Best of our wild blogs: 29 Nov 12

In celebration of the conservation of Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve - registration opens for the 2012 Anniversary Walk on Sun 2nd December 2012! from Habitatnews

Bug bites
from The annotated budak

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Mandai could be nature tourism hub

Ng Kai Ling Straits Times 29 Nov 12;

THE Government is looking at adding hotels and more restaurants to the Mandai area to turn it into a complete tourist destination.

Mr S. Iswaran, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, said at the opening of the giant panda exhibit yesterday that the area's rich biodiversity makes it an ideal location for other nature-related developments.

The plan is to leverage Singapore's award-winning attractions, such as the Singapore Zoo and Night Safari as well as the upcoming River Safari, and develop a "green lung" for tourists and Singaporeans alike.

Mr Iswaran, who is also the Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade and Industry, said the River Safari's opening next year will be an important step in Mandai's development.

Yesterday's opening of the 1,500 sq m panda enclosure also marked another milestone in the strong bilateral ties between Singapore and China, he added.

The Giant Panda Forest is the first attraction to be launched at the River Safari, and it opens to the public today. Visitors can buy zoo admission tickets ($20 for adults, $13 for children) and pay an extra $5 (adult) or $3 (child) to see the pandas.

The rest of the 12ha river-themed park will open next year, tentatively in February.

Last year, Singapore welcomed a record 13.2 million visitors - 14 per cent more than the 11.6 million who came in 2010. In the first half of this year, tourist arrivals grew by 11 per cent compared with the figure in the same period last year.

With a strong suite of nature-themed attractions already in Mandai, Mr Iswaran said the area has potential for developments such as accommodation, dining and other leisure facilities.

"We want developments that are sensitive and complementary to what we already have... we don't want something that jars that," he added.

The tourism industry and observers welcomed the idea.

Ngee Ann Polytechnic's senior tourism lecturer Michael Chiam said that to stand out, the hotels should not be just rooms in a forest. They should blend into the greenery and give people the experience of living in a jungle.

Mr Robert Khoo, chief executive of the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore, agrees and said the hotels should be like the five-star lodges in Kenya and South Africa.

Hotelier and restaurateur Loh Lik Peng said there is definitely potential in developing the area.

"Any time there is a new attraction, there would be business opportunities," he said.

River Safari helping Mandai become 'nature cluster': Iswaran
Area also has potential for accommodation, dining and other leisure facilities
by Vimita Mohandas Today Online 29 Nov 12;

SINGAPORE - The River Safari, where panda couple Kai Kai and Jia Jia will make their public debut today, marks an important step for the development of Mandai as a "nature cluster", as Singapore continues to rejuvenate its tourism offerings, Second Minister for Home Affairs, and Trade and Industry S Iswaran said yesterday.

Speaking at the grand opening of the Giant Panda Forest, the first of the River Safari attractions to open to the public, Mr Iswaran said visitor arrivals to Singapore grew a "robust" 11 per cent year-on-year in the first half of this year.

"The River Safari joins Singapore's stable of award-winning attractions that have impressed many visitors, many of whom do not expect such a rich and diverse array of nature-based attractions in a small, highly urbanised city like Singapore," he said.

Mr Iswaran noted that Mandai's rich biodiversity makes it an ideal location for a nature cluster, with potential for accommodation, dining and other leisure facilities.

"As the developments in this area continue, I am confident that the Mandai Nature Cluster will continue to build on its own unique identity as a top nature-based destination, with quality attractions and lifestyle activities," he said.

Those present yesterday included China's Ambassador to Singapore, Mr Wei Wei, and representatives from the State Forestry Administration of China, China Wildlife Conservation Association, presenting sponsor and conservation donor CapitaLand, and airline sponsor Singapore Airlines.

Members of the public will be able to meet these gentle giants from today, with a Giant Panda Preview add-on ticket when they visit the Singapore Zoo. Visitors will get to see many creature comforts around the enclosure, including a man-made waterfall, dipping pools and bamboo gardens that simulate the pandas' natural habitat.

