Best of our wild blogs: 11 Jul 13

Meet the marine volunteers of Singapore!
from wild shores of singapore

Stork-billed Kingfisher caught a puffer fish
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Macro Photography Workshop Session 2
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Reducing Food Waste
from mndsingapore by mndminister

Haze fires concentrated in deforested peatlands, not forest areas, confirms satellite analysis from news by Rhett Butler

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Hornbills' release ruffles feathers

David Ee Straits Times 11 Jul 13;

THE release of three more captive-bred oriental pied hornbills into the wild yesterday has ruffled the feathers of ecologists.

They have urged the Jurong Bird Park and the National Parks Board (NParks) to stop boosting the number of the birds, and to begin a thorough study into the possible impacts.

The hornbill, with its distinctive yellow beak and black-white body, is a prized sighting for bird watchers, but it is also a predator at the top of its food chain.

Besides fruit, it feeds on small animals such as squirrels and lizards, and other birds. Occasionally, hornbills raid nests of other birds for chicks and eggs.

An artificial increase in hornbills could upset ecosystems here, and lead to a decline in the species they prey on, the ecologists say. Explained wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai: "During their breeding season from December to April, they need a lot of protein for their young, so they will take many animals they find."

Ecosystems here also need to be managed more carefully due to their small size, he added.

NParks director of conservation Wong Tuan Wah said it will be "happy to collaborate with ecologists to study the effects of (the hornbill) population on the ecosystem". But he also said that the board had not observed any adverse impact.

Nature Society Bird Group committee member Yong Ding Li said he did not see any problem with the increasing number of hornbills here as fruit, not animals, made up more than 80 per cent of the bird's diet.

Since 2009, the bird park has released nine birds from its collection into Pulau Ubin and the mainland.

Today, there are about 100 hornbills in the wild, up from around 20 in 2004.

The once-common species had disappeared with urbanisation in the 1920s, but returned in the mid-1990s.

Mr Rajathurai pointed out that the hornbill population had already "established itself quite well on its own", and needed no extra help.

Both he and former Nature Society president and Bird Ecology Study Group co-founder Wee Yeow Chin also took issue with the authorities championing the bird's proliferation because of its draw as an "iconic" species.

In 2004, the Government and universities got together to begin the Singapore Hornbill Project, aiming to help the bird thrive here. In 2010, NParks' Mr Wong said one reason for the project is that the birds are "a large, spectacular native bird which the public can really appreciate".

But protecting the ecosystem should take top priority, said Mr Rajathurai.

"We are looking at... getting more of these birds so the public can see them easily. We are doing it for the wrong reason."

Added Dr Wee: "I love the birds too, and everybody gets excited. But in the end we need studies to find out how many the ecosystem can sustain."

Three hornbills released into the wild at Pulau Ubin
Tan Qiuyi Channel NewsAsia 10 Jul 13;

SINGAPORE: Three hornbills were released into the wild at Pulau Ubin on Wednesday.

The birds are native to Singapore and were once extinct here.

The release is part of a conservation project started in 2004 by the Singapore Avian Conservation Team, Wildlife Reserves Singapore and National Parks Board to strengthen their numbers.

It is the fourth time the conservation team is releasing Oriental Pied Hornbills into the wild.

Previous locations include the Sungei Buloh wetlands and the Istana grounds.

This time, the destination is Pulau Ubin and the latest effort will bring the total released so far to nine.

The Oriental Pied Hornbill disappeared from Singapore in the mid-1800s due to habitat loss.

It was only in 1994 when a pair was once again sighted at Pulau Ubin. Today, Pulau Ubin has a population of about 60 hornbills.

Introducing new birds diversify the gene pool, making the species stronger and less prone to disease.

The hornbills chosen for release - two males and a female - are from the Jurong Bird Park.

Two were a bonded pair that were captive bred at the Jurong Bird Park, while the other was a rescued male.

In a surprise turn of events, they were joined by a fourth wild hornbill.

Dr Minerva Bonco-Nuqui, Curator, Avian, Jurong Bird Park, said: "Our female is a little bit playful. Because (instead) of joining her partner, she joined instantly the other wild male here in Pulau Ubin. So that means they are welcome!"

The birds had been given a thorough check-up just two days before.

In March, NParks rangers rescued three abandoned hornbill eggs from Pulau Ubin, which later hatched at the Jurong Bird Park.

It made the Jurong Bird Park the first in the world to successfully incubate and hatch Oriental Pied Hornbill eggs.

While the chicks stayed on, these three adults are taking their place at Pulau Ubin.

Mr Wong Tuan Wah, Director of Conservation at NParks, said: "These three birds have coloured rings on them, and our rangers and staff will be watching out for them, to monitor their movements over at least the next one year or so."

