Best of our wild blogs: 19 May 12

22 May (Tue): Youth Dialogue "Development and Conservation: Where Should the Line be Drawn?"
from wild shores of singapore

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Malaysia: Johor land reclamation for petrochemical projects

Picking up the scrap
Lim Mun Fah, translated by Dominic Loh
Sin Chew Daily 18 May 12;

I made a special trip to Pengerang during a May holiday.

Although it was a sunny afternoon, my mood was most dampened. I couldn't imagine what this scenic home of lobsters would get to be tomorrow.

Everyone knows that land reclamation is being fervently carried out here, along with active land acquisitions. Many residences, farmlands, schools, temples and even cemeteries will have to give way to two major projects: one by Petronas and the other, Taiwan-based Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology, with a combined investment value in excess of RM120 billion.

It has been said that once these two projects are completed, Johor will emerge a petroleum, natural gas and petrochemical hub in not only Asia but the world.

When residents in the three villages here begin to move out of their ancestral homeland next March, and when the fishermen can no longer harvest fish and shrimps here, the once scenic fishing village will be turned into a soul-less petrochemical hub and nothing else.

It seems that everything has been fixed and when residents are still vague about the first project steered by Petronas, land reclamation has quietly been carried out. And when their vision is still obscured by the lingering dust from the construction works, a "man-made island" has suddenly popped up in front of the eyes of the villagers.

When they start to complain, protest and get frustrated, a previously denied project is now confirmed. Taiwan's Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology has plans to have a stake at Pengerang, investing RM39.4 billion for a petrochemical base here.

No Pengerang residents need the opposition parties' "misguiding remarks" to know what Kuokuang is all about. They are well aware that the controversies around the Taiwanese company's investments back home had persisted for 15 years before they were eventually blocked in Taiwan last year, thanks to the aggressive objections from the islanders.

From the economic point of view, Kokuang's relocation to Malaysia is bound wreak havoc to Taiwan's petrochemical industry and its overall economy. On the contrary, Malaysia will emerge as Asia's, and probably the world's, petrochemical hub.

As a matter of fact, some Taiwanese have accused anti-Kokuang people of being manipulated by the politicians, sacrificing the island's economic lifeline in its course. That said, what kind of price do we have to pay for such economic spinoffs?

To be frank, most people know very little about petrochemical industry, which is, not unlike rare earth processing, highly polluting and risky. This is beyond question.

Because of this, Malaysians begin to question why we receive with open arms something trashed by foreigners.

When our politicians are weighing the economic gains from a project, does the future of our children and grandchildren ever flash past their minds? Why must we throw out a warm "Selamat Datang" when the Taiwanese people have turned their back against Kokuang Petrochemical?

We are not here to protest just for the sake of protesting. We want the truth, and hope our dear prime minister will hear our voices.

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PUB explores ways to further increase yields of local water sources

Letter from Young Joo Chye Director, Policy and Planning, PUB
Today Online 18 May 12;

THE national water agency, PUB, thanks Mr Paul Chan for his letter "Deepen reservoirs to increase capacity" (May 14). PUB concurs with his suggestion to harness water in the remaining streams and rivulets near the shoreline.

Since 2007, PUB has been researching the use of variable salinity technology to obtain potable water from rivulets and brackish water at the shoreline.

This new technology integrates processes that are well established in both sea water desalination and NEWater recycling.

PUB currently operates a pilot variable salinity plant with a capacity of 4,500 cubic metres per day at Sungei Tampines. The results have been promising, and PUB envisages using more of this technology to increase our yield from local water sources.

Mr Chan is also correct in emphasising the importance of maximising storage capacity. Dams in our reservoirs have been built as high as the topography of the areas allowed.

PUB monitors the depth of our reservoirs through regular hydrographic surveys and dredges sediments in the reservoirs when necessary. PUB has also optimised the catchment and storage capacity of our water network by active linkage of complementary reservoirs.

PUB will explore ways to further increase the yield of our local water sources, including deepening existing reservoirs and the construction of new reservoirs or even underground caverns.