Next month, they will get to learn about the importance of conservation through a special exhibition at the Singapore Zoo featuring the life of giant pandas in China.

The grand opening of the River Safari is slated for next year.

Related links
Earlier media articles about plans to develop mandai

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Malaysia: Genetic markers key to saving Borneo jumbos

New Straits Times 29 Nov 12;

KOTA KINABALU: Experts are delving deep into Borneo elephant genes to identify populations of the pachyderm which are isolated and genetically impoverished.

A recent study conducted by a team of scientists concluded that Borneo elephant show low genetic diversity which could threaten their survival.

The study was published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE by experts from various institutes in Portugal, the United States, the United Kingdom, the Sabah Wildlife Department and the Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC).

Experts believe that studying the genetic variability of endangered species' is necessary for conservation and monitoring purposes.

Using blood samples collected from captive Borneo elephants at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park, a team of scientists used cutting edge DNA sequencing methodology to identify genetic markers for the species.

DGFC director Dr Benoit Goossens said access to variable genetic markers was crucial to determine genetically impoverished and isolated elephants.

As Borneo elephants live in highly disturbed habitats due to oil palm plantation development, the populations risked isolation from one another.

"These new genetic markers may also allow us to reconstruct part of the demographic history of the elephants and possibly unravel the mystery of their origin.

"Their presence in Borneo still raises controversy and we have long wondered why the elephants' range is so restricted.

"The only previous genetic study done on these elephants recognised their presence in Borneo for more than 300,000 years, but there is a lack of elephant fossils on the island to support this," said Goossens.

Theory points to the sultan of Java, who had sent Javan elephants as a gift to the sultan of Sulu in the late 12th century, leading the to feral population in the western end of Sulu island.

"Subsequently, the sultan of Sulu translocated some elephants to the northeast of Borneo and these may have become the founder members of the current population in Sabah."

Earlier this year, the state government launched the 2012-2016 Elephant Action Plan to study and protect the endangered species.

The Borneo elephant is genetically unique and Sabah has a population of about 2,000 pachyderms.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu said large areas of lowland forest were paramount to the species' survival.

"Land conversion to oil palm plantations in key areas such as the Kinabatangan floodplain and central Sabah should stop if we want to avoid isolation of herds and maintain a healthy population."

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Indonesia: Elephant dies of electrocution in Banjarnegara

Antara 28 Nov 12;

Banjarnegara, C Java (ANTARA News) - An elephant from the Serulingmas Wildlife and Recreation Park in Banjarnegara, Central Java, was found dead on Wednesday after being allegedly electrocuted.

The ill-fated animal was discovered by an elephant tamer who works in the park.

"The elephant was found lying with a burnt mouth. There was an electric cable in its mouth," Head of Culture and Tourism Office of Banjarnegara, Aziz Ahmad, said here on Wednesday.

He noted that the electric cable was used to weld the rail of the elephant`s cage, which had been undergoing repair for several days.

The 11-year-old female elephant, named Dona, might have tried to bite the cable, which possibly led to its electrocution and death, Ahmad continued.

"We are extremely sorry for this accident, particularly because there were only two elephants here," he added.

Meanwhile, elephant tamer Suroyo (26) stated that he would deeply miss the elephant he had been raising since four years ago.

"Dona was a docile and cheerful elephant. Every time I am around, she would want to play. I still can`t believe that Dona is gone. It breaks my heart," he said.

The carcass of the pachyderm will be buried within the boundaries of the wildlife park on Wednesday evening, after being examined by the local police.(*)

Editor: Heru

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Rhino killings for horns rapidly rise in South Africa

Jon Gambrell Associated Press Yahoo News 28 Nov 12;

Associated Press/Denis Farrell - In this photo taken Friday, Nov. 22, 2012, a carcass of a rhino lays on the ground at Finfoot Lake Reserve near Tantanana, South Africa.

