Best of our wild blogs: 23 Apr 13

Do tourists like Pulau Ubin?
from wild shores of singapore

Curious Cuthonas and a [not-so] Slender Ceratosoma!
from Pulau Hantu

Random Gallery - White Spotted Palmer
from Butterflies of Singapore

#4 West Coast Park- The Marsh Gardens, Park Connecter
from My Nature Experiences

Read more!

New measures to reduce flood risks

Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 22 Apr 13;

SINGAPORE: New and redevelopment building projects will have to meet stricter flood management measures from June.

National water agency PUB announced this on Monday as part of its holistic storm water management strategy for Singapore.

The strategy includes a new clause that would require projects over a certain land size to have on-site storm water management strategies.

PUB is taking a three-pronged approach to prevent heavy rain from escalating into floods.

To tackle the flooding problem at the source, it is implementing a new rule into its revised Surface Water Drainage Code of Practice.

The clause will apply to new and redevelopment projects that are of land size 0.2 hectares and more.

For example, a new residential site that has a green roof, detention tanks or ponds will collect water during heavy rain.

Once the rain stops, the water would be released over a period of several hours – thereby preventing flooding and the overflowing of the drainage system.

The new clause could mean a substantial reduction of rainwater that flows into drains immediately after a storm – from about 90 per cent to 35 per cent after green features are implemented.

PUB said developers could also design features that co-exist with public amenity spaces.

PUB’s director for catchment and waterways, Tan Nguan Sen said: “Based on the historical data that we have recorded so far in the last 30 years, there has been an increasing trend in rainfall, and projections for the future are also likely to show an increase in rainfall patterns. We are not only tackling the source, but also the pathway and the receptor, and so these features will actually help to improve the flood resilience and increase the flexibility and the adaptability of our drainage system to meet our future challenges."

As part of its 'Receptor' measures, new and redeveloped sites could also implement minimum platform and crest protection levels to protect buildings from being affected by flash floods.

PUB said if minimum levels cannot be met due to site constraints, flood barriers can also be implemented.

PUB is also on track to construct new pathway measures such as the Stamford Detention Tanks and the Stamford Diversion Canal – to be completed by 2015 and 2017 respectively.

One developer has been implementing features such as green roofs and rainwater harvesting tanks into its residential and commercial projects for more than ten years.

Deputy general manager of projects division for green building at City Developments Limited, Allen Ang said: "It requires space planning, to incorporate water tanks – rainwater harvesting tanks – into the developments. With the new measures, developers may need to review space constraints, and allocate more spaces. For residential projects with extensive green roofs, typically it costs less than one per cent of the total construction costs to build a green roof.

Developers will be given six-month grace period to implement requirements of the new clause into their building designs.

- CNA/jc/sf/ck

New PUB code to prevent flash floods
Woo Sian Boon Today Online 22 Apr 13;

SINGAPORE — To strengthen Singapore’s resilience against floods, developers of projects with a land size of 2,000 sq m and above will have to implement on-site measures to control and slow down storm water run-off as part of national water agency PUB’s revised Code of Practice on Surface Water Drainage.

Starting June 1, developers will have to install structures such as detention tanks, retention ponds, green roofs as well as design features such as bio-retention swales, rain gardens and wetlands on-site, with the aim of retaining rainwater and slowly releasing it into the public drainage system afterwards.

For example, Waterway Ridges, a Housing and Development Board project currently under construction in Punggol, will include a detention tank and landscape design features such as a bio-retention basin. During dry weather, the basin — which is covered with grass — will serve as a recreation space for residents. During wet weather, rainwater will be channelled into the basin, and slowly drained into the public drainage system to stagger peak run-off.

Currently, the PUB estimates that 80 to 90 per cent of rainwater which falls onto a development is immediately discharged into drains during a storm. After the new rule kicks in, about 25 to 35 per cent of rainwater will be detained by the on-site measures to slow down discharge and prevent the possibility of flash floods.

Said PUB’s Director of Catchment and Waterways Tan Nguan Sen: “Based on historical data that we have recorded for the past 30 years, there has been an increasing trend in rainfall and projections for the future are also likely to show increase in rainfall patterns ... These features will help to improve flood resilience and the flexibility and adaptability of our drainage system to meet future challenges.”

The revised code will be applicable to all new industrial, commercial, institutional and residential developments and redevelopments. Developments which fall within the 2,000 sqm range include Liat Towers and Tong Building on Orchard Road, which were hit by flash floods in June 2010.

New developers will have a six-month grace period to include these initiatives in their plans. Asked about the cost on developers to implement such measures, Mr Tan replied: “This will be part of their overall development and will form less than 1 per cent of their development.”

Some developers, such as Keppel Land and City Developments Limited (CDL), said they have been incorporating water retention and holding facilities in their projects.

“The new requirement may demand even larger tanks. We need to balance the sizing with the area limitations,” said a CDL spokesperson.

To facilitate implementation, the PUB, in conjunction with the Institute of Engineers Singapore, has rolled out courses to educate and certify relevant professionals on planning and designing these features. Since 2011, about 100 professionals have been trained.

Stricter anti-flood measures for buildings
New laws to affect only new building projects and those being redeveloped
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 23 Apr 13;

NEW and redeveloped building projects will have to meet more stringent flood prevention requirements from June this year and January next year.

National water agency PUB said yesterday that from January, development projects with land sizes larger than 0.2ha - about the size of half a football field - will have to include features to slow down and retain rainwater, such as detention tanks and green roofs.

It also specified that from June, buildings must install flood barriers if they cannot meet minimum crest and platform height levels to stop them from being flooded.

The PUB announced in late 2011 that these buildings were required to have flood protection measures, but did not specify which ones.

