Best of our wild blogs: 16 May 13

Random Gallery - Common Palmfly
from Butterflies of Singapore

五月双溪布洛华语导游 Mandarin guide walk@SBWR, May (XXXXI)
from PurpleMangrove

White-bellied Sea-eagle just before fledging
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Singapore among those granted observer seat on Arctic governing council

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 16 May 13;

The Arctic Council agreed on Wednesday to admit emerging powers China and India as observers, reflecting growing global interest in the trade and energy potential of the planet's Far North.

The organization, which coordinates Arctic policy, is gaining clout as sea ice thaws to open up new trade routes and intensify competition for oil and gas - estimated at 15 percent and 30 percent respectively of undiscovered reserves.

China has been active in the polar region, becoming one of the biggest mining investors in Greenland and agreeing a free trade deal with Iceland. Shorter shipping routes across the Arctic Ocean would save its companies time and money.

The council groups the United States, Russia, Canada and Nordic nations. Observer status gives countries the right to listen in on meetings and propose and finance policies.

China, Japan, India, South Korea, Singapore and Italy were granted observer status.

"Despite the varied interests we have heard today from the permanent participants, there is nothing that should unite us quite like our concern for both the promise and challenges of the northernmost reaches of the Earth," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told the meeting in Sweden's northern town of Kiruna.

Canada, which will chair the council for the next two years, said the time had come to realize the "tremendous potential and opportunities" in the Arctic, which has rich reserves of gold, tin, lead, nickel and copper.

"This development must be done in a responsible and an environmentally sustainable manner so that the land, the water and the animals ... are not negatively impacted," Canadian Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq told reporters by phone from Kiruna.

Indigenous groups have expressed concern the number of observers could dilute their voice as their traditional cultures are threatened by a possible influx of oil and mining projects.

A Chinese shipping firm is planning the country's first commercial voyage through a shortcut across the Arctic Ocean to the United States and Europe in 2013, saving time and money. The distance from Shanghai to Hamburg is 2,800 nautical miles shorter via the Arctic than via the Suez Canal.

The council ruled the Europe Union could observe meetings until a final decision on its status was taken.

Diplomats said Canada and other Arctic states objected to an EU ban on imported seal products. Indigenous groups say they depend on the seal trade.

Aglukkaq said she would hold talks with the EU in a bid to find a compromise on the seals issue but gave no details.


China already has mining links with Greenland and trade ties with Iceland. Greenland may have the world's biggest deposits of rare earths, used in smart phones and green technology.

"The entry of countries like China not only reflects how the Arctic has become a region of global interest, it also shows how the Arctic Council has become the main body of Arctic governance," said Damien Degeorges, founder of the Arctic Policy and Economic Forum.

The council also adopted an agreement to coordinate a response to potential spills that could result from increasing oil and gas exploration, including joint training exercises to deal with major accidents.

The meeting also heard about the threat to the region's biodiversity. Summer temperatures are warmer than at any time in the past 2,000 years, threatening animals and plants, according to an Arctic Biodiversity Assessment report given to ministers.

"Decisive action taken now can help sustain vast, relatively undisturbed ecosystems of tundra, mountains, fresh water and seas and the valuable services they provide," it said.

(Additional reporting by Alister Doyle, Alistair Scrutton and David Ljunggren; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Cynthia Osterman)

Singapore gets permanent observer status
It gains platform to participate in body that shapes future policies in icy north
Esther Teo Straits Times 16 May 13;

SINGAPORE has been granted permanent observer status in the Arctic Council, giving it a platform to participate in a body that shapes future policies in the icy northern region.

Four other Asian countries - China, India, Japan and South Korea - were also admitted as observers yesterday to the council, along with Italy.

Reacting to the news of Singapore's new status, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a statement: "I would like to thank the Arctic Council states for admitting Singapore as an observer.

"Singapore is not situated in the Arctic, but developments there - whether the melting of the ice cap or opening of new sea routes - will have important implications for Singapore as a low- lying island and international seaport," he said. "We look forward to contributing to the work of the Arctic Council."

The council, formed in 1996, groups the eight Arctic nations - the United States, Russia, Canada, Iceland, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. Observer status gives countries the right to listen in on meetings and propose and finance policies.

The body addresses issues faced by Arctic governments and inhabitants of the region. It is gaining clout as sea ice thaws in the face of global warming to open up new trade routes and intensify competition for oil and gas - estimated at 15 per cent and 30 per cent respectively of undiscovered reserves.

The announcement was made at the Eighth Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council held in Sweden's northernmost city of Kiruna yesterday and is seen as a victory for Singapore which has been lobbying for the place for 11/2 years.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) noted in a statement yesterday that Singapore submitted its application for observer status in December 2011. Singapore's special envoy for Arctic Affairs Kemal Siddique is also in Sweden.

The MFA noted that the work of the Arctic Council includes issues such as sustainable development and environmental protection of the Arctic region. The council also disseminates information, encourages education, and promotes interest in the Arctic.

