Best of our wild blogs: 20 Apr 14

What the fish? Figuring out dead fishes at Sungei Buloh
from wild shores of singapore

First morning trip of 2014 at Changi
from wonderful creation

Cargo ship Bold Endurance manoeuvres near Pulau Hantu’s reefs, followed by Debby Ng’s onsite tweets and Ship Finder
from Otterman speaks

22 Apr: Earth Day in Singapore
from Celebrating Singapore's BioDiversity!

26th and 27th Apr gardening session
from The Green Volunteers

Morning Walk At Venus Drive (19 Apr 2014)
from Beetles@SG BLOG

Senoko Fishery Port: Fish overdose
from wild shores of singapore

Butterfly of the Month - April 2014
from Butterflies of Singapore

Read more!

Work towards systemic changes this Earth Day

Eugene Tay Tse Chuan Today Online 19 Apr 14;

On every Earth Day (April 22), we are reminded of the need to take small, individual actions for our environment. This year, let us also think about how we can work towards more impactful changes.

While it is important that each of us takes action, it is more important to focus on systemic changes.

These include building sustainable urban infrastructure and green buildings; increasing the resilience of our energy, water and food security; redesigning and developing new ways to make, reuse and recycle products and materials; and conserving our biodiversity.

These large changes are likely to be achieved mostly through governmental efforts, but could happen faster with individuals pushing for these actions to be discussed and implemented.

The Government has taken good care of our country’s environment; so well that we do not see the need to care or take responsibility. Most Singaporeans tend to depend on the Government.

We must change this indifferent attitude if we are to ensure a sustainable environment, which requires the efforts of both the Government and the people. Singaporeans should do our part.

We should use our rights as citizens and participate actively and positively in nudging the Government in the formulation of environmental policies, such as having more clean energy, introducing green procurement or minimising waste through redesign and reuse.

This could be through government dialogues or feedback channels, and the media. For example, the REACH platform allows discussion on various green issues. Government agencies are also having more public consultations on environmental strategies.

We could also start or join groups to advocate systemic changes in development plans, such as Chek Jawa in the past or the Cross Island Line cutting across the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

There are opportunities to voice concerns about the environment. As we state our stand on these issues, though, it is important to base it not only on our convictions, but also on facts, and to adopt a constructive win-win mentality.

Read more!

Singapore remains significant transit point for illegal ivory shipments

Kimberly Spykerman Channel NewsAsia 19 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE: While the sale of ivory in Singapore has fallen over the years, the country remains a significant transit point for shipments of illegal ivory moving from Africa to Asia, and even within Asia itself, animal welfare activists said.

Some of the illegal ivory shipments passing through Singapore have been declared as coffee berries, marble sculptures, and even waste paper.

Authorities worked on tip-offs to intercept these shipments. The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said there have been eight illegal ivory seizures since 2008.

While some of the ivory was seized from travellers at ports of entry and from local shops, most were en route to other destinations.

Three of these seizures -- involving 244 pieces of ivory -- took place in the first three months of this year.

Activists said this could be the tip of the iceberg.

Elaine Tan, chief executive officer for World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore, said: "There's a lot of this illegal ivory trade going on in Asia, and Singapore being in a very strategic position in Asia-Pacific, a lot of this illegal ivory flows through our ports.

“We are a major transit point. We have a very efficient and effective port. Consignments, shipments pass through very quickly and in some ways, I think this is a loophole being exploited by illegal traders."

AVA works with global organisations such as Interpol and the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network to fight illegal wildlife trade, for example, by trading information to track down shipments and wildlife smugglers.

Some animal activists said more could be done to detect illegal wildlife shipments coming into and through Singapore, suggesting that sniffer dogs specifically trained to detect illegal wildlife products could be introduced at Singapore's border checkpoints.

This is already being done in countries like India, Thailand, and South Korea.

Louis Ng, executive director for ACRES, said: "We now need to be more proactive in terms of our enforcement work, in terms of securing the border checkpoints to ensure that we are an active deterrence to wildlife crime. If we can take Singapore off the map as a transit point, then it would be a significant dent to the wildlife trade."

