Best of our wild blogs: 20 Aug 13

Save MacRitchie Forest: 17. A Pangolin came for a visit
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Sharks, Slugs & Suckerfish
from Pulau Hantu

Sunday 25th August Guided Walk with Fabian Tee
from a.t.Bukit Brown. Heritage. Habitat. History.

‘Reduce waste and still have an enjoyable holiday?’ Possible, says MNS Marine Group from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Butterflies Galore!
from Butterflies of Singapore

Pangolin rehabilitation and release update
from EDGE Blog by Tran Quang Phuong

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Study finds cost of future flood losses in major coastal cities could be over $50 billion by 2050

e! Science News 19 Aug 13;

Climate change combined with rapid population increases, economic growth and land subsidence could lead to a more than nine-fold increase in the global risk of floods in large port cities between now and 2050. "Future Flood Losses in Major Coastal Cities," published in Nature Climate Change, is part of an ongoing project by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to explore the policy implications of flood risks due to climate change and economic development. This study builds on past OECD work which ranked global port cities on the basis of current and future exposure, where exposure is the maximum number of people or assets that could be affected by a flood.

The authors estimate present and future flood losses -- or the global cost of flooding -- in 136 of the world's largest coastal cities, taking into account existing coastal protections. Average global flood losses in 2005, estimated at about US$6 billion per year, could increase to US$52 billion by 2050 with projected socio-economic change alone.

The cities ranked most 'at risk' today, as measured by annual average losses due to floods, span developed and developing countries: Guangzhou, Miami, New York, New Orleans, Mumbai, Nagoya, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Boston, Shenzen, Osaka-Kobe, and Vancouver. The countries at greatest risk from coastal city flooding include the United States and China. Due to their high wealth and low protection level, three American cities (Miami, New York City and New Orleans) are responsible for 31 per cent of the losses across the 136 cities. Adding Guangzhou, the four top cities explain 43 per cent of global losses as of 2005.

Total dollar cost is one way to assess risk. Another is to look at annual losses as a percentage of a city's wealth, a proxy for local vulnerability. Using this measure, Guangzhou, China; Guayaquil, Ecuador; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; and Abidjan, Ivory Coast are among the most vulnerable.

To estimate the impact of future climate change the study assumes that mean sea-level, including contributions from melting ice sheets, will rise 0.2-0.4 meters by 2050. In addition, about a quarter of the 136 cities are in deltas and exposed to local subsidence and local sea-level change, especially where groundwater extraction accelerate natural processes.

An important finding of this study is that, because flood defences have been designed for past conditions, even a moderate rise in sea-level would lead to soaring losses in the absence of adaptation. Inaction is not an option as it could lead to losses in excess of $US 1 trillion. Therefore, coastal cities will have to improve their flood management, including better defences, at a cost estimated around US$50 billion per year for the 136 cities.

Robert Nicholls, Professor of Coastal Engineering at the University of Southampton and co-author of the study, says: "This work shows that flood risk is rising in coastal cities globally due to a range of factors, including sea-level rise. Hence there is a pressing need to start planning how to manage flood risk now."

Even with better protection, the magnitude of losses will increase, often by more than 50 per cent, when a flood does occur. According to Dr Stephane Hallegatte, from the World Bank and lead author of the study: "There is a limit to what can be achieved with hard protection: populations and assets will remain vulnerable to defence failures or to exceptional events that exceed the protection design." To help cities deal with disasters when they do hit, policy makers should consider early warning systems, evacuation planning, more resilient infrastructure and financial support to rebuild economies.

The report also notes that large increases in port city flood risk may occur in locations that are not vulnerable today, catching citizens and governments' off-guard. The five cities with the largest estimated increase in flood risk in 2050 are Alexandria, Egypt; Barranquilla, Colombia; Naples, Italy; Sapporo, Japan; and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Source: University of Southampton

Coastal Flooding Damage: $1 Trillion a Year by 2050
Tia Ghose Yahoo News 18 Aug 13;

Coastal flooding in cities around the world could cause damage totaling $1 trillion annually by the year 2050 if no mitigating steps are taken, new research suggests.

