Best of our wild blogs: 27 Jul 12

Cuttlefish Laying Eggs
from Pulau Hantu

Algae Quest: Semakau and Jong Island
from Pulau Hantu

Bivalves Surreal and Real: Bivalve Workshop Day 3
from wild shores of singapore

Little tern hovering
from Bird Ecology Study Group

A few wires less
from the annotated budak

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Doing more about climate change

This primer is the 10th instalment of a 12-part series in the Opinion pages, in the lead-up to The Straits Times-Ministry of Education National Current Affairs Quiz.
Grace Chua Straits Times 27 Jul 12;

Should Singapore do more about climate change?

CLIMATE change, which threatens to cause rising temperatures, intense storms and rising sea levels, is a global issue that Singapore can't escape.

So should the island state do more about climate change? The answer: It depends.

Clearly, it is vulnerable to rising oceans and drastic changes in rainfall that result when excess carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases warm the atmosphere. But it is also a small country with a relatively small absolute carbon footprint - it produces just 0.2 per cent of the world's greenhouse gases that cause warming.

Given that China produces a whopping 29 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and the United States produces 16 per cent, Singapore's tiny contribution might cause some to think that nothing the Republic does will make even a dent in the global picture of climate change.

Yet the Republic has pledged to cut its emissions by 16 per cent from the business-as-usual scenario by 2020 if the world reaches an agreement on climate change, and from 7 per cent to 11 per cent if there is no global agreement.

Without measures to slash emissions, Singapore's emissions in 2020 are projected to reach 77.2 million tonnes. That is the amount the entire world currently emits in a single day.

Its emissions targets may seem smaller than other nations' - for example, Germany has a domestic programme that aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020.

But other countries have a greater capacity to switch their energy sources from coal or fuel oil to natural gas or renewable energy. Singapore's choices are more limited.

Singapore began switching its fuel mix more than a decade ago. In 2000, 19 per cent of its power came from natural gas. By 2010, it was 78.7 per cent.

But barring a technological miracle, it has little space for sprawling rooftop solar panels or wind turbines.

That does not mean it is fiddling while the world burns.

A national climate change strategy report published last month outlined a number of steps Singapore has taken in recent years. For one thing, it is promoting energy efficiency. An Energy Conservation Act that takes effect next year mandates that large consumers of energy, such as industries, appoint energy managers and submit improvement plans.

Industries contributed 54 per cent of Singapore's carbon emissions in 2005, and are projected to contribute 60.3 per cent in 2020 in a business-as-usual scenario.

Singapore's emissions are expected to grow at 4.3 per cent a year till 2020. Much of its economic growth until that period comes from relatively high-emitting industries such as petroleum refining and chemicals. And power generation can no longer easily switch from fuel oil to natural gas as it had in years past.

In the long term, Singapore will have to decide what it wants its economy to be built on. Should it reconsider its industry mix to shift towards less energy-intensive industries?

At the same time, it must do this without outsourcing or shunting that same work to countries that might be less energy efficient, which might reduce Singapore's emissions but result in higher overall global emissions.

And it must balance emissions control with other needs such as energy security, which means using other forms of energy with less severe impact on the environment.

Meanwhile, Singapore is taking other steps to stem its carbon emissions. Transport in 2005 produced 19 per cent of the country's emissions. But new rail lines and more trains by 2016 may convert some motorists to public transport with lower emissions. And new buildings are subject to the Green Mark certification scheme, which imposes minimum standards on energy and water efficiency.

Yet for all its concrete policies, Singapore should not neglect the intangible aspects of climate change action.

In international negotiations, some small nations feel they have more standing to bargain with high-emitting countries if they have already taken the clean lead. For instance, the Maldives and Samoa, both small island states at risk from sea-level rises, have pledged to go carbon-neutral - having its emissions be equal to the amount it takes in or offsets - by cutting fossil fuel consumption and installing more renewable power. Singapore may opt to adopt such a negotiating stance.

Developing countries and cities look to Singapore as an example of a sustainable city. But in fact, if everyone in the world consumed at the rate the average Singaporean does, 3.5 earths would be needed to generate the resources for such a level of consumption, according to a World Wide Fund for Nature report last month. Much of what is consumed is not produced here, so that carbon emissions are outsourced to other countries.

So there is room to change people's mindsets so that every individual feels that he can contribute more to stemming climate change - say, by consuming or wasting less.

Just as psychological defence is one of Singapore's five pillars of total defence, Singapore could foster its people's psychological engagement with this global challenge.

