Best of our wild blogs: 13 Mar 12

23 Mar (Fri): Talk on "Secret Shores of Singapore" at NUS
from wild shores of singapore

Singapore Responds to “Unhealthiest” Country Tag
from Asian Wall Street Journal blog

More feather star commensals at Little Sisters
from wonderful creation

Scarab and scoliid
from The annotated budak and Snap, whistle and crack

Video of Eagle-owl yawning and stretching
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Gifts from Christmas Island
from Raffles Museum News

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Some Corals May Adapt to Warmer Seas

Dennis Normile Science Now 12 Mar 12;

At two sites in Singapore and Malaysia that had bleached in 1998, this pattern was reversed, with normally susceptible Acropora colonies appearing healthy while massive slow-growing corals, such as Porites were heavily damaged.

Pictures of ghostly white coral colonies bleached by elevated sea temperatures have become symbols of the effects of global warming. Now there is a glimmer of hope that at least some corals may be more resilient than previously thought. A study suggests that certain kinds of corals subjected to bleaching adapt to endure higher water temperatures.

Survivor. Healthy Acropora (in front) appear to have developed resistance to high sea temperatures while bleached Porites did not. Photo Credit: James Guest

Corals rely on symbiotic algae, called zooxanthellae, for their color and to produce nutrients through photosynthesis. Above a tipping point, warm seawater typically upsets this delicate symbiotic balance and corals expel the algae, turning white and eventually dying if high temperatures persist. Such bleaching events are becoming more frequent as periodic hot spells exacerbate the sea temperature rise due to global warming. This raises concerns about the long-term survival of coral reefs, which are refuges for marine biodiversity.

Yet corals may be hardier than biologists have thought. During a 2010 bleaching episode, an international team studied three coral reef sites. At one in Indonesia that had not bleached previously, corals responded typically to warmer water. There, fast-growing branching coral species—such as Acropora—suffered severe die-offs. But at two sites in Singapore and Malaysia that had bleached in 1998, this pattern was reversed, with normally susceptible Acropora colonies appearing healthy while massive slow-growing corals, such as Porites were heavily damaged. The group concluded that "the effects of bleaching will not be as uniform as anticipated" and fast-growing corals such as Acropora and Pocillopora may be able to survive more frequent rises in water temperature. Marine biologist James Guest, previously at the National University of Singapore and now at University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, and colleagues reported their findings online on 9 March at PLoS One.

The report "is very interesting and hopeful," says Mikhail Matz, a coral biologist at University of Texas, Austin. Matz says it appears natural selection led to the evolution of higher bleaching resistance in just one coral generation, "which would be awesome news indeed." He would like to see additional evidence to clarify the mechanism involved.

Guest agrees additional work is needed. "We don't know whether the unusual resistance in the branching corals was due to the host coral or the symbionts or both," he says. They are starting additional studies to learn more about the specific type of zooxanthellae inhabiting the coral that adapted and to try to study the phenomenon in the laboratory. He also cautions that higher water temperatures could still affect the composition and health of reefs. Finding evidence of adaptation "does not mean that the global threat to reefs from climate change has lessened," he says.

Global Warming Threat to Coral Reefs: Can Some Species Adapt?
ScienceDaily 10 Mar 12;

Coral reefs are among the ecosystems most severely threatened by global warming, but hopeful new evidence has emerged that some coral species may be able to adapt to warmer oceans.

In a study published in the journal PLoS One, an international team of researchers reports that coral populations which unexpectedly survived a massive bleaching event in 2010 in South-East Asian waters had previously experienced severe bleaching during an event in 1998.

The team analysed what happened at three sites during the 2010 event and found that in Indonesia, corals responded to higher sea temperatures in a typical way, with fast-growing branching species -- such as staghorn corals -- suffering severe die-offs. But at sites monitored in Singapore and Malaysia, the usual trend was reversed: normally susceptible colonies of fast-growing Acropora corals appeared healthy and fully pigmented, while most colonies of massive coral were severely bleached.