China has been active in the polar region, becoming one of the biggest mining investors in Greenland and agreeing to a free trade deal with Iceland, Reuters reported.

The council yesterday also ruled that the Europe Union could observe meetings until a final decision on its status was taken. EU members France, Germany, Spain and Britain have observer status.

Diplomats said Canada and other Arctic states objected to an EU ban on imported seal products. Indigenous groups say they depend on the seal trade, Reuters said.

Russia has long been sceptical of letting in the EU as an observer, arguing it has representation through its members Sweden, Finland and Denmark.

US Secretary of State John Kerry told the meeting: "Despite the varied interests we have heard today from the permanent participants, there is nothing that should unite us quite like our concern for both the promise and challenges of the northernmost reaches of the Earth."

'Singapore is now an ocean state'
M. Nirmala Straits Times 16 May 13;

SINGAPORE'S admission into the Arctic Council as a permanent observer is a significant move tied to the city's future existence and continued economic prosperity.

This means that Singapore can now attend the council meetings and gain insights into the significant changes in the region that will have an impact on the country. For instance, Singapore is concerned about fast-melting polar ice, which can erode the island-state's position as one of the world's busiest ports.

Celebrating the news, a jubilant Singapore team of diplomats and officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was getting ready the champagne glasses when this reporter rang them.

Speaking to The Straits Times from Sweden, Singapore's Special Envoy for Arctic Affairs Kemal Siddique said: "Singapore is now an ocean state with an important maritime sector."

Getting the observer status in the council will also mark a significant change in the way the world sees Singapore: not just as a maritime nation, but a country with a part to play in protecting the world's ocean resources.

The Arctic now holds 30 per cent of the world's undiscovered gas and 13 per cent of oil.

A toehold in the Arctic will also give a leg up to Singapore businesses seeking opportunities in the North. PSA International can offer its expertise in running major port facilities to the Arctic which is seeing a shipping boom.

Keppel Singmarine, whose ice breakers are already cracking ice blocks in the Arctic, is now working on oil rigs which can work in freezing temperatures.

Singapore will also have faster access to Arctic data on the rising sea levels caused by the melting polar ice. It can then swiftly change its policies to prevent coastal flooding in Singapore.

The melting ice in the Arctic also endangers its spot as one of the world's busiest ports.

A new shipping route in the North is being carved out, cutting the travel time needed for ships to sail from Europe to Asia by half.

Singapore can also play a greater role in helping countries govern the oceans in a peaceful way.

Ambassador-At-Large Tommy Koh chaired the the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea about 30 years ago.

This work was a historic milestone as it provided the framework for the global governance of the world's oceans and seas. This law will now play an even more important role as the world's coastal population grows and man harvests more ocean resources.

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ST's Run in the Park offers a workout close to nature

Priscilla Kham Straits Times 16 May 13;

RUN past flowing waterways and lush greenery and catch a glimpse of colourful waterside birds at what will be the largest running event at one of Singapore's new scenic hot spots.

The Straits Times Run in the Park promises participants an invigorating trail through the Punggol Waterway park connector, which is part of the North- eastern Riverine Loop.

The event, which spans the natural coastline of Punggol Beach, and the banks of Punggol and Sengkang reservoir, aims to be a refreshing alternative to runners used to pounding the streets or treadmill.

To be held on Aug 25, the event is part of the Straits Times Appreciates Readers (Star) series to actively engage readers and the community. Past events have included a carnival and concert at Gardens by the Bay, and exclusive movie ticket giveaways.

Said Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez: "Many of our readers love to get outdoors and have fun while keeping fit.

"They read us for the latest news and trends on how to do that. So we have decided to take them to this unique spot on the park connector network for a run with a difference."

He added that The Straits Times will also be with runners every step of the way during their preparation, through articles in the newspaper and its websites in the run-up to the event.

The Straits Times is partnering the National Parks Board (NParks), which is celebrating 50 Years of Greening Singapore, for this event.

Said chief executive of NParks, Mr Poon Hong Yuen: "The loop goes round one of the most scenic places in Singapore, with lush greenery by the river, as well as rich biodiversity. Several species of birds, butterflies, and even otters have been spotted there."

Even after the event, participants will get a chance to spot other marine wildlife creatures. Each participant will get a goodie bag containing a ticket worth $33 to Resorts World Sentosa's S.E.A Aquarium. The bag also includes a New Balance running T-shirt worth $49, among other things. More giveaways will be announced later.

"As with other Star programmes, we aim to give participants good value. So the ticket will be worth a lot more than what you pay for it, thanks to our generous partners," said Mr Fernandez.

Registration will start early next month and details on how to do so will be announced soon. Runners can sign up for a 5km "fun run", or a 10km or 15km competitive run. The registration fee is $55 (competition run) and $46 (fun run). Group discounts are also available.

Avid runner Adrian Loo, 41, a biology teacher said: "Runners get bored of the same old routes along East Coast and the city. I am interested in this run as it seems like a more unique route. I've cycled along this park area before. Hearing the birds chirping is extremely therapeutic."