There are an estimated 100 of these majestic birds in all of Singapore today, and NParks says they have room to grow in numbers.

The hornbill population is doing very well in Singapore," said Mr Wong.

"We did not detect any adverse impact, so we feel the population can still grow," he added.

- CNA/de

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Why world population growth matters to Singapore

Vivienne Wee and Faizah Jamal Today Online 11 Jul 13;

World Population Day, July 11, passes largely unnoticed in this global city. However, we cannot ignore how a world population now reaching 7.2 billion affects all life on Earth.

Increasing demands for finite resources are aggravated by inequitable and unsustainable resource use. The extinction of species is disrupting the global ecosystem, adversely affecting climate and, consequently, our sources of food and medicines.

Singapore espouses a pro-natalist policy, reiterated recently in the White Paper. This plan for population growth is driven by a paradigm requiring a high old-age support ratio to provide for an ageing population. But what happens when those of working age, in turn, grow old?

In her speech to Parliament in February, Nominated Member of Parliament Faizah Jamal (co-writer of this letter) said:

“We act as if all that economic growth, all those companies and talent that we want to entice, all the goodies that we want in life, all the construction that is going to happen, do not, in fact, come from somewhere and have to end up somewhere, in the environment.

“Yet, there is no mention in the White Paper about the impact of so many people on our carbon footprint, our food security.”

This footprint will further strain environmental resources. Decisions made here have impact beyond Singapore, just as we experience the impact of actions elsewhere, including forest fires.

While it is the Government’s responsibility to provide infrastructure, its planning process does not prioritise environmental sustainability.

The proposed Cross Island Line will cut through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, affecting species found nowhere else worldwide. Reclamation plans will affect dugongs, wild dolphins and the endangered green and Hawksbill turtles. Will Chek Jawa also disappear?

Plans for population growth in a finite environment manifest problematic values.

First, that non-human species can be destroyed whenever expedient; second, that forests and mangroves are useless because their benefits are not monetised; third, that policies adopted here affect only Singapore; fourth, that short-term interests outweigh long-term concerns.

Expediency also characterises the control of women as instruments for producing the desired quantity and “quality” of future generations. The inequalities that disadvantage women relate to inequitable resource use that benefits the few while harming others.

The pro-natalism practised here symptomises elitism. Reproductive preference is given to middle- and upper-class Singaporeans, including new Singaporeans categorised as talents, while those of low education and income are incentivised not to reproduce after two children.

This World Population Day, we must recognise we need an inclusive, just and sustainable world view, respecting the rights of all. As inhabitants of a shared planet, if we are not part of the solution, then we are part of the problem.

Vivienne Wee is an anthropologist and Research and Advocacy Director of the Association of Women for Action & Research. Faizah Jamal is an environmental educator and a Nominated Member of Parliament.

Fertility Surprises Portend a More Populous Future
WorldWatch 10 Jul 13;

On World Population Day, the Worldwatch Institute examines the UN’s latest demographic projections and their environmental implications

Washington, D.C.—World population reached 7.2 billion in mid-2013, according to United Nations demographers, with present and projected future growth propelled in part by unexpectedly high fertility in a number of developing countries. Based on current trends in global birth, death, and migration rates, the UN Populations Division projects a variety of future scenarios, with the three principal ones suggesting that world population will be somewhere between 6.8 billion and 16.6 billion at the end of this century. In the Worldwatch Institute’s latest Vital Signs Online trend, President Robert Engelman discusses these latest projections and what they mean for the environment.

The UN demographers determined that 82.1 million people were added to the world’s population in 2012—the highest annual increment since 1994. The new report, World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision, dispels a widespread expectation that population growth would end “on its own” sometime in the second half of the twenty-first century. Rather, the new medium-fertility or best-guess scenario suggests the most likely outcome is that world could gain more than 10 million people in the year 2100 and close the century at 10.9 billion. The new projections suggest a global population of 9.6 billion by 2050—about 700 million people more than the 8.9 billion the UN Population Division had projected for 2050 just 10 years ago.

“Although the biggest surprise in the report came from the projections of faster future population growth than had been expected, these numbers actually have their roots in a surprise about the present,” said Engelman. “Women in many developing countries are having more children today than UN demographers previously thought.”

Indeed, the UN authors reported that they had raised by a full 5 percent their estimates of current fertility in 15 sub-Saharan African countries—including Nigeria, Niger, Ethiopia, and the Congo—where family size is already among the highest in the world.

Although the reasons behind the higher-than-expected fertility in many countries are not fully understood, they correlate well with recent government reluctance to give priority to and fund family planning services in some of the world’s poorest countries. Spending on family planning services in developing countries by governments, wealthier donor governments and intergovernmental agencies has stagnated in recent years at around $4 billion annually. More than twice that is needed to reach the estimated 222 million women who are sexually active and do not want to become pregnant but are not using contraception. About two out of five pregnancies worldwide are unintended—in industrial countries as well as developing ones—and more than one in five births worldwide results from such pregnancies.