"Mass coral-bleaching events, caused by a breakdown in the relationship between the coral animals and their symbiotic algae, are strongly correlated with unusually high sea temperatures and have led to widespread reef degradation in recent decades," notes lead author Dr James Guest, currently a joint research fellow at the UNSW Centre for Marine Bio-innovation and the Advanced Environmental Biotechnology Centre at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University.

"The severity of these events varies considerably but until now we've seen one consistent trend: certain types of coral tend to be more resistant to bleaching than others. This has led to the prediction that hardier, slow-growing massive species will replace less hardy, fast-growing branching species on reefs in the future.

"But during the 2010 event the normal hierarchy of species susceptibility was reversed in some places. Corals at our Indonesian study site in Pulau Weh, Sumatra, followed the usual pattern, with around 90% of colonies of fast-growing species dying. But the pattern was the opposite at study sites in Singapore and Malaysia, even though sea-temperature data showed that the magnitude of thermal stress was similar at all sites.

"This suggests that the thermal history of these sites may have played an important role in determining the bleaching severity in 2010."

Journal Reference:

James R. Guest, Andrew H. Baird, Jeffrey A. Maynard, Efin Muttaqin, Alasdair J. Edwards, Stuart J. Campbell, Katie Yewdall, Yang Amri Affendi, Loke Ming Chou. Contrasting Patterns of Coral Bleaching Susceptibility in 2010 Suggest an Adaptive Response to Thermal Stress. PLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (3): e33353 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0033353

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Price water the Singapore way to curb waste: UN

Report also holds up recycling of waste water in Republic as example
Himaya Quasem Straits Times 13 Mar 12

A MAJOR United Nations report on global water supplies has called for more realistic pricing to discourage waste, a strategy for which it singles out Singapore for praise.

The report, released yesterday, warned that water problems in many parts of the world are chronic and will worsen as demand for food soars and climate change intensifies.

It called for an immediate crackdown on water waste, pointing to Singapore's water pricing strategy and practice of recycling waste water as examples of how the problem could be tackled.

'While most cities would refrain from using treated waste water as a source of drinking water, this avenue is also available and has been implemented, for example, in water-scarce Singapore and the International Space Station, without ill effects.

'Consequently, it is recommended that municipalities affected by water scarcity should move aggressively towards the use of reclaimed water,' the report said.

The report's lead author Richard Connor, of the UN's World Water Assessment Programme, also said researchers were impressed by Singapore's 'flexible' approach.

Singapore's public awareness campaigns urging people to save water, combined with tariffs that charge households based on the amount of water used and taxes that penalise those who waste water, had been effective, he said.

'There is no magic bullet to deal with this complex problem. What is often needed is a flexible approach that suits each municipality,' Mr Connor told The Straits Times. 'But Singapore's approach should definitely be considered by other countries facing similar challenges.'

Pricing, conservation and recycling are three key elements of Singapore's strategy.

The national water agency PUB has a tiered tariff that charges heavy users of water a higher rate. It also imposes a water conservation tax which is calculated as a percentage of total water consumption.

In addition, the PUB charges a sanitary appliance fee and waterborne fee every month. Both are used to offset the cost of treating used water and for the operation and maintenance of the public sewer system.

Through its water conservation programme, PUB has managed to cut Singapore's per capita domestic water consumption from 165 litres a day in 2003 to 154 litres a day last year. The aim is to lower this to 147 litres a day by 2020 and 140 litres a day by 2030.

The Republic is also on track to achieve water self-sufficiency by 2061. By then, Newater and desalinated water will contribute 80 per cent of Singapore's water needs, up from 40 per cent now. The remaining 20 per cent will come from local catchment areas.

Last year, work started in Tuas on the country's second desalination plant. The $890 million plant, which will begin operations next year, will triple the Republic's water desalination capacity.

Currently, up to 60 per cent of Singapore's water is provided for by local catchment areas and imports from Malaysia, with 10 per cent coming from sea water and 30 per cent from Newater.

The report, the UN's fourth edition of the World Water Development Report, demanded an overhaul in the use of water, especially by curbing waste. Smarter irrigation, growing less thirsty crops and the use of 'grey', or used water, to flush toilets are among the options.

