Best of our wild blogs: 5 Dec 12

Yellow submarine
from The annotated budak and Tail order

the uncommon common kingfisher @ ubin - Dec2012
from sgbeachbum

Foraging White-breasted Waterhen and Great Egret
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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New uses, opportunities underground in land-scarce Singapore: Khaw Boon Wan

Channel NewsAsia 4 Dec 12;

SINGAPORE: National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan has spoken of the possible new uses and opportunities that lie underground in land-scarce Singapore.

He said in his blog entry, "Going Underground", on Tuesday that he recently explored the Jurong Rock Caverns (JRC) with Mr S Iswaran, who's Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Trade and Industry and Home Affairs.

Mr Khaw described his visit to the JRC, which is located at a depth of more than 130 metres beneath the Banyan Basin on Jurong Island, as "quite an experience".

Under Phase One, it has five caverns providing storage and terminalling facilities for liquid hydrocarbons such as crude oil. They form an important infrastructure of Singapore's petrochemical industry.

Mr Khaw noted that such facilities are normally built above ground, as they'll be cheaper. Building them underground frees up valuable land for other purposes.

The five caverns are made up of storage galleries, as high as nine storeys.

Mr Khaw said these translate to a saving of about 60 hectares of land, which is very significant for Singapore.

"Not quite to the centre of the Earth, but the visit down the shaft to the deepest part of Singapore, nevertheless, left a deep impression. The JRC opens up new opportunities for land-scarce Singapore. Beyond storage, what more can be moved underground?" Mr Khaw wrote.

- CNA/ck

2 underground caverns for hydrocarbons ready by June
Straits Times 5 Dec 12;

TWO giant rock caverns to store oil and petrochemicals on Jurong Island are set to be completed by next June.

Yesterday, Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan said in a blog post that he visited the caverns recently, and that they were "almost completed".

They will be used to store liquid hydrocarbons.

Industrial landlord JTC Corporation is building the caverns as part of its Jurong Rock Cavern project.

As part of the first phase, five caverns will be built by 2014 and offer 1.47 million cubic metres of storage space to companies.

The first phase of the project costs $890 million.

The caverns are being built 130m under Jurong Island, and each cavern is about 27m tall, the height of a nine-storey building.

Mr Khaw said in his blog post: "Normally, such facilities are built above ground as they will be cheaper. But by building them underground, we free up valuable land for other purposes."

He estimated that the land savings from the rock caverns would amount to 60ha, about the size of 130 football fields.

Several other projects have been launched to investigate the potential uses of underground space here.

The Ministry of National Development, for example, is studying the possibility of clustering facilities such as reservoirs, power plants and landfills beneath the ground.

The need to delve deeper is urgent because of Singapore's growing lack of above-ground space.

In a recent paper, researchers here noted that Singapore's 2001 Concept Plan projected a land demand of 800 sq km for a population of 5.5 million people.


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'More can be done' to ramp up energy efficiency

Expert calls for more information on economic gains from energy-saving consumer products
Neo Chai Chin Today Online 5 Dec 12;

SINGAPORE - Given a choice between two similar television sets in a store, consumers would likely buy the cheaper one. But they may choose differently if a label shows that in two years' time, the other television set's energy savings will exceed its initial price premium.

Providing information on the economic gains from energy-saving consumer products is just one of the "many things" governments around the world can do to ramp up energy efficiency, but governments often do not provide full information, said Dr Fatih Birol, Chief Economist of the International Energy Agency (IEA), yesterday.

According to the IEA's analysis, two-thirds of the potential to improve energy efficiency in economically-viable ways will remain unrealised through to 2035.

This is akin to shutting down an oil field after extracting only one-third of its oil, said Dr Birol, who was in town for the South-east Asia launch of the World Energy Outlook 2012, IEA's flagship publication.

Calling it an "epic failure of international energy policy making", he added that efficiency policies can make a difference to even the world's largest economy.

