Best of our wild blogs: 23 Sep 13

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [16 - 22 Sep 2013]
from Green Business Times

Green Volunteers' activities
from The Green Volunteers

International Coastal Cleanup Singapore – status, data and photos up on the web! from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Pulau Hantu check up
from wild shores of singapore

Our anniversary walk at Chek Jawa
from Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Monitor Lizard in Yishun – A case study of STOMP’s wildlife articles from Diary of a Boy wandering through Our Little Urban Eden

Olive-backed Sunbird
from Monday Morgue

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Climate change affects Singapore flood risk

Melissa Chong Channel NewsAsia 22 Sep 13;

SINGAPORE: The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is slated to release the first part of its latest report on climate change on September 27.

Governments around the world will be watching to see what hundreds of climate scientists have to say about the potential impacts for their regions.

As for Singapore, its top concern is likely to be how climate change could affect our flood risk.

The United Nations report is published every five to six years, and highlights the latest findings in the rise of temperatures, sea levels and extreme events like floods.

Results in 2007 were comparable to findings by Singapore's National Climate Change Secretariat. By 2100, sea levels around Singapore could rise by up to 0.65 metres while temperatures could increase by up to 4.2 degrees Celsius.

Singapore's inter-agency Resilience Working Group (RWG), which is tasked to oversee the government's efforts to fight climate change, said the ministries will review their plans based on the latest data.

And of the future challenges they expect is more frequent floods.

Across Singapore, rainfall has been on the rise.

The National Environment Agency said the number of days with intense rainfall has crept up, increasing by 1.5 days per decade.

In 1980, average rainfall was 96 millimetres (mm). In 2012, it rose to 117mm.

Given the complexity of weather systems, the RWG said Singapore cannot fully avert flood risks.

However, much can be done to help Singaporeans to cope with the challenges and mitigate the risk to lives and properties.

In 2010, PUB identified 22 canals that required upgrading as the old design could no longer cope with more intense storms.

"We have increased the design requirements for our drains. We're now designing our drains for more intense rainfall so we need to look at capacity, whether it's able to cope with the more intense rainfall," said Ridzuan Ismail, chief engineer (Drainage Planning) at PUB.

Since works began, sections of the Bukit Timah canal and the Kallang River have been upgraded, providing an increase in capacity of between 15 to 50 per cent.

Other locations such as the Rochor Canal and the Geylang River are also undergoing upgrading work.

The construction has to be done in sections because electricity cables and gas pipes are running underground and these cannot be disrupted. As construction works are going on, they have to ensure that water continues to be carried from the catchment areas toward the Marina Reservoir.

PUB said this project is already 60 per cent completed.

The upgraded canal, which will be about two metres wider and 1.7 metres deeper, forms a new U-shape and can hold more water.

The next canal targeted for upgrading works is the Stamford Canal, where a new diversion canal and detention tank will be constructed.

The plan is to eventually upgrade all 22 canals but works are still in the early stages and PUB is hesitant to pin down a completion date.

PUB has also implemented strategies to ensure the public is prepared for floods, using SMS alerts on heavy rains, live CCTV images of flood-prone areas, and updates through social media.

A new regulation was also set in June 2013. Developers must build structures like rain gardens to slow down the flow of storm water into the public drainage system for developments that are more than 0.2 hectares in land size.

The government has stepped up efforts, especially after central Singapore was inundated by floods two weeks ago.

It remains to be seen if Singapore's resilience can keep up as climate change continues to affect the country.

- CNA/fa

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The new lizard in town

Caribbean native, the brown anole, spotted at Gardens by the Bay
Grace Chua Straits Times 23 Sep 13;

A brown anole sunning itself at Gardens by the Bay. The lizards could have arrived on shipments of plants for the garden. -- PHOTO: CHAN KWOK WAI

A NEW foreign talent has settled at Marina Bay: a small brown lizard called a brown anole from the Caribbean.

The pencil-length reptiles are likely to have arrived on shipments of plants for Gardens by the Bay, said researchers who first observed these lizards sunning themselves and courting potential mates there last October.

But will brown anoles cause trouble for native species? The National Parks Board (NParks) is monitoring them to see what their impact on other creatures and plants might be.

Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research scientific officer Tammy Lim, 25, was at Gardens by the Bay last October waiting for colleagues for an outing when she saw a brown anole and snapped a photo of it, before seeing others nearby.

She had never seen one before so she showed the photo to a colleague, lecturer Tan Heok Hui.

"Uh oh," he said. "We might have a new introduced species."

The brown anole is a native of Caribbean islands including Cuba and the Bahamas. It likes warm, open grassy areas and the lower parts of trees and shrubs. It is active during the day and usually dines on insects and even other lizards.

In a short write-up in the museum's journal Nature in Singapore, Dr Tan and colleague Kelvin Lim suggested that they could have come here on plants from their native habitat or other places they have settled in, including Florida or Taiwan.

In Florida, brown anoles prey on the hatchlings of native green anoles and in Taiwan, they have altered betel-palm plantation ecology by preying on ants there.

The scientists say the brown anoles will probably prefer open scrubland to the forests of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve here, keeping them out of the way of native forest lizards and skinks.

"The anoles provide interesting diurnal (daytime) activity to the gardens, and can probably be tolerated," they wrote. The population could probably be restricted to Marina Bay by erecting barriers and making sure lizards do not hitch a ride out of the gardens on plant debris.

NParks said it is keeping tabs on the brown anoles at Marina Bay. "The National Parks Board is aware of the presence of the brown anole, Norops sagrei, in Gardens by the Bay," said National Biodiversity Centre director Lena Chan.

National University of Singapore biodiversity researcher David Bickford and his students are conducting a study on whether brown anoles will affect native species. This should be finished in nine months' time.

"This scientific study will enable us to have a better understanding of the species and take appropriate measures, if necessary," Dr Chan added.

Another lizard that has settled down here since the 1980s is the changeable lizard, a native of southwest Asia which appears to be competing with native green-crested lizards for territory.

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The haze: What governments must do — and what they can’t

The haze: What governments must do — and what they can’t
Simon Tay and Chua Chin Wei Today Online 23 Sep 13;

As the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Environment Ministers meet this week in Jakarta to discuss the haze, there are reasons to doubt governments will address key issues decisively.

Cynics point out that the number of hot spots has again been growing in Sumatra. While some errant companies have been named, not a single one has been prosecuted.

Moreover, when the ministers last met in July in Kuala Lumpur, the Indonesian government declined to release concession maps that ascertain just who holds the lands that are on fire. Malaysia — second only to Indonesia in palm oil production — took a similar position.

More should be expected, given this year’s severe haze, with the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) spiking above 400 in Singapore and many parts of Malaysia. If not, given projections that palm oil plantations will continue to expand, the failure of governments will result in worse haze in the future.

While the issues are complex and multi-dimensional, governments can and should set the direction so that local communities, non-government organisations and local and global industry players can play their part. To tackle the haze, governments must set the parameters of a multi-sector, multi-pronged strategy.


Already, even without government regulation, some industry players are looking for solutions. This was what key players from the palm oil industry claimed, at a panel discussion during the ASEAN and Asia Forum organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) earlier this month.

In the first public discussion on the haze since the 400 PSI episode in June, the panel disclosed that they are under pressure from consumers to ensure that their products are environmentally sustainable. Unilever has taken steps to buy only certified palm oil, despite higher costs. Olam said it is able to trace and certify different commodities, and help local farmers understand the benefits of sustainable means of production. Standard Chartered Bank now screens its corporate borrowers on environmental parameters, such as credit and reputational risk.

Major palm oil producer Wilmar said it is putting in extra measures to respond quickly to fires that break out on its land holdings and outside its gates in adjoining areas. The company is also considering releasing its concession maps, but said it will not do this unless other major producers step forward similarly.

Other players are moving, too. During the SIIA’s recent visit to Jakarta, we learned that Greenpeace Indonesia — one of the strongest advocates of sustainable palm oil — is working with major producer Golden Agri to raise industry-wide standards on sustainability.

The environmental group tracks sustainability efforts by agricultural players such as palm oil and paper and pulp companies, and aims to enhance public awareness and use consumer pressure to improve corporate behaviour.

