Best of our wild blogs: 1 Apr 14

The St. Andrew’s Cross Spiders and birds
from Bird Ecology Study Group

LKCNHM Specimens at the Singapore Art Museum
from LKCNHM News

Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research is no more
from Raffles Museum News

Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research is now officially the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum from Otterman speaks

Read more!

One man's meat is another's poison

Benson Ang The Straits Times AsiaOne 1 Apr 14;

The Vegetarian Society (Singapore), a 15-year-old local charity devoted to reducing meat consumption, has spent almost $50,000 to run the two-week poster campaign that started on Thursday. The advertisements are placed only at the interchange station because of the high human traffic volume.

Each poster shows two animals, a house pet and another that is commonly eaten. Above the pairings - puppy and calf, kitten and chick, and puppy and piglet - is the poser: Why love one but eat the other?

The posters have prompted commuters to ponder other questions: Are they appropriate? And how effective are they?

Most commuters and communication experts SundayLife! spoke to have no issues with the campaign, but they doubt it will change consumption habits.

Mr Edwin Yeo, 46, general manager of public relations consultancy firm SPRG Singapore, said: "So long as what the groups are promoting doesn't disrupt harmony or security, there's no reason they shouldn't be allowed to use ads to promote their cause."

Of this campaign, he said: "A small percentage will respond to the cute pictures. But to the masses, the ad will probably make a commuter feel a tinge of guilt for only about five seconds.

"If the movie Babe didn't stop people from eating meat, neither will this poster campaign." Babe is the 1995 box-office hit about a pig which wants to be a sheepdog.

Of the 15 commuters approached, only two expressed strong objections to the posters.

Technical officer Habib Hassan, 63, said: "Vegetarians are only a small group in Singapore. They shouldn't be allowed to use public space to promote their cause.

"This advertisement is clearly biased and makes people feel guilty. I should be able to eat whatever I want."

Agreeing, Mr Jerry Wong, 53, a project manager, said: "One's eating habits are personal, so the message is not suitable as a public advertisement."

He suggested that the society spread its message through friends and personal contacts instead.

However, most people do not object to special interest groups pushing their message in public places, as long as these are not about sex, race or religion.

Housewife Christina Chye, 56, said: "I actually find this type of advertisments more interesting and refreshing than the regular ones that plug products."

According to SMRT's advertising guidelines, companies can advertise on its buses, taxis and trains, as well as on lightboxes and mobile platforms at its train stations.

But SMRT can refuse to accept, discontinue or remove any advertisment that is "objectionable, inappropriate, likely to cause offence" or "unsuitable for any reason".

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has a code of practice for advertisements that MRT and LRT operators must comply with.

A spokesman for LTA said that in general, advertising content that can cause discomfort, such as graphics depicting violence or are provocative, are not allowed.

This is not the first time a special interest group has taken out a public advertisement.

Last December, the Association of Women for Action and Research put up an advertisement at a bus stop in Orchard Road promoting its Sexual Assault Befrienders Service which supports victims and survivors of sexual assault.

Two years ago, conservation group Shark Savers Singapore launched its "I'm FINished with fins" campaign through billboard advertisments at bus stops aimed at discouraging the consumption of shark's fin.

Only two of the 15 commuters that SundayLife! spoke to said they might change their diet after seeing the poster.

Quantity surveyor Steve Leu, 59, said: "The poster is impactful and makes me think twice about the amount of meat I'm eating. After all, the animals we kill for meat also used to be cute."

Such reactions are what the Vegetarian Society (Singapore) is hoping for.

Its president, Mr Clarence Tan, 48, said: "As long as the posters make people stop and think about their eating practices, I think they would have succeeded.

"I would rather offend a few people than have billions of animals tortured every year."
- See more at:

Read more!

Electricity tariffs to increase from April 1

Channel NewsAsia 31 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE: Electricity tariffs will increase by an average of 0.3 per cent or 0.07 cent per kWh for the period from April 1 to June 30.

Utilities supplier SP Services says the increase is due to a 1.3 per cent rise in fuel costs, which was partially mitigated by a reduction in non-fuel costs.

For households, the electricity tariff will increase from 25.65 to 25.73 cents per kWh for April 1 to June 30.

The average monthly electricity bill for families living in four-room HDB flats will increase by S$0.26.

SP Services says it reviews the electricity tariffs quarterly based on guidelines set by the electricity industry regulator Energy Market Authority (EMA).

Average increase in monthly bill:
HDB 1-room S$0.09
HDB 2-room S$0.13
HDB 3-room S$0.20
HDB 4-room S$0.26
HDB 5-room S$0.31
HDB Executive S$0.37

Terrace S$0.67



Read more!

High demand for air purifiers, masks amid haze warning

John Leong Channel NewsAsia 31 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE: Demand for air purifiers and N95 face masks at retailers remains high.

This comes amid warnings that the haze this year could be worse than last year's record-breaking levels.

At its highest in June last year, the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hit 401.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) warned earlier this month that a regional dry spell, early burning in Indonesia and erratic weather could make it worse this year.

It appears people are determined not be caught off guard.

Retailers said demand for air purifiers has increased seven-fold from January to this month, compared with the same period last year.

Electronics chain Courts and supermarket operator FairPrice said that new stock should arrive sometime next month.

While it may be difficult for people to get their hands on air purifiers at the moment, there should be no such problems when it comes to N95 masks.

Earlier this month, the government said it had stockpiled 16 million masks.

If the need arises, these supplies will be distributed to retailers such as health and beauty chain Watsons.

Daniel Teo, general manager at Watsons Singapore, said: "Now there's definitely sufficient stock. Already with the early warnings, we've seen a good uptake, with double-digit growth. And this time round, I think we're better prepared.”

The haze last year saw several ground-up initiatives take flight, such as SG Haze Rescue.

These involved volunteers helping to distribute masks to needy Singaporeans.

Watsons said it would be open to working with such groups, if approached.

This could include contributing products to the cause.