VAALKOP DAM NATURE RESERVE, South Africa (AP) — By the time ranchers found the rhinoceros calf wandering alone in this idyllic setting of scrub brush and acacia, the nature reserve had become yet another blood-soaked crime scene in South Africa's losing battle against poachers.

Hunters killed eight rhinos at the private Finfoot Game Reserve inside the Vaalkop Dam Nature Reserve this month with single rifle shots that pierced their hearts and lungs. The poachers' objective: the rhinos' horns, cut away with knives and popped off the dead animals' snouts for buyers in Asia who pay the U.S. street value of cocaine for a material they believe cures diseases.

That insatiable demand for horns has sparked the worst recorded year of rhino poaching in South Africa in decades, with at least 588 rhinos killed so far, their carcasses rotting in private farms and national parks. Without drastic change, experts warn that soon the number of rhinos killed will outpace the number of the calves born — putting the entire population at risk in a nation that is the last bastion for the prehistoric-looking animals.

"This is a full-on bush war we are fighting," said Marc Lappeman, who runs the Finfoot reserve with his father Miles and has begun armed vigilante patrols to protect the remaining rhinos there. "We here are willing to die for these animals."

Unchecked hunting nearly killed off all the rhinos in southern Africa at the beginning of the 1900s. Conservationists in the 1960s airlifted rhinos to different parts of South Africa to spread them out. That helped the population grow to the point that South Africa is now home to some 20,000 rhinos — 90 percent of all rhinos in Africa.

From the 1990s to 2007, rhino poachings in South Africa averaged about 15 a year, according to a recent report by the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC. In 2008, however, poachers killed 83 rhinos and by 2009, the number hit 122, the report says.

The killings grew exponentially after that: 333 in 2010, 448 in 2011 and as of Tuesday, at least 588 rhino killed this year alone, according to South Africa's Department of Environmental Affairs.

"That the year-on-year rhino poaching losses have continued to grow in the face of heightened awareness, constant media attention and concerted law enforcement effort is testament to just how pervasive and gripping the rhino crisis in South Africa has become," TRAFFIC wrote in its August report. "If poaching continues to increase annually as it has done since 2007, then eventually deaths will exceed births and rhino numbers in South Africa will start to fall."

Most of the killings, according to government statistics, occur in South Africa's massive Kruger National Park, covering 19,400 square kilometers (7,500 square miles) in the country's northeast abutting its borders with Mozambique and Zimbabwe. There, the impoverished slip across the park's borders, largely from Mozambique, to kill and dehorn rhino, earning the equivalent of months' wages in a single night of hunting. South Africa has deployed soldiers in the park with dogs to sniff out poachers, but their small force can't sufficiently cover a park that's roughly the same size as New Jersey.

The horns are sold by criminal gangs and smuggled into Asia. While poachers have been shot dead and hundreds of suspects arrested this year, the rhino killings continue unstopped largely because the trade is transnational and worth millions of dollars, said Julian Rademeyer, a journalist in South Africa who wrote "Killing for Profit," a book on rhino poaching that came out this month.

"The problem with law enforcement strategies is they end where our border ends," Rademeyer said.

And law enforcement can't always be trusted in South Africa, where corruption eats away at the nation. There have been several cases of rangers assigned to guard parks being arrested for aiding poachers.

With both South Africa and Swaziland allowing rhino to be hunted legally, criminal gangs have obtained hunting licenses under false pretenses. Gangs have hired prostitutes and the poor from Asia and Eastern Europe to pose as big game hunters with licenses to kill a single rhino apiece, Rademeyer said. Their "trophies" end up shipped back to Asia, where the horns are removed and sold.

Rhino horn is made of keratin, a tough protein found in human fingernails. Doctors have repeatedly said the material has no medical value. In Asia, however, demand for rhino horn has jumped dramatically. Experts blame it partly on a widespread rumor in Vietnam that rhino horn cures cancer, though some elite Vietnamese grind up horn and take it as a hangover cure or as a fever reducer.