The new laws will affect only new building projects and those that are being redeveloped. Existing buildings will not be affected until their sites are redeveloped.

The PUB estimated that the 0.2ha guideline would include more than 95 per cent of new projects, based on past land sales. It will enforce the new rules by checking building plans when they are submitted for approval.

The new measures are meant to better protect buildings against flash floods and allow them to be used to temporarily store stormwater. This will reduce the peak flow of rainwater into the public drainage system and reduce its risk of being overwhelmed.

The PUB's director of catchment and waterways Tan Nguan Sen said Singapore is likely to have more rain in future based on historical data and projections.

"PUB will continue... deepening and widening drains, but there is a limit to this measure given competing demands for land use," he said.

The agency estimated that a 0.2ha site would need a 1m-deep detention tank about the size of a parking space to meet the new requirement. Developers of larger sites can go beyond block-level features and use shared spaces such as playgrounds and carparks, it said.

Mr Jwee Quek, project manager of specialist contracting company Parafoil Design and Engineering, said the firm has installed about 30 flood barrier systems at residential and commercial properties since 2010.

A basic, manual barrier about 3m wide by 1m tall costs about $20,000, he said.

The company recently installed a 150m-long, automatic pop-up flood barrier system at Lucky Plaza that cost $500,000. Additional works such as pumps and drainage diversions pushed the total bill of the flood protection system to about $1 million.

Property developers said the costs of the new features may increase total construction costs by up to half a per cent. Said EL Development managing director Lim Yew Soon: "That may sound insignificant but it's a lot of money for just the storage of water.

"Still, it may be necessary, and having guidelines will make things more transparent, and developers can factor it into their costs."

Read more!

New energy management requirements for industry sector kick in

Channel NewsAsia 22 Apr 13;

Mandatory energy management requirements for large energy users in the industry sector came into effect Monday.

SINGAPORE: Mandatory energy management requirements for large energy users in the industry sector came into effect Monday under the Energy Conservation Act (ECA).

Large energy users are companies with business activities that consume more than 54 terajoules of energy annually in at least two years of a three-year period.

Business activities include manufacturing and manufacturing-related services, supply of electricity, gas, steam, compressed air and chilled water for air-conditioning, and water supply and sewage and waste management.

From Monday, these companies are required to register themselves with the National Environment Authority (NEA) and appoint one or more energy managers to monitor and manage their energy consumption.

The companies are required to report their energy consumption and provide information on processes resulting in greenhouse gas emissions.

They will also have to submit energy efficiency improvement plans annually from 2014 onwards.

NEA said the industry sector accounts for more than half of Singapore's energy demand.

It added that the requirements will affect some 170 companies.

- CNA/jc

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Singapore Tourism: Go-local drive needs 'stronger support'

Tourism board should identify top 10 brands, develop food districts: Experts
Melissa Lin Straits Times 23 Apr 13;

MORE must be done to develop home-grown tourism offerings if Singapore's "go local" strategy is to work, industry figures say.

Orchard Road Business Association executive director Steven Goh said there are not yet enough brands that can attract holidaymakers. "If you ask visitors from Hong Kong and Taiwan, they come here to buy Charles & Keith," he added, referring to the shoe brand.

"Singapore is lacking other brands like that. We need to groom the next Charles & Keith."

He suggested that the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) identifies the top 10 brands with potential and help them to grow in areas such as business development and franchising.

Ngee Ann Polytechnic's senior lecturer in tourism Michael Chiam said food districts in Singapore needed to have more distinct identities to attract visitors. "If you look at the hawker fare at Chinatown, whether you eat it there or at Bedok, there's no difference. We need to develop more places like Newton Circus."

Fashion designer Priscilla Shunmugam's label, Ong Shunmugam, is one local brand being touted by tourism industry players - including STB chief executive Lionel Yeo - as having the potential to lure travellers to Singapore.

Started at the end of 2010, it is known for its modern take on the cheongsam. The label's designs were presented at last year's Paris Fashion Week.

"There is definitely a decent list of us (designers) that can hold our ground," said Ms Shunmugam. "(But) the less confidence we have about our identities and origins, the harder it can be to accept that something designed and made so close to home can be of value."

Last week, Mr Yeo said the Republic is ready to showcase its "authentic" local offerings alongside its glitzy cosmopolitan attractions. The idea is to appeal to more discerning tourists, and help strengthen Singaporeans' sense of civic pride.

Speaking on the sidelines of yesterday's Tourism Industry Conference 2013, Mr Yeo said that Singapore needed a narrative.

"Good storytelling can touch people's hearts and give them a memorable experience," he said. "It's about bringing a place alive."

Even though some feel more can be done to groom local brands, there is already a market for home-grown attractions.

About six months ago, the CTC Travel agency started tours catering to travellers wishing to go off the beaten track.

There is one focusing on cuisine, where visitors learn to make local dishes such as bak kut teh, and another taking visitors around parks such as the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

"These are for the tourists who have been here many times and want a more in-depth experience," said CTC Travel spokesman Alicia Seah."We've seen a 10 to 15 per cent growth this year in the number of such visitors."

Mr Chiam said professionals from overseas, not just students, are opting to backpack in Singapore for the "authentic" experience. "They'll eat at hawker centres and would rather take public transport instead of tour buses."

He added that the STB's latest international marketing video - which features Singaporeans enjoying local attractions - was a change from previous films that showed mainly iconic buildings, such as Marina Bay Sands. He said: "This portrays the local way of life. Even if we don't speak perfect Queen's English, this is our heritage, this is who we are."

Meanwhile, the STB released details of its $5 million Kickstart Fund to help the industry create new concepts for tourism.

