Best of our wild blogs: 6 Oct 12

13 Oct (Sat): FREE Chek Jawa boardwalk tour with the Naked Hermit Crabs
from Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Courts Asia joins Shark Savers to say “We’re FINished with Fins” [Press Releases] from Green Business Times

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Population 6m: Is there room?

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a televised forum in Mandarin that the country can accommodate “6 million or so” people. Any more than that would require careful thinking, he added. The population is now 5.31 million. If it grows at 2.5 per cent a year, as it did from June last year to June this year, it will cross the 6 million mark by 2017. According to Institute of Policy Studies projections, Singapore is likely to cross the 7 million mark before 2040 only if it allows in many more foreigners and lets their share of the population rise from the current one-quarter to one-third. So is 6 million a cause for concern? Insight’s Phua Mei Pin, Goh Chin Lian and Jessica Cheam ask six experts about the likely impact in the areas they know best.

Prepare for upper limit in population planning
Straits Times 6 Oct 12;

Dr Paul Cheung
Director of Statistics Division, United Nations

SINGAPORE can, if it wants, accommodate eight million people.

That is Dr Cheung's belief.

But whether it wants to hit even six million is a "political matter" up for negotiation between the Government and the people, he makes clear.

The Hong Kong-born Singaporean, 59, spent close to 30 years monitoring the interplay between Singapore's population and economic growth, including 14 years as the Government's chief statistician. He draws a sharp distinction between a population target and a planning parameter.

"We must always plan for the upper limit. We have to be creative and have in mind urban infrastructure for a much larger population," Dr Cheung says.

Otherwise, one ends up with "lousy planning". One example of that is the older MRT lines. They were planned for a population of four million. Six carriages per train were deemed sufficient then, in turn, dictating station designs for six-car trains.

Today, they are a limiting factor, preventing the adding of more carriages to each train to cater to higher traffic. The only option is to run more trains per hour, which increases the strain on the rail system, he says.

Another reason to plan for a larger number is that population growth has its own momentum, as shown by population figures published just last week, he says.

They showed that foreign worker numbers went up by 100,000 in the 12 months to June, and new immigrants by about 45,000 last year, in spite of government efforts to tighten and slow both inflows.

But should Singapore turn off the foreigner tap altogether, it risks hurting the economy,

Dr Cheung says. For example, if the foreigner-dependent maritime industry is hurt by a lack of labour, it will have a knock-on effect on sectors such as logistics, bunking, cruise and oil rig.

"These economic drivers may disappear overnight. Once you lose these, you'll never get them back again because there are so many other countries competing for that position," he says, adding that in the longer term, Singapore needs to restructure its economy and raise productivity.

Back in the 1990s, Singaporeans worried about housing four million people on this island. But, thanks to the resulting economic growth, "now we are beyond four million, and I don't think quality of life has suffered". "Singaporeans by and large have very good housing and urban life," he adds.

However, he acknowledges that ground conditions this time round are different from those 22 years ago. He counts as genuine problems overstrained public transport infrastructure, too many foreign workers and a perception among some Singaporeans that the Government favours foreigners.

If the decision is to stop before six million, or to take a longer time to approach it, he says: "That's fine. Then we can have slower growth and control the population more."


Technological leaps allow cities to house more people
Straits Times 6 Oct 12;

Hazem Galal
Global Leader for Cities and Local Government Network, PricewaterhouseCoopers

ADVANCES in technology mean cities today can house many more people than they used to.

And that will also apply to the cities of the future, says Mr Galal.

"Population growth doesn't mean that you keep doing exactly the same things you do today and just multiply them into the future," he says.

"By employing different technologies, different behaviours, a lot of cities can easily absorb anywhere higher than 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the maximum designed capacity," he adds.

A case in point is public concern two decades ago over housing four million people. Singaporeans then would not have anticipated the changes that have taken place since, including greater land reclamation that has allowed for the development of the Marina Bay area, he says.

Looking ahead, various strategies can be employed to ease congestion. On the roads, for example, more people can be shifted from car ownership to the use of public transport and bicycles.