Greenpeace has criticised the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) — which positions itself as the standard setter for the sector — for being ineffective. Its report released early this month in Europe claims that some 39 per cent of the Sumatran fires in June originated on lands held by RSPO members, despite its zero-burn policy.

There are parallel efforts to develop sustainability standards for Indonesian producers and, separately, those in Malaysia.

These national initiatives can help reach out to the millions of small-scale, local palm oil producers who have not joined or are unable to join the RSPO.

However, there are concerns that if different standards and certificates proliferate, confusion will arise and slow down the certification process.


Top on the ministers’ agenda this week should be to convince Indonesia to ratify the transboundary haze agreement since it remains the last ASEAN country yet to ratify the agreement.

Ratifying the agreement will be a strong demonstration of political will and commitment by Indonesia’s government at the highest level to enhance local enforcement against those responsible for forest fires. As Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono understands and has said, there are millions in the country’s provinces who suffer the problem first hand.

To show progress, the Indonesian government must work with the palm oil industry. A key step would be to ratchet up RSPO standards for large-scale palm oil producers, and bring smaller producers on board.

Consumers will then be able to make more informed choices, by buying products that use only certified sustainable palm oil.


For this to happen, however, both the Indonesian and Malaysian governments must release the land concession maps. These maps will show who is responsible for the hot spots — especially with the haze monitoring and satellite information that is already easily available.

Companies can then be held accountable when they fail to deal with fires, or else provide evidence that, while the fires occurred on their land, they were not of their doing.

Conversely, concession maps are critical for the traceability of palm oil to be reliable. Only then can consumer choice reward companies who are doing the right thing.

The recurrence of the haze has shone a spotlight on the need to balance economic growth with sustainability as Asia develops. A lot needs to be done in order to find that balance. But a first and key step can and should be taken by the ministers.

It would also be best timed to do so before the ASEAN Summit next month, when the leaders’ agenda is already overflowing with issues such as ASEAN integration and relationships with the major powers.

The haze is an issue that deserves attention, both as an immediate response to the situation this year, as well as a demonstration of ASEAN moving towards an economic community by 2015.

Citizens and corporations can play a major part in addressing the issue, but governments have to do what they can and should.


Simon Tay is Chairman and Chua Chin Wei a Deputy Director at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. The SIIA convened the ASEAN and Asia Forum on Sept 12 with a panel of palm oil industry players and related corporations, and is conferring with Indonesian and other non-government organisations on a future dialogue on the issue.

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Malaysia: Saving the clouded leopard

Ruben Sario The Star 23 Sep 13;

KOTA KINABALU: Wildlife researchers are now in a better position to draw up conservation plans following the capture of one of Sabah’s most elusive wildlife animals, the Sunda clouded leopard.

The 25kg male animal was trapped in the lower Kinabatangan region in Sabah’s east coast and released after being fitted with a satellite tracking collar in a collaborative project between the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and research non-governmental organisations WildCRU and the Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC).

SWD director Datuk Laurentius Ambu said information collected from the male leopard, including its movements over the next six months, would enable researchers to come up with effective measures in protecting the species.

“One of the major outputs of this long-term research programme will be the production of a state action plan for the leopard,” he said.

SWD assistant director Dr Sen Nathan said a better understanding of the clouded leopard ecology and its habitats would enable conservationists to understand its behaviour and how habitat loss and fragmentation have impacted Sabah’s biggest wild cat.

“We also hope that with more accurate data collected on its home range via satellite collars, we will be able to provide better management of the animal in modified landscapes,” he added.

WildCRU researcher Andrew Hearn said the male Sunda clouded leopard was caught in a trap set along the Sungai Kinabatangan on Sept 15.

“Rarely seen, Sunda clouded leopards are amongst the most elusive and secretive of the world’s wild cats, and remain one of the least understood,” he said.

He said researchers managed to capture a female clouded leopard several days later but the 9kg animal was too small and old to be collared.

DGFC director Dr Benoit Goosens said the research programme is funded mainly by a RM1.46mil donation from Sime Darby Foundation with additional funding and support from the Atlanta Zoo, the Houston Zoo, the Recanati-Kaplan Foundation, the Robertson Foundation, the Point Defiance Zoo and the Rufford Foundation.

