Best of our wild blogs: 21 Dec 12

Tears on a sea shawl
from The annotated budak

Animals help pollinate and disperse seagrasses
from teamseagrass

Read more!

LNG terminal to be operational by Q2 2013

Kristie Neo Channel NewsAsia 20 Dec 12;

SINGAPORE: Singapore will be powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG) by the second quarter of next year, to diversify energy sources, when Singapore's S$1.7 billion terminal is ready to begin operations.

Currently, 80 per cent of Singapore's electricity is generated from piped gas by Malaysia and Indonesia.

The first tranche of LNG is expected to arrive at its new terminal in Jurong Island in the second quarter of next year.

S Iswaran, second minister for trade and industry said: "We are always trying to strike a balance between three key considerations. One is energy supply resilience, second is in terms of our economic competitiveness and third is environmental sustainability. These are the key elements that we want to point together and achieve an equilibrium in, and is part of our energy strategy for Singapore.

"In that context, diversification is key to our competitiveness, resilience and sustainability because we really need to have as many options as possible available to Singapore that we can tap into to feed and meet our current and future energy requirements."

But experts are not upbeat that this will bring energy costs down overnight.

LNG prices will continue to be pegged to oil prices, which remain high.

This may be frustrating news for companies like Lanxess and Shell Chemicals, which in recent months have said that high energy costs have hurt "manufacturing economics and customers".

Gas prices in Singapore are also double that in Malaysia and Vietnam.

For now, the government said businesses can negotiate with power generating companies for contracts appropriate to their business, and practicing energy efficiency can also help.

Mr Iswaran said: "I think it is important for our businesses and indeed for our households to take energy efficiency seriously. In other words, invest in energy efficiency, invest in some of the upfront infrastructure, or upfront capital costs in order to have a sustained reduction in energy consumption and energy cost. This is is something that needs to be actively pursued by businesses as well. If you can do that right, that will be durable savings for businesses, regardless of what the price of energy is in Singapore."

He added: "If you think about it differently, if you can achieve a 10 per cent saving in Singapore's energy consumption, that is the equivalent of one plant. Our peak capacity and consumption is about 6 gigawatts. So if we save 10 per cent, that's 600 megawatts, which is basically the size about a plant these days that is being developed."

Experts also say there may be room for more competitive LNG pricing with more players in the market.

Currrently, only one company - BG Group - is responsible for sourcing and delivering LNG in Singapore.

BG Group is currently contracted to supply up to three million tonnes of LNG per annum to Singapore.

Ravi Krishnaswamy, the vice president of energy and power systems at Frost & Sullivan said: "What that could mean is that once you have more players in the domestic market supplying LNG, there is a possibility that this can provide a more competitively-priced gas, but then again this will only happen over the next couple of years, I would say."

Singapore will receive its first LNG shipment from Qatar, and may subsequently receive from markets such as Russia, Australia and the US.

- CNA/xq

Read more!

Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre faces eviction

Danny Aeberhard & Ly Truong BBC News 19 Dec 12;

A major bear rescue sanctuary in Vietnam is facing eviction from one of the country's national parks.

The international charity that runs the $2m centre says officials have told it that the land is needed for national security purposes.

But the charity suspects a different motive - profit.

It points to plans backed by the national park director for an eco-development by a company co-founded by his daughter.

The Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre is sited in a temperate, lowland valley in Tam Dao National Park - a swathe of lushly forested mountains to the north-west of Hanoi.

It houses more than 100 endangered bears rescued mainly from the illegal bile-farming industry.

In that industry, bears are kept caged. Digestive bile is forcibly extracted from their gall bladders, to be sold on the black market for use in traditional medicine.

Animal rights campaigners have long attacked the practice as barbaric, and it is banned in Vietnam.
'Living in fear'

Animals Asia, the charity which runs the sanctuary, says it would take two years to find a replacement location, and worries how it would care for the rescued bears during this time.

"It's no understatement to say that everyone is living in fear, considering that our bears and staff have all been given notice to quit with nowhere to go," says its founder, the British campaigner Jill Robinson.

It fears it would receive no compensation for lost infrastructure, and says 77 local staff would lose their jobs.

Animals Asia also claims the Vietnamese government would breach its legal obligations to the charity, under agreements both have signed.

It is calling on Vietnam's prime minister, Nguyen Tan Dung, to abandon the plans.

The country's Ministry of Agriculture, which oversees Tam Dao National Park, says the Ministry of Defence wants the land for national security purposes.

In October, Ministry of Agriculture officials told Animals Asia that they would be seeking the prime minister's approval for the eviction to go ahead.

The ministry is believed to have submitted its final report to the prime minister, for him to decide.

