Best of our wild blogs: 29 Mar 12

Dive excursion to Raffles Lighthouse with MOS Tan Chuan-Jin
from Psychedelic Nature

Paddyfield Pipit enjoying a dust-bath
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Bukit Brown: Consider the impact on biodiversty, says Nature Society

Straits Times Forum 29 Mar 12;

WE WISH to highlight a few points about the adverse impact on the biodiversity of the area where the Land Transport Authority (LTA) will be building a bridge as part of a road through the Bukit Brown Cemetery ('Bridge will help, say some experts'; last Friday).

The area is very rich in birdlife with 94 species recorded so far, including 15 of the 56 nationally threatened bird species listed in The Singapore Red Data Book (2008), making it a highly important wildlife habitat.

It also serves as a very important foraging ground and habitat for forest birdlife coming over from the Central Catchment Forest across Lornie Road.

The recent sighting here of a large flying fox, a bat species regarded as extinct in Singapore, promises ample opportunities for other equally exciting discoveries.

An environmental impact assessment for the whole area, and not only the transect zone, should be conducted.

The results and conclusions should be made public for comments and feedback.

The planned dual four-lane carriageway diagonally cuts across the only expansive and beautiful valley in the area. Most of the valley will be covered over by the proposed 670m-long bridge.

The thick woodland on both sides will be severely damaged if not completely wiped out. Creating a gap in the middle for sunlight to get through will cause wider destruction.

The woodland on both sides has a concentration of forest species, some endangered, such as the red-eyed bulbul and grey-headed fish eagle.

The damage or destruction of the woodland will adversely affect Bukit Brown as a foraging ground or extended habitat for the forest species.

The expressway, even with the bridge, will not be serving any residential area in the near future.

So, it is critical for the Government to justify to the public the need for this expressway and to clarify the rationale behind such a short timeline.

Dr Ho Hua Chew
Executive council member and vice-chairman
Conservation Committee
Nature Society (Singapore)

Bridge at Bukit Brown will help, say some experts
It will minimise disruption of ecosystem but more thought must be put into its design
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 29 Mar 12;

Some environment experts here believe a bridge that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) will be building as part of a road through the 200ha Bukit Brown Cemetery will help minimise disruption to the flora and fauna.

Preserving the environment would be better but since the LTA is going ahead with the road plan, more thought needs to be put into the design of this bridge.

Earlier this week, the LTA announced that a third of the planned road across the cemetery would be a bridge, to allow animals to pass under the road and preserve streams in the area. A 670m stretch of the road will climb up to 10m above ground.

Among the animals believed to be found in Bukit Brown are the sunda pangolin and monitor lizard.

The change comes after months of protests by civic groups, which have called for the whole area to be preserved for its heritage and biodiversity.

They argued that a road would disrupt animal migration patterns and vegetation in the area. After the Bukit Timah Expressway was built in 1986, slicing a vast wilderness tract in half, animals died trying to cross the road to search for food and mates. As animals have a role in pollinating plants and dispersing seeds, plant variety in the forest was also reduced.

The groups have called for a moratorium on all plans until discussions on possible alternatives have been exhausted.

Professor Peter Ng, 52, who co-edited the first encyclopaedia on Singapore's biodiversity, published last year, said that while traffic noise from the bridge may scare some animals away, others would adapt to the new situation.

Assistant Professor David Bickford, 43, from the Department of Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore, added that in any case, many animals travel at dawn and dusk and in the night, when there is less traffic on the bridge.

But more information on the exact species in the area needs to be gathered first, they said, in order to understand the impact of the bridge on them.

The LTA had conducted a study on the road's environmental impact but declined to share the details of its report.

The Nature Society (Singapore) estimates that at least 91 bird species live in or frequent the area, including 14 species that are threatened.

'We need more data on the vegetation and other fauna such as mammals, reptiles and amphibians in the area,' said Dr Ho Hua Chew, the Nature Society's conservation committee vice-chairman.

But the bridge could cause other environmental problems in the area, said Dr Ho. The eight-lane bridge will cast a wide shadow, killing plants underneath, he said. 'The stretch will be bare and ugly over time, wiping out most of the species that are adapted to grassy or shrubby habitats,' he added.

Prof Bickford said if the linkway becomes barren, animals may not use it.

This could have further impact on the vegetation in the area. 'Some plants require animals to carry their seed,' said Dr Edward Webb at the NUS Department of Biological Sciences who specialises in plant ecology.

The experts suggested several measures to make sure the bridge serves its green purpose.

Thick vegetation on both sides of the bridge would insulate animals from the traffic noise and make the passageway more attractive to them, said Prof Ng, who is also with the NUS Department of Biological Sciences.

Prof Bickford suggested breaking up the expressway into two four-lane roads and making sure there is a sizeable gap between them.

'Let the gap be big enough to have substantial sunlight passing through. The light will hit different parts of the ground during the day and reduce the area that is in shadow all the time,' he said.

This would give vegetation a fighting chance and therefore make the linkway more attractive to animals, he explained.

The LTA said the road would have a gap but the exact blueprint has not been determined.

Cheaper way to solve congestion in Adam, Lornie roads
Straits Times Forum 29 Mar 12;

MANY questions have been raised about the road planned through Bukit Brown Cemetery ('Green path for new Bukit Brown road'; March 20).

But the most important one has not been asked: Is there a lower-cost solution to the traffic congestion along Adam and Lornie roads?

Unless the objective is to boost gross domestic product through increased spending, putting aside heritage and land-use issues, I fail to see the logic of building a new dual four-lane carriageway, and then reducing a wide, existing road to two lanes.

Would it not be better to widen the existing road only where necessary, and then allow Bukit Brown itself to become a park?

I used to travel frequently along that stretch and agree that the morning congestion in the direction of Farrer Road can be serious. The return journey was not as bad, except for one choke-point caused by the traffic light at Sime Road.

There are ways to solve these problems on the cheap. An additional lane can be added to Adam and Lornie roads in the direction of Farrer Road. The traffic light-controlled U-turn just after the MediaCorp headquarters should be removed.

If it is found that a significant number of drivers intend to get onto the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) towards Changi, one of the existing service roads inside Bukit Brown itself can be upgraded to siphon off such traffic.

In the opposite direction, the traffic light at Sime Road causes major congestion in the evenings as traffic entering from the PIE stops there, causing traffic coming from Farrer Road to build up.

My evening drive home was clear once I passed that point.

This traffic light, which is only for the convenience of Singapore Island Country Club members, should be eliminated.

For golfers wishing to go in the direction of Bukit Timah, an old road through the nature reserve, currently in disrepair, can be upgraded to allow them to exit onto the PIE.

Rather than aspiring to grand solutions, those who control the public purse should seek out what gives Singaporeans the best value for money.

Lee Chiu San

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Near real-time water monitoring of Singapore waters planned

Feng Zengkun Straits Times 29 Mar 12;

A NETWORK of eight water-monitoring buoys could soon be installed in Singapore waters for near real-time alerts to changes in water quality.

These changes can be brought about by, for example, oil spills, algae blooms or even heavy rain, which alter the composition of sea water and can harm fish and other sea life.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) is now evaluating bids for such a system; if awarded, the contractor has seven months to deliver it.

The unmanned buoys will be capable of relaying information on water quality to the NEA.

They will also collect weather data, such as that for humidity, rainfall and solar radiation.

The data will be shared with government agencies overseeing facilities that use coastal water, such as desalination plants.

According to documents obtained by The Straits Times, the buoys are likely to be located near Lim Chu Kang, Tuas, Serangoon, Seletar, East Coast, the Cyrene Reef in Pasir Panjang and offshore islands Pulau Tekong and Pulau Semakau.

At present, the NEA collects water samples manually every month and analyses them; it also monitors coastal recreational beaches weekly, to ensure their waters pass World Health Organisation guidelines.

An NEA spokesman said the new system will complement the existing measures, not replace them.

