Haze: Breakthrough in map sharing efforts with Indonesia unlikely

Woo Sian Boon Today Online 2 Apr 14;

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — Legal and operational difficulties stand in the way of a breakthrough by Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) environment ministers to get Indonesia to share its concession maps to combat transboundary haze, said Indonesian officials who spoke on condition of anonymity yesterday.

There is currently no reference map to produce or verify the accuracy of existing concession maps, said the officials who attended a technical working group meeting, ahead of today’s 16th Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee meeting on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

The S$100,000-haze monitoring system, which Singapore developed, uses hot-spot data and satellite images to pinpoint illegal burning activities. However, it requires accurate concession maps that can specify the companies or entities with rights to carry out logging or plantation activities on a particular piece of land.

Indonesia is in the midst of developing a larger-scale reference map that can then be used to draw up concession maps, an Indonesian official told reporters yesterday. This reference map is expected to be ready by the end of the year. “Perhaps we can talk about it again next year,” he added.

A delegate from Indonesia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said the country is prohibited from sharing its concession maps under the law. He said Indonesia’s Parliament is set to ratify the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution by October.

The Steering Committee, comprising Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, is meeting today in Brunei’s capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, to discuss the implementation of the haze monitoring system, among other haze-prevention measures.

Singapore’s delegation is led by Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.

A joint statement is expected after the meeting, which comes as concerns that the prolonged dry weather the region has been experiencing may lead to an earlier and more severe bout of transboundary haze this year.

The possibility of El Nino, a weather phenomenon characterised by dry weather, kicking in this year was also raised by the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre during yesterday’s meeting.

It put the likelihood of El Nino occurring at 60 per cent.

Environment minister to attend haze meeting in Brunei
Channel NewsAsia 1 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE: Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan will be attending the 16th Meeting of the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee on Transboundary Haze Pollution (16th MSC) in Brunei on April 2.

The Ministerial-level MSC, comprising Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, oversees the implementation of enhanced measures to prevent smoke haze arising from land and forest fires in the five countries.

A statement from the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources says the 16th MSC is expected to discuss the follow-up on the ASEAN Sub-Regional Haze Monitoring System, amongst other haze prevention measures.

- CNA/nd

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New PSI reporting system kicks in

John Leong Channel NewsAsia 1 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE: The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings may look slightly worse than usual from Tuesday, even if air quality remains the same.

The updated PSI reporting system kicked in on Tuesday.

The National Environment Agency said it aims to give people a more accurate picture of air quality, so that they are better able to respond.

As part of the change, the agency will publish the concentration of fine particulates in the air every hour.

These particulates, called PM2.5, will also be factored into the existing three-hour average index.

PM2.5 has also been added as a sixth pollutant in the 24-hour reporting system.

NEA said this would bring the overall PSI number up, even though the actual concentration of pollutants is unchanged.

- CNA/xq

Higher reading for same air quality as PSI tweak kicks in
Grace Chua Straits Times AsiaOne 4 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE - Singapore's main air quality index has been tweaked to reflect more precisely the smallest, most harmful pollution particles.

The change, which took effect yesterday, means that the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading will tend to be higher even if the air quality is the same as before.

More days will be classified as "moderate" under the new index, when they would have been "good" previously.

The tiniest particles are known as PM2.5 - less than 2.5 microns in diameter or a 30th of the diameter of a human hair.

The finer the particles, the more harmful their effects, as fine particles can enter the lungs; very fine ones can slip into the blood and even enter the brain.

These tiny particles have always been included in the PSI, but until now, they were part of a component called PM10 - less than 10 microns in diameter.

But the proportion of PM2.5 within the wider PM10 category may vary, so having PM2.5 as a separate component will better reflect its impact.

The PSI is calculated based on the highest reading of its components - PM10, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone and carbon monoxide. PM2.5 has now been added as a sixth component.

The level of each component corresponds to a PSI level, based on a formula.

For example, at 11am on Tuesday, the 24-hour PSI reading for the central region was 59, based on the highest component, PM2.5. There were 19 micrograms per cubic metre of PM2.5 measured, which corresponds to a PSI reading of 59.

Under the previous system, the 24-hour PSI reading for the central region would have been 28, based on the 28 micrograms per cubic metre of PM10.

The change was made to simplify the readings, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan when announcing it in his ministry's budget debate last month.

Previously, PM2.5 levels were reported separately from the PSI reading.