It will expire on March 31, 2016, and provide grants of up to 50 per cent of the cost of a project, capped at $75,000.

The board also plans to bring in leading global consultants to conduct a series of hands-on workshops for the local industry.

Read more!

Turning chicken poo into biofuel

Lim Wee Leng Channel NewsAsia 22 Apr 13;

SINGAPORE: Eggs are not the only cash cow for some farms in Singapore.

Chicken droppings are also being put to good use and are converted into biofuels.

At Chew’s Group's farm in Lim Chu Kang, about 700,000 chickens produce 60 tons of droppings a day.

It's building a plant, costing about S$5 million that can convert the waste.

It hopes to use this to replace the current practice of treating the fresh manure and selling it to vegetable farmers in Singapore and Malaysia as fertiliser, because the process is expensive and needs a lot of space and manpower.

The first phase of the new plant will be completed by the end of this year and can supply up to 70 per cent of energy needs.

If it succeeds, the farm hopes to scale up.

Executive chairman of Chew’s Group, Chew Chee Bin said: "We actually need to solve our chicken dung problem. Traditionally, we take 35 days to ferment the chicken dung and supply to local and Malaysia vegetable farmers. By using the biogas system, we can reduce almost 50 per cent of land use, reduce manpower use, and increase egg production.

“If we enter into the second phase, we will treat 80 tons of chicken dung, which in turn will produce almost one mega kilowatt hours, which is sufficient to supply the whole farm and supply to the power grid."

- CNA/ck

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Malaysia: Earth-friendly agendas in General Election 13?

Meng Yew Choong The Star 22 Apr 13;

Earth-friendly agendas are emerging, though they are not necessarily well-addressed.

THE decision by the chairman of Kumpulan Hijau, Wong Tack, to enter the political fray has been seen by some as a case where environmental issues have become a rallying point for the elections.

Wong is the most public face of the Stop Lynas movement that aims to halt the operations of Malaysia’s only rare earth refining facility at Gebeng, Pahang.

Of course, this is not the first time that the environment has turned into a campaigning issue. Back in the 1990 elections in Sarawak, Harrison Ngau Laing stood as an independent candidate and defeated Barisan Nasional veteran and former deputy minister Datuk Luhat Wan (and another independent candidate) in the 1990 elections to emerge as the Baram MP.

Now a lawyer, Harrison’s fodder for campaigning back then was based on the struggle to protect the rights (especially land-related issues) of the Sarawak natives and the forests they live in. Ngau was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize that same year for his work to prevent deforestation.

So, do green issues really matter to the electorate?

Firstly, there is no universal agreement on what constitutes an environmental issue. For example, Kelana Jaya MP, Loh Gwo-Burne, thinks that Lynas is more of a public health issue, rather than an environmental issue.

Prof Jayum Jawan, a specialist on politics and government at Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Faculty of Human Ecology, says: “The environment means different things to different people. A city dweller may treasure the forest for the recreational function it provides, while a forest-dwelling person treats the forest as a place where he can find food.

“A native is not going to appreciate things like saving the ozone layer, but he will be concerned if there is no more food to be found in the forest where he used to hunt or forage.”

Jayum, a Sarawakian who is also the deputy dean for postgraduate studies, thinks that “green issues” are still associated with urban activists, as seen in the Save Bukit Gasing and Save Bukit Kiara campaigns.

“Even at the beginning, a lot of the activists against the (Sarawak) Bakun dam were actually Peninsular-based.”

Deforestation, an issue that plagues all states, represents only one end of the spectrum when it comes to environmental challenges. It should be noted that in 2009, the timber sector was the fifth largest export earner for Malaysia. In 2010, the timber sector contributed to 3.7% of the GDP, 3.2% of the country’s total merchandise export, and provided jobs to an estimated 140,000 people.

Looking at a wider angle, there are also other environmental problems, such as coastal erosion, poor air quality in urban areas, polluted rivers, unsatisfactory waste collection, sewage pollution, and an increasing reliance on fossil fuels for nearly everything.

Datuk Paul Low, chairman of Transparency International Malaysia (TI-M), shares similar sentiments: “My view is that the environment is going to be a non-issue as it is too far removed from the radar of the voters. Of course, the exception would be the orang asli as well as the Sabah and Sarawak indigenous people, which explains why Pakatan Rakyat (PR) came up with something on these communities in their manifesto.”

For Low, Malaysia is not like Europe, as far as the maturity of the democratic process is concerned.

“There, public awareness is very high, and candidates from green parties actually get elected. But I don’t think any person from a Green party here will be elected.”

As far as TI is concerned, it wants to see candidates who have better reputations and capabilities, because the quality of our Parliamentary debates can be much improved.

“What we want are lawmakers who discuss issues affecting the people, and are able to debate intelligently, pass good laws, and safeguard the interests of the public ... notthe type who just bad-mouth people and indulge in gutter politics. All this is just showmanship, and doesn’t add value to the nation.”

Whether the public buys into green issues or not, some NGOs are taking the opportunity to goad politicians to declare their eco-credentials. For example, the Malaysian Nature Society recently issued a public call for all political parties and politicians to declare their commitment towards the preservation of nature in a green manifesto.

“MNS notes with concern that regardless of political alignment, Malaysia’s natural resources are still badly managed and consistently degraded and threatened. MNS hopes that the Malaysian public will support this important call to lobby for the protection of Malaysia’s natural heritage, and make the upcoming general election a truly green election,” said its president, Dr Maketab Mohamed.

Trasparency’s Low says: “The bulk of Malaysians are engrossed with corruption-related issues. Some surveys, such as those by the Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research, show that many people are concerned about corruption, which is an increase compared to five years ago. It is good that the issue of corruption is at the forefront so people will look at the character and integrity of the candidate. This is in itself a good thing.”