'It will help... by providing near real-time water quality data at the eight locations in our coastal waters,' she said.

Fish-farm owners say they hope that the NEA will share the information with them. At the moment, these farm owners tip one another off to changes in the water that can kill their fish, which are usually kept in nets in pens suspended in open sea.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority also shares any alerts it receives from them with other farmers.

Ms Maureen Ng, a Punggol fish-farm owner in her 60s, said: 'Any measure that can help us is welcome. Sometimes, even the rain can cause havoc to our fish by changing the water's salinity.'

The vagaries of the weather aside, Singapore straddles a busy shipping route, on which accidents have been known to happen.

About a third of the world's trade and half the world's oil pass through the Malacca Strait and the Singapore Strait.

In 2010, a collision between an oil tanker and a bulk carrier in the Singapore Strait spilt about 2,500 tonnes of crude oil into the sea.

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ACRES & Lao Zoo set up Vientiane centre to curb illegal wildlife trade

Channel NewsAsia 28 Mar 12;

SINGAPORE: Singapore animal welfare group ACRES and Lao Zoo have set up the first Wildlife Rescue and Education Centre in Vientiane, Laos.

ACRES, which stands for Animal Concerns Research and Education Society, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the ACRES Wildlife Rescue and Education Centre (AWREC) in Laos on Wednesday.

Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law, Mr K Shanmugam and Laos Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Dr Thongloun Sisoulith were present at the ceremony.

"I am delighted to have witnessed the MOU signing between the Lao Zoo and Singaporean charity ACRES," said Mr Shanmugam. "The Bear and Wildlife Protection Programme under the MOU is a timely initiative. Wildlife and environmental conservation is an increasingly important issue, so the joint effort is very encouraging."

Under the agreement, the five-hectare AWREC will provide sanctuary to animals rescued from the illegal wildlife trade, with a focus on rescuing bears.

ACRES said AWREC will also serve as an educational facility to create awareness on the wildlife trade, environmental protection and a host of animal protection issues.

It will have exhibits on a animal protection issues and conduct educational talks, skits and performances to create awareness and inspire the community to make a difference.

ACRES will also provide technical assistance to operate and manage the Lao Zoo and improve the welfare of animals in the zoo.

A Wildlife Crime and Rescue Hotline will be set up to help combat the illegal wildlife trade by allowing those who know of anyone who buys, owns or trades in protected species to report the matter.

ACRES and the Lao Zoo will work closely with the Wildlife Conservation Division of the Department of Forestry Conservation of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment for all project activities.

Executive Director of ACRES, Mr Louis Ng, said he's confident that the partnership will strengthen ties between Singapore and Laos and help curb the illegal wildlife trade.

He said ACRES will be hiring at least 24 Laotian members of staff to work with its Singapore team.

ACRES said Laos boasts one of the least disturbed ecosystems in Asia.

However, this biodiversity is under threat, as Laos is emerging as a source country in Asia's illicit wildlife trade.

ACRES said this trade is taking a heavy toll on its wildlife.

It said if left unchecked, current trends in the illegal trade will result in biodiversity and economic loss.

Acres lends a hand to create sanctuary for rescued bears
Nirmal Ghosh Straits Times 29 Mar 12;

BANGKOK: A wildlife refuge for bears rescued from painful captivity where their bile is extracted will soon open in Vientiane. It will be able to house up to 200 bears in spacious forested enclosures.

The Acres Wildlife Rescue and Education Centre (Awrec) is a partnership of three groups - Singapore's Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres), a Thai wildlife organisation called Love Wildlife Foundation, and the privately run Lao Zoo.

This is the first time a Singaporean animal welfare organisation has gone international.

Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam, on an official visit to Laos, yesterday witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding on the new centre. He was joined by Dr Thongloun Sisoulith, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Laos.

'Wildlife and environmental conservation is an increasingly important issue, so the joint effort is very encouraging,' Mr Shanmugam told The Straits Times by phone. 'This (animal welfare) is everybody's business and I welcome NGOs and citizens playing a role.'

He added that those working on these issues outside Singapore should do so within the context of local laws and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

Keeping bears in captivity and extracting bile from their gall bladders is a common practice across mainland South-east Asia and China. The bile is in demand in China for its alleged medicinal properties.

But the bears live for most of their lives in cages in which they can hardly move, and the daily bile extraction is carried out via catheter and is extremely painful.

Wildlife and animal rights groups have long campaigned against the practice, with some success in China, where a recent public outcry stalled the initial public offering of a firm that made pharmaceutical products using bear bile.

There are an estimated 200 bears in bile farms in Laos - although no exact figures are available. 'Some are legal and some are not,' Acres executive director Louis Ng said.

The 5ha Awrec site is adjacent to the Lao Zoo, which owns the land. It will be developed into forested enclosures and be operational hopefully in six months' time, he said.

The new centre will also take in other rescued wildlife, and plans to work with field biologists and other NGOs on reintroducing some species to the jungles of Laos - a country with rich biodiversity under threat from illegal logging and extraction of wildlife.

Acres will also provide technical assistance in terms of improving enclosures and medical care at the Lao Zoo. The Love Wildlife Foundation in turn will focus on developing educational programmes. A new wildlife crime and rescue hotline will also be set up to help combat the illegal wildlife trade.

Mr Shanmugam, who is on a two-day visit to Laos, has met Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong to discuss ways to further bilateral cooperation.

Both men also exchanged views on issues such as the importance of Asean achieving its community-building targets, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said yesterday.

Dr Thongloun, in his meeting with Mr Shanmugam, spoke about Laos' development priorities, and expressed appreciation for Singapore's help in its capacity-building efforts, particularly in the field of human resource development, said the MFA statement.

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Orangutans in Indonesia's Aceh forest may die out in weeks

Reuters 28 Mar 12;

JAKARTA | Wed Mar 28, 2012 10:14am EDT

(Reuters) - Forest fires and land clearing by palm oil firms could kill off within weeks about 200 orangutans in a forest in western Indonesia, an environmental group said on Wednesday.

The orangutans, part of a population of around 6,600 on Sumatra island, used to live in a lush forest and peatland region called Rawa Tripa on the coast of Indonesia's Aceh province. But more than two-thirds of the area has been divided up into palm oil concessions, said the Coalition to Save Tripa.

Graham Usher, a member of the coalition and a landscape protection specialist, said satellite images showed forest fires had been burning in Tripa since last week, and if allowed to continue they could wipe out orangutans already forced onto the edge of remaining forests.

"If there is any prolonged dry spell, which is quite likely, there's a very good chance that the whole piece of forest and everything in it, so that's orangutans, sun bears, tigers, and all the other protected species in it, will disappear in a few weeks and will be gone permanently," he told a news conference.

The palm oil industry has expanded to make Indonesia the world's top producer and exporter of the edible oil, used to make good ranging from cooking oil and biodiesel to biscuits and soap to feed growing Asian consumer demand.

Deforestation has threatened animals like the Sumatran tiger and Javan rhino and pushed up carbon dioxide emissions. The Bali tiger and the Java tiger have disappeared in the last 70 years.

A two-year moratorium on new permits to clear primary forests came into effect in Indonesia last year, part of a $1 billion deal with Norway to cut emissions and slow expansion of plantations. But the moratorium was breached in Aceh on its first days, an environmental group has said.

The last Aceh permit for palm oil was issued by former Aceh governor Irwandi Yusuf in August last year to PT Kallista Alam, prompting environmental group Walhi to file a legal suit against Yusuf. A court verdict is expected next week.

"If Kallista Alam win the case they will burn it and that whole bit of forest will disappear and we can say goodbye to the orangutan of Tripa peat swamps," Usher said.

Kallista Alam could not be reached for comment.

