Best of our wild blogs: 12 Nov 13

Postcards to Our Dear Prime Minister
from Flying Fish Friends

Tanjung Rimau Security Barriers - Some changes and slight improvements from Peiyan.Photography

Pulau Semakau (3 November 2013)
from teamseagrass

Toddycats share their Love of MacRitchie, with a walk in the forest with NUS, 19 Oct 2013 from Toddycats!

Butterflies Galore! : Tree Yellow
from Butterflies of Singapore

HBSC financing deforestation for palm oil in Borneo from news by Rhett Butler

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Typhoon Haiyan: Philippines prepares climate change plans for worse to come

Extreme weather is already frequent but is becoming the new normal, according to the country's climate change commission
Simon Tisdall 11 Nov 13;

As one of the world's poorest and least developed countries, the Philippines is handicapped by a chronic lack of resources, poor or non-existent infrastructure, and a far-flung archipelagic geography when dealing with the natural catastrophes that regularly afflict it.

But hard-won experience is also forcing Filipino government administrators and agencies, and their international collaborators, to examine and create new strategies for disaster preparedness, response and mitigation that have important potential applications in other parts of the world.

As the impact of climate change grows ever more marked, the ill-starred Philippines, lying prone and vulnerable at the windswept eastern end of the Pacific, is becoming a hothouse for developing new methods and systems in the growing business of disaster relief. But as super-typhoon Haiyan cruelly demonstrated, it still has a long way to go.

The Philippines averages about 20 typhoons a year, including three super-typhoons plus numerous incidents of flooding, drought, earthquakes and tremors and occasional volcanic eruptions, making it one of the most naturally disaster-prone countries in the world.

According to the UN Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha), the Philippines has recorded 182 disasters since 2002, in which almost 11,000 people have died. This figure does not include super-typhoon Bopha, known locally as Pablo, which hit the southern Philippines last December, killing more than 1,000 people, nor last Friday's super-typhoon Haiyan.

Bopha produced wind speeds of 160mph, gusting to 195mph and was the world's deadliest typhoon in 2012. More than 6.2 million people were affected. The cost of the damage was estimated at more than $1bn. Haiyan topped those wind speeds and has reportedly claimed 10 times the number of victims. Early estimates suggest 4.5 million people have been affected. The financial cost is so far incalculable.

The appearance that these storms are getting bigger and more damaging reflects rapidly deteriorating climatic trends. The five most devastating typhoons ever recorded in the Philippines have occurred since 1990, affecting 23 million people. Four of the costliest typhoons anywhere occurred in the same period, according to Oxfam.

The inter-governmental panel on climate change says mean temperatures in the Philippines are rising by 0.14C a decade. Scientists are also registering steadily rising sea levels around the Philippines, and a falling water table. All of this appears to increase the likelihood and incidence of extreme weather events, analysts say.

Mary Ann Lucille Sering, head of the Philippine government's climate change commission, warned in an interview with the Guardian in Manila earlier this year that her country faced a deepening crisis that it could ill afford financially and in human terms. Typhoon-related costs in 2009, the year the commission was created, amounted to 2.9% of GDP, she said, and have been rising each year since.

"Extreme weather is becoming more frequent, you could even call it the new normal," Sering said. "Last year one typhoon [Bopha] hurt us very much. If this continues we are looking at a big drain on resources." Human activity-related "slow-onset impacts" included over-fishing, over-dependence on certain crops, over-extraction of ground water, and an expanding population (the Philippines has about 95 million people and a median age of 23).

"Altogether this could eventually lead to disaster," Sering said. And her fears are widely shared. Opinion surveys showed that Filipinos rated global warming as a bigger threat than rising food and fuel prices, she said.

To deal with these enormous challenges, the Philippines government has created the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), which works with the UN and relief agencies to try to mitigate the impact of extreme weather events and other disasters.

The response to a storm such as Haiyan in theory comprises three phases: immediate help, including the provision of shelter and clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities; rebuilding and relocation; and mitigation and prevention measures.

Supplying emergency toilets and water bladders is essential in preventing diseases such as cholera, and, for example, dehydration among babies and young children, aid workers say. Shelter in the form of tents is also a first priority and for this and other key supplies the Philippines will rely on airlifts by the UN and international donor governments such as Britain, which in some cases pre-position supplies.

The NDRRMC has produced a national disaster risk reduction and management plan for the period 2011 to 2028 that takes a holistic and long-term approach to disaster relief. Factored into its strategies are considerations of pre- and post-disaster sustainable development, poverty alleviation, environmental protection, and physical security. The idea is to "build back better" once the clear-up begins.

The plan also focuses, with charities such as Oxfam, on training networks of first responders – local people who know what to do when disaster strikes without waiting for the emergency services to arrive, which can take days or weeks. Unfortunately, with a disaster the magnitude of Haiyan, such systems may be initially overwhelmed.

Examples of longer-term projects following on from disasters include the building, if funds allow, of waste management plants, setting up markets at relocation sites, and working on disaster risk reduction programmes, so that when the next typhoon hits, local people may be better prepared.

For this to work, aid agency workers say, it is essential that the international community remains committed, financially and otherwise, once the initial drama of the human emergency subsides.

One success story in the Philippines is to be found in the Lumbia resettlement project outside Cagayan de Oro, in northern Mindanao. Here, victims of tropical storm Washi, which swept through the area in 2011, killing 1,200 people and causing nearly $50m in damage, have been offered newly built homes on land owned by a university away from the local river's flood plain. The Lumbia project's slogan is "build a community, not just homes".