Low points out that people want a clean and trustworthy government. And that would indirectly touch on environmental issues, such as the issuance of logging concessions.

“But I don’t think people can directly connect the dots, so the focus is basically on corruption as well as bread-and-butter issues.” But Jayum thinks environmental issues alone will not be enough to sway voters.

“I don’t think Malaysians are ready for a party that campaigns purely on a green platform. I said that in 2008, and my view has not changed. It is unfortunate, but after 55 years of Independence, the preoccupation is still with bread-and-butter issues.”

GE13: A proper green debate
The Star 23 Apr 13;

THE problem with the environmental movement is that they are good at raising issues, but fare poorly in offering solutions. This is the assessment of Dr Hezri Adnan, senior fellow for technology, innovation, environment and sustainability at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies.

He cites the Pakatan Rakyat manifesto as an example: “I am not into partisan politics, but when I first saw it, I found it to be so populist. It said nothing about correcting the pricing of the environment (and its services) and natural resources. When it comes to things like water and energy, I am surprised that in this day and age, we are still talking about lowering the price of water, electricity and fuel. Our natural resources are already under-priced to the point of encouraging wastage, and to me, these are actually environmental issues.”

Hezri made those comments before the Selangor Barisan Nasional unveiled its manifesto last Wednesday (April 17), where it also promised 20cu.m of free treated water to each household if it succeeds in retaking Selangor.

Hezri argues that there is a need to have a more holistic definition of sustainability. One example is the treatment of the orang asli in Pahang’s Tasik Chini by the Barisan Nasional-led state government after an episode of bacterial pollution in the lake in 2003.

“The knee-jerk response was to relocate the orang asli as a means of solving an environmental problem, without considering the social dimension. Luckily, the relocation did not happen, and a sewerage system was later put in place to counter the problem.”

A quick reading of recent political manifestos will reveal there is no mention of how it will help Malaysia curb its carbon intensity, which is one of the highest among developing countries. Instead, Pakatan has pledged to shut down Lynas, stop the construction of large hydroelectric dams in Sarawak, review how forests are being managed, and make water, electricity, fuel (both petrol and diesel), toll charges and cars cheaper for consumers.

As far as public transport is concerned, Pakatan has promised to reform the ownership structure of taxis, which are mostly owned by corporations rather than the drivers themselves. Taking it at surface value, the manifesto does seem to be pro-poor. But who would want to use trains, buses or even taxis when new cars can cost as low as RM25,000 (a figure bandied by Pakatan, presumably their benchmark on what constitutes an affordable car) each? Would that turn the Klang Valley and other cities into one giant parking lot?

To be fair, Barisan also made a somewhat similar pledge to reduce the price of cars in stages, though it stopped short of coming up with a definitive figure. Whatever the case, making driving more accessible, under probably even more congested conditions, can only mean that the use of fossil fuels will go up, which will increase the levels of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Keeping fuel and energy prices low is also akin to throwing a spanner on efforts to push for greater energy efficiency and conservation. After all, why bother with fuel efficiency if the price of petrol is continually subsidised?

The weighty issues of a threatened environment require a broad and complex societal response; it cannot be solved just by, for instance, having recycling campaigns, as important as that may be. Part of the solution may even include tough policy work such as assigning a price to the services nature provides, such as: oxygen production by forest ecosystems, retention and purification of water by wetlands, and formation of crop biomass through soil.

Referring to debates and discussion on “saving” the environment, he argues that there is still a poverty, if not bankruptcy, of ideas.

“The framing of solutions is inadequate, if not done in the wrong way. Things are not substantively well-thought out, and all we are getting are these motherhood statements that are short on specifics. The idea of the interconnection of things is sadly not part of our (political) debate. People just can’t connect the dots.

“Pricing water and energy correctly will help in conservation, and need not always hurt the poor as commonly believed.”

Read more!

Malaysia: Logging of Ulu Muda forest may affect rice farmers in Kedah

Natalie Heng The Star 23 Apr 13;

Logging may reduce the water storage capacity of two important dams in Kedah.

THE DENSE vegetation within the Ulu Muda forest complex in Kedah is a crucial feature of the region’s water storage capacity. Topographically speaking, the landscape forms one large drainage system, with its contours directing water to a collection point, such as a river or a lake.

In Kedah, the two most important collection points happen to be the Muda and Pedu dams, key water sources for 95,588ha of padi fields.

Managed by the Muda Agricultu-ral Development Authority (Mada), the fields supply Malaysia with 40% of its rice output.

Prof Chan Ngai Weng of the School of Humanities at Universiti Sains Malaysia explains how logging within the Ulu Muda forest could impact water supply:

Usually, dense foliage will intercept falling rain, breaking its impact so it drips steadily downwards. As the water trickles through leaf litter and into the soil, it is filtered and drains out as clean water into streams. Without forest cover to soften the impact of rainfall, water gushes over bare earth, breaking up soil and carrying sediment into rivers.

“In terms of domestic water supply, siltation can clog up water treatment plants and incur higher maintenance costs,” says Chan. “Other potential side effects of logging, such as soil erosion, sedimentation, water pollution, landslides and downstream flooding can also have a negative impact on local economies and industries.”

Hor Tek Lip, director for dam management and water resources at Mada, is concerned over the long-term effects of logging. He fears that increased siltation will reduce the overall storage capacity and lifespan of the Muda and Pedu dams, which supply 32% of the irrigation needs of Kedah’s 55,130-strong farming community.

Hor says that the dams are important “controlled” sources of water. “During the rainy season, water is stored in the reservoir. We then release this water during the dry season, which enables farmers to plant not one, but two crops per year.”

