Best of our wild blogs: 8 Nov 13

Green Drinks Talk & Discussion: PUB Stormwater Management Strategies from Green Drinks Singapore

Thursday, 14 Nov 2013, 7.00pm @ UHall Audi: Jan van Tol on “The ICZN and the Biodiversity Informatics Infrastructure” from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

Sex and the Birds: Homosexuality
from Bird Ecology Study Group

We Are Hiring!
from Bornean Sun Bear Conservation

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Upgrades for ‘overwhelmed’ drainage system to be stepped up

Woo Sian Boon Today Online 8 Nov 13;

SINGAPORE — To further bolster the island’s defences against flash floods, the PUB will bring forward the commencement of work on 15 new drainage improvement projects to within the next 12 months.

From Minister Balakrishnan's facebook page post

The national water agency will also be stepping up works on 170 ongoing projects around Singapore to improve drainage capacity, Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan wrote on his Facebook page yesterday.

He noted that the intense rainfall Singapore has been experiencing recently “has overwhelmed the local drainage systems”, especially in low-lying areas.

“We know where all these areas are, and PUB has been working hard on plans to improve their drainage capacity,” Dr Balakrishnan wrote. “I have asked PUB to expedite the ongoing work on 170 projects and to commence work on 36 new projects within 12 months.”

Responding to TODAY’s queries, the PUB said work on the 36 projects had been originally scheduled to start in the next two years. “Of the 36 projects, 15 were scheduled to start in 2015. PUB will be accelerating these projects to commence in 2014,” said a PUB spokesperson.

Giving an update on the immediate measures to reduce flood risk at the junction of New Upper Changi Road and Chai Chee Road, Dr Balakrishnan said work to raise the depressed section of Chai Chee Road will start this weekend.

The junction was flooded four times in the past 10 days, often causing traffic to come to a standstill for about 20 minutes before the waters could be drained away. Two pumps to divert water from the area have already been installed to alleviate the situation. The PUB will also bring forward its scheduled drainage project for Chai Chee Road to early next year, instead of the middle of next year.

Dr Balakrishnan said: “As wetter weather sets in with the year-end monsoon, PUB has also stepped up checks on construction sites, drain maintenance, and its staff and contractors are on standby 24/7.”

The Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) has predicted there could be up to 20 per cent more rain than usual for the north-east monsoon season, which is expected to last from the middle of this month till March.

To strengthen overall flood resilience, the PUB has also been widening and deepening major canals, such as the Alexandra and Rochor Canals.

While Dr Balakrishnan noted that some projects will be completed by next year, he reiterated that “others will take longer”. But interim measures, “especially focused on ensuring that our roads remain passable despite heavy storms”, will be implemented, he said.

“These islandwide accelerated projects will cause some inevitable inconvenience. I hope Singaporeans will understand the need to do so and support PUB’s efforts to future-proof our drainage system.”

He also called on members of the public to “exercise caution and look out for one another” when flash floods occur, while also keeping themselves updated by checking the PUB’s social media feeds.

Dr Balakrishnan said: “We are committed to doing our best to resolve this long-term problem. We have to, because climate change will make things even worse in the future, and we have to get ahead of the wave.”

To keep track of flash floods, the public can download the PUB’s MyWaters app on their smartphones or subscribe to its SMS services. The high-water-level SMS alert will notify users of water levels in canals or drains at designated locations, while subscribers to the heavy rain warning service will receive SMS alerts from the MSS when heavy rain is expected.

As of last month, there were about 6,000 subscribers for the MyWaters app and 5,300 for the water-level SMS service, said the PUB.

Drivers can also tune in to radio traffic-watch broadcasts or look at electronic signs on roads for flood updates.

200 drainage projects island-wide to tackle flash floods
Channel NewsAsia 7 Nov 13;

SINGAPORE: Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has said national water agency PUB will be working on 200 drainage projects island-wide in the next 12 months to tackle flash floods.

Writing in his Facebook page on Thursday afternoon, he said he has asked PUB to speed up ongoing work on 170 projects, and to start work on 36 new projects within 12 months.

He added that the drainage project at Chai Chee Road has been brought forward from mid-2014 to early 2014, and road raising will begin this weekend.

Major canals like Alexandra Canal and Rochor Canal are being widened and deepened.

Dr Balakrishnan said some works will be completed by next year but others will take longer.

In the meantime, measures will be taken to ensure that roads remain passable during heavy storms.

He added that as wet weather sets in with the year-end monsoon, PUB has also stepped up checks on construction sites and drain maintenance.

Its staff and contractors are also on standby round the clock.

"We are committed to doing our best to resolving this long term problem. We have to, because climate change will make things even worse in the future, and we have to get ahead of the wave," Dr Balakrishnan said.

Experts said apart from widening and deepening Singapore's drainage system, having water storage tanks on top of buildings can help solve the problem of flooding.

Dr Liong Shie-Yui, deputy director of Tropical Marine Science Institute at National University of Singapore, said: "Some buildings must have a water storage tank or rooftop garden. The rooftop garden, water storage retention pond in principle retains the water, slowing down the contribution of rainfall falling on the ground to the water body. Essentially that would be one of the solutions."

- CNA/xq

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Housing estates may be required to set aside minimum green space

Channel NewsAsia 7 Nov 13;

SINGAPORE: New Housing and Development Board estates and private condominiums may soon be required to set aside a stipulated amount of green space.

Speaking at a conference on Thursday, Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee said the ministry will be exploring the possibility of introducing a minimum requirement.

This is one way to ensure that pervasive greenery continues to exist in Singapore.

