Best of our wild blogs: 22 Nov 12

Night Dive at Pulau Hantu
from Pulau Hantu

The Lock and Key of Spiders
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Finger-licking food
from The annotated budak

Postcards on positive interaction with our wild animals
from wild shores of singapore

Dragonfly (37) – Chalybeothemis fluviatilis
from Dragonflies & Damselflies of Singapore

Random Gallery - Common Palm Dart
from Butterflies of Singapore

Red-necked Stints in a feeding frenzy
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Investigating food web and trophic interactions in Singapore’s reservoirs, a seminar by Liew Jia Huan (Friday 30 Nov 2012, 10 AM, DBS Conference Room) from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

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Water quality unaffected by foam escape

Straits Times Forum 22 Nov 12;

PUB, the national water agency, and the National Environment Agency (NEA) thank Mr Roy Kee for his letter ("Foam escape not a laughing matter"; last Friday). We concur with Mr Kee's concern for the quality of water in our waterways.

PUB has a comprehensive routine monitoring system for our water supply.

As Pang Sua Canal drains into Kranji Reservoir, additional laboratory tests were also conducted every day following the incident to test for a range of organic and inorganic compounds present in the reservoir water. The results confirmed that the raw water quality in the reservoir was within the normal range.

To protect the environment and public health, the NEA regulates the use of hazardous chemicals in Singapore to ensure their safe use and handling.

The detergent that flowed into the canal during the fire incident was a substance known as alkyl polyglucoside, which is made from plant-based oils (glucose derived from corn, and fatty alcohols from coconut and palm kernel oils). Alkyl polyglucoside is non-toxic and ultimately biodegrades into environmentally harmless compounds - carbon dioxide and water - within days. It does not contain any hazardous chemicals.

The PUB assures the public that this incident did not affect the water quality in Kranji Reservoir. Moreover, raw water in all our reservoirs is treated at the waterworks to World Health Organisation drinking water quality guidelines before it is supplied to households. We must collectively continue to be extremely vigilant about protecting the quality of our water supply.

Tan Nguan Sen
Director, Catchment & Waterways Department

Fong Peng Keong
Director, Pollution Control Department
National Environment Agency

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Taiwan urged to offer complete protection to more shark species

Focus Taiwan 21 Nov 12;

Taipei, Nov. 21 (CNA) The capture of 23 rarely seen large sharks off Taiwan's coast over the past decade has prompted local animal protection groups to urge the government to extend the existing ban on catching whale sharks to cover more shark species.

Chen Yu-min, a director of the Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan, said at a news conference Wednesday that the accidental catching of a pregnant great white shark Nov. 14 off Taitung County on Taiwan's eastern coast has drawn international concern.

The shark, carrying nine pups, was sold for NT$185,000 (US$6,374.50), with one shark pup kept as a specimen and the remaining eight discarded, Chen said.

Speaking on the same occasion, Hu Yi-min, an instructor at National Chiao Tung University, said that in South Africa, a single shark can generate an average US$100,000 in tourism revenue per year.

"It's deplorable that in Taiwan, a great white shark carrying nine pups was killed and one of her pups made into a specimen before it was even born," Hu said, adding that the incident has prompted Internet users from around the world to leave messages on Facebook pages of the Global Shark Conservation Initiative and the Australian Anti-Shark Finning Alliance to push Taiwan to improve its shark protection measures.

Like the whale shark, the great white and the basking shark have been listed on Appendix II of the Washington Convention CITES as endangered species in which international trade is prohibited, Chen said.

While Taiwan has prohibited fishing, domestic trading, possession, import and export of whale sharks since 2007, it has not implemented such an across-the-board ban on great whites or basking sharks.

Under current regulations, violators of the whale shark fishing ban face jail terms of up to three years plus a maximum fine of NT$150,000.

The Fisheries Administration under the Council of Agriculture even offers a financial incentive of NT$30,000 (US$1,027) for anyone who accidentally catches a whale shark and hands it over for scientific study through electronic tagging.

"We hope the Fisheries Administration will offer similar protection for great white sharks, basking sharks and megamouth sharks," Chen said.

