Best of our wild blogs: 16 May 12

Loving Chek Jawa to death?
from wild shores of singapore

26-27 May: Celebrate Singapore's Marine Biodiversity!
from wild shores of singapore

Mon 21 May 2012: 4.00pm @ SBG – “Let’s Talk Bats” by Joann Christine L. (FRIM)
from Otterman speaks

First fieldwork session at muddy Pasir Ris!
from My Gap Year

Random Gallery - The Rustic
from Butterflies of Singapore

Pink-necked Green-pigeon building nest
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Rejected Taiwan Kuokuang petrochemical transferred to Pengerang, Johor

New tipping point
Opinion by Lim Sue Goan
Translated by Soong Phui Jee
Sin Chew Daily 15 May 12;

The rejected Kuokuang petrochemical investment project will be transferred to Pengerang, Johor. It is another controversial project after the Lynas rare-earth refinery plant project in Kuantan. It is believed to become an election issue, too.

Malaysia is an oil-producing country and oil has been listed as one of the national key economic sector. Therefore, it is a logical move to enter the refining and petrochemical industry, which is believed to bring huge economic benefits.

However, does it mean that the people must pay the costs of health and environment to develop petrochemical industry and gain economic wealth? Do all countries in the middle-income trap have to make sacrifices and bring in high-pollution industries?

Like the Lynas rare-earth refinery plant, people are having the same doubts over the RM36 billion petrochemical investment project. Why are we treasuring something that has been rejected by others?

The Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology Co proposed a huge petrochemical investment project in Taiwan in 2005, to build petrochemical plants in Yunlin. However, the location changed to the coast of central Zhanghua County in 2008 after failing the environment assessment. On April 22 2011, President Ma Ying-jeou announced his withdrawal of support for the project.

The Kuokuang petrochemical investment was accused of high water consumption, consuming about 400,000 tons per day, which would dry the largest wetlands of Taiwan and threaten food safety. In addition, it was estimated that 339 to 565 people would die of cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer, while patients of respiratory diseases would also increase due to the PM2.5 pollutants released into the air.

The project could create 20,000 job opportunities, but it was estimated to cost more than NT$100 billion of social cost yearly.

Eventually, political leaders listened to the public opinion and shelved the project under the strong opposition from the people, as well as environmental and ecological protection organisations.

Deputy Minister of International Trade and Industry Datuk Mukhriz Tun Dr Mahathir has expressed interest in the project since April last year after the project was shelved in Taiwan. Taiwan Economic Minister Shi Yanxiang also confirmed that the Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology Co does have contact with Malaysia.

It is believed that the two parties have negotiated details of the investment project since then, but the government did not consult the people and local experts. Like the Lynas rare-earth refinery plant, it lacks transparency. It could lead to a strong rebound from the civil society when the people are informed only after what is done cannot be undone.

The project had consulted public opinion and in-depth study were conducted for six years in Taiwan. As for us, isn't it too hasty to accept it without any prior studies is conducted and even before the release of the environmental assessment report?

We feel baffled if it is true that Malaysia is offering 10 years of tax-free concession as reported by Taiwan media. Why should we treat such a high-risk investment so well? The Lynas rare-earth plant enjoys 12 years of tax-free concession while the Kuokuang petrochemical plants enjoy 10 years of tax-free concession. It will not worth the candle if the country has to spend huge sums of money to repair the environment in the future.

The authorities do not seem to have learned a lesson from the Lynas rare-earth refinery plant controversy. The anti-petrochemical plant issue is expected to continue fermenting and once the forces opposing the rare-earth and petrochemical plants combine, it would be a trouble for the BN.

From a positive point of view, however, the rare-earth plant and petrochemical plant issues would raise civil awareness, which might help accelerate the country's political transformation.

Shelved Kuokuang petrochemical project may be revived in Malaysia
Focus Taiwan 14 May 12;

Taipei, May 14 (CNA) Minister of Economic Affairs Shih Yen-shiang confirmed Monday that a controversial petrochemical investment project that was scrapped in Taiwan may be revived in Malaysia.

According to local media reports, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced Sunday that his country will work with a Taiwanese petrochemical company to launch a US$120 billion investment project for oil refining, naphtha cracking and petrochemical production.

Fielding questions at a legislative committee meeting, Shih said the company Razak referred to was Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology Co., in which Taiwan's state-owned oil refiner CPC Corp. has a large stake.

Kuokuang had planned to build a naphtha cracking and petrochemical complex in coastal wetlands in central Taiwan's Changhua County.

