Best of our wild blogs: 13 Nov 12

nesting grey-headed fish eagle @ neo tiew - Nov2012
from sgbeachbum

Can dragonflies and damselflies be good neighbours?
from Dragonflies & Damselflies of Singapore

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Metalor Technologies to build gold refinery in Singapore

Yvonne Chan Channel NewsAsia 12 Nov 12;

SINGAPORE : Swiss-based Metalor Technologies is constructing a gold refinery and bullion product manufacturing plant in Singapore.

The plant is slated for completion in the second half of 2013.

In a statement on Monday, Metalor, a precious metals refiner, said the new refinery will provide value to the company's existing customers.

"The construction of a gold refinery in Singapore comes at a time of rising demand for precious metals and is therefore perfectly in line with our development strategy in the Asia-Pacific region," says Scott Morrison, CEO of the Metalor Group.

Metalor also said the refinery needed an initial investment of US$15 million, and uses latest refining technologies and processes that fully comply with Singapore's environmental standards.

The company is working closely with International Enterprise (IE) Singapore to formulate various policy frameworks as well.

"This new facility by Metalor represents a major centre for value-added precious metals processing in the Asia-Pacific region. The speed of this development shows the industry's confidence and our commitment in facilitating the development of Singapore as a precious metals trading hub," said Gina Lim, Group Director of Trade Services & Policy at IE Singapore.

Metalor's decision to invest in a refinery in Singapore comes after the government exempted investment bullion products from the Goods and Services Tax in October this year.

Metalor has refining facilities in Switzerland, USA, Hong Kong and China.

The new gold refinery in Singapore, together with its existing business in advanced coating chemicals, is expected to strengthen Metalor's position in the Southeast Asia region.

- CNA/ch

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The hidden green costs of progress

Richmond Lee Today Online 13 Nov 12;

This year alone, there have been alarming weather activities possibly caused by climate change: Droughts, floods, the record melting of Arctic ice and the recent Superstorm Sandy.

We cannot foresee if such abnormalities will persist, but these may be an entree for something big served later.

Singapore is fortunate to have no natural calamities, but we may still bear the full brunt of climate change should it affect global food production and sea levels.

Singapore acceded to the Kyoto Protocol in 2006, which required us to reduce carbon emissions, and the Government has taken pragmatic steps to do so, for example, by using natural gas for power generation as a cleaner alternative to oil.

At a micro level, there is greater imperative for policymakers to examine externalities generated from economic activities.

For instance, the plan to remove a woodland in Pasir Ris to build an international school will be a negative externality to residents when they incur the hidden cost of having warmer nights as a result of having fewer trees.

As externalities do not seem to have price tags, we often neglect them in pursuit of tangible economics. But negative externalities do have costs which are revealed later.

We should be cognisant of the full costs of our economic transactions and try to minimise or not generate a negative environmental externality.

As consumers of energy and products, we generate waste. We could be more responsible by choosing products with less packaging or demand goods that cut down on this or bring our own bags for grocery shopping.

Perhaps we should also look at old suggestions of sorting our rubbish into recyclables and compost or imposing an environmental tax on vehicles that pollute more.

There has been debate and consensus on how we should proceed on our green road map, but interest seems to have waned. Decision-makers should lead the way by incorporating green costs into their plans.

If they remove a forest, for instance, they should plant more trees to repay our natural environment. They could also, like the Japanese, legislate that buildings be built in a way that makes them more recyclable after demolition

In retrospect, we have neglected the full costs and hidden environmental price tags of economic progress. Only if we are aware of the externalities of our actions can we then build a more organic living environment and actively cut down emissions.

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Can Singapore adjust to a low-growth paradigm?

There are signs policymakers are looking more at qualitative aspects of growth, but this has its risks
Aaron Low Straits Times 13 Nov 12;

THE past 10 months has been a difficult period for the Singapore economy.