Office buildings can be put to different uses outside working hours, so as to "grow with different use of space".

Yet another innovation would be to tap the "silver potential" of the elderly. Scandinavian countries are experimenting with combining homes and work facilities so the elderly can continue to contribute economically.

Mr Galal believes Singapore still has a window of opportunity to calibrate its population policies before it reaches a "point of no return".

That would be when it is no longer feasible to boost birth rates and when the state is no longer in a strong position to control the kind of foreign talent it lets in, he says.

He points to lessons from countries that have mismanaged their population measures, such as the Netherlands in the 1980s.

It capped the number of years of schooling its immigrants could have, in a bid to ensure they would not compete with locals for higher-value jobs. That approach backfired. Those who stayed on struggled to learn the local language and integrate into Dutch society.

Another indicator to watch is whether median household income keeps pace with gross domestic product growth, a measure of inclusive growth, Mr Galal says. He notes that based on pre-2008 figures, the former has tended to lag behind the latter in Singapore.

What Singapore has got going for it is a strong tradition in urban planning, he says.

It is also getting it right in putting the population strategy up for debate. The public's anxiety over the six million figure is, to him, a good sign that people are concerned rather than complacent.

"This debate is very healthy," he says. "It keeps the Government vigilant and it keeps the population engaged... It can all go wrong if Singapore becomes complacent."


Planning essential to ensure quality of life isn't sacrificed
Straits Times 6 Oct 12;

Dr Malone-Lee Lai Choo
Director, Centre for Sustainable Asian Cities, National University of Singapore's School of Design and Environment

THE question is not whether Singapore can house six million people, but how it can do so without sacrificing quality of life, says Dr Malone-Lee.

"Six million is a figure that we can manage with, provided we plan very well," she adds.

Besides reclamation, there is an option to redevelop older towns with low population densities, especially those near transport nodes. But public acceptance is necessary, she notes.

Dense cities are more energy-efficient and easier to manage but can cause urban stress, which comes "when people are faced with persistent problems such as long waiting times, crowded public transport and high noise levels".

She also believes Singapore must keep its parks, open spaces and nature areas.

"These are Singapore's precious assets that make our city attractive and contribute to our quality of life, and they must not be sacrificed," she says.

She estimates that, currently, about 60 per cent of Singapore's land area is built-up. The rest is undeveloped, used for military training or water catchment.

The average density of Singapore's built-up land is between 12,000 and 13,000 people per sqkm - lower than in many Asian cities.

In some parts of Hong Kong, for example, the density can exceed 50,000 people per sq km.

If Singapore wants to maintain its built-up area at 60 per cent of its land - which she thinks is a good balance - then growing the population will mean increasing density.

Ideal population targets aside, the Urban Redevelopment Authority announced in 2007 a planning parameter of 6.5 million. If this is reached, the eventual average density would be around 14,000 people per sq km.

Bukit Batok town has this level of density, yet also has a mix of high-rise residential buildings, as well as amenities such as schools, public transport and parks like Little Guilin.

"We need to ask ourselves if we want that type of density across Singapore," she asks.

Population distribution and concentration also need to be considered.

City centres with good public transport can take much higher densities, but in residential towns, planners need to address localised concerns of overcrowding, competition for facilities, noise and other environmental impact that come with dense urban living, Dr Malone-Lee says.

Density, she adds, also has many layers. "You may feel that it's dense and crowded outside on the roads or public areas, but if you step into your apartment and can look out to greenery, you'll feel you're okay. There's a sense of personal space.

"The least we can do is make our internal living conditions better - I hope planners do not have to shrink the size of homes further."


Society is strained when everyone feels the squeeze
Straits Times 6 Oct 12;

Associate Professor Kalyani Mehta
Head of Gerontology Programme, SIM University

BEYOND physical limits, a small country of fixed area also has psychological limits, says social work academic Kalyani Mehta.

She cites a psychology experiment where 10 mice were crowded into a small cage, while another cage of the same size held just three mice.

"There is a lot of stress for the 10, they are competing for everything, from food to air to space," she says. "The 10 mice hurt each other a lot, they claw at each other to get to the top."