The project was scrapped, however, after some local residents andenvironmental impact assessment teams raised concerns that it would consume too much water and generate high levels of pollution in the ecologically sensitive area.

"Kuokuang has since been seeking a suitable overseas destination for its investment project, and Malaysia is a possible option," Shih said.

Asked about the possible impact of such a move on Taiwan's petrochemical industry, Shih said industry executives have agreed to focus on producing high-quality petrochemicals at home and other petrochemical intermediaries abroad.

He admitted that Kuokuang's decision to launch its new investment project abroad will definitely have an adverse impact on Taiwan's petrochemical production value.

"But since our people have made a choice against the Kuokuang project, the Ministry of Economic Affairs must uphold this policy line," Shih said.

He promised that the ministry will step up efforts to help upgrade technology in the domestic petrochemical industry so as to minimize any negative impact of overseas investment projects.

(By Lin Meng-ju and Sofia Wu)

Kuokuang project may be revived in Malaysia
SHARING:The shelved petrochemical project, formerly planned for Changhua County, would share amenities and infrastructure with a state oil and gas company
Staff Writer, with CNA Taipei Times 15 May 12;

Minister of Economic Affairs Shih Yen-shiang (施顏祥) confirmed yesterday that a controversial petrochemical investment project that was scrapped in Taiwan may be revived in Malaysia.

According to local media reports, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced on Sunday that his country would work with a Taiwanese petrochemical company to launch a multibillion-dollar investment project for oil refining, naphtha cracking and petrochemical production.

Fielding questions at a legislative committee meeting, Shih said the company Najib referred to was Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology Co (國光石化), in which Taiwan’s state-owned oil refiner CPC Corp, Taiwan (CPC, 台灣中油), has a large stake.

CPC media liaison officer Jessica Tang (唐苑莉) said Kuokuang may build a refinery, naphtha cracker and other plants.

“We are evaluating the feasibility of the proposed investment” and the company may make a decision by the middle of next year, depending on government approval, she said.

Kuokuang may invest between US$10 billion and US$12 billion in the project, if the Taiwan government approves the investment, Tang said.

The project may share amenities and infrastructure with a US$20 billion refinery and petrochemicals complex planned by Malaysian state oil and gas company Petroliam Nasional BHD, according to Najib. It would be located in Pengerang, which is in the Southeast Asian nation’s southernmost state of Johor, which Malaysia wants to transform into an oil hub to compete with Singapore.

Kuokuang was incorporated in January 2006, with major investors also including Ho Tung Chemical Corp (和桐化學), Oriental Union Chemical Corp (東聯化學) and China Man-Made Fiber Corp (中國人纖), according to the ministry. It had planned to build a naphtha cracking and petrochemical complex on coastal wetlands in Changhua County.

The project was scrapped, however, after local residents and environmental impact assessment teams raised concerns that the complex would consume too much water and generate high levels of pollution in the ecologically sensitive area.

“Kuokuang has since been seeking a suitable overseas destination for its investment project, and Malaysia is a possible option,” Shih said.

Asked about the possible impact of such a move on Taiwan’s petrochemical industry, Shih said industry executives had agreed to focus on producing higher-quality petrochemicals at home and other petrochemical intermediaries abroad.

He said that Kuokuang’s decision to launch its new investment project abroad would definitely have an adverse impact on Taiwan’s petrochemical production value.

“However, since our people have made a choice against the Kuokuang project, the Ministry of Economic Affairs must uphold this policy line,” Shih said.

Separately, Formosa Plastics Group (台塑集團, FPG), which faces investment obstacles in Taiwan and is seeking a breakthrough in a large ethylene plant it operates in China, said it had invested a further US$2 billion in production expansion at its Texas plant after FPG chairman William Wong (王文淵) visited it earlier this month.

However, the industrial conglomerate said its new investment in the US was simply recapitalization of its US subsidiary and was not an indication that the company is pulling out of Taiwan.

On Monday, FPG confirmed that Wong met with Texas Governor Rick Perry during his visit and that the investment was mentioned in that meeting. New ethylene and propylene plants will be built in Texas, where energy costs are low thanks to abundant shale oil resources, it added.

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Singapore's environmental conservation efforts on show in South Korea

Lim Yun Suk Channel News Asia 15 May 12;

YEOSU, South Korea: Singapore's environmental conservation efforts are on show at the Yeosu Expo 2012 in South Korea.

Singapore Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan officially opened the Singapore Pavilion on Tuesday.

With the theme Paradox-ity -- City of Contrast, the pavilion shows how the city-state deals with the challenges of sustainable urbanisation.

