost in the past seven years in the Kinabatangan region alone, leaving the state with 11,000 orang utans today. The population of proboscis monkeys, now at 5,900, is on the decline too, as their habitat has shrunk and is degrading, while poaching remains a major threat.

Poor land use planning in the past has led to a situation where Sabah’s forests are now isolated islands surrounded by urban settlements and agricultural land, and too small to nurture a healthy array of wildlife. Connecting these forest patches is crucial to the future survival of threatened animals as it will allow animal movement within a larger habitat.

One green link identified by SWD is the Sabah Ecological Corridor which will bridge forest patches from Kinabatangan through Batu Putih to Deramakot. Over 70% of elephants, orang utans and rhinos populations in the state can be found in this green corridor, says Ambu.

Surveys by SWD and conservation group Hutan have found that over 60% of the estimated 11,000 orang utans in Sabah are found not in protected reserves and parks but in forest fragments, many of which are located within plantations. Primatologist Dr Isabelle Ancrenaz says even in those protected areas where the primate is found, the habitat is largely unsuitable, being hilly, with steep slopes. Orang utans prefer lowland areas. “It is very clear that protected areas in Sabah will not achieve orang utan conservation on their own. Orang utans outside of protected areas must be protected and properly managed.”

While there is consensus among the 280 colloquium participants that maintenance of forest corridors along plantations is important, there is equal agreement that establishing these corridors is expensive and challenging. For one, securing land for the linkages is difficult since much of it is a private property.

“Creating wildlife corridors will take a lot of commitment from the public, plantation owners, companies and government. But it is the ideal thing as it allows movements of animals. We’re working with different landowners on this,” says Ambu. He adds that a year 2000 estimate on the cost of purchasing land critical for the wildlife corridor in the Kinabatangan area alone puts the sum at RM40mil to RM60mil. “The cost will be higher now with the hike in land prices. We are talking about splitting the cost of buying the land between the federal and state governments.”

Alternatively, corridors can be established on river reserves but Ambu says such land is almost non-existent, and there are no buffer zones between rivers and plantations in most places.

While plantations have been accused of encroaching on riparian reserves, in reality there are discrepancies between legal set-aside obligations of such land. Biologist Dr Junaidi Payne explains that while the Land Ordinance 1930 allows the state government to put aside land alongside rivers for whatever reason it deems necessary, this has hardly been done as most documents and land titles do not indicate allocation of river reserves.

The Water Resources Enactment 1998 states that 20m of river banks are to be riparian reserves, but it does not specify what can or cannot be done there. Likewise, land titles issued to the private sector do not say what must be done on that strip of land. Hence, according to Payne, “the land owner can say there is nothing there that obliges me to put aside the river reserve.”

“The state government needs to resolve this. The alternative is for land owners to voluntarily give up the land for the river reserve,” he says.

Private sector support

Nonetheless, some headway has been made in securing land for wildlife corridors. Borneo Conservation Trust (BCT), which is implementing the Borneo Ecological Corridor, is in talks with plantation companies like Sime Darby, Genting, Kwantas, IOI, Borneo Samudera and Yu Kwang Development. So far, Yu Kwang has supported the endeavour by establishing a kilometre-long and 50m-wide corridor at Bukit Melapi in Sukau. This will allow some 200 elephants to move between several forest patches in the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary.

During the colloquium, BCT also signed a memorandum of understanding with KTS Plantation for the setting up of a green corridor for orang utans and elephants in Segaliud Lokan Forest Reserve in north Kinabatangan. The three-year programme includes building capacity in biodiversity conservation in KTS, as well as enforcement work.

Raymond Alfred who heads the conservation and research division in the BCT, says RM3mil has been raised since 2006, enabling the purchase of 40ha of land for the corridor. “To secure the corridor from the private sector is a challenging effort and expensive. Our effort for the last five years has only secured 1% of the 16,000ha of the whole corridor. And the price of the land has risen. So this year, we intend to get partnership with the industry. Instead of buying land, we will work with them to establish the corridor.”

For smallholders, he says it might be necessary to purchase the land since they are unlikely to put aside a portion of their already small property. He suggests that the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) set a policy requiring plantation owners to set aside riparian reserves, which are crucial to link up islands of forests.