Benito Ramos, the former executive director of the NDRRMC, told the Guardian in February that the bigger challenge of climate change was becoming more dangerous. Climate change, he said, posed an existential threat to the Philippines. "We are mainstreaming climate change in all government departments and policies. If we don't adapt and adjust, we all agree we are heading for disaster."

Typhoon Haiyan and climate change Q&A
How could climate change affect typhoons, hurricanes and tropical storms and is it possible to calculate this impact?
Damian Carrington 11 Nov 13;

Is typhoon Haiyan linked to climate change?

As the devastating storm has only just happened, it is too soon for any research to have been done on whether global warming influenced typhoon Haiyan. But there are good reasons for expecting that it has (see below). Furthermore, the tools exist to determine how much climate change may have intensified the typhoon. They have already been used on other extreme weather events, giving a clear scientific answer that climate change had dramatically increased the risk of heatwaves and floods, for example.

How could climate change affect typhoons?

Typhoons, hurricanes and all tropical storms draw their vast energy from the warmth of the sea. As Prof Will Steffen, at the Australian National University, says: "We know sea-surface temperatures are warming pretty much around the planet, so that's a pretty direct influence of climate change on the nature of the storm."

Another key factor is the temperature difference between sea level and the top of the storm, as this gradient is the heat engine that drives storm. Scientists think that climate change is increasing this difference.

Has scientific research made a link between climate change and more severe cyclones?

Yes. Prof Myles Allen, at the University of Oxford, says: "The current consensus is that climate change is not making the risk of hurricanes any greater, but there are physical arguments and evidence that there is a risk of more intense hurricanes." A Nature Geoscience research paper from 2010 found that global warming will increase the average intensity of the storms while the total number of storms will fall, meaning fewer but more severe cyclones. It also found that rainfall in the heart of the storms will increase by 20%.

A 2013 study by MIT's Prof Kerry Emmanuel agreed that the most intense cyclones – category 3 to 5 – will increase, but the work suggested smaller cyclones would also increase. It also found that "increases in tropical cyclones are most prominent in the western North Pacific", ie where typhoon Haiyan struck.

In 2011, a synthesis report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that the average wind speeds in cyclones are likely to increase, as was the frequency of heavy rainfall, but it noted the difficulty of linking changes in complex events like cyclones to climate change.

What does this mean for the loss of life and damage caused by the storms?

It will get worse. Rising sea levels already means that the storm surges – the huge waves that crash on to coastal areas and are the most deadly feature of cyclones – have a headstart. As climate change intensifies cyclones, the storm surges get bigger. The greater downpours during the cyclones also adds to the risk of flooding.

You said some extreme weather events can be directly linked to climate change. How is that done?

It is called attribution and uses detailed computer modelling to replicate the heatwave, flood or other meteorological disaster. Then the models are run again – often thousands of times, but without the additional heat in the system trapped by the greenhouse gases emitted from fossil fuel burning. The differences between the results shows the effect of climate change.

A study by Allen showed that the severe flooding in the UK in 2000 was made two to three times more likely by global warming. Another study showed the extreme Russian heatwave of 2010, which resulted in 50,000 deaths, was made three times more likely by climate change,

Allen said the influence of climate change on typhoon Haiyan could be calculated. "This is a question we could answer if we diverted the right resources to it," he said. "If we used the same tools as are used now to make seasonal weather forecasts, there would be a straightforward answer."

Allen said such attribution studies should be prioritised. "It's first things first: we should know now how climate change is affecting us rather than how it will affect us in 100 years' time. It is a common misconception that climate change affects everyone. It affects some people a lot and others not very much – but we don't know who is who."

Typhoon Haiyan: what really alarms Filipinos is the rich world ignoring climate change
As Haiyan batters the Phillipines, the political elites at the UN climate talks will again leave poor countries to go it alone
John Vidal 8 Nov 13;

I met Naderev Saño last year in Doha, when the world's governments were meeting for the annual UN climate talks. The chief negotiator of the Filipino delegation was distraught. Typhoon Bopha, a category five "super-typhoon" with 175mph winds (282km/h) had just ripped through the island of Mindanao. It was the 16th major storm of the year, hundreds of thousands of people had lost their homes and more than 1,000 had died. Saño and his team knew well the places where it had hit the hardest.

"Each destructive typhoon season costs us 2% of our GDP, and the reconstruction costs a further 2%, which means we lose nearly 5% of our economy every year to storms. We have received no climate finance to adapt or to prepare ourselves for typhoons and other extreme weather we are now experiencing. We have not seen any money from the rich countries to help us to adapt ... We cannot go on like this. It cannot be a way of life that we end up running always from storms," he said. He later told the assembly: "Climate change negotiations cannot be based on the way we currently measure progress. It is a clear sign of planetary and economic and environmental dysfunction ... The whole world, especially developing countries struggling to address poverty and achieve social and human development, confronts these same realities.

"I speak on behalf of 100 million Filipinos, not as a leader of my delegation, but as a Filipino …" At this point he broke down.

Saño was uncontactable today, because phone lines to Manila were down, but he was thought to be on his way to Warsaw for the UN talks, which resume on Monday. This time, with uncanny timing, his country has been battered by the even stronger super-typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful ever recorded anywhere – 25 miles (40km) wide and reaching astonishing speeds of possibly 200mph (322km/h).

We don't yet know the death toll or damage done, but we do know that the strength of tropical storms such as Haiyan or Bopha is linked to sea temperature. As the oceans warm with climate change, there is extra energy in the system. Storms may not be increasing in frequency but Pacific ocean waters are warming faster than expected, and there is a broad scientific consensus that typhoons are now increasing in strength.