As visitors enter, they will see how Singapore has turned one of the world's largest offshore landfills into a home for animals and plants as well.

"When we think of garbage disposals in South Korea, I think of how dirty it is. But it's amazing how Singapore can have clean landfills," said Kim Jung Won, a South Korea student.

Another highlight is the 40-metre wall made from recycled items.

Every item on the walls was thrown away by Singaporeans in Singapore. They have been brought to South Korea to show how discarded things can be recollected and reused.

Mr Balakrishnan said: "What I am most proud about this exhibition is the fact that so many of the exhibits there have been constructed by volunteers and by students in primary school and secondary school. All the guides are volunteers and the undergraduate students gave the guidance in both English and Korean. This is really an all-out Singapore effort."

Singapore is among over 100 countries participating in the expo.

The Yeosu Expo 2012 runs till August 12.

- CNA/fa

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Clementi residents to get community farm in their backyard

Lip Kwok Wai, Karen Ng Channel NewsAsia 15 May 12;

SINGAPORE: Clementi residents will soon have a community farm in their backyard.

The Singapore Land Authority said it's processing an application from the Bukit Timah Citizens Consultative Committee for a three-year Temporary Occupation Licence for a plot of State land at Clementi Avenue 4 for the farm.

The 1,250 square metre plot, previously occupied by illegal farmers, is where the community farm will be.

The land will be divided into 30 plots.

Eighteen individuals who had been working on the land had come forward to SLA before the April 3 deadline, and will now get a 32-square metre plot on which to grow their produce.

Priority for the other plots will be given to residents living in the area.

Users of the community farm will pay an annual maintenance fee of S$60 to defray costs.

Farmers will also get water supply and a temporary footpath will be constructed.

MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, Sim Ann, who is also MP for the area, said: "Arising from feedback from the residents, we feel that this project can be integrated with a temporary footpath that links Block 305 all the way to the Ulu Pandan Park Connector, which is where many of our residents go for jogging and for walks. And I think this footpath, because it's integrated with the community garden, will also allow residents to access and to admire, the plants and the crops that the farmers are cultivating."

- CNA/fa

Clementi gardeners get to stay
Under compromise, they will get smaller plot of land and pay $60 a year
Grace Chua Straits Times 16 May 12;

A COMPROMISE has been reached between the Government and the people farming illegally in Clementi.

All 18 who had been tending to crops near Sungei Ulu Pandan will get to stay, but on a smaller plot of land. They will also pay $60 a year to continue farming there.

Member of Parliament Sim Ann said yesterday that when the farmers' activity came to light in March this year, the Government's task was to give them 'a legitimate outlet for their passion for planting'. 'The legal position is clear - whatever the background reason, encroachment on state land is illegal,' said Ms Sim, who had been leading the talks between the gardeners and the various government agencies involved.

The land is mostly in the Bukit Timah ward of Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, where Ms Sim is the MP.

'But... we also recognised that these are just individuals and families who happen to love planting vegetables and crops. We knew that they meant no harm,' she added.

Ms Sim, who is also Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Law, said that other people who want to join in may do so.

The new community garden is located near Block 301 in Clementi Avenue 4. It will be run by the Bukit Timah Citizens' Consultative Committee, with support from Northwest Community Development Council and the Holland-Bukit Panjang Town Council.

The committee is applying for a temporary occupation licence from the Singapore Land Authority, renewable each year, and expects to be able to use the land for at least three years.

Covering an area about 50m by 25m, the community garden will be divided into 30 or so strips, each 8m by 4m. Each gardener gets just one strip.

For decades, several people - mostly the elderly - have been gardening and growing herbs, fruit and vegetables at the 1,800 sq m strip of state land sandwiched between the Sungei Ulu Pandan canal, the former Malayan Railway (KTM) track, Clementi Avenue 4 and Clementi Avenue 6.

In March, they faced eviction after residents complained about burning leaves and mosquitoes, and Ms Sim had helped secure a three-month respite and June 20 move-out date.

Kindergarten teacher Ng Ang Mui, 48, who had made some initial complaints about smoke from burning leaves, said of the new deal: 'They need to have a proper way of handling the leaves, rubbish and the mosquitoes... If there's a proper way to handle these, I think there should be no problem.'

Laboratory manager Lester Yeung, 35, whose father tends to a plot just past the Clementi Avenue 6 flyover, said there has been no more burning of leaves since March. Even if the new garden is not as large, he said, 'at least the objective of having folks be able to continue with what they do is met'.