On the establishment of wildlife corridors, MPOC chief executive officer Tan Sri Datuk Dr Yusof Basiron says there is currently a lack of national, co-ordinated effort. “They have pointed to such a need but who will implement it and how do we fund it? We need a dedicated committee to look at it and a regulated mandate to proceed.”

Calling for a co-ordinated and authorised approach, he says there should be consensus within the industry with regard to the creation of wildlife corridors rather than individual companies being approached by conservation groups.

The industry, meanwhile, is taking steps to mitigate any adverse impact on wildlife.

One oil palm grower who declined to be named says crop damage by wildlife is actually minimal since replanting of oil palm occurs only in 3% to 4% of the plantation at any one time, and measures such as electric fencing and trenches can be used to deter elephants from entering the plantation.

Another plantation manager says it is already a company policy to not harm animals. He says electric fences are used to protect palm saplings from elephants which regularly move through his estate, which borders Tabin Wildlife Reserve, some 40km from Lahad Datu.

“Each elephant eats only 40 to 50 palms, so it’s not a problem. The damage to crops by wildlife is accepted as part of our operation costs,” he says. He contends that it is not necessary for plantations to surrender portions of their property for the corridor, so long as it is planned and integrated into the overall land use. As such, he says conservation groups and SWD should consult plantation owners when planning placements of the corridors.

No killings

As poaching remains a threat to wildlife, colloquium participants stress the need for stricter enforcement. Towards this end, the SWD has initiated the Honorary Wildlife Warden programme, whereby local communities are trained to check on poaching and given the authority to arrest offenders.

Another contentious point at the colloquium is the proposal for “zero kill”. It was argued that “zero kill” cannot be achieved and what should be strived for is “zero tolerance” to wildlife killing. NGOs have urged plantation companies to adopt the policy and to self-regulate by penalising workers who violate the law, which prohibits killing, possession or disturbance of totally protected species and carries a mandatory jail sentence of between six months and five years.

“If there is zero tolerance in the company, if the workers know that they might lose their job if they’re caught doing something illegal, then it will reduce wildlife losses. You’d also need fewer rangers for patrols,” says Dr Ian Redmond, chairman of the Ape Alliance, a coalition of over 100 wildlife conservation groups.

MPOC’s Yusof, however, clarifies that various measures to protect wildlife are already part of oil palm certification requirements under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). He says the industry cannot respond immediately to the zero tolerance policy and need to discuss it further to be sure that it can fulfil any new commitments. He says the industry has already met many demands from NGOs and is still grappling with compliance to RSPO requirements and numerous other sustainability rules. As such, a new commitment would burden it further.

Yusof asserts that the industry is already actively doing its part for wildlife conservation. The Malaysian Palm Oil Wildlife Conservation Fund (MPOWCF) was launched in 2006 with a RM10mil grant from the Federal Government and another RM10mil from the industry, to support environment conservation efforts. Yusof says the Fund welcomes donations and grants and will match third party funding on a 1:1 basis.

To date the Fund has contributed to various projects, including the Wildlife Rescue Centre in collaboration with SWD; jungle patrol unit in Tangkulap-Pinangah Forest Reserve in Sabah; inventory of orang utan population in Sabah; orang utan infant care unit in Bukit Merah, Perak; satellite tracking (for research on wildlife carried out by the Danau Girang Field Centre) and conservation of the Bornean banteng; Borneo Elephant Wildlife Sanctuary for rescued elephants.

“The MPOWCF has triggered greater interest and conservation efforts from the industry. We pledge to continue and upgrade these efforts, working closely with NGOs and conservation experts,” says Yusof.

Educating oil palm growers about conservation and biodiversity management is a priority too, and MPOC does this through courses and information on its website (

Meanwhile, an increasing number of oil palm growers are independently carrying out their own conservation and biodiversity programmes. For instance, at Sime Darby’s Tanah Merah Estate in Negri Sembilan, trees planted along a river form a forested pathway linking a hill in the middle of the estate with mangroves in the coast. The Sime Darby Foundation has to date, committed RM37.1mil to fund conservation projects in Sabah for the orang utan, rhinoceros, pygmy elephant and proboscis monkey.