Growth has slowed to a crawl, and the economy is expected to grow by just 1.5 per cent to 2.5 per cent for the whole year.

Manufacturing has been badly hit by the global economic condition, and electronics is facing one of its worst barren spells, contracting for the 18th straight month in September.

Next year, the central bank has warned that Singapore could grow below potential - which is between 3 per cent and 5 per cent - given the lingering uncertainties.

But the gloomy outlook has not quite elicited a strong response from policymakers to tackle the downturn.

Instead, they seem to have adopted a sanguine attitude towards slowing growth, which has surprised economists, who had been expecting a stronger policy response from the Government.

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin's comments last month seem to indicate that the Government's attitude towards growth has shifted.

Speaking to The Straits Times in an interview, Mr Tan said that growth is not about numbers, but a means to an end.

"At the end of it, it's (about) how does it add up, really, to the bread-and-butter issues of the individual concerned, how does it add up to the society," said Mr Tan. He suggested that to generate enough income for people here, Singapore needs "good quality 3 per cent growth".

In a speech to economists in June, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that growth is still crucial to improving Singaporeans' lives. Still, he did acknowledge that growth is not everything: "I agree fully that material goals are not everything in life.

"But we are not going for growth at all costs, nor have we done so. Growth is not an end in itself, but a means to improve our lives and achieve many of our goals."

Flash back to five years ago, when then Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew stressed the primacy of growth when he addressed hundreds of young people at the heart of Orchard Road.

Urging young people to seize the opportunities ahead of them, he said Singapore's progress was possible because of strong economic growth. "Once you have growth, all problems can be managed. When you have no growth and you have unemployment and no jobs, then all problems become intractable," he said.

Has growth really become less important? Has a paradigm shift towards growth taken place?

Accepting slow growth?

BANK of America Merrill Lynch economist Chua Hak Bin thinks so, and considers it worrying.

He worries that the push to restructure the economy has become the predominant overwhelming objective, while other issues, such as buffering the economy from a downturn, have become secondary.

For instance, while there is a need to tighten the foreign manpower influx to wean companies off cheap labour and raise productivity, he wonders if the costs of such a policy are being ignored.

He calculated that if the policies were relaxed, Singapore could have grown at 3 per cent, about twice the rate now.

The stricter foreign labour regime has led to the Government having to forgo $1.1 billion of potential tax revenue, and 35,800 jobs were forgone as a result of the stricter labour policy, estimated Dr Chua.

"I worry that the Government has gone ideological on this front. There are ways to grow in an inclusive manner, without having to enforce a slowdown in growth," he said.

For instance, extra taxes from better growth could have gone into strengthening the country's social safety net, such as Workfare, he added.

Other analysts also think there has been a subtle but discernible shift in how the Government views growth, and the importance it attaches to growth numbers.

Part of this can be traced back to the so-called "new normal" in politics, brought on in the aftermath of the last general election.

PM Lee had then pledged to make right some of the grievances people had against the Government.

Chief among them was the growing number of foreign workers, who were being blamed for overcrowding on transport systems and expensive housing.

Since then, government leaders have repeatedly said that there will be no U-turn on foreign worker policies, even though many companies are crying out for help.

Another reason for the willingness to accept lower rates of growth is the realisation that Singapore simply cannot grow at the pace it used to.

A rate of 1.5 per cent this year might seem abysmal compared with the 14.8 per cent pace Singapore grew at in 2010. But given that Singapore is in a mature phase of growth, 1.5 per cent is actually not terrible.

In comparison, a mature economy such as Sweden has been growing at an average of 2.5 per cent a year for the past five years. Denmark's growth rate was just 2 per cent between 1970 and 1990.

It it clear that there are certain limits to growth in Singapore, says United Overseas Bank economist Suan Teck Kin. Some of the limits can be overcome by innovative engineering and urban planning, but the marginal social cost of adding a million people to the population will be high.