In response, Chou Ching-ho, a Fisheries Administration official, said the government already forbids exports of any of the three shark species mentioned by Chen, in accordance with the CITES stipulation.

As for whether to bar domestic trade in those shark species, Chou said further studies, including obtaining the opinions of local fishermen, will be needed before any decision can be made.

"The economic value of the three shark species is not high and we'll discuss with fishing industry representatives whether to ban domestic trade involving them," Chou said.

According to Chou, it took many years for his agency to prepare for the ban on whale shark fishing ban.

(By Yang Shu-min and Sofia Wu)

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Why a global climate treaty remains worth fighting for

Governments, businesses and civil society have much to gain from a spirit of determination within the international community
Yvo de Boer 21 Nov 12;

Progress towards an international agreement on tackling climate change has been painfully slow, dogged by fundamental disagreements between the countries involved and exacerbated by the financial crisis. Little is expected of the upcoming COP 18 meeting in Doha – so is it time to abandon the idea of a climate treaty altogether? Why not give up and focus on national and regional efforts to tackle climate change?

After all, negotiating a global deal is a slow, frustrating business. Not only is climate science constantly evolving, but the 194 countries that will meet in Doha often have diametrically opposed interests and points of view. Blocking progress is ridiculously easy.

Many of the differences between countries revolve around the concept of historic responsibility. This is the idea that industrialised countries got rich on the back of emitting greenhouse gases so they should act first, and developing countries should be allowed to develop before being called upon to limit their own emissions.

The lack of commitment from much of the industrialised world to accept this burden has contributed to a certain obstructiveness among developing countries. The rich countries are not just reluctant to pay to tackle climate change in poorer countries – they are unwilling to commit resources at home as well. Pre-occupied by the financial crisis, most countries have not seen tackling climate change as something that is in their national interest.

Nonetheless, a global deal remains worth fighting for. Governments, businesses and civil society all have much to gain, for four key reasons.

The biggest benefit would be for the very national and regional efforts mentioned above. A global deal and would bring a robustness and a consistency to climate policies in individual countries. The Montreal protocol tackling ozone-depleting chemicals, signed 25 years ago, is a case in point. While countries can make changes on their own, acting together can be much more effective.

A more consistent policy framework would bring a second benefit. With a legally binding global agreement in place, businesses and investors will know that the direction of travel is not going to change regardless of day-to-day events. Only then will they have the clarity and security they need to make the long-term technology investments that can tackle climate change. Making the wrong assumptions because long-term policies are unclear can lead to costly mistakes in the form of stranded assets, particularly in the field of energy.

Thirdly, a global agreement would create transparency, allowing the efforts of one country to be measured against another and helping to ensure that tackling climate change in one place does not simply move harmful activities to other countries.

Finally, it would also bring an element of standardisation so that all countries would know they are fighting the same battle under the same rules. It would also mean that compliance with these rules would be overseen by civil society groups that could hold parties to account and ensure that countries deliver on their obligations.

The impacts of climate change have started to become clearer in developing and developed countries alike. Many governments are starting to recognise that, it is in their interests to act now, regardless of who is responsible for historic emissions and who is to pay for reducing future emissions. The increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events like superstorm Sandy in the US is beginning to bring the issues into sharper focus for many.

And progress is being made. After the 2009 climate change talks in Copenhagen, countries responsible for more than 80% of global emissions developed targets to cut or limit the growth of their emissions. The ambitions for last year's meeting in Durban were low, yet it produced major achievements. These included kick-starting the $100bn per year green climate fund and setting in train a second commitment period for the Kyoto protocol.

More importantly, though, the Durban meeting also started the international community down the road of all nations working together subject to one legally binding instrument to cut emissions. And crucially, this outcome was evidence of a new spirit of determination within the international community, with delegates refusing to close the conference until an agreement was signed.

But for the agreement to succeed, the benefits of green growth need to be clearer to everyone. Political consensus is important to building a strategy that will survive electoral changes, but the business community must also play a central role. The private sector is going to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to green growth, so it is important that it makes the case effectively for low-carbon investments.