Some plantations are working with the non-profit Wild Asia to train their workers on ways to conserve and enhance biodiversity in their estates. Environment consultant Dave Bakewell says plantation managers often have little knowledge on how to implement biodiversity management plans. To overcome this gap, his group conducts training on biodiversity issues and prepares posters and guidebooks, such as on migratory birds. Bakewell says plantation managers, when armed with the knowledge, can then draft effective management plans that provide a habitat for wildlife.

Wise land use

At the colloquium, wildlife scientists also stress the need to address issues of land use practices. “As we speak, more islands of forests are created, more areas are opened, and these are privately owned. These are not protected areas but they do have a lot of orang utans,” says Dr Ancrenaz, who has studied the primate in Sabah for over 10 years. “Orang utans living in pockets of forests within plantations will not survive (in the long term). Animals need diversity in their diet. They are going to die unless we create corridors and ropes to connect the pockets but if you look at the cost and the effort in creating one little bit of corridor, it is ridiculous. It is very expensive and requires enormous work. Translocation (of orang utans) is also expensive and you cannot move huge numbers as it is already full house in other forests.

“Rather than spending so much money and effort in creating corridors which we don’t even know will work, let’s plan ahead in a wiser way so that the situation does not worsen. Let’s not create more new islands of forests and make sure there is no more conversion in areas which are important for the orang utan. In future we need to plan how we open up land.”

Ecologist Dr Erik Meijaard shares her views, and points out that forest cover in South-East Asia declined by 11 million hectares – an area almost double the size of Sabah – between 2000 and 2010. Losses were especially high in peatswamp forest, which is of concern as exposed peat oxidises and releases carbon dioxide; so deforestation of peatswamps contributes significantly to global warming.

“All countries in their economic development go through the phase of exploiting natural resources,” says Meijaard of People and Nature Consulting International. “But this has to be stabilised. We need to maximise forest cover and forest connectivity, optimise land use in a multi-function landscape, and focus development of monoculture on degraded land, not on forest.”

Reducing land pressure

On the subject matter of wise land use, MPOC’s Yusof points out that the oil palm industry plays an important role in alleviating the need for further land expansion to meet global food demands. Oil palm occupies less than 5% of the global oil crops area and less than 1% of total agricultural land area in the world, yet it accounts for 27% of global oils and fats supply. Oil palm produces 11 times more oil than soyabean, 10 times for sunflower and seven times for rapeseed, for each hectare of planted area. Yusof says seven to 11 times more areas of land will be needed if other oil crops were to substitute Malaysian oil palm to meet future demand.

Yusof also points to the need for a new sustainability definition where countries should have a minimum of 33% of their land area set aside as permanent forest and 50% for agriculture to ensure a balanced forest conservation and agriculture development needs . This would also allow for developed countries to have more land dedicated to permanent forest while providing an opportunity for developing countries to develop land for agriculture yet maintaining 33% of the country’s land area as permanent forest. Eventually, this will generate more food as new agriculture areas can be developed to meet greater demand for food crops thereby addressing food security issues.

SWD’s Ambu says that besides the financial support such as that received from primarily the oil palm industry, greater understanding and co-operation between relevant stakeholders must be prioritized to solve issues faced by wildlife in Sabah.

“We also need commitment for a change of attitudes and practices on the ground for all the industries and groups that have an effect on wildlife conservation.”

A point raised at the colloquium is the lack of a shared platform for all relevant parties to plan and implement integrated land use management. “These discussions are held within silos but there is no effective integration. Good oil palm companies are calling for the development of such a forum, and they assume that once this integrated planning is happening, more companies will follow, leading to overall improved landscape-level management,” says Ambu.

This was pointed out from the onset by Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Tan Sri Bernard Dompok when he opened the colloquium.

Describing the gathering as a step forward to better address and manage wildlife conservation issues through a multi-stakeholder approach, he said: “This is important, taking into account that any recommendations should be holistic in nature and aimed at balancing the needs of the people, economy and nature, which form the tenets of sustainability.”

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Philippines: Too many tourists in Donsol to watch whale sharks

Amer R. Amor Malaya 31 Jan 12;

Fourteen years after the discovery of a large pod of whale sharks or butanding in Donsol, Sorsogon, people around the world continue to troop to this small fishing town to swim with the whale sharks from December until May.