Almost all cities facing the worst damage are in Asia and North America, the study showed. Three American cities — New York, New Orleans and Miami — are at particularly high risk of damage, according to the study, published today (Aug. 18) in the journal Nature Climate Change.

"If we did nothing about the risk, the flood damages in coastal cities would grow to huge amounts. So that's really not an option," said study co-author Robert Nicholls, a coastal engineering professor at the University of Southampton in England.

Damaging storms

Climate change models generally predict that storms will grow more frequent and fierce over the next several decades. We may already be seeing its impact: Many scientists believe that climate change worsened the toll of Hurricane Sandy. [How Weird!: 7 Rare Weather Events]

After Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast in 2005, Nicholls and his colleagues realized that scientists had little idea which cities around the world were most vulnerable to flooding.

So the team compiled data on 136 coastal cities with more than 1 million residents, looking at the elevation of the cities, the population distribution and the types of flood protection they had, such as levees or storm-surge barriers.

They then combined that data with forecasts of sea level rise, ground sinking due to groundwater depletion, as well as population growth projections and economic forecasts of gross domestic product (GDP). From there, they used the depth of water flooding a city to estimate the cost of the damage.

Two vulnerable continents

The researchers found that in both their best- and worst-case projections of sea level rise, the yearly global cost reached higher than $1 trillion. The most vulnerable city was Guangzhou, China, followed by Mumbai and Kolkata in India, Guayaquil, Ecuador and Shenzen, China. Almost all cities at the highest risk of flooding damage were in North America or Asia. [See The 20 Cities Most Vulnerable to Flooding]

If cities take steps to prevent damage — by increasing the height of levees, erecting storm surge barriers, making buildings flood-resistant or converting flood-prone, low-lying areas to parks or football fields — the cost of the damage could be brought down to about $50 billion annually.

It would be cheaper and more sensible to make these changes before Katrina-like storm surges become the norm, Nicholls said.

"The bottom line is it shows that flood risk is rising today — it's happening" Nicholls told LiveScience. "All these cities need to be preparing for that."

Full study in Nature Climate Change

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End of the road for CNG as fuel for vehicles?

Popularity of the gas fizzles out as tariff, reduced rebates bite
Christopher Tan Straits Times 20 Aug 13;

FOUR years ago, Mr Teo Kiang Ang had high hopes for compressed natural gas (CNG) when he opened the world's largest CNG refuelling station in Old Toh Tuck Road.

He envisioned the 7,066 sq m facility - with 46 pumps - getting a counterpart in the eastern part of Singapore and his taxi company Trans-Cab operating a fleet of 8,000 CNG cabs by 2014.

Today, those dreams are dashed and he has switched gear.

Fewer than half of his 4,500-strong fleet run on CNG, there is no second station, and he has applied to the Government to convert his Toh Tuck premises to office space.

Mr Teo, who also owns cooking gas bottler Union Energy, said he may build his company's headquarters on the site.

"We still have about 2,000 CNG taxis," he said. "But in about three to four years, we will have none."

His dim view of CNG reflects how swiftly the popularity of the gas as an automotive fuel has fizzled out.

The number of CNG vehicles has been shrinking since the Government imposed a tariff on CNG in January last year, and replaced the previous Green Vehicle Rebate with a carbon-based incentive scheme.

The duty closed the gap between the prices of gas and traditional fuels, while the incentive plan reduced rebates for CNG cars, which the Government concluded were not significantly cleaner than petrol-driven cars.

Industry players and analysts also cite other reasons for CNG's fading presence.

Said Mr William Aw: "Singapore is the only place in the region where diesel is cheaper than CNG, so fleet operators like bus companies found no benefit in converting." He recently sold his share in CNG refueller Smart Energy, which operates two other CNG stations. A fourth, on Jurong Island, is operated by Sembcorp and is inaccessible to most users.