Public reactions to the change have been mixed.

Some were confused by the tweak, while others did not agree with the new PSI figures.

Others, however, welcomed the change. Commenting on The Straits Times' website, reader James Lee wrote: "It is good news that PM2.5 is FINALLY taken into consideration."

PM2.5 particles have in fact always been included in the PSI, but not as a standalone component of the index.

He also wondered how much higher last year's record three-hour PSI of 401, measured on June 21 during the country's most severe bout of haze, would be when translated into the current PSI system.

At noon on June 21 last year, the 24-hour average PM2.5 reading ranged from 232 micrograms to 292 micrograms per cubic metre in various parts of the island. Under the new system, that would have translated into a 24-hour PSI that is in the very unhealthy (201-300) or hazardous (301-400) range.

Under the older system, the 24-hour PSI based on PM10 readings then was lower, at 181 to 232, in the unhealthy to very unhealthy range.

The 24-hour PSI reading is available on the National Environment Agency's website www.nea.gov.sg and is updated every hour.

Measured pollutant concentrations, and the PSI readings that they correspond to, are also available at www.haze.gov.sg

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Dry spell, rain could have led to mass flowering

Today Online 1 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE — The 27-day dry spell in February and the subsequent heavy showers could have sparked the abundant flowering of plants and trees across Singapore, said the National Parks Board (NParks) today (April 1).

Mr Oh Cheow Sheng, Director of Streetscape at National Parks Board, said: “Some plants require stimulation of light and temperature to produce flowers. Environmental conditions such as the recent rain and dry spell could have triggered the mass flowering.

“The flowering period of a plant is dependent on its species. For the Cat’s Claw Ivy, the flowers will last for about two weeks.”

The Cat’s Claw Ivy — a creeper plant with bright yellow trumpet-shaped flowers — is among the plants that have flowered. Native to Brazil and Central America, the plant was recently introduced to Singapore and can be found along Havelock Road, Farrer Road and Holland Road.

Other flowering trees include the Australian Flame Tree found along Commonwealth Avenue West, Jurong West Street 93, and Kallang Road, as well as the Pelong found along Choa Chu Kang Drive, Kranji Expressway and Tampines Expressway.

NParks is now holding a photo competition where members of the public can share photos of flowering plants and trees across the island until the end of the month. Six mystery prizes are up for grabs. Photos can be shared on Facebook (www.facebook.com/nparksbuzz) or Instagram (@nparksbuzz using the hashtag #sgblooms).

Mass flowering after recent dry spell
Channel NewsAsia 2 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE: A variety of trees and plants across Singapore started to flower after the recent dry spell.

Mr Oh Cheow Sheng, director of streetscape at the National Parks Board (NParks), said conditions such as the dry spell, followed by days of rain, could have triggered the mass flowering.

The plants and trees that are blooming include the Cat's Claw Ivy, which is found along Havelock Road, Farrer Road and Holland Road, as well as the Australian Flame Tree, found along Commonwealth Avenue West, Jurong West Street 93, and Kallang Road.

The public can share photographs of the flowering plants and trees in a competition, "Singapore Blooms".

They can do so on Facebook or Instagram @nparksbuzz using the hashtag #sgblooms until the end of April.

- CNA/ec

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Malaysia: 6.7 million people face water cut

New Straits Times 2 Apr 14;

CYBERJAYA: Come Friday, a staggering 6.7 million people will be forced to endure water rationing as taps continue to run dry despite the steady rainfall.

In a desperate bid to manage its dwindling water reserves, the Selangor government has further slashed the volume of water released from the Sungai Selangor dam by an additional 500 million litres daily.

This is in addition to its previous reduction of also 500 million litres daily, effectively bringing the total reduction to a billion litres daily since the water crisis began on March 2.

Unveiling the next phase of water rationing yesterday, the National Water Services Commission (SPAN) and Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor (Syabas) said the move is expected to affect 6.7 million people in nine districts - Gombak, Petaling, Klang / Shah Alam, Kuala Selangor, Hulu Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Langat, Hulu Langat and Sepang.

Also not spared were 620,237 households in Selangor, Putrajaya and Kuala Lumpur, who would also face water rationing.

SPAN chairman Datuk Ismail Kassim described the situation as “critical” and said the next phase of rationing was necessary.

The Sungai Selangor dam, he said, provides 60 per cent of the Klang Valley’s water source.