Phang Fatt Khow, a retired officer from the commodity development division within the Agriculture Department, explains the interconnected nature between water supply, rice yields, and farmer income: “A farmer will get up to RM1,500 per tonne of rice, including subsidies, and in Kedah the average yield per hectare is five tonnes, whilst the average Mada plot size is 2ha.”

Do the maths and each farmer makes around RM15,000 per growing season, although Phang says production costs bring the nett income down to around RM12,000 – an average of RM1,000 a month. Double cropping, enabled through water supplied by the dams, doubles that income to around RM24,000 per year, which is why Phang thinks it is important to avoid any activities that might jeopardise the storage capacity of the dams.

So what if, over years of logging within the forest, sedimentation leads to a reduced water storage capacity within the Muda and Pedu dams?

Ironically, the stakes for such an eventuality are only rising. One of Malaysia’s Economic Transformation Programme’s Entry Point Projects happens to be a scaling up of padi farming in the Muda area – to double the current yield to eight tonnes per hectare.

Mada general manager Datuk Abdul Rahim Salleh says to reach the target, they aim to triple the current irrigation density of 10m of canal per hectare of farm. “The more canals there are, the more efficient water distribution will be to the crops.”

Mada is worried about the impact of logging on water supply. Minutes from a meeting with the Kedah Forestry Department a few months ago show Mada’s position is that logging within the dam catchment area should not be allowed. However, where projects have already been approved, there must be an erosion control plan. At that meeting, the Forestry Department also clarified that an old commitment to gazette 121,008ha of forest reserve as water catchment forest was merely a proposal and the need for other uses for the forest has to be considered.

Currently, 32,000ha of Ulu Muda Forest Reserve falls under water catchment forest and 92,575ha (88%) is “production forest”.

Kedah Forestry Department director Ku Azmi Ku Aman says logging in the state is scattered. “We practise sustainable forest management and do selective logging, which doesn’t do as much damage to forest cover as clear-felling.” He says forestry guidelines only allow for the cutting of six to seven trees per hectare. The maximum volume of timber that can be taken is capped at 68 cu m for virgin forests and 61 cu m for secondary forests, and this is prioritised over the number of trees that can be felled.

The process, Ku Azmi explains, requires an inventory to be conducted of the trees within the logging site. “Our men tag which ones are to be logged and which ones, such as important fruit trees for birds, or tualang, are not to be touched. We also conduct silviculture and replanting activities after logging is complete, ensuring at least 32 residual and mother trees are maintained for regeneration.”

Considering the Ulu Muda Forest Reserve’s Environmentally Sensitive Area Rank 1 status and its crucial role as a water catchment area, many have questioned whether any Detailed Environmental Impact Assessments (DEIA) have been carried out to determine the negative impact from the logging.

However, environmental regulations state that only logging sites measuring 500ha and above are subject to an EIA. Within the Ulu Muda Forest Reserve, the average concession size is between 80ha and 300ha. Ku Azmi says the department deliberately granted smaller concessions in order to minimise the impact of logging.

Forestry Department deputy director-general Datuk Nik Mohammad Shah Nik Mustafa says although no DEIAs have been done for the logging compartments, a macro-EIA, a general EIA for the entire state, was conducted in 2009. He says DEIAs are not needed for each site due to the scattered and low-impact nature of the activity. He says logging for each site is done on a rotational basis over a 30-year cycle, “although forest cover can be almost back to normal after just three years.”

Still, some find it difficult to believe that any kind of logging can go ahead without having some impact on the water quality. Phang, who is ex-chairman for Malaysian Nature Society Kedah, says selective logging still involves a heavy amount of collateral damage – roads must be built and heavy machinery is involved in the cutting and transportation of logs. “All this contributes to soil erosion and increased sediment in surface runoff into rivers.”

A question that has cropped up repeatedly is whether Kedah should be compensated for loss of income should it discontinue logging within Ulu Muda.

The state derives about 12% of its income from forest resources.

Kedah Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Azizan Abdul Razak says logging is done legally according to a yearly harvest quota of 2,800ha and generates royalties and tax revenues of between RM1,200 per ha (for secondary forest) and RM1,700 per ha (virgin forest) per ha. Logging within Ulu Muda brings in about RM10mil annually.

He says the state is open to other options, such as using the forest for the sale of carbon credits. Amidst reports on Kedah’s rising debt, the chief minister has repeatedly called on the Federal Government to make good on its compensation promises.

The main points of contention behind the logging of Ulu Muda – water and food security – are issues of national, not just state, interest.

Media reports highlighted that Kedah wants to charge Penang three sen per cubic metre of water.

Ku Azmi says it has been suggested that Mada request for Federal funds to compensate the state for not logging the forest reserve.

Aside from asking the Federal Government to deliver on its promise for compensation to Kedah, the Friends of Ulu Muda, a coalition of non-governmental groups, has also suggested the establishment of an Ulu Muda Trust Fund. This fund is to be paid for by beneficiaries of water sourced from Ulu Muda, such as the Penang Government, private companies and the public. The concept has not garnered much traction yet.

Recurring threats
The Star 23 Apr 13;

TEN YEARS ago, the Federal Government stepped in to stop Kedah from logging one of Malaysia’s most important water catchment areas – the Ulu Muda Forest Reserve.

The vast reserve is the source for 80% of Penang’s clean water supply, and contributes to roughly 70% of water in Kedah, and a slightly lesser amount in Perlis, according to water resource expert, Dr Chan Ngai Weng. He was amongst the cacophony of voices that pushed the issue of water security into the limelight back in 2003, when the state proposed to use heli-logging at Ulu Muda.