The pump price of CNG is about $1.73 a litre - 3.5 per cent higher than diesel and 21 per cent lower than 95-octane petrol, both of which are pre-discount prices.

In early 2009, CNG was 30 per cent cheaper than diesel and 43 per cent lower than 95-octane petrol. Often, the two conventional fuels also offer better efficiency.

Said Mr Aw: "It's sad. I believe in energy diversification. We can't rely on petrol and diesel alone. I hope there'll be a revival in interest and support for CNG."

But taxi operator and vehicle importer Neo Nam Heng is not optimistic. Fewer than 10 per cent of his fleet of about 900 Prime Taxi cabs run on CNG, down from 75 per cent in 2009.

"We've converted most of them to run only on petrol," he said, adding that CNG cabs break down more often and had to be refuelled more frequently. Also, CNG stations are few and far between.

Mr Gilbert von der Aue of C Melchers, an engineering company that is a leading supplier of CNG conversion kits and expertise, said CNG "cannot work without government support".

"There were plans to roll out gas pipelines but so far, there are gas pipes in only the western part of Singapore," he added.

Agreeing, executive director Clarence Woo of the Asian Clean Fuels Association said: "You can't leave new things to market forces. Without a strong (political) champion, it's hard for them to take off."

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Taiwan's Kuokuang Petrochemical scraps planned integrated project in Malaysia

Platts 19 Aug 13;

Taiwan's Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology Co has scrapped plans to set up an integrated refining and petrochemical complex in Pengerang in the Malaysian state of Johor due to poor project economics, an official from Kuokang shareholder state-owned CPC Corp. said Monday.

"It was meant to be using naphtha as a feedstock to produce ethylene, but because of the rise of shale gas as an alternative, the costs will be too high [to compete with other projects] and we won't be able to export the products," said the official, who declined to be named.

Kuokuang had submitted an environmental impact assessment report for the project to the Malaysian government in May, but the company's shareholders had already completed their feasibility study by then, deciding not to proceed with the project, she added.

"This has nothing to do with Malaysia but is based solely on the fact that the project would not be economically feasible," she said. "Right now we are waiting for the results of the report and the EIA process to be concluded. We had not proceeded beyond that so our costs were limited to just the feasibility study. We did not secure any land."

The results of the EIA report are expected in the coming days.

CPC is Kuokuang's largest stakeholder with 43%, with the rest held by other private Taiwanese companies.

Titled KPTC Malaysia Integrated Refinery and Petrochemical Development, or KPTC-MIRPD, the project was to have included a 150,000 b/d refinery, with development slated to begin by next year and startup scheduled for early 2018, the EIA report said. It was also expected to have the capacity to produce 800,000 mt/year of ethylene and 425,480 mt/year of propylene.

Kuokuang had originally announced a new petrochemical project in Changhua, Taiwan, but that plan was scrapped last year due to environmental concerns. Then, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced in May 2012 that Malaysia would work with Kuokuang to launch a project in the country.

The CPC official said Kuokuang will now evaluate its options and might concentrate on building a new petrochemicals project focusing on "value-added products" in Taiwan.

The Kuokuang project would have rivaled Malaysian state-owned Petronas' RAPID project, which is also planned in Pengerang. The integrated complex will include a 300,000 b/d refinery but has been plagued by delays, with first production now likely by the end of 2017, from an initial target of 2016.

Petronas is also planning for naphtha to underpin its 3 million mt/year steam cracker to produce ethylene, propylene and olefins.

The increased supply of NGLs and associated ethane is expected to be used as the primary feedstock for new steam cracker projects in the medium term. In contrast, naphtha is more than three times more expensive than ethane.