(Reporting by Olivia Rondonuwu; Editing by Neil Chatterjee and Ron Popeski)

Indonesia land clearance 'wiping out' orangutans
AFP Yahoo News 27 Mar 12;

Critically-endangered orangutans in a protected area of Indonesia will be wiped out by the end of the year if land clearing is not stopped, a coalition of environmental groups warned Wednesday.

The government must immediately halt the clearance of forest in the 13,000-hectare (32,000 acres) peat swamps in Tripa, Aceh province, the groups, including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth said.

They also called on the government to investigate the use of fire by palm oil companies for land clearing and reinforce existing laws protecting the ecosystem.

Ian Singleton, conservation director of Swiss-based PanEco, one of the groups making up the Coalition for Protection of Tripa Swamp, said the roughly 200 orangutans left in the peat swamps will be gone in months if the fires continue.

"The speed of destruction, fires, burning and everything has gone up dramatically in the last few weeks, let alone in the last year, and this is obviously a deliberate drive by these companies to clear all the remaining forests," he said.

"If this is not stopped right now, then all those orangutans, all those forests, will be gone before the end of 2012."

Experts believe there are about 50,000 to 60,000 of the two species of orangutans left in the wild, 80 percent of them in Indonesia and the rest in Malaysia.

They are faced with extinction from poaching and the rapid destruction of their forest habitat, driven largely by palm oil and paper plantations.

Most of those left are the endangered Bornean orangutan species. And Singleton said that based on 2004 figures there are only 6,600 of the critically-endangered Sumatran oragutans left in North Sumatra and Aceh provinces.

"We suspect that up to 100 orangutans may have perished in forest clearing and peat burning in the last few months in Tripa," said Graham Usher of local group Foundation of a Sustainable Ecosystem.

Satellite monitoring found at least 87 fire hotspots between March 19 and 24 in three palm oil concessions. Footage and images captured large clouds of white smoke and patches of burnt peat.

At least 2,800 hectares of peat were destroyed in the latest fires, and the number of animals, including Sumatran orangutans, Malayan sun bears and Sumatran tigers that perished was "immeasurable", the local group added.

Palm oil is a key ingredient in soap and everyday foods ranging from peanut butter to sweets but its cultivation is considered one of the biggest threats to the world's dwindling rainforests.

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Malaysia: The Dugong - A lady you rarely see

Avila Geraldine New Straits Times 23 Mar 12;

SANCTUARY: Locals want Mermaid islands be turned into marine park to protect the dwindling dugong population

KOTA BELUD: MANY visitors willingly take a 50-minute boat ride to Mantanani Islands near here with the hope of catching a glimpse of the famous "lady of the sea".

The best time to see a dugong is between October and February, but with the population slowly on the brink of extinction, such sightings are becoming rare.

These endangered dugongs, dubbed "seacows", are semi-nomadic, travelling long distances in search of food and occasionally found grazing on sea grass near here, 80km north of Kota Kinabalu, at a cluster of islands also known as Mermaid islands.

Mantanani Paradise human resources manager Zamzani P. Amin said the last dugong sighting was last year when a juvenile was spotted feeding on the seabed located north side of the island near Mantanani Kecil. However, no proper recording was done.

"Mantanani is blessed with them, but not any more.

"The dugongs were hunted for their meat and oil, and the fish bombing frightened them away."

Mantanani Paradise, established in 2004, is the second operator to operate in the island that currently boasts more than 13 dive sites.

He said many divers especially from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and the United Kingdom would come during the diving seasons with the hope of an encounter with the unique marine mammal.

A recent issue of AsianDiver magazine carrying a picture of a diver patting a dugong in Mantanani helped fuel their interest.

"We will tell visitors to pray for a sighting, as the waters around Borneo are known to support a small population especially here.

"But with the dwindling population, we tell them that they would have to be extremely lucky.

"There have been claims of sightings but there was no proof."

A monitoring programme conducted by Universiti Malaysia Sabah and James Cook University in Australia from September 2001 to July 2003 recorded 88 sightings of a single dugong in Sabah waters.

The study also suggested that at least five dugongs were resident or transient at the island within the three years.

He said the authorities should consider gazetting the islands as a marine park to protect the dugong population.

"A female dugong gives birth to only one calf every three to seven years and the pregnancy lasts for 12 to 14 months.

"The creation of a marine park will be good for both humans and the marine population.

"Since the island relies on tourism, the protection of the marine life including the dugongs will boost the industry.

"The islanders should be taught to understand the importance of preserving the marine life as its depletion will drive the tourists away," he said.

Mantanani Islands comprising Mantanani Besar which is populated, Mantanani Kecil and Lungisan, is famed for dive spots.

"The recommended diving season is from January to October.

"For the dugong season, researchers find that dugongs often keep close to shore during the northeast monsoon (October to February) when the sea is relatively rough," he said.

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Malaysia: Aquaculture threat to mangroves

Predeep Nambiar New Straits Times 27 Mar 12;

STOP IT: Control aquaculture land

THE government has been urged to check the growth of the aquaculture industry to prevent the destruction of mangrove swamps and protect the coastal eco-systems.

In making the call, Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) president S.M. Mohamed Idris said 2010 figures showed that 7.7 million hectares of land had been alienated for aquaculture.

He said the ever expanding number of aquaculture ponds eventually caused mangrove swamps to become the biggest casualty. Citing what has happened in Perak as an example, he said an analysis of changes in the mangrove areas in the state by the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) showed a notable decline of 64 per cent in the extent and distribution of mangrove swamps from 1989 to 2009.

The main cause of the decline was the promotion of aquaculture development.

"We are concerned with these trends because it involves land clearing and conversion, particularly mangrove forests to build aquaculture ponds.

"These aquaculture projects have serious impact on coastal eco-systems, affecting those who are dependent on the natural environment, especially fishermen," he said.

Idris said there were also serious weaknesses in terms of government policies on the aquaculture industry as there were no special legal provisions to regulate it.

The biggest enforcement concern included legislation to control discharge or wastewater effluents from aquaculture ponds.

He said although there was a code for "good aquaculture practice", it was not legally binding.

"All this issues are proof that the current methods of modern aquaculture are in serious need of reform. The industry is predominantly export oriented while our environment is adversely affected."

"In this perspective, the economic value of the aquaculture exports must not take precedence over the broader social, economic, and environmental value of the coastal zone."

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Indonesia: Coral Reef Off Coast of Bontang Severely Damaged

Tunggadewa Mattangkilang Jakarta Globe 27 Mar 12;

Bontang, East Kalimantan. At least 70 percent of the 6,000 hectares of coral reefs in Bontang have been badly damaged, a local environment group said on Monday.

“The damage is so severe,” said Concern for Equator Environment Forum chairman Laode Udin. “It is estimated that 70 percent or 4,200 hectares of [coral reefs] is damaged.”

Laode said the coral had been ruined by the mass of industrial and domestic waste dumped into the waters. Other contributing factors to the decline are the use of explosives by local fishermen, and locals who have been stealing the reef to use for the construction of homes.

Laode said that in the 1990s, the condition of Bontang’s coral reefs were excellent. This all changed, he said, when big businesses began to enter Bontang, famous for its rich gas reserve and coal deposits.

Bontang is also home to Indonesia’s biggest state-owned fertilizer company, Pupuk Kaltim.

The city’s economic boom, Laode said, sparked an influx of migrants and massive developments and it is slowly taking its toll on the environment.

To fulfill Bontang’s need for fish, he said, fishermen began to use trawlers and bombs to increase their catch. Although illegal, enforcement against these acts has been virtually absent.

The activist said that the fishermen are starting to suffer for their reckless acts.

“Now they have to sail several miles into the sea to catch their fish,” he said.

Laode said that the current rate of destruction, coupled with the reefs’ slow pace in repopulating themselves, meant that in a few years reefs in Bontang would be wiped out completely.

As the coral reefs decline, so will the city’s once teeming marine life. Laode called for an end to over-fishing and the dumping of pollution in Bontang’s waters.