It was proposed as a less environmentally damaging alternative to conventional logging but an Environmental Impact Assessment revealed that it would still entail construction of 414km of logging roads; soil erosion from this alone would silt up rivers.

Despite the Federal Government’s compensation offer to the state of RM100mil annually, the issue over logging at Ulu Muda never really went away. Of the patchwork of forests that make up the Muda water catchment area, the Ulu Muda Forest Reserve is the most important by virtue of its sheer size. Gazetted as Permanent Reserved Forest in 1932 and spanning 105,060ha, it makes up 64% of the 163,003ha land mass collectively known as the greater Ulu Muda forest complex. The complex consists of of seven Permanent Reserved Forests: Ulu Muda, Pedu, Chebar Kecil, Padang Terap, Chebar Besar, Bukit Keramat and Bukit Saiong.

Back in 2003, PAS had said it would gazette Ulu Muda Forest Reserve as a water catchment area, if elected. When it gained power in 2008 and the RM100mil in compensation stopped coming, Kedah’s new chief minister, Datuk Azizan Abdul Razak, did an about-turn. Repeated requests for the Federal Government to make good on it’s compensation promises went unheard, and so the state announced that it had no choice but to log the area, to fund development in the state.

Recently, various blogs carried images of murky rivers in the catchment.

“The river in front of where my lodge is located used to have a rocky river bed. It was crystal clear. But today, it is sandy,” says Hymeir Kamarudin who runs Earth Lodge. “I didn’t think much of it. I figured it was residual erosion from previous logging in the 90s. That is, until the middle of last year, when the river turned the colour of teh tarik after heavy rains.”

The forest is important not just in terms of water security, but also biodiversity. The Ulu Muda landscape is littered with majestic tualang trees which can grow up to 50m high. Its many salt licks attract large herbivores such as elephants and sambar deer, which in turn attract large predators, such as the elusive tiger. It is also one of only two locations in Malaysia, where you can find all 10 species of hornbills – including the rare and threatened plain-pouched hornbill.

Since 2000, licences have been given out to log 19,000ha, of which 5,500ha have already been logged. Researchers fear that logging might interfere with the roosting sites of the plain-pouched hornbills.

Chan says that without a proper cost-benefit analysis, politicians often find it difficult to make informed decisions about whether to exploit natural resources.

“For example, one might want to investigate what options we will have if our forests no longer supply us with ample clean water. How much would it cost to treat the polluted water, or buy clean water, from somewhere else?”

A 2009 study on the economic benefits of the Muda water catchment conducted by the World Wide Fund for Nature Malaysia showed that it contributes RM157mil to Kedah and RM139mil to Penang in terms of annual water supply. – By Natalie Heng

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Indonesia: Public Concern for Environment Tied to Income, Green Group Says

Gabriel Kereh Jakarta Globe 22 Apr 13

Government efforts to mitigate climate change remain mere rhetoric, while the public approach to the issue varies according to wealth, says a leading environmental advocate.

Chalid Muhammad, the chairman of the Indonesian Green Institute, said that changes in the weather were becoming increasingly unpredictable, affecting the livelihoods of many people, particularly fishermen and farmers, who are the most vulnerable.

“There are two different groups of the society with different awareness levels. The middle- to upper-class people in the cities are getting greener. Even though this seems to be pretty exclusively elitist, this is good,” he said.

“The second one is the lower class, and that is divided into two groups. The first are the traditional people, who embrace tradition and environment-respecting standards. The second are the people who base their livelihoods on labor. They tend to be used by the rich things like illegal mining and illegal logging.”

Chalid said that although the latter people “know that they might die from what they do, this is about the option of dying tomorrow out of hunger or dying in a couple of years from destroying the environment.”

He also accused the government of not setting an example for positive change.

“These people see the government issuing permits that are destructive [to the environment], either directly or indirectly, by letting things happen and ignoring them,” he said.

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Good news on Earth Day! New report highlights growing biodiversity awareness worldwide

IUCN 22 Apr 13;

For IUCN, whose core business is saving biodiversity, there is some very welcome news that awareness of biodiversity is growing worldwide.

The 2013 Biodiversity Barometer report launched by the Union for Ethical BioTrade (UEBT) shows that 75% of consumers surveyed worldwide are aware of biodiversity, while 48% can give a correct definition of the term biodiversity.

Communicating the importance of saving biodiversity is challenging if people don’t know what it is, but fortunately, this awareness is steadily increasing thanks to campaigns like the International Year of Biodiversity in 2010 and growing interest from business and industry.

Consumers in Brazil, China and France, according to the study, show a particular awareness about biodiversity.

“The Biodiversity Barometer is an important source of information on global trends in biodiversity awareness. The results not only demonstrate a growing consciousness, they also show that respecting biodiversity provides tremendous opportunities for business around the world,” said Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, Executive Secretary for the Convention on Biological Diversity.

High biodiversity awareness in China

This year’s special focus on China reveals interesting results: Apart from a very high biodiversity awareness (94%), Chinese consumers surveyed also show high knowledge of biodiversity: 64% could define correctly what biodiversity means. “The survey results do not come as a surprise. In recent years, the government as well as civil society organizations in China has undertaken tremendous activities for communicating and raising awareness of biodiversity issues” says Zhang Wenguo, Ministry of Environmental Protection of the People’s Republic of China.

Biodiversity offers branding opportunities

Responses to the question “What are the three brands you consider are making the most efforts to respect biodiversity?” were manifold and often country-specific: In Brazil, there is a clear leader with Natura (49%). In the USA, most mentioned food brands, including Kraft, Starbucks and Ben & Jerry’s. The UK has two leading companies: Bodyshop and CO-OP (23% and 20%). In France Yves Rocher, Nestle and Danone top the list, while in China the perceived leaders are Yili, Mengliu and Amway.