Bentek Energy, a unit of Platts, expects NGLs production in the US to increase by 1.5 million b/d between 2012 and 2018. The glut of ethane has provided steam cracker operators with a cost advantage compared with producers running naphtha-fed units and has prompted renewed investment from companies including BASF, Dow, CP Chem and LyondelBasell.

--Song Yen Ling

--Edited by Meghan Gordon

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Philippines' Cebu declares calamity as sunken ferry leaks oil in pristine waters

Rolando Ng Reuters 19 Aug 13;

(Reuters) - The central Philippine province of Cebu, famous among divers around the world for its clear waters and coral reefs, declared a state of calamity on Monday as an oil slick from a ferry that sank late last week spread to about 20 percent of the coast.

A 40-year-old ferry owned by 2GO Group Inc sank about a kilometer offshore on Friday after a collision with a cargo vessel. At least 52 people were killed and 68 were still missing, officials said.

The ferry was also carrying 120,000 liters of bunker fuel, 20,000 liters of lube oil and 20,000 liters of diesel fuel when it sank. The 2GO Group said it believes only the lube oil and diesel fuel were leaking.

The oil slick had reached Cordova municipality and Lapu-Lapu City, both on Mactan island, home to five-star beach front resorts.

Lantao town in Cordova, known for its seafood restaurants, was now surrounded by oil, said its mayor Adelino Sitoy.

A sheen of oil also covers at least 10 to 20 hectares of mangrove plantations in Cordova, and a member of a local marine watch group said rehabilitation of the area would be costly.

"We have no livelihood now because no one will buy the fish we haul, with a lot of bodies still in the water and oil in the sea," Ernesto Cabiso, 49, a Cordova fisherman, told Reuters.

Authorities were using chemicals to disperse the oil.

Coast guard teams were conducting manual clean up in areas affected by the oil spill, said Commodore William Melad, head of the coast guard district in the central Visayas region.

The 2GO group has brought in international oil spill experts to help in the clean-up and deployed a 400-litre oil spill boom in the area, said Lito Salvio, an assistant vice president at the shipping firm.

(Additional reporting by Rosemarie Francisco; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Philippine floods kill three, paralyse capital

Jason Gutierrez AFP Yahoo News 21 Aug 13

Chaotic urban planning is widely blamed for exacerbating the impacts of storms in Manila and other parts of the country, which has had to deal with massive population growth over the past generation. Widespread deforestation, the conversion of wetlands to farms or cities, and the clogging up of natural drainage systems with garbage are some of the factors that worsen floods.

At least three people have died in the Philippines after torrential rain engulfed parts of the main island of Luzon including Manila where neck-deep water swept through homes forcing thousands into emergency shelters.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said mountainous areas to the north of the island were experiencing floods of 1.8 metres (six feet), following persistent rain that began at the weekend.

One person was killed in a storm-related car accident in the northern Apayao mountain region while a child was crushed by a collapsing wall and a man drowned in towns just outside the capital.

Four other people are missing including three washed away by floods and overflowing rivers and a local female tourist who got lost while exploring a cave in the northern resort town of Sagada.

In the capital Manila, a megacity of 12 million people, schools, government offices and the stock exchange were closed as a red alert was raised in the morning -- the highest level of a warning system in which widespread floods are predicted.

"We are trying to save whatever we can. But it was so sudden," J.R Pascual, a father-of-four, told AFP as he tried to take the most important possessions from his home that was flooded up to his waist.

"My neighbour wasn't even able to get his car out."

Pascual lives in a middle-class district of Cavite, a coastal area that is about 15 kilometres (nine miles) from the heart of Manila.

Roads from Cavite and other southern areas into the city were impassable, while some motorists who tried to get through the flooded streets were forced to abandon their cars.

Footage on ABS-CBN television showed people in nearby shanty town communities standing on their corrugated iron roofs, as fast-moving water swept through the windows of their homes.

By early afternoon, the rain had eased and the red alert was lowered for the capital.

One of President Benigno Aquino's top aides said he did not expect a major disaster.