Mr Lee said that where new developments displace existing greenery, they should fully or partially replace the lost greenery by other means.

This can take the form of landscaping, rooftop gardens, or vertical greenery like green walls.

Mr Lee also added that the ministry will study how to add more greenery to public infrastructure such as sheltered walkways and bus shelters.

Some industry players told Channel NewsAsia this will bring about higher quality living spaces for residents, but not necessarily at much higher costs.

Frven Lim, deputy MD of building consultancy services at Surbana International Consultants, said: "By stipulating certain base requirements, it means that the base standard of all designs henceforth would be of a higher standard.

"By providing green spaces, it just means that the built-up areas are translated into another form. It's not necessarily going to bring up the costs. It might, but probably not in a significant way."

- CNA/xq

Housing estates may have to set aside minimum amount of green space
Today Online 7 Nov 13;

SINGAPORE — New Housing and Development Board estates and private condominiums may soon be required to set aside a stipulated amount of green space.

Speaking at a conference today (Nov 7), Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee said the ministry will be exploring the possibility of introducing a minimum requirement.

This is one way to ensure that pervasive greenery continues to exist in Singapore.

Mr Lee said that where new developments displace existing greenery, they should fully or partially replace the lost greenery by other means. This can take the form of landscaping, rooftop gardens, or vertical greenery like green walls.

Mr Lee also added that the ministry will study how to add more greenery to public infrastructure such as sheltered walkways and bus shelters.

Deputy MD of building consultancy services at Surbana International Consultants Frven Lim said this could bring about higher quality living spaces for residents, but not necessarily at much higher costs.

Mr Lim said: “By providing green spaces, it just means that the built-up areas are translated into another form. It’s not necessarily going to bring up the costs. It might, but probably not in a significant way.”

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Malaysia: Trawling net ban stays - Minister

A. Azim Idris New Straits Times 8 Nov 13;

LONG-TERM PLAN: Move crucial to ensure sustainable commercial fishing, says minister
PUTRAJAYA: ONLY less than 10 per cent of fishermen in the peninsula would be affected by the government's ban on the use of trawling nets.

Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the move, which prohibits fishermen from using trawling nets with mesh sizes below 38mm, would only affect a small portion of fishermen.

He said 3,936 out of 54,235 registered vessels used trawling nets.

"The regulation, which was proposed in the 1980s, is compulsory as it has become a condition to apply for a commercial fishing licence. Enforcement was postponed because of the outcry from fishermen at the time."

He said the ministry would not reverse its ban on the trawling nets, which came into effect this month. Ismail said this was to save marine life from extinction and to ensure that commercial fishing was sustainable for future generations of fishermen.

The minister said authorities in other countries had also imposed similar restrictions, such as Bangladesh, which required mesh sizes to be at least 60mm, followed by North Korea (40mm), Pakistan (58mm) and Myanmar (55mm).

"Japan, Indonesia and Hong Kong had declared trawl fishing illegal."

He said the affected fishermen should be able to survive because the majority of fishermen here did not use trawling nets.

He added that the premature fish that were caught in the dragnets could not be sold at the markets and were turned into fertiliser instead.

The ministry, he said, would work closely with the Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency on enforcing the ruling. Offenders face a fine of between RM500 and RM3,000 under Section 8 of the Fisheries Act 1985.

Fishermen in Selangor, Perak and Penang had refused to go out to sea last week to protest against the ruling, which they claimed could reduce productivity and affect their livelihood.

WWF-Malaysia Supports DoF's Enforcement of Bigger Mesh Size For Nets, Calls for Holistic Management for Fisheries
WWF-Malaysia 11 Nov 13;

Promoting sustainable fishing
© WWF-Malaysia11 Nov 2013, Petaling Jaya: WWF-Malaysia welcomes the Department of Fisheries' (DoF) recent enforcement that requires operators of fishing trawlers to switch to mesh nets of minimum 38 mm as a measure to mitigate the decline of the country's future fish stock.

The enforcement, announced by Minister of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry, Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, came into effect on 1 November. It is aimed at protecting marine resources as trawlers were hauling in substantial quantities of juvenile fish as part of the catches.

"It is a right step in addressing the urgent issue of overfished waters in Malaysia and will help reduce fishing pressure on an already depleted resource base," said WWF-Malaysia's Executive Director/CEO, Dato' Dr Dionysius Sharma.

"WWF-Malaysia is working closely with DoF to introduce a holistic fisheries management regime, the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM), that looks into the management of the habitats or ecosystems that directly or indirectly support fish populations, as well as the local communities who rely on these resources," Dr Sharma said.

"We are pleased that work on the EAFM is progressing. We look forward to the implementation of the EAFM in the near future as it will lead to sustainable fishing in Malaysian waters and safeguard food security as well as fishermen's' livelihoods in the long run," he added.

A key aspect of EAFM is reducing the catch of juvenile fish, ensuring fishing activities do not occur in sensitive marine ecosystem such as coral reefs, sea grass beds, and that spawning areas for fish are protected.

According to surveys and reports by DoF, between 1971 and 2007, the country has lost almost 92% of its fishery resources led by overfishing to satiate the growing demand for seafood.

"WWF-Malaysia believes that increasing mesh sizes will protect juvenile fish. Our fish stocks will not be able to replenish if juvenile fish are caught before they have a chance to reproduce at least once. This is underlined by the significant increase in "trash fish" landings in our waters, mainly contributed by trawl fisheries as the gear is non-selective," said Dr Sharma.

Adherence to this critical mesh size ruling will ultimately sustain the ecosystems that support fish populations and the communities who rely on these resources, he added.