“At least don’t treat the sea as a waste dump,” he said. “People should not throw their trash and waste to the sea. This is what is damaging the reefs.”

Nur Hidayah of Bontang’s Agriculture, Fishery and Maritime Office (DPPK) admitted that the city’s coral reef has been badly damaged but put the level closer to 50 percent, or 3,000 hectares.

Hidayah said that forces of nature, like sedimentation, also played a role.

“We have to admit that our coastal lines have been badly damaged, especially the coral reefs which have reach a destruction level of 50 percent,” he said.

The condition, the DPPK official said, had led the city to enact a city regulation as an effort to slow down the destruction rate in Bontang’s coastal areas.

The regulation defines zones meant for conservation and those for fishing.

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Indonesia: Fisheries Group Accuses Jakarta of Protecting Firms That Pollute Seas

Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 28 Mar 12;

The Fisheries Justice Coalition has accused the government of trying to legalize the dumping of toxic waste into the sea.

It said the government’s draft regulation on the management of hazardous and toxic substances ignored the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and would open the door for polluters.

Indonesia has ratified the UN convention, which obliges it to take steps to prevent, minimize, and overcome sea contamination.

The fisheries coalition, or Kiara, urged President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to revise the draft regulation to close loopholes it said would allow companies to legally dump dangerous waste in the ocean.

It said the country needed tougher laws in place to protect its waters from the dangerous practice of dumping hazardous materials at sea.

“There are at least five reasons to reject the government’s draft regulation on toxic dumping,” Kiara’s secretary general, Riza Damanik, said on Tuesday. “It seems that the government is trying to protect environmental polluters by legalizing the dumping of waste at sea.”

Riza said the draft regulation only called on industries to voluntarily limit the production of dangerous waste instead of making it obligatory.

“The dumping of tailings [mining waste], for example, endangers the marine ecosystem and food chain,” he said.

However, the Environment Ministry’s deputy for hazardous and toxic waste, Masnellyarti Hilman, denied that the draft regulation legalized the dumping of waste into the sea.

“It doesn’t mean that companies are free to dump their waste. The regulation requires certain conditions to be met before they can dump waste into the sea,” Masnellyarti said. “The conditions are stipulated with the aim to eliminate or minimize the impact of waste dumped into the sea.”

She added that the draft regulation was written after intense discussions with experts.

In a recent case involving hazardous waste, a scrap metal exporter from Britain agreed to take back waste it had sent here.

“Britain said it would send a notification letter to take the containers back. The exporter, Stemcor UK Limited, will re-export it and it will reach England by April 30,” Masnellyarti said.

The Netherlands is helping to find where the waste originated.

“The Netherlands is trying to find out the origin of the waste, whether it was from that country or whether came from another country,” Masnellyarti said.

In January, customs agents working with the Environment Ministry found 113 shipping containers said to contain scrap iron but in fact held contaminated electronics waste and asphalt.

Some of the containers, which arrived at North Jakarta’s Tanjung Priok Port, were oozing a white liquid.

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Sediment killing Thai coral reefs

The Phuket News 23 Mar 12;

Up to a third of all coral reefs around Thailand have been covered and destroyed by sediment from land development to build hotels, resorts and private homes, says the Marine and Coastal Resources Department (MCRD).

According to a 2009 report, destroyed reefs now total more than 35,520 rai (14,200 acres) from a total of 96,000 rai of reef in coastal areas, reported The Nation.

Off the Andaman coast, about 50 per cent of the coral reefs covering 49,000 rai has been degraded, while some 24 per cent of 47,000 rai of reefs in the Gulf of Thailand have been destroyed.

A director of the department’s Office of Marine and Coastal Resources Conservation, Pinsak Surasawadee, said recently that coastal land developments were the main destroyers of coral reefs.

“The removal of land surfaces in coastal areas has sped up the amount of sediment flowing into the sea, affecting reefs, aquatic animals and plants,” he said. Sediment in the sea also blocks sunlight and affects the growth of coral.

“The problem is that many builders do not follow guidelines for the environmental impact assessment, which require them to construct sediment retention to prevent soil flowing into the sea,” he said.

Coral reefs around three islands in Surat Thani province, Koh Samui, Koh Phang Ngan, and Koh Tao, have been severely damaged by a huge amount of sediment, as have those around Phuket and Koh Yao, according to a sea watch agency.

“We have discussed this problem with the department to try to find effective ways to reduce the impact from coastal development, especially in Phuket, which has areas designated for environmental protection, but law enforcement has never been implemented,” said Mr Pinsak.

He said MCRD officials now had no authority to arrest people who damaged coral reefs and marine resources. The department wants the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning to give more power to its staff, under the 1992 Environmental Act, to arrest offenders.

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Indonesian Officials Brace for ‘Tomcat’ Insect Outbreak

Jakarta Globe 27 Mar 12;

The Health Ministry has ordered all community health centers to be on standby to treat a potential outbreak of skin rashes caused by contact with the rove beetle, as reports of bug attacks begin coming in from outside Java.

Tjandra Yoga Aditama, the ministry’s director general for environmental health and disease control, said on Monday that his office was closely monitoring reports of attacks by the beetles, known locally as tomcat bugs, and coordinating prevention and treatment efforts with provincial, district and municipal health officials.

“In Surabaya, for instance, all community health centers have been placed on standby and are prepared to provide free treatment and medication for patients who have come into contact with tomcat bugs,” he said.

The bug infestation was first reported in Surabaya earlier this month, with scores of residents complaining of severe rashes after coming into contact with fluid secretions from the insect.

Tjandra said most of those affected were generally in good health and only suffering from skin irritations.

“They’ve just got dermatitis, with symptoms of itching, burning sensations and in some cases hyperpigmentation [localized darkening of the skin],” he said. “It will all clear up in about 10 days.”

He added that clinics in Yogyakarta were reporting similar symptoms among residents there who had come into contact with the beetle.

Tjandra played down the idea that the infestation was an unusual event, pointing out that those affected in Yogyakarta had acknowledged that the local tomcat population regularly peaked six weeks into the rice-growing season and would stay that way until the harvest.

The beetle is usually found in moist areas such as rice paddies and swamps, and is known for feeding on smaller insects that attack rice crops.

Tjandra said although the rashes and irritations were not a new disease and should not prompt excessive concern, the Health Ministry had ordered quarantine officials at ports and airports in high-risk areas to fumigate their facilities to prevent any bug attacks there.

The skin irritations can be transmitted to other people through towels, clothes or other materials that come into contact with the fluid contained in the blisters, Tjandra said previously.

The ministry’s latest warning on the issue comes as reports of tomcat attacks trickle in from outside Java. In Palembang, South Sumatra, a resident said on Monday that he and his family had come into contact with one of the beetles.

“We developed itchy rashes that we initially thought was from an allergic reaction,” said Tohir Sopyan, 45.

“But then we saw the news reports on TV and we were convinced that this was because of the tomcats.”

He added that after reporting the case to local health authorities, officials found several of the bugs in the neighborhood.

In Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara, 11 workers at El Tari Airport were reportedly suffering from tomcat-related rashes. Airport manager Imam Pramono said although the symptoms regularly cropped up this time of year, officials there had not known the cause of the rashes until now.

In Bali, health officials said the beetle was known to thrive in the local paddies, but there had been no reports of attacks yet.


Bogor Subdistricts Start to Feel Pain of Tomcat Beetle Attacks
Vento Saudale & Antara Jakarta Globe 27 Mar 12;

Bogor. Poisonous tomcat beetles have not only spread to a second subdistrict in Bogor, with three other victims reported in a village in Rumpin, but they have been reported in other districts on Java.

In Bogor, the tomcat beetle was found in Dramaga subdistrict, where it stung one person, and on Monday three victims of the poisonous insect were reported in Kampung Sawah village in Rumpin subdistrict.