Externally, competition in the region is getting intense, so effortless growth is no longer the norm, he said.

"Look at how Malaysia, Thailand are all looking at Singapore and wanting to do the same things Singapore has done, like (developing) an efficient public service and building high-end manufacturing sectors like in drugs," he added.

"So the drive to grow has always been there. It's just that there are limits to how fast you can grow."

Slow but more inclusive?

ANOTHER fact: Even though Sweden and Denmark have grown at "slow" rates, these two countries also consistently rank as some of the best places in the world to live in. Social tensions are low and societies in these Nordic states are a lot more equal than those in other developed economies. Quality of education is also high, while social welfare nets are strong.

As Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy associate professor Hui Weng Tat noted, it is not a bad thing, as there is more focus on the type of growth rather than how fast Singapore grows.

"Government policies, especially in the past decade, have been aimed at maximising growth without due regard to the opportunity costs of doing so," he said.

"High growth therefore became an end, instead of the means to an end, which should rightly be the welfare of citizens."

How will the slowing growth story pan out?

If economic restructuring works, and Singapore is able to eke out the productivity gains needed to push the economy up to the next level of development, the outlook is good.

Less reliance on foreign workers will mean a stronger imperative for companies to use technology, work processes and innovation to drive growth. In turn, this could boost wages at the bottom, as employers are forced to turn away from a cheap source of labour.

As Mr Suan noted: "Eventually these sources of cheap labour will run dry, as countries like Bangladesh and China will require manpower to develop their own countries."

Some of the lifting of wages at the bottom is already being done by unions and the Government working together to raise wages for the lowest paid. For instance, cleaners' wages are expected to rise 23 per cent to $1,000, after unions, the Government and cleaning companies proposed a new pay structure for cleaners last month.

This way, even though growth is slower, it can be more inclusive.

But at $1,000 a month, cleaners' wages are still way below the median income of $3,249.

But such an approach - paying attention to qualitative aspects of growth rather than pure quantitative factors - is not without its risks.

Managing a complex entity such as Singapore's open economy is a very delicate task. Tweak one policy too much, and the economy could tilt irreversibly towards one direction.

DBS economist Irvin Seah noted there could be a risk that Singapore's manufacturers and companies will become uncompetitive due to the high manpower costs.

"You could get a major hollowing out. Such firms leave and are unlikely to return," he said.

There will also be the attendant pains associated with restructuring, such as elevated inflation.

Already inflation is likely to stay high, at between 3.5 per cent and 4.5 per cent next year. This level represents twice the historical rate seen in the past 30 years, and could last for some years.

Adjusting to this new reality of low growth is not going to be easy.

As Mr K. Shanmugam, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law, recently pointed out, low growth could potentially mean fewer opportunities for young people and reduced dynamism in the economy.

Will there be enough good jobs in an economy that has a reduced dynamism? What will slow growth do to the values of properties, which Singaporeans rely on as a source of retirement income?

These are huge challenges that will need to be tackled as Singapore manages its transition into slow-growth territory.

The perils of slower growth
Straits Times Forum 14 Nov 12;

I SIMPLY cannot understand why some Singaporeans are so myopic as to opt for slow growth, when the consequences are bound to haunt them in the long run ("Can Singapore adjust to a low-growth paradigm?"; yesterday).

To avoid the stressful pace of a competitive environment, Singaporeans are pressuring the Government to opt for slower growth and fewer foreign workers.

Up to now, there has been no sign of a mass exodus of multinational corporations and small and medium-sized enterprises out of the country.

So people fail to realise that although a slower pace of life may benefit them now, there are dire consequences in the long run when these companies leave Singapore.

Such a scenario will leave us with fewer jobs, lower income and a poorer standard of living.

Our future generations may, instead of being grateful to us for helping them to achieve a slower pace of life, accuse us of causing them to face unemployment and lower standards of living.