Trash fish are mostly made up of non-commercial species and juvenile fish which are critical for the health of the ecosystem. Once they have been removed, there is no opportunity to improve the health of the fish stocks.

Fish is a major source of protein for Malaysians. Malaysia is the top seafood consumer in Southeast Asia. If the marine ecosystem is destroyed, it will not only affect the livelihoods and food security of those who depend on fisheries, but will also see the collapse of all industries that depend on a healthy ocean, such as the tourism industry.

Malaysians love seafood, but if something is not done urgently to address the alarming state of fish stocks, then the country will have to depend more on imported fish species.

"WWF-Malaysia has developed a seafood guide ( which helps consumers make ocean-friendly decisions when it comes to their seafood. We recommend Malaysians to follow this list and, where available, to buy seafood certified by the Marine Stewardship Council and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council," Dr Sharma said.

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Researchers Slam Palm Oil Initiative as Industry Meets

Agence France-Presse Jakarta Globe 7 Nov 13;

Paris. Forests are still disappearing and local communities disregarded by palm oil development despite a plan to put the sector on a sustainable footing, researchers warned as an industry gathering kicked off Thursday.

After conducting 16 case studies in Africa and Southeast Asia, the hubs of the palm oil industry, researchers said in a new book they were disappointed with a joint industry-NGO initiative to reduce the sector’s impact.

The criticism came as the group behind the initiative, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), began its annual meeting in Indonesia.

“Since its founding 8 years ago, the RSPO has adopted good standards, but too many member companies are not delivering on these paper promises,” said Marcus Colchester, one of the authors of the book “Conflict or Consent? The oil palm sector at a crossroads”.

The RSPO was created in 2004 by members of the palm oil industry with the support of governments and non-governmental organizations such as the WWF to take a voluntary approach to limit the environmental and social impact of industrial farming.

Today it counts major producers of the popular cooking oil and processed food component as members.

The RSPO certifies operations that claim to respect the rights of indigenous peoples and adopt conservation policies.

The organization also aims to be a mediator for communities who have seen their way of life disrupted by palm plantations and the industry.

But as world demand for palm oil has boomed, it has touched off a land rush. Experts believe production will expand to Latin America in the next decade to meet growing demand.

In Indonesia alone, palm cultivation occupies 10.8 million hectares (26.3 million acres) — about the size of South Korea — and projects in the pipeline would occupy another 20 million hectares, or over 10 percent of the national territory.

Growing palm oil is a major source of conflicts, with the Indonesian government counting more than 4,000 disputes over land, according to Colchester.

It has also propelled Indonesia into third place globally for greenhouse gas emissions, following the United States and China, due to deforestation.

The 16 case studies included Indonesia and Malaysia, which between them account for 85 percent of global palm oil output. Also included were Philippines, Thailand, Cameroon, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In most cases the RSPO improved dialogue between local communities and producers, said the book’s authors.

Certain companies even adapted their practices to take concerns of local communities into account, they added.

“But RSPO-certified companies have not always held to their commitments, especially in respect to the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities,” according to the Forest Peoples Program, one the groups which conducted the case studies.

It pointed to a disconnect between company executives and managers.

“Senior company officials may have committed to the new approach but too often operational managers have failed to respond,” said the NGO.

Numerous companies also fail to follow guidelines and often local governments fail to protect communities, added Colchester.

He said they were disappointed with the slow progress and expressed concern some firms use RSPO certification as a marketing ploy.

Colchester also cited the case of the Singaporean giant Wilmar International, which processes 45 percent of the world’s palm oil, and is a RSPO member.

When residents of a community on the Indonesian island of Sumatra turned to the RSPO over a Wilmar project, he said the company sold the concession while mediation was under way, thus ridding itself of the problem it had created.

Agence France-Presse

Major palm oil companies accused of breaking ethical promises
Large plantations are destroying forests, damaging wildlife and causing social conflict in Asia and Africa, report finds
John Vidal 6 Nov 13;

Large palm oil companies that have promised to act ethically have been accused of land grabbing, ignoring human rights and exploiting labour in their African and Asian plantations.

In a damning 400-page investigation, the companies are variously charged with impacting on orangutan populations, destroying tropical forest and burning and draining large tracks of peat swamp forest.

Sixteen palm oil concessions, in Indonesia, Liberia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cameroon, all operated by members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) were visited by monitors working with international human rights groups including UK-based Forest peoples programme and Sawit Watch, from Indonesia. Local communities consistently accused the companies of not respecting their customary land rights, violating laws and court rulings and acting in such a way that encouraged conflict.

The growing global demand for palm oil has fuelled a massive expansion of plantations across the forests of southeast Asia and Africa but concerns have been growing for over a decade about the resulting environmental and social impacts. The RSPO, set up in 2004 by the industry and civil society groups including WWF, sets criteria for greener palm oil production and tries to encourage industry expansion in ways that do not cause social conflict.

About 15% of the world's palm oil is now certified as "sustainable" by the RSPO, whose members range from some of the largest growers and traders, to relatively small companies.

"Since its founding the RSPO has adopted good standards, but too many member companies are not delivering on these paper promises," said Norman Jiwan, director of human rights group Transformasi Untuk Keadilan Indonesia.

The report will be published on Thursday in Sumatra, where over 10.8m hectares of land has been planted with oil palm trees, to coincide with the annual meeting of the RSPO in Medan, Indonesia.

It follows growing alarm at the way communities in Asia and Africa are being pushed aside to make way for large plantations and the loss of wildlife, including the tiger. Many organisations, including the World Bank, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, Greenpeace and Walhi, have expressed deep concern at the resulting impoverishment of local commuities and the growth of confllict around the concessions.