“Given the present situation, the Selangor government had no choice but to reduce the water output from the Sungai Selangor dam.

“If the dam’s water levels are not carefully maintained, its reserves will deplete and its impact on Selangor, the Federal Territory and Putrajaya will be severe,” he told a press conference at SPAN headquarters here, yesterday.

Ismail said the recent rainfall had not improved the situation at the seven dams - Sungai Selangor, Sungai Tinggi, Sungai Semenyih, Sungai Langat, Klang Gates, Tasik Subang and Sungai Batu, which supply water to treatment plants in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya.

"Although it has been raining in Klang valley since March 16, the amount of rainfall is still low. Aside from that, the rainfall this year is lower, coupled with the increased production of treated water compared to the previous years.

“Despite the rainfall, water levels have only increased slightly in the dams. The rain did not fall in the required catchment areas,” he said, adding that this has prompted the authorities to implement the next phase of rationing.

Ismail said the next phase of rationing for Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya residents will begin at 9am this Friday until April 30.

The areas would be divided into four zones and water supply would be provided based on the the two-days on, two-days off system.

Consumers can refer to the distribution table provided in the SPAN website (www.span.gov.my) to identify their respective areas.

On days when areas are scheduled to receive water, supply would begin at 4pm. After the two day period, water would then be cut off at 9am.

“Some places such as high areas or areas at the end of the distribution system would receive their supply three to four hours late,” he said.

Ismail said water rationing will continue until the end of the month, unless the situation improves.

Meanwhile, the scheduled water distribution in Taiping, Perak and its surrounding areas will start on Thursday (April 3).

Ismail said SPAN had approved the application by the Perak Water Board to carry out the programme involving 27,982 accounts following the drop in water level at the Taiping Headworks water treatment plant.

Syarikat Air Johor Holdings Sdn Bhd would also proceed with the scheduled water distribution in Mersing as the water level at the Congok dam was at 4.22 metres, below the critical level of 4.50 metres. He said the schedule would be reimplemented at the Lok Heng and Waha Felda settlements, and other areas in Sedili, Johor.

Disbelief, outrage over water rationing

CHANGING LIFESTYLE: Residents, business owners want authorities to improve the situation fast

KUALA LUMPUR: MALAYSIANS reacted with a mixture of disbelief and outrage over the announcement that even more water cuts would be headed their way beginning this Friday.

Having been forced to change their lifestyles to weather the water crisis, residents and business owners alike were demanding that the authorities figure out a way to improve the situation fast.

"It's frustrating. We had to change our lifestyles to suit this never-ending rationing," said Shannon Selvaraju, 26, of Bukit Bandaraya, Bangsar.

Her family, she said, had to take drastic measures, including using disposable underwear and sending clothes to the laundry, to limit water usage at home.

"We had to eat out more as the limited water we stored at home was for bathing and cleaning."

Her reaction came in light of yesterday's announcement by the National Water Services Commission (SPAN) and Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor (Syabas) that, come Friday, the next phase of water rationing would be implemented.

This time, it would affect 6.7 million people in a continuation of the water crisis, which had plagued mostly Selangor residents since March 2.

The move will affect households in nine districts -- Gombak, Petaling, Klang / Shah Alam, Kuala Selangor, Hulu Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Langat, Hulu Langat and Sepang. An additional 620,237 households in Selangor, Putrajaya and Kuala Lumpur will also face water cuts this Friday.

Helen Fernandez, a legal assistant from Segambut, said her family-of-three spent more on food delivery and mineral water.

She said it was annoying to be forced to be cautious about water usage.

"It's ridiculous and embarrassing when we have visitors and worry if they would want to use the toilet."

Salak South resident C.C. Tan said the water rationing would be acceptable if the authorities kept to the schedule.

"Unfortunately, our experience over the past month showed they don't always keep to the schedule, nor do they do it in a timely manner," said the 39-year-old.

Business owners were also being pushed to the brink. Kelly Wong, a hair salon operator in USJ6, Subang Jaya, predicted that her business would suffer drastically.

"Every aspect of my business needs water. I will have no choice but to limit my services to just haircuts. I don't see the point in storing water to wash hair because I would need the supply to come from a shower head.

"It won't be acceptable to use water scoops to wash my customers' hair. I need both warm and hot water to wash hair."

The Malaysian Employers Federation believed that if the crisis continued, it could lead to potential investors shying away from Malaysia in the long-run.