While it's important that all countries are committed to action to cut emissions and that those actions should be real, measurable and verifiable, it's also clear that many countries will need help from the international community to do so. That help should be subject to the same stringent accountability requirements as the emissions-cutting actions themselves. The best way to achieve this is through an international treaty – yet another reason that such a treaty is worth fighting for at Doha this year.

• Yvo de Boer is special global adviser, KPMG Climate Change and Sustainability, and the former executive secretary of the UN climate secretariat

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UN says carbon cuts too slow to curb dangerous warming

Matt McGrath BBC World Service 21 Nov 12;

A report by the UN says global attempts to curb emissions of CO2 are falling well short of what is needed to stem dangerous climate change.

The UN's Environment Programme says greenhouse gases are 14% above where they need to be in 2020 for temperature rises this century to remain below 2C.

The authors say this target is still technically achievable.

But the opportunity is likely to be lost without swift action by governments, they argue.

Negotiators will meet in Doha, Qatar for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP18) next week to resume talks aimed at securing a global deal on climate by 2015.

The Emissions Gap Report 2012 has been compiled by 55 scientists from 20 countries. It says that without action greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will be the equivalent 58 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide per year by 2020.

That's around 14 gigatonnes above the level that scientists have said is needed to keep temperature rises this century below the targeted level of 2C.

Even if the most ambitious pledges from countries to cut emissions are honoured, the gap is likely to be eight gigatonnes, an increase of two gigatonnes on last year's estimates.

"Eight is a big number," says Dr Joseph Alcamo, chief scientist of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), "that's about the total greenhouse gas emissions of the entire industrial sector in the whole world right now."

The United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) says the increase in the levels of emissions in this year's report is due to projected economic growth in some developing countries and the removal of some emissions cuts that were counted twice.

"The report provides a sobering assessment of the gulf between ambition and reality," says Achim Steiner, the executive director of Unep.

Mr Steiner says that bridging the gap remains technically possible from large reductions in power generation and transport.

The report also highlights examples of relatively inexpensive actions that have been effective in curbing emissions at national level. These include higher performance standards for vehicles and appliances, and economic incentives to reduce deforestation. Many of these actions have been taken for economic reasons but are having the added benefit of reducing emissions.

Lead author, Dr Monica Araya says it is crucial that this approach continues.

"If we want politicians to endorse these policies they have to be able to go out there and sell them on the basis of the benefits they create for their people and not just for the planet."
Critical talks

The report is meant to inform negotiators at the COP18 climate meeting that begins in Doha next week.

According to Christiana Figueres, who will lead the talks on behalf of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, it should help governments identify how ambitions can be raised.

"It is a reminder that time is running out but that the technical means and the policy tools to allow the world to stay below a maximum 2C are still available to governments and societies," she said.

The UNEP report follows on from a new analysis by the World Meteorological Organisation that says the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a record high in 2011. It suggests that CO2 has now reached concentrations of 390.9 parts per million, or 140% of the pre-industrial levels of 280ppm.

The impact of these gases has been significant, says the WMO, causing a 30% increase of the warming effect on the climate between 1990 and 2011.

Swift action needed to tackle widening emissions gap: U.N.
Nina Chestney PlanetArk 22 Nov 12;

Greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 could be between 8 billion and 13 billion metric tonnes (14.33 billion tons) above what is needed to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius, a United Nations' Environment Program (UNEP) report showed on Wednesday.

The annual report, prepared by UNEP and the European Climate Foundation, studied a range of estimates to assess whether current pledges for emissions cuts are enough to limit the worst effects of climate change.

It found the gap between countries' emissions cut pledges and what is needed to stay under what scientists say is the limit to avoid devastating effects from global warming has widened since last year's estimate of 6-11 billion tonnes due to higher-than-expected economic growth and other new data.

The World Bank warned this week that the world is likely to warm by 3-4 degrees by the end of the century and extreme weather will become the "new normal", affecting every region in the world.

Scientists say emissions will have to peak before 2020 and fall to around 44 billion tonnes (gigatonnes) by 2020 to have a good chance of limiting temperature rise to below 2 degrees.

Based on 2010 data, global emissions are estimated around 50 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) - 20 percent higher than 2000 emissions and 14 percent above the level needed in 2020 to stay under 2 degrees, UNEP said.