On perhaps the most positive note in the new projections, UN Population Division demographers believe that every country in the world is currently experiencing a longer life expectancy in the 2010-to-2015 period than between 2000 and 2010. They project continued improvement in life expectancy throughout the century, when all the new projection scenarios agree that life expectancy for the world will average 82 years, up from 70 years today.

Yet this rosy assessment of global longevity nine decades from now does not take into account changing environmental conditions worldwide. The UN demographers, like others who produce major population projections, decline to factor in the possibility that mortality trends will vary from recent history, making no mention of possible downward shifts in life expectancy due to climate change or any other environmental impacts of human activities.

Further highlights from the report:

The new report estimates that the world’s population is growing at about 1.15 percent annually, and—despite the higher-than-anticipated fertility in many countries—that the growth rate is continuing to slow.
Most human beings—an even 60 percent—live in Asia, with Africa the second most populous region, followed by Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America, and Oceania.
Approximately 96 percent of the growth is occurring in developing countries, with Asia accounting for 54 percent of that growth.
The new UN “most likely” population projection foresees not just a long-lived human population of 10.9 billion in 2100 but one of 4.2 billion in Africa with a life expectancy of 77 years compared with 58 today.

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New tools will help predict haze better, say experts

New satellite feeds, ground instruments can aid Singapore in preparing for it
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 11 Jul 13;

NEW satellite feeds that the Government will soon tap, combined with ground instruments, can help Singapore to better predict haze, said experts.

But this may take years and may require Indonesia's co-operation. In the short term, the authorities should consider installing more advanced sensors here and modify the air pollution index to better monitor and reflect the haze's health impact.

Scientists gave these assessments when The Straits Times asked them how Singapore could better prepare for the haze.

Last month, raging fires in Indonesia led to the worst haze in Singapore's history.

On Monday, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said Singapore will tap new satellite feeds by 2015 to provide early haze alerts, but scientists said this could be easier said than done.

Satellites look at the ground in different ways, and cross different places at different times, said Assistant Professor Jason Cohen from the National University of Singapore (NUS). He specialises in climate change computer models and is researching the haze.

For example, the Modis satellite passes over the region several times a day and can "see" several thousand kilometres at once, but its cameras' observations can be blocked by clouds. It may also mistake thick smoke for a cloud.

The Calipso satellite shines a laser beam that can cut through most clouds to pick up images. The thicker the smoke, the more energy is removed from the beam returned to the satellite.

But the beam's thinness means its horizontal visual range is at most 1km, and the satellite passes over the region more slowly.

Both satellites are operated by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa). The National Environment Agency (NEA) uses data from several satellites including Modis ones and Nanyang Technological University's X-Sat satellite.

"If you want to integrate information from different satellites to come up with a prediction, you must have a computer program that can cover different scales in space and time, and different physical and chemistry data collected by the satellites. It's very challenging," said Dr Cohen.

Dr Santo Salinas, a senior research scientist at the NUS Centre for Remote Imaging, Sensing and Processing, said having data from more ground instruments in the region would help scientists track how pollutants spread. This will lead to better forecasting systems.

"There has to be a holistic approach combining satellite remote sensing, on-site sampling and measurements and numerical modelling."

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who heads an inter-ministerial task force to tackle the haze, said that under a previous agreement, Singapore was willing to fund better meteorological instruments in Indonesia to get an early sense of the winds, but it has to respect Indonesia's territorial rights.

Singapore also needs to invest in more advanced instruments that can give more information about the chemical composition of particles and toxic gases in the haze in real time, said Dr Erik Velasco, a research scientist at the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology.

This will allow scientists and the authorities to better analyse and gauge the health impact of the pollution, he said.

Historical records and maps showing how the pollution is distributed here should also be made publicly available.

"Similar to other international monitoring networks, these data and maps will provide even more information to Singaporean society, and help the authorities to better design measures to take in future haze episodes."

Besides more studies, the NEA can also consider updating the air pollution index here, said climate scientist Matthias Roth, deputy head of geography at NUS.

The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) does not accurately reflect the danger of small, toxic particles called PM2.5, he said.

This was why the US replaced the PSI in 1999 with the Air Quality Index.

"Two emissions sources may generate the same PSI, but one could have a higher fraction of PM2.5 than the other, resulting in a more serious impact on health."

During the recent haze crisis, the NEA issued stricter health warnings when the PM2.5 levels were high, even though the PSI would have triggered a lower warning level.

"This was prudent, but to avoid confusion, it would be better to have an air quality indicator which considers PM2.5 as the US is doing, for example," said Dr Roth.