The ever-increasing demand saw Vietnamese poachers kill the last of Vietnam's rare Javan rhinoceros last year for its horn. The World Wildlife Fund ranked Vietnam as the worst country for wildlife crime in Asia and Africa in July. The country is seen as having lax laws on importing horns. Diplomats at the Vietnamese Embassy in South Africa's capital Pretoria have also been linked to trafficking. Earlier this month, a South African court sentenced a Thai national to 40 years in prison for selling rhino horns.

With high-level officials involved and a strong demand, Rademeyer said poaching "will probably get a lot worse before it gets any better."

Rhino poachers have gone beyond Kruger and are targeting private farms and reserves. Poachers likely watched the Finfoot Game Reserve, which breeds rhino for game viewing, for days, Lappeman said. Workers caught a man in ragged clothes lurking around the park with more than 1,000 rand ($115) in crisp hundred rand bills and a new mobile phone in his pocket around the time of the killings, Lappeman said.

The poachers fired on the rhino far from the game lodge, probably moving methodically closer as no one came to investigate the shots, he said. Lappeman said he and his father only found the dead rhinos the day after seeing the lost calf.

One wounded mother rhino walked all the way to the property's edge, finally dying on a dirt road to be found first thing that morning.

"She had physically come to the road to die, to say, 'I'm dying, come fetch my calf,'" Lappeman said.

Only 10 years left to save rhinos
WWF 28 Nov 12;

Poaching of rhinos and elephants has risen so sharply in Africa that the fate of the species are now at risk. Tens of thousands of elephants and at least 588 rhinos have lost their lives in 2012.

“The rhino faces extinction within 10 years if we do not reverse this trend,” says Dr Joseph Okori, WWF's African Rhino Programme leader.

In South Africa several rhinos are killed every day for their horns.

“Villagers are at the bottom of the chain and can earn several months income through two or three days of poaching. Huge amounts of money is in circulation,” says wildlife vet Okori, who has worked on the protection of endangered species all his life.

Behind the rhino poaching boom is an increasing demand from Asia, primarily Viet Nam. Ivory consumption has risen in step with economic growth in Asia. Large amounts of illegal ivory is reaching markets in Thailand and China.

Demand for rhino horn has become so strong that criminal syndicates have plundered antique shops and museums in Europe for old horns.

“In Vietnam appliances that grind rhinoceros horns are sold for around $450,”said Joseph Okori.

To reverse the escalating poaching and to stop the illegal trade, a range of measures are required, Okori says. The demand in consumer countries must decrease sharply, and world leaders must acknowledge that wildlife trafficking as a serious crime.

Establishing trust and engaging in dialogue between authorities and village residents is also necessary to encourage locals to raise the alarm when poaching occurs.

In Namibia, for example, there is a effective information system which is reliant on cooperation with local populations, as well as a well-developed local management scheme which results in the lowest poaching in Africa. Similar ideas have begun to spread to Botswana, South Africa and Zambia, said Okori.

WWF now supports the creation of a compulsory DNA registery for rhinos. There are currently 5,600 rhinos in the database. DNA evidence is invaluable when poachers are arrested and cases are tried in court.

“We welcome the fact that the Swedish government has provided increased support for stricter border control, as well as other measures to combat smuggling and poaching. Both governments and tourists need to take more responsibility. People should absolutely not buy souvenirs from endangered species or carved ivory souvenirs while on holiday,” said Hakan Wirtén, Secretary General of WWF Sweden.

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Sea Levels Rising Faster Than Projected Yahoo News 29 Nov 12;

New satellite measurements suggest that global sea levels are rising faster than the most recent projections by the United Nations' climate change panel.

The new report found that sea levels are rising at an annual rate of 0.12 inches (3.2 millimeters) — 60 percent faster than the best estimate of 0.08 inches (2 millimeters) per year, which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calculated in 2007.