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Global Biodiversity Down 30 Percent in 40 Years

Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Yahoo News 14 May 12;

The world's biodiversity is down 30 percent since the 1970s, according to a new report, with tropical species taking the biggest hit. And if humanity continues as it has been, the picture could get bleaker.

Humanity is outstripping the Earth's resources by 50 percent — essentially using the resources of one and a half Earths every year, according to the 2012 Living Planet Report, produced by conservation agency the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Colby Loucks, the director of conservation sciences at WWF, compared humanity to bad houseguests.

"We're emptying the fridge, we're not really taking care of the lawn, we're not weeding the flower beds and we're certainly not taking out the garbage," Loucks said.

Burning through resources

The biannual Living Planet report is designed to call attention to the Earth's "invisible economy," said Emily McKenzie, the director of the WWF's Natural Capital Program. Natural resources — and the rate at which humans burn through them — rarely appear on policymakers' balance sheets, McKenzie said.

But humanity is essentially in debt to Mother Earth, conservationists find. As of 2008, the most recent year for which data is available, humans were outstripping Earth's biocapacity by 50 percent. Biocapacity is the amount of renewable resources, land, and waste absorption (such as sinks for carbon dioxide) the Earth can provide. In other words, it takes the planet 1.5 years to restore what humanity burns through in a year. (The organization Global Footprint Network marks "Earth Overshoot Day" every year to draw attention to how fast humans use natural resources. In 2011, Earth Overshoot Day fell on Sept. 27, the day humans used up Earth's annual resources.)

The report scientists calculated the world's hogs when it comes to resources (called the ecological footprint) by determining each nation's productive land capacity and comparing it to the actual population and consumption per person. The United States has the fifth-largest ecological footprint of any nation on Earth, according to the report.

In order from most to least, the top 10 greediest resource users per capita are:

United Arab Emirates
United States
The Netherlands
More of the list here

Struggling species

All of this resource use is taking a toll. The Living Planet report also tracks biodiversity and species populations across the globe. This year's report details a startling loss of biodiversity around the globe: A loss of 30 percent of biodiversity on average, meaning a major decline in the number of different species of plants, animals and other organisms. Temperate species are doing relatively well, Loucks said, but tropical species have declined by 60 percent since the 1970s. Freshwater tropical species are the hardest-hit, having declined by 70 percent in that time period.

Globally, terrestrial species declined by 25 percent between 1970 and 2008, WWF reports. Marine (non-freshwater) species declined by 20 percent.

Many of the group's proposed solutions to humanity's out-of-control resource use center around Rio+20, the upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development set for June 20, 2012. The meeting is designed to help create pathways for sustainable development in the future, said Kate Newman, WWF's managing director of public sector initiatives. She cited the example of Mozambique, a poor country that may be home to one of the largest natural gas fields in the world. As international companies arrive to exploit this resource, local planners are concerned about how to make sure the entire nation benefits, she said.

In the same way, global decision-makers need to think long-term, Loucks said.

"As we're approaching a planet with 9 billion people on it, we need to find a global solution," he said. "The challenge for us is this is a long-term problem. This is the Earth for millennia. We need to move beyond the election cycle, beyond the quarterly report cycle."

World Living Beyond Its Resources, Summit Off-Track: WWF
Tom Miles PlanetArk 16 May 12;

Biodiversity has decreased by an average of 28 percent globally since 1970 and the world would have to be 50 percent bigger to have enough land and forests to provide for current levels of consumption and carbon emissions, conservation group WWF said on Tuesday.

Unless the world addresses the problem, by 2030 even two planet Earths would not be enough to sustain human activity, WWF said, launching its "Living Planet Report 2012", a biennial audit of the world's environment and biodiversity - the number of plant and animal species.

Yet governments are not on track to reach an agreement at next month's sustainable development summit in Rio de Janeiro, WWF International's director general Jim Leape said.

"I don't think anyone would dispute that we're nowhere near where we should be a month before the conference in terms of the progress of the negotiations and other preparations," Leape told reporters in Geneva.

"I think all of us are concerned that countries negotiating in the U.N. system for an outcome for Rio have not yet shown a willingness to really step up to meet these challenges. Those negotiations are clearly still tangled."

The Rio+20 meeting on June 20-22 is expected to attract more than 50,000 participants, with politicians under pressure from environmentalists to agree goals for sustainable development, in the spirit of the Rio Earth Summit that spawned the Kyoto Protocol 20 years ago.

Despite that pact aimed at cutting planet-warming carbon emissions, global average temperatures are on track for a "catastrophic increase" by the end of the century, WWF said.