Its executive director, Shamsuddin Bardan, said it was ironic that an important utility like water repeatedly faced shortages as the nation moved forward towards a fully-developed status.

"Numerous large industries need constant water supply for their production and manufacturing needs. It would be not only inconvenient but costly for them to purchase water from other sources as it would drive up their overhead and operating costs."

He called on all quarters to look for alternate ways to harness the resources in the most efficient way possible. Otherwise, the water shortage could deter investors.

"All our efforts to woo them will be wasted." Additional reporting by Dawn Chan and Halim Said

Cloud seeding put on hold due to rainy season
The Star 2 Apr 14;

PETALING JAYA: Cloud seeding operations will be put on hold for a few days as the country is seeing near daily thunderstorms and showers of the inter-monsoon season, even if the levels in the dams in Klang Valley are not showing any signs of increasing.

National weather centre director Muham­mad Helmi Abdullah said cloud seeding was unnecessary given the current rainfall patterns.

He added that it would only be a matter of time before the water levels rose as the rainy season continued.

“Let nature take its course. After a prolonged dry spell, one cannot expect water levels to increase after several days of rainfall.

“The soil around the water catchment area is so dry that water will simply be absorbed into the ground, making water levels in the dams appear unchanged,” said Helmi.

He added that the states in Peninsular Malaysia’s west coast area were expected to receive normal rainfall of between 200 and 300mm during the inter-monsoon season, and that would be sufficient to raise water levels at the dams if the wet spell continued in the coming weeks.

The inter-monsoon season, which is expected to begin at the end of this month, will last until the middle of May.

SMIs fear prolonged water rationing
The Star 2 Apr 14;

PETALING JAYA: Small and medium scale businesses are fearful of a prolonged water rationing exercise as they are already struggling to cope with the current rationing exercise.

SMI Association of Malaysia president Teh Kee Sin said some members claimed that the water shortage had caused them to “run into losses” as they were unable to accept the usual number of orders from their customers.

These members were those from the food processing and injection moulding industries.

Teh said it was impossible for the food processing industry to conduct their operations without water.

“They need to use a lot of water, but lack the funds to invest in tanks to store water. Sometimes, they are also constrained by space,” said Teh, who added that it felt strange that “an elite state” like Selangor faced frequent water shortages.

“The situation has cast a negative image on the country and does not reflect well on how we manage our water,” he said, adding that both the state and federal governments must put their differences aside in order to resolve water-related issues.

Meanwhile, Ossia World of Golf executive director Saw Swee Leong said that the water rationing exercise had caused a lot inconvenience to his workers.

He said the warehouse dealing with sports equipment and goods had 60 workers and they had invested a substantial amount of money to obtain three water tanks to cope with the shortage.

“We have placed a tank at each of our office floors to cover the rationing period,” he said,

Loong Yee restaurant operator Heng Teo Chean, 47, of Taman Midah, Cheras said he almost closed his restaurant after the taps ran dry since March 28.

Fortunately, the supply was reconnected on Sunday and he managed to open his premise.

“However, the water was murky and appeared like Chinese tea until yesterday morning,” Heng said, adding that he had purchased an additional tank to store water for the dry days.

Consumers taking precautions against erratic supply schedule
The Star 2 Apr 14;

PETALING JAYA: Some households are storing more water than needed during the water rationing period, causing others to brand them as “hoarders”.

However, those who are experiencing water rationing said they were merely “taking precautionary measures”.

Crystal Lee, a 26-year-old sales executive living in Taman Teratai, Cheras, said that she was doing so because there were times when the water supply did not resume on time.

With four adults in the house, Lee thinks that three big containers are sufficient for household activities such as cleaning the house and showering.

“I don’t think we are hoarding as our supply is enough to last for around 2.5 days,” she said.

“We are doing this because the resumption of supply is not consistent with the schedule provided by Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor Sdn Bhd (Syabas).

“For example, we were supposed to have water yesterday but woke up to dry taps,” claimed Lee.

Sharifah Shuhada Syed Ghazali, a 42-year-old baker who runs a business from her home in Ampang Hilir, is another unhappy Syabas customer.

“They should stick to the schedule. Right now, I have not had water supply for five days.

“Even on days we are scheduled to get water, we only get supply at dawn and by 8am, our taps are dry,” said Sharifah.

Marketing executive Kelly Yuen, who lives in Ara Damansara, said her family of five was living with the consequences of not storing a bit more water than actual consumption.