Leopardtracking goes hi-tech
Kristy Inus New Straits Times 23 Sep 13;

CONSERVATION EFFORTS: Clouded leopard collared with satellite tracking device

KINABATANGAN: THE first satellite collaring of a wild Sunda clouded leopard was achieved recently near the Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC).

The initiative, which saw a 25kg male Sunda clouded leopard trapped before being fitted with the collar on Sept 15, was part of a project focusing on research and conservation of leopards and other carnivores in Sabah.

The project, which was conducted by the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD), Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) and DGFC, was funded by Sime Darby Foundation, while additional funding and support for the conservation efforts were provided by the Atlanta Zoo, the Houston Zoo, the Recanati-kaplan Foundation, Robertson Foundation, the Point Defiance Zoo and Rufford Foundation.

WildCRU spokesman Andrew Hearn said Sunda clouded leopards were elusive and secretive wild cats, and as such, remained one of the least understood.

"I have studied these beautiful animals for seven years, yet have seen them only a handful of times. I've been unable to entice one into our traps, until now.

"The leopard was fitted with a satellite collar to provide us with information on its movements in Kinabatangan.

"The device should send a location every 20 minutes for four to six months.

"This will enable us to better determine its home range and how it moves through the fragmented landscape of the Sabah jungle."

Hearn added that a few days later the team caught another female, weighing only 9kg, which was too small and too old to collar.

However, the team said that they have been documenting her movements in the Kinabatangan area since 2010 by using camera traps seeded across the jungle.

DGFC director Dr Benoit Goossens said the research was carried out based on a RM1.46million donation from the Sime Darby Foundation as part of their 'Big 9' Corporate Social Responsibility programme.

SWD Director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu said the results of the research programme on the Sunda clouded leopard would assist in the formation of a State Action Plan for the species.

"By better understanding the clouded leopard's ecology and habitat, we will be able to understand their behaviour and how habitat loss and fragmentation have impacted it," said SWD assistant director Dr Sen Nathan.

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Eilat corals uniquely resistant to bleaching deterioration

Researchers find that "warm-water barrier" in the southern Red Sea allows only heat-tolerant genotypes of corals to enter from the Gulf of Aden.
Sharon Udasin Jerusalem Post 22 Sep 13;

The vibrantly colored coral reefs of the northern Red Sea are unlikely to fall victim to the deteriorative process called coral bleaching that plagues so many other reefs around the globe, Israeli researchers have found.

Despite the fact that the Gulf of Eilat/Aqaba marine ecosystem is experiencing the rise in water temperature that causes so many reefs to fall prey to bleaching, the area contains a unique quality that prevents the deterioration from occurring, according to a team of researchers from the Hebrew University and Bar-Ilan University. The researchers published their findings in the journal Global Change Biology on Monday, in an article called "A Coral Reef Refuge in the Red Sea."

Coral bleaching typically occurs when seawater temperatures exceed the local summer maximum by 1 to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the researchers explain. At such temperatures, the coral's symbiotic algae are lost, which leads to the coral's bleaching and consequential death.

Water temperatures in the Gulf of Eilat/Aqaba are also rising, but the researchers have found that a "warm-water barrier" exists in the southern Red Sea, which allows only heat-tolerant genotypes of corals to enter the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aden. This process occurred following the disappearance of corals from the Red Sea during the last glacial period, approximately 15,000 years ago, the researchers explained. Scientists therefore predict that no bleaching will occur in the area for the next century, making the region a unique refuge for coral reefs.

"This is the only one that I think exists on Earth,” Prof. Amatzia Genin, one of the researchers, of the Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences at the Hebrew University, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. “I am unaware of any similar place on earth where a refuge like this can be found."

Working with Genin on the research, which was conducted at the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat, were Dr. Hezi Gildor of the Hebrew University's Fredy & Nadine Herrmann Institute of Earth Sciences and Dr. Maoz Fine of Bar-Ilan University's Mina and Everard Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences.

One reason that the Red Sea is so “special” is because it crosses multiple latitudes, Genin explained.

“It starts at low latitude where it's tropics and warm and goes all the way to Eilat where it's the subtropics,” he said “It's much colder, especially in the winter."