According to some, the RSPO's voluntary "best practice" rules and guidelines are not working and the organisation is in danger of becoming a figleaf for agribusiness to take advantage of weak land laws.

"Underlying this failure of 'voluntary best practice' are national laws and policies which deny or ignore indigenous peoples' and communities' land rights," said Marcus Colchester, an adviser at Forest Peoples Programme.

"In their rush to encourage investment and exports, governments are trampling their own citizens' rights. Global investors, retailers, manufacturers and traders must insist on dealing in conflict-free palm oil, and national governments must up their game and respect communities' rights."

Concern in the report centres on the Indonesian legal system which is described as "unjust" because it allows land to be expropriated from local peoople without regard for internationally recognised rights. Land laws favour large-scale plantations and lead to the widespread abuse of human rights. The report found that palm oil expansion in the Malaysian state of Sarawak was systematically grabbing Dayak lands without their consent.

"So much effort has been invested in the RSPO ... but to little avail," said Jefri Saragih, executive director of Sawit Watch, a founding member of the RSPO. "We can point to one or two good results on the ground, but there are thousands of land conflicts with oil palm companies in Indonesia alone, and the problem is now spreading to other parts of Asia and Africa. We are calling for an urgent and vastly expanded response to this crisis."

The RSPO responded to the criticism in a statement. "Making the palm oil market fully sustainable is possible but only over time, and with the right levels of commitment. The RSPO depends on the goodwill of companies on the ground, and local government authorities, to ensure that these principles and criteria are abided to. There have been a number of cases of non-compliant members."

It further said that it has strengthened its commitment towards human rights, requring companies to implement policies to counter corruption, ban forced labour and forbid use of disputed lands. However, there is no legal compulsion on members to comply with RSPO's principles and criteria.

"Non-complying member organisations can simply opt to leave the RSPO in the midst of a complaint, and consequently they will not be governed by any of our rules. The RSPO closely monitors the activities of its members [but] it has no legal way to enforce its members to comply."

The RSPO engine for sustainable palm oil seems to be sputtering
Vincent Lingga, The Jakarta Post 11 Nov 13;

More than 600 delegates from 30 countries are gathering in the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) 11th annual conference opening in Medan, North Sumatra, today when the multi-stakeholder organization itself is facing bigger challenges to its own sustainability as the market watchdog of socially and environmentally sustainable palm oil.

Even though most big palm oil companies in Malaysia and Indonesia, which together account for over 85 percent of global production, and most consumer product giants, such as Nestle, Unilever and major environmental NGOs remain RSPO members, its effectiveness as the vanguard of sustainable palm oil is increasingly under scrutiny.

The establishment of the RSPO in 2004 by plantation companies, processors, manufacturers of consumer products, retailers, banks and environmental conservation NGOs was prompted largely by market forces or the mounting consumer demand for green products.

However, more than five years after the RSPO began its certification program, the volume of RSPO certified palm oil remains very small, amounting to only 8.3 million tons or 15 percent of global output.

Yet even more disappointing, both the market uptake of certified palm oil and the premium price gained by this supposed ‘green’ commodity are also negligibly small.

In fact since several RSPO members were implicated in the June-July forest fires in Riau, which caused the worst haze that Malaysia and Singapore had ever faced. This organization has been criticized for what several NGOs see as weak enforcement of its principles of sustainability.

The Indonesian government countered the RSPO with its own program called the Indonesia Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) in 2011 and Malaysia is also reportedly preparing its own sustainability initiative called the MSPO.

Even though the credibility of both programs are questionable due to the non-involvement of NGOs and independent auditors, the ISPO certification has been made compulsory for all companies.

The principles of sustainable management promoted and assessed by the RSPO for its certification process includes elements, such as transparency, legal and regulatory compliance, best production practices, environmental responsibility, commitments to local community development, human rights as well as land rights to name a few.

By and large, these principles and criteria are precisely the best practices for agricultural development that the ISPO itself has been trying to promote.

The good news is that earlier this month, the RSPO and ISPO signed an agreement on strategic cooperation to eventually develop a unified certification program for sustainable palm oil.

At present, companies in Indonesia deal with two different certification programs: RSPO certification, which is voluntary but recognized by the consumers in the developed countries, and ISPO certification, which is mandatory but lacks international credibility due to the absence of environmental NGOs and independent auditors as well as weak law enforcement.

But it will probably take a long time before the RSPO and ISPO can finally develop a unified certification plan, which will be globally recognized, especially if the Indonesian government is not willing to involve environmental NGOs and other private-sector stakeholders, such as consumer products and retail giants.

But without government involvement in or co-ownership of its certification program, the RSPO would find it extremely difficult to influence policies in Indonesia and Malaysia.

In fact, the RSPO has been perceived in many quarters in both countries mainly as a forum of multinational buyers and international NGOs despite the active participation of smallholders.

Despite these differences, it is nevertheless totally misguided to say that the green campaign for agricultural commodities will weaken. On the contrary, the clock of the global green-consumer drive has been ticking faster and can no longer be turned back.

The force of the gren consumer drive has also been quite strong within the 21-member Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, which held its annual summit in Bali last month.

APEC has drawn a list of 54 Environmental Goods that are eligigible for deep import tariff cuts as low as five percent.

Indonesia, as the host of the summit, lobbied hard to enter palm oil and rubber to the list, but failed miserably.

The rationale for the green campaign for agricultural commodities is this: because the prominent role of agriculture in the use of natural resources — notably land, water and biodiversity — ensuring sustainable resource use has become an important challenge.