While stock of N95 masks is healthy this year, retailers are urging consumers to only buy what they need.

If required, a cap may be introduced so that everyone who needs a mask can get one.

- CNA/xq

Read more!

Malaysia: Wettest town going dry and driest one rescues Seremban

The Star 1 Apr 14;

PETALING JAYA: Taiping, the wettest town in the country, is facing a water crisis. Jelebu, the driest district in the country, is now the main water supplier for Seremban. Things are turning topsy-turvy.

Several housing areas in Taiping and its surrounding areas are starting to experience disruptions as the water level there is not improving.

Resident SK Ng, who is in his 50s, said that despite an hour-long rainfall on Saturday afternoon, water was only trickling out of the taps.

“The residents here are getting anxious,” he added.

On Friday, Perak Public Utilities, Infrastructure, Energy and Water Committee chairman Datuk Zainol Fadzi Paharuddin held an emergency press conference over the critical water level at the Headwood Taiping water treatment plant, notifying people that notices on the water rationing exercise would be put up in the affected areas.

He said the affected zones would get water supply for a period of two days at a time and the water rationing exercise was expected to affect about 28,000 residents.

Perak Water Board western regional manager Shapiei Mustapa said people should be prepared for water rationing between April 3 and April 16 if the situation continues to worsen.

He said only a week-long downpour could return the water level at the plant to normal from its current critical level.

In Negri Sembilan, several parts of the state could soon face a water shortage but things are fine in Seremban and its surrounding areas following the commissioning of the Ngoi-ngoi plant a week ago.

It can produce an additional 150 million litres of treated water a day.

“With the commissioning of this plant, we can reduce our dependence on the Sg Terip plant, which now supplies treated water to Seremban,” said Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan.

He said Jelebu was now the main supplier of raw water for residents in Seremban.

“Jelebu is known to be a very dry place but the construction and commissioning of the Ngoi-ngoi dam is testimony that we can overcome obstacles through proper planning,” he said.

However, water levels at three of the four dams are even lower than before the wet spell began about two weeks ago with only the Kelinchi dam registering a slightly higher level.

Checks with Syarikat Air Negri Sembilan (SAINS) showed that water levels at the Sg Terip, Talang and Gemencheh dams have not improved compared with two weeks ago.

On March 6, the state government carried out water rationing in parts of Rembau, Gemencheh and Jempol when the water level at Sg Ulu Muar fell rapidly due to the prolonged dry spell.

However, supply was restored just over a week later.

More and more water being used
The Star 1 Apr 14;

PETALING JAYA: The current water shortage may be due to a dry spell but consumption habits are not helping to solve the problem.

Malaysians use a lot of water and the amount is increasing every year.

According to National Water Services Commission data, the average Malaysian used 201 litres of water per day in 2009, 209 in 2010, 210 in 2011 and 212 in 2012.

The figures are among the highest in the region, said Fomca deputy secretary-general Foon Weng Lian.

Singapore’s per capita consumption of water is only 151 litres per capita per day while the United Nations recommendation is 150 litres, said Foon.

Getting Malaysians to save water has not been easy.

In 2007, Fomca and the then Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water conducted the Domestic Water Consumption Study.

“At the end of the study in 2010, we asked respondents whether they were willing to conserve water for the next three years. Seventy-five per cent of them said they were not willing to do so,” Foon said.

The finding showed up the failure of ad hoc water conservation campaigns, he said, adding:

“The water conservation campaign must be ongoing because Malaysians really need to be constantly reminded.”

Some consumers affected by the rationing exercise in Selangor were collecting excess water each time their taps flowed as they were fearful of them running dry, said Foon.

M. Yoga and his family had been storing water in three 25-gallon buckets at their home in Bandar Utama.

The head of the household of eight (which includes his wife, four children, mother-in-law and maid) would prefer a one day on, one day off rationing system instead of the present two days on, two days off.

“We’re not at home during the day and although I’ve told the maid not to fill up all the buckets, she continues to do so because she fears the cut may extend from two days to three without any notice.

Lin Dahalan, her husband and three children are getting by with a 30-gallon bucket at their home in Puchong, but feel they are cutting it fine.

“The water goes off at sharp 10am but only comes back on to the third floor around 10pm on the third day.There’s always a possibility we could run out,” she said.

Foon said the current shortage must be seen by all as a wake-up call about the importance of water conservation and good management of water resources.

He said planners drawing up the country’s long-term water supply policy must take into account not just consumption habits but the effect of increasingly unpredictable weather.

Consumers still using as much water as when dams were full
The Star 1 Apr 14;

PETALING JAYA: Selangor’s dams are running dry, but its residents are still using nearly as much water as they were when the dams were full.

Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry secretary-general Datuk Loo Took Gee said people in Selangor were only using 7% less water despite the water rationing in the state.

As of yesterday morning, the Sungai Selangor dam in Kuala Kubu Baru recorded a 36.53% capacity. Its critical level is 30% – which will be reached in just two weeks if water levels consistently drop.

“Despite the water rationing, the regulator has found that the (amount of) water saved is a mere 7%. The demand has only dropped by (that much),” Loo said in an interview, citing National Water Services Commission figures.

It was reported that the demand for treated water in Selangor was 4,641 million litres a day.

This would mean that a mere 325 million litres are saved each day, which Loo said was not enough. Malaysia, she said, had low water tariffs and Selangor gave 20 cubic metres of water for free to its residents each month.

This did not motivate people to save water, and the ministry was mulling the possibility of a water surcharge to stretch the state’s resources, Loo said.

“It’s a possibility in light of the present dilemma that we have right now...If you go beyond a certain consumption, you must increase (charges),” she added.

According to the Malaysian Water Industry Guide 2013, Selangor residents are charged RM0.57 per 1,000 litres for the first 20,000 litres. This is bumped to RM0.72 for the first 30,000 litres and RM0.77 for the first 35,000 litres.

The state’s last tariff review was in 2006.

Loo said the Government might consider declaring a water emergency before dams reached critical levels.