Once an unknown fishing village, Donsol now takes pride in being referred to as the "Whale Shark Capital of the World." The Lonely Planet Guidebook describes the Donsol experience as the "quintessential Philippine adventure."

In 2004, Time Magazine called swimming with whale sharks the "Best Animal Encounter in Asia."

These accolades ensure the steady arrival of tourists, which has helped transform Donsol from a fourth-class town to a third-class town that houses numerous resorts, dive shops and other businesses.

"A lot of people’s livelihoods here changed because of the whale sharks," said Omar Nepumuceno, one of the original 28 people trained in 1998 by World Wildlife Fund for Nature Philippines (WWF-Phil) to become butanding interaction officers (BIO). "Aside from my earnings, I am able to make friends with guests all over the world and I am able to further the cause of saving the butanding."

For Demetria Aviso, a mother of two who works as a housekeeper in one of the resorts, the presence of the whale sharks has helped alleviate her family’s condition, albeit on a seasonal basis. Before the tourism boom, Herrera was a housewife while her husband was a farmer. The money she now earns during the whale shark season not only helps defray the family’s day-to-day expenses but also goes into her savings.

Whale sharks, known to grow to up to 18 meters long and weigh up to 40 tons, are highly migratory and find a home in Donsol from December until May when planktons, which they feed on, are abundant in the waters of this town. This is the time Donsol comes to life.

According to the WWF-Phil, the highest number of whale sharks recorded in a day in Donsol is 18, sighted during the 2009 whale shark season. Since 2007, WWF-Phil has identified 356 whale sharks in Donsol through its photo-identification process.

From January to June and November to December last year, 25,174 tourists visited Donsol to see the whale sharks. Of this number, 12,390 were foreigners. 2011 also saw the most number of recorded tours at 5,141, generating almost P6 million in income for Donsol’s local government. In 2000, the town recorded only 286 tours.

In Donsol, tourists pay P3,500 for a three-hour tour. The amount covers boat rental and fees for the BIO and the spotter, the person assigned to look for the whale shark. Five percent of this amount goes to the local government, along with the registration fees that tourists pay on top of the tour cost. These registration fees are pegged at P100 for Filipino guests and P300 for foreigners.

When it started in 1998, tourists could roam the waters of Donsol in search of whale sharks at their own will, but with the arrival of more tourists each year, the Municipal Tourism Center has had to limit the number of hours of interaction.

But more than the economic gain that goes with the project, nongovernmental and people’s organizations have been organized at the grassroots level, said whale shark researcher Elson Aca.

Donsol’s Butanding Interaction Officers Association (BOAA), Butanding Boat Operators Association (BBOA) and the Homeowners and Beach Resorts Operators Association regularly meet with the Department of Tourism Region V, Municipal Tourism Office of Donsol and WWF-Phil to discuss problems and improve tourism in Donsol.

However, 14 years into its ecotourism industry, the town still faces some of the problems it had in the past.

Although Donsol’s whale shark tour has improved since its hurried beginning, Aca warned that more than the infrastructural development in the area, Donsol has to strongly enforce tour regulations to continue conserving the whale shark.

"The boats are all accredited and they now have a registration center which makes the tours organized in a way. They have an empowered people’s organizations and we can see the distribution of income among guides, boat operators and other stakeholders," he said. "But Donsol has to properly, and strictly, implement its interaction policies such as the one boat per one whale shark. Overcrowding (of boats) is one concern that they have to address in Donsol."

Executive Order 23, S-2009 allows only 30 boats to search the waters of Donsol at any given time to avoid crowding of boats and swimmers on whale sharks. The order directs the implementation of the whale shark interaction code of conduct, which includes a maximum of six swimmers per whale shark, only one boat per whale shark, and no touching or riding of whale sharks.

But the whale shark interaction code of conduct has been violated time and again.

Clara Kerpes, a German traveler who swam with the whale sharks in Donsol in May last year, said that although her group was able to see eight whale sharks in one tour, "it was too crowded."

Australian tourist Mervyn Tan, a guest in April last year, said that at one point during the tour, "it felt like a frenzy with many boatloads of tourists fighting to see one single whale shark."