Background story

Developing countries and cities look to Singapore as an example of a sustainable city. But in fact, if everyone in the world consumed at the rate the average Singaporean does, 3.5 earths would be needed to generate the resources for such a level of consumption, according to a World Wide Fund for Nature report last month.

Global problem, bleak outlook
Straits Times 27 Jul 12;

If climate change is such a pressing global problem, why is it so hard to deal with?

AT THE first Rio Earth Summit, held in Brazil in 1992, leaders from all over the world produced the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the landmark agreement to stabilise the production of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to prevent runaway, man-made climate change.

The treaty sowed the seeds of the Kyoto Protocol, which outlines limits and targets for greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide trap the sun's heat in the atmosphere, causing it to warm up. They result both naturally and from human activities, but man-made sources such as burning fossil fuels are putting too much of these into the atmosphere.

But since then, progress on climate change has been incremental.

In part, that's because the nations of the world still disagree on a critical issue: Who does what and who pays?

Under the Kyoto Protocol, wealthy countries were to help less-developed ones with technology and funding to pay for emission reductions.

At the latest climate change meeting in Durban last year, participants agreed to set up a Green Climate Fund to channel US$100 billion (S$125 billion) towards poorer countries, but plans for a sustainable income stream have not yet been formed.

Developing countries such as China and India argue that their per capita emissions are much lower than those of developed countries' and therefore they should get to catch up economically before they start cutting back.

But that argument will not hold for much longer: an International Energy Agency analysis last year found that China's per capita emissions will outstrip the European Union's in the next four years.

Developing nations also say that even as they try to help themselves, it is developed nations like those in Europe which should bear responsibility for the climate change crisis today, because the latter grew their economies by emitting greenhouse gases.

But the world's balance of economic power has shifted in the years since 1992.

Today, China's total emissions far outstrip those of any European economy. Europe's economies, mired in debt, are less able to finance efforts by developing countries.

What is more, not all countries have signed on to the Kyoto Protocol.

Last year, Canada - an energy producer that is now exploiting its wealth of fossil fuels in the form of tar sands - withdrew from it.

That underscores yet another challenge.

Even as many countries suffer the ill effects of climate change, such as drought and loss of agricultural productivity, some countries will benefit directly from climate change, if their growing season lengthens with warmer weather.

Others, such as Canada, will benefit from simply ignoring it.


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Singapore government seeks feedback on population issue

It lays out demographic challenges in paper, launches site to collect views
Phua Mei Pin Straits Times 27 Jul 12;

THE Government is ramping up its drive to engage the public on population, a current hot-button issue that it says has far-reaching implications for Singaporeans' opportunities and quality of life.

Yesterday, it released a comprehensive paper laying out Singapore's demographic challenges and dilemmas, and launched a website to collect feedback.

Among the questions posed by the paper are: how to raise birth rates, what immigration to have, and how to ensure a good living environment.

At the heart of the debate is the need to manage population growth, immigration and integration while trying to raise productivity to keep the economy going.

The ultimate aim, said the paper, is to come up with a policy that 'strengthens our social cohesion, provides a good living environment for our people, and maintains our economic vitality'.

The Government is expected to release a White Paper on population by the end of the year which is expected to incorporate the feedback collected.

The population puzzle has become a complex issue, going beyond birth rates to the topic of how many immigrants and foreign workers should be taken in.

The National Population and Talent Division's paper - titled Our Population, Our Future - follows a flurry of research papers in recent months and is the first document to set out Singapore's demographic challenges in full.

In particular, policymakers are concerned about the potential impact of low birth rates, a shrinking working population and a drop in the old-age support ratio.

The paper notes that while immigration can help supplement the shortfall in births, 'we recognise that we cannot grow our foreigner population indefinitely'.

'The issues we have to deal with are closely inter-related and complex, with long-term implications for Singapore and far-reaching effects,' it adds.

The paper was mentioned by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last night on Facebook. Responding to calls for him to address the issue at the National Day Rally, he said the population issue was 'an important and difficult problem'.

The chairman of the Government's feedback arm, Dr Amy Khor, said she hoped engagement would 'bring about greater appreciation of Singapore's complex demographic challenges'.

The Behavioural Sciences Institute director David Chan said the move will give the Government a chance to understand citizens' concerns, but added that it should take the feedback seriously.

'There should also be a genuine discussion on the validity and implications of the various basic assumptions underlying the economic and population models that frame the issues,' he said.