"This study shows once again that the IPCC is far from alarmist, but in fact has underestimated the problem of climate change," German oceanographer and climatologist Stefan Rahmstorf, who led the study, said in a statement. "That applies not just for sea-level rise, but also to extreme events and the Arctic sea-ice loss."

Satellites, which measure changes in sea level by bouncing radar waves off the sea surface, provide much more accurate measurements than tide gauges, because they have near-global coverage, as opposed to just coastal coverage, researchers say.

In addition to the change in sea level, the team assessed another marker of global warming — the overall warming trend of global temperatures. But their results closely corresponded with the IPCC's fourth assessment report, finding that the current overall warming trend of global temperatures is 0.28 degrees Fahrenheit (0.16 degrees Celsius) per decade.

Seas-level rise is thought to be driven by glacier melt as well as a phenomenon known as thermal expansion, which occurs when ocean water expands as it warms. Rising tides are a concern because they boost the threat of extreme flooding in populous coastal areas, putting millions of people at risk worldwide. The IPCC estimated the seas would rise up to an average of 6.6 feet (2 meters) by 2100, though some areas are expected to be hit harder than others.

The team involved in the new study included scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the consulting firm Tempo Analytics and the French Laboratoire d'Etudes en Géophysique et Océanographie Spatiales (LEGOS).

Their findings appear today (Nov. 28) in the journal Environmental Research Letters, as delegates from 190 countries meet in Doha, Qatar, this week for the U.N.'s Climate Change Conference. The IPCC's next comprehensive report on the state of climate change is due out by 2014.

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UN agency: 2012 warmer than normal despite La Nina

Karl Ritter Associated Press Yahoo News 28 Nov 12;

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Despite early cooling from La Nina, 2012 is on track to become one of the top 10 hottest years on record, with the U.S. experiencing extreme warmth and Arctic Sea ice shrinking to its lowest extent, the U.N. weather agency said Wednesday.

In a statement released at international climate talks in Qatar, the World Meteorological Organization said the "alarming rate" of the Arctic melt highlights the far-reaching changes caused by global warming.

"Climate change is taking place before our eyes and will continue to do so as a result of the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which have risen constantly and again reached new records," WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said.

Delegates from nearly 200 countries are meeting in the Qatari capital of Doha to discuss ways of slowing climate change, including by cutting emissions of greenhouse gases that scientists say are warming the planet, melting ice caps, raising sea levels, and changing rainfall patterns with impacts on floods and droughts.

Discord between rich and poor countries on who should do what has kept the two-decade-old U.N. talks from delivering on that goal, and global emissions are still going up.

The WMO said global temperatures rose after initial cooling caused by the La Nina weather oscillation, with major heat waves in the U.S. and Europe. Average temperatures in January-October were the highest on record in the continental U.S., and the ninth highest worldwide.

Before that, a cold spell had much of the Eurasian continent in an icy grip between late January and mid-February, when temperatures in eastern Russia plunged to -50 degrees C (-58 F).

Cyclone activity was normal globally, but above average in the Atlantic, where 10 storms reached hurricane strength, including Sandy, which wreaked havoc across the Caribbean and the U.S. east coast.

Sandy wasn't the strongest cyclone, though. That was typhoon Sanba, which struck the Philippines, Japan, and the Korean Peninsula, "dumping torrential rain and triggering floods and landslides that affected thousands of people and caused millions in U.S. dollars in damage," the WMO said.

Droughts impacted the U.S., Russia, parts of China and northern Brazil. Nigeria saw exceptional floods, while southern China saw its heaviest rainfall in three decades.

But of all the weather events in 2012, the most ominous to climate scientists was the loss of ice cover on the North Pole. In September, scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado said Arctic Sea ice measured 1.32 million square miles (3.41 million sq. kilometers) — which is 18 percent less than the previous record low, set in 2007. Records go back to 1979 based on satellite tracking.

The scientists said their computer models predict the Arctic could become essentially free of ice in the summer by 2050, but added that current trends show ice melting faster than the computers are predicting.