Typhoon Haiyan, like Bopha, will be seen widely in developing countries as a taste of what is to come, along with rising sea levels and water shortages. But what alarms the governments of vulnerable countries the most is that they believe rich countries have lost the political will to address climate change at the speed needed to avoid catastrophic change in years to come.

From being top of the global political agenda just four years ago, climate change is now barely mentioned by the political elites in London or Washington, Tokyo or Paris. Australia is not even sending a junior minister to Warsaw. The host, Poland, will be using the meeting to celebrate its coal industry. The pitifully small pledges of money made by rich countries to help countries such as the Philippines or Bangladesh to adapt to climate change have barely materialised. Meanwhile, fossil fuel subsidies are running at more than $500bn (£311bn) a year, and vested commercial interests are increasingly influencing the talks.

As the magnitude of the adverse impacts of human-induced climate change becomes apparent, the most vulnerable countries say they have no option but to go it alone. The good news is that places such as Bangladesh, Nepal, the small island states of the Pacific and Caribbean, and many African nations, are all starting to adapt their farming, fishing and cities.

But coping with major storms, as well as sea level rise and water shortages, is expected to cost poor countriues trillions of dollars, which they do not have. "Time is running out," Saño told the world last year. "Please, let this year be remembered as the year the world found the courage to take responsibility for the future we want. I ask of all of us here, if not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?"

Experts: Man, nature share typhoon tragedy blame
Seth Borenstein Associated Press Yahoo News 12 Nov 13;

WASHINGTON (AP) — Nature and man together cooked up the disaster in the Philippines.

Geography, meteorology, poverty, shoddy construction, a booming population, and, to a much lesser degree, climate change combine to make the Philippines the nation most vulnerable to killer typhoons, according to several scientific studies.

And Typhoon Haiyan was one mighty storm.

Haiyan slammed the island nation with a storm surge two stories high and some of the highest winds ever measured in a tropical cyclone — 195 mph as clocked by U.S. satellites, or 147 mph based on local reports. An untold number of homes were blown away, and thousands of people are feared dead.

"You have a very intense event hitting a very susceptible part of the world. It's that combination of nature and man," said MIT tropical meteorology professor Kerry Emanuel. "If one of those ingredients were missing, you wouldn't have a disaster."

The 7,000 islands of the Philippines sit in the middle of the world's most storm-prone region, which gets some of the biggest typhoons because of vast expanses of warm water that act as fuel and few pieces of land to slow storms down.

Half the storms on an informal list of the strongest ones to hit land in the 20th and 21st centuries ended up striking the Philippines, according to research by Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the Weather Underground.

Storms often hit after they've peaked in strength or before they get a chance to, but Haiyan struck when it was at its most powerful, based on U.S. satellite observations, Emanuel said.

Humans played a big role in this disaster, too — probably bigger than nature's, meteorologists said. University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy figures that 75 to 80 percent of the devastation can be blamed on the human factor.

Meteorologists point to extreme poverty and huge growth in population — much of it in vulnerable coastal areas with poor construction, including storm shelters that didn't hold up against Haiyan.

More than 4 out of 10 Filipinos live in a storm-prone vulnerable city of more than 100,000, according to a 2012 World Bank study. The Haiyan-devastated provincial capital of Tacloban nearly tripled from about 76,000 to 221,000 in just 40 years.

About one-third of Tacloban's homes have wooden exterior walls. And 1 in 7 homes have grass roofs, according to the census office.

Those factors — especially flimsy construction — were so important that a weaker storm would have still caused almost as much devastation, McNoldy said.

"You end up with these kind of urban time bombs, where cities have doubled, tripled, quadrupled in size in 50 years" without good building standards, said Richard Olson, director of the Extreme Events Institute at Florida International University. "It is, I hate to say, an all-too-familiar pattern."

Scientists say man-made global warming has contributed to rising seas and a general increase in strength in the most powerful tropical cyclones. But they won't specifically apply these factors to Haiyan, saying it is impossible to attribute single weather events, like the typhoon, to climate change.

A 2008 study found that in the northwestern Pacific where Haiyan formed, the top 1 percent of the strongest tropical cyclones over the past 30 years are getting on average about 1 mph stronger each year — a phenomenon some scientists suspect is a consequence of global warming.

"The strongest storms are getting stronger" said study co-author James Kossin of the National Climatic Data Center. Haiyan "is what potentially could be a good example of the kind of the things we're finding."

Similarly, the Philippines has seen its sea rise nearly half an inch in the past 20 years — about triple the global increase, according to R. Steven Nerem of the University of Colorado. Higher sea levels can add to storm surge, creating slightly greater flooding.

Just as human factors can worsen a disaster, they can also lessen it, through stronger buildings, better warnings and a quicker government response.

Emanuel said poverty-stricken Bangladesh had much bigger losses of life from cyclones in the 1970s than it does now. The international community built strong evacuation shelters that get used frequently, he said.

"The Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone places on Earth," said Kathleen Tierney, director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado. "They've got it all. They've got earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, tropical cyclones, landslides."



Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado:

MIT's Kerry Emanuel tropical meteorology site:


Seth Borenstein can be followed at

Why Typhoon Haiyan Caused So Much Damage
Richard Harris NPR 11 Nov 13;

The deadly typhoon that swept through the Philippines was one of the strongest ever recorded. But storms nearly this powerful are actually common in the eastern Pacific. Typhoon Haiyan's devastation can be chalked up to a series of bad coincidences.

Typhoons — known in our part of the world as hurricanes — gain their strength by drawing heat out of the ocean. Tropical oceans are especially warm, which is why the biggest storms, Category 4 and Category 5, emerge there. These storms also intensify when there's cool air over that hot ocean.