“We’re not going to wait until the levels reach 30%,” Loo said, referring to the Sungai Selangor dam, the state’s largest.

“I hope that by the end of April there’ll be more rain coming. We have to prepare the necessary measures needed to be invoked, just in case,” she said, declining to say when either a surcharge or emergency might take effect.

She added that the ministry was considering taking water from the Labu and Ngoi-ngoi treatment plants in Negri Sembilan to supplement Selangor’s water needs during this time.

If the critical level is reached, a water emergency can be declared and the Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister is given discretionary powers to do whatever he wants to conserve water resources.

He would have the power to ban car-washing and garden-watering as well as take action against those violating the water emergency rule.

6.7 million Selangor residents to face water cuts from Friday
patrick lee The Star 1 Apr 14;

CYBERJAYA: More than 6.7 million Selangor residents will face water cuts, when the fourth phase of water rationing takes effect on April 4.

National Water Services Commission (SPAN) chairman Datuk Ismail Kassim said that the phase will affect nine districts here: Gombak, Petaling, Klang/Shah Alan, Kuala Selangor, Hulu Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Langat, Hulu Langat and Sepang.

“The fourth phase of water rationing will involve an additional 620,237 households making a grand total of 1,340,231 households or 6.7 million people,” he told reporters at SPAN’s headquarters here on Tuesday.

The Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), he said, will however not be affected by the water rationing exercise.

Kelantan looks to groundwater to keep the taps running
The Star 1 Apr 14;

KOTA BARU: Over the past 70 years, people in Kelantan have depended on underground water for their taps.

Kelantan water authority Syarikat Air Kelantan Sdn Bhd ( AKSB) is utilising the vast resources of underground water to supply its 1.4 million residents by using a technique from Germany called Telaga Jejari (Radius Well underground water extraction technique).

AKSB Technical Development Department head Wan Mohd Zamri Wan Ismail said states with acute water supply problems should consider using this technique to weather the annual dry seasons.

He said the water company had been using the technique of extracting underground water to ensure continuous and uninterrupted water supply for consumers statewide.

“Previously we had many problems supplying water from water plants and we faced even a serious problem of supplying water to residents during the drought year in year out.

“However since 2010, we have yet to have problems of supplying water to consumers from the 14 wells where water is drawn from the ground up to 40m to 50m.

“We estimate there are at least five thousand billion litres of underground water to be utilised,” he said .

In KOTA KINABALU, Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan said the state was compelled to build a second dam in outskirts of the state capital to ensure sufficient water supply for the city and nearby districts until the year 2050.

He said the proposed dam near Kampung Kaiduan in Papar district would provide water to the tens of thousands of people in the state capital as well as the districts of Tuaran, Penampang, Putatan and Papar itself.

He said the state was aware that the project would affect those living in the vicinity of Kampung Kaiduan and a special Environmental Impact Assessment would be carried out for this purpose.

Read more!

Indonesia: Military Plans for Return Home as Riau Haze Under Control

Jakarta Globe 1 Apr 14;

Jakarta. The number of hotspots detected in the troubled Indonesian province of Riau fell to zero over the weekend after forest fires burned intermittently for some two months, Indonesian officials said on Tuesday, as they announced plans to recall some 1,000 military personnel sent to combat the region’s annual haze-causing fires.

“The hotspots in Riau have continued to disappear,” National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said in a press statement released on Tuesday. “On Sunday there were ZERO hotspots and from Monday to today there is only one more hotspot.”

The announcement was the first sign of hope since the forest fires re-emerged after a brief reprieve, surging to 777 hotspots by Friday and prompting stern action from local law enforcement. More than 100 people and one company, National Sago Prima — a subsidiary of Sampoerna Agro, have been implicated in this year’s forest fires to date. The fires, and the ensuing haze, have cost the province some Rp 10 trillion ($890 million) in losses by the start of March, according to the state-run Antara News Agency.

While the haze from this year’s forest fires failed to reach neighboring Singapore and Malaysia in a significant way, air quality in Sumatra fell to hazardous levels, prompting the local government to declare a state of emergency as flights were diverted, more than 100,000 fell ill and three died, according to reports in local media.

The men, a villager named Muhammad Adli, 63, and a Surya Damai Agrindo plantation worker named Muslim, 30, were reported dead by the Indonesian news portal According to the report, Aldi suffered fatal injuries after falling into burning peatland while Muslim died as he attempted to combat the forest fires as flames closed-in on the company’s plantations.

A third still unidentified man died of asthma-related symptoms, Sutopo told the Jakarta Globe. The elderly man was reportedly ill long before the fires began to burn, he said.

“The victim died due to old age and because he had been ill from the beginning,” Sutopo told the Jakarta Globe.

By Tuesday the conditions in Riau showed signs of returning to normal. The air quality was getting better and operations at Pekanbaru’s Sultan Syarif Kasim II International Airport have resumed normal operations.

“The air quality ranges from healthy to moderate on Tuesday,” Sutopo said. “There are no more [regions in Riau reporting] ‘unhealthy’ or ‘dangerous’ levels [of air pollutants].”

The government will now start to wind down its Integrated Operation Task Force — a 2,000-strong haze-reduction force that included members of the BNPB and the Indonesian Military (TNI). All members of the task force sent to Riau will be screened by health care officials before they return to regular rotation in Jakarta.

“The operations have been carried out well,” Sutopo said. “All the personnel involved in the operation went all-out… All the personnel will have their health conditions checked. They’ve been exposed to fires and haze for three weeks.”

Read more!

Indonesia’s haze: Leaders fiddle as Sumatra burns

The fires that cause much of the region’s haze have started early this year
The Economist 22 Mar 14;

PEKANBARU, the capital of Riau province on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, has been shrouded in an acrid white cloud of smoke so dense that visibility is down to 50 metres (about 160 feet). The air quality is officially described as “dangerous”, and most people are wearing face masks, even indoors. Nearly 50,000 people in Riau have already been treated for respiratory, eye or skin problems. All flights last week were cancelled, and only a few have got through since. The provincial governor has declared a state of emergency. The haze is back, and has arrived earlier this year than usual.