Adam Glorawan, 6, from Kampung Sawah was first diagnosed as suffering from herpes because he had blisters, but he did not suffer from the symptomatic fever. The tomcat beetle, whose poison causes serious skin irritations that can later develop into blisters, also affected a 17-year-old uncle of Adam and a 28-year-old neighbor.

Bogor district health office chief Tri Wahyu Harini said that officials were not checking the reports.

“We did some monitoring at the location but cannot ascertain what the victims are suffering from,” Tri said.

Rumpin health clinic chief Yusnizar Ikbal also said that “it cannot yet be ascertained whether the irritation is due to the poison excreted by the tomcats or from something else.”

However, Yusnizar said that the insect had been sighted within the village.

In West Java, two other districts have reported people stung by the beetle, which looks similar to an ant but has a more elongated body with orange and black segments. The fluid it excretes contains paederin, which can cause rashes or blisters within 24 to 48 hours of contact with the skin.

Garut district health office chief Dede Rohgmansyah said on Sunday that at least 17 villagers from Mulyajaya had reported rashes that appeared to have been caused by tomcats. Medical tests proved those suspicions to be correct.

Tomcats, also known as rove beetles, have also been found in the Cihideung subdistrict of Tasikmalaya, West Java.

“Tomcats entered my house and I found 15 of them. I immediately killed them,” said Nanang, a resident of Cihideung who has since left the house with his wife and young child and sought temporary shelter at the home of his parents in the neighboring Garut district.

He said he killed them by spraying them with insecticide.

According to the South Tangerang health office, a 7-month-old baby was stung by the beetles.

Health office chief Dadang M. Epid said the baby was from the Pakulonan ward of North Serpong.

Two other area residents were reported to have suffered rashes caused by the insect, but further tests were not able to establish that, he said.

Dadang added that the district would pay for the baby’s medical treatment.

He said that although poisonous, the tomcats were actually beneficial to farmers because they ate eggs of wereng, a pest that is harmful to rice.

Tomcats are also believed to have poisoned dozens of people in Dempo in the Pasean subdistrict of Pamekasan on Madura Island, said a local district councilor, Suli Faris.

Suli said the tomcats started inflicting pain on their victims about three days ago.

Another district councilor, Khairul Kalam, said, “I found two tomcats in my bathroom at home, which is near rice fields.”

State news agency Antara said tomcats were reported in six other subdistricts in Pamekasan.

Tomcat attacks were first reported in the East Java capital of Surabaya, where 149 cases had been recorded as of Wednesday.

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Malaysia: 'Control on open burning to combat haze'

New Straits Times 28 Mar 12;

KUALA LUMPUR: The government will impose control on open burning as a way to combat haze during the hot and dry season expected to occur between April and September this year, said Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Douglas Uggah Embas.

He said the decision was reached at a preparatory meeting of the National Haze Committee last Thursday, and that the Department of Environment had been tasked with controlling open burning.

"The strategy now, as we move towards a dry weather, (is) more enforcement on the road to ensure there will be less pollution; and impose regulation to ensure there will be no open burning," he told reporters after opening a regional seminar on "Improved Tools and Methods for Integrating Biodiversity Conservation into Forest Planning," here today.

Until last March 19, 320 cases of open burning was recorded nationwide, with 56 cases issued with compound fines and 23 were given notices under the Environmental Quality Act 1974.
He said to control open burning, the government would also focus on peat areas in Selangor, Pahang, Miri (Sarawak) and Johor, as peat soil could easily combust when the water level in the area dropped.

He said so far the ministry managed to ensure the water level was sufficient, and at the same time build a number of tube wells either for fire-fighting purpose or for raising the water level at the peat area.
Uggah also said that the Asean ministerial steering committee on trans-boundary haze would meet in Brunei in May to discuss ways to address haze.

The group will also discuss coordination and collaboration in various programmes as well as exchanging fire-fighting experiences among member states.
At today's event, Uggah launched the Perak Tool, a new biodiversity tool, aimed at assisting forest managers and decision-makers to ensure improved planning, sustainable harvesting and effective biodiversity impact assessment.

It comprises four kits namely Landscape Planning Tool Kit, Payment for Ecosystem Services Tool Kit, Rapid Biodiversity Assessment Tool Kit and Alternative Harvesting Method with Computerised Tree Selection Tool which can be used together or separately.

It was named after Perak because it was developed after six years of research carried out in the Temenggor Forest Reserve by local and United States researchers under the CBioD project costing about RM7 million.
Also present at the function were Perak Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abd Kadir, and Kamal Malhotra, UNDP Resident Representative for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.
The two-day seminar was attended by 120 participants from various Asean countries including Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines. -- Bernama

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True Economic Measure Includes Natural Assets: Scientists

Nina Chestney PlanetArk 29 Mar 12;

Traditional measures showing strong economic growth in Brazil and India over nearly two decades fail to take account of the depletion of their natural resources, scientists and economists at a climate conference said on Wednesday.

Scientists and environment groups have been pressuring governments to include the value of their countries' natural resources - and use or loss of them - into future measurements of economic activity, rather than relying solely on the gross domestic product calculation.

Between 1990 and 2008, the wealth of Brazil and India measured by GDP rose 34 percent and 120 percent respectively, but this measurement is flawed, economists at the "Planet Under Pressure" conference in London argued.

Natural capital, or the sum of a country's assets ranging from forests to fossil fuels and minerals, declined 46 percent in Brazil and 31 percent in India, they said.

"The work on Brazil and India illustrates why GDP is inadequate and misleading as an index of economic progress from a long-term perspective," said Anantha Duraiappah, the executive director of the United Nations University's International Human Dimensions Programme (UNU-IHDP).

When measures of natural, human and manufactured capital are put together, Brazil's "inclusive wealth" rose by 3 percent and India's rose by 9 percent over that time, he said.

The idea of an expanded indicator known as GDP+ to include GDP and natural capital will be on the agenda of a global conference held in Rio de Janeiro in June to try define sustainable development goals.


Duraiappah said his research team and the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) will present a report at the Rio summit showing the "inclusive wealth" of 20 countries, which represent 72 percent of world's GDP and 56 percent of global population.

The UK has already set up a Natural Capital Committee to advise the government on the state of its natural assets.

Britain also said last month it would urge businesses and governments at the Rio conference to start measuring the use or loss of water, agriculture, forests and other natural resources.

Businesses also need to measure and report on the sustainability of their corporate activities, said Yvo de Boer, special global adviser to consultancy KPMG and former U.N. climate chief.

"If companies had to pay for the full environmental costs of their activities, they would have lost $0.41 out of every $1 earned in 2010," he said.

"The external environmental costs of 11 key industry sectors rose by almost 50 percent between 2002 and 2010, from $566 billion to $854 billion."

(Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)

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Farming needs 'climate-smart' revolution, says report

Richard Black BBC News 28 Mar 12;

Major changes are needed in agriculture and food consumption around the world if future generations are to be adequately fed, a major report warns.

Farming must intensify sustainably, cut waste and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from farms, it says.

The Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change spent more than a year assessing evidence from scientists and policymakers.

Its final report was released at the Planet Under Pressure conference.

The commission was chaired by Prof Sir John Beddington, the UK government's chief scientific adviser.

"If you're going to generate enough food both to address the poverty of a billion people not getting enough food, with another billion [in the global population] in 13 years' time, you've got to massively increase agriculture," Sir John told BBC News.

"You can't do it using the same agricultural techniques we've used before, because that would seriously increase greenhouse gas emissions for the whole world, with climate change knock-ons."

Farming is probably responsible for about one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, although the figure is hard to pin down as a large proportion comes from land clearance, for which emissions are notoriously difficult to measure.

Although there are regional variations, climate change is forecast to reduce crop yields overall - dramatically so in the case of South Asia, where studies suggest the wheat yield could halve in 50 years.

"We need to develop agriculture that is 'climate smart' - generating more output without the accompanying greenhouse gas emissions, either via the basic techniques of farming or from ploughing up grassland or cutting down rainforest," said Sir John.

