Best of our wild blogs: 9 Oct 13

“Forget not our Living Forest” – botanist Joseph Lai unveils an entourage of enthralling forest denizens! Thu 17 Oct 2013: 6.30pm @ NUS LT25
from Otterman speaks

White-bellied sea eagle: grey heron interaction
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Coral Relocation and Oil Slick Response
from Pulau Hantu

Mandai happenings.
from thelivingfossil and What the horseshoe has eaten

Butterflies Galore! : Great Orange Awlet
from Butterflies of Singapore

Hornet nest at Mandai Kechil (thanks Germaine!)
from Otterman speaks

The ASEAN Haze monitoring system & another transboundary problem
from sgbeachbum

WWF risking Sumatran rhinos by releasing camera trap images, says scientist
from news by Jeremy Hance

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Only take what you need for rubbish disposal

Shirley Chua, Today Online Voices, 9 Oct 13;

The Singapore Environment Council thanks Ms Caslin Lee and Mr Goh Kian Huat for their feedback on our position paper on plastic bags in Singapore.

We share Ms Lee’s concern, in “Free plastic bags from supermarkets do not go to waste” (Oct 5), about hygienic waste disposal. This is why we do not seek to impose a daily charge on plastic bags, nor ban them from being given out at supermarkets.

Our recommendations, based on extensive research, are targeted at reducing wastage arising from taking small bags with low potential for secondary use, or people taking more bags than they need for rubbish disposal, simply because they forgot to bring their own bags.

In scenarios where individuals plan their grocery shopping only on weekends, we agree that it would be difficult to acquire the necessary plastic bags to store rubbish.

A solution could be for consumers to estimate the number needed for rubbish disposal and only take as many free plastic bags and use reusable bags for remaining purchases.

To offset any additional costs, we will work with retailers to provide more incentives to shoppers who bring their own bags for some or all of their purchases.

To address Mr Goh’s concerns, in “Find biodegradable alternatives, but we still need disposable bags” (Oct 7), our recommendations state that supermarkets should not profit from plastic bag charges.

The money would go into a fund to support initiatives by community groups, young entrepreneurs and food and beverage vendors to develop ideas to minimise plastic waste in Singapore, and offer rebates to customers who avoid plastic takeaway containers and bags.

Our recommendation for second-hand reusable bags near cashier counters emphasises that cashiers should offer this option explicitly for non-food items, such as household cleaners and toilet paper.

The use of biodegradable plastic may generate more waste, as it cannot be recycled, unlike high density polyethylene bags. Paper or cloth bags cannot be successfully used as bin liners and would not be a suitable replacement for plastic bags, either.

We will take Ms Lee’s and Mr Goh’s feedback into account for our campaign on this issue.

While the SEC has made every effort to ensure that our recommendations are not too inconvenient to implement, we also believe that everyone can put in small efforts to ensure a clean, safe and sustainable world for future generations.

We welcome feedback via the #lessplasticsg hashtag on Twitter and Facebook and we invite all interested parties to read the entire position paper on

Shirley Chua
Director of Communications and Outreach,
Singapore Environment Council

The true price of disposable plastic bags
Jonathan Banks, Today Online Voices, 9 Oct 13;

I read with dismay the letter, “Find biodegradable alternatives, but we still need disposable bags” (Oct 7).

Large swathes of our planet are blanketed in plastic, non-degradable rubbish, much of it in the form of plastic bags. The oceans are slowly clogging up with the stuff. In parts of the Pacific Ocean, plastic particles outnumber plankton by 6:1. The damage to marine life is well documented, while ingestion of plastic bags kills an estimated one in two camels in the United Arab Emirates and roughly 100 cattle a day in Uttar Pradesh, India.

There is no need to use plastic bags. I have done without them since 2001. Is it that difficult to remember to carry a bag? People remember to take their keys and wallets when they go shopping.

In Wales, a 10-cent levy on plastic bags reduced their use at supermarkets by up to 96 per cent, and the money went to charity. A growing number of countries have banned them for environmental reasons.

The letter writer thinks that “we should not discourage their usage in the name of the environment while causing inconvenience to ourselves”.

Perhaps those who allowed their plastic bags to find a way into the ocean, resulting in the death last year of a young sperm whale in the Aegean Sea with 100 plastic bags in its stomach, also felt that it was too inconvenient to not use plastic bags.

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Powerful evidence Hong Kong officials just don't care about pollution

Although the mainland could be blamed for the periodic smogs, the city's government has failed in its measures to improve air quality
Tom Holland, South China Morning Post, 9 Oct 13;

Jumping into a taxi outside the South China Morning Post's Causeway Bay offices the other day, Monitor was struck by a wry observation from the cab driver.

Glancing at a crowd of shoppers crossing the road, many trundling suitcases behind them, he intoned: "Look at all the tourists. All the tourists, enjoying our pollution."

He had a point.

The Post's office is sited on one of the busiest road junctions in Causeway Bay. With heavy traffic constantly roaring past, tall buildings and an adjacent overpass blocking any breeze, the level of pollution has to be tasted to be believed.

I don't know why harassed sub-editors popping outside for a smoke bother taking their cigarettes. They could achieve the same effect just by standing on the corner and inhaling.

The government insists it is tackling the problem.