Drive to Pekanbaru from the ferries that dock at a north Sumatran port, and you can see what the cause of the problem is: mile upon mile of smouldering or charred land. Much of it is peat-bog, where fires can burn up to two metres underground and take weeks to end. A few minutes in, the inferno stings the eyes and sets off a hacking cough. These fires have been burning for nearly two months. According to Greenpeace, a pressure group, more than 1,000 fires covering at least 12,000 hectares (30,000 acres) of forest and peatland are burning in Riau. And that is just one province among several with fires blazing.

For Sumatra, it is an annual environmental trauma. But when the haze drifts across the Strait of Malacca to cover Singapore and Malaysia, it is a regional nightmare, too. Some schools began to close in Malaysia this month; the night air in Singapore smelled of bonfires before rain provided some relief. Last year the haze shattered all air-pollution records in both countries, and diplomatic rows broke out with Indonesia. It will take only a slight change in wind direction for Sumatra’s fires to cause an even bigger haze over the region this year.

Everyone knows why the haze happens, yet it keeps on occurring. That angers Indonesians as much as Singaporeans and Malaysians. The fires are usually started deliberately, often to clear land to make way for palm-oil plantations. Indonesia is the world’s biggest producer of palm oil. Successive governments have passed a mountain of laws and regulations outlawing burning, yet enforcement is so poor that people carry on regardless. On March 16th, when he dropped in on Riau on an emergency visit, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he was “ashamed” of the situation .

One recent fire illustrates many of the problems. Between Pekanbaru and the east coast is Giam Siak Kecil Bukit Batu, a huge UNESCO-listed peatland and forest reserve that is home to the Sumatran tiger, among other species. It has been invaded by over 2,000 people from north Sumatra who are clearing the land by burning about 3,000 hectares. Local village heads are suspected of selling plots of land to the newcomers, aided and abetted by a local military officer previously convicted of illegal logging in western Sumatra.

That points to the habitual collusion between the authorities and those illegally clearing land, both of whom profit from the lucrative palm-oil business. In response to this case, the head of the army in Riau, Prihadi Agus Irianto, has said that it is time for the armed forces to acknowledge that officers are involved in illegal logging and burning. On March 12th a former governor of Riau, Rusli Zainal, was found guilty of graft, including issuing logging licences that resulted in forest destruction. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Yet, as some Indonesian politicians are keen to point out, the problem is not all down to official corruption. About half of the fires burn on plantations owned by big palm-oil and logging corporations. By law, they are supposed to be responsible for preventing and putting out fires on their concessions, but the regulations are seldom enforced. This year, using satellite imagery, Greenpeace claims to have found fires on land owned by 36 pulp-and-paper companies and 15 palm-oil companies. Many of these are local subsidiaries of Malaysian and Singaporean giants.

Yet proving a deliberate intent to start the fires has always been hard. The case against one company, Adei Plantation and Industry, a subsidiary of Kuala Lumpur Kepong, listed in Malaysia, is being watched closely. The firm was one of eight accused last year of starting fires, and now—a first in Riau—a local manager and a director have been brought to trial. If found guilty, they face up to ten years in jail and the company could lose its permit.

The director of a local NGO, Muslim Rasyid of the Network for Riau Forest Rescue, argues that this is a landmark trial, and that if the company is punished, it could act as a deterrent to others. Perhaps, but first the trial has to reach its conclusion. Proceedings have been delayed. The judge, who is based in Jakarta, the capital, could not attend the courtroom last week because planes could not land in the haze.

Read more!

Environmental groups oppose controversial Laos dam on eve of regional summit

Thanhnien News 31 Mar 14;

A road built as part of a project to build the controversial Xayaburi hydropower dam in Laos
Leading non-governmental organizations issued a joint declaration on Monday protesting against the ongoing construction of the Xayaburi dam on the Mekong River mainstream, the WWF said in a statement.

The organizations also called on the Thai government to cancel the Power Purchase Agreement relating to the controversial hydro-power project.

The declaration, signed by 39 international and national NGOs and civil society groups, including International Rivers and WWF, comes ahead of this week’s Mekong River Commission (MRC) Summit, attended by Heads of Government from the four Lower Mekong countries -- Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand.

The summit will address challenges facing the Mekong River Basin and regional cooperation.

According to WWF, as the first dam to enter the MRC’s consultation process, the Xayaburi project is a crucial test case for 10 other dams proposed for the Lower Mekong mainstream.

The MRC process requires countries to jointly review projects proposed for the Mekong mainstream with an aim to reach a consensus on whether they proceed or not.

“Cambodia and Vietnam have never approved the Xayaburi dam. Nevertheless, Laos is marching ahead with construction without agreement among its neighbors,” said Kraisak Choonhavan, leading environmental activist and former chairman of Thailand’s Senate Foreign Affairs Committee.

“The Xayaburi project severely weakens the legitimacy of the MRC and threatens the health and productivity of the Mekong River and Delta, which could leave millions facing food insecurity," Kraisak said.

"The Mekong Summit is the critical moment for Cambodia and Vietnam to take a strong stance and make their concerns heard loud and clear before it’s too late.”

According to Pöyry, the Finnish consulting firm advising Laos on the dam engineering, a coffer dam - used to divert the river’s flow away from the in-river construction site - will be built in the first quarter of 2015.

This dam will be the first direct intervention in the river bed during the dry season, and will mark the start of major irreversible environmental impacts.

Thailand is slated to be the prime consumer of the electricity produced by the $US3.8 billion Xayaburi dam, and a syndicate of six Thai banks is financing the project, despite the acute environmental and social costs, and the uncertainties surrounding the financial return of the project.

“It’s not too late to stop this disastrous dam before irreversible harm occurs early next year,” said Saranarat Oy Kanjanavanit, Secretary-General of Thailand's Green World Foundation.