Prof Mehta, 64, a former Nominated Member of Parliament, says something similar can happen to a human society.

It can go through what she calls "a kind of demoralisation of society where, as long as I get ahead, I don't care how many people I hurt".

She believes this is already evident in Singapore, as seen in higher rates in recent years of elder abuse, family violence, road rage, or even cases of people breaking out in quarrels when jostling for space in lines or on packed buses.

She has also observed suicide and depression rates rising in tandem with population figures.

Prof Mehta contends that these phenomena have arisen from intensified competition that comes with overheated population growth. While she agrees that competition can motivate people to improve themselves, she thinks that it can also stress them to breaking point.

For that reason, she says that the population debate cannot be left to economists alone, but must be a conversation between economists on the one hand, and sociologists and psychologists on the other.

She says the optimum population size should be 5.5 million - higher than today's 5.3 million so as to leave room for workers in specialised fields such as nursing and eldercare, where Singapore has a shortage.

In the long term however, Prof Mehta wants Singapore to develop its own workers in these fields, while automating and increasing productivity where it can. She teaches Singapore's first Master's programme in gerontology at SIM University. It trains candidates to run nursing homes and daycare facilities.

She also wants Singapore to view older people as assets and not dependants. The ageing population - where there will be close to one million citizens 65 or older by 2030 - is oft cited as a reason to bring in foreign workers to be caregivers, as well as to plug the shortfall in the labour force.

To that line of thought, Prof Mehta says the "young elderly", aged from 65 to 80, are expected to have deeper pockets and be able to help the economy through their spending.

"Why don't we tap these resources?" she asks. "If jobs can be redesigned, if older consultants can be valued, older volunteers tapped on... That in the long term will see us further, instead of bringing in foreign workers who can only be a quick fix."


Some constraints in raising public transport capacity
Straits Times 6 Oct 12;

Adjunct Associate Professor Gopinath Menon
Nanyang Technological University

Former chief transportation engineer, Land Transport Authority

IT WILL be hard for the land transport system to cope with six million people as MRT trains are already bursting at the seams at rush hours, says Prof Menon.

While he recognises current efforts to add capacity to trains and buses, he believes that "some deterioration in the quality of living" can be expected if the population grows further.

Based on an average annual growth rate of 6.1 per cent in the last five years, public transport ridership, which was at 6.7 million last year, will cross the eight million mark by 2017.

Planners face some constraints in raising public transport capacity: MRT station platforms here are long enough to handle only three to six train cars, unlike Hong Kong's eight, notes the adjunct associate professor at Nanyang Technological University.

"Having more people means more have to share the pie and whatever is planned and carried out, there is bound to be some deterioration in the quality of living," he says. "Almost all major cities which have experienced a rural migration from the hinterland can attest to this. We may be better off because we are able to tweak the (population) figures and plan better."

Current measures to beef up public transport by 2017 include a $1.1 billion plan to grow the public bus fleet by 20 per cent, to 4,800.

Also, a $60 billion plan to roll out new rail lines includes the Downtown Line, which will open in three stages next year, in 2015 and in 2017. The 34-station line, which will run almost parallel to the existing East-West Line from Bukit Panjang to Singapore Expo, will spread out passengers to more stations, says Prof Menon.

Another measure is the upgrade of the signalling systems for the North-South and East-West lines from 2016 to 2018, enabling trains to run more frequently. Concurrently, he suggests improving support infrastructure, like having more standing space at MRT station platforms and bus stops. Also, he says Singapore can afford to be more aggressive with schemes that offer discounted travel at off-peak hours, so as to stagger travel times.

He also indicates that current pricing strategies will help control congestion on the roads when the population increase drives up demand for car travel.

But motorists will have to be prepared to pay more for vehicle ownership and usage, he says.

New roads and parking lots will also have to be built, he says, but at a slower and reduced pace than the pace for public transport. He argues: "Private car travel should not be demonised. What should be frowned upon is their widespread inefficient usage during the rush periods.

"The challenge will be to improve public transport to an extent that entices private transport users to use it."