"The Pacific at this time of year is very ripe and juicy for big typhoons," says Kerry Emanuel, a climate scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Once or twice a year we get a Category 5 typhoon out there."

"But it's a great rarity, fortunately, that a storm just happens to reach peak intensity when it's making landfall. And that's what happened in this case."

As it approached one large island in the Philippines, the storm pushed up into a broad bay. That created a 13-foot storm surge that caused widespread devastation at the head of that bay, in the city of Tacloban.

Mountains also wring rainwater out of storms like these. And then there's the wind.

"So we had a triple whammy, of surge, very high winds and strong rainfall," Emanuel says.

Super Typhoon Haiyan could be the strongest on record, but scientists can't say for sure because they don't have direct measurements of the wind speed. Hurricane scientists usually fly into storms heading toward the United States to measure wind speed and barometric pressure. And the U.S. Navy used to do that for storms in the western Pacific. But Emanuel says budget cuts ended that practice decades ago.

"Since then, we've had to rely on satellites, mostly, to estimate typhoon intensity," he says. "And satellites are very good at detecting the presence of typhoons but they're not so great when it comes to estimating how strong they are."

Scientists at the U.S. Navy/Air Force's Joint Typhoon Warning Center infer that Haiyan produced sustained wind speeds of around 190 or 195 mph at its peak. John Nielsen-Gammon, the Texas state climatologist at Texas A&M University, says gusts blew up to 230 mph, which is as fast as a speeding race car.

"Imagine instead of having just one car, imagine millions of raindrops and debris moving at the same speed past you, and you're trying to stand in the middle of it," Nielsen-Gammon says. "That's the kind of force such a hurricane can generate."

The strongest hurricane or typhoon winds on record were from Camille, which struck the U.S. Gulf Coast in 1969. But its 190 mph winds don't tell the whole story. The diameter of the storm matters as well.

"Camille was a very small storm, maybe about one-fifth the size of Haiyan," he says. "So it caused a lot of devastation but over a relatively limited area."

To find out whether Haiyan had record-breaking winds, scientists may turn to amateurs for information.

"Any major storm will attract storm chasers, and Haiyan was no different," Nielsen-Gammon says. "So there were people who traveled to Tacloban specifically to get footage of the storm, and they took along some instruments. So we'll probably get some data out of that."

Of course, that number is only one way to measure the overall severity of a typhoon. The mounting death toll will be another.

And climate scientists like Nielsen-Gammon and Emanuel say that as the planet continues to heat up, so will the oceans. And that means there will be more energy available for storms — and likely more Class 4 and 5 typhoons.

Did Climate Change Cause Typhoon Haiyan?
There is limited evidence that warming oceans could make superstorms more likely
Quirin Schiermeier and Nature magazine Scientific American 11 Nov 13;

As the Philippines assesses the havoc caused by super-typhoon Haiyan, which according to some reports killed as many as 10,000 people, speculation is heating up as to whether the disaster might be a manifestation of climate change. Speaking today at the first day of UN climate talks in Warsaw, the head of the Philippines delegation, Yeb Sano, said he will stop eating until negotiators make "meaningful" progress.

But can the devastating storm be linked to the changing global climate? Nature wades into the evidence.

Was Haiyan the strongest storm ever measured?

Apparently, yes. With sustained wind speeds of more than 310 kilometers per hour, Haiyan was the most powerful tropical cyclone to make landfall in recorded history. The previous record was held by Hurricane Camille, which in 1969 hit the state of Mississippi with wind speeds of just over 300 km/h.

It is the third time that disaster has struck the Philippine archipelago in less than 12 months. In August, typhoon Trami caused massive flooding on the island of Luzon. And in December 2012, typhoon Bopha killed up to 2,000 and caused some $1.7 billion in damage on the island of Mindanao. Haiyan could easily surpass that figure: according to a report by a senior analyst at Bloomberg Industries, citing Kinetic Analysis Corp., Typhoon Haiyan’s total economic impact may reach $14 billion.

The death toll might have been much bigger had many Philippines not heeded the storm warnings and fled at-risk areas in time.

What's the difference between a cyclone, a typhoon and a hurricane?

Are such storms getting worse in a warming world?They are basically just different names for the same extreme weather phenomena in different parts of the world. These storms are called ‘hurricanes’ In the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific, "typhoons" in the Northwest Pacific and "cyclones" in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean.

This is the one-million-dollar question, and there is no scientific consensus on how to answer it yet. Storms receive their energy from the ocean, so it would seem logical that they would get stronger, and perhaps also more frequent, as the upper layers of the tropical oceans warm. Indeed, the potential intensity of tropical storms does increase with warmer sea-surface temperatures. However, the effect of warming seas could be counteracted by the apparent increase in the strength of shear winds—winds blowing in different directions and varying strength at different altitudes. Shear winds tend to hinder the formation of storms, or tear them apart before they can reach extreme strength.

On balance, many climate researchers think it is plausible to assume that tropical storm activity will rise. Some evidence exists that storm intensity has indeed increased, but it is limited to the North Atlantic, where observations are most abundant. In other places, the available evidence is not yet conclusive.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its last report cautiously summarizes the state of knowledge as follows:

“Time series of cyclone indices such as power dissipation, an aggregate compound of tropical cyclone frequency, duration, and intensity that measures total wind energy by tropical cyclones, show upward trends in the North Atlantic and weaker upward trends in the western North Pacific since the late 1970s, but interpretation of longer-term trends is again constrained by data quality concerns.”

What are the models saying?

Global climate models are too coarse to resolve relatively small-scale atmospheric disturbances such as tropical storms—despite how prominently these phenomena feature on weather maps. Scientists therefore need to infer the effect of global warming on storm activity from general patterns of atmospheric circulation.