Leape said there were many initiatives governments could take unilaterally without being "held hostage" to the wider negotiations for a binding global climate deal to replace Kyoto, which expires this year.

It said the world should move away from "perverse" subsidies on fossil fuels that amount to more than $500 billion annually and ensure global access to clean energy by 2030.

Asked why environmentalists were still struggling to win the argument that something needed to be done, Leape said: "Let's not underestimate the inertia in the system.

"We've built an economy over the last century that is built on fossil fuels and on a premise that the Earth's resources could not be exhausted. You see that conspicuously in the case of the oceans, where we've been taking fish as if there were no tomorrow, as if fish would just always be there.

"Secondly, we're doing it in the context of a marketplace that continues to send the wrong signals. So many of the costs that we're talking about are not built into the prices you see ... Markets can work well if prices are telling the truth but at the moment they don't, in hugely important ways."

Consumers were helping to turn the tide, he said, because of certification regimes that give products a seal of approval, forcing companies to abide by certain standards.

"You see a growing number of commodities in which this approach is rolling out. It's in timber, it's in fish, but it's also now in palm oil and in sugar and in cotton and so forth. I think that's part of creating market signals, to allow consumers to send signals, to show their preferences and to actually begin to build a market that's heading towards sustainability."

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Rio+20 summit leaders 'must improve nature protection'
Richard Black BBC News

Environmentalists say leaders at June's Rio+20 summit must urgently step up nature protection, as a report confirms a 30% decline in wildlife since 1970.

The Living Planet Report combines data on more than 9,000 populations of animals across the world.

Rio+20 is billed as a chance for world leaders to put global society on a sustainable path.

But the report's main authors, WWF, say progress on nature protection and climate change is "glacial".

"The Rio+20 conference is an opportunity for the world to get serious about the need for development to be made sustainable," said David Nussbaum, CEO of WWF-UK.

"We need to elevate the sense of urgency, and I think this is ultimately not only about our lives but the legacy we leave for future generations."

The Living Planet Report uses data on trends seen in various species across the world, compiled by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

Further analysis from the Global Footprint Network aims to calculate how sustainable our global society is in terms of its overall ecological footprint - a composite measure of issues such as fossil fuel burning, use of cropland to grow food, and consumption of wood and wild-caught fish.
Tropical waste

For this edition of the report, ZSL has examined more species (2,600) and more populations of those species (9,014) than ever before.

Overall, these populations show a decline of about 30% since 1970 - the same figure as in the last edition, published two years ago.

Tropical species show a decline of more than 60%, while in temperate regions there has been an average recovery of about 30%.

The worst affected species are those in tropical lakes rivers, whose numbers have fallen by 70% since 1970.

The director of the ZSL's Institute of Zoology, Professor Tim Blackburn, likened the figures to a stock market of the natural world.

"There would be panic of the FTSE index showed a decline like this," he said.

"Nature is more important than money. Humanity can live without money, but we can't live without nature and the essential services it provides."

One of the draft recommendations for Rio+20 is that governments should develop and use economic indicators that include valuation of "natural capital".

Cotton buds

The global footprint analysis, meanwhile, concludes that humanity is using one-and-a-half times more natural resources than the Earth can sustainably supply.

The Persian Gulf emerges as the region with the highest per-capita ecological footprint, with Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates topping the list of the least sustainable nations.

The US makes the top 10, which also includes Denmark, Belgium, Australia and Ireland. The UK ranks 27th.

A new measure that WWF has developed allows tracking of water scarcity in 405 river systems across the world on a monthly basis.

It reveals that 2.7 billion people experience a lack of water for at least one month each year.

The report highlights some examples of progress on sustainability, such as a programme in Pakistan that has helped cotton farmers slash water, pesticide and fertiliser use while generating the same yield.

It also highlights areas that could be tackled urgently, such as the 30% wastage of food caused by profligate behaviour in the West and by lack of storage infrastructure in developing countries.

Mr Nussbaum said it was not too late to turn existing trends around, but "we need to address this with the same urgency and determination with which we tackled the systemic financial crisis globally".

Earth's environment getting worse, not better, says WWF ahead of Rio+20
Swelling population, mass migration to cities, increasing energy use and soaring CO2 emissions squeeze planet's resources
Erin Hale 15 May 12;

Twenty years on from the Rio Earth summit, the environment of the planet is getting worse not better, according to a report from WWF.

Swelling population, mass migration to cities, increasing energy use and soaring carbon dioxide emissions mean humanity is putting a greater squeeze on the planet's resources then ever before. Particularly hard hit is the diversity of animals and plants, upon which many natural resources such as clean water are based.