Some Singaporeans were keen to respond. Human resource consultant Martin Gabriel, 45, said he would send ideas on parenthood, adding: 'There must also be some system that can bring people together so they can exchange their experiences. Singles and married people can learn from each other about family life, not just read from a paper or the Internet.'

Views on birth rates, foreign inflows sought
Public input will go towards White Paper to formulate policy for future
Phua Mei Pin Straits Times 27 Jul 12;

SINGAPOREANS' opinions are being sought on various aspects of the population puzzle, with the Government looking to tap the public's ideas as it works on coming up with a policy for the future.

Over the next three months, they are being invited to send their thoughts on issues from raising birth rates and strengthening cohesion to managing foreign worker inflows and getting more Singaporeans into the workforce.

In a paper titled Our Population, Our Future released yesterday, the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) sets out Singapore's demographic challenges, and proceeds to ask the public to submit input on some 15 questions.

Taken together, they reveal the dilemmas that policymakers face when addressing different aspects of the population puzzle.

For example, one notes that the Government has cut the inflow of immigrants since 2009, and asks: 'Should we reduce the inflow further even if it means that our citizen population will age and shrink, and foreign spouses may find it more difficult to become permanent residents or Singapore citizens?'

Another asks: 'If the foreign worker inflow is to be tightened, which group should be targeted - construction workers, maids, professionals, Singaporeans' foreign spouses, or others?'

The feedback will go towards a government White Paper on population expected to be ready at the end of the year, said the NPTD.

Members of the public have until Oct 31 to send in their views at

The division has met close to 200 people including students and those from the community sector, businesses and unions to get their input, and will continue to do this through dialogues.

Political observers say the latest move to collect feedback is a sign that the Government understands the importance of population issues to Singaporeans - especially with immigration being a hot-button topic.

Institute of Policy Studies research fellow Carol Soon said: 'The Government could consolidate key suggestions and constructive criticisms and publish them on the website, as well as the Government's responses to these feedback.'

Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah, who has already circulated the call for feedback on her Facebook page, believes that Singaporeans would welcome being asked for their views.

'Once the Government has decided which ideas it is going to adopt, it should acknowledge them so that residents feel good about participating and don't think they're writing into a black hole,' she said.

Agreeing, student Murugiah Komala, 24, said: 'It gets people interested and as people talk, more ideas are bound to get bounced around.'

Govt seeks public views on population issues
Tan Qiuyi Channel NewsAsia 26 Jul 12;

SINGAPORE: The National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) has released an Issues Paper to ramp up its public engagement on Singapore's population challenges going forward.

The paper, which is available online, aims to help Singaporeans understand the choices and trade-offs the country has to make.

NPTD said it's important that Singaporeans develop a shared understanding of these issues, which can go towards finding the right balance to build a sustainable population.

Director of Policy & Planning at National Population & Talent Division, Ngiam Siew Ying, said: "We are engaging the public extensively this year to hear their views, because we think it's an important issue that affects all of us. We have to look at the issue comprehensively, to achieve a population that is strong and cohesive, living in a good quality environment, with an economy that provides for good jobs and opportunities for all of us."

Labour economist Associate Professor Randolph Tan, head of UniSIM Business Programme, said the release of the Issues Paper is timely.

"It's good that we're getting this process of public consultation about population policy started now. But I don't think the public should be hasty in trying to come to a determination on what policies we should fix, until we have actually gone through a whole process of analysing the different possible scenarios. That could be a few years down the road, but it's not too early to start now," he said.

The paper is part of an ongoing consultation as NPTD prepares a White Paper on Population, scheduled for release at the end of the year.

The NPTD paper, entitled "Our Population, Our Future", lays out Singapore's demographic challenges in the face of declining birth rates, a shrinking workforce, and an ageing population.

As at December 2011, Singapore had 3.27 million Singapore citizens (SCs), and 0.54 million Permanent Residents (PRs). Together, they made up the resident population of 3.81 million.

Singapore also had a non-resident population of 1.46 million who are working, studying or living in Singapore on a non-permanent basis.

Singapore's total population was 5.26 million as at December 2011.

Of the non-resident population, the majority (46 per cent) are work permit holders (excluding foreign domestic workers) and 14 per cent are foreign domestic workers.

The others are: dependants of citizens and PRs as well as work pass holders (15 per cent); students (6 per cent); Employment Pass holders (12 per cent); S Pass holders (8 per cent).

The majority 43 per cent of foreign manpower work in services while 30 per cent work in construction.

Manufacturing takes 27 per cent and a minority 0.4 per cent work in other sectors.