However, we must be careful to choose the most cost-effective method, using the best available technology at that point. This requires long-term planning, innovative research and prudent investment in infrastructure.

PUB welcomes suggestions, and members of the public can call our 24-hour call centre at 1800-2846600 or email

Deepen reservoirs to increase capacity
Letter from Paul Chan Poh Hoi
Today Online 14 May 12;

I WAS impressed with the recent thought-provoking idea from former chief defence scientist Lui Pao Chuen that building underground reservoirs in rock caverns could increase our rainwater storage capacity by 10 million cubic metres.

This may increase rainwater harvest by 1.67 per cent of our annual consumption of about 600 million cu m.

Based on his estimate, though, of S$1 billion to build 20 rock cavern reservoirs 100 metres below ground, the return on investment seems expensive in terms of water storage cost.

Even if we were to amortise infrastructure costs over 50 years, the price for one cubic metre of free rainwater would still be more than S$2 per cu m, considering the energy costs to pump the water up and the annual maintenance of the facilities.

Perhaps better alternatives could achieve incremental storage capacity with less capital outlay.

To boost our catchment area and rainwater collection, we could harness water from the remaining streams and rivulets near the shoreline, using available technology to treat water of varying salinity.

To increase storage capacity, we could deepen shallow reservoirs instead of going underground, since enlarging their surface areas are not an option.

Increasing reservoir depth by 20 per cent through dredging would give us another 28 million cu m of fresh water, based on the storage capacity (140 million cu m) of our 14 older reservoirs.

This would boost our first national tap without an increase in surface evaporation. Between dredging on the surface and digging underground to store more rainwater, the former is cheaper and would not involve any recurring and maintenance costs.

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Dinosaurs' lair to have prehistoric facade

But the interior of the new museum building will have high-tech features
Tan Dawn Wei Straits Times 19 May 12;

(Clockwise from top left) Mr Foo Yong Kai, Mr Ng Weng Pan, Mr Mok Wei Wei, Mr Marcel Peter, Mr Micki Chua and Ms Stacy Cheang, members of the architectural team behind the new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, which will house three dinosaur fossils and the region?s largest collection of South-east Asian animals. -- ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN

ON THE outside, the new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, resembling a moss-covered rock, will look as prehistoric as the three dinosaurs it will house.

But on the inside, cutting-edge technology will keep the 150 million-year fossils, as well as the region's largest collection of South-east Asian animals, in tip-top condition.

The museum, to open on the National University of Singapore (NUS) campus in 2014, will be armed to the teeth with firefighting technology, as well as the means to keep the air there dry and cool.

The building and the hardware did not come cheap - $46 million was raised from private and public donations.

But this is because the 7,500 sq m museum will be the new home of the respected Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research and the three diplodocid sauropod dinosaurs, bought for under $8 million from the United States.

And with many of the 500,000 specimens of vertebrates and invertebrates preserved in alcohol, the museum has to follow fire regulations to a T.

It is wired up with sprinklers - but not the kind commonly found in most buildings.

The museum cannot risk its sprinklers accidentally discharging water and damaging the specimens, so it has the kind that does not store water in its pipes; the system activates and can draw water in a snap only when a fire alarm goes off.

And some areas are kitted with an inert-gas system which reduces oxygen levels so fires are denied the means to blaze on.

Dampness is also an enemy of the museum's specimens, so humidity is kept at 50 per cent, and the building is insulated to keep heat out.

Home-grown architect Mok Wei Wei and his team at W Architects had to deal with these technical issues, but they had consultants from London's Natural History Museum to advise them on safeguarding the collection, the development of research facilities, exhibition spaces and other matters.

Mr Mok, 55, said: 'We couldn't have had a better consultant. They have scientists, estate managers and designers, so we get a full range of inputs from them.'

But he is not new to the business of designing museums. He had a hand in the redevelopment of the National Museum of Singapore in 2004 and designed the exhibition space of the Peranakan Museum. His other notable current project is the rejuvenation of the Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall.

Those experiences came in handy, he said.