“If I did that, I wouldn’t have to go to my office or my aunt’s house to bathe.

“I would use the stored water until it is finished before refilling,” said Yuen, who also expressed her unhappiness over the state of rationing.

“My sister called up Syabas and they informed us our rationing was lifted.

“To our disappointment, it was cut off again after those four days and we did not store enough water,” said Yuen.

Yesterday, The Star reported that although the dams in Selangor were close to running dry, many residents were 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 that water consumption in Selangor had dropped by only 7% despite the rationing.

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Indonesia: Riau haze operation to end by April 4

The Jakarta Post 2 Apr 14;

The Riau Haze Disaster Mitigation Task Force has expressed optimism that the forest and land fires in the province will be under control by April 4.

“The deadline of the 21-day emergency response operation under the control of the BNPB [National Disaster Mitigation Agency] as instructed by the President can be met,” the task force’s spokesperson Col. Bernard Robert said in Pekanbaru on Tuesday.

He said the task force had worked effectively and that the favorable weather had assisted its efforts. Although haze was still spotted in a number of areas, he added, that the task force was not concerned because the haze was basically leftover smog from extinguished hotspots.

“The haze will dissipate once the rain reaches Riau,” said Bernard, adding that rain had fallen over the majority of the province in the last few days.

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West Australian coral reefs at risk from highest ocean temperatures in 215 years

Scientists say warmer waters are 'unprecedented since at least 1795' and coral at severe risk
Michael Safi theguardian.com 1 Apr 14;

High ocean temperatures off the West Australian coast are “unprecedented since at least 1795” and pose a significant threat to the state’s coral reefs, scientists say.

Core samples taken from coral colonies around the Houtman-Abrolhos Islands, west of Geraldton, have provided scientists with records of ocean temperature and sea levels going back 215 years.

In the way that rings around a tree’s trunk can reveal its age, the rings that form on coral skeletons can reveal centuries’ worth of information about its marine environment.

The study, conducted by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (Aims) and others, shows that the period after 1980 “was very likely the warmest period with highest sea levels” off the WA coast since 1795, as far back as the coral records show.

The core samples show that ocean temperatures and sea levels in the area have always varied, Dr Jens Zinke, an Aims scientist, said. La Niña events in the tropical Pacific strengthen the Leeuwin current, an ocean current that flows south down the WA coast, resulting in unusually warm water and higher sea levels. El Niño phases have the opposite effect.

But La Niña phases in 1999, 2008 and 2011 were the strongest in 215 years and took place in the context of “ongoing background warming of ocean temperatures associated with climate change”, Zinke said. The result was the extreme coral bleaching events of the kind that occurred in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

“Ocean temperatures have warmed so much and sea levels have risen so much over the last 150 years that every natural event is amplified,” Zinke said. “So any future heatwave is probably going to be more extreme.”

El Niño years, which usually cool the area and allow the coral to regenerate from any damage cause during the La Niña phase, have also become warmer, recording temperature increases greater than half a degree since 1980.

Global warming always expected to harm WA’s coral reefs, Zinke said. But the damage is happening far sooner than predicted. “We were hoping that WA … still had some time to react or adapt to the changes. But we’re now seeing all these heatwaves. It’s not that change is going to come, it’s that change is already happening.

“We’ve crossed this line where coral bleaching can now occur on a large scale.”

The findings were published on Tuesday in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

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Frame climate change as a food issue, experts say

As IPCC report warns of climate impact on food security, researchers are looking at whether talking about food could break political deadlock on global warming
Suzanne Goldenberg theguardian.com 1 Apr 14;

Reframing climate change as a food issue as the world's leading scientists did this week could provide an opportunity to mobilise people, experts say.

Academics and campaigners were already looking at food as a way to better connect with public on climate change when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its finding on declining crop yields.

The report warned: "All aspects of food security are potentially affected by climate change." It said negative impacts on yields would become more likely in the 2030s.

The definitive report arrives at a time when researchers are actively looking at whether talking about climate change through the prism of food would help break through US political deadlock.

Food offers an immediate and personal connection, Rachel Kyte, the World Bank vice-president for climate change, said in an interview before the IPCC report's release.

"The public connects with these issues through food better than through any other issue in a way that we haven't been able to mobilise people by just telling them to drive a hybrid or switch the light off," she said.