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Malaysia: Experts want Sumatra and Borneo rhinos to be conserved as single unit

New Straits Times 16 May 13;

KOTA KINABALU: Sumatran rhinos in Sumatra and Borneo should be conserved as a single unit, according to experts in Sabah. With a population as little as 100 left in Indonesia and Malaysia, consolidated efforts are needed to ensure the its survival.

The species, which have minimal genetic differences, are not conserved as a single unit because it is found in different locations.

This was asserted in a study by the Sabah Wildlife Department, the Wildlife and National Parks Department, the Borneo Rhino Alliance (Bora), Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Cardiff University and Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC).

The paper was recently published in the science journal Oryx.

Lead author and DGFC director Dr Benoit Goosens said the differences between the species found in Sumatra and Borneo were minimal and this did not justify keeping the populations found in both locations as separate management units.

In a similar scenario, the Javan rhinos found in Ujong Kulon, Indonesia, and Cat Tien, Vietnam, were conserved as different units.

Despite slight genetic differences, it had been proposed that the Indonesian and Vietnamese governments should consider exchanging the rhinos to raise its population.

"But no action was taken and in Cat Tien National Park, the last animal was found dead in April 2010. We certainly do not want the same thing to happen to the Sumatran rhinoceros," Goosens said.

Experts: Malaysia and Indonesia should team up to breed rhinos
Ruben Sario The Star 16 May 13;

KOTA KINABALU: Wildlife researchers are pushing for a more cohesive effort between Malaysia and Indonesia to conserve the critically endangered Sumatran rhino.

With fewer than 100 animals left in Sumatra and Borneo, scientists are proposing that the population be managed as a single conservation unit.

The Sumatran rhino is found in Sumatra and possibly Kalimantan in Indonesia and Sabah in Malaysia.

“Although habitat loss and poaching are reasons for the decline, the reproductive isolation of the mammals, which are too sparsely scattered even within protected areas, is the main threat to the survival of the species,” said wildlife research NGO Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA) executive director Dr Junaidi Payne.

He is the co-author of a paper published this week in the scientific journal Oryx, in which researchers demonstrate the necessity to consider the remaining populations of Sumatran rhinoceros in Sumatra and Borneo as a single conservation unit.

The paper was the outcome of a joint study by BORA, the Sabah Wildlife Department, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Cardiff University and Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC).

DGFC director Dr Benoit Goossens, the paper's lead author, said the genetic differences are minimal and do not justify keeping the Sumatran and Bornean populations as separate management units.

A study of the Javan rhinoceros showed low genetic diversity in that population and there was a critical need for population expansion for the species to survive, Dr Goosens added.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu said state authorities are working with researchers.

“We understand the need to exchange gametes between Malaysia and Indonesia.

“Actions to initiate genome resource banking and artificial insemination or in vitro fertilisation are under way in Sabah and elsewhere,” said Dr Laurentius.

He said it is considering sending Tam, a captive male rhinoceros, to Cincinnati Zoo in the United States to breed with a mature female.

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Indonesia: Illegal Coal Mining Found In Protected Status Forest

Tunggadewa Mattangkilang Jakarta Globe 16 May 13;

Kutai Kartanegara, East Kalimantan. Police in Kutai Kartanegara have seized 1,100 metric tons of coal allegedly mined illegally from a protected forest, but have not made any arrests in the case.

Adj. Comr. Suwarno, a spokesman for the district police, said on Wednesday the coal was seized along with an excavator and two dump trucks belonging to the company Zen Jaya Indonesia.

He said the company was mining outside its concession area and encroached the Bukit Suharto community forest.

“Because the mining took place inside a protected forest area, it’s clearly illegal.”

Suwarno added that several workers from the company were questioned by police, but no one had been named a suspect yet pending further investigation.

“For the moment we’re treating them as witnesses. We’ll work closely with the district mining agency for more evidence.”

Police are also investigating allegations that ZJI’s permit for its concession on the outskirts of the forest has expired.

Mining is rife in the forest, despite its protected status, with environmental activists blaming government policies.

A decree issued in 2009 by the Forestry Ministry effectively expanded the forest’s size from 61,850 hectares to 67,766 hectares — and in the process extended the conservation area to include 50 coal mines that had been established outside the forest’s initial periphery.

Another contentious aspect of the decree is that most of the new forest area tacked on came from a neighboring forest used by Samarinda Mulawarman University for biodiversity research.

Scientists from the university’s Tropical Forest Research Center said less than a third of the research forest remains intact, with the rest razed by loggers, miners and property developers.

Kahar Al Bahri, coordinator of the East Kalimantan branch of the Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam), said on Wednesday 33 mining companies had concessions that overlapped into the forest and that 15 of them were operating.

The district forestry came under fire last year for accepting three patrol cars from mining companies in exchange for recommending them for a hauling license, which would let them cut a road through the forest. Officials at the time denied acceptance of the cars constituted bribery.

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World's most distinct mammals and amphibians mapped

BBC 16 May 13;

Scientists have developed the first map of the world's most unique and most endangered mammals and amphibians.