For example, hurricane researcher Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge has used a new technique for simulating large numbers of tropical cyclones in climate models. When applied to scenarios of historical and future climate described by six state-of-the-art climate models, his method forecast that both the frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones will increase during the 21st century in all tropical oceans regions, except the south-western Pacific. Emanuel’s study was published too late for inclusion in the last IPCC report.

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‘More rules’ needed as interest groups jostle for public space

Society must accept compromise, learn to disagree without being disagreeable, says former AGC Walter Woon
Amir Hussain Today Online 12 Nov 13;

SINGAPORE — With more interest groups jostling for public space and a citizenry more inclined to challenge the Government, society will need “more rules, not fewer”, said former Attorney-General Walter Woon yesterday.

“You cannot expect, when you live with 7,400 people in the same kilometre, to have your way all the time. You must accept compromise, you must accept that, even if they (other people) do not agree with you, there has to be a form of adjudication ... uphold that rule of law ... learn to disagree without being disagreeable.”

Speaking in his personal capacity at a session of the Institute of Policy Studies’ Conference on Civil Society at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel yesterday, Professor Woon, who is a National University of Singapore law professor, cited four factors that will lead to greater interaction between the various interest groups and the Government, as well as among the groups themselves.

He pointed out that with 7,405 people per square kilometre, Singapore is “the most crowded society in human history” with no “pressure-release valve”, which other countries with a countryside possess.

The population density is expected to increase to 10,000 people per square kilometre by 2030, the former Nominated Member of Parliament added.

Secondly, it will be “inevitable” that “different interest groups will increasingly find themselves in competition for public space, in opposition to Government, in opposition, in fact, to other interest groups”.

Technology, meanwhile, also facilitates the creation of interest groups, he told the conference. “The existence of the Internet allows the lone wolf to join the pack. And the pack then also (fights) for that public space.”

Fourthly, as a result of rising education levels, people will “have a perspective that there are things that can be done better”, Prof Woon said.

In the past, he noted, the Government’s approach to clashes with interest groups had been to wield “the iron hand in iron glove”, and to say “we will make the decisions”.

However, it can no longer do this, as “it is quite clear that the electorate is now willing to vote against the Government”.

Prof Woon noted that, anecdotally, there have been more challenges to the Government in the courts within the last five years than in the past 30 to 40 years, such as the two constitutional challenges to Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises sex between males.

Speaking at a dialogue session later, Law Minister K Shanmugam said the Government has to work with civil society. He described the relationship between the two sides as one that is “by and large ... working quite well”.

However, Mr Shanmugam acknowledged that not every engagement between civil servants and civil society results in a positive experience, adding that “there are areas where, maybe, agencies have been less than forthcoming”.

“My own belief is that civil servants believe, like us, in engagement, but when the rubber hits the road in terms of specific proposals, in terms of specific meetings, in terms of specific agencies, there can be a difference in perception and one can be wrong ... both sides can be wrong,” he said.

Citing the Government’s work with animal welfare groups as an example, Mr Shanmugam said Singapore cannot be governed without the active participation of people and civil society in today’s modern and complex economic and civil situation.

He said: “If you ask (the animal welfare groups) today, look at what was accomplished in the last two years. At their suggestion, the government formed the animal welfare law reform group — they came up with fairly revolutionary set of suggestions, very, very substantive suggestions. The government accepted all of them this year.”

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Upcoming jetty at Lorong Halus to have waste collection centre

Melissa Chong Channel NewsAsia 11 Nov 13;

SINGAPORE: To facilitate proper waste disposal for fish farmers, a new jetty will be built at Lorong Halus by early 2014, which will house a waste collection centre.

In a written response to a question in Parliament raised by NMP Faizah Jamal, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said that the AVA requires fish farmers to dispose of their waste properly.

They can do so at collection points available at the Lim Chu Kang jetty, Changi Creek, or at Senoko Fishery Port.

AVA and the Police Coast Guard also carry out routine inspections, including night raids, to keep a look-out for the illegal dumping of waste into the sea or on Pulau Ubin.

As for the feasibility of door-to-door trash collection -- an idea mooted by Ms Jamal -- the minister said the cost was too high for fish farmers.

- CNA/ac

from the Singapore Parliament Reports (Hansard)
Parliament No: 12
Session No: 1
Volume No: 90
Sitting No: 24
Sitting Date: 11-11-2013
Section Name: Written Answers to Questions for Oral Answer Not Answered by 3.00 pm
Title: Waste Disposal by Fish Farm Operators
MPs Speaking: Ms Faizah Jamal, Mr Khaw Boon Wan

Page: 98

Waste Disposal by Fish Farm Operators

20 Ms Faizah Jamal asked the Minister for National Development (a) what plans does AVA have to closely monitor and penalise errant fish farm operators from dumping their trash and waste on Pulau Ubin; and (b) when will AVA put in place an effective system of door-to-door trash collection and responsible disposal for such operators.

Mr Khaw Boon Wan: There are many different sources of trash and waste that are washed upon our northern shores and Pulau Ubin, especially when there are many vessels plying the Straits of Johor.

Under AVA’s fish licence, fish farmers have to comply with the licensing condition to properly dispose the waste generated from their operations. Waste collection points are available at the Lim Chu Kang jetty and at Changi Creek in the western and eastern straits respectively. Farmers can also send their trash to Senoko Fishery Port.

AVA had explored the feasibility of door-to-door waste collection services for fish farmers, but the costs were found to be too high for the farmers. To facilitate proper waste disposal for eastern fish farmers, a new jetty will be built at Lorong Halus by early 2014 which will have a waste collection centre.