Focus on quality of growth and skills, not numbers
Straits Times 6 Oct 12;

Associate Professor Shandre Thangavelu
Economist, National University of Singapore

THE link between population and economic growth is not so straightforward, says Professor Shandre.

He thinks the focus should be on the quality of economic growth and the skills of the population, rather than on absolute numbers.

"You have to be very careful how you define the relationship between population and economic growth," he says, when asked if a certain level of population growth is needed to keep Singapore's economy vibrant.

"We should be asking, what kind of productivity growth do we want? Population growth in itself should not be our focus."

On economic growth, Prof Shandre says what matters most is that it is inclusive. He expects the wage gap to widen as the population continues to grow.

"It means your institutions generally have to be strong for redistribution of wealth," he says.

If the population were to grow to six million without paying heed to such issues, he warns, there could be serious and destabilising social tension.

As for allowing in more people, what matters is not the number but their abilities.

"Let's say I have a large immigrant population, it does not mean they will all become part of the labour force. If half or more of the six million are older, that's not going to help either," he says.

The more fundamental issue is to build the human capital of the existing population, rather than to top it up with yet more people, he says.

"The easiest way when demand rises very fast is to allow foreign workers to come in to fill these jobs. But we should reduce our reliance on foreign human capital."

This reliance suppresses wages and keeps local companies and workers from building their longer-term capacity, he says.

He observes that local small and medium-sized enterprises have grown on the back of cheap labour rather than sustained innovation, which explains why few have grown to be regional or international players.

To tackle that, Prof Shandre's idea is for the Government to start individual training accounts for every Singaporean, akin to the Edusave accounts in place for students. He believes such a system will create more wealth by raising the value and mobility of each worker.

It also creates the human capital to power economic growth of a more sustainable nature, and will be especially helpful to workers aged 40 and older, who compete against increasingly qualified cohorts coming out of the universities both in Singapore and from abroad, he says.

For businesses, government help can be in the form of funds to help sectors low in productivity to restructure and become more efficient.

He points out that the Government succeeded in doing so in the 1970s and 1980s. He thinks it can do so again.


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Matching trees and birds

Bird lovers setting up online archive so as to encourage biodiversity
David Ee Straits Times 6 Oct 12;

BOUGAINVILLEAS, commonly seen along expressways, may be colourful but some critics have said they do not attract birds.

However, bird-watchers have observed that two species of sunbirds regularly forage in the woody vine.

This information and other facts will soon be compiled online to provide a useful tool for the authorities to expand biodiversity in Singapore.

Compiled by the Bird Ecology Study Group, the archive will list more than 200 species of flora and detail the birds frequenting them - whether to forage, nest, feed on fruit and nectar or bathe in rainwater on the leaves.

With this information, planners can plant a more diverse range of trees and know the bird species that would flock to them.

The archive is the result of seven years of observations made by about 400 contributors to the group, formed in 2005.

It is expected to be launched in a few months' time on the group's website and will be continually updated. Dr Wee Yeow Chin, 75, a former president of the Nature Society and a retired botanist-turned-bird champion, heads the group.

Citing a notable finding from the archive, he said the common mahang, a tree found in forests here, has been observed to draw more than 20 bird species to its fruit, yet "we in Singapore have never used it in our gardens and parks".

He said: "These are the finer points of the uses of plants - what aspect attracts the birds."

Dr Wee wrote on the group's website last week that Singapore's successful transformation into a Garden City happened stage by stage, dictated by the needs of the time.

While the priority at first was to line roads with shady trees such as the angsana, planners later began choosing trees for their colourful flowers and the wildlife and birds they would attract.

But for many years, said wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai, 49, the group's co-founder, everybody from planners to landscapers was going for the "same plants, attracting the same fauna... creating a monoculture".

But he added that the tide has begun to turn over the past three years and that planners are opting for a wider variety of trees that will create more biodiversity.

The group's archive is an important resource, he said, and he hopes planners will tap on it.

Mr Subaraj said birds are a major indicator of the health of an ecosystem, hence the relevance of the archive. "When trees attract birds, they may also attract other species like lizards and butterflies," he said.