“Thailand must act responsibly and cancel its premature power purchase agreement until there is regional consensus on mainstem Mekong dams. And if the Thai banks reconsider their risk assessments, and value their international reputation and financial returns, they’d do well to pull out of this project.”

In the joint declaration, the organizations recognize the Xayaburi project as one of the "potentially most damaging" dams currently under construction anywhere in the world, constituting the greatest trans-boundary threat to date to food security, sustainable development and regional cooperation in the Lower Mekong.

They also said that the project’s Environmental Impact Assessment does not meet any internationally-accepted standards.

Expert reviews of Xayaburi dam have identified serious gaps in data and weaknesses with the proposed fish passes for the mega dam, and have confirmed that the Xayaburi project will block part of the sediment flow, destabilizing the river’s ecosystem upon which farmers, fishers and many other economic sectors depend.

“Without the results of on-going environmental studies, dam development on the lower Mekong mainstream is now largely guesswork,” said Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia program director for International Rivers.

“But Laos expects its neighbors to take a dangerous leap of faith and trust that the risks associated with this project will somehow be resolved while construction moves ahead. This dubious approach not only preempts the conclusions of the studies, but clearly contravenes international best practice.”

The Lower Mekong, one of the world’s last large untamed stretches of river, supports nearly 60 million people with its rich fisheries. In order for migratory fish to move up and down the river they would need swim through the dam via the proposed fish passages.

“There are no internationally-accepted, technologically-proven solutions for mitigating the Xayaburi dam’s impacts on fish migrations and sediment flows,” said Marc Goichot, sustainable hydropower lead with WWF-Greater Mekong.

“Resting the future of the Mekong on flawed analysis could have dire consequences for the livelihoods of millions of people living in the Mekong Basin.”

The NGO coalition hailed Vietnam’s official response to the MRC’s consultation process on 15 April, 2011 in which Vietnam strongly requested “that the decision on the Xayaburi Hydropower Project as well as all other planned hydropower projects on the Mekong mainstream be deferred for at least 10 years”, a recommendation previously stated by the MRC’s 2010 Environmental Assessment.

Read more!

What’s an Acre of Seagrass Worth? $80,000 in Fish Alone

Philine zu Ermgassen and Dr. Mark Spalding, The Nature Conservancy National Geographic 31 Mar 14;

For decades, dire tales of collapsing fish stocks were told, only to fall on deaf ears.

Then, in a 2008 report, “Sunken Billions,” the World Bank and the FAO began to couch the problem in entirely new terms – financial terms. They estimated that $50 billion was lost each year due to poor fisheries management. That staggering figure caught the eye of finance ministers, development agencies, and economists around the globe.

At last, the conservation community discovered how to get attention, but it raised a new question: what to do about it? To truly turn the tide, they knew, meant not only taking fewer fish, but also producing more. That’s where seagrass, mangroves, and other habitat come in. These habitats are nurseries to new generations of commercially valuable fish and it is time we recognize the value of those important ocean services on Earth’s balance sheet.

Juvenile fish have it hard from day one. They are at the mercy of the elements and voracious predators. The odds of a microscopic fish larva making it to adulthood are one-in-a-million. Seagrasses represent the rare safe haven, providing much needed food and shelter. And yet, like the fish, seagrass beds have also been disappearing. Some say the world loses a soccer field worth of seagrass every half-hour, further contributing to the decline in fish.

New fisheries management has to consider the whole life cycle of the fish—where they are born, where they spend their lives, as well as how they die.

In places where habitat loss harms fish, protection and restoration are a very real opportunity. A new study, supported by The Nature Conservancy, tells us just how real. The report tells us that each square meter of seagrass habitat we save in southern Australia could add nearly one kilogram of fish each year. Said in a different way, every acre of seagrass could add US$80,000 of commercially important fish to the oceans every year.

No one is blind to the fact that seagrass restoration is both technically challenging and financially expensive, but these figures show that the benefits far outweigh the costs. Some restoration efforts could pay for themselves in just five years. In these terms, seagrass restoration is a no brainer.

And yet, as with so many projects where the costs are large and the benefits are shared, money can impede getting seeds in the ground. If such benefits went on the balance sheet of a company, a champion would certainly appear, but these benefits go to many—to commercial and recreational fishermen, to local economies, and to seafood fans—and thus no champion is forthcoming.

On an encouraging note, however, the story of the financial impact of a small patch of seagrass in a small part of the world is but one among the many that our ocean has to tell. Valuing ocean wealth stands to change everything. It represents a fundamentally new model for the global conservation conversation. It has been reviewed and tested by the scientific community.

We can use it to build a complete accounting of coastal wealth that includes jobs, food security, and tourism income into an honest and compelling bottom line figure. Suddenly, that little patch of seagrass in South Australia is no longer “dead space” able to be snuffed out by a change in shipping lanes, run-off or pollution, but rather a storehouse of wealth.

Humans crave quantification. Numbers turn heads. Numbers change policies. Numbers are compelling. But, we must act fast. Seagrasses are being lost every minute we wait. And, it’s costing us untold billions.

We can start by mapping our ocean wealth, like a pirate would plot his hidden treasure. We can start understanding things like how valuable mangroves are at filtering out pollution, or coral reefs in generating tourism, or oyster beds are at protecting coastal erosion. We must build these systems into our economic models in the realest, most compelling financial, engineering, and policy terms we can find. Tabulating the value of services is essential if we are ever to truly comprehend the vast wealth of the ocean and maximize investment and development dollars.

Read more!

How wetlands can help us adapt to rising seas

Kerrylee Rogers, Catherine Lovelock, Craig Copeland and Neil Saintilan
The Conversation 1 Apr 14;

Instead of costly levees and seawalls, coastal ecosystems could offer an alternative way to protect Australia’s coastal communities from rising seas, saving money and storing carbon along the way.