Slower growth means less government revenue, which in turn means lower subsidies for the needy. This leads to a self-reinforcing vicious circle, where fewer foreign investments come in because the country has become increasingly unattractive.

So when will Singaporeans stop being so narrow-minded and realise that their current demands may cause their downfall in the future?

Kee Soon Leong

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Indonesia: Three Sumatran Elephants Found Dead on Riau Plantation

Jakarta Globe 12 Nov 12;

Three elephants were found dead on a plantation in the Riau district of Pelalawan on Monday, allegedly killed as a result of having been poisoned.

The remains were already decaying when discovered not far from Kilometer 89 of Jalan Koridor Baserah, with the rare animals’ deaths judged to have taken place a week earlier.

“Seeing the condition of the carcasses, we think that the three elephants died of poisoning,” a spokesman for the Riau office of the World Wildlife Fund, Syamsidar, told the Indonesian news portal on Monday.

Two of the elephants were adults, while the other was a calf.

Their deaths add to a list of more than 10 Sumatran elephants found dead in Riau province's Tesso Nilo National Park and surrounding areas over the past year, coinciding with an increasing number of conflicts between elephants and humans due to the opening of forests for oil palm plantations in Sumatra.

The WWF has called the situation alarming, as presently only an estimated 200 Sumatran elephants are believed to live in the wild in Tesso Nila and its surrounding environs.

Sumatran elephants have been classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature since January 2011, as the population has declined by at least 80 percent over the past 75 years.


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Thailand: Mass poisoning from eating sick sea turle

Koh Lanta officials blame turtle soup for ‘strange’ outbreak
Phuket Gazette 12 Nov 12;

PHUKET: Officials on Koh Lanta believe a sick hawksbill sea turtle was the cause of a mass poisoning that may have contributed to the death of a 61-year-old man and resulted in 43 other villagers being admitted to hospital. (Click here to see Phuket Breaking News report.)

“Many people in the Urak Lawoi sea gypsy village on Koh Lanta Yai fell ill with an affliction that produced symptoms similar to hand, foot and mouth disease,” Koh Lanta District Chief Suriyan Narongkul told the Phuket Gazette.

The villagers were admitted to Koh Lanta Hospital for suffering from sore throats, nausea and diarrhea, he added.

Local villager Boontin Changnum, 44, explained to the Gazette that he found a turtle weighing 30 kilograms caught in a fishing net just offshore.

“I brought it home and cut it up to share with 10 families in the village, but immediately after eating it my whole family had sore throats, like we had swallowed sand,” he explained.

“We all went to see the doctor at the hospital. We felt better after taking some medicine, but everyone still has a sore throat after almost a month,” Mr Boontin said.

Mr Boontin’s father-in-law, 61-year-old Wat Thalaylurk, suffered more than any other family member.

“His symptoms were like mine, but he was also vomiting blood. We took him to Koh Lanta Hospital, but he died last Thursday,” Mr Boontin said.

“The doctor at the hospital reported that congenital diseases, including diabetes, hypertension and gastritis, might have contributed to his cause of death,” he added.

District Chief Suriyan said he had ordered staff from Koh Lanta Hospital, the District Public Health Office and the Koh Lanta District Fisheries Office to investigate the cause of the mass poisoning.

“The villagers are feeling better now and Mr Wat died from the range of congenital diseases he was suffering, not from eating the turtle,” he said.

“The villagers ate a hawksbill sea turtle, which is a protected species, but they didn’t know that,” Chief Suriyan explained.

“In this case, we believe the turtle ate toxic plankton or toxic jellyfish before it was caught in the net and then taken home and eaten by the villagers,” he added.

“We told the villagers that the turtle is a protected species,” Chief Suriyan

If anyone finds a rare sea animal, they can report it to the Koh Lanta District Office, he added.

– Kritsada Mueanhawong

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Vietnam to set up reserves to save protected species

VietNamNet Bridge 11 Nov 12;

Viet Nam will establish a large system of biodiversity conservation areas in order to preserve endangered animal and plant species and ecosystems, said Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Bui Cach Tuyen.

