Best of our wild blogs: 28 Mar 12

Another fire at Shell's Bukom refinery?
from wild shores of singapore

Birding @ Bishan Park
from Urban Forest

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Beware of captive dolphins, warns ACRES

Straits Times Forum 28 Mar 12;

WHILE it is heartening to read that HCA Hospice Care is organising enriching excursions for terminally ill patients, we are concerned about patients coming into contact with captive dolphins ('Dolphin therapy for terminally ill'; last Saturday).

Dolphins are predators with great physical strength and should always be regarded as the wild animals that they are, with unpredictable natures.

Dolphins cannot adapt well to a life in captivity, where they often display physical and psychological signs of distress. Indeed, in 2001, Namtam, a dolphin held captive at the Dolphin Lagoon, succumbed to acute gastritis, a stress-related illness.

Unnaturally high levels of aggression, probably as a result of stress, have been observed in captive dolphins, and this poses a danger if a person comes into contact with them.

It is worrying to note that Han, one of the dolphins at Dolphin Lagoon who was used for interaction with the hospice patients, was described in the article as having a temper.

There have been many reports of injuries inflicted on members of the public participating in 'swim with dolphin' sessions or other such interactive programmes with captive dolphins, including broken bones and lacerations from bites.

Furthermore, there are many diseases that are known to be transmissible from dolphins to humans, and vice versa. These diseases may not always be evident.

The United States National Marine Fisheries Service has acknowledged that the potential exists for transmission of diseases between wild marine mammals and humans. For example, a variety of opportunistic bacteria found on the skin of dolphins may pose a threat to human health.

For people who are facing serious illnesses and have compromised immune systems, it is extremely risky putting them in a situation where they may be injured by or even contract a disease from a wild animal.

A better and safer alternative is the use of domesticated animals, such as dogs and cats, in animal-assisted therapy programmes, like those provided by Mutts And Mittens in Singapore.

Such programmes have been shown to bring great benefits to participants, and do not entail welfare concerns for the domestic animals involved.

Louis Ng
Executive Director
Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres)

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Illegal Seletar jetties have to go

Jose Hong Straits Times 28 Mar 12;

IS IT a case of giving someone a foot, only for them to take a mile?

In 1993, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) approved the use of part of the picturesque Seletar Reservoir coast as mooring bases for boats.

But over the years, long wooden jetties and structures have been built that extend from the mangroves far out into the sea.

Each of them has a different operator, and some have been run by the same families for years.

All of them will now have to go.

In a joint statement to The Straits Times, MPA and the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) said the jetties and structures on stilts are unauthorised and pose a safety hazard.

The MPA informed the jetty operators early this month to remove the unauthorised structures.

Mr Kelanasari Eeban, who runs Jenal Jetty with an aunt, claimed the jetties exist because of a prior verbal arrangement with the MPA.

He added that the jetties provide a mooring place for the boaters who use them, especially when the tide recedes.

The argument clearly does not wash with MPA officers who visited the jetty last Friday and gave the craft owners a seven-day extension to clear out.

MPA and SLA said that individuals cannot simply lay claim to state land for their private use.

SLA added: 'In this case, we had not taken immediate action as the owners use them for their livelihood. We have been in discussion with MPA and the Police Coast Guard to find alternative arrangements for the owners.'

Illegal jetties around for years
Three of the owners told to attend meeting with authorities today
Jose Hong Straits Times 28 Mar 12;

OFF the eastern corner of the Lower Seletar Reservoir Dam lies a sleepy mangrove patch.

Several wooden jetties and structures extend from the mangroves into the sea. Each of them has a different owner, and some have been run by the same families for years. It turns out they are all illegal.

According to a joint statement by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) and the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), the jetties and structures on stilts are unauthorised, and must be removed in due course.

No one is allowed to claim state land for their private use, the statement said. State land is held by the Government on behalf of citizens. Proceeds from the sale of state land go to the national coffers.

The latest move comes soon after the SLA ordered a group of residents to cease their farming activities on state land in Clementi earlier this month.

A spokesman for the MPA elaborated, saying that part of the Seletar coastal area has been approved for use as mooring bases for boats since 1993.

However, 'it recently came to the attention of the authorities that unauthorised platforms and floating structures have been built in that area, in addition to the authorised mooring bases'.

As they pose a safety hazard, the MPA has been engaging with the jetty operators since early March to remove these unauthorised structures.