The allegations that the RSPO movement is a subterfuge by the producers of vegetable oils, such as soybean, sunflower, rapeseed and corn oil in the rich countries in coping with the fierce competition from palm oil seem misplaced.

Independent product certification has earlier been used in the forestry industry as a market-based instrument to supplement the regulatory system in curbing illegal logging.

The Bonn-based Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which groups the representatives from environmental and conservation groups, timber industry, forestry professions, forest certification organizations and forestry communities, has developed forest certification standards and accredits independent certifiers.

The Indonesian government has launched an official timber legality certification program, called SVLK, and has made this program compulsory for all forestry products under an agreement with the European Union.

The green consumer campaign for socially, environmentally and economically sustainable farm commodities has escalated around the world and covered other agricultural commodities, such as soybeans and sugar cane.

Soybean growers and processors in North and South America and Australia, grouped in the Roundtable on Responsible Soy Association (RTRS), and sugarcane growers and processors under their Bonsucro organization, have also begun similar certification programs.

Industrial users in Europe, which consume more than six million tons of palm oil a year, have committed to using only RSPO certified palm oil by 2015.

The Singapore-based International Rubber Study Group (IRSG) has embarked on an ambitious initiative to draw up a plan for the industry, much like what the RSPO has been doing in palm oil.

IRSG said recently all stakeholders of the rubber supply-chain system should come up with a sustainability plan, especially because over 85 percent of rubber production comes from small growers.

The campaign for sustainable agricultural commodities, especially palm oil, still has still a long way to go, especially because India and China, the world’s largest palm oil consumers, have yet to realize the urgency of this green consumer agenda.

But as the experiences of several the RSPO members who have certified their plantations have shown, the primary beneficiaries of sustainable oil palm development are the growers themselves.

Several RSPO certified palm oil companies have showcased that their best agricultural and corporate governance practices immediately generated benefits like higher efficiency, higher productivity, peaceful labor relations, good relations with local communities, better pest management and certainly better reputations (corporate image).

The biggest challenge now is how to integrate the RSPO, ISPO and the imminent MSPO and put the sustainability agenda under government leadership, while also including the involvement of private-sector stakeholders.

Because a global platform, even if it is led by multinational companies or NGOs, cannot be seen as dictating or influencing the policies of sovereign countries.

The writer is a senior editor of The Jakarta Post

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Indonesia-EU Illegal Logging Pact Doesn’t Go Far Enough

Diana Parker Jakarta Globe 7 Nov 13;

On Sept. 30, Indonesia and the European Union entered into a historic agreement to protect Indonesia’s forests from illegal logging by guaranteeing that only legally harvested timber products will be exported from Indonesia to the EU.

Now, an international human rights group is saying the agreement does not go far enough to curb illegal logging linked to human rights abuses.

“The EU-Indonesia timber trade agreement should help combat illegal logging, but there is still a long road ahead before either side can claim to trade only in legal timber,” Joe Saunders, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch said in a statement to the media.

Under the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA), all timber exported from Indonesia to the EU must be certified by Indonesia’s timber legality certification system (SVLK) to prove that it was harvested legally. But, according to Human Rights Watch, these certificates do not ensure that the timber was harvested without violating the rights of local communities.

In particular, the certificates do not show whether companies asked permission or provided adequate compensation to local communities for the right to log the land where they operate.

This raises serious questions about the agreement, since the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) — a new law that went into effect in March prohibiting the trade in illegal timber products — does require legal timber to be harvested in a way that respects community land tenure rights.

“The obvious question is, if it has to be legal, legal according to what laws?” Emily Harwell, a consultant with Natural Capital Advisors and the author of the HRW study, told the Jakarta Globe on Tuesday.

Once the agreement is fully implemented, companies can use legality certificates to satisfy “due diligence” requirements under the EU rules, meaning that if wood products are certified by Indonesia, companies importing timber to the EU will not need to take additional steps to ensure that these products comply with EU law.

Under the current certification requirements, Harwell said, that poses a problem.

“If the SVLK certificates are meant to be used to satisfy the legality requirement, it’s going to miss respect for third party rights, respect for community rights. Which is not going to be in compliance with the EUTR,” Harwell said.

“If they want to comply with the EUTR they are going to have to address that,” she added.

Land conflicts linked to logging and plantation concessions occur frequently in Indonesia, a problem that has long been exacerbated by a lack of legal recognition of community land rights inside state forests. Under Indonesia’s 1999 forestry law, land zoned as forest was owned by the state, regardless of whether or not local communities held previous claims to the area.

In May, the Constitutional Court ruled that this was unconstitutional and that customary lands should not be classified as state forests. However, the Forestry Ministry has so far remained largely silent on when or how this ruling will be implemented.

Civil society monitors

While land rights could pose a major challenge to implementing the agreement, other parts of the VPA have been heralded as key steps forward in improving governance in Indonesia’s forest industry. Civil society groups played a major role in designing the VPA – a process that took six years and involved EU and Indonesian officials, NGOs and the private sector.

“Today’s signature of the FLEGT [Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade] agreement is an important step to improve forest governance and law enforcement in Indonesia,” Greenpeace forest campaigner Bustar Maitar said in a statement on Sept. 30 following the agreement.

In particular, Bustar highlighted the role of the independent forest monitor network (JPIK), a civil society grouping that will play an official role in the SVLK auditing process.

Greenpeace also stressed the need for continued reform.

“The signature of the agreement should not be seen as an end point, but rather as a stepping-stone,” it said in the statement. “There is still much work to be done if Indonesia’s timber legality standard (SVLK) and system are to be credible.”