But still, he knew from day one that the natural history museum, to have dimly lit galleries, would not need light. This is how it came to be windowless.

Outdoors, though, it will form a cultural hub with the University Cultural Centre and the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music.

The conservatory will be fronted by a renovated plaza and linked to the museum and cultural centre by covered walkways.

The museum's courtyard will be landscaped to reflect Singapore's natural habitats - the vegetation native to its beaches, cliffs, mangrove forests and freshwater swamps.

Associate Professor Hugh Tan of the Department of Biological Sciences said the landscaping will give an idea of the kind of natural habitats found here, 'to give visitors a preview and to entice them to visit the real habitats' in the museum.

And while the dinosaurs will take centrestage in a cavernous space in the main gallery, the designers have yet to decide whether they will be the first thing visitors see as they enter the place.

Meanwhile, the existing Raffles Museum in NUS' Science Drive 2 (Block S6, Level 3) has its last open house today under the National Heritage Board's Children's Season programme. It will be open from 9am to 5pm.

After this, the packing up starts for the big move to its new home just 850m away.

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Malaysian Scientist Finds New Borneo Frog

Jakarta Globe 18 May 12;

This undated photo released by the World Wildlife Fund shows a Bornean flat-headed frog, which has the rare characteristic of being an amphibian without lungs, and instead breathes entirely through its skin and is one of the recent discoveries in Borneo. A lung-less frog, a frog that flies and a slug that shoots love darts are among 123 new species discovered in Borneo since 2007, the result of a three-nation project backed by the WWF to conserve one of the oldest rainforests in the world. (AP Photo/World Wildlife Fund) This undated photo released by the World Wildlife Fund shows a Bornean flat-headed frog, which has the rare characteristic of being an amphibian without lungs, and instead breathes entirely through its skin and is one of the recent discoveries in Borneo. A lung-less frog, a frog that flies and a slug that shoots love darts are among 123 new species discovered in Borneo since 2007, the result of a three-nation project backed by the WWF to conserve one of the oldest rainforests in the world. (AP Photo/World Wildlife Fund)

Kuala Lumpur. A Malaysian researcher known for finding new amphibian species said on Friday that his team had discovered at least one new species of frog in studies he said highlight Borneo’s rich biodiversity.

Indraneil Das of the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak said the brown frog is just 4-5 centimeters (1.6-2.0 inches) long and makes a distinctive high-pitched chirp.

His team discovered the frog during an expedition to the rainforests of Mount Singai in the Malaysian state of Sarawak on Borneo island in September 2010. They later found another of the same species in nearby Kubah National Park.

Ascertaining whether a species is new is a lengthy scientific process and his discovery remains to be peer-reviewed, he said.

“We heard a call we hadn’t heard before. It called from under the leaf litter. That’s probably why no one saw it before,” Das told Agence France-Presse.

“It’s the call that is very distinctive. It was high-pitched, loud and repeated.”

Das said his team had also found several other species of frog that could be previously unknown and was currently investigating them.

He now hopes to publish his findings to draw attention to Borneo’s amazing biodiversity and help promote conservation efforts of its rainforests, currently threatened by logging and other development.

Last year, Das made headlines for rediscovering a spindly-legged toad species, the Sambas Stream Toad or Borneo Rainbow Toad, almost 90 years after it was last sighted in the Borneo jungle.

The toad was listed as one of the “World’s Top 10 Most Wanted Lost Frogs” in a campaign by Conservation International and another group to encourage scientists worldwide to seek out amphibians not seen for a decade or more.

Das has also previously discovered Asia’s tiniest frog, the size of a pea, in Kubah National Park.

The Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah occupy the northern portion of Borneo island, which is also shared with Indonesia and Brunei.

Agence France-Presse

Two new frog species discovered
Winston Way New Straits Times 19 May 12;

ONLY IN BORNEO: Mount Singai expedition also found 30 species of amphibians, 19 species of reptiles

KUCHING: TWO frog species from the Genus Leptobrachella, believed to be new to science, were discovered around Mount Singai, 30km from here.