But those who run the jetties have a different view. According to Mr Kelanasari Eeban - who runs Jenal Jetty with an aunt - the jetties exist because of a prior verbal arrangement with the MPA.

Jenal Jetty has been operated by Mr Kelanasari's family for the past 15 years, although it has been in its current location for only seven years.

Mr Kelanasari, 42, said the jetties provide a mooring place for the boaters who use them, especially when the tide recedes. The users include fishermen and those who own small boats for leisure.

A huge expanse of the shore is exposed at the tide's lowest point, and without the jetties, the boat owners would have to trudge a long distance in the mud to reach land, he said.

Referring to the MPA, Mr Kelanasari stated: 'They know we need the jetty... That's why they have never done anything until now.'

He said that two weeks ago, the owners of three of the jetties were approached by the MPA and were told to attend a meeting with its officers, the SLA and the Police Coast Guard. The meeting will take place today.

Other jetty operators have different concerns.

Standing farthest from the entrance to the area is a jetty run by fishermen. It was built a year ago, after they had a serious disagreement with the operator of another jetty.

They decided to build their own jetty - but none of them informed the authorities. When asked why, their appointed spokesman, Mr Aron Christopher, 52, admitted they were taking a 'gamble'.

He said they knew they would have been rejected if they had approached either the SLA or the MPA beforehand, so they decided to build a jetty and wait for the authorities to approach them.

'We know it is an offence, but we have no place to go. We are uneducated and are all old men,' he said. 'Our life is a sea life, and we have families to support.'

In a good month, he estimated, such independent fishermen might earn $1,000 from selling their catch.

The fishermen were originally served a letter from the MPA ordering them to remove the jetties and their floating storage structures by March 23. Although the letter was dated March 14, they received it only on March 20, they said.

But last Friday they were visited by MPA officers who, upon gathering information and listening to their situation, gave them a seven-day extension.

In this period Mr Aron will write a letter listing the fishermen using the jetty. He hopes to present it to Member of Parliament Lee Bee Wah.

He said he is feeling more positive, after receiving the extension to the deadline, but 'all we can do is wait for the results'.


'They know we need the jetty... That's why they have never done anything until now.'

Mr Kelanasari Eeban, who runs Jenal Jetty with an aunt. According to him, the jetties - which are near the Seletar Aerospace hub - exist because of a prior verbal arrangement with the MPA. Jenal Jetty has been operated by Mr Kelanasari's family for the past 15 years, although it has been in its current location for only seven years.

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Australia: Dingoes, devils may be angels in disguise

Carolyn Herbert ABC News 27 Mar 12;

Reintroducing predators such as dingoes and tasmanian devils into landscapes may help protect Australia's diminishing biodiversity, researchers say.

A new paper to be published in the May edition of Trends in Ecology and Evolution suggests dingoes and tasmanian devils could control invasive species, such as cats and foxes, as well as overabundant herbivores.

"We need to be quite bold and allow predators back into the landscape and see if they can reverse some of the damage we've done," said Dr Euan Ritchie, ecologist at Deakin University in Melbourne and lead author of the paper.

Since European settlement, humans have drastically altered the Australian environment, resulting in one of the highest rates of species loss in the world.

Cats and foxes have wreaked havoc on small wildlife species, while larger natives, such as kangaroos, have multiplied.

Dr Ritchie says the traditional approach to conservation is to manage species in isolation instead of considering the whole ecosystem.

"We are constantly trying to poison foxes to reduce their populations and we are constantly culling kangaroos to keep their numbers low. But the reason why these species are problematic is that there is nothing controlling them," he said.

"In a true wild system, larger predators would control both of these species."
Australia's top dog

Top predators are animals at the apex of the food chain with no natural enemies. They play an important role in nature by keeping populations of other species in check.

Australia currently has one top predator - the dingo.

Dr Ritchie says scientists believe expanding the range of the dingo and the tasmanian devil would reduce the number of introduced pest species, therefore allowing smaller native animals to flourish.

"Where dingo populations are still surviving is where we see a lot of threatened species still managing to survive in the wild, and that's probably because dingoes are controlling cats and foxes," he said.

Although farmers fear bringing back dingoes may harm livestock, scientists argue there are viable solutions.

Guardian animals, such as dogs, alpacas and even donkeys could offer protection against livestock predation.