AVA said there are many ways to detect illegal imports, and it works with local enforcement agencies to determine the most cost-effective ways to prevent the illegal import of controlled items.

In Singapore, it also springs surprise checks on places like traditional Chinese medicine halls for illegal wildlife products, which includes ivory.

In 2013, WWF Singapore noted fewer shops here selling ivory compared to a decade ago, with the variety of ivory products available also dropping significantly.

Domestic trade of elephant ivory is permitted in Singapore if traders can prove the products were acquired before 1990, which was when elephants became listed as a protected species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

WWF Singapore said that according to the survey it conducted with TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network, vendors here said they were selling old stocks of ivory products that had been imported into Singapore 20 to 30 years ago.

AVA said it inspects and monitors traders who have pre-Convention stocks of elephant ivory to verify their stock records.

- CNA/gn

Read more!

Fishing offences on the rise

Claire Huang Channel NewsAsia 19 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE: Fishing enthusiasts said more people are hooked on the sport and many are heading overseas to reel in a good catch.

In Singapore, anglers are also heading to its reservoirs.

But here, the Public Utilities Board (PUB) said that on average, some 240 to 250 people a year have been booked for fishing offences in recent years.

These include fishing at non-designated areas and using live baits.

Every quarter, Singapore's top fishing community sees some 200 to 300 new anglers. According to aficionados, they are getting younger too.

Scott Tan, president of Gamefish & Aquatic Rehabilitation Society, said: "Especially among the younger generation, there is a very big uptake… Nobody really did (statistics) on how many fishermen there are, but if we go by informal (online) forums like Fishing Kaki alone, it has 350,000 registered members who are active."

Sport fishing can be costly.

At the lower range, getting started could cost you about $$100, and heading overseas can cost as much as $$20,000 a trip.

Mr Tan said: “Sport fishing can be done very cheap. We have sets at S$100, S$300. But if you're going for stuff like… tuna, marlin, your S$10,000 comes in here. (For) big game fish, you need to hire a sea boat to get out there to catch fish. Also, sometimes, (there are) areas where you require helicopters -- that's when S$10,000, S$20,000 comes in.”

It is no surprise that many turn to Singapore’s reservoirs for a cheaper fix.

There are 17 reservoirs in Singapore and of them, 10 are open to the public for fishing activities while only six are open to the public for water activities.

PUB said some of the reservoirs, including Jurong Lake Reservoir and Bedok Reservoir, not only allow for fishing but also canoeing and other water activities.

But fishing in illegal areas here is a growing problem, and Mr Tan thinks he knows why.

He said: "(For example at Lower Seletar Reservoir), we can't get any fish at all… Not only is it fished out, but fishes have a certain memory that once they sense there's a lot of fishing going on (in an area), they will totally avoid the area altogether. They move around and that's when you'll have a problem because as they move around, the sport fishermen will follow.”

But PUB said specific areas are carved out for safety reasons.

Roderick Ho, senior engineer at PUB’s catchment and waterways department, said: "We want to take care of the anglers' safety so we made sure we chose an area which is not steep. Secondly, the area must not pose a risk, not only to the anglers but also to the general public and water activity users."

PUB said those caught fishing outside designated areas or using live baits in reservoirs will be fined S$50 on their first offence and S$200 on their second offence.

On subsequent offences, offenders may be fined up to S$3,000.

- CNA/gn

Read more!

'Ulu' place now a leisure haven

Audrey Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 20 Apr 14;

Horse riding, "farm stays" inside wagon-like chalets, beautifully landscaped parks set amid lush foliage and a silver ribbon of a river.

It sounds like a portrait of a northern holiday spot or even a scene out of a childhood Enid Blyton book, but the description is of Punggol, which has shaken off a past steeped in pigs and poultry to become one cool town.

Housewife Jubell Thong, 39, a Punggol resident of 12 years, loves to take her two children, aged four and six, on her pedalling adventures along the meandering trail in Punggol Waterway Park.