"The species found during the September and December 2010 expeditions to Mount Singai are being studied by Prof Dr Indranil Das," said Prof Dr Andrew Alek Tuen from the Faculty of Resource Science and Technology at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak.

Indranil, a renowned expert on frogs, had in 2009 discovered microhyla nepenthicola -- the world's smallest frog -- in Sarawak.

Last year, Indranil discovered the Bornean rainbow toad, previously thought to be extinct for 87 years.

Andrew, who led the expeditions, said this after giving a talk on the conservation of Mount Singai here on Wednesday night.

He said apart from the two species, the expeditions also found at least 30 species of amphibians and 19 species of reptiles, including 14 that were endemic to Borneo, as well as more than 200 species of vegetation.

The slopes of the 305m-high Mount Singai used to be the settlement area for the Singai Bidayuh, who now live in 12 villages around it.

Andrew also spoke about the locals' concern that the surrounding area of the High Conservation Value Forest might face environmental threats in the future.

"The area around Mount Singai was gazetted as state land. There is no law to protect it from being developed commercially such as for tourism.

"Anyone with the financial means can get permission from the state to develop it."

The mountain, he added, was also too small to have its status changed to a national park.

"The only thing the local people can do at the moment is to stop any development there to conserve the area."

Many endangered animals in Borneo are threatened by hunting and habitat loss sparked by logging, plantations and development.

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Indonesia: East Kalimantan Forest Now in ‘Very Poor’ Condition

Tunggadewa Mattangkilang Jakarta Globe 18 May 12;

Kutai Kartanegara, East Kalimantan. One of the largest tracts of protected forest in Indonesia has been decimated by illegal loggers and miners to the extent that it no longer holds any scientific value, a researcher said on Thursday.

Chandra Boer, director of the Tropical Forest Research Center at Mulawarman University in Samarinda, East Kalimantan, said the patch of forest in Kutai Kartanegara district was now in “very poor” condition.

The 20,271-hectare research forest, inside the Bukit Suharto community forest, has for years been used by forestry students at Mulawarman for study purposes, thanks to its high biodiversity.

Now just 6,000 hectares remain intact, with the rest razed by loggers, miners and property developers, Chandra said.

He added that these commercial activities had spilled over from other parts of the 61,850-hectare community forest, where 22 companies have been granted concessions, despite the forest being protected for conservation.

Thirteen of those concessions include parts of the university’s forest.

“In the state that it’s in, you can’t call Bukit Suharto a conservation forest anymore,” Chandra said. “It’s been mined so extensively and there are many settlements inside it.”

Kahar Al Bahri, the coordinator of the East Kalimantan branch of the Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam), agreed that mining in the forest had reached “alarming levels.”

He said Jatam had reported several companies to the police for illegal mining, but there had been no effort by the authorities to stop the practice.

Andi Harun, a deputy speaker of the provincial legislature, said he would call the Mulawarman rector to testify about the damage to the university’s research forest.

He said university officials would be questioned about reportedly approving the logging and mining operations in their forest.

“We will summon the rector in the near future to clarify the issue of the university’s recommendation for commercial activities,” Andi said.

“How is it that they could allow mining inside the forest when it’s clearly meant for students to carry out research?”

The status of the Bukit Suharto forest has changed several times since it was established in 1976, initially as a production forest. Since then, it has been designated a partially protected tourism forest and now a community forest, where commercial forestry activities are prohibited.

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Sumatra Volcanoes May Pack Deadly Punch Yahoo News 18 May 12;

The oft-disaster-battered island of Sumatra may have yet another threat to add to the roster of natural phenomena that afflict the Indonesian island: colossal volcanic eruptions.

Although Sumatra residents are likely well-acquainted with the string of volcanoes that line the Indian Ocean island's western coastline, new research has revealed that some of these volcanoes are capable of far more violence than once thought.

"Our study found some of the first evidence that the region has a much more explosive history than perhaps has been appreciated," said Oregon State University's (OSU) Morgan Salisbury, lead author of research recently published in the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research.