Dr Ritchie says long-term studies are needed to monitor the effects of top predators in varying habitats.

However, he believes that if properly managed, more dingoes and tasmanian devils in the landscape would help save species and restore a natural balance to our ecosystems.

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New Zealand dolphin survival boosted by Marine Protected Area

Ella Davies Reporter BBC Nature 27 Mar 12;

Hector's dolphins living off the coast of Christchurch, New Zealand have benefitted from the area's special designation, say scientists.

Researchers studied the animals, one of the world's most endangered species of dolphin, for 21 years.

Their results show that the survival rate of the dolphins has increased by 5.4% since the Marine Protection Area (MPA) was declared.

The findings are published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

"This is the first evidence that Marine Protected Areas can be effective for marine mammals. We found a significant improvement in the survival rate," said Dr Liz Slooten from the University of Otago who undertook the research.

In 1988 the Banks Peninsula Marine Mammal Sanctuary was established in the hope that resident dolphins would be protected from fatalities associated with the gillnet and trawling activities of the fishing industry.

A team of ecologists conducted regular photo identification of the dolphins for 21 years, starting two years before the area was officially protected.

"We can identify individual dolphins from their battle scars - which range from small nicks out of the dorsal fin to major scarring following shark attacks," explained Dr Slooten.

The researchers used the photographs to create a population model; with this they were able to analyse how the animals had fared over two decades.

"Estimating population changes in marine mammals is challenging, often requiring many years of research to produce data accurate enough to detect these kinds of biological changes," said Dr Slooten.

"It seems to take a long time for a dolphin population to respond to protection, and therefore a long-term study to detect [any] improvement."
'Not safe yet'

The teams models suggested that the dolphins' survival rate had increased by 5.4% - a positive result but not what the team had expected.

"At first, we were surprised that the survival rates had not increased further," said Dr Slooten, "Once the Banks Peninsula area was protected, we had expected the problem to be solved and the population to be healthy and recovering."

The team found that the dolphins did not spend the whole year in the protected area, which reached four nautical miles offshore.

In the winter, more than half the dolphins were found up to 16 nautical miles outside of the MPA.

"The dolphins don't care how far offshore they are, their distribution relates to water depth," Dr Slooten explained.

The New Zealand government is now considering whether to extend MPAs where Hector's dolphins are found.

"The good news is that the situation has improved. The population was doing a nose-dive, declining at 6% per year, and now it's only declining slowly [at] about 1% per year," said Dr Slooten.

"The bad news is that the protected area is still too small. It would need to be extended further offshore to allow the population to stop declining and better still to grow and recover towards its original population size."

"The MPA hasn't quite yet 'saved' the dolphins but it's been a major step in the right direction."

Size Matters: Large Marine Protected Areas Work for Dolphins
ScienceDaily 27 Mar 12;

Ecologists in New Zealand have shown for the first time that Marine Protected Areas -- long advocated as a way of protecting threatened marine mammals -- actually work. Their study, based on 21 years' monitoring and published March 27 in the British Ecological Society's Journal of Applied Ecology, reveals that a marine sanctuary off the coast of Christchurch has significantly improved survival of Hector's dolphins -- one of the rarest dolphins in the world.

Covering 1170 km2 of sea off New Zealand's South Island, Banks Peninsula Marine Mammal Sanctuary was designated in 1988 to prevent the dolphins being killed by gillnet and trawl fisheries.

Over 21 years between 1986 and 2006, researchers conducted regular photo-identification surveys of Hector's dolphins, photographically capturing 462 reliably-marked individuals, whose survival they studied.

According to one of the team, Dr Liz Slooten of the University of Otago: "We can identify individual dolphins from their battle scars -- which range from small nicks out of the dorsal fin to major scarring following shark attacks."

The team analysed the photographic re-sightings using a so-called Bayesian mark-recapture technique and then used a population model to assess the impact of the Marine Protected Area (MPA) on Hector's dolphins.

The results showed that since the MPA was designated, the dolphin's survival has increased by 5.4%. According to Dr Slooten: "This study provides the first empirical evidence that Marine Protected Areas are effective in protecting threatened marine mammals."

But she warns that while survival has improved significantly, it is not yet high enough to prevent the population from continuing to decline.

MPAs, in which certain fishing methods are banned or restricted, are often used to help conserve marine mammals. Until now, there has been little if any empirical evidence of their effectiveness, so measuring their impact is crucial to justify setting up MPAs.