Harwell also praised the inclusion of a formal role for civil society. “This is a good thing because they are independent of either the government or the business that’s being audited,” Harwell said.

But, she added, with thousands of forestry companies that are going to need these certificates, relying on civil society groups to guarantee the process goes smoothly is insufficient.

“It’s just not going to be possible for them to conduct audits of all those certificates and the auditing process.”

Long road ahead?

While the agreement has already been signed, it still needs to be ratified by both the European Parliament and Indonesia’s House of Representatives. And even once it is ratified, the law will not immediately go into effect.

According to an EU press release issued in September after the agreement was signed, the legality licensing scheme will only become fully operational when both Indonesia and the EU believe “all the necessary preparations have been made.”

This means it may still be some time before SVLK certificates can be used to prove Indonesian timber complies with EU law.

Earlier this year, the European Forest Institute helped carry out an independent evaluation of the SVLK, jointly commissioned by the EU and Indonesia. The EU requires all countries with which it enters into timber legality agreements to undergo evaluations of their auditing systems.

The results of this evaluation have not yet been made public, but officials from both the EU and Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry are working on action plans to address any problems that may have been raised.

“Earlier this year an interim report by our joint assessment team came up with a number of recommendations for improvements,” Colin Crooks, deputy head of the European Union delegation to Indonesia, Brunei Darussalam and Asean, told the Globe in an e-mail on Wednesday.

“We are now working with the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry to agree an action plan to address these recommendations,” he said.

The Jakarta Globe is a media partner of the B4E Indonesia Summit 2013

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Vietnam: Exotic fish harms biodiversity in Dong Nai province

VietNamNet Bridge 7 Nov 13;

An exotic fish species has been found as not only harmful to the fish farming in Mekong River Delta provinces, but also to many native plant and animal species.

Scientists have recently warned that suckermouth catfish (Hypostomus plecostomus) may seriously affect the fish farming in the provinces of Bac Lieu, Dong Thap, Kien Giang and Tay Ninh.

The catfish, together with the other 11 exotic species, are believed to be the danger to the native plants and animals, damaging the biodiversity in the Dong Nai Nature and Culture Conservation Area which has been recognized by UNESCO as the world’s biosphere reserve.

According to Dr. Tran Triet, Director of the Wetlands Research Institute, former lecturer of the HCM City National University of Natural Sciences, the main diet of suckermouth catfish includes weeds, moss, and algae. In new environments, some fish can be 70 cm long, while in the native environment, they are just 30 cm.

This is a very commonly seen fish species in many places in the world. The fish have escaped to the natural environment through trade and other channels. They have been considered as hazardous exotic species in some countries.

In the US, for example, the fish have “invaded” into some states such as Florida, Texas and Hawaii. Meanwhile, Singapore has reported that it has found suckermouth fish in natural waters.

Triet has cited the documents of the US Biological Resources as saying that suckermouth can exist in different conditions of the environment. They can live in the tranquil waters or the areas with fast flowing streams. They appear in shallow ponds and deep lakes. They mainly live in fresh water, but they can exist in brackish estuaries.

They can survive the contaminated water with the low dissolved oxygen concentration, or the stagnant waters with hydrogen sulfide. Being considered as tropical species, but they can exist in the areas with low temperature in the winter.

Scientists found out that suckermouth catfish can move on land for a certain distance, from an area to another living area.

“The wide ecological amplitude and strong viability help suckermouth become an ideal invader,” Triet commented.

He went on to say that the danger for Vietnam is that suckermouth catfish can develop strongly on the wetland natural reserve areas. If so, this would lead to the big disturbances in the aquatic ecosystem which can be seen in the imbalance in the food chain, as well as the direct competition with native fish species with the same habits.

“The final result would be the reduction in biodiversity,” Triet said.

Scientists have warned that it would be very difficult to control suckerfish once they develop in large populations. Some solutions have been suggested in the US, but they have not succeeded.

Therefore, Triet said that while waiting for a perfect solution, people, when discovering suckermouth fish need to exclude them out of the water areas.

Tran Minh Tri, MA, from the HCM City University of Agriculture and Forestry, also said that the development of suckermouth fish in many places in the world has threatened the local aquatic resources and the ecosystems.
Thanh Mai

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Fossil fuel subsidies 'reckless use of public funds'

Matt McGrath BBC News 7 Nov 13;

The world is spending half a trillion dollars on fossil fuel subsidies every year, according to a new report.

The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) says rich countries are spending seven times more supporting coal, oil and gas than they are on helping poorer nations fight climate change.

Some countries including Egypt, Morocco and Pakistan, have subsidies bigger than the national fiscal deficit.

The new report calls on the G20 to phase out the payments by 2020.

While there is no globally agreed definition of what a fossil fuel subsidy actually is, the report draws on a range of sources from the International Monetary Fund to the International Energy Agency.

It details the range of financial help given to oil, coal and gas producers and consumers from national governments and through international development.

What emerges is a complicated web of different types of payments in different countries.

Fossil funding
In the United States, for example, the government in 2011 gave a $1bn fuel tax exemption to farmers, $1bn for the strategic petroleum reserve and $0.5bn for oil, coal and gas research and development.

Germany gave financial assistance totalling 1.9bn euro to the hard coal sector in the same year.

And the UK gave tax concessions worth £280m in 2011 for oil and gas production.

The report accuses rich governments of "shooting themselves in both feet" by undermining attempts to put a price on carbon and by giving no incentive to companies to switch from high carbon fuels.