The techniques needed in different regions vary according to what is appropriate, said Dr Christine Negra, who co-ordinated the commission's work.

"In places where using organic methods, for example, is appropriate or economically advantageous and produces good socio-economic and ecological outcomes, that's a great approach," she said.

"In places where, using GMOs, you can address food security challenges and socio-economic issues, those are the right approaches to use where they've been proven safe."
Waste matters

The commission's recommendations go a long way beyond farming methods, however.

It says the economic and policy framework around food production and consumption need to change to encourage sustainability, to raise output while minimising environmental impacts.

Farmers need more investment and better information; governments need to put sustainable farming at the heart of national policies.

Prof Tekalign Mamo, who advises the Agriculture Ministry in Ethiopia, said models already existed for many of the transformations needed.

One, highlighted in the report, is Ethiopia's Productive Safety Net Programme, inaugurated in 2003 with the involvement of the government and international partners.

"One [aspect of it] is household asset building, so people don't deplete their resources in times of chronic food shortage," Prof Mamo told BBC News.

"Another is working on community assets such as building small-scale irrigation or watershed development; the communities own such activities and also allocate free labour, and the government provides incentives like food or cash for those participating.

"It has lifted about 1.3 million of the population from poverty and into food security, and at the same time they also conserved and rehabilitated the environment."

India's guarantee of employment in rural areas, Vietnam's progress with no-till rice farming (which reduces greenhouse gas emissions from soil), and moves to give women secure land ownership in five southern African countries are also highlighted in the report.

But it also recommends changes in developed nations - for example, around food waste.

"The less we waste food, the less food we have to produce, the less greenhouse gases are emitted," noted Dr Negra.

Before last December's UN climate conference in South Africa, the commissioners had advocated incorporating sustainable agriculture into the UN climate convention's discussions.

The eventual decision - to start talks on a "work programme" - is viewed by the commission as being weaker than it might have been.

The commission was established by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the global network of institutions working on food and poverty issues.

The Planet Under Pressure conference is a four-day gathering of academics, campaigners and business people in London designed to inform policymaking in the run-up to the Rio+20 summit in Brazil in June.

Food Security Focus Fuels New Worries Over Crop Chemicals
Carey Gillam PlanetArk 28 Mar 12;

Analysis: Food Security Focus Fuels New Worries Over Crop Chemicals Photo: Joe Skipper
A grove of star ruby grapefruit is sprayed by a worker in a grove in Vero Beach, Florida December 1, 2010.
Photo: Joe Skipper

Scientists, environmentalists and farm advocates are pressing the question about whether rewards of the trend toward using more and more crop chemicals are worth the risks, as the agricultural industry strives to ramp up production to feed the world's growing population.

The debate has heated up in the last several weeks, with a series of warnings and calls for government action including a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Critics say they fear the push to increase global crop production is translating into mounting health and environmental dangers. As usage expands in some areas, agricultural chemical residues have turned up in water supplies and air samples of U.S. farming communities.

The concerns are rooted in two converging trends:

Growing global demand for food, fuel and livestock feed is pushing many farmers to apply more herbicides, insecticides and fertilizers to crops, hoping to boost production.

At the same time, some favored technologies are starting to lose their edge. Some growers have found they must use more chemicals to combat the very weeds and crop-damaging pests that biotech seeds were engineered to address.

"Production is growing," said Pat Sinicropi, legislative director at the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, an organization of municipal water interests. "The pressure on agriculture is mounting to squeeze as much yield out of their land as possible, which is driving more and more chemical use."

Few would dispute that misuse of agricultural chemicals can harm health and the environment. The debate has focused on when that line is crossed, with industry saying U.S. regulatory oversight is already strong enough to ensure safety.

"With any technology there is risk," said Jim Borel, executive vice president of DuPont, which has projected strong growth in sales of insecticide, herbicide and pesticide products. "People tend to focus on either the problems or worse yet the fears that people create about potential problems.

"But," Borel said in an interview, "if we are going to feed 10 billion people in the next 40 years we have to essentially double agricultural production. We all have to work together. We have to be eyes wide open around the challenges and the risks."

Those on the other side of the debate agree that increasing crop production is necessary.

"To feed a growing world population, we have to intensify crop production, but we can't do so at the expense of the natural resource base," Teresa Buerkle, a spokeswoman for the North America office of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.


Where industry says regulation is adequate, critics say it is often lacking. They want the government to do more in-depth examination of the impacts of the chemicals in use and change the incentives that encourage farmers to grow more corn and other chemically intensive crops.

One concern is the level of nitrogen fertilizer run-off into water sources. A study released March 13 by researchers at the University of California, Davis, said fertilizers and nitrates from agriculture are contaminating the drinking water for more than 200,000 residents in California's farming communities.

That study came as a separate coalition of water authority officials, pollution control administrators and sustainable agricultural groups calling themselves Health Waters Coalition asked Congress to address excessive use and runoff of agricultural fertilizers in the new Farm Bill.

The group cited data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicating that more than 50 percent of rivers, streams, and lakes and nearly 60 percent of bays and estuaries are impaired because of excess levels of nitrogen and phosphorus.

"Nitrogen pollution is considered by scientists among the handful of most serious impacts on the environment that humans cause. It has been increasing," said Doug Gurian-Sherman, a plant pathologist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a scientific policy group.

"More and more scientists are speaking up."

Insecticides are also a concern. Twenty-two U.S. plant scientists co-authored a letter March 5 warning the EPA about a biotech corn that is losing its resistance to plant-damaging pests and could trigger "escalating use of insecticides."

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental advocacy group, has taken its concerns to court, filing suit against the EPA on February 23.

The NRDC accuses EPA of not adequately addressing the health threats of 2,4-D, an ingredient in the Agent Orange defoliant used in Vietnam that prompted lawsuits from veterans and others who later contracted cancer. The chemical now is being increasingly used to help fight back "super weeds" that resist glyphosate, also known as Roundup.


2,4-D is an herbicide that's been registered for use in U.S. crops since 1948 but may now come into far more widespread usage as Dow AgroSciences, a unit of Dow Chemical, seeks government approval for biotech crops engineered to thrive despite dousings of 2,4-D.

Complaints of ties to cancer have dogged the chemical for decades but U.S. regulators have said that research data is insufficient to make a direct link.

A scientific study published in January in the journal BioScience noted that nationwide herbicide use could see a "profound increase" if the new biotech crops being developed see the same rate of adoption that Roundup Ready crops.

Roundup use became so pervasive after the introduction of Roundup Ready soybeans 16 year ago that last summer, researchers with the Geological Survey said significant levels Roundup were detected in air and water samples in Iowa and Mississippi. More than 88,0000 tons of glyphosate were used in the United States in 2007, up from 11,000 tons in 1992, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Critics of 2,4-D fear a similar rise in the use of that herbicide.

"EPA is dragging their feet on this issue," said Gina Solomon, senior scientist with the NRDC. "They need to grapple with the science and the current situation where U.S. agriculture is on the cusp of the vast increase of the use of this chemical."


Farmers are well aware of the poisonous possibilities of the chemicals they use, and must get trained and approved every year to apply pesticides, and take a range of precautions.

Life-long farmer Dennis Schwab knows the risks. As a corn grower in the top U.S. corn state of Iowa, 61-year-old Schwab has become an expert in the array of toxic chemicals used to fight bugs, weeds and disease.

"Our exposures are higher than the general population ... yeah we are concerned about it. But we recognize pesticides are a necessary part of raising crops today," he said.

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Climate change to drive weather disasters: UN experts

Richard Ingham | AFP Yahoo News 28 Mar 12;

Climate change is amplifying risks from drought, floods, storms and rising seas, threatening all countries but small island states, poor nations and arid regions in particular, UN experts warned on Tuesday.