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Local veggie farm taps AVA fund to reap bigger harvest

Jessica Lim Consumer Correspondent Straits Times 11 Jul 13;

AT KOK Fah Technology Farm (KFTF) in Sungei Tengah, workers used to dump buckets of water over crops, plant seeds by hand and sell the produce from large rattan baskets.

Today at the 40-year-old farm, a machine sows 25,600 vegetable seeds every hour, and an automatic spray provides the water. After harvest, the vegetables go into a vacuum cooler before being packed in an assembly line.

Technology has helped the farm increase leafy vegetable production from 500 tonnes in 2008 to more than 1,400 tonnes a year now.

The 8ha farm was yesterday held up as an example to follow by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), which wants more farms to adopt high-tech methods and help the country reduce its reliance on food imports.

Singapore has 46 leafy vegetable farms. While they produced 10,200 tonnes last year, up from 9,400 tonnes in 2010, local vegetables still make up 7 per cent of total local consumption, a figure that has not changed since three years ago. The AVA wants to raise this to 10 per cent in the long term.

But one issue is that 80 per cent of vegetable farms here do not make full use of technology, said AVA's director of horticulture technology Poh Bee Ling at a tour of KFTF.

The reason for the slow pick-up rate, despite the agency's offer of funding, is that these farms have small output volumes and are turned off by the high cost of technology, she explained.

"Some farmers are also very traditional and not so comfortable adopting new technologies. So we find it quite difficult to encourage them to do so."

KFTF director Wong Kok Fah was worried at first about adopting technology that "no one had used before".

"But we knew we needed machines to help increase output," the 52-year-old said, adding that it was difficult to find workers for the family-run farm.

He said it helped that half of the $1 million cost of the new machinery came from various government agencies, including the AVA, which launched a food fund in December 2009.

So far, $20 million has been committed to help farms improve operations. A total of 240 applications were received, of which 141 were approved.

The AVA is also working with smaller farmers to help them band together and benefit from economies of scale when adopting technology, said Ms Poh yesterday.

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Green Acres by Singapore’s Skyscrapers

Adam H. Graham New York Times 10 Jul 13;

In Singapore’s steamy, skyscraper-lined central business district, two American businessmen tackled a messy chili crab lunch at Lau Pa Sat hawker center, one of Singapore’s many street food vendor hubs, one afternoon last fall. Between brow wipes, they described the country as “the Switzerland of Asia.”

It’s true, Switzapore has attracted foreign investors with its solid currency and rigid cleanliness and lured tourists to its high-tech attractions like the 55-story Marina Bay Sands’ Sky Park and splashy Sentosa Island. But where Switzerland is agricultural, this tiny urbanized island imports 93 percent of its food. Though Singapore began as a kampong (farm settlement), the notion of farming in this densely populated place today seems downright implausible.

But Singapore’s kampong spirit is rising, most notably over the last two years in its Kranji neighborhood. It is infrequently visited by many tourists but is home to a farm resort and ever-evolving agritourism circuit where locavore thinking has taken hold and begun to redefine Singaporean cuisine and culture. And as the entire 274-square-mile country finds itself enveloped by increasingly thick smog created by wildfires from its Indonesian neighbor, Sumatra, it has begun to seriously ponder issues like food chain supply and to whet ideas about sustainable agriculture. An assortment of new urban farms, farmers’ markets and skyscraping vertical gardens have sprung up across the land, pleasing both residents and tourists in search of authenticity, a quality often seen as lacking in a city lamented by some as too sterile.

“Singapore is a tropical island and home to thousands of native edible plants,” said Ivy Singh, a farmer and restaurateur. “It’s time for us to take back our land and use it for something more Singaporean.”

The most recent addition is Sky Greens, a collection of 120 30-foot towers that opened in late 2012 using a method called “A-Go-Gro Vertical Farming,” which resembles a sort of vegetable-stuffed Ferris wheel, and is designed for leafy greens like spinach and bok choy. Sky Greens is Singapore’s first vertical farm, located in Kranji, 14 miles from Singapore’s central business district, with bus service available every 75 minutes.

The Kranji Heritage Trail, instituted in 2011, includes 34 independent farms and agriculture-related businesses. Seventeen of the trail stops are open to the public, including a poultry farm, a goat farm, frog-breeding aquaculture, a community vegetable garden, a cooking school, and the no-frills D’Kranji Farm Resort, with 19 eco-friendly villas and a spa. A day spent exploring Kranji’s farms is a great antidote to Singapore’s crush of street-food hawkers and urban attractions.