"This is a reckless use of public money at a time when people are very concerned about energy costs," Kevin Watkins, executive director of the ODI, told BBC News.

"Why are we spending $112 per adult in the OECD countries subsidising an energy system that is driving us towards dangerous climate change when there are alternatives?"

In developing countries, the report says the subsidies often take the form of keeping fuel prices low to help alleviate poverty.

Governments in Indonesia, Pakistan and Venezuela are spending twice as much on fossil fuel subsidies as they are on public health.

"Almost all these subsidies go to those who are connected to the grid because the governments give money to the energy providers, who pass it on to consumers.

"The top 20% of these societies get around half of the total subsidy package," said Kevin Watkins.

International finance for development is hugely focussed on oil, coal and gas. According to the ODI, 75% of energy project support from international banks went to fossil fuel projects in 12 of the highest emitting developing nations.

The research adds to data from the International Energy Agency that says global subsidies for fossil fuels are six times higher than those for renewable energy. The OECD has stated that coal is subject to the lowest levels of taxation.

The ODI hopes that enough countries in the G20 group will follow up on promises made to look at the issue.

The institute believes that subsidies for energy are similar to subsidies for agriculture that plagued international trade negotiations in the 1990s.

Ultimately, agreement was found on removing them. The ODI believes there can be a similar outcome for fuel supports.

"This has to be the mother of all win-win scenarios," said Kevin Watkins.

"You'd have a win for taxpayers, a win for governments north and south and you'd have a win for the planet as well."

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Amount of greenhouse gases in atmosphere reach record high, says UN agency

UN Press Release 6 Nov 13;

6 November 2013 – The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a record high in 2012, continuing an upward trend which is driving climate change and which will shape the future of the planet for hundreds and thousands of years, according to the United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The agency’s annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin shows that between 1990 and 2012, there was a 32 per cent increase in radiative forcing – the warming effect on the climate – because of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other heat-trapping long-lived gases such as methane and nitrous oxide.

Carbon dioxide, mainly from fossil fuel-related emissions, accounted for 80 per cent of this increase, WMO stated in a news release. The atmospheric increase of CO2 from 2011 to 2012 was higher than its average growth rate over the past 10 years.

What is happening in the atmosphere, said the Geneva-based WMO, is “one part of a much wider picture.” Only about half of the CO2 emitted by human activities remains in the atmosphere, with the rest being absorbed in the biosphere and in the oceans.

The latest findings “highlight yet again how heat-trapping gases from human activities have upset the natural balance of our atmosphere and are a major contribution to climate change,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.

He recalled that the UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stressed in its recent Fifth Assessment Report that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years.

“As a result of this, our climate is changing, our weather is more extreme, ice sheets and glaciers are melting and sea levels are rising,” said Mr. Jarraud.

He underscored that limiting climate change will require large and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. “We need to act now, otherwise we will jeopardize the future of our children, grandchildren and many future generations,” said Mr. Jarraud. “Time is not on our side,” he added.

The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin reports on atmospheric concentrations – and not emissions – of greenhouse gases. Emissions represent what goes into the atmosphere, the agency pointed out. Concentrations represent what remains in the atmosphere after the complex system of interactions between the atmosphere, biosphere and the oceans.

At the same time, the Emissions Gap Report 2013, involving 44 scientific groups coordinated by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), urges wide-ranging global action to close the emissions gap.

If the international community fails to take action, the report warned, the chances of remaining on the least-cost path to keeping global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius this century will quickly diminish and open the door to a range of challenges.

Under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), governments have agreed to limit the global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

The report, which was released yesterday as leaders prepare to meet for the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Warsaw, finds that although pathways exist that could reach the 2-degree Celsius target with higher emissions, not narrowing the gap will exacerbate mitigation challenges after 2020.

This will mean much higher rates of global emission reductions in the medium term; greater lock-in of carbon-intensive infrastructure; greater dependence on often unproven technologies in the medium term; greater costs of mitigation in the medium and long term; and greater risks of failing to meet the 2-degree Celsius target.

“As the report highlights, delayed actions mean a higher rate of climate change in the near term and likely more near-term climate impacts, as well as the continued use of carbon-intensive and energy-intensive infrastructure,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

“This ‘lock-in’ would slow down the introduction of climate-friendly technologies and narrow the developmental choices that would place the global community on the path to a sustainable, green future.

“However,” he added, “the stepping stone of the 2020 target can still be achieved by strengthening current pledges and by further action, including scaling up international cooperation initiatives in areas such as energy efficiency, fossil fuel subsidy reform and renewable energy.”

Greenhouse gas volumes reached new high in 2012 - WMO
Tom Miles Reuters 6 Nov 13;

(Reuters) - Atmospheric volumes of greenhouse gases blamed for climate change hit a new record in 2012, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said on Wednesday.

"For all these major greenhouse gases the concentrations are reaching once again record levels," WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud told a news conference in Geneva at which he presented the U.N. climate agency's annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin .

Jarraud said the accelerating trend was driving climate change, making it harder to keep global warming to within 2 degrees Celsius, a target agreed at a Copenhagen summit in 2009.

"This year is worse than last year, 2011. 2011 was worse than 2010," he said. "Every passing year makes the situation somewhat more difficult to handle, it makes it more challenging to stay under this symbolic 2 degree global average."

Greenhouse gas emissions are set to be 8-12 billion tonnes higher in 2020 than the level needed to keep global warming below 2 degrees, the U.N. Environment Programme said on Tuesday.

If the world pursues its "business as usual" trajectory, it will probably hit the 2 degree mark in the middle of the century, Jarraud said, noting that this would also affect the water cycle, sea levels and extreme weather events.