"The Rio+20 conference next month is an opportunity for the world to get serious about the need for development to become sustainable. Our report indicates that we haven't yet done that since the last Rio summit," said David Nussbaum, WWF-UK chief executive.

The latest Living Planet report, published on Tuesday, estimates that global demand for natural resources has doubled since 1996 and that it now takes 1.5 years to regenerate the renewable resources used in one year by humans. By 2030, the report predicts it will take the equivalent of two planets to meet the current demand for resources.

Most alarming, says the report, is that many of these changes have accelerated in the past decade, despite the plethora of international conventions signed since the initial Rio Summit in 1992. Climate-warming carbon emissions have increased 40% in the past 20 years, but two-thirds of that rise occurred in the past decade.

The report, compiled by WWF, the Zoological Society of London and the Global Footprint Network, compiles data from around the world on the ecological footprints of each country and the status of resources like water and forests. It also examines changes in populations of 2,688 animal species, with the latest available data coming from 2008.

The eighth report of its kind, the new Living Planet document, comes five weeks before Rio+20, the latest United Nations conference on sustainable development.

Nussbaum said: "We have taken some important steps forward: the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is an important step, a way in which the world is seeking to come to agreement about [cutting] greenhouse gases. The Convention on Biological Diversity is an important way of the world identifying steps that can be taken in protecting biodiversity. But the pace in both cases is rather glacial. And unfortunately our lifestyles and the consequences of those are having an impact more quickly than the acts we are taking to protect the planet."

Wealthy countries have seen some improvement, with the Living Planet biodiversity index, rising 7% since 1970, as nature reserves and protections were introduced. But the biodiversity index has dropped by 60% in developing countries, where people depend more on nature. Demographic shifts have had a significant impact. The world's cities have seen a 45% increase in population since 1992, according to the Global Footprint Network, and urban residents typically have a much larger carbon footprint than their rural counterparts. The average Beijinger, says WWF, has a footprint three times the Chinese average, due to factors including private car use.

Water security is a growing concern in many parts of the world as population and agriculture drives demand, placing enormous stress on freshwater ecosystems and fishing zones, according to data from WWF.

"The Living Planet report shows that the biggest single drop in the living planet index is for freshwater species in tropical areas, which have shown a decline of 70% since 1970," said David Tickner, head of freshwater at WWF-UK.

A note of hope for the future, said the authors, is that the world could see peak population sometime this century. Though the population hit 7 billion in 2011, the UNEP reports the population growth rate has fallen from 1.65% to 1.2% since 1992, with women now having an average of 2.5 children.

See also Rising consumption, increased resource use by a growing population puts unbearable pressure on our Planet – WWF 2012 Living Planet Report on the WWF website.

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Malaysia: Poaching puts pressure on Malayan tiger

AFP Yahoo News 15 May 12;

A Malaysian government plan to double its population of endangered Malayan tigers to 1,000 through tighter protection is under threat due to persistent poaching, a conservation group warned Tuesday.

Illegal hunting, fuelled by continued demand for tiger parts remains a serious threat to the animal and other endangered wildlife, MYCAT Tracks, an alliance of conservation groups, said in a report.

The Malayan tiger is a subspecies of the great cat and is found in central and southern parts of the Malayan peninsula.

In 2009, the government announced a plan to double the wild Malayan tiger population -- now estimated at just 500 -- by the year 2020.

Conservationists say factors behind the fall in numbers include poaching, declines in prey such as deer and wild boars, and habitat loss due to agricultural development.

But protective measures, among them a ban on deer hunting aimed at preserving tiger food sources, are being cancelled out by continued poaching, MYCAT Tracks said.

"This is evidenced by the discovery of many poaching signs and close to a thousand snares in (key tiger habitat areas) between 2010 and 2011 as well as the arrest of several poachers," it said.

WWF-Malaysia has previously said demand for wildlife parts to be used in traditional Chinese medicine posed a grave threat to tigers and a range of other species.

There were an estimated 3,000 tigers in Malaysia as recently as the 1950s but numbers have steadily declined since.

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Malaysia: Elephants flee logged forests

Sharifah Mahsinah Abdullah New Straits Times 15 May 12;

RAMPAGE: Villagers in Machang near Machang forest report massive damage to their crops

KOTA BARU: THE state Wildlife Department said rampant logging at the Bukit Bakau forest reserve in Machang is driving elephants into nearby villages.

Its state director, Rahmat Topani, said the department received about 80 reports from villagers whose rubber smallholdings and fruit orchards were damaged by elephants this year.