The map highlights the fact that only a fraction of the areas identified as critical for the conservation of these species are protected.

Among the species highlighted by the map are the Mexican salamander, the Sunda pangolin and the black and white ruffed Lemur.

The research is published in the journal Plos One.

The Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) project has been developed by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) to highlight species that are both distinctive and under severe threat.

The map highlights the regions of the world where the highest concentrations of these species occur and which should be priorities for conservation efforts.

"If you look at mammals, if you look at just evolutionary history, the species that are more different from all others, the deep rooted ones tend to be in South America," Prof Jonathan Baillie, Director of Conservation at ZSL told BBC News.

"But if you incorporate threat, then the focus changes to South East Asia and the reason is that land conversion has been so rapid there due to things like palm oil that a lot of these species are highly threatened - they come up to the top when you add threat as a variable."

As well as highlighting the fact that the priority areas for mammals and amphibians are different, the map also underlines how little of the areas that are identified as priorities for these distinct creatures are protected. Only 5% of the regions that are priorities for mammals are conserved, and just 15% for amphibians.

"We've tried to draw attention to a range of species that are on the verge of extinction, that most people haven't heard of or are doing anything about," said Prof Baillie.

"So something like a pangolin a beautiful creature the size of a small dog, it has scales all over its body and lives in trees - it's taken for the Chinese medicinal trade."

Other obscure creatures making it onto the map include Madagascar's black and white ruffed lemur, which is threatened by loss of its forest habitat due to logging and mining.

Amphibians are suffering a "terrifying" rate of extinction say the researchers, making them the most threatened vertebrates in the world. The Mexican salamander or axolotl is being threatened by expanding cities, pollution and invasive fish species which eat their young.

While many of the survival issues facing species highlighted on the map are extremely challenging, sometimes small changes can make a big difference.

Prof Baillie highlights the example of a small worm like amphibian from Kenya called the Sagalla caecilian.

"It was just losing its habitat because the native trees were taken, so we've started a programme of replanting the native trees and 6,000 have been replanted and the areas where they have their strongholds are now being protected."

"That kind of simple action can ensure that those species can be there hopefully for hundred of years to come."

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Solomon Islands: Satu plans to resume dolphin hunt

Solomon Star 14 May 13;

Mr Robert Satu plans to export 28 dolphins to China.

DOLPHIN hunter and exporter, Robert Satu plans to resume his dolphin export activities next month.

Mr Satu revealed to this paper yesterday that over the past month, he has received more than 100 offers from various dolphin dealers around the globe.

This according to Mr Satu and the government’s lack of keeping its promise to compensate Mr Satu and the Solomon Islands Marine Export Limited (SIMEL) for halting their dolphin export activities has motivated him to resume the business.

“I started the business, it was my means of survival and that of the many other fishermen involved in the business with me.

“After the government told us to compensate us if we released the dolphins and cease the export, we agreed to that, however the government has yet to live up to its promise to us.

“Therefore the only means whereby we can get income for ourselves to support our families is to go fish again,” Mr Satu said.

Mr Satu also revealed that he has already made arrangements for the export of 28 dolphins next month to China.

“Within the next couple of weeks, I will finalize all the arrangements for the first shipment of 28 dolphins to China, whilst hunting will start as soon as this month,” Mr Satu said.

By Jeremy Inifiri

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Indian tigers face threat 'due to lack of genetic diversity'

BBC News 15 May 13;

India's tigers are facing extinction owing to a collapse in the variety of their mating partners, say Cardiff University researchers.

They found that 93% of DNA variants found in tigers shot the period of the British Raj were not present in tigers today

Prof Mike Bruford said the genetic diversity needed for the species to survive had been "lost dramatically".

There are fewer than 2,000 tigers left worldwide, 60% in India.

The Cardiff university team collaborated with the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore, India on the research.

They had unprecedented access to the Natural History Museum of London's tiger collection which allowed them to identify the DNA variants in the tigers killed in the British Raj period from 1858 to 1947 but which have disappeared today.

Mechanised trophy hunting reduced the animal's numbers from 40,000 in a mere 100 years.

The territory occupied by the tiger has declined more than 50% during the last three generations and mating now only occurs in 7% of its historical territory.

Prof Bruford of the Cardiff School of Biosciences was one of the research's lead authors.

He said: "We found that genetic diversity has been lost dramatically compared to the Raj tigers and what diversity remains has become much more subdivided into the small (20-120 individual) populations that exist today.

"This is due to loss of habitat and habitat fragmentation, meaning lower population sizes, and the prevention of tigers from dispersing as they once would have, which means their gene pool is no longer mixing across the subcontinent.
Breeding programmes

"This is important because tigers, like all other species, need genetic diversity to survive - especially under climate change - so what diversity remains needs to be managed properly so that the Indian tiger does not become inbred, and retains its capacity to adapt."

Prof Bruford added: "Both conservationists and the Indian government must appreciate that the number of tigers alone is not enough to ensure the species' survival."

"They need to protect the whole spread of forest reserves because many reserves now have their own unique gene combinations, which might be useful for future breeding programmes.