“There are clear opportunities for brands to position themselves around the issue of biodiversity, and anticipate increasing consumer interest on this issue,” concludes Rémy Oudghiri, Director of Trends and Insights at IPSOS.

Biodiversity reporting is growing, but still weak

“Today 32 of the top 100 beauty companies in the world refer to biodiversity in their corporate communications such as sustainability reporting and websites. This is considerably higher than in 2009, but much lower than what we found in the top 100 food companies,” says Rik Kutsch Lojenga, Executive Director of UEBT. In 2013, 87% of consumers say they want to be better informed about how companies source their natural ingredients, and a large majority of consumers say they would to boycott brands that do not take good care of environmental or ethical trade practices in its sourcing and production processes.

Youth is the future of biodiversity

For brands interested in reaching consumers on biodiversity, the 2013 Biodiversity Barometer offers the following insights: Young people tend to have the highest awareness of biodiversity (80%), as well as more affluent and well-educated people. Traditional media remain by and large the key sources of awareness: 51% of all surveyed consumers learned about biodiversity through television, 33% through newspapers and magazines.

About the Biodiversity Barometer

The UEBT Barometer provides insights on evolving biodiversity awareness among consumers and how the beauty industry reports on biodiversity. It also illustrates the progress towards achieving the targets of the Strategic Plan of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and its results will be reflected in the next edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook as a midway point analysis of the achievement of those targets. Since its first edition in 2009, the global research organisation IPSOS, on behalf of UEBT, has interviewed 31,000 consumers in 11 countries (Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Peru, South Korea, Switzerland, UK and USA). In 2013, the biodiversity barometer survey was conducted among 6,000 consumers in six countries - Brazil, China, France, Germany, UK and USA.

About the Union for Ethical BioTrade

The Union for Ethical BioTrade is a non-profit association that promotes the ‘Sourcing with Respect’ of ingredients that come from biodiversity. Members, which include many beauty companies, commit to gradually ensuring that their sourcing practices promote the conservation of biodiversity, respect traditional knowledge, and assure the equitable sharing of benefits all along the supply chain.

For more information, please visit:
Contact: Union for Ethical BioTrade
Tel: +31 20 223 4567,

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Green spaces boosts wellbeing of urban dwellers - study

BBC News 22 Apr 13;

Parks, gardens and green space in urban areas can improve the wellbeing and quality of life of people living there, says a University of Exeter study.

Using data from 5,000 UK households over 17 years, researchers found that living in a greener area had a significant positive effect.

The findings could help to inform urban planners and have an impact on society at large, they said.

The study is published in the journal Psychological Science.

The research team examined data from a national survey that followed more than 5,000 UK households and 10,000 adults between 1991 and 2008 as they moved house around the country.

They asked participants to report on their own psychological health during that time to estimate the "green space effect".

Dr Mathew White and colleagues at the European Centre for the Environment and Human Health found that individuals reported less mental distress and higher life satisfaction when they were living in greener areas.

This was true even after the researchers accounted for changes over time in participants' income, employment, marital status, physical health and housing type.
Benefits for society

Dr White compared the scale of the effects of living in a greener area to "big-hitting" life events such as marriage.

"We've found that living in an urban area with relatively high levels of green space can have a significantly positive impact on wellbeing, roughly equal to a third of the impact of being married."

The effect was also found to be equivalent to a tenth of the impact of being employed, as opposed to unemployed.

Even when stacked up against other factors that contribute to life satisfaction, living in a greener area had a significant effect, the study said.

"These kinds of comparisons are important for policymakers when trying to decide how to invest scarce public resources, such as for park development or upkeep, and figuring out what bang they'll get for their buck," said Dr White.

While the effect for an individual might be small, he pointed out that the potential positive effects of green space for society at large might be substantial.

"This research could be important for psychologists, public health officials and urban planners who are interested in learning about the effects that urbanisation and city planning can have on population health and wellbeing."

Beth Murphy, information manager at the mental health charity Mind, said: "For people living busy lifestyles in densely populated areas, being able to get outdoors and access green space is a great way to escape the stresses of day-to-day life.

"Our research has shown that 94% of people who took part in outdoors 'green exercise' said it benefited their mental health and can have huge impacts on physical health.

"We believe this is food for thought for any policymaker involved in urban planning, or local authority developing its public health strategy."

Parks Pay Off: Green Cities Boost Happiness
Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Yahoo News 23 Apr 13;

Avoid the concrete jungle: A new study finds that people who live in cities with more green space feel better than those surrounded by stone and steel.

In fact, the well-being boost associated with green space is equivalent to one-third the jump in well-being people get from being married and to one-tenth of the extra life satisfaction derived from being employed versus jobless, according to a study to be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science.

"These kinds of comparisons are important for policymakers when trying to decide how to invest scarce public resources, e.g. for park development or upkeep, and figuring out what 'bang' they'll get for their buck," study researcher Mathew White of the University of Exeter Medical School said in a statement. [7 Things That Will Make You Happy]

It's no surprise that nicer areas of town might be populated by happier people, but previous studies had never been able to tease out whether the emotionally well-off simply moved to greener spots or whether greenery really boosts well-being. White and his colleagues dug into the question by using long-term, national data collected between 1991 and 2008.

That way, the researchers could compare the life satisfaction of the same people as they moved from more to less verdant areas and vice versa. They also controlled for income, employment, marital status, health, housing time and local area factors, such as crime rates, to ensure as much as possible that the effects were coming from greenery.

The results showed that people's life satisfaction, as assessed by questionnaire, did improve when they moved to greener urban areas and decreased in urban spots where nature was out of site. Greener spaces were also linked with lower mental distress in residents.