Animals Asia, however, questions the timing of the Ministry of Defence's push to have the rescue centre evicted.

It points to the fact that the director of Tam Dao National Park has backed a scheme to use at least part of the land demarcated for the sanctuary for a tourist development.

The park director's daughter, Do Thi Ngan, was one of the original founders of the company behind the proposed development, with 10% of its shares.

One state-run Vietnamese online newspaper, the Justice of Vietnam, has raised questions about the address that the company - the Truong Giang Tam Dao Joint Stock Company - has listed as its headquarters on its official registration document.

The property at the address is reportedly a convenience store, whose owner knew his nephew had registered the company there, but knew nothing about its activities.

The BBC was unable to contact the company for comment.
Conflict of interest?

Speaking to the BBC's Vietnamese Service at an early stage of the BBC's investigation in October, the director of the national park, Do Dinh Tien, confirmed that he had heard about the Ministry of Defence's stance.

But he said that no decision had been made on whether to relocate the bear sanctuary.

"We are just discussing all the possibilities and how to make this reasonable… to ensure national security, and at the same time, make sure that the centre can function normally."

Mr Tien also denied having received any requests from companies seeking to use the land on which the sanctuary is built.

"It's just gossip, only rumours," he said.

But evidence suggests this is not the case.

The BBC has subsequently seen a document in which Mr Tien specifically backs the company's bid to submit such development proposals to his ministry.

This would appear to be a conflict of interest.

A Ministry of Defence document also indicates there may have been direct contact with the park director's office on the subject of stopping the bear sanctuary from expanding on land that had been previously demarcated for the sanctuary, but which was also sought by the developers.

Mr Tien has said he would answer a list of questions sent to him by the BBC, but was unable to do so before our publication deadline.

Animals Asia says it fears that the national security argument is only a pretext for evicting the sanctuary.

The charity argues that - if the sanctuary were to be evicted - nothing would prevent the Ministry of Defence from subsequently lifting its national security restrictions.

This, it says, could clear the way for the approval of the tourist development.
Daughter linked

When the BBC asked the park director's daughter, Do Thi Ngan, about her apparent links to the development company, she seemed to deny being a shareholder, despite being listed as a co-founder on the official company registration document.

She then declined to answer more questions on the phone.

"It's personal information, I don't want to talk about it, unless you are in an investigation, with police, and show official documents then I'll answer," she said.

There is no suggestion that she is the subject of such a police investigation.

But it is not clear why she would appear to be involved in plans that require her own employers losing the use of land.

For - in a curious twist - Ms Ngan actually works as an administrative assistant at the bear sanctuary itself.

No official reasons have been given by the Vietnamese government as to why its Ministry of Defence has - seemingly out of the blue - decided that the land at issue is of importance to national security.

The ministry did not oppose the building of the sanctuary which was set up with full government approval.

The BBC was unable to contact any defence officials for clarification. And the Ministry of Agriculture failed to respond to a list of questions.

Meanwhile, Animals Asia has been campaigning hard to halt any eviction.

It has gained broad international support, pointing to letters signed by dozens of politicians worldwide, including members of the US Congress and British MPs.

A number of celebrities have also lent their support, including the comedian, Ricky Gervais and the actor and author, Stephen Fry.

And it would appear to have some support within the Vietnamese establishment.

One member of the country's National Assembly, Duong Trung Quoc, told the online newspaper Vietnamnet last month that eviction "would do harm to our country's image".

For now, the sanctuary's bears can socialise and enjoy the large outdoor enclosure of their new-found home.

But the prospect of eviction is - in Jill Robinson's eyes - one that is "too horrible to contemplate".

Having to re-cage rescued bears, she explains, risks re-activating the symptoms of their trauma, and all "because of a decision that has not one shred of morality behind it".

Read more!

Malaysia: Strong winds and high waves forecast in South China Sea

The Star 21 Dec 12;

PETALING JAYA: The world may not be ending soon, but life is starting to get a little less comfortable as weather patterns worsen.

Activities in the waters off the South China Sea are expected to be risky for at least a couple of days, due to very strong monsoon winds and rough seas.

“Very strong winds and rough seas are forecast in the east coast, Sabah and Sarawak, which is dangerous to all coastal and shipping activities, including fishing and small ferry services,” the Malaysian Meteorological Department said in a statement yesterday.

Strong northeasterly wind with a speed of 50kph to 60kph with waves up to 4.5m in height are expected to hit the waters off Kelantan, Terengganu, Samui, Con-dore, Reef North, Layang-Layang and Palawan until Jan 3.