Canada’s Alastair Hopper, who considers his trip to Donsol to swim with the whale sharks right at the top of the best things he did while in the Philippines for nine months, said the government should "be able to control the tourists who want to see the whale sharks."

"A lot of tourists have already expressed concern regarding overcrowding, and they feel that the welfare of the whale sharks is not being prioritized anymore. Some tourists feel that the satisfaction of guests has prevailed over the conservation of the whale sharks. This is a sad thing considering that Donsol started out strongly on the conservation aspect of the program," said Aca.

Czech nationals Mark and Agatha, who went to see the whale sharks of Donsol last Jan. 6, admitted that they did not know that the tours have been organized in order to save the whale sharks, noting how the entire tour appeared like a "commercial activity" to them.

"It would be nice if the guides could tell us about the history of the program, so we’d also feel strongly about them, that we are also doing something great for the environment," said Agatha.

Nepomuceno and Allan Amanse, the country’s most experienced BIO, recognize the need to address the issue on overcrowding as it affects everyone involved in the tours, the whale sharks foremost.

"If we try to satisfy every tourist who comes here, everyone will be harassed in the process. The BIOs are stressed out having to go on too many tours in a day, the tourists also have to compete among one another, and the whale sharks would have to deal with a lot of this noise," said Amanse.

Said Aca: "If you know that there (are) a lot of tourists and the whale sharks are not enough to ensure that the one boat per one whale shark or the six persons per one whale shark rule will be observed, why do you have to keep on arranging trips for that?"

He also said the tourism office tends to panic when tourists’ demands go out of hand and easily give in even when the office should be in control. Donsol Tourism Officer Nenita Pedragosa, whose office oversees the technical aspect of the whale shark operations, refused to comment on the matter.

According to Jayrick Mendiola, one of the tourism office’s receptionists, efforts to address overcrowding are taken. He admits that the crowd can really get out of control, especially during Holy Week, Donsol’s peak season.

Through the initiative of WWF-Phil, a whale shark interaction tour website will be put up by February, so tourists can book and reserve a tour online. "Tourists can check over the Internet the dates in which there are still slots for the whale shark tours. In this way, they can also plan their stay accordingly and avoid coming to town on dates that the tours are already full," said Mendiola.

Only half of the total allowed trips in a day can be booked online to accommodate walk-in tourists. But Mendiola was quick to add that the tourism office is also working on improving other attractions in Donsol, so the guests can make good use of their time if they fail to make it to the day’s allowed number of trips.

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Vietnam officials call for wildlife protection

Vietnam News 30 Jan 12;

DA NANG — Authorities at central Da Nang City's Ba Na Nature Reserve have been urged to build more zoos and aviaries to ensure better protection for endangered species in the area.

Researchers working on a study of endangered wildlife in forested areas across Da Nang Province's Hoa Vang District made the call, advising authorities that new zoos and aviaries would help protect animals while also providing a boost for the local tourism sector.

The recently completed survey of endangered wildlife took more than 10 years to carry out, and researchers working on the project have 27 rare species listed in the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species in 2009. Many of the species are also protected by Vietnamese law, which bans or restricts trade in certain types of endangered animals.

The group of researchers was led by Professor Le Vu Khoi, former head of Viet Nam National University's Science and Technology Department.

"The study aims to seek solutions to protect and develop biodiversity in the nature reserve," said Khoi.

According to the study, endangered red-shanked douc langurs (Pygathrix nemaeus), called cha va chan nau in Vietnamese, are still living in the nature reserve.

In Viet Nam, the population of red-shanked douc langurs has been reported to be concentrated in the Son Tra Island Nature Reserve, where at least 171 langurs have been spotted.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, hunting is currently the major threat to the langurs, who are used to make traditional medicine in Laos, Viet Nam and Thailand.

Deforestation was also a major threat to the survival of the species, Khoi said.

The study also confirmed that some species could no longer be found in the nature reserve, including the Indochinese tiger (Panthera tigris coberti), leopard (Panthera pardus), Sambar deer (Cervus unicolour) and Asiatic wild dog (Cuon alpinis), he said.

Khoi said authorities needed to take prompt action, such as tightening control on illegal hunting of rare species and bolstering efforts to curb deforestation.