As well as providing the first hard evidence that MPAs work, the study illustrates the importance of long-term ecological monitoring, as Dr Slooten explains: "Estimating population changes in marine mammals is challenging, often requiring many years of research to produce data accurate enough to detect these kinds of biological changes."

The study also shows that to be effective, MPAs need to be sufficiently large. "The take home message is that size matters. Marine Protected Areas work, but they have to be large enough in order to be effective," she concludes.

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Newly Discovered Hammerhead Shark's 'Twin' Sparks Concern Yahoo News 27 Mar 12;

Scientists recently confirmed that endangered scalloped hammerhead sharks have a fishy twin — a newfound species, still unnamed, that is distinct, yet very closely resembles the threatened sharks.

The case of mistaken identity indicates that scalloped hammerhead sharks are even more scarce than once thought, according to some researchers.

Since it's very hard to tell the two species apart — only differences in their DNA and number of vertebrae reveal their true identities — it's likely that previous assessments of scalloped hammerhead sharks exaggerated their numbers because the counts likely included the look-alike sharks.

"It's a classic case of long-standing species misidentification that not only casts further uncertainty on the status of the real scalloped hammerhead, but also raises concerns about the population status of this new species," Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center professor Mahmood Shivji said in a statement.

Shivji's team at the Florida university first discovered the new hammerhead species in 2005 when examining the DNA of sharks thought to be scalloped hammerheads based on their physical appearance. A research team from the University of South Carolina independently confirmed the existence of the new species in 2006.

Combined genetic assessments from both institutions show that at least 7 percent of the sharks in U.S. waters originally thought to be scalloped hammerheads turned out to be the newly identified species.

Now, researchers have found the unnamed shark, a so-called "cryptic" species, swimming in waters off the coast of Brazil, thousands of miles from where the species was initially discovered. The find indicates the cryptic species is widespread, and may be facing similar pressure as its nearly identical cousin.

Shark populations around the world have declined precipitously in recent decades, with millions of the iconic fish falling victim to the grisly practice of finning.

Shark fins fetch a high price in China, where they are used for shark fin soup.

Shark finning is largely banned in the United States, and many individual states have banned the trade and possession of shark fins. However, evidence from around the world indicates that finning continues to claim millions of shark lives each year.

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Great Barrier Reef suffering from Australia's decision to allow pesticides

WWF says Australian government's lifting of three-month moratorium on diuron could spell disaster for 1,600-mile reef
Alison Rourke 27 Mar 12;

Australia's Great Barrier Reef will suffer damage as a result of a decision to allow farmers in far north Queensland to resume using a pesticide, according to environmental groups.

The World Wildlife Fund says a decision by the Australian government to lift a three-month moratorium on the use of the pesticide, diuron, on tropical crops like bananas, pawpaw, pineapples and sugar cane is a "disaster" for the reef.

"We are very disappointed at this institutional failure," said Nick Heath, WWF's spokesman on pesticides.

WWF says diuron has been detected in the reef hundreds of kilometres from its point of application. Nearly a third of the reef has been exposed to pesticides.

"Diuron accounts for 80% of the pesticide load in the reef and is persistent and toxic," said Heath, adding that it damages sea grasses, which dugongs and sea turtles feed on.

In December a three-month ban on diuron came into force. It covered the wet season when soil run-off is at its greatest. From this weekend, farmers can resume spraying, with some restrictions still in place – spraying is not allowed if 50mm of rain is expected within three days of application or if the land has a slope greater than 3%.

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, which regulates the use of pesticides, says more analysis is needed before any long term decision on diuron's future use is made.

"Yes, diuron is toxic on the grasses and yes it will kill the aquatic organisms, but we need to ask whether there is a risk of it getting from the (farming) properties to those areas (on the reef)," said the APVMA's public affairs manager, Susan Whitbread.

She says her department is analysing further data and stringent controls are still in place.

"Yes there's an environmental concern, but what we have to do is quantify it and look at whether those risks are capable of being managed before we come to a final decision," she said.

The sugarcane industry, which is worth about A$2bn (£1.3bn) annually in Queensland alone and is the state's second biggest agricultural commodity, after beef, has welcomed the APVMA's decision to allow spraying to resume.

"Diuron is a critical and cost effective tool for the sugar cane growing industry," said Steve Greenwood, CEO of Canegrowers, the peak body for sugarcane farmers.