The United States' declining oil import dependency is due not only to the growth of its domestic production, but also as a result of its drop in domestic oil consumption - driven by new fuel efficiency standards for cars introduced by the first Obama administration, he said.

With more natural gas producers and Europe exerting pressure on gas exporters to lower prices, Dr Birol is hopeful the same will happen in Asia.

Singapore uses mainly natural gas for power generation.

As prices of natural gas in Asia are determined by commercial contracts and indexed to fuel oil prices, Singapore's electricity tariffs are affected by oil prices.

"There're some first signals of certain spot markets ... and I hope that new producers coming into picture will provide for Asian consumers, Asian importers, strong cards in their hands to negotiate new contracts," he said.

Expert urges bigger push for sustainable energy
Jonathan Kwok Straits Times 5 Dec 12;

THE energy industry is still failing to put the sector onto a more sustainable path, said an expert yesterday.

Dr Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency (IEA), argued that more needs to be done to raise energy efficiency and the access to energy for poor people across the world.

Subsidies for fossil fuels in many countries are also delaying the transition to alternative, cleaner forms of energy.

Such subsidies amounted to US$523 billion (S$635 billion) worldwide last year, up almost 30 per cent from the figure in 2010 and six times more than subsidies for renewable energy.

Dr Birol called these fossil fuel subsidies the "No. 1 public enemy in the fight against climate change" at a forum to mark the South-east Asia launch of the IEA's flagship report, the World Energy Outlook 2012.

The forum at Raffles Hotel was jointly organised by the Paris-based IEA and Singapore's Energy Market Authority.

"(Fossil fuel subsidies) remain most prevalent in the Middle East and North Africa, where momentum towards their reform appears to have been lost," said the executive summary for the report.

Dr Birol noted that energy demand and carbon dioxide emissions are rising and fossil fuels are still dominant as sources of energy, despite the growth in low-carbon sources of energy.

Renewable energy - especially wind and solar power - is under pressure, he said.

Global energy efficiency is also lagging behind in the absence of a "concerted policy push" by governments, said Dr Birol.

"Two-thirds of the economically viable potential to improve energy efficiency will remain unrealised through to 2035."

Yet such action is important to delay global warming, buying time to secure a much-needed global climate agreement, he said.

The report also said the Asean economies are set to play a key role in global energy markets over the next 25 years.

South-east Asia's energy demand is expected to expand by more than 80 per cent over the period.

This growth will refocus the global energy landscape towards Asia, especially with the rising energy needs in China and India.

"But many challenges will need to be overcome if South-east Asia is to meet its growing needs at affordable prices and in a sustainable manner," said Dr Birol.

The World Energy Outlook report also sets out updated projections of energy demand, production, trade, investment and carbon dioxide emissions, broken down by country, fuel and sector, from now till 2035.

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South Sudan's elephants could be wiped out in 5 years

Hereward Holland PlanetArk 5 Dec 12;

The once-thriving elephant population of South Sudan could be wiped out in five years if rampant poaching is not brought under control, a wildlife protection group said on Tuesday.

After decades of civil war the African country, which became independent last year, has fewer than 5,000 elephants left, down from around 130,000 in 1986, according to the United States-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

Driven by demand from China, the price of ivory has quadrupled in the last few years, Paul Elkan, South Sudan Director at WCS, said.

"Within the next five years the elephants in South Sudan could completely be gone with the current rates of poaching," Elkan told reporters.

He said 2011 was the worst year on record for poaching worldwide, with 24 tonnes of ivory seized.

Black market trade in wildlife and wildlife products is worth an estimated $10 billion per year, according to the Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking, a group of government and wildlife organizations.

Elkan said the southern rebel army ate much of the country's wildlife during the 1983-2005 civil war against the Khartoum government in the north. Raiders from the north also massacred wildlife, particularly elephants, he said.

South Sudan's zebras and rhinos may have already been wiped out, Elkan said, warning that the new nation's giraffes are also on the brink of extinction.