He said villages such as Kampung Pek, Kampung Cherang Hangus, Kampung Lepan Rambai and Kampung Pangkal Petai were among more than 10 villages in Machang that were under threat from the elephants.

"The farmers are shocked by the extent of the damage to their smallholdings and orchards.

"Hordes of elephants enter their farms almost everyday. The villagers have not seen such rampages since they settled in the villages about 50 years ago."
Rahmat said the elephants usually came out of the jungles between evening and early morning.

"Logging, either legal or illegal, has forced the elephants to roam into the villages in search of food."

He said rangers would monitor the elephant movements and drive them back into the wild if the animals were found in the villages.

"I advise the villagers against going out at night or going deep into the forest as precaution against elephant attacks."

About 1,000 people in the affected areas had called on the authorities to take action to solve their problem.

Kampung Cherang Hangus village security and development head Zulkifli Mat Nor said villagers who conducted checks on the logging activities believed that the loggers had encroached into areas outside their concessions.

He said logging, which started several years ago, became widespread last year as there was no inspection by the authorities such as the Forestry Department and Department of Environment.

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Indonesia Investigating Palm Oil Companies Over Forest Fires

Ahmad Pathoni Jakarta Globe 15 May 12;

Indonesia has launched a criminal investigation into the burning of a peatland forest on Sumatra island that environmentalists said resulted in the deaths of orangutans, an official said on Tuesday.

Investigators will summon officials from two companies suspected of burning a large swath of the Tripa forest to make way for palm oil plantations, said Sudaryono, the head of law enforcement at the Environment Ministry.

“Our investigators found that there have been fires in areas controlled by SPS2 and KA,” he said, referring to palm oil companies Surya Panen Subur 2 and Kallista Alam.

A coalition of local and international conservation groups warned in March that orangutans in the Tripa forest could disappear by the end of this year unless action was taken to stop fires and land clearing there.

The coalition said an estimated 100 orangutans had died in the area in recent years as a result of land clearing, with only 200 remaining.

The government’s task force for the UN’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) program said there were indications that plantation companies cleared more than 1,600 hectares of peatland areas even before they obtained concession permits.

“Law enforcers concluded that there have been legal violations,” task force chief Kuntoro Mangkusubroto said.

Under Indonesia’s environmental law, forest clearing using fires is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to 10 billion rupiah ($1 million).

Kallista Alam has denied wrongdoing and blamed local farmers for the fires.

In May 2011, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed a decree committing Indonesia to a two-year moratorium on new clearing permits for an area of around 60 million hectares of virgin forest and carbon-rich peatland.

The move was part of the country’s commitment to the REDD program, which aims to reduce climate change from greenhouse gasses.

But in August, the then-governor of Aceh province, Irwandi Yusuf, signed a permit to allow Kallista Alam to operate in Tripa.

The environmental coalition is awaiting a verdict on an appeal seeking the revocation of the permit.

Tripa was included in the moratorium map in April 2011, but it disappeared from a revised version in November, the local environmental group Walhi said.

Greenpeace said in a report released this month that the moratorium had done little to protect forests, with almost 50 percent of the country’s primary forests and peatland without any protection.

The destruction of peatlands releases large amounts of carbon dioxide that contributes to climate change.

Indonesia is among the largest producers of greenhouse gasses, largely owing to the rapid destruction of its forests. It aims to reduce the emissions by at least 26 percent by 2020.


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Balding disease killing Australia's wombats

(AFP) Google News 15 May 12;

SYDNEY — A mystery liver disease thought to be caused by introduced weeds is causing hairy-nosed wombats in southern Australia to go bald and die, researchers said Tuesday.

The illness, which causes the wombat to lose some or all of its fur and then starve to death, is tearing through South Australia's native southern hairy-nosed wombats, threatening entire populations.

Peter Clements from the state's Natural History Society said wildlife rescue workers had discovered "several hundred" sickened animals in the Murraylands region near Adelaide, where up to 85 percent of the population was unwell.

"They tend to lose their fur in patches and sometimes in whole," Clements told AFP.

"You can see the bones showing through and they're generally immobile, they just sit there in the sun all day and try to keep warm."

Clements said it was unusual to see the wombat, a nocturnal creature, out during the day and when they were in daylight "we know that they're in trouble."

Initially the animals were thought to have mange, but it became so widespread and severe -- with shiny, healthy skin revealed beneath -- that autopsies were carried out to determine what was causing the illness.

University of Adelaide researcher Wayne Boardman said the non-native toxic potato weed appeared to be affecting the wombats' livers, triggering a reaction with ultraviolet light that caused them to lose their fur.