"If diuron was banned, it's very likely a lot of the cane farmers would have to revert to old practices like burning to control weeds, which would have a significant environmental impact," he added.

The acrimony over pesticide use comes just weeks after a UN environmental team visited the reef amid fears its world heritage listing could be placed in jeopardy after a rapid rise in coal exports from the area.

Queensland's resources boom has led to an expanding number of developments along the state's coast where the 1,600-mile reef stretches.

Heath added that a combination of this development, climate change and pesticide pollution will cause the reef to die a death of a thousand cuts.

"Most people dream about going to see the Great Barrier Reef. If we don't start turning this around there won't be a reef in the future."

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Population adds to planet's pressure cooker, but few options

Richard Ingham AFP Yahoo News 27 Mar 12;

The world's surging population is a big driver of environmental woes but the issue is complex and solutions are few, experts at a major conference here say.

Answers lie with educating women in poorer countries and widening access to contraception but also with reforming consumption patterns in rich economies, they say.

The four-day meeting on Earth's health, Planet Under Pressure, is unfolding ahead of the Rio+20 Summit in June.

Scientists taking part have pinpointed population growth as a major if indirect contributor to global warming, depletion of resources, pollution and species loss.

But they also mark it as an issue that has disappeared almost completely off political radar screens.

This is partly because of religious sensitivities but also because of traumatic memories of coercive fertility controls in poorer countries in the 1970s that no-one wants to repeat.

Diana Liverman, a professor at the University of Arizona, said the link between population growth and environmental damage arose in the mid-20th century.

"The 50 years from 1950 to 2000 were a period of dramatic and unprecedented change in human history," she said.

During that time, the planet's human tally doubled from three billion to six billion. It now stands at seven billion, and by some estimates could reach around nine billion by 2050.

The good news is that the fertility rate -- the number of children a women is likely to have -- has halved from five to 2.5 since 1950 and will fall below the replacement rate of 2.1 around 2025, Liverman said.

"It means that there is a strong probability that population growth will level off around nine billion and may in fact fall thereafter," said Liverman.

Others caution that raw statistics mask many complexities.

"The world's carrying capacity isn't a single headline figure but depends on lifestyle, technology, and so forth," said Lord Martin Rees of the Royal Society, whose report on demography and the environment will be issued next month.

The population is stabilising or falling in rich countries.

But these economies remain -- in per capita terms -- by far the biggest sources of environmental damage, with for instance greenhouse gas emissions per head that are double or quadruple those in a developing country.

The big population growth will happen in developing countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

These countries bear least responsibility for climate change but will be hit worst by it, because they lack money and skills to adapt. Thus the higher their population, the more of their people who will be hit by drought, storms, rising seas and floods.

Strategies for working on the demographic drivers of environmental damage are essentially two-pronged, said specialists.

One is to change consumption patterns, so that the rich countries -- and the emerging giants rushing to catch up with them -- use energy and resources more sustainably.

The other is to protect women's rights, education for women and their access to jobs and contraception.

"If you have economic development and you educate women, and women get labour market opportunities, they tend not only to reduce the number of children but crucially to delay when they start having children," said Sarah Harper, director of the Institute of Population Ageing at the University of Oxford.

"And if you delay the start of having children, you tend to have smaller families."

Such changes can have a "surprisingly fast" effect on reducing birthrates, said Stephen Tyler, who works with group called the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN). He gave the fast-shrinking families in India as an example.

On Sunday, a group of scientists and policymakers that have won the Blue Planet Prize, a top environmental award, made a pre-conference appeal to intensify green action.

Looking at demography, they said more than 200 million women in developing countries still have unmet needs for family planning.

But funding for access to contraception fell by 30 percent between 1995 and 2008, "not least as a result of legislative pressure from the religious right in the USA and elsewhere," they said.

Cities on front line of climate change
Richard Ingham AFP Yahoo News 27 Mar 12;

The world's cities face the brunt of climate change but some are starting to respond vigorously to the threat, experts say at a conference here staged ahead of the June Rio summit.

More than half of the world's population of seven billion currently lives in cities and by 2050, this is expected to increase to 70 percent, or around 6.4 billion, according to UN figures.

More than 60 percent of the increase will occur in Asian cities -- and nearly half of the growth will happen in cities that currently have 500,000 inhabitants or fewer.