In its first-ever report on the question, the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said man-made global-warming gases are already affecting some types of extreme weather.

And, despite gaps in knowledge, weather events once deemed a freak are likely to become more frequent or more vicious, inflicting a potentially high toll in deaths, economic damage and misery, it said.

IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri urged countries to prepare more for climate-related disasters.

Many defence options are of the "no regret" type, meaning they are relatively low-cost but effective, he said.

"Reducing disaster risk should be a priority in every country," said Chris Field, a US scientist who was one of the 592-page report's lead authors.

A summary of the report was approved last November. The full document was published on Wednesday ahead of a worldwide campaign to advise governments, policymakers and grassroots groups.

The report made these points:

-- Since the 1950s, record-breaking daily temperatures and heatwaves have become more frequent or lasted longer, according to strong evidence. There is a 90-100 percent probability that this will continue through the 21st century.

"The hottest day, which today occurs once every 20 years, is expected to occur once every second year by the end of the 21st century," said climate physicist Thomas Stocker.

This scenario is based on the assumption that today's high emissions of greenhouse gases continue unabated, he explained.

-- Extreme rainstorms have intensified over past decades and are likely to become more frequent in this century, although with big differences between regions.

-- Southern Europe and West Africa have already experienced bigger or longer droughts. This century, central Europe, central North America, central America and Mexico, northeast Brazil and southern Africa could follow suit.

-- Whether hurricanes or typhoons have changed in intensity, frequency and duration over the past 40 years is hard to gauge. But warmer seas suggests these storms will pack a higher wind speed, yet may also become less frequent.

"There is disaster risk almost everywhere, in the world's developed regions as well as in developing regions, in areas where the problem is too much water and in areas where the problem is too little water and in areas where the problem is high sea level," said Field.

"But the report does point out areas that are particularly vulnerable, and that does include large cities, particularly in developing countries, coastal areas, it includes small island states, and it includes much of the world that is chronically short of water resources."

The report pointed in particular at coastal megacities.

A rise of 50 centimetres (20 inches) in sea level would make much of the coastal and low-lying areas of Mumbai -- inhabited in particular by slumdwellers -- uninhabitable.

The panel stressed that it had exhaustively collected information, checked it and consulted with experts working outside the forum.

The report was drawn up by 220 scientists and economists from 62 countries, who pored over thousands of published studies. Their draft was then submitted to external review by experts and governments, drawing nearly 19,000 comments in three rounds of consultation.

The IPCC was criticised for closed mentalities and lacking transparency after several mistakes were found in its 2007 Fourth Assessment Report.

Climate sceptics seized on the errors. They accused the panel of distorting data in order, in their view, to invent a problem.

The report -- Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation -- acknowledges shades of uncertainty.

For storms, for instance, longer-term data is needed to say whether they have already become more frequent or intense, said Stocker. Another variable is how effective countries will be in curbing the carbon gases that cause the problem, he said.

Mumbai, Miami on list for big weather disasters
Seth Borenstein Associated Press Yahoo News 28 Mar 12;

WASHINGTON (AP) — Global warming is leading to such severe storms, droughts and heat waves that nations should prepare for an unprecedented onslaught of deadly and costly weather disasters, an international panel of climate scientists said in a new report issued Wednesday.

The greatest threat from extreme weather is to highly populated, poor regions of the world, the report warns, but no corner of the globe — from Mumbai to Miami — is immune. The document by a Nobel Prize-winning panel of climate scientists forecasts stronger tropical cyclones and more frequent heat waves, deluges and droughts.

The 594-page report blames the scale of recent and future disasters on a combination of man-made climate change, population shifts and poverty.

In the past, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, founded in 1988 by the United Nations, has focused on the slow inexorable rise of temperatures and oceans as part of global warming. This report by the panel is the first to look at the less common but far more noticeable extreme weather changes, which lately have been costing on average about $80 billion a year in damage.

"We mostly experience weather and climate through the extreme," said one of the report's top editors, Chris Field, an ecologist with the Carnegie Institution of Washington. "That's where we have the losses. That's where we have the insurance payments. That's where things have the potential to fall apart.

"There are lots of places that are already marginal for one reason or another," Field said. But it's not just poor areas: "There is disaster risk almost everywhere."

The report specifically points to New Orleans during 2005's Hurricane Katrina, noting that "developed countries also suffer severe disasters because of social vulnerability and inadequate disaster protection."

In coastal areas of the United States, property damage from hurricanes and rising seas could increase by 20 percent by 2030, the report said. And in parts of Texas, the area vulnerable to storm surge could more than double by 2080.

Already U.S. insured losses from weather disasters have soared from an average of about $3 billion a year in the 1980s to about $20 billion a year in the last decade, even after adjusting for inflation, said Mark Way, director of sustainability at insurance giant Swiss Re. Last year that total rose to $35 billion, but much of that was from tornadoes, which scientists are unable to connect with global warming. U.S. insured losses are just a fraction of the overall damage from weather disasters each year.

Globally, the scientists say that some places, particularly parts of Mumbai in India, could become uninhabitable from floods, storms and rising seas. In 2005, over 24 hours nearly 3 feet of rain fell on the city, killing more than 1,000 people and causing massive damage. Roughly 2.7 million people live in areas at risk of flooding.

Other cities at lesser risk include Miami, Shanghai, Bangkok, China's Guangzhou, Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City, Myanmar's Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon) and India's Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta). The people of small island nations, such as the Maldives, may also need to abandon their homes because of rising seas and fierce storms.

"The decision about whether or not to move is achingly difficult and I think it's one that the world community will have to face with increasing frequency in the future," Field said in a telephone news conference Wednesday.

This report — the summary of which was issued in November — is unique because it emphasizes managing risks and how taking precautions can work, Field said. In fact, the panel's report uses the word "risk" 4,387 times.

Field pointed to storm-and-flood-prone Bangladesh, an impoverished country that has learned from its past disasters. In 1970, a Category 3 tropical cyclone named Bhola killed more than 300,000 people. In 2007, the stronger cyclone Sidr killed only 4,200 people. Despite the loss of life, Bangladesh is considered a success story because it was better prepared and invested in warning and disaster prevention, Field said.

A country that was not as prepared, Myanmar, was hit with a similar sized storm in 2008, which killed 138,000 people.

The study forecasts that some tropical cyclones — which include hurricanes in the United States — will be stronger because of global warming. But the number of storms is not predicted to increase and may drop slightly.

Some other specific changes in severe weather that the scientists said they had the most confidence in predicting include more heat waves and record hot temperatures worldwide and increased downpours in Alaska, Canada, northern and central Europe, East Africa and north Asia,

IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri told The Associated Press that while all countries are hurt by increased climate extremes, the overwhelming majority of deaths occur in poorer, less developed places. Yet, it is wealthy nations that produce more greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, raising the issue of fairness.

Some weather extremes aren't deadly, however. Sometimes, they are just strange.

Report co-author David Easterling of the National Climatic Data Center says this month's U.S. heat wave, while not deadly, fits the pattern of worsening extremes. The U.S. has set nearly 6,800 high temperature records in March. Last year, the United States set a record for billion-dollar weather disasters, though many were tornadoes.

"When you start putting all these events together, the insurance claims, it's just amazing," Easterling said. "It's pretty hard to deny the fact that there's got to be some climate signal."

Northeastern University engineering and environment professor Auroop Ganguly, who didn't take part in writing the IPCC report, praised it and said the extreme weather it highlights "is one of the major and important types of what we would call 'global weirding.'" It's a phrase that some experts have been starting to use more to describe climate extremes.

Field doesn't consider the term inaccurate, but he doesn't use it.

"It feels to me like it might give the impression we are talking about amusing little stuff when we are, in fact, talking about events and trends with the potential to have serious impacts on large numbers of people."