South Sudan's infrastructure has been devastated by years of war and economic neglect, and conservationists are now worried new road construction will make poaching and trafficking easier.

"Those elephants that survived the war are having a hard time surviving the peace," Elkan said.

Gabriel Changson Chang, South Sudan's minister of wildlife conservation and tourism, said South Sudan has struggled to prosecute poachers and smugglers because it lacks the laws to try them.

The government hopes to pass anti-poaching legislation in the middle of 2013 to help end the illegal trade, he said.

"There must be a legal framework so that when they are apprehended, they are tried according to specific articles of that act," Chang told reporters.

He said the government was reviewing a 30-year land lease agreed in 2008 with the United Arab Emirates-based Al Ain National Wildlife. The deal gave the Gulf company a hotel and wildlife concession in the pristine grasslands of the eastern Boma National Park.

The minister said the company had built a 50-room lodge on the concession but had not yet opened it.

"We need to know if they are still interested in operating that facility or not. If not it will be auctioned out to other interested investors."

South Sudan wants to set up a safari tourism industry based around the migration of an estimated 800,000 white eared kob antelope - one of the largest migrations in the world with numbers that potentially rival the migrations in Tanzania's Serengeti plains.

(Editing by Rosalind Russell)

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Extreme weather is new normal, U.N.'s Ban tells climate talks

Barbara Lewis and Alister Doyle PlanetArk 5 Dec 12;

Extreme weather is the new normal and poses a threat to the human race, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Tuesday, as he sought to revive deadlocked global climate change talks.

Ban's intervention came as efforts to agree a symbolic extension of the U.N. Kyoto Protocol, a treaty that obliges about 35 developed nations to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, looked to be faltering.

In a speech to almost 200 nations meeting in Doha to try to get a breakthrough, Ban said a thaw in Arctic sea ice to record lows this year, superstorms and rising sea levels were all signs of a crisis.

"The abnormal is the new normal," he told delegates at the November 26-December 7 talks. He said signs of change were apparent everywhere and "from the United States to India, from Ukraine to Brazil, drought (has) decimated essential global crops".

"No one is immune to climate change - rich or poor. It is an existential challenge for the whole human race - our way of life, our plans for the future," he said.

Urging nations to cast off their apathy and embrace ambition, he had earlier said that Superstorm Sandy, which lashed the Caribbean and the United States a month ago, had "given us an awakening call".

The failure to agree a Kyoto extension is blocking efforts to lay the foundations of a new global U.N. deal that is meant to be agreed in 2015 and to enter into force from 2020.

At the last attempt in 2009, a summit in Copenhagen failed to agreed a global deal to succeed Kyoto.

Kyoto required countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 5.2 percent below 1990 levels from 2008 to 2012.


Robert Stavins, director of Harvard University's environmental economics program, said there was some hope that an accord could be struck in 2015.

"It's a blank slate and there is always hope for long-term happiness," he said, likening the situation to somebody seeking a new romance after being twice divorced.

Ban said that Kyoto should be a platform for future climate change action even though Russia, Japan and Canada are pulling out, leaving a group led by the European Union and Australia that account for only 15 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions.

The defectors say Kyoto is no longer relevant because emerging nations led by China and India will have no targets to curb their soaring emissions from 2013. And the United States, the second biggest emitter behind China, never ratified Kyoto.

Ban also said that rich nations should step up aid to help the poor cope with climate change after a $10-billion-a-year funding program promised for 2010-12 runs out.

Rich nations have set a long-term goal of providing $100 billion in aid by 2020 and poor nations say they want a clear timetable for aid from 2013. Faced with an economic slowdown at home, most developed nations are only promising "continued" aid.

Britain said it would spend around £1.8 billion ($2.9 billion) to finance climate change measures from 2013-15, on top of previously announced funds for 2011-15. It also unveiled new projects from Africa to Colombia, including a 98-million-pound-scheme ($157.75 million) to aid renewable power generation in Africa.