Dr Seetharam Kallidaikurichi Easwaran, visiting don and director of the National University of Singapore's Institute of Water Policy, was listed among the contributors to the report.

Around the world, more than 2.5 billion people still need decent sanitation and nearly one in 10 has yet to gain access to 'improved' drinking water, as defined under the UN's 2015 development goals.

The massive 866-page report, issued every three years, was launched in Marseille, France yesterday, at the start of a six-day World Water Forum. It listed daunting challenges ahead.

Demand for food will increase by some 70 per cent by 2050, which will lead to a nearly 20 per cent increase in water usage for farming, it said.

At the same time, water supply in many regions is likely to shrink because of changing rainfall patterns, more severe droughts, melting glaciers and altered river flows, it said.

'Climate change will drastically affect food production in South Asia and Southern Africa between now and 2030,' the report said. 'By 2070, water stress will also be felt in central and southern Europe.'

Asia is home to 60 per cent of the world's population but only around a third of water resources, it pointed out.

Without new policies to manage water use, more than 40 per cent of the world's population will live in areas with high water stress by 2050, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which also published a report ahead of the Marseille conference.

'We need to give water a price,' Mr Xavier Leflaive, the report's author, said. 'Water tariffs are policy instruments that encourage more intelligent use.'

He added that governments have to act and in 'a strong way'.

The World Water Forum gathers policymakers, big corporations and non-governmental organisations.

As many as 20,000 participants from 140 countries are expected for the six-day event, including scores of ministers for the environment and water, and a scattering of heads of state from West Africa.

Ministers attending the forum will issue a non-binding statement today affirming their awareness of the problems and intent to fix them.

The water forum is shunned by some environmentalists or development activists, who deride it as a trade fair lacking democracy and transparency.

An alternative forum is being staged elsewhere in Marseille by 2,000 members of civil society from Europe, the United States, Latin America and Africa.

With additional information from Agence France-Presse, Bloomberg

Singapore says world can learn from its water policies
Olly Barratt Channel NewsAsia 13 Mar 12;

Marseille, France: Government policymakers, non-governmental organisations and campaign groups have gathered in Marseille for the 6th World Water Forum.

The event has seen the United Nations issue a warning that strains on the world's water supply are increasing and that a radical rethink of water policy is needed.

Singapore is engaged in the debate and it says the world can learn much from its water policies.

As many as 20,000 participants from 140 countries are expected for the six-day event, including scores of ministers for the environment and water.

They will discuss the problems the world faces in securing its water supply in the face of exploding populations and climate change.

The UN says climate change will drastically affect food production - particularly in South Asia - between now and 2030, with Asia being home to 60 per cent of the world's population but only around a third of water resources.

So the continent is well represented in Marseille - with Singapore keen to take part in an increasingly pressing debate.

Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, said: "The sense that I get from this event so far is that there's a greater sense of urgency that the problems are looming and are going to become more acute in the future."

The forum is not just about explaining the difficulties the world faces with water - it's also about showing off some possible solutions.

And Singapore - as a city state - feels it has valuable experiences to share.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "Because more than 50 per cent of humanity now lives in cities, urban solutions for water - meaning how do you keep it clean, how do you make sure that every drop of rain that falls into a drain ultimately ends in a reservoir and then ends up in a pipe in your kitchen, in your bedroom - have become a significant issue for many parts of the world.

"So the way we do it in Singapore - the rules, the regulations, the pricing - the whole politics of water is relevant to the rest of the world."

The solutions to these problems will have to be global, but Singapore hopes to prove at the forum that it can make a valuable contribution.

- CNA/ir

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URA to unveil winning ideas for Rail Corridor

Channel NewsAsia 12 Mar 12;

SINGAPORE: The winners of the "Journey of Possibilities" ideas competition for the Rail Corridor will be unveiled on March 30.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority said the winners will share their ideas at a presentation which will be held at the URA Centre from 7.00 pm to 9.00 pm.

The public is invited to attend this session to learn more about the winners' innovative solutions and ideas in addressing some of the key challenges and issues that were identified earlier for the Rail Corridor.

URA said the presentation of the winning ideas is part of its continuing efforts to actively engage and involve the public in its plans to shape Singapore into a great city to live, work and play in.