A highlight of the trail is Bollywood Veggies, a cooking school, restaurant and farm owned by Ms. Singh, an outspoken “farmpreneur” and self-proclaimed “gentle warrior.” Ms. Singh, standing in a grove of Cavendish bananas, one of over 20 different banana species on site, reminded visitors that mud-crabs (used in Singapore’s signature chili crab dish) are often imported from Sri Lanka and that Singapore’s famed street food isn’t exactly local. Her restaurant Poison Ivy is helmed by a Cordon Bleu graduate whose indigenous takes on Singaporean comfort food include banana curry, rojak flower chicken, and otah (mashed fish with coconut milk and spices) omelets.

Food hawkers have jumped on the farm bandwagon too. Derrick Ng of the Wang Yuan Fish Soup stalls in the upscale neighborhood of Tampines runs a series of urban gardening projects he calls Generation Green, selling local produce to health shops, restaurants and vendors. As Mr. Ng forges roads back to Singapore’s locavore cuisine, chefs and diners are discovering heirloom vegetables, fruits and long forsaken herbs. The “bespoke urban farm consultancy” at Singapore’s Edible Gardens helps individuals and institutions build gardens, like the vegetable plots they built at Pathlight, a school for autistic children. This might be commonplace in Copenhagen or Brooklyn, but enticing a generation of skyscraper-raised urbanites to get their hands dirty in soil is no easy feat.

But Singapore’s national park farm programs are the most remarkable. Hort Park introduced rooftop gardens and vertical vegetable gardens and offers free gardening workshops for visitors and tourists. Sengkang Riverside Park has a fruit tree trail with more than 300 varieties including litchi, mangosteen and durian. Gardens by The Bay, managed by Singapore’s National Parks Board, opened in 2011 on reclaimed land. Its 250 acres are home to a variety of themed vertical gardens and conservatories, including a series of 100-foot concrete “supertrees” that resemble oversize stone palms, each dripping with ferns, orchids and bromeliads and the backdrop to a nightly laser show. In typical Singapore style, the $782 million garden complex is utterly over the top, but within it is an understated Kampong House that emphasizes local vegetation grown in Singapore’s former kampong settlements. All but one of these historic settlements — Kampong Buangkok — was bulldozed during the country’s rapid development.

That remaining kampong is reached via the Park Connector Trails, a 60-mile network of paths linking the parks. A walk on it is an ideal opportunity to glimpse Singapore’s 2,000 native plants, 295 butterflies, 57 mammals and 370 bird species, a reminder of what came before the skyscrapers, light shows and chili crabs. Sadly, Buangkok, the original urban farm, is under constant threat of demolition. While it remains a symbol of Singapore’s past, it also harbors many lessons for its future.

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Indonesia and Haze: New Law Goes Easy on Forestry Violations

Markus Junianto Sihaloho & Rizky Amelia Jakarta Globe 10 Jul 13;

Under a new law, setting forest fires such as this one in Riau last month does not constitute a punishable offense. Previously, it would have warranted at least a five-year prison sentence.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, as residents of Riau, Singapore and parts of Malaysia can attest to after forest hot spots in Sumatra generated haze so severe that it sent air pollution indices in the region to record highs last month.

But for politicians in Jakarta, there’s no fire. Literally.

A new law passed on Tuesday, which the House of Representatives is touting as the most comprehensive piece of legislation to tackle forestry crimes, somehow fails to make any mention of forest fires, much less stipulates any punishment for anyone setting a blaze.

The Law on Preventing and Eradicating Forest Destruction, passed at a plenary session of the House of Representatives, is the final iteration of a packet of amendments to the 1999 Forestry Law, and was first proposed in 2002 in a bid to cover all aspects of forestry-related crimes.

Firman Subagyo, the chairman of the House working committee that deliberated the legislation, said the new law was needed because the 1999 law had failed to make a dent in the fight against illegal logging and other forestry violations.

“This law will provide the legal foundation that law enforcers need to tackle forestry crimes, and the deterrent effect needed to prevent more crimes,” he said, claiming that the new law prescribed more stringent punishment than the old law.

But the actual changes reflect the opposite. The maximum prescribed sentence for illegal logging, for instance, has been halved from 10 years under the 1999 law to five years under the new law, according to a copy obtained from the House’s website.

Most tellingly, though, the new legislation makes no mention whatsoever of forest fires, for which the old law prescribes sentences ranging from five to 15 years and fines of Rp 1.5 billion to Rp 5 billion ($150,000 to $500,000).

The issue of forest fires sparked a diplomatic row last month when hot spots in Sumatra’s Riau province left much of the region around the Malacca Strait, including Singapore and parts of Malaysia, shrouded in a thick blanket of haze.

Police have charged more than 20 small-scale farmers with setting the fires and are investigating the possible involvement of major oil palm and pulp and paper companies. All the charges are based on the 1999 law.

The new law also omits any reference to illegal wildlife trafficking, which under the old law carries a maximum sentence of a year in jail.