In the same period, strong winds with a speed of 40kph to 50kph with waves up to 3.5m are forecast in waters off Pahang, East Johor, Tioman, interior of Sabah, the West Coast, Kudat and Sandakan in Sabah, Labuan, Sarawak, Bunguran, Reef South and Sulu.

Coastal areas in Kelantan, Tereng-ganu, Pahang and east Johor are also vulnerable to rising sea waters until next Wednesday.

Klang Valley residents are in for a rough few days, too, as rainy days are predicted. said Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya, Shah Alam and Klang would experience heavy rain over the next seven days, with the heaviest rain in the later part of the week.

World Weather Online on its wesbite also predicted mostly rainy weather in the city until Jan 5, with generally light winds.

In Johor, flash floods have hit Kampung Baru Datuk Ghani Othman, worsened by an ongoing development project near the Pengerang area.

According to village head Tahir Aris, 59, the flood occurred at around 6.30pm on Wednesday evening after a downpour that lasted more than 30 minutes.

About 59 victims are now staying at Dewan Kampung Baru Datuk Ghani Othman.

“Most of the 34 houses in the village were affected,” he said.

Tahir blamed the flood on the ongoing relocation of residents affected by the Pengerang Integrated Petroleum Complex (PIPC).

He added that this was the first time in seven years the village had been hit.

“The reclamation around our village has caused the drains to be blocked,” he said.

Kota Tinggi deputy OCPD Dept Supt Law Hang Seng said the flood situation in the village was expected to improve in a few days time.

According to the National Secu-rity Council, Johor is the only state hit by floods so far with two relief centres being opened in Batu Pahat and Kota Tinggi.

There are 22 families seeking shelter at SK Sri Bandan and 15 at SK Kota Dalam both in Batu Pahat.

'Yellow' alert for east coast states
New Straits Times 21 Dec 12;

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysians on the east coast have been warned to prepare for possible floods, with long spells of heavy rain expected in the next three months.

Meteorological Department director-general Che Gayah Ismail said the first of such spells could occur this weekend, with the agency issuing a "yellow" alert on Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang and Sabah.

"The northeast monsoon, which started in October, usually brings humid weather and up to five long episodes of heavy rain.

"We are expecting the first episode to hit the east coast from tomorrow until Wednesday," she said yesterday.

According to the department's advisory, Sabah residents could expect intermittent, occasionally moderate, rain over the Kudat, Sandakan and Tawau divisions tomorrow and on Sunday.

Meanwhile, heavy showers have been forecast in Tumpat, Pasir Mas, Kota Baru, Bachok, Pasir Puteh, Machang, Besut, Setiu, Kuala Terengganu, Marang, Kuantan, Pekan and Rompin.

Thunderstorms and strong winds have also been forecast in Kedah, Perak, Selangor, Johor and Kuala Lumpur.

Read more!

Norway seeks to slow deforestation as climate "first aid"

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 20 Dec 12;

Norway, which has led developed nations by investing billions of dollars to slow tropical deforestation, announced plans on Wednesday to step up its efforts as part of "first aid" to slow climate change.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, whose country is rich thanks to offshore oil and gas, said new measures to slow global warming were needed now because a new U.N.-led climate deal is due to be agreed only in 2015 and enter into force from 2020.

"In the meantime we must give the climate first aid," he told a news conference.

"The government will step up its efforts to slow deforestation and work to cut emissions that give the greatest climate effect in the shortest time," he said. Stoltenberg did not, however, announce fresh investments or targets.

Deforestation, often clearing land for farms, accounts for about 17 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from human sources. Forests, from the Congo to the Amazon, soak up carbon dioxide from the air as they grow and release it when they rot or burn.

Norway has been the most generous nation in giving aid to slow tropical deforestation with annual investments worth $500 million in recent years, funded from its own vast fossil fuel revenues.

It has $1 billion programs in both Brazil and Indonesia and smaller projects in nations including Guyana and Tanzania.

Stoltenberg said that other fast-acting measures that would qualify as first aid included cuts in industrial emissions of soot and methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, and reductions in subsidies for the use of fossil fuels.

Oil Change International, an environmental group campaigning for a shift towards cleaner energies such as solar or wind power, estimates that fossil fuel subsidies worldwide will reach $775 billion in 2012.

It also estimates that Norway itself handed out almost $700 million in fossil fuel subsidies last year.

U.N.-led talks in Qatar this month ended with a deal to extend the Kyoto Protocol, a weak pact that sets greenhouse gas goals for industrialized nations, until 2020.

That unblocked talks on the new, worldwide deal meant to be sealed in 2015. But world greenhouse gas emissions are rising, led by growth in emerging economies such as China and India.

(Reporting By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent; Editing by Michael Roddy)

Read more!