Sea levels around Australia are likely to rise 40 cm and up to 60 cm by 2100, driven by rising temperatures and melting ice-caps. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on climate impacts and vulnerability shows more people will be at risk of flooding as a result of sea level rise. The report also focuses heavily on adaptation, and coasts show just how that might work.

Our coasts are already dynamic places, seeing regular erosion and inundation. In the past, poor recognition of this fact has left infrastructure and assets vulnerable — now increasingly so, thanks to sea level rise. If we’re to decrease the risk of future losses, we need to plan now to adapt. One way we could do so is by looking to nature.
Living coastal defences

Coastal ecosystems, such as wetlands, can increase the resilience of shorelines to erosion and inundation. This is starting to be recognised by coastal engineers, particularly in the US and Europe. Known as “living shorelines”, coastal wetlands are being constructed as an alternative to traditional engineering structures such as seawalls.

This “eco-engineering” is also starting to be recognised as a way for Australia to adapt to one of the 21st century’s major challenges.

Constructing wetlands, or helping existing wetlands retreat and accommodate rising seas, could offer significant economic gains while protecting coasts. Living shorelines could save between 30-80% of the cost of constructing hard structures such as seawalls, and once established they have minimal ongoing maintenance costs.

In Australia, tidal floodgates on the Hunter River in NSW once held back tidal waters. Now the river is a beacon for coastal adaptation. Tidal flow is being restored to the coastal floodplain, converting marginal farmland and freshwater wetlands into mangrove and saltmarsh.

The new habitat will provide more nurseries for fish. Costings from mangrove habitats show that this could generate A$14,000 per hectare each year to commercial fisheries.

Coastal wetlands are also amongst the most efficient ecosystems at sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. Expanding our wetlands could go some way to Australia’s climate mitigation efforts. In a paper recently published in the journal Estuaries and Coasts, we estimated how much carbon could be stored on the Lower Hunter.

We found 280,000 tonnes of carbon could be stored by 2100 if floodgates are opened and wetlands are helped to retreat and accommodate rising seas. Based on a carbon price derived from the European Union’s emissions trading system (fluctuating between A$7.30 and A$46.40 per tonne), we calculated the carbon sequestered in these wetlands could be worth between A$2 million and A$13 million in a carbon sensitive economy.

Irrespective of a mandated emissions trading scheme, this sequestered carbon may potentially provide financial incentives for coastal wetland restoration and conservation, through programs such as REDD+ and voluntary carbon markets like Verified Carbon Standard.
Working with nature

There are other ways to work with nature on our coasts, and these may have benefits beyond adapting to sea level rise. All of the following examples are already in practice in parts of coastal Australia.

Adding sand to beaches to protect them from sea level rise and storms can also minimise loss of amenity, unlike traditional seawalls.

Sand bypass projects build upon traditional beach nourishment by shifting sand from channels used for navigation to beaches where it is needed. Dredge spoil is being used in the same way on estuarine shorelines.

Oyster beds are being established as bulkheads to reduce wave action. And dunes are being rehabilitated to provide a buffer, as well as habitat for wildlife such as turtles and penguins.

Working with nature also applies to planning. Development should be confined to those areas that are already resilient to sea level rise, only approving developments in areas resistant to erosion and above the height impacted by rising seas and storm surges.

Planning also extends to coastal ecosystems. Sensible planning would acknowledge that coastal ecosystems produce many benefits, including protection from sea level rise. Local, state and federal governments need to start discussing how to accommodate the migration of coastal ecosystems as a result of sea level rise. Boundaries of coastal ecosystems will change. Planners need the vision to recognise this, and resist pressure from those who won’t.

Our coastal future will be different to our coasts as we know them. We now know some of the ways we can adapt to this future.

Read more!

World court orders halt to Japan's scientific whaling

Thomas Escritt PlanetArk 1 Apr 14;

Judges at the highest U.N. court ordered Japan on Monday to halt whaling in the Antarctic, rejecting its long-held argument that the catch was for scientific purposes and not primarily for human consumption.

Tokyo said it was disappointed but would abide by the decision, while activists said they hoped it would bring closer a complete end to whaling around the world.

The International Court of Justice sided with plaintiff Australia in finding that the scientific output of the whaling programme did not justify the number of whales killed.

The tribunal said no further licences should be issued for scientific whaling, where animals are first examined for research purposes before the meat is sold to consumers.

"The research objectives must be sufficient to justify the lethal sampling," said Presiding Judge Peter Tomka of Slovakia.

"In light of the fact the (research programme) has been going on since 2005, and has involved the killing of about 3,600 minke whales, the scientific output to date appears limited."

Japan signed a 1986 moratorium on whaling, but has continued to hunt up to 850 minke whales in the icy waters of the Southern Ocean, as well as smaller numbers of fin and humpback whales, citing a 1946 treaty that permits killing the giant mammals for research.

Judges agreed with Australia that the research - two peer reviewed papers since 2005, based on results obtained from just nine killed whales - was not proportionate to the number of animals killed.

Japan was "deeply disappointed" by the ruling, but it would comply, said Koji Tsuruoka, the country's chief lawyer before the court. He said the government would need to study the ruling before taking any further action.

The judgment is an embarrassment to Japan, but Tokyo could continue whaling if it devised a new, more persuasive programme of scientific research that required "lethal catch" of whales, or if it withdrew from the whaling moratorium or the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.


Whaling was once widespread around the world, but Japan is now one of only a handful of countries, including Iceland and Norway, that continue the practice on a large scale. The meat is popular with Japanese consumers who consider it a delicacy.

Norway, the other main whaling nation, in 1993 shifted away from scientific whaling to "commercial" catches, where the meat is sold directly to consumers.

The Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries said "scientific research and catches for scientific purposes is of fundamental importance to any responsible fisheries nation and the court ruling will therefore be given due attention".

Norway set a quota of 1,286 minke whales in the north Atlantic in last year's summer hunt, saying stocks are plentiful in the region. Fishermen rarely catch the full quota, partly because demand has sunk in recent years.