The only tangible improvements apparent in the new law are the more specific definitions for the various types of offenses and a differentiation in prescribed punishments between individuals and corporations, as well as between indigenous forest dwellers and outsiders.

Despite the more lenient punishments and omission of major offenses, Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan said he was pleased with the new legislation.

“It was formulated specifically to deal with violations and destruction. If someone sets a forest fire deliberately, we know how many years they can get and how much they can be fined,” he said, apparently oblivious to the fact that forest fires are not covered in the law.

Others, however, were not impressed. A coalition that includes the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) and Indonesia Corruption Watch has vowed to seek a judicial review with the Constitutional Court, calling the law poorly thought out and a regression from the 1999 law.

Siti Rahma Mary, a spokeswoman for the coalition, said in a statement on Tuesday that there were several reasons why the law should be struck down, a major one being the complete disconnect between the new legislation and prevailing forestry-related laws and regulations.

“There’s no harmonization between the new law and other regulations pertaining to the forestry sector, and this is most apparent in the disregard for the change in the definition of what constitutes a forest zone,” she said.

She said the definition used in the 1999 law was struck down by a 2011 Constitutional Court ruling, but that the new law used the same, invalid definition.

“The House also failed to take into consideration a 2012 Constitutional Court ruling that separates indigenous forests from state forests,” Siti said.

Siti added that the new law had failed to provide the comprehensive regulation that it was conceived for, and that if anything, it had only added to the confusion of overlapping and conflicting regulations regarding forestry issues.

She also questioned a provision calling for the establishment of a body to oversee forestry crimes, comprising the police, prosecutors and regional authorities.

“The establishment of this new body will only complicate the coordination between existing law enforcement agencies,” she said.

Emerson Yuntho, from ICW, agreed that the law would not be the solution that Indonesia desperately needed for tackling forestry crimes.

“None of us is disputing that we need laws to stop the destruction of Indonesia’s forests. But this new legislation is not the solution we’re looking for,” he said.

He argued that it appeared to disadvantage indigenous groups by categorizing their subsistence logging and other forestry activities, in many cases practiced for several generations, as being just as serious as the large-scale deforestation practiced by logging companies.

Emerson also took issue with the House’s argument that the 1999 law was too weak and that the new one would fix the problems inherent in it.

The problem with the old law, he said, was not that it failed to take a hard line against forestry crimes, but that the enforcement was virtually non-existent, thanks to a dearth of forest rangers and a lack of urgency from police and prosecutors to tackle such cases.

“What guarantee do we have that this new law will be enforced any better or any more consistently than the other one, such that it provides the much-needed deterrent effect?” he said.

He added that rather than come up with a completely new law that missed the point, the House should have simply addressed the shortcomings in the 1999 law one by one through a set of amendments.

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Indonesia’s Recurring Forest Fires Threaten Environment

Thalif Deen Reprint IPS 10 Jul 13;

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 10 2013 (IPS) - Indonesia’s forest fires, a predictable annual ritual, will continue to have serious implications for health and the environment in Southeast Asia unless the government strengthens forest protection, warn environmental groups.

The government claims it is doing its best, including implementation of existing protection measures against recurring forest fires. But environmental groups say Indonesia’s best is not good enough.

Last month’s forest fires in Indonesia, which literally choked parts of Singapore and Malaysia, have revived a longstanding debate on one of the key environmental issues troubling Southeast Asia.

The Malaysian government declared a state of emergency in areas where the haze triggered “one of the country’s worst pollution levels”, even as Singapore urged people to stay indoors.

Conscious of the ecological implications, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono formally apologised to Singapore and Malaysia for the widespread pollution caused by the forest fires in his country.

“For what is happening, as the president, I apologise to our brothers in Singapore and Malaysia,” Yudhoyono said.

Indonesia has been working hard to fight the fires, which are mostly set by farmers to clear fields.

Ironically, the Indonesian president is one of three world leaders – along with Britain’s David Cameron and Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – chairing a high-level panel on the U.N.’s post-2015 development agenda, which places high priority on the environment, and specifically on a set of future sustainable development goals.

As a result, says one Asian diplomat, neither the United Nations nor Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon are likely to take a critical stand on Indonesia’s continuing forest fires.

“It’s a politically sensitive issue,” he told IPS, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Asked for a response, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters Tuesday: “Well, as I understand it, the countries in the region are closely coordinating and cooperating on this particular matter. And I think I would leave it at that.

“Should I have further information, particularly from my colleagues from the Economic and Social Commission for Asia Pacific (ESCAP), then I’d let you know,” he added.

But at this point, “I think it is being handled between those countries in the region.”

Asked about the implications of the recurring forest fires, Yuyun Indradi, forests campaigner at Greenpeace Southeast Asia, told IPS, “Basically this demonstrates that the government of Indonesia is less serious in dealing and improving forest governance, despite their previous commitments to do so.”