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As nations haggle, global carbon cut targets get impossibly deep

David Fogarty and Alister Doyle PlanetArk 29 Nov 12;

As the nations of the world struggle in Doha to agree even modest targets to tackle global warming, the cuts needed in rising greenhouse gas emissions grow ever deeper, more costly and less likely to be achieved.

U.N. talks have delivered only small emissions curbs in 20 years, even as power stations, cars and factories pump out more and more heat-trapping gases.

An overriding long-term goal set by all nations two years ago to keep temperature rises to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) above levels prior to the Industrial Revolution is fast slipping away.

"The possibility of keeping warming to below 2 degrees has almost vanished," Pep Canadell, head of the Global Carbon Project at Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization, told Reuters.

Disagreements mean the U.N. climate talks in Doha, Qatar, that run until December 7 have scant chance of making meaningful progress. The talks are aimed at reaching a new deal to start by 2020 to slow climate change in the form of more floods, droughts, rising sea levels and severe storms like Hurricane Sandy that lashed the U.S. Northeast last month.

Global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas, have risen 50 percent since 1990 and the pace of growth has picked up since 2000, Canadell said. In the past decade, emissions have grown about 3 percent a year despite an economic slowdown, up from 1 percent during the 1990s.

Based on current emissions growth and rapid industrial expansion in developing nations, emissions are expected to keep growing by about 3 percent a year over the next decade.

For the talks to have any chance of success in the long run, emissions must quickly stop rising and then begin to fall. Temperatures have already risen by 0.8 C (1.4 F) since pre-industrial times.

"The alarm bells are going off all over the place. There's a disconnect between the outside world and the lack of urgency in these halls," Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists said at the Doha talks.

Nearly 1,200 coal-fired power plants, among the biggest emitters, are proposed around the globe, with three-quarters of them planned for China and India, a study by the Washington-based World Resources Institute think-tank said last week.

Emissions from China, the world's top carbon polluter, are growing 8 to 9 percent a year and are now about 50 percent higher than those of the United States. And China's carbon emissions are not expected to peak until 2030.


In some projections, global emissions will need to go into reverse by mid-century, with the world sucking more carbon out of the air than it puts in, if warming is to be kept to below 2 C.

And air pollution, mostly particles from fossil fuel use, may be masking the warming by dimming sunshine.

"Those aerosols today hide about one-third of the effect of greenhouse gases," Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, vice-chairman of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), told Reuters.

Without that pollution, a breach of the 2 degree threshold might already be inevitable, he said.

The latest IPCC report, in 2007, said keeping greenhouse gas concentrations low would cost less than 3 percent of world gross domestic product by 2030. So far, the panel has not assessed the costs of delays, said Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the panel.

The report also said that world emissions of greenhouse gases would need to peak by 2015 to give a good chance of keeping the average temperature rise to below 2 C.

But deep disagreement on future emissions cuts between rich and poor nations has delayed the start of a new global pact until 2020, undermining the chances of a robust extension in Doha of the existing plan, the Kyoto Protocol, which obliges almost 40 rich nations to cut emissions until the end of 2012.

The deadline for a deal on new cuts due to start in 2020 has been put back to 2015, giving breathing space for the troubled talks as ever more carbon enters the air.

Yet current emissions cut pledges are putting the planet on course for a warming of 3 to 5 C, a U.N. report said last week, adding that 2 C was still possible with tough action.

"The later we go in getting complete action and the higher emissions are in 2020, the greater is the risk that these targets are not possible or are extremely expensive," said Bill Hare, head of the non-profit advisory organization Climate Analytics.

Key will be a switch to nuclear or biomass power and carbon capture and storage. If these don't step up, there will be no financially feasible solutions to meet the target, he said.

In Doha, both the United States and the European Union - the main emitters among developed nations - say they will not deepen their pledges for cuts by 2020. "It's a desperate situation," said Martin Kaiser of Greenpeace.