The competition was launched in November last year and received more than 200 submissions when it closed last Friday.

- CNA/cc

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Malaysia: 'No need for total ban on shark hunting'

Carisma Kapoor The New Straits Times 13 Mar 12;

Expert says only some of the 60 species are endangered

A blanket ban on shark hunting in Malaysian waters cannot be imposed as not all species fall under the endangered category, said Department of Fisheries senior researcher Ahmad Ali.

He said there were more than 60 species of sharks, including the grey bamboo shark, Indonesian bamboo shark, grey carpet shark, whitecheek shark, blackspot shark, pacific spadenose shark and milk shark in the our waters

They were among the most common species which were caught.

Only a few species have been confirmed as endangered, he said, naming the whale shark which was protected under the Fisheries Act 1985 and under the Fisheries (Control of Endangered Species of Fish) Regulations 1999.

Any person who fished, disturbed, harassed, caught, killed, took, possessed, sold, bought, exported or transported any endangered species except with the written permission from the director-general of Fisheries could be fined an amount not exceeding RM20,000, or jailed two years, or both.

Ahmad, who is also the Southeast Asia co-regional vice-chairman of the International Union for Conservation of Nature Shark Specialist Group, said it was difficult to enforce a total ban on sharks as the production of shark meat was at a sustainable level.

"Shark production is less than one per cent of marine life production.

"The amount produced ranges from 0.6 to 0.9 per cent and is very difficult to control."

He said fishermen here did not practise finning sharks and throwing them back into the sea as shark meat, which could fetch up to RM10 a kilogramme, was too valuable.

It was earlier reported that Sabah was in consultation with Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail to amend the federal law by introducing a ban on shark hunting in the state by year end.

Gani told the New Straits Times he had not heard about the amendment proposal from the state yet.

"But the state should be familiar with policies on marine life so there should be no problem with appealing for the ban to be imposed."

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Malaysia: Collaring a jumbo success

Roay Goh New Straits Times 13 Mar 12;

Female elephant in Sabah forest reserve first to be fitted with Iridium collar

THE protection of endangered animal species in Sabah took another significant step following the successful collaring of an elephant in Kinabatangan recently.

The female elephant was caught in the Segaliud-Lokan Forest Reserve before it was fitted with an Iridium collar in a joint effort by the state Wildlife Department, Borneo Conservation Trust and KTS Plantation.

Estimated to be between 25 and 35 years old, the elephant was found to be lactating and nursing a calf about five to six months old.

The elephant, named "Segaliud", had since been released back to its herd after a physical check-up. It is also the first to be collared in the area.

The BCT Conservation and Research Head Raymond Alfred said with the collaring of the elephant, the first in the forest reserve, it would help in providing valuable information on its movement in the area.

Fitting collars on endangered animal species here is one of the key components in a Mega Biodiversity Corridor programme initiated by the BCT to enhance the forest ecological system.

Wildlife director Dr Laurentius Ambu said the programme was crucial to reconnect corridors for the animals to move about in the forest that are now fragmented by agricultural activities.

"Wildlife corridors offer one of the best long term solutions facing the endangered wild Bornean elephant," he added.

Read more: Collaring a jumbo success - General - New Straits Times

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Oceans Will Not Survive ‘Business as Usual’

Bari Bates IPS News 12 Mar 12;

BRUSSELS, Mar. 12, 2012 (IPS) - Our oceans face a grim outlook in the coming decades. Ocean acidification, loss of marine biodiversity, climate change, pollution and over-exploitation of resources all point to the urgent need for a new paradigm on caring for the earth’s oceans—"business as usual" is simply not an option anymore, experts say.

The extreme rate of acidification – the term used to describe the decrease in ocean pH levels caused by man-made CO2 emissions – has happened before, Carol Turley of Plymouth Marine Laboratory said, a claim that might have been comforting if she hadn’t been referring to the time when dinosaurs died out.

This is a "huge environmental crisis," she told attendees at an information session at European Parliament this month, addressing challenges and solutions for the world’s oceans months ahead of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, slated to be held in Brazil in June.