Their commitment to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions up to 41 percent will be a mission impossible (most of the carbon emission is contribution of deforestation and land use change in the forestry sector which contributes up to 80 percent of Indonesia’s emission), he said.

“Forest governance, which includes law enforcement, is very weak. Even Indonesia has adopted zero burning policy (under the Forestry Act, Plantation Act and Environmental Protection and Management Act) but it is clearly still occurring on a widespread scale,” he added.

He also said investment in forest protection itself is also very low in terms of human resources – forest firefighters, forest fire investigators, equipment, early warning system – and it means that this environmental crime is allowed to occur.

Corruption also part of the problem in the land-based extractives industry, such as plantations, forestry and mining, he added.

Pieter van Lierop, Forestry Officer (fire management) at the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), told IPS it is important to recognise that fire is used as a land management tool.

However, fires that get out of control on drained peatlands frequently cause significant damage to human health, human assets and biodiversity and create large amounts of greenhouse gasses contributing to climate change.

The risk of such fires and their emissions are very high as dried peat becomes extremely inflammable and fires can remain underground in the peat for some time and then rise to the surface at a considerable distance from the original outbreak, he said.

Nazir Foead, conservation director at the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Indonesia, told IPS the implications for Indonesia would be on several fronts. Public health is certainly one of them, mostly for those living in provinces heavily affected by haze, he said.

Foead said the state may have to bear some of the costs to improve public health.

As the fires burnt either crop or timber plantations, companies and farmers will endure economic losses.

“We hope the [Indonesian] government would seriously enforce the zero burning laws on companies, and provide assistance to farmers who would eventually use fires to clear land every year,” he said.

If farmers are not provided with technical and financial assistance, they will start the fires again next year, he warned.

FAO’s Van Lierop told IPS that commercial enterprises involved in oil palm and other plantations should avoid the use of fire in the establishment and maintenance of plantations. At the same time, he said, small farmers should receive more support to use fires in a controllable and efficient manner and, where possible, to apply alternatives to the use of fire as an agricultural tool.

“There is need for a more active exchange of experiences, good practices and knowledge between the different regions of Kalimantan and Sumatra (where forest fires occur),” he said.

Governments at all levels should play an important role in this. International research projects could also contribute more to the exchange of good practices and the results of research, he added.

FAO has been providing support to countries to develop an integrated approach to fire management, from prevention and preparedness to suppression and restoration for many years, he said.

Greenpeace’s Indradi told IPS the forest fire problem is part of the wider problem Indonesia has with managing its natural resources, “especially when we continue to put political and financial interests first rather than the environment”.

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Malaysia: Sabah to find win-win formula for marine park

Muguntan Vanar The Star 11 Jul 13;

KOTA KINABALU: A practical approach to strike a balance between biodiversity conservation and protecting people’s interest is being worked out under the proposed Tun Mustapha Marine Park.

State Special Task Minister Datuk Teo Chee Kang said traditional fishermen and farmers would not be affected by the marine park that covers some 50 islands in the northern districts of Kudat, Kota Marudu and Pitas.

“The aim of the park is to protect the eco-system for generations to come. The government is working towards creating a win-win situation for everyone,” he said.

He said the concept of the proposed 1.02 million hectare park was aimed at strict protection for certain areas, tourism, traditional fishing and commercial fishing.

Teo said that claims by the Opposition that the people’s lands would be taken over by the government once the marine park was gazetted were untrue as steps were being taken to ensure traditional fishermen could continue their livelihood.

He said there had been no decision so far on the exact areas where commercial fishing would be stopped.

At the moment, various agencies, including Sabah Parks, and research groups are gathering data and in dialogue with stakeholders and the local communities.

Teo, who is the Tanjung Kapor assemblyman from Kudat, said the technical details of the marine park were still being worked out, adding that he could not give a time frame when it would be gazetted.

The proposed park that comes under Coral Triangle Initiative is recognised as an important area for the implementation of its objectives for the ecosystem approach to fisheries management.

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China official defends "embarrassing" environmental protection ministry

Sui-Lee Wee PlanetArk 10 Jul 13;

China's environment minister said his ministry ranked among the world's "four major embarrassing departments" but defended the agency, saying it was hampered by overlapping functions in government, state media said on Tuesday.

The comments by Zhou Shengxian are the latest in a string of blunt admissions by Chinese leaders that the country still has a long way to go in tackling pollution.

Public anger over smog that blanketed many northern cities in January has spread to online appeals for Beijing to clean up water supplies, especially after the rotting corpses of thousands of pigs were found in March in a river that supplies Shanghai's water.

Social unrest spurred by environmental complaints is becoming common across the country, to the government's alarm.