AVA carries out routine inspections including night raids to monitor the fish farms and will take enforcement actions against farms caught illegally dumping their trash into the waters or on Pulau Ubin. Its marine inspectors work closely with the Police Coast Guard to keep a look-out for fish farmers discarding waste into the sea. AVA also conducts regular briefings to remind fish farmers to maintain proper waste management.

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Singapore does not need legislation to curb plastic bag use: Balakrishnan

Channel NewsAsia 11 Nov 13;

SINGAPORE: Singapore does not require legislation to curb the use of plastic bags, said Environment and Water Resources Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.

He was responding to Nominated MP Faizah Jamal in Parliament, who asked if further measures were planned to discourage consumers and commercial outlets from using plastic bags.

Dr Balarkrishnan said that Singapore's waste-to-energy incineration plants already ensure that all plastic bags are properly disposed of.

Hence, Singapore's approach is to avoid over-consumption, through the efforts of retailers and environmental groups to encourage more to bring their own shopping bags.

- CNA/xq

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56 high-rise litterbugs prosecuted since Sept 2012

Channel NewsAsia 11 Nov 13;

SINGAPORE: Since September 2012, the National Environment Agency (NEA) has deployed surveillance cameras in nearly 500 locations in response to resident feedback.

So far, the NEA has prosecuted 56 high-rise litter-bugs with the help of these cameras and the courts have imposed fines ranging from S$400 to S$2,100 on them.

This was revealed in a written parliamentary reply by Environment and Water Resources Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan on Monday.

He added that NEA has increased enforcement hours by 50 per cent - from 24,000 man-hours to 35,000 man-hours per month.

NEA has also started a pilot scheme for community volunteers to apply peer pressure on those who litter.

- CNA/xq

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'Johor does not rely on Singapore for treated water'

Chuah Bee Kim New Straits Times 12 Nov 13;

SELF-SUFFICIENT: 24.3pc surplus in supply, says exco member

JOHOR does not depend on Singapore for its treated water as its 44 water treatment plants can churn out a total of 426 million gallons of treated water daily.

State Public Works, Rural and Regional Development Committee chairman Datuk Hasni Mohamad said Johor required about 330 million gallons per day and the current production indicated a surplus of 24.3 per cent in supply compared with the current demand.

"This clearly shows that the government is not dependent on the supply of treated water from its neighbour across the Causeway," Hasni said in reply to a question by Jimmy Puah ( PKR- Bukit Batu) in the state assembly yesterday.

Hasni said based on the privatisation agreement inked on July 19, 2009 between the state government and SAJ Holdings Sdn Bhd (SAJ), the water supply company was given permission to operate 29 plants, including two plants of the Public Utilities Board, Singapore which were handed over on Sept 1, 2011.

"Under the concession agreement between SAJ and Southern Water Corporation Sdn Bhd (SWC) on May 31, 1994, SAJ had authorised SWC to operate 14 plants, while PUB gave its consent to operate one treatment plant."

Tan Chen Choon (DAP-Jementah) raised an additional question on whether the state government had submitted a proposal to the Federal Government concerning the need to review the current selling price of untreated water at three sen per 1,000 gallons of water to Singapore.

In response, Hasni answered in the affirmative.

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Malaysia: Land replanning necessary to improve tourism in the Camerons

Patrick Lee The Star 12 Nov 13;

KUALA LUMPUR: The Government will be looking at opening up new plots for farmers to work on in Cameron Highlands to prevent further clearing of hillsides, according to Datuk Seri G. Palanivel.

“We have to look for low-lying areas to cultivate. If we anger the farmers, they will also be angry with me because I am also the MP for that area,” he said.

“So, I have to look for areas where we can shift them and give them farming plots,” he added.

He admitted that Cameron Highlands’ land problems have caused a drop in tourists.

“People have stopped coming already. Most of them are going to Genting Highlands,” he added.

He said his constituents were worried and angry over the illegal activities there, although he added that farmers there had become rich due to their agricultural successes.

Palanivel said his ministry would be meeting with the local land office and Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob’s office over land “replanning” efforts.

He said the ministry was also looking into tree planting campaigns for the region.

The Natural Resources and Environment Minister said the constant threat of landslides, the annual RM2bil agricultural export and the sharp fall of tourism there are causes for concern.

“Even though the land office gives the farmers land, they go beyond that,” he told reporters at the Sunway Putra Hotel.

Palanivel was also queried over the Sunday landslide in Brinchang, which saw two people injured.

Plan to relocate farmers away from Camerons
New Straits Times 12 Nov 13;

KUALA LUMPUR: The government is looking for new sites to relocate farmers in Cameron Highlands to curb illegal land clearing activities.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel said the ministry had had discussions with the district officer, Land Office and Pahang menteri besar's office, to identify suitable land for the farmers.

"The illegal land clearing activities should be curbed as soon as possible, as they have adverse effects on the environment, such as landslides and floods."

He said the activities had also affected the tourism sector in Cameron Highlands.

"The main problem in Cameron Highlands is that illegal land clearing is are not controlled. Farmers are making their way right to the hilltop when they should do farming only in designated land which is in the valley," he said after launching the Forestry and Forest Products Research 2013 Conference here yesterday.

Palanivel said a farmer involved in such illegal activities would "seize" between 0.8 and 1.6ha of state land. The Pahang government had allocated 5,705ha of land with temporary occupation licences for these activities.

He said agricultural products from Cameron Highlands contributed more than RM2 billion to the country's exports.

He added that he would discuss the matter with the relevant authorities and farmers to provide new land plots to increase exports.

Palanivel said to curb illegal land clearing activities, the ministry would reinitiate the "Tree Planting Campaign".