Turley joked that she’s often called the "acid queen" because of her bleak message, though the plight of more than 70 percent of the earth’s surface is not in the least bit humorous.

Each year, the ocean absorbs roughly 26 percent of total CO2 emissions, which have increased by 30 percent since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in 1750, according to the International Ocean Acidification Reference User Group.

Ocean acidification affects marine life with calcium carbonate skeletons and shells, making them sensitive to even small changes in acidity. Acidification also reduces the availability of calcium for plankton and shelled species, which constitute the base of the entire marine food chain, creating a disastrous domino affect that could wipe out entire ecosystems.

"[The] earth system is truly under the influence of man," said Wendy Watson-Wright, assistant director general and executive secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

The oceans could be 150 percent more acidic by 2100, she added. This means drastic decreases in yields from fisheries, and mass extinction of marine life.

The world is currently losing natural resources at a rate humans haven’t even begun to describe, she said.

Changing public opinion

Sadly, rallying the public behind the necessity of ocean preservation has proved difficult.

Global attention has largely been focused on the economy, particularly on the latest bout of economic chaos in the United States and Europe.

"Our greatest challenge is to convince citizens that environmental targets (don’t go) against economic progress," European Union Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Maria Damanaki, stressed.

For some, it’s a problem of "out of sight, out of mind," said Watson-Wright, arguing that people disregard oceans as a priority since they live on land. But even landlocked countries have a great stake in ocean sustainability, she stressed.

With Rio+20, designed to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, only a few months away, it is past time to discuss solutions.

Raphaël Billé, program director for biodiversity and adaptation at the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI), called for stronger language on environmental goals, in order to improve political momentum in the priority themes articulated by the conference organisers.

He noted that Rio+20 is less than concrete in terms of political agreements, but is an opportunity to assess progress and renew political commitments, in the hopes of paving the way for hard decisions later.

Can Rio+20 be a game changer?

Rio+20 will feature oceans as one of seven themes, which also include food, energy, cities, water, and disasters.

Since the first meeting in Rio 20 years ago, there has been some progress on protections for the oceans, according to UNESCO, which includes decisions made within the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, agreed upon during the Earth Summit in 2002.

Plans for the world’s oceans at Rio+20 are outlined as ten proposals under four main objectives, according to UNESCO’s IOC: taking concrete action to reduce stressors and restore the structure and function of marine ecosystems; support for a "Blue-Green" economy; moving toward policy, legal and institutional reforms; and supporting marine research and monitoring, evaluation, and technology.

The concerns over our planet’s oceans are not new, IDDRI pointed out in an article submitted to the U.N. in early November 2011; most of these problems have been recognised for decades, and, according to the article, "The only way forward is to recognise the overall failure of oceanic governance, to study the successes at hand, and to develop strategies that seriously take both into account."

The article also mentioned the conflicts between oceanic governance and resistance to make it more sustainable, especially when costs begin to add up.

Though various experts have expressed doubt that the meeting in Rio will yield sufficient results for the planet, activists and scientists alike are turning up the heat on conference attendees to leverage political power at the gathering to make tough, lasting decisions that might give the oceans and their essential ecologies a shot at survival.

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Saving Biodiversity: A $300 Billion-A-Year Challenge

Deborah Zabarenko PlanetArk 13 Mar 12;

Saving biodiversity -- the vast and essential variety of the natural world -- will be expensive, at an estimated $300 billion a year for the next eight years. But losing it would cost even more, in terms of disease, hunger, poverty and diminished resilience to climate change, according to the new chief of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity.

"Biodiversity is the basis of everything we do in agriculture, everything we do in health," Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias told Reuters.

"So the development of new vaccines, the development of new cultured varieties of plants is based on biodiversity, genetic resources. If we lose biodiversity, we lose the options for future development in these areas."

Human destruction of natural habitats, unbridled economic development, pollution and climate change are among the threats to plant and animal life, on land and underwater. Preserving biological diversity is an uphill fight as the needs of the world's growing human population - now numbering about 7 billion - increasingly come into conflict with protecting nature.

Dias, named to the job in January, starts from a position of certainty: 192 nations already have agreed on what needs to be done by 2020 to preserve biodiversity.