Today, the water depth at Bab el Mandeb – the entrance of the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea, adjacent to Eritrea – is only 137 meters, in comparison to the middle of the Red Sea, which stood at 2.5 kilometers, Genin said. While 137 meters already constitutes a shallow water depth, during the Glacial period this area featured a depth of only about 10 meters, he explained.

"Given the very shallow and narrow entrance, there is not enough room for much water to enter the Red Sea," he said.

However, about a half a centimeter of water evaporates from the Red Sea every day into the atmosphere, and the Glacial period featured waters of very high salinity due to the extremely narrow and shallow pathway through which the sea could receive water, according to Genin.

"That caused a total disappearance of all coral reefs, fish,” he said, noting that everything disappeared aside from primitive organisms that thrive in high salinity levels.

This situation necessitated a "restart," and only 8,000 years ago did the air temperature return to warm enough levels for corals to thrive. But at that point, every coral that entered the Red Sea had to go through Bal el Mandeb, meaning it needed to be able to endure very warm temperatures, Genin explained.

"Only corals with genotypes that provide them with adaption to high temperature could enter the Red Sea," he said. "Eventually they made it all the way to Eilat."

These corals can tolerate temperatures of up to about 32 degrees Celsius as that is the temperature near Bal el Mandeb, Genin continued. Because the Eilat/Aqaba Gulf has currently only reached about 27 degrees Celsius, they have at least another 100 years in the area to thrive – giving scientists an added chunk of time to develop technologies capable of extending their viability further, he added.

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Plastic bags: symbol of consumer waste may ignore worse offenders

Campaign to consign polluting carrier bag to the bin of history misses valuable point, say recyclers and packaging firms
Fiona Harvey, The Guardian 20 Sep 13;

Plastic bags filled with plastic bottles litter the area in front of the local recycling point
Plastic bag use is still rising in England despite wholesale reductions of use in Northern Ireland and Wales. Photograph: Nigel Barklie/Rex Features

The greatest contribution that plastic bags have made to human society is their use as a toilet. In developing countries, the bags are commonly used as a repository for human faeces, where they end up hanging from trees. It is not pretty, and not particularly environmentally friendly, but it is better than the alternatives, of allowing detritus to make its way into drinking water supplies and thus spreading disease.

Still plastic bags are found polluting waterways and ending up in the sea, where they are a menace to marine life. Earlier this year, a whale was found to have died of plastic pollution, its guts clogged up with our packaging castoffs. The problem is so great that there is now a floating pool of rubbish in the Pacific, greater in extent than any other detectable man-made impact on the environment.

So when Nick Clegg, depute prime minister, announced a charge for plastic bags at the Liberal Democrat annual conference, there was cheering among delegates hungry for a new way to emphasise the party's commitment to the environment. The charge – if it comes about, and there are doubts as to how it will be implemented, and its efficacy as a result – should deter people from using the bags. And in the process, tackle a potent symbol of throw-away consumerism.

But plastic bags are only a small part of the problem. They account for only 0.03% of marine litter, according to the industry organisation Incpen.

The packaging that we all use, in day-to-day activities from buying food in supermarkets to our deliveries from online shopping centres, has a much greater – though less obvious – effect on pollution. A much greater percentage of non-biodegradable litter comes from food packaging such as the wrappers around food stuffs in supermarkets. Moves are afoot to cut that, supported by the retailers themselves, but there is still a long way to go.

Charges for plastic bags have already been introduced in parts of the UK, including Wales and Northern Ireland, so we already have an indication of how the policy could work in practice. Anna Beggs, from Northern Ireland, where the charge is already in force, told the Guardian: "I try to remember to bring my own bags so that I don't have to pay. If most people do that it will cut down on the plastic bag blight, especially in the countryside." The charge is 5p, compared with 25p in Ireland.

Charging for plastic bags demonstrably cuts down on their use. A Welsh Assembly official said: "Since we introduced our 5p carrier bag charge in October 2011, bag use in Wales has reduced by up to 96% in some retail sectors and over £4m worth of proceeds from the charge have been passed onto good causes, which include environmental charities such as Keep Wales Tidy, children's charities and cancer charities. Since the introduction of the charge, people in Wales have changed the way they shop. It has encouraged shoppers to stop unnecessarily accepting new bags every time they are at the till and checkouts in Wales are now full of people reusing their bags."