"I really like this area, it's family-friendly and gives us an option to stay outdoors," Madam Thong told The Straits Times as she stopped for a breather during a solo excursion to the park on Wednesday morning.

Just six or seven years ago, many residents complained that Punggol was like the Sembawang of the north-east: "ulu" (remote), unglamorous and quiet with few residents. These days, Punggol is shaping up to be a leisure destination and has seen its population double from about 42,000 in 2007 to at least 83,300 living in flats as of last year.

Not bad for a former farming area also known for fishing and fruit trees - Punggol was, after all, most likely named after a Malay word that means "hurling sticks at the branches of fruit trees to bring them down to the ground".

Its transformation had quickened after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the "Punggol 21-plus" masterplan to make it one of the first waterfront public housing projects in his 2007 National Day Rally speech.

Punggol would have features such as facilities for water sports, gardens and parks with jogging tracks, and eateries for al fresco dining, Mr Lee had said.

Many leisure amenities capitalising on Punggol's natural charms have since sprung up.

The cycling trail that Madam Thong loves, for example, is part of the Punggol Waterway Park - a green lung in north-east Singapore. Running through it is the 4.2km Punggol Waterway, which links rivers Sungei Serangoon and Sungei Punggol.

"The park is relaxing and you can enjoy nice views," said sales representative and Punggol resident Andrew Ng, 47.

Other new installations, such as Punggol Point Park, near Punggol jetty located at the end of old Punggol Road, have also added to the area's chic feel.

Instead of seafood restaurants under zinc roofs that used to line the area, Punggol Point Park now has lily ponds, a playground, and an elevated, ship-inspired viewing deck which offers visitors views of red and gold-drenched skies at sunset, Pulau Ubin and the Strait of Johor.

Al fresco dining on boardwalks by the sea, too, is now a reality.

What really underlines that Punggol has become posh is the arrival of Gallop Stable last year, to offer farm stays, pony rides and riding lessons that start at $65 for a private, 30 minute session.

Said Mrs Mani Shanker, the stable's director: "The development of Punggol has helped promote the place - people become more aware of the area and its facilities."

Mr Francis Ng, chief executive of the House of Seafood Group, sees Punggol becoming "an East Coast in north-eastern Singapore" where people go for a seafood meal by the beach.

That is why the 42-year-old picked Punggol for his sixth restaurant, which opens today.

"I also chose to open an outlet here because of the memory of the place too - 20 years ago, there used to be many kampung seafood restaurants here," he added.

While Punggol is shaping up to be a draw even for visiting dignitaries such as Ms Sun Chunlan, top leader of Tianjin Municipality which has a population of 14 million, some people view it as a less desirable place to live in, given its faraway location.

While Punggol residents are made up mostly of young couples who choose to start their families in non-mature estates, real estate agents say some of them are now moving out to mature neighbourhoods for amenities like malls and wet markets.

Dr Janil Puthucheary, an MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, said residents' common gripes include the lack of facilities such as shopping malls and childcare centres. But plans are in place to increase these, he added.

"The town is rapidly developing, and people have easy access to nature through the parks and reservoirs," he said. "Residents can see that (the facilities) are up and coming."

And as always, the development of an area has its downside. Said technician and avid angler Zulfazli Abdul Kadir, 28: "In the past we were free to fish anywhere, but now we can be fined if we fish in the wrong places."

Mr Derrick Ong, general manager at the Marina Country Club that has stood sentinel in Punggol for the past 20 years, said road accessibility is a challenge.

Crowds here have grown not just on weekends but also during the week.

Still, challenges aside, Punggol's appeal is as strong as ever, he added.

"Punggol is historical, with a World War II site located at Punggol End, has beautiful sunsets, and offers leisure activities with a seaview," said Mr Ong, referring to a beach area where many were killed by Japanese invaders.

"It's a unique place you cannot find anywhere else in the north-east."

Read more!

Malaysia: 'Rationing may end this month'

EUNICE AU AND TEOH PEI YING New Straits Times 20 Apr 14;

STEADY SUPPLY: However, exercise will be extended if water levels in dams do not improve, says Span

KUALA LUMPUR: Stage four of the scheduled water-rationing programme, which has affected some 600,000 households, will continue until the end of the month as announced, says National Water Services Commission (Span).