"There is a way to talk about what you eat that will bring a conversation around climate change."

To start with, food is a universal concern, Kyte went on. "You want to be able to sustain your children. It a concern whether you are rich or poor," Kyte said. "I don't think we have put a huge focus on food and it's time we did."

There is evidence that those charged with producing food are already growing more concerned about climate change.

A long-running poll of farmers in the Iowa corn belt last year found a sharp rise in concern about climate change, following a drought that devastated harvests.

The farmers also expressed concerns that drought, flooding and other weather events would continue to drag on production, Dr Gordon Arbuckle, the Iowa State University sociologist who runs the poll, said at the time of its release.

"Scientists and other stakeholders in the agricultural community believe that our agricultural systems must become more resilient to ensure long-term food security," he said. "Many farmers are concerned and support taking action to meet that goal."

The report from the IPCC said food production on land and on sea had already been hit by drought, flooding and changing rainfall patterns, and would be further threatened as the world continues to warm.

"Climate change has negatively affected wheat and maize yields for many regions and in the global aggregate," the report said, warning that even warming of 1C above recent temperatures would hurt yields for corn, wheat and rice.

By 2030, those crops could see yields decline by 2% a decade – at a time when demand from growing population is projected to grow by 2% every year.

Warming of 4C would widen those gaps dramatically, the report said. "For local warming of about 4C or more, differences between crop production and population driven demand will become increasingly large in many regions posing significant risks to food security even with adaptation."

Some fisheries could also go into decline. Some species of fish could become extinct, and some are migrating to the poles because ocean chemistry is out of balance. Fish yields in the tropics are already showing declines.

The stark language marked a departure from the last IPCC report in 2007 when the picture on food crops was more mixed, said Tim Gore, head of policy for food and climate change at Oxfam.

"This is no longer a picture about poor farmers in some regions being hit by climate change. This is a picture about global agriculture being hit – US, Russia, and Australia – with global implications for food prices."

And that, he said, would make people sit up and take notice.

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Exxon Mobil says climate change unlikely to stop it selling fossil fuels

Oil giant issues report on risks that climate policies could pose to the value of its assets and future profitability
Associated Press theguardian.com 1 Apr 14;

On the same day the world's scientists issued their latest report on climate change and the risks it poses to society, America's biggest oil and gas company said the world's climate policies are "highly unlikely" to stop it from selling fossil fuels far into the future.

Exxon Mobil issued a report on Monday on the risks that climate change policies could pose to the value of its assets and future profitability, by coincidence on the same day as the latest paper by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a Nobel Prize-winning United Nations group assembled to assess the science and risks of climate change.

Both Exxon and its critics used IPCC research to bolster their cases.

Exxon's report was in response to the contentions of some shareholders and environmental activists that the assets underpinning the value of Exxon and other fossil fuel companies will be worth less as society restricts consumption of fossil fuels to fight climate change.

The report, the first detailed response to these concerns by a major oil company, acknowledges the need to adopt policies to address climate change. But it concludes that because oil and gas are so critical to global development and economic growth, governments are "highly unlikely" to adopt policies that cut emissions so sharply that fossil fuel consumption would be severely restricted.

"We know enough based on the research and science that the risk (of climate change) is real and appropriate steps should be taken to address that risk," Ken Cohen, Exxon's government affairs chief, said in an interview. "But given the essential role that energy plays in everyone's lives, those steps need to be taken in context with other realities we face, including lifting much of the world's population out of poverty."

Natasha Lamb, director of equity research at Arjuna Capital, a sustainable wealth management group that filed the shareholder resolution with Exxon, called Exxon's report a "milestone." "It's a huge first step in the right direction and it shows a lot of leadership," she said.

Arjuna and As You Sow, a nonprofit that promotes environmental corporate responsibility, agreed to withdraw their resolution after Exxon agreed to issue a report on climate risks.

But Lamb said she was disappointed that Exxon declined to explain what would happen if society did in fact adopt policies that would lead to sharply lower emissions, something known broadly as a low-carbon standard.

"The question is not whether or not we'll face the low carbon standard, but whether they are prepared to address it. We need to know what's at stake," she said. "But at least now investors know that Exxon is not addressing the low carbon scenario and (is) placing investor capital at risk."

Exxon and the environmental groups agree that climate change is a risk and that society will take steps to reduce emissions from fossil fuels to slow the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. They differ, however, on how drastic society's response could be, and what would cost more severely restricting fossil fuel consumption or not doing so and allowing more carbon dioxide to build in the atmosphere.