Iceland and Norway do not say they are carrying out research, instead openly hunt whale meat for commercial purposes, meaning the ICJ's ruling has no immediate consequences for them. They have not signed up to a global moratorium on whaling agreed by other countries.

But activists said the ruling reflected a gradually changing climate that would put an end to whaling.

"Whaling is under immense scrutiny from the international community, and the pincer movement on these countries is ever tightening," said Claire Bass, wildlife campaigner at the World Society for the Protection of Animals.

(Additional reporting by Alister Doyle in Oslo; Editing by Anthony Deutsch and Alison Williams)

Japan accepts court ban on Antarctic whaling
BBC News 31 Mar 14;

The UN's International Court of Justice (ICJ) has ruled that the Japanese government must halt its whaling programme in the Antarctic.

It agreed with Australia, which brought the case in May 2010, that the programme was not for scientific research as claimed by Tokyo.

Japan said it would abide by the decision but added it "regrets and is deeply disappointed by the decision".

Australia argued that the programme was commercial whaling in disguise.

The court's decision is considered legally binding.

Japan had argued that the suit brought by Australia was an attempt to impose its cultural norms on Japan.
Science 'myth'

Reading out the judgement on Monday, Presiding Judge Peter Tomka said the court had decided, by 12 votes to four, that Japan should withdraw all permits and licenses for whaling in the Antarctic and refrain from issuing any new ones.

It said Japan had caught some 3,600 minke whales since its current programme began in 2005, but the scientific output was limited.

Japan signed up to a moratorium on whaling in 1986, but continued whaling in the north and south Pacific under provisions that allowed for scientific research. Norway and Iceland rejected the provision and continued commercial whaling.

The meat from the slaughtered whales is sold commercially in Japan.

Japan has clashed repeatedly with Australia and some other western countries, which strongly oppose whaling on conservation grounds.

Japan has argued that minke whales and a number of other species are plentiful and that its whaling activities are sustainable.

A spokesman for Greenpeace UK, Willie MacKenzie, welcomed the ICJ's decision.

"The myth that this hunt was in any way scientific can now be dismissed once and for all," he said.

Read more!

Threat from global warming heightened in latest U.N. report

Aaron Sheldrick and Chris Meyers PlanetArk 1 Apr 14;

Global warming poses a growing threat to the health, economic prospects, and food and water sources of billions of people, top scientists said in a report that urges swift action to counter the effects of carbon emissions.

The latest report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says the effects of warming are being felt everywhere, fuelling potential food shortages, natural disasters and raising the risk of wars.

"The world, in many cases, is ill-prepared for risks from a changing climate," the IPCC said on Monday, after the final text of the report was agreed.

More warming increased the chance of harsh, widespread impacts that could be surprising or irreversible, it added.

The report projects global warming may cut world economic output by between 0.2 and 2.0 percent a year should mean temperatures rise by 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), estimates that many countries say are too low.

"Over the coming decades, climate change will have mostly negative impacts," said Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), citing cities, ecosystems and water supply as being among the areas at risk.

"The poor and vulnerable will be most affected," he added.

The IPCC was set up in 1988 by the WMO and the United Nations Environment Programme.


The report emphasizes the risks, and portrays cuts to greenhouse gas emissions as an insurance policy for the planet.

"Climate change is really a challenge of managing risks," Christopher Field, co-chair of the IPCC group preparing the report, told Reuters before its release on Monday.

The risks range from death to disrupted livelihoods in low-lying coastal zones and small islands, due to storm surges, coastal flooding, and sea-level rise, the report said.

Immediate action is needed, says the report, which follows a warning that humans are probably responsible for global warming thought to cause droughts, colder weather and rising sea levels.

"Unless we act dramatically and quickly, science tells us our climate and our way of life are literally in jeopardy," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement. "Denial of the science is malpractice."

Still, many governments have pleaded for greater scientific certainty before making billion-dollar investments in everything from flood barriers to renewable energies.

"There are those who say we can't afford to act. But waiting is truly unaffordable. The costs of inaction are catastrophic," Kerry said.

Global warming will worsen health threats, damage crop yields and bring floods, the report says. It could also deepen poverty and worsen economic shocks at the heart of conflict.

The report is the second in a four-part IPCC series meant to guide governments that have promised to agree a pact in 2015 to slow climate change. The first, in September, raised to least 95 percent the probability that most global warming is man-made, from 90 percent in 2007.

The panel's credibility faces scrutiny after one of its reports, in 2007, exaggerated the melt of Himalayan glaciers, but reviews said the error did not undermine key findings.

Climate scientists say they are more certain than ever that mankind is the main culprit behind global warming and warned the impact of greenhouse gas emissions would linger for centuries.

The report pulls together the work of hundreds of scientists but skeptics have been emboldened by the fact that temperatures have risen more slowly recently, despite rising emissions.

One of the authors, Professor Richard Tol of Sussex University in England, pulled out of the writing team last week, saying he thought the report was too alarmist.

The United Nations urged governments to step up work for a deal to fight climate change.

"This report requires and requests that everyone accelerate and scale up efforts towards a low carbon world and manage the risks of climate change," the United Nations climate chief, Christiana Figueres, said in a statement.

(Editing by Richard Pullin and Clarence Fernandez)

Global warming dials up our risks, UN report says
SETH BORENSTEIN Associated Press Yahoo News 30 Mar 14;

YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) — If the world doesn't cut pollution of heat-trapping gases, the already noticeable harms of global warming could spiral "out of control," the head of a United Nations scientific panel warned Monday.

And he's not alone. The Obama White House says it is taking this new report as a call for action, with Secretary of State John Kerry saying "the costs of inaction are catastrophic."

Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that issued the 32-volume, 2,610-page report here early Monday, told The Associated Press: "it is a call for action." Without reductions in emissions, he said, impacts from warming "could get out of control."

One of the study's authors, Maarten van Aalst, a top official at the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said, "If we don't reduce greenhouse gases soon, risks will get out of hand. And the risks have already risen."