Its chairman, Datuk Ismail Kasim, said the households would continue to experience water disruption until Span saw reasonable improvement in water levels in dams.

After April 30, however, he said the rationing would be reviewed again depending on the dams' water levels.

Ismail also said the rationing would be extended after that period if there was no improvement in the water levels in most of the dams.

"If the situation worsens, Span is left with no options but to consider using the Langat 2 water treatment plant, which is not fully completed."

Federation of Malaysian Consumers Association (Fomca) deputy secretary-general Foon Weng Lian said the rationing was not successful in reducing water consumption as consumers stored water to meet their needs on days without water.

According to the Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry, only a seven per cent of reduction was achieved in the first month of the water rationing.

"How is this helping to improve the situation, when the consumption is almost the same with or without rationing."

Foon said consumers did not have the right knowledge to reduce water wastage and suggested more awareness campaigns to help educate them on conserving water.

Kuala Selangor member of parliament Datuk Irmohizam Ibrahim said he was disappointed that the state government had rejected a motion at the state assembly on Thursday to compel the state to stop water rationing instantly.

He urged the Selangor government to purchase water from other states to solve the water shortage problem immediately.

"The state government should take immediate action to fill up the dams. They can buy water from other states.

"They did not give any answer as to why they could not purchase water from other states to solve the problem quickly, even though other states are willing to sell to Selangor," he said after launching the Petaling district Youth Fiesta Carnival at Space U8 here yesterday.

Irmohizam said he had received many complaints from Kuala Selangor residents regarding the water rationing measures taken by the state government.

He said the onus was on the Selangor government to solve the water short-age and stop water rationing once and for all.

Syabas: Contamination hits Gombak
The Star 20 Apr 14;

PETALING JAYA: Water rationing in a number of areas around Gombak district was affected after the Wangsa Maju water treatment plant was closed again.

Syabas said the plant was opened at 11.30pm on April 18 but was closed at 7am yesterday when the level of contamination in the Gombak river rose.

“Water supply to a few areas in Hulu Langat was also delayed on April 18 because of a burst pipe in front of SMK Tinggi Kajang.

“To avoid further hassle, supply to the affected areas was extended from its original schedule,” Syabas assistant general manager Priscilla Alfred said in a statement yesterday.

However, she stressed that the water rationing in each zone was still “two days on and two days off”.

“Zones scheduled to receive water supply will begin getting water at 4pm on the first day. However, there could be delays following possible incidents of burst pipes.

“Water supply to consumers will be cut at 9am on the first day the zone is expected to have no water supply,” she said.

In response to complaints from users undergoing water rationing that they may have no water during weddings, Alfred noted that users could apply to Syabas for supply through water tankers and static tankers.

“This was approved by the National Water Services Commission,” she said.

Read more!

Indonesia: Locals told to develop mangroves to protect coasts

The Jakarta Post 19 Apr 14;

The Environment Ministry is encouraging locals in several regions across the country to develop mangroves as part of larger efforts to protect coastal areas and tackle climate change.

The ministry initiated the coast rehabilitation program in 2011 and endorsed it again during the 18th Indonesia Environmental Week.

The exhibition, part of activities to commemorate of World Environment Day on June 5, will be held from May 29 until June 1 in Jakarta.

Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya said the ministry wanted to promote the protection of the coastal ecosystem to sound the alarm over the dangers of climate change.

“The rising of earth’s temperature impacts sea levels. This will affect our coasts and small islands in the archipelago,” Balthasar said in his speech during the announcement of the event on Thursday.

According to the ministry’s statistics, Indonesia owns 30 percent of world’s best mangroves and coral reefs, with 85 percent of its coasts contributing to the country’s fishery industry.

The statistics also showed that around 26.5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) was contributed by the coastal areas, while around 60 percent of Indonesia’s population lived there.

However, Balthasar said that according to 2014 US environmental research, Indonesia ranked 112 out of 178 countries evaluated, showing that the widespread exploitation of natural resources had increased damage and pollution each year.