He said the ministry, with the Department of Environment and the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia, were working on the reforestation plans.

"We are trying to select the right plant species that will well-protect the highlands.

"Over the last few months, we have sent many teams to study ways to protect the environment and to determine the species of trees to plant."

On another matter, Palanivel said FRIM was looking for a suitable site in Sungai Besi here to develop a "Forest In the City" as a new tourist spot.

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Malaysia: More land for endangered animals at Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary

Kristy Inus New Straits Times 12 Nov 13;

ENSURING SURVIVAL: 132ha of forest to be gazetted as part of Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary

KOTA KINABALU: POCKETS of land crucial to the survival of endangered animals in Kinabatangan were returned to the government yesterday.

Through the efforts of several organisations, including non-governmental organisations and government agencies, 10 plots of lowland forest totalling 132.19ha were purchased from private landowners.

The Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP) worked with International Union for Conservation of Nature Netherlands, Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry and Lands and Surveys Department to secure the land with funding from the international community.

The land will be gazetted as part of the fragmented Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, and its handing over ceremony was done at the Heart of Borneo (HoB) conference here yesterday.

Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman witnessed the handing over of the land titles by LEAP executive director Cynthia Ong to Sabah Wildlife Department director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu.
The department will now be able to create natural forested corridors for Borneo Pygmy elephants, orang utans and other wildlife.

Ong said it was crucial that the government and private sector supported efforts to reconnect the forests in the 26,000ha sanctuary.

"We encourage landowners and players in the oil palm industry to voluntarily give up land in critical areas so that it can be turned into corridors, not just within the Kinabatangan region, but also in other parts of Sabah.

"The land acquisition will allow wildlife to move from one part of the sanctuary to another, reducing risks associated with in-breeding and other issues such as food supply."

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U.N. climate panel corrects carbon numbers in influential report

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 12 Nov 13;

The United Nation's panel of climate experts revised estimates of historical greenhouse gas emissions, made in September, both up and down on Monday but said the errors did not affect conclusions that time was running out to limit global warming.

More heatwaves, floods and rising sea levels are forecast in the report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC), which guides governments on shifting towards cleaner energy sources.

The panel had hoped to avoid more corrections after an embarrassing error about Himalayan ice-melt in its 2007 report.

"I don't see it as a significant change," IPCC chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, told Reuters on the sidelines of a November 11-22 meeting of almost 200 nations in Warsaw, Poland.

Among changes, the IPCC revised down the cumulative amount of carbon emitted since 1860-1881 to 515 billion tons from 531 billion given in September, and revised up the amount emitted since 1750 to 555 billion tons from 545 billion.

Global emissions are now running at about 10 billion tons of carbon a year, meaning those change are equivalent to about a year to a year and a half of emissions.

"Errors in the summary for policymakers were discovered by the authors of the report after its approval and acceptance by the IPCC," it said in a statement.

It did not say how the errors had been made.

The IPCC says the world has emitted more than half the estimated 1 trillion ton of carbon viewed as the maximum to keep temperatures within safe limits at below two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above the period 1861-1880 with more than a two-thirds probability, it said.

Many experts say that the world has only a few decades left before breaching the IPCC safety limits unless tough action is taken to cut emissions.

When asked if the correction would affect the credibility of the IPCC, Pachauri said, "I don't think so."

The IPCC's September report said the probability that most climate change since 1950 is manmade increased to 95 percent from 90 percent in 2007.

Bob Ward, of the London School of Economics, said Monday's correction made little difference to the overall carbon budget of a trillion ton.

"Climate change 'skeptics' will no doubt desperately seize on these corrections and falsely allege that it undermines the whole report, but the public and policy-makers should not be fooled by such claims," he said in a statement.

(Editing by Louise Ireland and Nina Chestney)

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UK: Biodiversity offsetting plans too simplistic, MPs warn

Mark Kinver BBC News 11 Nov 13;

Biodiversity offsetting plans outlined by the government must be strengthened if they are to "properly protect Britain's wildlife", MPs have warned.

The scheme aims to ensure that when a development causes unavoidable damage to biodiversity, "new, bigger or better nature sites will be created".

But the MPs say the assessment proposed by ministers appears to be little more than a "box-ticking exercise".

Six areas are taking part in a two-year pilot, which began in April 2012.

Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) chairwoman Joan Walley MP said many witnesses that gave evidence to the EAC's inquiry had voiced concerns that key habitats - such as ancient woodlands and Sites of Special Scientific Interest - would be included in the government's offsetting plans.

'Not adequate'

"There is a danger that an overly simplistic offsetting system would not protect these long-established ecosystems," she added.

"Biodiversity offsetting could improve the way our planning system accounts for the damage developments do to wildlife, if it is done well.

"The assessment process currently proposed by the government appears to be little more than a 20-minute box-ticking exercise that is simply not adequate to assess a site's year-round biodiversity.

Ms Walley explained: "If a 20-minute assessment was carried out in a British wood in winter, for instance, it would be easy to overlook many of the migratory birds that may use it as habitat in summer."

However, in their report, the MPs acknowledged that it was "too soon to reach a decision" on offsetting while the pilot schemes had yet to be completed and independently evaluated.

But they added that they were publishing their report now as ministers were considering submissions made during a public consultation on the proposals.

The consultation on how the scheme would be rolled-out across England closed last week and officials are now considering the submissions.

Responding to the EAC's findings, National Trust natural environment director Simon Pryor said the MPs' report showed that the government had to take its time to ensure to get the scheme right.

"Offsetting could be a positive way to help avoid the loss of wildlife that can result from development - but only if it is done properly," he observed.