The charge is not technically a tax but is paid into a fund that goes to good causes.

Maggie Dunn, a Labour party activist, says that charging for the bags in England, as Clegg has suggested, is overdue. "I support this – it is unacceptable, how many bags we throw away. We need to think about the consequences – they are in the sea, they are harming nature." Her view is that people will accept the proposed charges, if they are introduced, but that they need to be higher to people from using the bags. She suggests 50p would be more effective.

Despite its reputation as the epitome of extravagant waste, packaging such as plastic films and paper wrappings for food, also play their part in environmental pollution. Companies and retailers that routinely rely on packaging point out that when food is spoiled for lack of preservative wrappings, the environmental cost is much greater than the impact of bags. In India, for example, and other developing countries, the UN has calculated that the spoiling of edible foods means that as little as half of the quantity produced makes it to market in an edible condition. The lack of cold storage facilities and poor refrigeration accounts for some of that, but the waste is one of the biggest factors in making it hard for the world to feed itself – an increasing problem in the context of a global population estimated to top 10bn by 2050, and the need to increase food production by more than half to cater to that rapidly growing need, according to the UN.

"People equate plastic with waste and that is understandable, but what people don't realise is that packaging has a job to do – ensuring that the product doesn't get overheated on the dock, or in the lorry, or to deliver the goods in a good condition," says Jane Bickerstaffe of Incpen.

Take a case in point - cucumber growers, who need to preserve their fast deteriorating food as soon as it is picked. "A cucumber wrapped in plastic needs only about 1.5 grams of plastic in its wrapper, but that extends the life of the product from about three days to at least 15 days, and when you look at the effort and environmental impact of growing a cucumber, the water and the fertiliser and all the rest, you can see we are preserving resources."

Bickerstaffe is alive to the impacts of plastic packaging, but she urges people to take a broader view than the rubbish that they fill their household bins with. "It is understandable that people do not think beyond their own experience. They take it for granted. But they don't realise that the vegetable wouldn't have got to the shop without plastic." Companies are also taking the lead in recycling plastics, reducing the amount of packaging they use – which also cuts their costs – and finding new materials that can be substituted for polymers. But Bickerstaffe admits: "I don't think we have the answers yet."

Big retailers are also taking measures to cut their packaging use overall. Sainsbury's was the first major UK retailer to offer milk in bags, reducing packaging by 75%, with the bags easy to recyclable at stores. The retailer says it has also achieved an estimated 14% reduction in packaging for plastic milk bottles across the range after adopting a new shape and style. Other products are also in for reduction: last year, the company cut the diameter of the inner cardboard tube on every one of its own-brand toilet rolls by 12mm, and that meant the number of delivery lorries required were reduced by the equivalent of 140,000 kg of CO2.

Being green is not quite as simple as cutting packaging, however. A further problem is that when companies seek to find alternatives to plastic, these are sometimes incompatible with current recycling techniques. Most local authorities in the UK cannot at present recycle plastic film, and when the new generation of biodegradable plastics are included in general plastic wastes, they can contaminate the waste and as a result render it unsuitable for current recycling technologies.

One local authority told the Guardian: "It's a nightmare because people think they are doing the right thing but if they put these new materials into their recycling bins, we can't help them. We are geared to one sort of packaging, and it's hard to re-engineer our systems to deal with another."

For volunteers on the cutting edge of plastic waste, the changes can't come soon enough. The Marine Conservation Society organises clean-ups around the UK's coast on a regular basis, relying on volunteers to give up their weekends to reduce the amount of litter that is both an eyesore and a severe threat to marine life. For those manning the beaches, the biggest eyesore is one that is created by well-meaning members of the public - those who use plastic bags as a toilet, not for themselves but for their pets. Dog mess carefully scooped into plastic bags and deposited, equally carefully, on the footpaths, in parks, on country trails, on beaches is now the biggest waste issue in the UK, according to the MCS.

"People who clean up after their pets by shovelling the poo into plastic bags may think they are doing the right thing, but unless they then put the bags into a bin, they are doing worse than leaving it where it landed."