The paper spells out the future implications of a shrinking and ageing workforce - fewer working people to support every elderly person; a less vibrant, less innovative economy; and eventually, a hollowing out of the population as young people leave for more exciting cities.

Associate Professor Randolph Tan said: "One of the things that we've learnt about demographic projections this far into the future is that they're notoriously unreliable. In fact over the last 15 years or so, Singapore and Hong Kong have had a remarkably similar experience in this regard. Total fertility rate has actually gone up in times of economic downturns, and has gone down when there is strong economic revival.

"You can't actually say that this is stylised fact that you can apply to all countries, but on a case-by-case basis, economists have actually observed that there is a counter-cyclical attribute between the total fertility rate and the economic growth cycle."

It's also possible that high immigration is depressing the fertility rate, Professor Tan said, so future population studies could look at the relationship between the two.

Authorities are reviewing existing policies to encourage more Singaporeans to get married and have children.

The authorities are also looking at the number of new citizens Singapore takes in, as well as the make-up of its non-resident workforce to support its needs.

Experts said there is a key difference between meeting short-term economic needs like manpower and answering Singapore's demographic challenges.

Professor Tan said: "Short-term economic priorities have to do with, for instance, the manpower shortages that we meet at a time when we need to take advantage of certain growth opportunities.

"Long-term demographic challenges have to do with whether you are actually setting up families that could give rise to a nurturing environment, so that you don't necessarily get a productive workforce out of it immediately, but at least you get a healthy, happy nation out of it."

The discussion continues as Singapore reaches a demographic turning point. More than 900,000 post-war baby boomers will hit 65 - the retirement age - from this year onward. That's over a quarter of the current citizen population.

NPTD is seeking public feedback through its newly launched population website at

The public can also send their feedback by email:, fax: 6325-3240, or post.

The mailing address is:
The National Population and Talent Division,
Prime Minister's Office, 5 Maxwell Road #13-00
Tower Block MND Complex, Singapore 069110

The consultation runs till 31 October 2012.

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China: Elusive Sneezing Monkeys Photographed in a First

Jeanna Bryner Yahoo News 26 Jul 12;

A female snub-nosed monkey, whose photo was snapped by a local forest ranger Liu Pu in a patch of evergreen broadleaf forest near Pianma in China's Yunnan province.

A group of monkeys whose nostrils are so upturned they are said to sneeze audibly when it rains has been discovered in China, say researchers, who have now snapped the first photographic evidence of the snub-nosed monkeys there.

The monkey species, Rhinopithecus strykeri, was first reported to exist in October 2010. With no photographic evidence of a live specimen that year, the researchers made a Photoshop reconstruction of it based on a Yunnan snub-nosed monkey and a carcass of the newly discovered species.

At the time, scientists thought the species was limited to the Kachin state of northeastern Myanmar.

The new discovery of the monkey, called "mey nwoah" in local dialects (or "monkey with an upturned face"), suggests its range extends into China. [See Photos of Snub-Nosed Monkeys]

"Our finding of a population of black snub-nosed monkeys was widely celebrated in China," the researchers write in the American Journal of Primatology.

Monkey sneezes

The snub-nosed monkeys are about 21 inches (55 centimeters) long from nose to rump, with tails extending some 30 inches (78 cm). Their fur is black with white ear tufts and white moustaches sitting on their bare-pink faces.

According to local hunters, the monkeys, Rhinopithecus Strykeri, sit with their heads tucked between their knees on drizzly days to keep from inhaling water. When the water gets caught in their noses, they sneeze, locals say.

Researchers were alerted to this hidden group of monkeys after Liu Pu, a forest guard for Gaoligongshan National Nature Reser, snapped photos of them in a forest near Pianma, in Yunann's Lushui County. To check it out, Yongcheng Long from the Nature Conservancy China Program led a team there.

Pinning down monkey numbers

The scientists photographed and filmed the monkeys in March 2012, estimating fewer than 100 snub-nosed monkeys there.

"However, while we now know the home range to be far greater than previously believed, we still do not yet know the true population number or the extent of their home range as the monkeys are shy and very hard to access," Long said in a statement.

Even so, the species is still considered critically endangered, the scientists warned.

"This monkey group was actually found in an area designated as a nature reserve 30 years ago, and while local people have been hunting the species for ages, local managers knew nothing about it," Long said. "This highlights the need to improve wildlife management in China, as it is likely quite a few new species of plants and animals may be discovered in the border areas between China and Myanmar."

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