Ba Na Nature Reserve is home of 256 species of animals and 544 plants located on Ba Na Mountain. — VNS

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Pythons apparently wiping out Everglades mammals

Matt Sedensky Associated Press Yahoo News 31 Jan 12;

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A burgeoning population of huge pythons — many of them pets that were turned loose by their owners when they got too big — appears to be wiping out large numbers of raccoons, opossums, bobcats and other mammals in the Everglades, a study says.

The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that sightings of medium-size mammals are down dramatically — as much as 99 percent, in some cases — in areas where pythons and other large, non-native constrictor snakes are known to be lurking.

Scientists fear the pythons could disrupt the food chain and upset the Everglades' environmental balance in ways difficult to predict.

"The effects of declining mammal populations on the overall Everglades ecosystem, which extends well beyond the national park boundaries, are likely profound," said John Willson, a research scientist at Virginia Tech University and co-author of the study.

Tens of thousands of Burmese pythons, which are native to Southeast Asia, are believed to be living in the Everglades, where they thrive in the warm, humid climate. While many were apparently released by their owners, others may have escaped from pet shops during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and have been reproducing ever since.

Burmese pythons can grow to be 26 feet long and more than 200 pounds, and they have been known to swallow animals as large as alligators. They and other constrictor snakes kill their prey by coiling around it and suffocating it.

The National Park Service has counted 1,825 Burmese pythons that have been caught in and around Everglades National Park since 2000. Among the largest so far was a 156-pound, 16.4-foot one captured earlier this month.

For the study, researchers drove 39,000 miles along Everglades-area roads from 2003 through 2011, counting wildlife spotted along the way and comparing the results with surveys conducted on the same routes in 1996 and 1997.

The researchers found staggering declines in animal sightings: a drop of 99.3 percent among raccoons, 98.9 percent for opossums, 94.1 percent for white-tailed deer and 87.5 percent for bobcats. Along roads where python populations are believed to be smaller, declines were lower but still notable.

Rabbits and foxes, which were commonly spotted in 1996 and 1997, were not seen at all in the later counts. Researchers noted slight increases in coyotes, Florida panthers, rodents and other mammals, but discounted that finding because so few were spotted overall.

"The magnitude of these declines underscores the apparent incredible density of pythons in Everglades National Park," said Michael Dorcas, a professor at Davidson College in North Carolina and lead author of the study.

Although scientists cannot definitively say the pythons are killing off the mammals, the snakes are the prime suspect. The increase in pythons coincides with the mammals' decrease, and the decline appears to grow in magnitude with the size of the snakes' population in an area. A single disease appears unlikely to be the cause since several species were affected.

The report says the effect on the overall ecosystem is hard to predict. Declines among bobcats and foxes, which eat rabbits, could be linked to pythons' feasting on rabbits. On the flip side, declines among raccoons, which eat eggs, may help some turtles, crocodiles and birds.

Scientists point with concern to what happened in Guam, where the invasive brown tree snake has killed off birds, bats and lizards that pollinated trees and flowers and dispersed seeds. That has led to declines in native trees, fish-eating birds and certain plants.

In 2010, Florida banned private ownership of Burmese pythons. Earlier this month, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a federal ban on the import of Burmese pythons and three other snakes.

Salazar said Monday that the study shows why such restrictions were needed.

"This study paints a stark picture of the real damage that Burmese pythons are causing to native wildlife and the Florida economy," he said.

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Climate-driven heat peaks may shrink wheat crops

Marlowe Hood AFP Yahoo News 29 Jan 12;

More intense heat waves due to global warming could diminish wheat crop yields around the world through premature ageing, according to a study published Sunday in Nature Climate Change.

Current projections based on computer models underestimate the extent to which hotter weather in the future will accelerate this process, the researchers warned.

Wheat is harvested in temperate zones on more than 220 million hectares (545 million acres), making it the most widely grown crop on Earth.

In some nations, the grain accounts for up to 50 percent of calorie intake and 20 percent of protein nutrition, according to the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), near Mexico City.

In 2010, drought and wildfires in wheat-exporting Russia pushed world prices of the grain to two-year highs, underscoring the vulnerability of global supplies to weather- and climate-related disruptions.