To tackle the problems, Balthasar said that all of the incoming government’s programs and policies should be environmentally friendly. “We also need to cooperate with the private sector and all groups in society to minimize the effects of climate change,” he added.

Edi Nugroho, head of the recovery division for the ministry, said that currently, mangroves were being grown in some coastal areas, such as in Tanjung Pasir regency in Banten, Pekalongan and Pemalang regencies in Central Java and Langkat regency in North Sumatra.

Edi said that the ministry had assigned mangrove experts to encourage locals to grow and take care of the plants themselves. “We divided the people into clusters or groups. Each group has around 25 members,” he said.

According to Edi, the locals could also process various kinds of mangroves’ fruits and wood products from the cultivation, such as syrups, dodol cookies, crackers and dye for batik cloth.

“Mangroves are good habitats for crabs, so locals also cultivate them,” he added.

Edi said that Langkat’s mangrove forest area had become the largest in the program after successfully expanding 5-7 hectares to 100 hectares. (gda)

Read more!

Deaths, drugs, distress: why marine parks are losing their attraction

Wildlife campaigners link fall in attendances with release of film that tells the story of how a killer whale turned on its trainer
Robin McKie The Observer The Guardian 19 Apr 14;

Something disquieting happened at SeaWorld marine parks this year. Numbers attending the group's popular US centres between January and March dropped, from 3.5 million in 2013 to 3.05 million this year, a decline of 13%.

Nor is it hard to guess the cause, say wildlife campaigners. They see a clear link between the attendance slide and the release last year of the documentary Blackfish, which told the story of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau who was killed by Tilikum, a bull orca. The killer whale, it was also revealed, had been involved in the deaths of other individuals while in captivity.

Blackfish focuses on the distress experienced by killer whales who are depicted as complex, highly intelligent creatures which are taken from their families, kept in small pools and given psychotropic drugs to calm them and help them perform tricks that include balancing human trainers on their snouts, rotating in the water to pop music, waving their flippers and tails, and floating on their backs. The film triggered widespread public outrage against marine parks in general and a petition, signed by 1.2 million people, was handed into the California state assembly calling for a ban on killer whale shows. Earlier this month, a bill legalising the ban was put on hold for the next 12 months. Campaigners are still hopeful it will be enacted next year.

It has been an abrupt change in fortune. The cheery family charm of marine parks – institutions that have achieved worldwide popularity and become multimillion dollar industries in recent years – have taken a body blow. For their part, their managers strenuously deny that any of their animals suffer and flatly reject the idea that whales, dolphins and porpoises should no longer be kept captive.

"That argument is not based on credible, peer-reviewed science. It's based on emotion and a propaganda film," says John Reilly, the president of SeaWorld San Diego. "We believe strongly there is an inspiration benefit to people seeing [killer whales] in our park."

This last claim is outdated, campaigners respond. Modern, high-quality natural history programmes, screened on giant plasma TVs in homes, are far more likely to interest young people in wild creatures than marine park shows, they say. "Displays in which killer whales are forced to perform demeaning tricks are anything but inspirational," added Will Travers, head of the Born Free Foundation.

According to his organisation, more than 2,100 dolphins and whales are being held in captivity at 343 facilities in 63 countries around the world, with the highest numbers concentrated in Japan, China, the US and Mexico. In North America, many of these parks have become the subject of wildlife campaigns. Vancouver Aquarium is currently under intense pressure to phase out its keeping of whales and dolphins, for example, while lawmakers in New York, Texas and Florida are also considering bans on captive killer whales and other cetaceans.

In addition, it was recently reported that Richard Branson's Virgin Holidays, which sells packages to SeaWorld, had decided to begin an "engagement process" to investigate the debate around captive whales and dolphins. Branson also pledged to make his own inspection visits to marine parks, it was said.

For good measure, India last year joined Hungary, Nicaragua, Chile and many other countries in forbidding or severely restricting the keeping of whales and dolphins in captivity. For its part, the United Kingdom closed its last dolphinarium in 1993.