In January 2007, then chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen pledged to improve air quality within five years.

Assessing the government's performance can be tricky. The problem is that much of the atmospheric pollution that plagues the city rolls down from the mainland, especially at this time of year when the prevailing winds turn northerly.

Even if the government were to prohibit the burning of coal in the city's power stations (it hasn't) or ban ships in local waters from using dirty bunker fuel (it hasn't), it would still be unable to prevent us from being periodically blanketed with the clouds of smog emitted by the great industrial concentrations of the Pearl River Delta.

This inability gives our officials a convenient smokescreen to hide behind, because although it can't do much about pollution from the mainland, the government is far from powerless when it comes to tackling the homemade sort.

It hasn't even tried. We can tell this by looking at the figures for roadside pollution.

This is the really nasty stuff. Pollution concentrations are inversely proportional to the cube of the distance from the source. So although a factory 80 kilometres away in Dongguan might emit 100,000 times as much pollutants as that bus roaring past you in the street, the bus is doing twice as much damage to your health.

Yet government efforts to reduce roadside emissions range from the farcical to absurd. It has told drivers of parked cars to turn off their engines, a rule even the police ignore. And it has banned smoking at bus stops; perhaps to ensure those waiting are poisoned more effectively by antique bus diesel engines.

As a result, roadside pollution continues to get worse.

The first chart above shows the number of hours each quarter street-level pollution - averaged across the three roadside monitoring stations - is classified as "low" or "medium", compared with the number of hours it is "high", "very high" or "severe".

Despite the government's claims of action, the number of hours pollution levels are acceptable - that is low or medium - is falling, while the amount of time pollution is at harmful levels - high, very high or severe - is on the increase.

The government can't blame the rise on pollution rolling down from the north.

The second chart compares roadside pollution levels with atmospheric readings at nearby stations. The red line shows the number of hours that roadside pollution is at harmful levels while atmospheric pollution is acceptable.

In other words, this chart measures hazardous pollution that we can be sure is homemade. As you can see, nearly seven years after Tsang's pledge to improve air quality, pollution is still getting worse.

At best, we must conclude government policy has been utterly ineffective. At worst, we might conjecture that officials actually like pollution.

Perhaps it recalls the comforting miasma of bureaucratic flatulence that pervades their hermetically sealed offices.

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Energy security must benefit Asia's people and the planet

Noeleen Heyzer says Asia can't sacrifice sustainability for equitable access
Noeleen Heyzer, South China Morning Post, 9 Oct 13;

The world is at a critical juncture. Energy consumption is rising dramatically; total primary energy demand in the Asia-Pacific region alone is expected to nearly double between 2010 and 2030.

How will the region meet this demand? How will we grow in a sustainable way? How can universal energy access be achieved? These are some of the key questions being addressed at the World Energy Congress in Daegu, South Korea, this month.

The world today faces two main energy challenges: providing enough light, warmth and power for every household, while shifting to cleaner energy sources.

Ensuring sustainable energy for all is additionally challenging in Asia and the Pacific - there are still 628 million people in the region without access to electricity, and 1.8 billion still use traditional fuels such as wood, charcoal, agricultural residues and animal waste.

Widespread energy poverty condemns billions to darkness, ill-health and missed opportunities. We must end this inequality, but we need to do so in a way that is smart and sustainable, utilising natural resources, while preserving the integrity of the ecosystems on which we depend.

The Asia-Pacific region also has some of the highest levels of carbon intensity. Our primary energy intensity is among the highest in the world, despite significant reductions in recent decades. This limits national and regional competitiveness - jeopardising employment opportunities and income levels.

The region has some of the largest exporters and importers of fossil fuels, as well as the highest rates of fossil fuel subsidies. The increasing dependency on fossil fuel imports exposes our region to the risks of oil price volatility, and the impacts of climate change.

Rebalancing our energy mix is therefore critical. The countries of our region have one of the fastest growing rates of investment in renewable energy, taking advantage of our ample supplies of solar, hydro, wind, biomass, geothermal and ocean energies. Still, the current energy mix remains mostly fossil fuel-based, especially coal, with renewable resources accounting for only 16 per cent of total electricity production.

A comprehensive, long-term understanding of "enhanced energy security" is evolving in the region. This concept moves beyond calculations of supply and demand alone, towards a consideration of multiple aspects, including access, efficiency, renewables, economics, trade and investment, and connectivity.

As early as 2008, member states of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Escap) were developing a regional framework to address these challenges. In a lecture last year in Singapore, I proposed that the region should explore the creation of a game-changing Asian Energy Highway - an integrated regional "smart grid".

These discussions culminated in May. Supported by the Russian Federation, 34 countries met in Vladivostok and adopted a groundbreaking framework that included a five-year plan of action on regional co-operation for enhanced energy security and the sustainable use of energy.

One key area is to develop common infrastructure, and to promote energy policies which accelerate regional economic integration. Energy connectivity is not new to the region; the Asean Power Grid, for example, is one several subregional initiatives that could be linked and expanded under a common vision.

The lesson of this and other initiatives is that co-operation works best when it is based on such a common vision. Our region is committed to shaping the regional energy future we want: one of equity, efficiency and resilience, to benefit our people and our planet.

Dr Noeleen Heyzer is the UN undersecretary general and Escap executive secretary

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