Greenhouse experiments have shown that unseasonably high temperatures -- especially at the end of the growing season -- can cause senescence, the scientific term for accelerated ageing.

Excess heat beyond the plant's tolerance zone damages photosynthetic cells.

Fluctuations in wheat yields in India have also been attributed by farmers to temperature, most recently a heat wave in 2010 blamed for stunting plant productivity.

To further test these experiments and first-hand observations, a trio of researchers led by David Lobell of Stanford University sifted through nine years of satellite data for the Indo-Ganges Plains in northern India and then used statistical methods to isolate the effects of extreme heat on wheat.

They found that a 2.0 Celsius increase above long-term averages shortened the growing season by a critical nine days, reducing total yield by up to 20 percent.

"These results imply that warming presents an even greater challenge to wheat than implied by previous modelling studies, and that the effectiveness of adaptations will depend on how well they reduce crop sensitivity to very hot days," the researchers concluded.

The world's nations, under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), have said that Earth's average temperature should not exceed the preindustrial benchmark by more than 2.0 C if dangerous warming impacts are to be avoided.

On current trends -- absent a major reduction in the emission of heat-trapping greenhouse gases -- the global thermometer could rise by twice as much, according to scientists.

"Even changes that were once considered rather extreme scenarios, such as a 4.0 Celsius (7.2 Fahrenheit) increase in global mean temperature, ... could happen as soon as the early 2060s," the study notes.

Wheat also faces another possibly climate-related threat: aggressive new strains of wheat rust disease have decimated up to 40 percent of harvests in some regions of north Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.

Wheat rust is a fungal disease that attacks the stems, grains and especially the leaves of grains including wheat, barley and rye.

Global warming and increased variability of rainfall have weakened the plants even as these emerging rust strains have adapted to extreme temperatures not seen before, scientists say.

In November, the UN's climate science panel concluded that man-made climate change has boosted the frequency or intensity of heat waves, and that such extreme weather events are virtually certain to increase in the future.

If greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated, one-in-20-year heat peaks would likely occur every five years by about 2050, and every year or two by the end of the century, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in a 1,000-page report.

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World Lacks Enough Food, Fuel As Population Soars: U.N.

Nina Chestney PlanetArk 31 Jan 12;

The world is running out of time to make sure there is enough food, water and energy to meet the needs of a rapidly growing population and to avoid sending up to 3 billion people into poverty, a U.N. report warned on Monday.

As the world's population looks set to grow to nearly 9 billion by 2040 from 7 billion now, and the number of middle-class consumers increases by 3 billion over the next 20 years, the demand for resources will rise exponentially.

Even by 2030, the world will need at least 50 percent more food, 45 percent more energy and 30 percent more water, according to U.N. estimates, at a time when a changing environment is creating new limits to supply.

And if the world fails to tackle these problems, it risks condemning up to 3 billion people into poverty, the report said.

Efforts towards sustainable development are neither fast enough nor deep enough, as well as suffering from a lack of political will, the United Nations' high-level panel on global sustainability said.

"The current global development model is unsustainable. To achieve sustainability, a transformation of the global economy is required," the report said.

"Tinkering on the margins will not do the job. The current global economic crisis ... offers an opportunity for significant reforms."

Although the number of people living in absolute poverty has been reduced to 27 percent of world population from 46 percent in 1990 and the global economy has grown 75 percent since 1992, improved lifestyles and changing consumer habits have put natural resources under increasing strain.

There are 20 million more undernourished people now than in 2000; 5.2 million hectares of forest are lost per year - an area the size of Costa Rica; 85 percent of all fish stocks are over-exploited or depleted; and carbon dioxide emissions have risen 38 percent between 1990 and 2009, which heightens the risk of sea level rise and more extreme weather.

The panel, which made 56 recommendations for sustainable development to be included in economic policy as quickly as possible, said a "new political economy" was needed.

"Let's use the upcoming Rio+20 summit to kick off this global transition towards a sustainable growth model for the 21st century that the world so badly needs," EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said in response to the report, referring to a U.N. sustainable development summit this June in Brazil.


Among the panel's recommendations, it urged governments to agree on a set of sustainable development goals which would complement the eight Millennium Development Goals to 2015 and create a framework for action after 2015.