Wildlife campaigners say they oppose the keeping of cetaceans in captivity because these animals tend to have poor health and suffer stress-related illnesses as a result. "This is not necessarily the fault of the keepers who work with these animals and are certainly not out to mistreat them," says Lori Marino, of Emory University, Atlanta. "These parks provide good veterinary care. The problem is that cetaceans just cannot take captivity. The worst affected is the killer whale, while the beluga whale also does poorly. Bottlenose dolphins probably do best but they still die early of stress-related diseases despite being protected from predators and having food given to them every day."

A key factor is related to range. These are animals that travel and they want to travel, biologists point out. "Marine animals evolved to travel to get food," adds Marino. "It is a challenge to hunt for food and they want to be challenged that way. So it is no favour to them to throw them dead fish."

In addition, researchers point out that cetaceans have extremely sophisticated social lives which are disrupted when individual animals are caught and separated from their family groups. Killer whales have developed complex matriarchal societies in which sons and daughters live with their mothers even when they are adults. When such a family is broken up, the effect is highly stressful.

Marine parks strenuously reject suggestions that they have been involved in breaking up orca families in the wild. "SeaWorld does not collect killer whales in the wild, and has not done so in over 35 years," the company maintains in a statement, The Truth about Blackfish, that it recently put up on its website. "We do not separate killer whale moms and calves, and in the rare occurrences that we do move whales among our parks, we do so only in order to maintain a healthy social structure."

Marino disagrees, however. "The only way that these parks can get away with this sort of thing is to claim their shows have educational value or that they stimulate concern for conservation. Yet no one has required them to provide proof that they do. In fact, there is very little evidence that anything of that sort is achieved at these performances. These parks have been allowed to get away with this for decades. It is time to call them to account now."

This point was backed by Travers. "What is becoming clear is that these 'entertainments' are only achieved by keeping highly sophisticated animals in cramped artificial environments while they are controlled by chemicals. The public is beginning to understand this. That is why they are turning away."

Read more!

Bats: nice with rice?

Scientists believe a species of bat that preys on a major rice pest in Thailand could boost food security by preventing paddy losses
SciDev 16 Apr 14;

Scientists believe wrinkle-lipped bats could prevent annual paddy losses of nearly 2,900 tons, enough to feed 26,000 people for a year. Photograph: Barbara Walton/EPA

Bats that prey on a major rice pest in Thailand could save paddy harvests worth millions of dollars and help contribute to better food security, claim scientists in a paper published in Biological Conservation.

Using data from a previous study and their own field survey, the scientists put a value on the wrinkle-lipped bat's predation on the white-backed planthopper, a migratory insect pest in Asia that feeds on rice shoots.

The scientists calculated that each wrinkle-lipped bat (Tadarida plicata) consumes about 1,130 white-backed planthoppers (Sogatella furcifera) daily. With a population of almost 8m, the bat species may prevent annual paddy losses of nearly 2,900 tons – enough to feed 26,000 people for a year – with an export value of $1.2m (£716,000).

Thomas Cherico Wanger, lead author of the paper and a tropical ecologist at the University of Göttingen in Germany, suggests that Thai rice farmers can recruit bats in their fields by providing roosting boxes.

"The model shows that 300 bats in each roosting box can protect almost 700kg of rice per year," says Wanger.

Bats have yet to be considered as a significant pest control agent in agriculture, according to Wantana Srirattanasak, senior entomologist of Thailand's department of rice. "Our farmers have never thought of using bats as biological control agents," she says.

A year-long survey in 2005 reported that planthoppers made up almost 30% of the diet of wrinkled-lipped bats. Working from this survey, Wanger and his team built a model to "quantify the amount of rice that bats protect when they feed on planthoppers".

Combining data from the literature with their field observations, the scientists used the model to estimate the number of white-backed planthoppers consumed by all the wrinkled-lipped bats in Thailand. They then estimated the amount of rice harvest saved due to the predation of these planthoppers.

But models simplify nature based on assumptions that might be wrong, Wanger warns, adding that it is crucial to "compile good data" and "to indicate the level of error that comes with an estimate".