To be effective, the next climate pact from 2020 would need global agreement for rapid and deep cuts. Under a scenario drawn up by the IPCC, rich nations needed to achieve cuts of 25 to 40 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels.

But existing pledges are for less than 20 percent.


Canadell, citing work by the Global Carbon Project and other researchers, said that to have a reasonable chance of keeping warming to 2 C, global emissions would have to drop about 3 percent a year from 2020.

Since developed nations are meant to take the lead, that would mean the rich would have to cut by between 4 and 5 percent a year, he said. That could cripple economies by prematurely shutting down coal-fired power plants and polluting factories.

Global accountancy firm PwC estimated that the improvement in global carbon intensity - the amount of carbon emitted per unit of economic output - needed to meet a 2 C target had risen to 5.1 percent a year, from now to 2050.

"We have passed a critical threshold - not once since World War Two has the world achieved that rate of decarbonisation, but the task now confronting us is to achieve it for 39 consecutive years," PwC said.

(Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Extreme weather calls for action, U.N. climate chief says
Alister Doyle PlanetArk 29 Nov 12;

Extreme weather from melting Arctic ice to Superstorm Sandy shows snail-paced U.N. climate talks have to do more to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the head of the U.N. weather agency and its climate chief said on Wednesday.

"Climate change is taking place before our eyes," Michel Jarraud, the head of the U.N.'s weather agency, said of the shrinking of ice floating on the Arctic Ocean to a record low in September and other extremes.

And the first 10 months of 2012 were the ninth-warmest since records began in the mid-19th century, with early months cooled by a "La Nina" weather event in the Pacific, according to a report by Jarraud's World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

It also documented severe floods, droughts and heatwaves, in what the U.N. expected to add to pressure for action at the November 26-December 7 meeting among 200 nations in OPEC member Qatar.

"The message here for this conference is very clear," Christiana Figueres, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat told Reuters of extremes and rising emissions. "Governments need to hurry up and they need to be much more on track."

Superstorm Sandy, which struck the U.S. east coast after raging through the Caribbean, showed the United States "is not exempt from the vulnerabilities of climate change and that it also needs to do something," she said.

"We have had severe climate and weather events all over the world and everyone is beginning to understand that is exactly the future we are going to be looking about if they don't do something about it," she said.


Rajendra Pachauri, head of the U.N. panel of climate scientists, said the costs of defenses against higher sea levels would rise towards 2100 and could amount to five to 10 percent of gross domestic product of low-lying nations.

And between 75 and 250 million people in Africa alone could face greater stress on water supplies by 2020, hitting food output. "This would further adversely affect food security and exacerbate malnutrition," he said in a speech to the conference.

He said polls showed U.S. public opinion had swung towards wanting more action by President Barack Obama to slow global warming after Sandy. "But whether that's a lasting change it's too early to say," he told Reuters.

China, the United States, the European Union and India are the top emitters. None have announced plans to limit emissions at Doha despite wide pleas for action.

The U.N. meeting is struggling to overcome disputes about how to extend the Kyoto Protocol, the existing plan for cutting emissions by developed nations that will otherwise expire at the end of the year.

The European Union, Australia and a few other countries are willing to extend but Japan, Russia and Canada have pulled out, arguing that it is meaningless unless emerging nations led by China and India also sign up.

The United States never ratified the 1997 Kyoto pact. Without an extension of Kyoto, developing nations say they won't work for a global deal applicable to all and meant to be agreed by 2015 and enter into force by 2020.

Also, coal-dependent Poland won backing as the host for next year's U.N. climate talks after OPEC member Qatar, a double act that dismayed environmentalists who say both oppose action to drop fossil fuels and embrace greener energies.

"The prospect of Poland hosting the next global climate conference is hugely concerning. At a time when action is desperately needed, a host country should be firmly committed to climate protection," Greenpeace's Jiri Jerabek said.

(Editing by Hugh Lawson and Jason Webb)

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