The plastic bags are a blight, and they prevent the faeces from degrading or being washed away. So what may seem to be a public-spirited act is creating litter and environmental damage.

Laura Foster, pollution programme manager at MCS, said: "Plastic is extremely resistant to biodegradation, and degrades into increasingly smaller particles – estimates for plastic degradation at sea range from hundreds to thousands of years.

"Last year plastic was the number one litter item found on our beaches A survey done of Northern fulmars found that 95% had plastic in their stomachs. In relation to discarded dog poo bags – we encourage dog walkers to bag it and bin it."

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Cleaner air from tackling climate change 'would save millions of lives'

The benefits of a reduction in air pollution alone justify action on climate change, say the authors of a new report
Damian Carrington 22 Sep 13;

Heavy haze day in Beijing's central business district due to air pollution in China
Researchers found that 300,000-700,000 premature deaths a year could be avoided in 2030, 800,000 – 1.8 million in 2050 and 1.4 million to 3 million in 2100. Photograph: Jason Lee/Reuters

Tackling climate change would save millions of lives a year by the end of the century purely as a result of the decrease in air pollution, according to a new study.

The study is published as scientists from around the globe gather in Stockholm to thrash out final details of a landmark assessment of climate science. Their final report is due to be released on Friday 27 September and will set out projections of wide-ranging impacts of global warming from droughts to floods to sea-level rise.

The research suggests that the benefits of cuts to air pollution from curbing fossil-fuel use justify action alone – even without other climate impacts such as more extreme weather and sea-level rise.

"It is pretty striking that you can make an argument purely on health grounds to control climate change," said Jason West, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, whose work is published in Nature Climate Change.

West's team compared two futures, one in which climate change is stabilised by aggressive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and one in which emissions are not curbed. The scientists then modelled how this affected air pollutants and the consequent effects on health.

They found that 300,000-700,000 premature deaths a year would be avoided in 2030, 800,000 – 1.8 million in 2050 and 1.4 million to 3 million in 2100. By mid-century, the world's population is expected to peak at around 9 to 10 billion.

A key finding was that the value of the health benefits delivered by cutting a tonne of CO2 emissions was $50-$380, greater than the projected cost of cutting carbon in the next few decades. The benefits do not accrue from reductions in CO2 per se but because of associated pollutants released from burning fossil fuels.

It is possible to reduce pollutants in fossil fuel emissions more cheaply without switching to low carbon sources of power – for example with scrubbers on coal plants that remove NOx and SOx; or by cars switching from diesel to petrol – but the authors say it is striking that the value of health benefits outweigh the costs of cutting carbon.

The benefits were particularly great in China and east Asia, where the value of health improvements was between 10 and 70 times greater than the cost of reducing emissions. "The benefits in north America and Europe are still pretty high, but in east Asia you have a very high population exposed to very bad air pollution, so there are lots of opportunities for improvement there," said West.

The research analysed how cutting emissions from coal-fired power plants, cars and other sources reduced levels of small pollution particles (PM2.5) which increase heart attacks, strokes and lung cancer and of ozone, which causes respiratory illnesses.

Unlike previous studies, which have tended to focus on specific countries or regions, the new study took a global perspective. "Air pollution does not stop at the border," said West. "If China reduces pollution, people outside of China benefit as some pollution travels across the Pacific or the other way into south-east Asia."

Another key difference of the new work was including future population increases and the rising longevity of people, which means they are more likely to be affected by cardiovascular diseases, rather than dying young from infectious diseases. The ranges in the estimates of premature deaths avoided and the economic benefits arise from the relative uncertainty of how people's health responds to air pollution and the range of valuations used for lives, with the US Environmental Protection Agency using a value of $7m per life, while the European Union uses $2m per life.

The wider assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change due on 27 September, its first since 2007, will play a crucial role in the international negotiations towards a global deal to tackle global warming in 2015. West said: "Climate change is a long-term problem and the benefits of any action taken by one country are shared out among all: both of these things make reaching and an agreement difficult. But the air pollution co-benefits are local, tangible and near term, with air quality improving within weeks. That strengthens the argument for taking action."

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