It means that cities will face unparalleled challenges when climate change starts to bite, scientists said Monday at a meeting on the world's environment ahead of the June 20-22 summit.

"Cities are emerging as first responders. They are on the frontline, both in the cause and effect of climate change," said Cynthia Rosenzweig, who heads the Climate Impacts Group at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

The hazards facing cities are many.

By 2100, or sooner, heatwaves, droughts, storms and floods are expected to become more frequent and last longer. Cities built on deltas or on the coast will face rising seas, which threaten homes and drinking water.

That raises mighty questions about water supplies, drainage and flood defences and the resilience of homes, offices, factories and transport systems.

In 2003, one of the hottest summers on record killed around 35,000 people in Europe. Some climate scientists predict that by the 2040s, more than half of the continent's summers will be warmer than that of 2003.

Alex de Sherbinin of the Earth Institute at New York's Columbia University pointed to a dangerous phenomenon called the urban heat island.

Cities can hold pockets of heat that are up to four to six degrees Celsius (7.2-10.8 degrees Fahrenheit) greater than in the surrounding countryside.

The warmth comes from the reflected radiation from treeless streets sealed in heat-trapping black tarmac; from buildings in "street canyons" which block cooling breezes; and from heat discharged by air conditioning ducts.

Those most at risk are the elderly, battling heat stress and air pollution, and the poor, who cannot afford to cool their homes or or move elsewhere, he said.

All cities will be challenged by shifting climate, but some will be more exposed or cope better than others, said Stephen Tyler, working with a group called the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN).

He sounded the alarm for cities that are middle-sized today but will soon face a double whammy -- heavy migration that can lead to slums, and the impact of climate change.

"The middle cities are often ignored by governments, yet they are also the primary target for poor people who leave the countryside and aim for the nearest urban centre," said Tyler.

"But in terms of coping, it's not the city's size which counts, but its ability to provide the services, the infrastructure."

Far from being sitting ducks, many cities are working to shore up their climate defences and ease their greenhouse-gases, said Rosenzweig. Around 70 percent of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions can be attributed to city needs.

Initiatives include painting roofs white to reflect sunlight, having porous pavements that allow rainwater to replenish the aquifer, planting trees and parks to alleviate heat islands and regulating traffic pollution, which has benefits for health and carbon mitigation.

Hospitals and neighbourhood groups are also asked to watch out for old people who may be struggling in a heatwave. Cities that are set to expand can plan their zoning laws, urban density, energy use and traffic system accordingly, which saves having to expensively fix things afterwards.

Rosenzweig, who co-authored a report by a group called the Urban Climate Change Research Network into how global warming will hit urban dwellers, said local governments had powers and the ability to act.

Municipalities are moving into the vacuum left by the UN or national governments, whose work on climate change has marked time since the ill-fated 2009 Copenhagen Summit, she explained.

In 2005, the so-called C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group was set up, and this was followed five years later by the World Mayors Council on Climate Change. It has 60 cities on its roster, swapping ideas and networking.

"City leaders are practical and responsive," she said. "They are there day after day, and they have experience in climate-related disasters."

2C warming target 'out of reach' - ex UN climate chief
Richard Ingham AFP Yahoo News 27 Mar 12;

The UN's former climate chief on Tuesday said the global warming pledge he helped set at the Copenhagen Summit little more than two years ago was already unattainable.

"I think two degrees is out of reach," Yvo de Boer, former executive secretary of the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said on the sidelines of a conference here on June's Rio+20 summit.

The UNFCCC's 195 parties have pledged to limit the rise in global average temperatures to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

The target was set by a core group of countries in the final stormy hours at the Copenhagen Summit in December 2009 and became enshrined by the forum at Cancun, Mexico a year later.

But more and more scientists are warning that the objective is slipping away without radical, early cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions. Some consider the goal to be a dangerous political mirage, for Earth is now on track for 3C (5.4 F) of warming or more.

"The two degrees is lost but that doesn't mean for me we should forget about it," de Boer said in the interview with AFP.

"It is a very significant target, it's not just a target that was plucked out of the air, it refers to trying to limit a number of impacts."

He added: "You shouldn't forget about it, in the sense that you are ignoring the fact that you've gone through the trouble of formulating a goal and then not met it because of lack of policy action.

"The process therefore should be all about how can we get as close to 2C as possible, not to say 'start all over again and formulate a new goal,' having forgotten that we've been through this very recently."