"Compared to other calamities, this is not of the same gravity as the rest. I hope this will be done by tomorrow," Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa told a nationally televised government disaster briefing.

Nevertheless, thousands of people were believed to be sheltering in evacuation centres or trapped on rooftops while waiting for the water to subside.

Weather forecasters also said more rain was expected to hit Manila and regions to its north in the early evening.

The flooding was due to the normal monsoon being exacerbated by Tropical Storm Trami, which was causing problems despite being more than 500 kilometres (300 miles) from the Philippines, weather forecasters said.

The Southeast Asian archipelago endures about 20 major storms or typhoons annually, generally in the second half of the year and many of them are deadly.

In August last year, 51 people died and two million others were affected when more than a month's worth of rain was dumped in and around Manila in 48 hours.

One of the most devastating storms to hit the capital was in 2009, when Tropical Storm Ketsana led to 80 percent of the capital being submerged.

It was immediately followed by Tropical Storm Parma, and more than 1,100 people died in the back-to-back disasters.

Chaotic urban planning is widely blamed for exacerbating the impacts of storms in Manila and other parts of the country, which has had to deal with massive population growth over the past generation.

Widespread deforestation, the conversion of wetlands to farms or cities, and the clogging up of natural drainage systems with garbage are some of the factors that worsen floods.

The deadliest storm in the world last year occurred in the Philippines, when Typhoon Bopha left more than 1,000 dead and 800 others missing in the south of the country.

The southern areas are usually spared from the typhoons, and communities there were unprepared for Bopha.

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Vietnam national park becomes ASEAN heritage park 13 Aug 13;

U Minh Thuong National Park in the Mekong Delta province of Kien Giang has been named an Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Heritage Park.

It is Vietnam's fifth ASEAN Heritage Park.

Hoang Lien Sa Park in the northern province of Lao Cai, Ba Be Park in the northern province of Bac Kan, and Kon Ka Kinh Park and Chu Mom Ray park in the Central Highlands provinces of Kon Tum and Gia Lai, respectively, are all on the list.

U Minh Thuong park has been praised by the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) and the secretariat of the ASEAN Heritage Parks Programme for its biodiversity.

The park covers over 21,000 hectares in An Minh Bac and Minh Thuan communes in U Minh Thuong Town.

Its core zone includes 8,038 hectares and the rest is forest buffer. Featuring a primeval forest, of which 3,000 hectares are mangrove trees, U Minh Thuong park has an extremely rare tropical wetlands forest ecosystem.

Widely considered the richest region in terms of plant and animal life in the Mekong Delta, the park has more than 243 species of plants, 32 species of mammals, 186 bird species, 39 reptile species and 34 amphibian species. Many species of wildlife in the park are endangered and must be strictly protected.

ASEAN Heritage Parks Programs are representative of efforts to conserve areas of particular biodiversity throughout ASEAN.

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Experts surer of manmade global warming but local predictions elusive

Alister Doyle Reuters 19 Aug 13;

Experts surer of manmade global warming but local predictions elusive Photo: David Gray
North and South Tarawa are seen from the air in the central Pacific island nation of Kiribati May 23, 2013.
Photo: David Gray

Climate scientists are surer than ever that human activity is causing global warming, according to leaked drafts of a major U.N. report, but they are finding it harder than expected to predict the impact in specific regions in coming decades.

The uncertainty is frustrating for government planners: the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the main guide for states weighing multi-billion-dollar shifts to renewable energy from fossil fuels, for coastal regions considering extra sea defenses or crop breeders developing heat-resistant strains.

Drafts seen by Reuters of the study by the U.N. panel of experts, due to be published next month, say it is at least 95 percent likely that human activities - chiefly the burning of fossil fuels - are the main cause of warming since the 1950s.

That is up from at least 90 percent in the last report in 2007, 66 percent in 2001, and just over 50 in 1995, steadily squeezing out the arguments by a small minority of scientists that natural variations in the climate might be to blame.