They should work with international organizations to create an "evergreen revolution," which would at least double productivity while reducing resource use and avoiding further biodiversity losses, the report said.

Water and marine ecosystems should be managed more efficiently and there should be universal access to affordable sustainable energy by 2030.

To make the economy more sustainable, carbon and natural resource pricing should be established through taxation, regulation or emissions trading schemes by 2020 and fossil fuel subsidies should also be phased out by that time.

National fiscal and credit systems should be reformed to provide long-term incentives for sustainable practices as well as disincentives for unsustainable ones.

Sovereign wealth and public pension funds, as well as development banks and export credit agencies should apply sustainable development criteria to their investment decisions, and governments or stock market watchdogs should revise regulations to encourage their use.

Governments and scientists should also strengthen the relationship between policy and science by regularly examining the science behind environmental thresholds or "tipping points" and the United Nations should consider naming a chief scientific adviser or board to advise the organization, the report said.

The report is available at

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UN panel aims for 'a future worth choosing'

Richard Black BBC News 30 Jan 12;

Growing inequality, environmental decline and "teetering" economies mean the world must change the way it does business, a UN report concludes.

Health and education must improve, it says. Subsidies on fossil fuels should end, and governments must look beyond the standard economic indicator of GDP.

The High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability was established in 2010 by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Its report will feed into discussions leading to the Rio+20 summit in June.

It is being launched in Addis Ababa by its two co-chairs, Finnish President Tarja Halonen and her South African counterpart Jacob Zuma.

"With the possibility of the world slipping further into recession, policymakers are hungry for ideas that can help them to navigate these difficult times," said Mr Zuma.

"Our report makes clear that sustainable development is more important than ever given the multiple crises now enveloping the world."

Ms Halonen emphasised the theme of equality that runs through the report, in terms of gender and redressing the burgeoning gap between people on high and low incomes.

"Eradication of poverty and improving equity must remain priorities for the world community," she said.
Pushing the boundaries

The panel's 22 members include heads of government and ministers past and present, including Barbadian Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, Australian Foreign Minister and former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and India's Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh.

They also include Gro Harlem Brundtland, the former Norwegian Prime Minister who led the Brundtland Commission in 1987.

It was that report that coined the most familiar definition of sustainable development as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".

Twenty-five years on, the new report concludes that although substantial progress has been made in many directions, such as reducing poverty, development is anything but sustainable.

"We undertook this report during a period of global volatility and uncertainty," it says.

"Economies are teetering. Inequality is growing. And global temperatures continue to rise.

"We are testing the capacity of the planet to sustain us."

To turn this around, it says: "We need to change dramatically, beginning with how we think about our relationship to each other, to future generations, and to the ecosystems that support us".
Changing track

The report - Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing - includes 56 recommendations that would, if implemented in full, have profound implications for societies, governments, and businesses.

Governments would build the true environmental costs of products into the prices that people pay to purchase them, leading to an economic system that protects natural resources.

Goods would be labelled with information on their environmental impact, enabling consumers to make more informed purchasing decisions.

With UN support, governments would adopt indicators of economic performance that go beyond simple GDP, and measure the sustainability of countries' economies.

Governments would change the regulation of financial markets to promote longer-term, more stable and sustainable investment.

Subsidies that damage environmental integrity would be phased out by 2020. The UN estimates that governments spend more than $400bn each year subsidising fossil fuels, while OECD countries alone spend nearly the same amount on agricultural subsidies.

In parallel, access to energy, clean water, sanitation and food would be increased, meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and going beyond them.

New targets would be established of ensuring "universal access to affordable sustainable energy" by 2030, while universal telecommunications and broadband access should arrive by 2025.

Governments "should consider establishing a global fund for education" in order to meet the existing MDG on universal access to primary education by 2015, and aim for universal access to secondary education by 2030.

These and other targets should be incorporated into a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be drawn up in the next few years, the panel says.

Some of its recommendations parallel the initial draft agreement drawn up for the Rio+20 summit.

"We greatly welcome the report of the panel and its messages," said Farooq Ullah, head of policy and advocacy at Stakeholder Forum, a civil society group involved with preparations for the summit.

"It outlines a vision of the future which is people-centric and which exists within the safe operating space necessary for planetary health and our existence."

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