"If anything, the science is telling us it's now getting warmer quicker than we had previously expected," said Ed Davey, British energy and environment minister. "Our actions as a world are going slower than we had previously hoped."

(Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

At climate talks, UN chief rejects warming doubts
Karl Ritter Associated Press Yahoo News 5 Dec 12;

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Pointing to the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy and other weather disasters this year, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told an international climate conference Tuesday that it was time to "prove wrong" those who still have doubts about global warming.

Ban, addressing delegates at the annual U.N. climate talks, said time is running out for governments to act, citing recent reports showing rising emissions of greenhouse gases, which most scientists say are causing the warming trend.

"The abnormal is the new normal," Ban told environment ministers and climate officials from nearly 200 countries. "This year we have seen Manhattan and Beijing under water, hundreds of thousands of people washed from their homes in Colombia, Peru, the Philippines, Australia."

"The danger signs are all around," he said, noting that ice caps are melting, permafrost thawing and sea levels rising.

Delegates at the two-week talks that are set to end Friday are discussing future emissions cuts and climate aid to poor countries, issues that rich nations and the developing world have struggled to agree on for years.

In Doha, developing countries have criticized richer nations for not promising higher emissions cuts and not giving any firm commitments on how they plan to scale up climate aid to $100 billion by 2020, a pledge they made three years ago.

Ban told reporters after his speech that richer countries, including the U.S., "should take leadership" on climate change because they have the resources and technology to address the problem.

On Tuesday, Britain announced two initiatives to support renewable energy in Africa and a water management program that it said would help 18 million poor people become more resilient to climate change. The initiatives, totaling 133 million pounds ($214 million) over the next three years, were welcomed by climate activists.

"At last, a developed country has finally made a pledge for future climate finance here in Doha," Oxfam Climate Change Policy Advisor Tracy Carty said, but noted that the details remain "hazy."

At a side event earlier Tuesday, Ban said the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy in the Caribbean and the U.S. east coast should be a wake-up call, showing "that before it's too late, we have to take action."

Climate scientists say it's difficult to link a single weather event to global warming but some say the damage caused by Sandy was worse because of rising sea levels.

A small minority of scientists still question whether the warming seen in recent decades is due to human activities, such as the carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.

"Let us avoid all the skepticism. Let us prove wrong all these doubts on climate change," Ban said.

Climate scientists have already observed changes including melting Arctic ice and permafrost, rising sea levels and acidification of the ocean, shifting rainfall patterns with impacts on floods and droughts.

Low-lying Pacific island states, in particular, are losing shoreline to rising seas, expanding from heat and the runoff of melting land ice.

Governments represented at the Doha conference have started talks on crafting a new global climate treaty that would take effect in 2020. They are also discussing how to rein in greenhouse gas emissions before then, partly by extending the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty limiting the emissions of most industrialized countries that expires this year.

The U.S. never joined Kyoto, because it didn't cover emerging economies such as India and China, which now has the world's highest carbon emissions.

With only a few days remaining to agree on the Kyoto extension and other issues, the head of the U.N. climate change secretariat, Christiana Figueres, reminded the delegates that the "eyes of the world" are upon them.

"Present and future generations are counting on you," she said.

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World 'on collision course with nature', OECD green growth report warns

OECD says not curbing greenhouse gases will have disastrous impact on quality of life, particularly for people in poor countries
Mark Tran 4 Dec 12;

Green growth is the only way forward for rich and poor countries alike to achieve sustainable development because of tremendous economic and livelihood losses from severe climate change and the depletion of natural resources, a thinktank said on Tuesday.

The Development Co-operation report 2012 by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) calls for radical changes to an economic model in which rapid growth has come at a price for the environment and many of the world's poorest people.