Copenhagen marked a high-water line in the global climate forum.

Its disappointments, together with the financial and fiscal crunch that have hit western countries, have made many advanced economies mark time or even retrench their action against carbon emissions.

And the high price of oil and gas has prompted emerging economies to power their growth with coal, the dirtiest of the major fossil fuels, driving up atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide (CO2).

At the UNFCCC's annual get-together in Durban, South Africa last year, countries agreed to wrap up a new climate agreement in 2015 that would take effect in 2020, placing rich and poor for the first time under common legal constraints.

De Boer said he hoped the Fifth Assessment Report by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), due in 2014, would spur momentum for the 2015 deadline.

The four-day London conference, Planet Under Pressure, aims at delivering a snapshot of the world's environment before the June 20-22 20-year followup to the Rio Earth Summit.

On Sunday, 20 winners of the Blue Planet Prize, one of the world's most prestigious green awards, said there was only a "50-50" chance of limiting warming to 3 C (5.4 F).

There were "serious risks" of a 5 C (9.0 F) rise, a temperature last seen on the planet 30 million years ago.

"We have to be honest with each other that we will not reach the two degrees target," former IPCC head Bob Watson, now a scientific advisor to the British government, said on behalf of the laureates.

The UNFCCC's 2 C target has been widely criticised as inadequate, given that it fails to identify a date for achieving this goal or the stepping stones towards it.

The UNFCCC -- officially at least -- even holds to the possibility of limiting warming to 1.5 C (2.7 F), which is the demand of the world's poorest economies and small-island states.

They have most to lose from drought, floods, storms and rising seas driven by climate change.

The 2 C goal will be subject to a review in 2015, to see whether it should be brought down to 1.5 C.

Sprawling Cities Pressure Environment, Planning
Nina Chestney PlanetArk 28 Mar 12;

Expanding cities threaten to eat up a swath of land the size of France, Germany and Spain combined in less than 20 years, putting the world under even more environmental pressure, experts said at a climate conference on Tuesday.

Cities are growing to accommodate a rising global population and as countries like China, India and Brazil pursue fast economic growth.

The world's cities are currently on track to occupy an extra 1.5 million square kilometers by 2030 - equivalent to France, Germany and Spain combined - spelling growing greenhouse gas emissions and resource demand, experts said at the "Planet Under Pressure" conference in London.

"The way cities have grown since World War II is neither socially or environmentally sustainable and the environmental cost of ongoing urban sprawl is too great to continue," said Karen Seto, associate professor of the urban environment at Yale University.

"The North American suburb has gone global, and car-dependent urban developments are more and more the norm."

The United Nations sees global population rising to 9 billion people by 2050 from 7 billion now, adding around a million people each week.

Most of the growth is expected to come in urban centers with migration from rural areas potentially adding another 1 billion people to cities. That would increase the total urban population to 6.3 billion people by 2050 from around 3.5 billion today.


Over 70 percent of current carbon dioxide emissions already come from cities. Urban emissions are forecast to grow to 36.5 billion metric tonnes by 2030 if no action is taken, from 25 billion in 2010 and 15 billion in 1990.

Urbanization cannot be stopped, but climate experts argue there is plenty of scope for improving the way cities are planned, developed and run.

"Everything being brought into the city from outside - food, water, products and energy, need to be sourced sustainably. We need to rethink the resource flow to cities," said Sybil Seitzinger, executive director of the international geosphere-biosphere program at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

New cities offer an opportunity to rethink urban planning while established ones can become more efficient through technology such as time-adjusted toll systems to cut traffic congestion, said Shobhakar Dhakal, executive director of the Tokyo-based Global Carbon Project.

Congestion wastes fuel, time and causes pollution.

It costs world economies an estimated 1 to 3 percent of gross domestic product and costs New York alone around $4 billion a year in lost productivity, experts said.

Utility meters and sensors that monitor power generation network capacity and electricity supply and demand can also help conserve energy.

Urban planners can also target more efficient land use, better building standards and policies to promote public transport over car use.

Some cities have made efforts to improve their green credentials, such as Iceland's capital Reykjavik, which depends on geothermal energy and hydro electricity for its energy needs.

Vancouver in Canada sources 90 percent of its energy from renewable sources like wind, solar and tidal energy and has developed a 100-year sustainability plan.

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