"This study shows that genetic diversity can be lost and a new genetic structure can arise very quickly, if the effects of population collapse and habitat fragmentation are strong enough, so quick action is needed to stymie further demographic loss."

The report Demographic loss, genetic structure and the conservation implications for Indian tigers is published in the Proceedings of The Royal Society journal.

Funding for the project was provided by a Royal Society Collaborative Research Grant.

For the endangered tiger, genetics may finish what the Raj started
Michael Parker, The Conversation Science Alert 16 May 13;

The skin and bones of long-dead tigers from the days of the British Raj have helped reveal how the latest threat to the endangered species is their own DNA.

Taking DNA samples from game hunters' trophies in the Natural History Museum and National Museum of Scotland’s collections, researchers compared these with samples from modern tigers. They found that genetic diversity among the remaining Indian tigers may be low enough to make the population unviable.

The tiger population has dropped precipitously from around 40,000 in 1850 to fewer than 2,000 today, and as their numbers and habitat have shrunk, so has their choice of mating partners. The findings will come as a blow to the Indian government, whose conservationists believe that several years of rising numbers suggest the species has been saved from extinction.

The study, conducted by Samrat Mondol and Uma Ramakrishnan from the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore and Professor Michael W. Bruford from Cardiff University, was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Bruford said, “The results were staggering. We found 93% of the DNA genetic variants we measured in the historical tigers are not found in modern tigers. This is a much bigger fall than we expected.”

For most mammal species, a population of more than 1,000 is a viable one. But Bruford explained it was more appropriate to think of them as pockets of much fewer numbers, as the tigers were spread thinly across the sub-continent.

The researchers divided the tigers they studied into two broad genotypes – those that live in the uplands of Nepal, Tibet and northern India, and those that live in the lush lowands of the south.

“If you look at modern tigers now, you’d assume they fell into two main genotypes. But when we overlaid them with historical populations, we realised that wasn’t the case at all – it’s just that all the intermediate populations have been exterminated,” Bruford explained.

“Not only have tigers lost a huge amount of genetic variation since the days of the Raj, they have also been partitioned. And because they cannot disperse around their habitat as they would normally, they are losing their genetic viability as a population even faster.”

Hunting by the British and by Indian and Mughal princes alongside rapid loss of habitat from agriculture and urbanisation is to blame for the tiger’s decline. Adding to their woes was that the biggest animals were taken by game hunters as trophies – removing the DNA of evolutionary winners from the genepool.

In the short term, Bruford said, the threat posed by poachers is still more concerning, but the declining quality of tiger genes was a long-term problem. “This won’t go away until wild spaces are managed coherently, with corridors to link up the habitats,“ he said. "When the Indian government measures its conversation success it needs to rely on more than just numbers.”

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World Bank "making a major push" for large-scale hydropower projects

Despite their disruption, can dams help the organisation work towards ending poverty while keeping carbon emissions down?
Howard Schneider for the Washington Post Guardian Weekly 14 May 13;

The World Bank is making a major push to develop large-scale hydropower, something it had all but abandoned a decade ago but now sees as crucial to resolving the tension between economic development and the drive to tame carbon use.

Major hydropower projects in Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia, Nepal and elsewhere – all of a scale dubbed "transformational" to the regions involved – are part of the bank's fundraising drive among wealthy nations. Bank lending for hydropower has scaled up in recent years, and officials expect the trend to continue.

Such projects were shunned in the 1990s, in part because they can be disruptive to communities and ecosystems. But the World Bank is opening the taps for dams and related infrastructure as its president, Jim Yong Kim, tries to resolve a quandary at the bank's core: how to eliminate poverty while adding as little as possible to carbon emissions.

"Large hydro is a very big part of the solution for Africa and south Asia and south-east Asia ... I fundamentally believe we have to be involved," said Rachel Kyte, the bank's vice-president for sustainable development and an influential voice among Kim's top staff members. The earlier move out of hydro "was the wrong message ... That was then. This is now. We are back."

It is a controversial stance. The bank backed out of large-scale hydropower because of the steep trade-offs involved. Big dams produce lots of cheap, clean electricity, but they often uproot villages and destroy the livelihoods of the people the institution is supposed to help. A 2009 World Bank review of hydropower noted the "overwhelming environmental and social risks" that had to be addressed but also concluded that Africa and Asia's vast and largely undeveloped hydropower potential was key to providing dependable electricity to the hundreds of millions of people who remain without it.

"What's the one issue that's holding back development in the poorest countries? It's energy. There's just no question," Kim said in an interview.

Advocacy groups remain sceptical, arguing that large projects, such as Congo's long-debated network of dams around Inga Falls, may be of more benefit to mining companies or industries in neighbouring countries than poor communities.

"It is the old idea of a silver bullet that can modernise whole economies," said Peter Bosshard, policy director of International Rivers, a group that has organised opposition to the bank's evolving hydro policy and argued for smaller projects designed around communities rather than mega-dams meant to export power throughout a region.