National Parks Board director for streetscape Oh Cheow Sheng said the online archive will be a welcome resource. He added that the board has planted specific trees and plants in parks and gardens to attract more fauna.

Mr Subaraj, who has worked with the board on the City in a Garden efforts, agreed that Singapore is "well on the road" towards creating an island with flourishing biodiversity.

"City in a Garden should never be just a catchphrase. When you say a garden, it should really be a garden - full of life, full of biodiversity," he said.

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Cloud-seeding planned in South Sumatra

Ansyor Idrus The Jakarta Post 6 Oct 12;

The Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) in cooperation with the South Sumatra administration is planning to create cloud-seeding to help reduce the thick haze that is blanketing the province.

Head of the South Sumatra Forestry Office’s technical unit, Achmad Taufik, said the cloud-seeding would take place for 30 days starting from Oct. 7.

“The cloud-seeding aims to extinguish the rising number of hot spots in a number of areas in South Sumatra. The hot spots are believed to have caused the thick haze, which impacts health and affects flights,” Achmad said on Friday.

He added that an expert team from the BPPT had already arrived in South Sumatra and would soon be implementing the cloud-seeding using a Cassa 212-200 aircraft.

As of Friday, there were 464 hot spots with Ogan Komering Ilir regency recording the highest number, with 191 hot spots.

Agus Maulana, operational director of PT Angkasa Pura II, which manages Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II airport in Palembang, hailed the cloud-seeding plan.

“A drop in the number of hot spots will certainly improve visibility for pilots,” Agus said.

The airport management had to suspend several flights from the city on Sept. 22 due to thick haze covering Palembang.

A number of residents in Palembang have urged South Sumatra Governor Alex Noerdin to reconsider his plan to conduct the cloud-seeding because heavy rains were due in October, according to forecasts by the local office of the National Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG).

One of the residents, Ishadi, said that the cloud-seeding would be a waste of money as the rains were forecast to be heavy in October.

“On Friday afternoon, heavy rainfall hit the city of Palembang and over the next several days, they may be heavier,” he said.

Ramawan, another resident, said that the cloud-seeding should have been conducted in September when the haze was thicker. Now, it was already too late, he added.

Meanwhile in Jambi, the capital of Jambi province, which is located to the north of South Sumatra, was still covered on Friday by thick haze, despite rainfall over the last two days.

“Perhaps the rain was not heavy enough to break up the hot spots, which are mostly over peat land. They can take a long time to be extinguished,” said Sucipto, the head of the Jambi Forestry Office’s forest fire mitigation unit.

Last Sunday, haze forced authorities to shut down Jambi’s Sultan Thaha Airport. The airport will remain closed until Oct. 7.

In Tanjungpinang, Riau Islands, the local BMKG office disclosed on Thursday that haze originating from southern areas of Sumatra had blanketed Riau Islands province for the past few days.

“The haze over Riau Islands is not too thick, so visibility is still normal, reaching 4-5 kilometers,” head of the BMKG’s Bintan office, Hartanto, said as quoted by Antara news agency.

He explained that the thickest haze was to be found in Lingga, an area located near South Sumatra, Jambi and Lampung.

A month ago, Singapore’s government agency for the environment revealed that the reading from the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) ranged from 60 to 72, while the moderate range is between 51 and 100.

The reading also carried a health advisory to reduce outdoor activities and prolonged exertion.

The agency attributed the hazy conditions to an escalation of hotspot activities in Sumatra, leading to smoke being blown over from the south-east or south-west.

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Trouble for Indonesia’s Biodiversity

Jakarta Globe 4 Oct 12;

Bogor. Indonesia is fast losing its biodiversity due to rapid deforestation, a noted researcher said, citing an alarming number of plants on the verge of extinction.

The country is home to 393 flora listed as critically endangered, said Bambang Prasetya, deputy chairman of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences’ biodiversity department.

The number represents a 1.7 percent increase compared to 2010, putting Indonesia in fourth place, alongside Brazil, on a list of countries with the most amount of threatened plants, according to data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature issued last year.