"We are on a collision course with nature," Angel Gurría, the OECD secretary general, said at the launch of the report on Tuesday in the ornate surroundings of Marlborough House in London, as he urged developing countries not to adopt the "develop first, clean up later" approach.

"It is time for a radical change. If we fail to transform our policies and behaviour now, the picture is more than grim," wrote Gurría in the report's foreword. "Our current demographic and economic trends, if left unchecked, will have alarming effects in four key areas of global concern – climate change, biodiversity, water and health. The costs and consequences of inaction would be colossal, both in economic and human terms."

A previous OECD report said that by 2050, without immediate action, the world will see a 50% increase in greenhouse gas emissions with a disastrous impact on quality of life; a doubling of premature deaths from exposure to air pollution; and a further 10% decline in terrestrial biodiversity.

The impact will be felt most severely in poor countries, where populations face serious threats from pollution, poor water quality, diseases associated with a changing climate and from energy, food and water insecurity.

Aid can play a role in accelerating the transition to green growth in developing countries, said the report, which called for a refocusing of official development assistance (ODA) to support the green economy and growth in developing countries.

According to the OECD, green growth means fostering economic growth and development while ensuring that natural assets continue to provide the resources and environment on which people's well-being relies. The Green Economy report by the UN Environment Programme (Unep) said investing an additional 2% of global GDP in key economic sectors could create decent employment, inclusive economic growth and greater environmental sustainability.

Several developing countries, including China, Kenya and Ethiopia, have adopted green growth strategies. China, the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, has set out an ambitious green development plan. It foresees at least 5.3m green jobs over two to three years from investments in energy savings, pollutant emissions reduction and adjustment of industrial structure.

In addition, China sees green jobs through planting new forests, reforestation and forest management. Although mostly temporary, these 20m jobs from 2005 to 2020 are seen as a way of helping socially vulnerable groups and reducing poverty in under-developed regions.

South Korea has also set its eyes on green growth. It aims to be 100% energy independent by 2050, by quadrupling its renewable energy supply by 2030. The government is committed to investing 2% of its annual GDP between 2009 and 2013 – a total of $90bn – to encourage private investment in green sectors.

Yet as Brian Atwood, chair of the OECD's development assistance committee (DAC) – the group of donor countries – admits, people in poor countries will give first priority to their ability to feed and shelter themselves and their families. "Unless they are an island or coastal state, their governments are more likely to argue that growth is more important than reducing carbon emissions or protecting the environment … Protection of the global environment cannot threaten local livelihoods – solutions must be found where the two can co-exist," wrote Atwood in the OECD report.

Such tensions have been evident at the UN climate talks in Doha, Qatar, now in their second week, where the US and Europe are strongly resisting the idea that they should compensate for losses in poor countries, fearing that it would lead to potentially endless financial claims. Apart from the issue of compensation, rich countries in 2009 agreed to give $100bn by 2020 to help poor countries adapt to climate change. So far, they have yet to provide the $30bn they promised as a down payment.

ODA for climate adaptation or mitigation in poor countries can be expected to remain contentious at a time when aid is declining. In 2011, DAC countries provided $133bn in aid, a 2.7% drop from the previous year, taking inflation into account. Gurría said many rich countries are using the economic crisis to relax their aid commitments, but praised the UK for not cutting aid. Atwood suggests that aid should act as a catalyst for other flows, such as private-sector finance and investment, "as long as we understand the private sector's need for a balance between investment risks and returns".

The report also highlights the perverse incentives at work from subsidies. "Today there over $1 trillion in subsidies for areas ranging from fisheries to fertilisers and fossil fuels," wrote Achim Steiner, executive director of Unep, in a chapter of the report. "Much of this money is actually fuelling environmental decay, such as climate change; engendering collapse of fish stocks and damage to coastal systems; and aggravating social and economic challenges. Removing these distorting, environmentally harmful and socially under-performing subsidies would completely change the incentive structure, promoting sustainable consumption and production and freeing up to 1-2% of global GDP every year."

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