"Turning back to hydro is being anything but a progressive climate bank," said Justin Guay, a Sierra Club spokesman on climate and energy issues. "There needs to be a clear shift from large, centralised projects."

The major nations that support the World Bank, however, have been pushing it to identify such projects – complex undertakings that might happen only if an international organisation is involved in sorting out the financing, overseeing the performance and navigating the politics.

The move toward big hydro comes amid Kim's stark warning that global warming will leave the next generation with an "unrecognisable planet". That dire prediction, however, has left him struggling for how best to respond and frustrated by some of the bank's inherent limitations.

In his speeches, Kim talks passionately about the bank's ability to "catalyse" and "leverage" the world to action by mobilising money and ideas, and he says he is hunting for ideas "equal to the challenge" of curbing carbon use. He has criticised the "small bore" thinking he says has hobbled progress on the issue.

However, the bank remains in the business of financing traditional fossil-fuel plants, including those that use the dirtiest form of coal, as well as cleaner but carbon-based natural gas infrastructures.

Among the projects likely to cross Kim's desk in coming months, for example, is a 600-MW power plant in Kosovo that would be fired by lignite coal, the bottom of the barrel when it comes to carbon emissions.

The plant has strong backing from the United States, the World Bank's major shareholder. It also meshes with one of the bank's other long-standing imperatives: give countries what they ask for. The institution has 188 members to keep happy and can go only so far in trying to impose its judgment over that of local officials. Kim, who in his younger days demonstrated against World Bank-enforced "orthodoxy" in economic policy, now may be hard-pressed to enforce an energy orthodoxy of his own.

Kosovo's domestic supplies of lignite are ample enough to free the country from imported fuel. Kim said there is little question Kosovo needs more electricity, and the new plant will allow an older, more polluting facility to be shut down.

"I would just love to never sign a coal project," Kim said. "We understand it is much, much dirtier, but ... we have 188 members ... We have to be fair in balancing the needs of poor countries ... with this other bigger goal of tackling climate change."

The bank is working on other ideas. Kim said he is considering how the bank might get involved in creating a more effective world market for carbon, allowing countries that invest in renewable energy or "climate friendly" agriculture to be paid for their carbon savings by industries that need to use fossil fuels. Existing carbon markets have been plagued with volatile pricing – Europe's cost of carbon has basically collapsed – or rules that prevent carbon trading with developing countries.

"We've got to figure out a way to establish a stable price of carbon," Kim said. "Everybody knows that."

He has also staked hope for climate progress on developments in agriculture.

Hydropower projects, however, seem notably inside what Kim says is the bank's sweet spot – complex, high-impact, green and requiring the sort of joint public and private financing Kim says the bank can attract.

The massive hydropower potential of the Congo river, estimated at about 40,000MW, is such a target. Its development is on a list of top world infrastructure priorities prepared by the World Bank and other development agencies for the Group of 20 major economic powers.

Two smaller dams on the river have been plagued by poor performance and are being rehabilitated with World Bank assistance. A third being planned would represent a quantum jump – a 4,800MW, $12bn giant that would move an entire region off carbon-based electricity.

The African Development Bank has begun negotiations over the financing, and the World Bank is ready to step in with tens of millions of dollars in technical-planning help.

"In an ideal world, we start building in 2016. By 2020, we switch on the lights," said Hela Cheikhrouhou, energy and environment director for the African Development Bank.

It is the sort of project that the World Bank had stayed away from for many years – not least because of instability in the country. But as the country tries to move beyond its civil war and the region intensifies its quest for the power to fuel economic growth, the bank seems ready to move. Kim will visit Congo this month for a discussion about development in fragile and war-torn states.

Kyte, the World Bank vice president, said the Inga project will be high on the agenda.

"People have been looking at the Inga dam for as long as I have been in the development business," she said. "The question is: Did the stars align? Did you have a government in place? Did people want to do it? Are there investors interested? Do you have the ability to do the technical work? The stars are aligned now. Let's go."

This article appeared in Guardian Weekly, which incorporates material from the Washington Post

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Indonesia: Logging Ban Extension a Step in Right Direction -- Activists

Jakarta Globe 15 May 13;

Environmentalists have lauded the Indonesian government’s decision to extend a logging ban aimed at protecting rainforests despite fierce industry pressure, but some say there are more steps to take.

“WWF supports this moratorium extension and we applaud the president’s policy to improve the forests and peat lands management to reduce the [carbon] emissions and deforestation,” the chief of the Indonesian chapter of the World Wild Fund, Efransjah, said on Wednesday.

Efransjah said it was more important for the government to complete the integrated map of deforestation in Indonesia and to review the regulations at the regional level, which are often counterproductive to the policies set up by the central government.

Greenpeace forest campaigner Yuyun Indradi said that while the moratorium extension was a step forward, it would not be enough to save the country from rampant illegal logging that would destroy the forest and creatures living in it.

“While it’s good news however, the president did not strengthen the moratorium to cover all forests and peatland. That is what’s really needed if we want to save Indonesia’s remaining tigers and orangutans, which are under threat from relentless palm oil, and pulp and paper expansion,” Yuyun said.