The study can't prove conclusively that the green space caused the happiness boost, because it's impossible to control for every variable that might be at play, the researchers wrote. But experimental studies have also found that parks are linked with psychological health. In one study, researchers followed residents of public housing who were randomly assigned to apartments with views of trees and grass or with views of barren courtyards. The people living in view of greenery reported less domestic violence and fewer aggressive conflicts. They were also less likely to view their problems as unsolvable.

Another study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology in 2010, found that just a five-minute dose of nature could improve self-esteem. Green areas with water were deemed most beneficial.

Greenery may influence physical health as well as psychological. One 2002 study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health found that seniors in Japan had lower mortality rates in the five years of the study when they lived in areas surrounded by walkable green space.

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This faith in the markets is misplaced: only governments can save our living planet

The European emissions trading system died last week. Why? Because of the lobbying power of big business
George Monbiot The Guardian 22 Apr 13;

In other ages, states sought to seize as much power as they could. Today, the self-hating state renounces its powers. Governments anathematise governance. They declare their role redundant and illegitimate. They launch furious assaults on their own branches, seeking wherever possible to lop them off.

This self-mutilation is a response to the fact that power has shifted. States now operate at the behest of others. Deregulation, privatisation, the shrinking of the scope, scale and spending of the state: these are now seen as the only legitimate policies. The corporations and billionaires to whom governments defer will have it no other way.

Just as taxation tends to redistribute wealth, regulation tends to redistribute power. A democratic state controls and contains powerful interests on behalf of the powerless. This is why billionaires and corporations hate regulation, and – through their newspapers, thinktanks and astroturf campaigns – mobilise people against it. State power is tyranny, state power is freedom.

But the interchangeable middle managers who call themselves ministers cannot wholly dismiss the wishes of the electorate. They must show that they are doing something to protect what people value. They resolve the contradiction between the demands of the electorate and the demands of big business by shifting their responsibilities to something they call "the market". This term is often used as a euphemism for corporations and the very rich.

To justify the policy of marketisation, they invest the market with magical capabilities. It can reach the parts that the ordinary scope of government can't reach; it can achieve political miracles. I don't believe that market mechanisms are always wrong. I do believe that they fail to solve the problem of power. In fact they tend to compound it.

Last week the European emissions trading system died. It was supposed to create a market for carbon, whose escalating price would force companies to abandon fossil fuels and replace them with less polluting alternatives. In principle it was as good a mechanism as any other. What it did not offer was a magical alternative to political intervention.

The scheme collapsed on Tuesday after the European parliament voted against an emergency withdrawal of some of the carbon permits whose over-supply had swamped the market. Why were too many permits issued? Because of the lobbying power of big business. Why did MEPs refuse to withdraw them? Because of the lobbying power of big business.

If a market is to serve a wider social goal than simply maximising corporate profits it must operate within a tight regulatory framework. Pricing mechanisms do not magic away the need for regulation – if anything, they enhance it. To make them work, politicians still have to confront and overcome powerful interests. They still need to govern and decide. Yet everywhere markets are invoked as an alternative to dirigiste and decisive government.

To make a significant impact, the price of carbon needs to be in the region of €30 or €40 per tonne. It needs to be incapable of falling far, and likely to rise. At the time of writing the price is €2.8 per tonne, and it's going nowhere. The Economist reports that this puts European carbon permits "below the level of junk bonds".

In an important respect the scheme has been worse than useless. New airports and roads and power stations have been justified with the claim they they will not raise emissions, as the greenhouse gases they produce will be absorbed by cuts made elsewhere. The one lasting impact of the European carbon market has been to rationalise polluting projects which might not otherwise have been built.

But even as this scheme collapses, governments are launching new ones, creating markets that are far less appropriate – even in theory – than the trade in carbon. Last month, the UK's Ecosystem Markets Task Force, a body set up by the government but largely composed of company executives, published its final report. It invokes the magic of the markets to fill the gap left by the withdrawal of democratic governance.

Not everything it proposes is dangerous and wrong. Creating incentives to reforest the hills from which our rivers flow, or for farmers to use anaerobic digesters to process waste makes sense: as long as it redeploys rather than augments farm subsidies. But in other respects an attempt to reconcile the protection of the living planet with commerce simply turns the biosphere into another corporate asset.

For instance, the taskforce revives the old myth that nature is best served by harvesting timber. As long ago as 1995, a paper by the biologists Clive Hambler and Martin Speight showed that of the woodland insect species listed as threatened in Britain, 65% are threatened by the removal of old and dead wood, while just 2% are threatened by a reduction in this management. But the taskforce maintains that bringing "unmanaged woodlands into active, sustainable management for wood fuel … is a win-win for business and nature." Just as the myth was at last being laid to rest, it has been revived by the need to make nature and markets appear compatible.

This is an example of what happens in a market-based system: any clash between generating profit and protecting the natural world is resolved in favour of business, often with the help of junk science. Only those components of the ecosystem that can be commodified and sold are defended. Nature is worthy of protection when it is profitable to business. The moment it ceases to be so, it loses its social value and can be trashed. As prices fluctuate or crash, so do the fortunes of the ecosystems they are supposed to protect. As financial markets move in, with the help of the environmental bonds and securitisations the taskforce champions, the defence of nature becomes ever more volatile and uncertain. The living planet is reduced to a subsidiary of the human economy.

When governments pretend they no longer need to govern, when they pretend that a world regulated by bankers, corporations and the profit motive is a better world than one regulated by voters and their representatives, nothing is safe. All systems of government are flawed. But few are as flawed as those controlled by private money.

Twitter: @georgemonbiot. A fully referenced version of this article can be found at

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