Ecuador, the United States and Malaysia were the top three countries on the IUCN’s list.

“There must be an instrument which can comprehensively accommodate integrated conservation efforts of plants, starting from the ecosystem level to genetics,” Bambang said.

He added that such an instrument is vital for the management of natural resources in Indonesia.

“The role of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, which has been recognized and adopted in botanical gardens around the world, is greatly needed,” Bambang said.

The GSPC program is part of the 1992 UN Convention on Biological Diversity and was initiated to slow the pace of plant extinction around the world.

The strategy calls for the recognition, documentation and understanding of threatened plants as well as the formulation of steps for the conservation and sustainable use of them. Indonesia ratified the convention in 1994 and adopted it into law the same year.

Meanwhile, the Bogor Botanical Garden’s head of the center for plant conservation, Mustaid, said Indonesia is making little progress in the implementation of the GSPC because there exists a lack of centralized efforts and data collection.

“A national network related to the achievement of the GSPC’s goals needs to be built and utilized,” he said.


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Two 'Green Lists' Will Mark Conservationists’ Successes

Becky Oskin Yahoo News 5 Oct 12;

After decades of playing Cassandra, warning of doomed species only to see more disappear every year, conservationists at the World Conservation Congress in South Korea last month adopted a new approach to saving the planet.

Instead of cataloging only what is going wrong, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature also will track and reward successful efforts to conserve species and their environments. The IUCN plans to launch two programs as complements to its warning-filled "red lists": a Green List of Well-Managed Protected Areas and a Green List of Species.

"The concept of a green list is that it can throw a spotlight on things that are actually working," said Trevor Sandwith, director of IUCN's Global Protected Areas program.

"We already have well-managed, protected areas in the world, which no one is recognizing," Sandwith told OurAmazingPlanet.

Red list, green list

The IUCN, founded in 1948, is the world's largest global environmental group. It publishes the Red List of Threatened Species, which measures extinction risk, and recently created a Red List of Threatened Ecosystems, which measures an ecosystem's risk of collapse.

An ecosystem is an area of land or water plus the species living there. For example, an ecosystem could be a lake or system of lakes, a mountain or mountain range, a river or river basin, a coral reef or group of reefs, an expanse of desert or a set of caves.

The Green List of Well-Managed Protected Areas will provide incentives and rewards for countries that skillfully juggle the competing interests that threaten ecosystems, such as developers, farmers and thirsty suburbanites. The IUCN plans to publicly report how each country nabs a spot on the list, so others can mimic their success.

For example, the green list can show it's not only First World countries that have the resources to serve as an example of global best practices, Sandwith said. "We think it's motivating to show where success is occurring, and to show why and how it's occurring, because if someone is getting it right, then that's the model to copy," Sandwith said.

One of the first green list test cases is Colombia's Parques Nacionales Naturales — that country's national parks system. [Images: Trekking the Coastal Mountains of Colombia]

Advantages of appearing on the green list include showing off solid measures of improvement to development partners and donors, and perhaps using the list as a carrot to push governments to fund ecosystem-protection projects. "It's a really good incentive for donors and governments to invest more," Sandwith said.

The IUCN plans to kick off the Green List of Well-Protected Areas in 2014, at the World Parks Congress in Australia.

Not just avoiding extinction

The Green List of Species, meanwhile, is still in the concept stage. The idea was approved by the IUCN at the World Conservation Congress. Organizers will return to the IUCN's next meeting in 2016 with a full plan for implementing the list.

The Green List of Species would include species identified as fully conserved, which are those that exist in ecologically significant numbers, interacting fully with other species in their ecosystems, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society, which pushed for the motion.

Elizabeth Bennett, WCS vice president of species conservation, said the green lists are necessary because the conservation community should be presenting an optimistic and inspirational vision of a future in which species are integral parts of functional ecosystems.

"We need to show that conservation is much more than just avoidance of extinction" as assessed by the Red Lists, Bennett told OurAmazingPlanet by email.