"Sumatra has a number of active and potentially explosive volcanoes, and many show evidence of recent activity," Salisbury said in a statement. However, he added, most of the eruptions are small, so little attention has been paid to the potential for a catastrophic eruption.

In 2007, OSU professor Chris Goldfinger led an expedition to Sumatra to dig up evidence of earthquakes that had rocked the region in the past. During the field work, the OSU team, along with Indonesian colleagues, stumbled upon unmistakable evidence of volcanic ash and began conducting a parallel investigation into the region's volcanic history.

The researchers unearthed the signatures of six major volcanic eruptions that hit Sumatra over the past 35,000 years. Most equaled — or surpassed — the explosive intensity of Mount St. Helens' deadly 1980 eruption.

Some of the eruptions dumped ash as far as 185 miles (300 kilometers) away.

Sumatra has more than 30 potentially active volcanoes. And although the mountains do erupt, occasionally belching forth ash and gas, Goldfinger said, residents may not be aware of the potential for catastrophic violence that lurks within the peaks.

In 2004, the Indian Ocean island was devastated by an earthquake and an ensuing tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people around the world.

"Prior to 2004, the risk from a major earthquake was not widely appreciated except, perhaps, in some of the more rural areas," Goldfinger said in a statement. "And earthquakes happen more frequently than major volcanic eruptions."

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Solomon Island: Proper management plans needed for dolphin

Solomon Star 19 May 12;

PARTICIPANTS of a dolphin workshop held at the Heritage Park Hotel were encouraged to utilize what they learn.

Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) Moses Garu during the official opening of a dolphin seminar, said dolphin is a vital marine resource.

Mr Garu said the government always advocates for sustainable usage of marine resources.

He said a dolphin Assessment and Monitoring Project had been conducted in late 2008 and was a collaborative work between the South Pacific Whale Research(SPWR),Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) and Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP).

He said the aim of the project was to gain healthy scientific socio economic information to increase the understanding of the Solomon island Sea.

“In 2004 Rapid Marine Assessment Program (RMAP) led by the Nature Conservancy (TNC) found out 11 species of cetaceans in Solomon waters.

“It was recommended that thorough and detailed surveys need to be conducted on the local dolphin stocks to determine the accurate status of dolphin population in Solomon Islands waters.”

He however said the status of dolphin population in Solomon Island is unknown and recently the exports have drawn international and regional criticism on the Solomon Island government.

He said that Solomon Island did not apply the precautionary approach to sustainable fisheries to its dolphin stocks, and that was the reason important projects on dolphin stock assessment was funded and implemented.

“Information gathered out of this seminar will enable the development of a national and community dolphin management plan.

“I hope the process by which management plans will be developed is inclusive and covers stakeholders.

The seminar ended yesterday.


Dolphin Exports Unsustainable
It also found that as dolphin populations in the region do not intermingle, individual populations should be managed separately.
Solomon Times 21 May 12;

An independent assessment of Solomon Islands dolphin exports has warned the current quota is unsustainable.

A report by the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium, presented in Honiara says that level of export is way beyond what the population can sustain.

It says the dolphin population in Guadalcanal Province, which has been the biggest source of dolphins for export, may have been depleted by as much as half - and recommend no more than one dolphin should be removed from there every five years.

The report also highlighted the number of dolphins that die during capture before they are exported, and recommended the government base the quota on the number of dolphins captured, rather than the number for export.

It also found that as dolphin populations in the region do not intermingle, individual populations should be managed separately.

The report was presented at a two day workshop in Honiara last week which the Ministry of Environment says will lead to a national management plan for the dolphins.

Meanwhile, at a press conference on the eve of his Asian Tour last Wednesday, Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo said dolphin exports are not totally banned in Solomon Islands as it depends on its population.

When asked if the government is saying it will continue to allow dolphin exports from Solomon Islands, Prime Minister Lilo could not give a straight answer but indicated his government will take action if the mammal's population is at risk.

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Rio+20 to mull giving UN climate body more teeth: Brazil

(AFP) Google News 19 May 12;

BRASILIA — Next month's Rio summit on sustainable development will discuss how to strengthen the UN Environment Program (UNEP), Brazil's environment minister said Friday.