Twenty-first century disasters such as killer heat waves in Europe, wildfires in the United States, droughts in Australia and deadly flooding in Mozambique, Thailand and Pakistan highlight how vulnerable humanity is to extreme weather, according to the report from the Nobel Prize-winning group of scientists. The dangers are going to worsen as the climate changes even more, the report's authors said.

"We're now in an era where climate change isn't some kind of future hypothetical," said the overall lead author of the report, Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution for Science in California. "We live in an area where impacts from climate change are already widespread and consequential."

Nobody is immune, Pachauri and other scientists said.

"We're all sitting ducks," Princeton University professor Michael Oppenheimer, one of the main authors of the report, said in an interview.

After several days of late-night wrangling, more than 100 governments unanimously approved the scientist-written 49-page summary — which is aimed at world political leaders. The summary mentions the word "risk" an average of about 5 1/2 times per page.

"Changes are occurring rapidly and they are sort of building up that risk," Field said.

These risks are both big and small, according to the report. They are now and in the future. They hit farmers and big cities. Some places will have too much water, some not enough, including drinking water. Other risks mentioned in the report involve the price and availability of food, and to a lesser and more qualified extent some diseases, financial costs and even world peace.

"Things are worse than we had predicted" in 2007, when the group of scientists last issued this type of report, said report co-author Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development at the Independent University in Bangladesh. "We are going to see more and more impacts, faster and sooner than we had anticipated."

The problems have gotten so bad that the panel had to add a new and dangerous level of risks. In 2007, the biggest risk level in one key summary graphic was "high" and colored blazing red. The latest report adds a new level, "very high," and colors it deep purple.

You might as well call it a "horrible" risk level, said van Aalst: "The horrible is something quite likely, and we won't be able to do anything about it."

The report predicts that the highest level of risk would first hit plants and animals, both on land and the acidifying oceans.

Climate change will worsen problems that society already has, such as poverty, sickness, violence and refugees, according to the report. And on the other end, it will act as a brake slowing down the benefits of a modernizing society, such as regular economic growth and more efficient crop production, it says.

"In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans," the report says.

And if society doesn't change, the future looks even worse, it says: "Increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts."

While the problems from global warming will hit everyone in some way, the magnitude of the harm won't be equal, coming down harder on people who can least afford it, the report says. It will increase the gaps between the rich and poor, healthy and sick, young and old, and men and women, van Aalst said.

But the report's authors say this is not a modern day version of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Much of what they warn of are more nuanced troubles that grow by degrees and worsen other societal ills. The report also concedes that there are uncertainties in understanding and predicting future climate risks.

The report, the fifth on warming's impacts, includes risks to the ecosystems of the Earth, including a thawing Arctic, but it is far more oriented to what it means to people than past versions.

The report also notes that one major area of risk is that with increased warming, incredibly dramatic but ultra-rare single major climate events, sometimes called tipping points, become more possible with huge consequences for the globe. These are events like the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which would take more than 1,000 years.

"I can't think of a better word for what it means to society than the word 'risk,'" said Virginia Burkett of the U.S. Geological Survey, one of the study's main authors. She calls global warming "maybe one of the greatest known risks we face."

Global warming is triggered by heat-trapping gases, such as carbon dioxide, that stay in the atmosphere for a century. Much of the gases still in the air and trapping heat came from the United States and other industrial nations. China is now by far the No. 1 carbon dioxide polluter, followed by the United States and India.

Unlike in past reports, where the scientists tried to limit examples of extremes to disasters that computer simulations can attribute partly to man-made warming, this version broadens what it looks at because it includes the larger issues of risk and vulnerability, van Aalst said.

Freaky storms like 2013's Typhoon Haiyan, 2012's Superstorm Sandy and 2008's ultra-deadly Cyclone Nargis may not have been caused by warming, but their fatal storm surges were augmented by climate change's ever rising seas, he said.

And in the cases of the big storms like Haiyan, Sandy and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the poor were the most vulnerable, Oppenheimer and van Aalst said. The report talks about climate change helping create new pockets of poverty and "hotspots of hunger" even in richer countries, increasing inequality between rich and poor.

Report co-author Maggie Opondo of the University of Nairobi said that especially in places like Africa, climate change and extreme events mean "people are going to become more vulnerable to sinking deeper into poverty." And other study authors talked about the fairness issue with climate change.

"Rich people benefit from using all these fossil fuels," University of Sussex economist Richard Tol said. "Poorer people lose out."

Huq said he had hope because richer nations and people are being hit more, and "when it hits the rich, then it's a problem" and people start acting on it.

Part of the report talks about what can be done: reducing carbon pollution and adapting to and preparing for changing climates with smarter development.

The report echoes an earlier U.N. climate science panel that said if greenhouse gases continue to rise, the world is looking at another about 6 or 7 degrees Fahrenheit (3.5 or 4 degrees Celsius) of warming by 2100 instead of the international goal of not allowing temperatures to rise more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.2 degrees Celsius). The difference between those two outcomes, Princeton's Oppenheimer said, "is the difference between driving on an icy road at 30 mph versus 90 mph. It's risky at 30, but deadly at 90."

Tol, who is in the minority of experts here, had his name removed from the summary because he found it "too alarmist," harping too much on risk.

But the panel vice chairman, Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, said that's not quite right: "We are pointing for reasons for alarm ... It's because the facts and the science and the data show that there are reasons to be alarmed. It's not because we're alarmist."

The report is based on more than 12,000 peer reviewed scientific studies. Michel Jarraud, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization, a co-sponsor of the climate panel, said this report was "the most solid evidence you can get in any scientific discipline."

Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University who wasn't part of this report, said he found the report "very conservative" because it is based on only peer reviewed studies and has to be approved unanimously.

There is still time to adapt to some of the coming changes and reduce heat-trapping emissions, so it's not all bad, said study co-author Patricia Romero-Lankao of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado.

"We have a closing window of opportunity," she said. "We do have choices. We need to act now."

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:

Read more!