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New protections sought for polar bear, elephants, manta rays and other species under UN-backed treaty

UN News Centre 5 Oct 12;

5 October 2012 – Several dozen species – ranging from elephants, polar bears, sharks and manta rays to medicinal plants and rare trees – will receive additional protection under a United Nations-backed treaty for the conservation of endangered species if new proposals are adopted at a world wildlife meeting next March.

More than 50 countries submitted 67 proposals for consideration under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) by the 4 October midnight deadline, and these will now be discussed at a meeting of treaty parties in Bangkok, Thailand, from 3 to 14 March, coinciding with its 40th anniversary.

“CITES is where the rubber ‘hits the road’ and the outcome of our world wildlife conference in 2013 will be of great significance to the future of many species of plants and animals,” said John E. Scanlon, the Secretary-General of the Convention, the secretariat of which is administered by the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) in Geneva.

With 176 Member States, CITES is one of the world’s most powerful tools for biodiversity conservation, regulating international trade in close to 35,000 species of plants and animals, including their products and derivatives, ensuring their survival in the wild with benefits for the livelihoods of local people and the global environment.

The new proposals would grant additional protection to some species, grant initial protection to others and, in some cases, lessen protection for yet others.

For example, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Mali and Togo are calling for an extension of the ban on the trade in elephant ivory, while Tanzania wants elephant hunting to be legalized within its borders for non-commercial purposes saying its elephant population was no longer endangered.

The United States is seeking to have the polar bear transferred from CITES Appendix Two – under which trade in species not necessarily threatened with extinction must be controlled to avoid uses incompatible with their survival – to Appendix One, under which trade is permitted only in exceptional circumstances.

The US is seeking similar action on Burmese star tortoises, big-headed turtles and Roti Island snake-necked turtles, while Vietnam wants a similar transfer for the Indochinese box turtle and Annam leaf turtle. Ecuador wants to include the manta ray and the Machalilla poison dart frog in Appendix Two, and transfer its vicuña from Appendix One to Appendix Two.

Madagascar, Kenya and Mexico, meanwhile, are seeking to include various trees, medicinal and ornamental plants in Appendix Two, while News Zealand wants similar protection for the New Zealand green gecko. Brazil, Comoros, Egypt and the European Union are seeking to include the porbeagle shark in Appendix Two.

On the other hand, New Zealand wants to delete the white-faced owl from Appendix Two, and Australia is seeking to delete the dusky flying-fox from Appendix Two while removing the buff-nosed rat-kangaroo and the pig-footed bandicoot from Appendix One.

At the March meeting, Member States will also consider how CITES can further enhance efforts to combat overall illegal trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn as well Asian big cats and great apes.

They are also expected to discuss the potential impact of CITES measures on the livelihoods of the rural poor who are often on the frontlines of using and managing wildlife.

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El Niño seen weak into Northern Hemisphere winter: CPC

Josephine Mason PlanetArk 5 Oct 12;

The U.S. national weather forecaster still expects the much-feared El Niño phenomenon, which can wreak havoc on global weather, to remain weak into the Northern Hemisphere winter, even after its development slowed last month.

In its monthly assessment, the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) said on Thursday it is still not clear whether a fully fledged El Niño would emerge, although there is a "possibility" it will strengthen over the next few months.

The report further reduces the risk of a major drought in Asia, which produces some of the world's major food staples, such as sugar cane and grains. The CPC first raised its El Niño alert four months ago.

A strong El Niño, essentially a warming of waters in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, can cause widespread drought in Australia, parts of Africa, Southeast Asia and India, but also bring rains to other parts of the globe.

Based on the CPC's outlook, this year could be on par with previous less-disruptive episodes in 2004-05 and 2006-07 and far off a repeat of 2009 when drought damaged crops across Asia.

"During September, the trend towards El Niño slowed in several key oceanic and atmospheric indicators.... The atmosphere and ocean indicate borderline ... neutral/weak El Niño conditions," it said.

Last month, the CPC forecast the phenomenon would develop weakly in September and persist through February of next year. In Thursday's update, it did not give an estimate for how long the conditions may last.

(Reporting By Josephine Mason; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Gunna Dickson)

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