"If a system is introduced too rapidly, and without adequate testing and evidence, the prospect of a workable and supportable biodiversity offsetting system would be undermined for many years to come."

In its consultation document, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said that England faced "the twin challenges of growing its economy and improving its natural environment", adding: "We will not achieve these goals unless our planning system is fit-for-purpose."

A Defra spokesman told BBC News: "Biodiversity offsetting could help improve our environment as well as boost the economy.

"This report, along with other consultation responses, will help us get the detail of the policy right," he explained.

"We will formally respond to the report in due course."

A number of reports, produced by the Ecosystem Markets Task Force and the Natural Capital Committee, had identified biodiversity offsetting as a way of delivering a sustainable planning system.

However, an independent review of England's wildlife sites, led by Prof Sir John Lawton, concluded in September 2010 that biodiversity offsetting must not become a "licence to destroy" or damage existing habitat of recognised value.

"In other words, offsets must only be used to compensate for genuinely unavoidable damage," the review recommended.

Defra said that offsetting schemes had been adopted in more than 20 countries, including Australia, Germany, India and the US, as a means of protecting biodiversity.

Ms Walley also observed that the pilot schemes, which are scheduled to run until April 2014, had "not had a good take-up".

"That suggests that these sorts of schemes need to be mandatory, but the government should exercise some caution about this because the pilots need to be rigorously and independently assessed first to make sure all the lesson are properly taken on board".

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USA: Mysterious Disease Turning Sea Stars to Goo May Disrupt Tidal Ecosystems

Laura Poppick Yahoo News 9 Nov 13;

A mysterious disease that has turned hundreds of starfish into limp lumps of goo along both the East and West coasts in recent months could potentially induce a cascade of other ecological effects in tidal systems, researchers say.

The disease — known as sea star wasting syndrome — begins as a small lesion, and eventually results in the loss of limbs and ultimate disintegration and death of the leggy animal. The cause of the disease remains unknown to researchers, who have not been able to determine if it is related to a bacterial infection, a virus or a combination of effects worsened by environmental stressors, such as increased water temperature.

The syndrome has afflicted sea star populations on the West Coast in the past, and in those instances, populations eventually bounced back, Smithsonian invertebrate zoologist Christopher Mah told LiveScience. But this current episode appears more severe than previous cases, killing up to 95 percent of some populations consisting of hundreds of individuals, The Associated Press reported earlier this week. [The 5 Most Mysterious Animal Die-Offs]

"We've never seen it at this scale up and down the coast," Pete Raimondi, a professor of ecology at the University of California Santa Cruz involved in tracking the disease, said in a statement on Tuesday (Nov. 5).

Rippling effects of die-off

Since June, researchers have seen the disease spread from as far as British Columbia, Canada, down through California and, within the past year, from Maine through New Jersey. The scientists tracking the disease find this simultaneous bicoastal infection especially alarming.

"There is no direct route to get from Providence to Seattle," Gary Wessel, a molecular biologist at Brown University who is working to identify the agent causing the disease, told LiveScience. "So we don't know how the pathogen would be doing this."

Researchers do not think the disease has spread to other marine animals, but other animals will still feel the impact of the starfish decimation, Mah said. Starfish are one of the most common animals in coastal tide pools and other shallow nearshore ecosystems, and some species, such as the West Coast's ochre sea star (Pisaster ochraceus) and sunflower sea star (Pycnopodia helianthoides) — the largest sea star on Earth — are considered keystone species. This means that, without them, the structure of their ecosystems crumbles, as would an arch without the support of its top-center keystone.

The ripple effects of the decline would likely vary from region to region, but could potentially be drastic, Mah said. In the past, a decline in ochre sea star populations along the West Coast led to the massive proliferation of mussels at the expense of other animals, because the sea star had been the mussel's top predator. Sea stars also feed on the larvae of many invertebrates — or animals without a backbone, including various mollusks and sea slugs — which helps keep adult populations in check. Without sea star predation, more larvae will grow to adulthood and certain populations could balloon, though to what extent remains unclear, Mah said.

"A change in community structure can always have unpredictable effects," Mah said.

Off-kilter ecosystems

In addition to ecological changes, the loss of sea stars could induce changes in abiotic (nonliving) environmental conditions, such as aeration of seafloor sediment and nutrient supply in the water column. That's because critters eaten by sea stars help regulate these conditions. Worms, for example, aerate sediment and clams suck up nutrients that might otherwise fertilize large mats of smothering algae. An off-kilter ecosystem could alter the distribution of these environmental contributions. [Marine Marvels: Spectacular Photos of Sea Creatures]

Still, Mah emphasized that scientists are only beginning to understand what, exactly, the disease is and how many sea stars have already been affected by it, so any projections regarding its ripple effects remain speculative at this point.

"I think it's important not to jump off the handle and make rash assumptions about catastrophic environmental effects," Mah said. "We don't have any data that that is the case yet."

And, paradoxically, Mah pointed out that since marine ecologists still have a lot to learn about sea star ecology in general, the animal's absence could offer a valuable opportunity to tease out its effect on the ecosystem.

"This could be a blip in the ecology of this animal, or maybe it is something else," Mah said. "But we definitely need to find out, because the sea stars are important indicator species, and if they begin to die off, then that could be a sign that something else bad is happening in the environment."

Researchers at UC Santa Cruz's Long Marine Lab and others involved in tracking the disease have encouraged the public to document any cases of goopy sea stars they come across by uploading images into the citizen-scientist website iNaturalist. This will help the researchers determine the geographic extent of the disease, and potentially track the direction it is spreading in real time.

Editor's note: This article was updated to clarify that past episodes of sea star wasting disease occurred on the West Coast, not on both U.S. coasts.

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