By 2020, these areas would cover 10 per cent of the nation's land area and 0.24 per cent of territorial water.

This plan is part of the drafted National Strategy on Biodiversity Conservation by 2020 with a vision towards 2030, one of several long-term solutions the country has planned to address the challenge of preserving biodiversity in the face of rapid urbanisation and development.

Viet Nam is home to around 7,500 types of microbes, 20,000 kinds of vascular plants, and 10,500 species of land animals, according to the ministry.

However, some of these animals might soon be extinct. These included the tiger, sao la (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis), and gaur (Bos gaurus), said Professor Dang Huy Huynh, chairman of the Viet Nam Zoological Society.

Only 200 individual sao la remain - 50 fewer than five years ago - and the number of gaurs has dwindled to about 300. Wild tigers and elephants are also nearing extinction, with only about 50 remaining of each species.

Huynh attributed this desperate situation to the poor management of authorised agencies.

Increasing population, rapid urbanisation and industrialisation, the effects of climate change, and limited public awareness of biodiversity conservation have also contributed to the decline in population, scientists say.

According to Tuyen, the ministry has collected feedback on the draft and plans to submit it to the Government in the first quarter of next year.

Under the draft, Viet Nam will have 164 special-use forests covering 2.1 million hectares, 30 national parks, 58 land nature reserves, and five marine nature reserves for biodiversity conservation.

In a related move, the ministry also made public the National Report on Biodiversity Conservation 2011 last week.

Pham Anh Cuong, head of the ministry's Biodiversity Conservation Department, said that the national report was compiled when the quality and quantity of animal and plant species began to significantly decline.

The report would be useful reading for scientists, researchers and policy-makers looking to contribute to conservation efforts, he said.

It explains the current situation and the causes for the decline in biodiversity and outlines conservation policies and goals for the next five years.


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U.S. national weather forecaster drops El Niño watch

PlanetArk 9 Nov 12;

The national weather forecaster has called off its El Niño watch five months after raising the alert as it is now less likely that the much-feared phenomenon that can wreak havoc on global weather will emerge.

Since June, the weather forecaster had predicted that El Niño conditions, essentially a warming of waters in the equatorial Pacific Ocean that can cause a major drought in Asia, would develop gradually during the Northern Hemisphere winter.

For the United States, El Niño can bring higher than average winter precipitation to the Southwest, less wintry weather across the North as well as stronger winter storms in California and increased storminess across the southern states.

"The previous El Niño watch has been discontinued as the chance of El Niño has decreased," the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) said on Thursday in its monthly report.

While the chances of El Niño are low, the CPC said the tropical ocean and atmosphere may still resemble a weak El Niño at times, with sea surface temperatures above average.

"While the development of El Niño, or even La Niña, cannot be ruled out during the next few months, ... neutral is now favored through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2012-13," it said.

La Niña is El Niño's less infamous counterpart and cools the waters in the equatorial Pacific, mainly causing crop-killing droughts in the Americas.

The phenomenon was blamed for last year's crippling drought - the worst drought in a century - in Texas, the biggest cotton growing state in the United States and only disappeared at the end of April.

El Niño leads to a heating of Pacific waters, triggering drought in Southeast Asia and Australia, which produce some of the world's major food staples, such as sugar cane and grains. It can also cause flooding in South America.

The CPC is part of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

(Editing by Andrew Hay)

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Poor nations dismayed by looming climate aid gap

Alister Doyle and Nina Chestney PlanetArk 12 Nov 12;

Rich nations are dismaying developing countries with pledges merely to continue aid to help them combat climate change in 2013 despite past promises of a tenfold surge to $100 billion a year by 2020.

"There should be a transparent process to scale up finance" towards 2020, said Seyni Nafo of Mali, spokesman for the 54-nation African group at U.N. negotiations. The poor needed more than "an indication that funding will not fall off a cliff".