"The more we wait for action, the more difficult it will be to stay under this limit and the more the impact will be for many countries, and therefore the more difficult it will be to adapt."

He said the climate system was dominated by the ocean rather than the atmosphere, and the time needed to warm the seas meant the full impact of current emissions would only be felt later.

"Even if we were able to stop today - we know it's not possible - the ocean would continue to warm and to expand and the sea level would continue to rise for hundreds of years."

Delegates from over 190 nations meet in Warsaw next week for a U.N. conference to work on emission cuts under a new climate pact to be signed by 2015, but to come into force only in 2020.

The WMO bulletin said the volume of carbon dioxide, or CO2, the primary greenhouse gas emitted by human activities, grew faster in 2012 than in the previous decade, reaching 393.1 parts per million (ppm), 41 percent above the pre-industrial level.

The amount of the gas in the atmosphere grew by 2.2 ppm, higher the average of 2.02 ppm over the past 10 years.

Carbon dioxide is very stable and is likely to remain in the atmosphere for a long time, Jarraud said. The concentrations were the highest for more than 800,000 years, he said.

"The increase in CO2 is mostly due to human activities," Jarraud said. "The actions we take now or don't take now will have consequences for a very, very long period."

The second most important greenhouse gas, methane, continued to grow at a similar rate to the last four years, reaching a global average of 1819 parts per billion (ppb) in 2012, while the other main contributor, nitrous oxide, reached 325.1 ppb. (Reporting by Tom Miles; editing by Stephanie Nebehay and Alistair Lyon)

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Forget What You've Heard: Humans Are Not Using More Than 1 Planet

David Biello Scientific American 8 Nov 13;

How big is humankind’s "footprint" on the planet? That depends on how you measure it.

Since the mid-1990s environmentalists, politicians, researchers and others have often used a concept called the ecological footprint to quantify the relative health of the planet under the influence of human activity and industry. According to that measure, our footprint has outgrown the planet on which we tread: humans now use 1.5 Earths to support our well-being. The concept has even given rise to a mock holiday, called "overshoot day," which marks the point humans exhaust the renewable natural resources that should have sustained us for the entire year. This year it fell on August 20.

But a new analysis suggests that the size of our seven-billion-person footprint has been mismeasured. "The original ecological footprint is a good metaphor and a good way of getting us thinking about overusing the planet, but what you really want a footprint to do is to be a management tool," says Peter Kareiva, co-author of the study, published November 5 in PLoS Biology. Kareiva is chief scientist at The Nature Conservancy, an environmental group that has used the ecological footprint concept from time to time. But now he is advocating for a better metric. "I would like people not to be satisfied with the current ecological footprint and try to come up with measures that really track the water, soil and all the ways we degrade ecosystems in a way that would become management metrics," Kareiva says.

At the most fundamental level, the ecological footprint incorporates six measurements— city cover, carbon dioxide pollution, farm fields, fisheries, forests and rangeland—to reveal "the aggregate area of land and water ecosystems required by specified human populations to produce the ecosystem goods and services they consume and to assimilate their carbon waste." Or so goes the definition from William Rees, an urban planning researcher at the University of British Columbia, and Mathis Wackernagel, head of the Global Footprint Network, who teamed up to develop the metric.

The essence of the case against the footprint is that, on a global level at least, the measurement all boils down to the assimilation of CO2. That is because, by definition, cropland, grazing land and other metrics of land and ocean use cannot exceed the planet’s size, as even Rees and Wackernagel acknowledge. "Unlike nations and regions, Earth cannot 'import' cropland biocapacity and therefore cannot show a deficit," Rees and Wackernagel wrote in a rebuttal to the critique.

In the global view, then, the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere is the sole reason that humankind’s ecological footprint is larger than Earth itself. What the outsize footprint means in physical terms is that the world does not have enough forests to soak up all the excess CO2 from human fossil fuel–burning and other activities. "It tells us that forests are not absorbing all of industrial emissions, but we all knew that before," says Linus Blomqvist, director of the Conservation and Development Program at the Breakthrough Institute, a neoenvironmental think tank. The ecological footprint, he says, is a "failed attempt at measuring carrying capacity.”

Humankind could shrink its footprint down to size by dramatically boosting the carbon uptake of the world’s trees—by, for instance, replacing forests with plantations of fast-growing trees like eucalyptus. But that would hardly be good for the planet, Kareiva notes, because natural forests deliver other benefits, such as fostering a diversity of animals, fungi, insects, microbes and plants. Nor does the footprint reveal anything specific about the potential overuse of cropland or grazing land, global deforestation or even the impact of sprawling cities.

The alternative that Kareiva prefers is what he calls an "Earth genome project"—a compilation of data that gets down to the local level on water use, soil degradation and, yes, greenhouse gas and other air pollution. Such a system would reveal whether the local water table was falling or if grazing was too intensive on a given landscape—exactly the type of judgments that the global ecological footprint is ill-suited to make. "You could overgraze an arid land and convert it permanently to desert—that's a local threshold," Kareiva explains. "We need to look for thresholds because they tell us the risk of the next degree of degradation."

The ecological footprint can, however, reveal important connections on the national and international levels, Rees and Wackernagel point out. So, for example, even though Canadians have a small footprint, Canada's excesses of cropland, forest and fisheries are essentially exported to countries like the U.S. and China, which have oversize footprints. "Most countries are in ecological deficit, increasingly dependent on potentially unreliable trade in biocapacity," Rees and Wackernagel wrote. "What could possibly be gained from ignoring footprint assessments?"

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