Boardman said it was unclear why the herbivorous wombat had suddenly taken to eating the noxious weed but a shortage of their usual grasses and alternative foods due to prolonged local drought could be to blame.

"We have a feeling it might well be a struggle to find enough vegetation, leading them to eat other plants like weeds, and particularly potato weed, which is then having a deleterious effect on the liver," Boardman told ABC Radio.

The creatures were also roaming in areas where they were not usually seen, supporting the theory that there were food shortages and they "have to move out to find vegetation", he added.

Squat and thickly furred, wombats are small burrow-dwelling marsupials that walk on all fours and are bear-like in appearance with a wide muzzle and a flattened head.

They are not a threatened species but Boardman said the population in parts of South Australia state could die out completely if their habitat was not restored to a healthy balance of native plants.

Brigitte Stevens, from the Wombat Awareness Organisation, said it was a "huge and overwhelming" problem.

"Some of them are just lying down... on their side and just eating dirt. You know, they can't even lift their heads," she told ABC.

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Island Imperiled by Rising Seas Battles Nature and Humans

Charles Choi LiveScience 15 May 12;

The island nation of Kiribati is one of the countries most threatened by rising sea levels. However, many of the floods it has seen may be due to a mix of natural variability and human activities, complicating the picture of how rising sea levels are endangering Kiribati and other island nations.

The Republic of Kiribati in the central tropical Pacific is home to about 103,500 people. Its capital on the atoll of Tarawa has seen dramatic flooding in recent years. For instance, during the 2004 to 2005 El Niño, two major floods occurred — a "king" tide in February 2005 damaged the hospital in the town of Betio, and a second flood two weeks later breached sea walls, flooded causeways and damaged homes and public infrastructure.

The existence of low-lying nations such as Kiribati is indeed threatened by rising sea levels — "there is no doubt whatsoever," said researcher Simon Donner, a climate scientist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver who has done research on Kiribati since 2005. In fact, the island nation is considering the purchase of land in Fiji to safeguard its people threatened by the rising seas.

Moreover, the flooding events Kiribati has seen are more likely to happen as global average sea levels continue to rise. "A lot of the country could be uninhabitable within the century," said Donner, who based his conclusions on a review of past research on the phenomenon. [Top 10 Ways to Destroy Earth]

However, Donner cautioned these flooding events are not in and of themselves evidence of rising sea levels. "You can't blame every flood on sea-level rise, just like you can't blame every heat wave on climate change," he said.

"The evidence for a human-caused increase in global sea level is overwhelming," Donner added. "I'm merely reminding people that, like the temperature, the sea level varies from place to place and from day to day."

Sea level can vary over time for many reasons. There are daily, weekly and annual cycles of tides due to the gravitational pulls of the moon and sun. Also, sea level at any single location is sensitive to changes in the weather and ocean features, with sea level capable of rising on an hourly to weekly time scale during periods of low atmospheric pressure — for example, the storm surges driven by tropical cyclones. In addition, local sea level can vary on weekly to monthly time scales because of phenomena such as El Niño and La Niña, collectively known as the El Niño Southern Oscillation. This oscillation refers to the seesaw pattern of reversing surface air pressure between the eastern and western tropical Pacific.

At the same time, people are modifying coastlines in ways that can influence the magnitude and frequency of floods, as well as the very shapes of islands. For instance, land reclamation at Tarawa — which involved filling in areas behind sea walls — increased land in some locations but aggravated erosion and flooding in others, such as the atoll's airport. Mining barrier reefs and beaches for construction material can also make the shoreline vulnerable to extreme tides and storms.

Moreover, the building of causeways between islets has altered how these small islands evolve, diverting sediment to some while eroding it away from others. For instance, the loss of the lagoon islet of Bikeman, a once-popular resting spot for fisherman near Betio, is due primarily to the construction of the Betio-Bairiki causeway, and not rising sea levels.

Donner wants to avoid the false impression that Tarawa is subject to constant flooding because of sea-level rise.

"When scientists or environmentalists use a photo of a flooded village in Kiribati as evidence of sea-level rise, they open the door for critics of climate science," Donner said. "We can't attribute an individual flooding event on sea level rise any more than we can attribute an individual heat wave to global warming."

Future research should pinpoint ways one might responsibly attribute flooding to rising sea levels.

"Climate scientists often try to work out the odds of an event, like a heat wave, happening with and without the human influence on the climate," Donner said. "We should analyze recent storm surges and flooding events the same way."

Donner detailed these findings April 24 in the journal Eos.

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