A looming gap in aid pledges after a 2010-12 "fast start" program of $10 billion a year is a big source of tension before U.N. talks in Qatar from November 26-December 7 meant to review progress towards a deal to fight global warming, due by 2015.

The problem dates back to a U.N. summit in Copenhagen in 2009, when leaders including President Barack Obama agreed the fast start program and set a separate goal of $100 billion in annual aid by 2020 to help the poor to slow global warming.

But no one spelled out what would happen from 2013-19.

Now, with many donors struggling with economic crises, there is little spare cash for climate aid, funds meant to help poor nations to curb rising greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to droughts, floods, heatwaves or rising sea levels.

Major donors -- the European Union, the United States and Japan -- are only giving reassurances about continued aid for 2013, without firm numbers. And they are putting off any surge.

"Finance is key to agreeing on a package at Doha," said Pa Ousman Jarju of Gambia, chair of the 48-nation group of least developed countries. He expressed hopes for "renewed U.S. action on climate change" after Obama's re-election.

Small island states want "scaled-up, new and additional, predictable and adequate climate finance" from 2013, said Samoa's ambassador to the U.N., Aliioaiga Feturi Elisaia.


Developing countries want at least new cash for a fledgling, still-empty U.N. Green Climate Fund that is meant to channel aid towards developing nations.

Christiana Figueres, the head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, said that aid would not fall.

"Governments ... will at least maintain the current funding and they will in Doha look at the path along which they will ramp up to reach the $100 billion of mixed-sources of funding," she told Reuters in Singapore.

Some analysts are not so sure.

"At the very best we are looking at a flat-lining but we fear we will see a fall compared to the fast start finance," said Tim Gore of development group Oxfam. He said Spain, Italy, Greece and eastern Europe would all cut.

Under the U.N. plan, all nations will agree by 2015 a deal to slow climate change that will enter into force by 2020. China, the United States, the EU, India and Russia are the top emitters of greenhouse gases.

EU environment ministers on October 25 stressed "the need to signal to developing countries at the Doha Conference on the continuation of climate finance after 2012". The EU says it is giving 7.2 billion euros ($9.2 billion) in fast-start funds.

A State Department official said Washington was committed to "providing continuity in climate finance" beyond 2012 and to the $100 billion target by 2020. Washington says it gave $5.1 billion in the first two years of fast start.

Japan said it allocated $15 billion for 2010-12, half the fast start total. "We understand the importance of consistency in aid," said a Japanese government official in charge of climate change issues, adding no decisions were made for 2013.

"Donors are conscious they will have to demonstrate that it is not a downward spiral but rather an upward trend," said Ari Huhtala, a director at the London-based independent research group Climate and Development Knowledge Network.

He said that the fast track cash had broadly been achieved but there were disputes about whether it was "new and additional" as promised in Copenhagen.

Many developing countries also say that developed nations have exaggerated fast-start donations -- there is no obligation for the aid to be checked by receipts from poor countries. "There is no mechanism for transparency," said Nafo of Mali.

He said that investments in climate change made economic sense, for instance flood barriers against storm surges. "This is not a developing world problem any more," he said, pointing to signs of more extreme weather worldwide.

A problem is that fast-start aid came from government budgets while the $100 billion will be drawn from as yet undecided sources -- including perhaps novel uses of carbon markets, taxes on aviation, shipping or financial transactions.

"I don't think you can say that there is an emerging consensus on substantive conclusions" about new sources of funds, said Georg Boersting, a Norwegian official who is co-chair of work towards raising $100 billion by 2020.

A group that advised the United Nations once said the $100 billion goal was "challenging but feasible". "I think that's still the assessment," Boersting said. ($1 = 0.7812 euros)

(Additional reporting by Barbara Lewis in Brussels, David Fogarty in Singapore, Risa Maeda in Tokyo; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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