“The government must review existing concessions, increase transparency in the way licences are granted, establish a credible database of low carbon land and undertake clear spatial and land use planning,” he added.

On Wednesday, the government confirmed Yudhoyono had signed a two-year extension on the logging ban, as had been widely expected, and the moratorium would remain in its original form.

“The extension on the moratorium of new permits will be in place for two years from when the presidential instruction is issued,” said a statement from the cabinet secretariat, which deals with presidential decrees.

Yudhoyono signed the extension on Monday, it said.

Under a $1-billion conservation deal with Norway, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono two years ago signed the moratorium, which bans new logging permits for primary, or virgin, forest, defined as forest not logged in recent history.


Indonesia extends logging ban to protect rainforest
Olivia Rondonuwu (AFP) Google News 15 May 13

JAKARTA — Indonesia has extended a logging ban to protect rainforests despite fierce industry pressure, the government said Wednesday, but green campaigners slammed the move as inadequate.

Vast tracts of the sprawling Indonesian archipelago are covered in trees, including some of the world's most biodiverse tropical rainforest that is home to endangered animals such as orangutans, tigers and elephants.

But huge swathes have been chopped down by palm oil, mining and timber companies in Southeast Asia's top economy, which has become the world's third-biggest carbon emitter as a result.

Under a $1 billion conservation deal with Norway, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono two years ago signed the moratorium, which bans new logging permits for primary, or virgin, forest -- defined as forest not logged in recent history.

On Wednesday the government confirmed Yudhoyono had signed a two-year extension and the moratorium would remain in its original form.

"The extension on the moratorium of new permits will be in place for two years from when the presidential instruction is issued," said a statement from the cabinet secretariat.

Yudhoyono signed the extension on Monday, it said.

The ban applies to new permits for primary forest and peatland with the exception of projects already approved by the forestry minister and others considered vital, such as for power production, it said.

But Greenpeace criticised the government for not taking the opportunity to strengthen the ban.

"That is what's really needed if we want to save Indonesia's remaining tigers and orangutans, which are under threat from relentless palm oil and pulp and paper expansion," said the group's forests campaigner Yuyun Indradi.

Indonesia, the world's top producer of palm oil that is used in many everyday items from soap to biscuits, has faced fierce industry pressure over the ban.

"The moratorium has already had negative effects on the economy, not just in the palm oil industry but the timber industry as well," said Fadhil Hasan, from the Indonesian Palm Oil Association.

The government says the moratorium has drastically reduced logging in a country with the world's third largest amount of tropical forest.

Senior forestry ministry official Hadi Daryanto said that between 2000 and 2010, Indonesia lost around 1.125 million hectares (2.8 million acres) of forest each year.

But he said that at the end of 2011 this figure had been reduced to the equivalent of 450,000 hectares annually.

However, green groups say local authorities are using a murky web of local laws to open up new areas for exploitation despite the national ban, and much logging has continued illegally.

A glaring example is a plan in the province of Aceh on Sumatra island, supported by Jakarta, which activists say could open up a million hectares of protected forest for exploitation despite the moratorium.

The plan, which is likely to be approved soon, is possible because it hinges on Aceh's decision to overturn its own deforestation ban at the local level.

"Countries like mine have a right to develop, but not at the expense of our priceless natural patrimony," said Rudi Putra, an activist who started a petition against the Aceh plan that has gathered almost one million signatures.

Indonesia extends forest-clearing ban for 2 years
Associated Press Yahoo News 16 May 13;

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia has approved a two-year extension to a landmark ban on clearing primary rainforests and peatlands, officials said Thursday. Environmentalists praised the move but said the government must do more to curb the nation's burgeoning production of greenhouse gases.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed the decree on Monday to continue the 2011 moratorium, which barred new logging and palm oil plantation permits under a $1 billion deal with Norway, said his environment adviser, Pungki Agus Purnomo.

He said the ban will preserve 64 million hectares (158 million acres) until 2015. It will not affect areas where concessions were granted before the moratorium.

Environmentalists hailed the extension while also urging leaders to better enforce the law. They say some protected areas continue to be exploited because of corruption and illegal fires and logging.

Indonesia's largest environmental group, Walhi, said the government must also work to stop logging permits from being issued at the local level.

"It is just like a presidential instruction to his subordinates ... it has no power to sanction against violators," said Walhi environmentalist Berry Nahdian Furqan, who added that the ban should be made permanent.

Indonesia is one of the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitters, largely because many of the palm oil plantations on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra are planted on carbon-rich peatland that must be drained first, releasing vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year.

Rapid deforestation has occurred in recent years in Indonesia as it feeds the world's hunger for palm oil, pulp and paper. The destruction has caused damage ranging from deadly flash floods and landslides to a loss of habitat for endangered species such as orangutans, elephants, tigers and rhinos.

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Climate research nearly unanimous on human causes, survey finds

Suzanne Goldenberg 16 May 13;

A survey of thousands of peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals has found 97.1% agreed that climate change is caused by human activity.