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:

Plan Now For Climate-Related Disasters: U.N. Report
David Fogarty and Deborah Zabarenko PlanetArk 29 Mar 12;

A future on Earth of more extreme weather and rising seas will require better planning for natural disasters to save lives and limit deepening economic losses, the United Nations said on Wednesday in a major report on the effects of climate change.

The U.N. climate panel said all nations will be vulnerable to the expected increase in heat waves, more intense rains and floods and a probable rise in the intensity of droughts.

Aimed largely at policymakers, the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change makes clear nations need to act now, because increasingly extreme weather is already a trend.

The need for action has become more acute as a growing human population puts more people and more assets in the path of disaster, raising economic risk, the report said. The report's title made the point: "Managing the risks of extreme events and disasters to advance climate change adaptation."

Asia was most vulnerable to potential disasters, with East Asia and the Pacific facing the highest adaptation costs.

The 594-page report, with authors from 62 countries, is the world body's most up-to-date assessment of climate change risks. Its general message is that enough is known about these risks for policymakers to start making decisions about how to deal with them.

It follows the release of the report's executive summary in November after an extensive review by scientists and government officials and is based on the work of thousands of scientific studies.

"Few countries appear to have adopted a comprehensive approach - for example, by addressing projected changes in exposure, vulnerability, and extremes," the report said. Building this into national development planning is crucial.

Global reinsurer Munich Re says that since 1980, weather-related disasters worldwide have more than tripled.

Lindene Patton, chief climate product officer for Zurich Financial Services, said the report was particularly useful for insurers who rely on its scientific assessments "to assist our customers to live and work successfully in the natural world."

But the report sidestepped the politically divisive issue of tougher action on curbing greenhouse gas emissions blamed for stoking global warming. U.N. climate talks have become bogged down over who should take most responsibility for action.

Instead, it aimed to push adaptation to a warmer world, offering a range of strategies.

Chris Field, a lead editor of the document, acknowledged this is a change from previous IPCC reports, which largely focused on plans to mitigate climate change by limiting heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions.

In part, Field said in a telephone interview, this is because the world's governments asked the scientists to see what could be done in the next few decades.


"That's a time frame where most of the climate change that will occur is already baked into the system and where even aggressive climate policies in the short term are not going to have their full effects," said Field, director of the Carnegie Institution's department of global ecology.

But the head of the U.N. panel, Rajendra Pachauri, stressed at a briefing that climate-warming emissions must be curbed: "Whatever we do, we have to adapt, of course, but also at a global level, we need to mitigate the emissions of greenhouse gases so that we ensure that these thresholds or tipping points are not exceeded."

The report looks for "low regrets" strategies that not only protect those in the path of natural disasters but also boost sustainable development. These include early warning systems, better drainage, preserving ecosystems such as mangroves, forests and water catchments, plus better building standards and overhauling health systems.

Spreading financial risk of disasters was another tool to limit the already-strained cash reserves of many poorer nations.

Micro-insurance, catastrophe bonds, national and regional risk pools could help to finance rebuilding and recovery. While take-up rates for insurance were increasing in poorer nations, the rate was still low compared with wealthier states.

Remittances, officially estimated at $325 billion in 2010, were another crucial form of finance and risk sharing, but more steps are needed to cut transaction costs.

Insurance groups said the report confirmed their experience of rising costs from climate-related disasters.

"U.S. property and casualty insurers, who are on the front line on this issue, saw catastrophe-related losses double in '11, while their net income was cut in half," Cynthia McHale, insurance program director at Ceres, an investor coalition, said in a statement.

Mark Way, head of sustainability Americas at re-insurer Swiss Re, called the report "yet another reminder of the pressing need to tackle climate risk in both the near and long term."

Nations need to do a better job in assessing people and places vulnerable to climate disasters, such as mega cities expanding further into flood plains or along low-lying coasts. Key was treating the causes, not the symptoms of vulnerability.

Risks also vary widely, from the threat of more droughts and wildfires in Australia and melting permafrost damaging buildings and roads in the Arctic to heat waves in southern Europe.

The report also said some populations are already living on the edge, given the projected increases in the magnitude or frequency of some extreme events in many regions.

"Small increases in climate extremes above thresholds or regional infrastructure 'tipping points' have the potential to result in large increases in damages to all forms of existing infrastructure nationally and to increase disaster risks," it said.

Most deaths from natural disasters - 95 percent between 1970 and 2008 - still occur in developing countries, the report found.

It said current spending on adaptation projects in developing countries is about $1 billion per year, a fraction of the estimated range of $70 billion to $165 billion per year on technologies to curb greenhouse gas pollution.

Yet losses from disasters were substantially higher for developing nations, with middle-income countries suffering losses of 1 percent of GDP between 2001 and 2006, compared with 0.1 percent for high-income countries.

The report's release dovetailed with an unprecedented March heat wave in the continental United States and a London conference where scientists warned the world was nearing tipping points that would make the planet irreversibly hotter.

(Editing by Philip Barbara)

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Rio+20 zero draft accepts 'planetary boundaries'

Yojana Sharma SciDev 28 Mar 12;

[LONDON] The latest draft of the so-called 'zero draft' document, which will be presented to heads of government at the Rio+20 Summit in June, has been amended to include an acknowledgement that there are scientifically assessed 'planetary boundaries' which, if overstepped, could result in irreversible damage to the Earth's sytems.

The draft is being prepared by national delegates to the United Nations, and will ultimately be presented to heads of government at the Summit for their endorsement.

The idea of planetary boundaries, referring to the load-bearing limits on the Earth's systems, was not in the original document drawn up by the United Nations, but was included in a European Union submission to talks last week (March 19-23) in New York.

Earlier this month, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon also backed the idea as he presented the report of his High Level Panel on Global Sustainability to an informal plenary of the UN General Assembly on March 17, just before the latest Rio+20 negotiating session began.

"The panel's vision is to eradicate poverty and reduce inequality, to make growth inclusive and production and consumption more sustainable, while combating climate change and respecting a range of other planetary boundaries," Ban told the General Assembly.

It has now been added to the document known as the 'zero draft' of the outcome of Rio+20. Scientists will discuss the issue on the final day of the Planet Under Pressure Conference, which ends in London tomorrow.

"Planetary boundaries in terms of the carrying capacity of the Earth and the need for sustainability, has now been included," confirmed Gisbert Glaser, senior advisor at the International Council for Science, Paris, who was at the New York meeting last week.

While its inclusion in the zero draft has been welcomed as a breakthrough for a more science-based approach to environmental issues, several delegates at the UN in New York told Scidev.Net that the European proposal did not go far enough to win developing country approval. In particular, it failed to include social aspects and implications of the planetary boundaries concept – including the management of 'tipping' points.

"Developing countries won't accept this unless the social side is added in," said one Asian delegate.

Frank Biermann, chair of the Earth Systems Governance Project, believes the societal aspect of tipping points and the way they are managed is important. "Societies must change course to steer away from critical tipping points," he told Scidev.Net recently.

One EU delegate also pointed to the difficulty of measuring the societal dimensions of planetary boundaries.

"No one has really done that for social aspects, in terms of tipping points," agreed ICSU's Glaser "but we are still happy that it is in there now, in the draft."

According to an Asian country delegate, the acceptance of planetary boundaries within the zero draft strengthens the need for more effective coordination between scientists and policymakers on responding to and managing individual boundaries, which cover issues such asbiodiversity and climate.

"Developing effective policy based on the scientific work is still a major challenge," he said. This was particularly because advances in science might mean that individual boundaries and their tipping points might change over time, requiring flexibility from policymakers.

The inclusion of additional submissions – such as the case for planetary boundaries – has made the original zero draft expand from an original 19 pages to around 150 pages. However Glaser says it will be refined into a far more condensed final document.

"There are quite a number of new additions that strengthen the need for science-based actions and a science-policy interface," he said, adding that the main task of the drafting group between now and the next negotiating session at the end of April will be to streamline the many additions to the text, "and find language acceptable to all."

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