That shifts the debate onto the extent of temperature rises and the likely impacts, from manageable to catastrophic. Governments have agreed to work out an international deal by the end of 2015 to rein in rising emissions.

"We have got quite a bit more certain that climate change ... is largely manmade," said Reto Knutti, a professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. "We're less certain than many would hope about the local impacts."

And gauging how warming would affect nature, from crops to fish stocks, was also proving hard since it goes far beyond physics. "You can't write an equation for a tree," he said.

The IPCC report, the first of three to be released in 2013 and 2014, will face intense scrutiny, particularly after the panel admitted a mistake in the 2007 study which wrongly predicted that all Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035. Experts say the error far overestimated the melt and might have been based on a misreading of 2350.

The new study will state with greater confidence than in 2007 that rising manmade greenhouse gas emissions have already meant more heatwaves. But it is likely to play down some tentative findings from 2007, such as that human activities have contributed to more droughts.

Almost 200 governments have agreed to try to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times, seen as a threshold for dangerous changes including more droughts, extinctions, floods and rising seas that could swamp coastal regions and entire island nations.

The report will flag a high risk that global temperatures will increase this century by more than that level, and will say that evidence of rising sea levels is now "unequivocal".

For all that, scientists say it is proving harder to pinpoint local impacts in coming decades in a way that would help planners.

Drew Shindell, a NASA climate scientist, said the relative lack of progress in regional predictions was the main disappointment of climate science since 2007.

"I talk to people in regional power planning. They ask: 'What's the temperature going to be in this region in the next 20-30 years, because that's where our power grid is?'" he said.

"We can't really tell. It's a shame," said Shindell. Like the other scientists interviewed, he was speaking about climate science in general since the last IPCC report, not about the details of the latest drafts.


The panel will try to explain why global temperatures, while still increasing, have risen more slowly since about 1998 even though greenhouse gas concentrations have hit repeated record highs in that time, led by industrial emissions by China and other emerging nations.

An IPCC draft says there is "medium confidence" that the slowing of the rise is "due in roughly equal measure" to natural variations in the weather and to other factors affecting energy reaching the Earth's surface.

Scientists believe causes could include: greater-than-expected quantities of ash from volcanoes, which dims sunlight; a decline in heat from the sun during a current 11-year solar cycle; more heat being absorbed by the deep oceans; or the possibility that the climate may be less sensitive than expected to a build-up of carbon dioxide.

"It might be down to minor contributions that all add up," said Gabriele Hegerl, a professor at Edinburgh University. Or maybe, scientists say, the latest decade is just a blip.

The main scenarios in the draft, using more complex computer models than in 2007 and taking account of more factors, show that temperatures could rise anywhere from a fraction of 1 degree Celsius (1.8 Fahrenheit) to almost 5C (9F) this century, a wider range at both ends than in 2007.

The low end, however, is because the IPCC has added what diplomats say is an improbable scenario for radical government action - not considered in 2007 - that would require cuts in global greenhouse gases to zero by about 2070.

Temperatures have already risen by 0.8C (1.4F) since the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century.

Experts say that the big advance in the report, due for a final edit by governments and scientists in Stockholm from September 23-26, is simply greater confidence about the science of global warming, rather than revolutionary new findings.


"Overall our understanding has strengthened," said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor at Princeton University, pointing to areas including sea level rise.

An IPCC draft projects seas will rise by between 29 and 82 cm (11.4 to 32.3 inches) by the late 21st century - above the estimates of 18 to 59 cm in the last report, which did not fully account for changes in Antarctica and Greenland.

The report slightly tones down past tentative findings that more intense tropical cyclone are linked to human activities. Warmer air can contain more moisture, however, making downpours more likely in future.

"There is widespread agreement among hurricane scientists that rainfall associated with hurricanes will increase noticeably with global warming," said Kerry Emanuel, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"But measuring rainfall is very tricky," he said.

(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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