"If no swift action is taken by nations emissions are likely to be at 58 gigatonnes in eight years' time," the report said.

"Even if the most ambitious level of pledges and commitments were implemented by all countries and under the strictest set of rules, there will now be a gap of 8 billion tonnes of CO2e by 2020," the report added.


In 2010, countries agreed to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels but many countries have failed to enact emissions cuts to back up their promises.

U.N. scenarios indicate that cuts of 25 to 40 percent are needed to limit temperature rise.

Delegates from over 190 countries will meet in Doha, Qatar, next week for a U.N. conference to work on emissions cuts under a new climate pact which will only come into force in 2020.

If the necessary emissions cuts are delayed, costs could be at least 10 to 15 percent higher after 2020, the UNEP warned.

Estimates vary on the cost of inaction on climate change but it is projected to reach trillions of dollars.

If current emissions pledges are increased, more ambitious cuts are brought to the table and stricter accounting rules adopted, it is still technically feasible to close the emissions gap but swift action was needed, UNEP said.

Emissions could be reduced by around 17 billion tonnes from the building, power generation and transport sectors by 2020.

"Yet the sobering fact remains that a transition to a low- carbon, inclusive green economy is happening far too slowly and the opportunity for meeting the 44 billion metric tonne target is narrowing annually," said Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director and U.N. Under-Secretary General.

In response to the report, U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres said that although time was running out, technical and policy tools were still available to allow the world to stay below 2 degrees.

"Governments meeting in Doha now need to urgently implement existing decisions which will allow for a swifter transition towards a low-carbon and resilient world," she said.

Environmental campaign group Greenpeace said coal use has caused over two thirds of the rise in CO2 emissions and that governments must speed up the deployment of clean energy.

The UNEP report involved 55 scientists from 22 countries.

(Editing by Keiron Henderson and James Jukwey)

Developing nations push rich on climate targets ahead of talks
Stian Reklev PlanetArk 22 Nov 12;

Talks on a new climate change treaty in Qatar next week will not advance unless rich countries promise more ambitious cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, four major developing nations said.

The four nations, Brazil, China, India and South Africa -known in climate talks as the BASIC bloc - released a joint ministerial statement late on Tuesday saying responsibility for the outcome of the latest round of U.N. climate talks in Doha lay in the hands of rich countries.

"Ministers reaffirmed that the Kyoto Protocol remains a key component of the international climate regime and that its second commitment period is the key deliverable for Doha, and the essential basis for ambition within the regime," they said.

They added that rich nations must produce more ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which fall far short of what scientists say are needed to avoid runaway climate change.

The Kyoto Protocol, the only international treaty to set legally binding targets on cutting greenhouse emissions, expires at the end of the year. Around 30 European nations and Australia have signaled they are ready to take on new targets.

But major emitters such as Canada, Japan, Russia and the United States will not take part, saying the U.N. pact will have no environmental impact until it imposes similar targets on large developing nations, including China and India.

China and India are the world's biggest and third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, respectively.

A report released this week by the World Resources Institute, a U.S. think tank, showed two-thirds of the world's planned coal-fired power plants will be built in China and India, ensuring their carbon output will continue to soar.

Developed countries are keen to begin negotiations on a new treaty to cap emissions from all countries.

At last year's U.N. climate talks in Durban, negotiators agreed that such a deal must be reached by 2015 at the latest, and go into force in 2020.

But the BASIC countries said even a new treaty should be negotiated along the same principles as the current U.N. climate convention, keeping a division between rich and poor nations.

The Kyoto Protocol states that countries are bound by the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities", which puts most of the burden for combating climate change in the hands of rich nations with larger historical rates of emissions.

"The Durban Platform is by no means a process to negotiate a new regime, nor to renegotiate, rewrite or reinterpret the Convention and its principles and provisions," they said, signaling they will not accept the same treatment as rich countries in any new treaty.

The statement shows the developing nations are concerned about the pace of the negotiations, said Li Yan, a climate campaigner with Greenpeace China.

"Big developing countries, especially China, will need some time to do its homework and think of what it can do," she said.

(Editing by David Stanway and Ron Popeski)

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