"I've heard that there are four major embarrassing departments in the world and that China's ministry of environmental protection is one of them," state news agency Xinhua's official microblog account quoted Zhou as saying.

"Our environmental work involves many departments. Many of the functions are overlapping," Zhou said, adding that water, land and carbon output were all managed by different ministries.

Despite Xinhua later removing a reference to Zhou's remarks describing the agency as an embarrassment, his comments spread widely on China's other state media microblogs.

Zhou, a two-term environment minister, has presided over China's worst pollution in recent memory.

He received among the fewest votes from China's lawmakers in the race for the cabinet at this year's meeting of the National People's Congress, a largely rubberstamp parliament body.

Zhou said he was worried about the public health impact of dire pollution contaminating the air, soil and water, Xinhua said.

"The current challenge facing the environmental (authorities) is how to properly deal with the environmental problems caused by economic development," Zhou said.

China routinely vows resolve in cleaning up pollution, but little is ever done, mainly for lack of enforcement in the face of a drive for corporate profits.

Chinese microbloggers mocked Zhou's comments, underscoring how far the agency has fallen in public esteem.

"Of course it's an embarrassment. What is originally a department for environmental protection has become an environmental protection department that conceals!" a microblogger wrote on Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter.

Many Chinese have expressed disquiet over the scarcity of available information about the environment. The environment ministry denied a lawyer access to soil pollution data because it was a "state secret".

Air pollution is shortening the lives of people in northern China by about 5.5 years compared to those in the south, the disastrous legacy of a policy to provide free heating coal in the north, an international study showed.

(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Great Barrier Reef's condition declined from moderate to poor in 2011

Series of reports blames extreme weather conditions and high rainfall for reef's poor health
Oliver Laughland 10 Jul 13;

An alarming set of reports on the condition of the Great Barrier Reef published on Wednesday say its overall condition in 2011 declined from moderate to poor, and highlights that reef-wide coral cover has declined by 50% since 1985.

The series of reports blame part of the reef's poor health in 2011 on extreme weather conditions including tropical cyclone Yasi, and high rainfall which resulted in "higher than average discharge" from a number of river catchments runoffs.

The Great Barrier Reef report card of 2011 said: "These extreme weather events significantly impacted the overall condition of the marine environment which declined from moderate to poor overall in 2010–2011."

The report card also examines the water quality of the region, and showed that the majority of land managers within the Great Barrier Reef region had failed to reach their reef plan targets, aimed at reducing sediment and pesticide loads which are harmful to water quality.

"Thirty four per cent of sugarcane growers, 17% of graziers and 25% of horticulture producers adopted improved management practices by June 2011," the report said.

These reef plan targets are described as "ambitious" and include targets to halve nutrient and pesticide loads by 2013 and to reduce sediment by 20% by 2020. Despite this, the report observes "major positive change" in land management within the region.

The 2013 scientific consensus statement, released at the same time as the report card, concluded that coral cover of inshore reefs had declined by 34% since 2005.

The new environment minister Mark Butler said: "In spite of solid improvement, data tells us that poor water quality is continuing to have a detrimental effect on reef health.

"To secure the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef it is critical that we build on the momentum of the previous reef plan with a focus on improving water quality and land management practices through ambitious but achievable targets."

The federal and Queensland state environment ministers announced that they would invest a total of $375 million between 2013 and 2018 under a new Reef Water Quality Protection Plan, designed "to guide initiatives to ensure that runoff from agriculture has no detrimental impact on the health and resilience of the Great Barrier Reef".

The Queensland minister for environment, Andrew Powell, praised those landholders in the region who were improving their practise. "We are working closely with industry, landholders, natural resource management bodies and community groups to accelerate the uptake of practices that maximise reef water quality while maintaining and enhancing profitability and environmental performance," he said.

But Greenpeace spokeswoman Georgina Woods was critical of the bi-annual meeting between the two ministers. She said neither minister had engaged with the key issue of coal export and mining within the region, particularly at a controversial new dredging proposal at the Abbot Point coal terminal.

"One day after the new environment and climate change minister deferred a crucial decision on the future of Abbot Point, the Great Barrier Reef Ministerial Forum has failed to tackle the problems that every Australian knows are eating away at the Great Barrier Reef: global warming and ocean acidification. Hopefully, today's missed opportunity is just a dress rehearsal for the main event in August, when the new minister will be called upon to choose between safeguarding the Great Barrier Reef and letting the coal industry dredge, dump and develop Abbot Point.

"It is pretty clear that the Queensland government is not going to stand up to the coal industry and protect the reef in the interests of the broader community and future generations. Mark Butler now has 30 days to make a decision about Abbot Point. To safeguard the Reef and fulfill his climate change brief, he has no choice: he must say 'no' to the coal industry," Woods added.

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