His job is to help them figure out how to do it. He will have the chance to do that when global representatives gather in Rio de Janeiro in June, 20 years after the first Earth Summit set out a plan for worldwide environmental protections.

This year, the meetings will focus on sustainable development, a theme purposely chosen to avoid climate change controversies. It is an important one for Dias, who previously headed biodiversity for the Brazilian ministry.

Dias has been impressed by some of the biodiversity pilot programs launched by companies and governments around the world, but he believes these efforts need to be quickly expanded.


The independent $300 billion-a-year cost estimate - which includes sustainable management of agriculture, forests, fresh water and coastal and marine ecosystems - is about 10 times the amount now being spent by governments, private industry and nongovernmental organizations on biodiversity protection. There is as yet no globally agreed official estimate of the cost, but assessments are under way.

Dias said that does not mean governments will bear the full cost. The United Nations is encouraging private investment, such as efforts by paper products firm Stora Enso to move toward sustainably harvested wood. Costa Rica is using fossil fuel revenues to make ecosystem service payments to landowners, paying them for sustainable forest management.

Public-private partnerships can absorb other costs, he said.

Still, preservation costs pale in comparison to estimates of what it would cost to simply do nothing. An international study supported by the United Nations estimates that taking no action would cost between $2 trillion and $4.5 trillion a year.

The global biodiversity effort stems from the principle that all living things -- from intestinal bacteria to human beings to redwood trees -- play a role in the ecosystem. While it is natural that some species die out over time, new environmental threats may prematurely wipe out entire species.

Dias says the impact can be devastating. If, for example, the Amazon rainforest morphs into the Amazon savannah, the biological diversity that people have depended upon for centuries could be endangered.

For almost every environmental issue, Dias draws a bright line to biological diversity.

Hunger: "If we want to be more effective in the fight against hunger, we need to enhance the use of local biodiversity. We will not solve this problem just by huge shipments of surplus stocks of crops from one region to another."

Poverty: "If poor communities survive at all, it's because they have access to biodiversity ... They can catch a fish, they can get fruits from the forest. They don't have cash, they don't have a salary to buy the goods in the markets, so it's thanks to this access to nature that they survive."

Biodiversity is also vital to resisting climate change and its loss could deprive farmers of the genetic resources they need to adapt to future climate conditions, Dias said.

Climate change has spurred the spread of such killers as malaria and cholera, Dias said, and both diseases are related to environmental disturbances.

He hopes investors will see biodiversity as a smart place to put their money. "We need more engagement on the part of private companies, the financial sector, the pension funds," he said.

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Rio+20: Social media countdown to UN sustainable development forum kicks off

UN News Centre 12 Mar 12;

The 100-day countdown to the United Nations conference on sustainable development that will be held in Brazil in June kicked off today with a call to governments, businesses and civil society to make sustainability a core issue for the future.

During the past months, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has consistently highlighted sustainable development as a priority issue for the UN, arguing that the upcoming conference, known as Rio+20, will help pave the way for a new social contract for the 21st century, chart a development path that leads to greater social justice and help create ‘the future we want’.

“The stakes are rising,” he said in a press release. “One hundred days to a once-in-a-generation opportunity. We must agree on sustainable solutions to build the future we want.”

In celebrating the 100-day mark, expected participants of the Rio+20 forum, including global stakeholders and UN system partners, will take to social media (#futurewewant) and share messages of support and highlight the more important issues and objectives of the summit, slated to take place in Rio de Janeiro from 20 to 22 June.

Sha Zukang, who is Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and Secretary-General of the Rio+20 conference, also applauded the integration of new media as part of the countdown to the event.

“Through social media, we hope to reach an ever-growing number of people about the importance of the conference and the need to take action now to advance sustainable development,” he said, adding that the involvement of civil society was “critical for the success of Rio+20.”

More than 100 heads of State, along with thousands of parliamentarians, mayors, UN officials, CEOs, and civil society leaders will come together at Rio+20 to shape and adopt new policies and measures to promote prosperity, reduce poverty and advance social equity and environmental protection.

For more see

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