France, backed by at least 100 countries, is proposing to turn the second-string UNEP into a global super-agency on a par with other UN specialized agencies such as the World Health Organization or the Food and Agricultural Organization.

But Washington is strong opposed to the idea.

"There is no consensus in international organizations on the proposal to create an environment agency" during the Rio+20 summit June 20-22, Izabella Teixeira told reporters. "The strengthening of UNEP is under negotiation."

"This is a priority for Brazil," she added. "We are working hard looking for the best way to achieve this."

Environmentalists have long complained that the Nairobi-based UNEP, set up in 1972 as a United Nations office with a membership of only 58 nations, lacks clout to deal with the globe's worsening ills.

In January, a high-level panel set up by UN chief Ban Ki-moon, of which Teixeira is a member, made 56 recommendations to put sustainable development in practice, including creation of a high-level sustainable development council within the United Nations as well as the strengthening of UNEP.

Presenting the Portuguese version of the panel report, Teixeira highlighted some of the recommendations related to production and consumption which could be immediately put into practice, including use of bicycles instead of cars and use of cars running on ethanol fuel.

Other recommendations, such as doubling the share of renewable energy in the energy mix of all countries, "are more complicated," she conceded.

Currently, renewable sources provide 49 percent of the energy in Brazil, but in other countries this percentage is only three percent, she noted.

Janos Pasztor, the executive director of the UN panel which made the recommendations, meanwhile stressed the need to measure progress related to sustainable development.

"Measuring GDP is not enough. We need to develop an index or various indexes to measure progress" in the social, economic and environmental areas, and adopt sustainable development targets, something which is already on the Rio+20 summit agenda, to monitor progress," he said.

The June 20-22 gathering, the fourth major summit on sustainable development since 1972, is expected to draw 115 global leaders and 50,000 participants from around the world.

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Climate-Cooling Trial Balloon Gets Canceled Yahoo News 19 May 12;

One of the first trials of geoengineering Earth's climate would have launched a balloon with a hose that could pump two bath loads of water into the atmosphere to reflect sunlight. But disagreements about that small, symbolic step combined with a patent issue to force a cancellation of the British experiment.

The original idea took inspiration from Earth's huge volcanic eruptions that toss small particles into the atmosphere. Such small particles can reflect sunlight back into space and have a cooling effect on the Earth, and so some scientists have suggested mimicking the effect to counter the climate change effects of greenhouse gas warming. But experts still fight over whether humans should try geoengineering projects that could change the Earth's climate and environment on a grand scale.

Those disagreements slowed down even the small-scale balloon effort — an "environmentally benign experiment" with no impact on the Earth's climate or biodiversity, according to Matthew Watson, principal investigator of the Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE) project. He gave two main reasons for test's cancellation on his blog "The Reluctant Geoengineer."

First, no international agreement exists concerning where, when or how humans should try geoengineering. That lack of agreement on rules left even Watson feeling uncertain — he saw the balloon experiment as a "somewhat premature" technology demonstration, but added that "many in SPICE would disagree." [Changing Earth: 7 Ideas to Geoengineer Our Planet]

The technology itself is not the main challenge — aircraft or other existing technologies can already do the job of scattering small, reflective particles into the atmosphere. The planned balloon test would have been just 1/20th the size of a full-scale climate-cooling balloon, and would have taken place about one- third of a mile (1 kilometer) above a deserted field. But it had already been delayed once because of objections by environmental groups, according to Nature News.

Second, there was uneasiness over a related patent application. The SPICE project team only became aware of the patent a year into the project, which caused "significant discomfort" for Watson and many other members. They had all agreed they wanted to explore the effects of climate engineering "for the greater good" without exploiting such ideas for profit, and so they wanted time to make it clear that the patent is only to protect intellectual property.

Still, the field test's cancellation does not mean the end of the SPICE project. Watson and other SPICE members want discussions that can create an agreement to guide any future geoengineering efforts.

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