Authors of the survey, published on Thursday in the journal Environmental Research Letters, said the finding of near unanimity provided a powerful rebuttal to climate contrarians who insist the science of climate change remains unsettled.

The survey considered the work of some 29,000 scientists published in 11,994 academic papers. Of the 4,000-plus papers that took a position on the causes of climate change only 0.7% or 83 of those thousands of academic articles, disputed the scientific consensus that climate change is the result of human activity, with the view of the remaining 2.2% unclear.

The study described the dissent as a "vanishingly small proportion" of published research.

"Our findings prove that there is a strong scientific agreement about the cause of climate change, despite public perceptions to the contrary," said John Cook of the University of Queensland, who led the survey.

Public opinion continues to lag behind the science. Though a majority of Americans accept the climate is changing, just 42% believed human activity was the main driver, in a poll conducted by the Pew Research Centre last October.

"There is a gaping chasm between the actual consensus and the public perception," Cook said in a statement.

The study blamed strenuous lobbying efforts by industry to undermine the science behind climate change for the gap in perception. The resulting confusion has blocked efforts to act on climate change.

The survey was the most ambitious effort to date to demonstrate the broad agreement on the causes of climate change, covering 20 years of academic publications from 1991-2011.

In 2004, Naomi Oreskes, an historian at the University of California, San Diego,surveyed published literature, releasing her results in the journal Science. She too came up with a similar finding that 97% of climate scientists agreed on the causes of climate change.

She wrote of the new survey in an email: "It is a nice, independent confirmation, using a somewhat different methodology than I used, that comes to the same result. It also refutes the claim, sometimes made by contrarians, that the consensus has broken down, much less 'shattered'."

The Cook survey was broader in its scope, deploying volunteers from the website to review scientific abstracts. The volunteers also asked authors to rate their own views on the causes of climate change, in another departure from Oreskes's methods.

The authors said the findings could help close the gap between scientific opinion and the public on the causes of climate change, or anthropogenic global warming, and so create favourable conditions for political action on climate.

"The public perception of a scientific consensus on AGW [anthropogenic, ie man-made, global warming] is a necessary element in public support for climate policy," the study said.

However, Prof Robert Brulle, a sociologist at Drexel University who studies the forces underlying attitudes towards climate change, disputed the idea that educating the public about the broad scientific agreement on the causes of climate change would have an effect on public opinion - or on the political conditions for climate action.

He said he was doubtful that convincing the public of a scientific consensus on climate change would help advance the prospects for political action. Having elite leaders call for climate action would be far more powerful, he said.

"I don't think people really want to come around to grips with the fact that climate change is a highly ideological issue and it is not amenable to the information deficit model," he said.

"The information deficit model, this idea that if you just pile on more information people will get convinced, is just completely inadequate, he said. "It strengthens the people who actually read and pay attention but it is certainly not going to change or shift the opinions of others."

Scientists say united on global warming, at odds with public view
Alister Doyle PlanetArk 16 May 13;

Ninety-seven percent of scientists say global warming is mainly man-made but a wide public belief that experts are divided is making it harder to gain support for policies to curb climate change, an international study showed on Thursday.

The report found an overwhelming view among scientists that human activity, led by the use of fossil fuels, was the main cause of rising temperatures in recent decades.

"There is a strong scientific agreement about the cause of climate change, despite public perceptions to the contrary," said John Cook of the University of Queensland in Australia, who led the study in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

"There is a gaping chasm between the actual consensus and the public perception," he said in a statement. "When people understand that scientists agree on global warming, they're more likely to support policies that take action on it."

Global average surface temperatures have risen by 0.8 degree Celsius (1.4F) since the Industrial Revolution.

Experts in Australia, the United States, Britain and Canada studied 4,000 summaries of peer-reviewed papers in journals giving a view about climate change since the early 1990s and found that 97 percent said it was mainly caused by humans.

They also asked authors for their views and found a 97 percent conviction from replies covering 2,000 papers. The data will be released at (

The report said it was the biggest review so far of scientific opinion on climate change.

"If people disagree with what we've found we want to know," said Mark Richardson of the University of Reading in England, one of the authors of the study that looked at English-language studies by authors in more than 90 nations.

Another co-author, Dana Nuccitelli of Skeptical Science, said she was encouraging scientists to stress the consensus "at every opportunity, particularly in media interviews".

Opinion polls in some countries show widespread belief that scientists disagree about whether climate change is caused by human activities or is part of natural swings such as in the sun's output.

A survey by the U.S. Pew Research Center published in October last year found 45 percent of Americans said "Yes" when asked: "Do scientists agree Earth is getting warmer because of human activity?" Forty-three percent said "No".

Rising concentrations of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, hit 400 parts per million in the atmosphere last week, the highest in perhaps 3 million years.

Governments have agreed to work out, by the end of 2015, a deal to slow climate change that a U.N. panel of experts says will cause more floods, droughts and rising sea levels.

(Reporting By Alister Doyle; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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