Exxon, along with other private and government energy researchers, believes that demand for fossil fuels will continue to grow around the world as more people demand access to electricity, heat, and transportation. Exxon predicts that carbon dioxide emissions from energy sources will peak by about 2030 and then begin to decline as society becomes more efficient and switches to lower-carbon fuels.

The Irving, Texas-based company's report notes that its emissions predictions track closely with the IPCC's "intermediate" scenario considered in its last report.

Exxon says that renewable energy sources are not now cheap enough nor technologically advanced enough to meet growing demand for energy, let alone also replace oil and gas. Governments therefore face a choice between restricting access to energy or raising the cost of energy significantly. In Exxon's view, governments will chose to raise the cost of fossil fuels to encourage alternatives somewhat, but stop well short of enacting policies that will sharply curtail consumption, especially in developing countries, because populations would resist and social upheaval would result.

Arjuna Capital's Lamb disagrees. "There's greater risk of social upheaval from climate change itself," Arjuna Capital's Lamb says. "[Exxon's report] ignores the cost of inaction."

Lamb points to some of the conclusions in the latest IPCC report, which says climate change will worsen problems that society already has, such as poverty, sickness, violence and displacement.

The report also says climate change will slow down the benefits of a modernising society, such as regular economic growth and more efficient crop production exactly the types of things that Exxon argues are delivered now only by relatively cheap and available fossil fuels.

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Japan may suggest smaller whale catch after ICJ blow

Elaine Lies Reuters 1 Apr 14;

(Reuters) - Japan could try to rescue its Antarctic whaling programme by sharply reducing catch quotas after the highest U.N. court ordered a halt, rejecting Tokyo's argument that the catch was for scientific purposes and not mainly for human consumption.

The judgment by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) was a blow to Japan's decades-old "scientific whaling" programme, although Tokyo, which said it would abide by the ruling, might be able to resume Antarctic whaling if it devises a new, more persuasive programme that requires killing whales.

"We want to accept this from a position that respects the international legal order," Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters. "We want to properly consider our country's response after carefully examining the contents of the ruling."

The ICJ agreed with plaintiff Australia's position that the scientific research resulting from the Antarctic whaling did not justify the number of whales killed.

Japan has long maintained that most whale species are in no danger of extinction and scientific whaling is necessary to manage what it sees as a marine resource that, after World War Two, was an important protein source for an impoverished nation.

But with its whaling fleet in need of refurbishing and consumer interest in whale meat low, some observers said the court ruling might give the government the chance to abandon an expensive programme - and improve its international standing.

One of the most likely possibilities, though, is that Tokyo will submit a revamped research whaling programme for approval by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which oversees international management of whales.

"One thing Japan needs to do is make its scientific goals match the number of whales that it takes," said Masayuki Komatsu, formerly Japan's chief whaling negotiator.

"It's actually okay to hunt even more whales. But what will happen is that the number of whales taken will decrease," added Komatsu, now a visiting research professor at the International Centre for the Study of East Asian Development.

More than half of IWC members oppose whaling, a situation that has long prompted Japan to call the body "dysfunctional," so obtaining approval for any new proposals could be tough, Japanese media said.

The U.N. tribunal said no further licences should be issued for scientific whaling, in which animals are first examined for research purposes before the meat is sold..

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

Japan also conducts separate hunts in the northern Pacific, while its fishermen engage in small-scale coastal whaling. An annual dolphin slaughter has also drawn harsh global criticism.

Japan signed a 1986 ban 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.

The research whaling is needed to assess whether whale stocks are recovering from overfishing, Japan has said.

Whaling was once widespread around the world but Japan is now one of only a handful of countries, including Iceland and Norway, that keep it up on a large scale.

But despite the fact that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe himself hails from one of Japan's whaling regions, the ruling might not be entirely unwelcome in some parts of the government, said Jun Morikawa, who has written on whaling and politics in Japan.

"It was an unexpected decision but if they say they accept it there are no other options," said Morikawa, a professor at Rakuno Gakuen University in the northern island of Hokkaido.

"I get the impression that a lot of people in government may be relieved ... It gives them a chance to stop, they can say that Japan fought hard but now needs to accept the result." (Writing by Linda Sieg and Elaine Lies,; Editing by Paul Tait and Clarence Fernandez)

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