"The model has merits as a thought experiment," says Geoff Gurr, applied ecology professor at Charles Sturt University in Australia.

But Gurr, who has been working on the biological control of planthoppers with arthropod predators, notes that only one field survey was used to estimate the bats' predation on planthoppers. "It is not a substantial base on which to extrapolate too widely," he says.

Another caveat is that the amount of rice saved by the bats – 2,900 tons – is only a tiny portion of the 25-30 million tons of rice produced annually in Thailand. Bats might not be irrelevant, says Gurr, "but they are a very small portion of the mortality that would be required to control the planthoppers".

Wanger says his team understands the limits of their model. But he argues it is crucial to test predictions of the model against field experiments and more data analyses. He says their modelling code, published with their paper, was made "as transparent as possible" to help others test their predictions.

Read more!

Heat Is On for Southeast Asia to Shift to ‘Green Economy’ Paradigm

Peter Holmgren Jakarta Globe 19 Apr 14;

Each month in Southeast Asia, an area three times the size of Jakarta is stripped of its trees.

Across the region, forests are being cleared for their timber or for agriculture, or to make way for infrastructure and settlements. Indeed, the region’s surging economic growth in recent years has come, in large part, at the expense of natural resources, particularly forests.

Will this paradigm continue?

Will Southeast Asia all but run out of forests?

As things stand, the answer to these questions could be a resounding “no.”

Experts are pointing to a way out of the “environment vs. economy” dilemma. A shift to a “green economy” could integrate environmental and economic objectives into policies that encourage new sources of development — development that can support livelihoods without harming the landscape. A green economy has several key features: low carbon emissions, equitable development, social inclusiveness and greater efficiency in resource use. The green economy is also about making policies that reflect the full value of natural resources, particularly the value of ecosystem services, which are the benefits provided by healthy ecosystems such as forests.

In the case of forests, the list of ecosystem services is long. Among other things, forests provide habitat and clean water, regulate local and global climate, buffer weather events, protect watersheds, water flows and soils, store carbon, produce oxygen, and support pollination and nutrient cycling. They also provide genetic resources for crops and have spiritual, cultural, recreational and tourism values. Despite the crucial importance of forest services for human survival, however, the invisibility of these services in a market system means they tend to be taken for granted and perceived as “free.”

What distinguishes a green economy is its emphasis on accounting for natural capital. Having the true value of forests reflected in a green economy means that policymakers compare more options and think more holistically about forests, rather than thinking of them in terms of board-feet of timber or acreage of oil palm trees. Traditional economic indicators like gross domestic product, for example, do not reveal the price a country pays for loss of the ecosystem services that forests provide.

And in those terms, Southeast Asia has paid a steep price. Though the region has dazzled the world with its economic dynamism, it has suffered from compromised water and air quality, degraded forests and imperiled biodiversity. At the turn of the 21st century, Southeast Asia became the world’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions from land-use change. Agriculture, including cash crop plantations such as oil palm, timber for pulp and paper, and rubber, is the primary driver of deforestation in the region. Logging accounts for more than 70 percent of total degradation.

Nevertheless, this region charges on. The world’s highest rates of economic and population growth are right here: By 2030, Southeast Asia is expected to have 84 million more people — the equivalent of adding another Vietnam, but without any additional land. A commensurate increase in consumer, food and energy needs in the region will intensify pressure on the region’s forest landscapes.

Properly implemented, “green growth” policies could slow the pace of environmental degradation — and even turn the problem around, restoring damaged natural capital and creating jobs in the process. Achieving this will require policies that support responsible investment in agriculture, forestry, recycling, renewable energy and other green sectors.

The good news is that green-growth policies are already being implemented in the region. Cambodia and Vietnam have implemented green growth road maps. Indonesia has committed to a 26 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

In Borneo — home to one of Southeast Asia’s largest intact tropical forests — Indonesia, Brunei and Malaysia are implementing a green economy approach that values the forest’s ecosystem services, recognizes the livelihood support the forest offers to one million indigenous people and acknowledges its global role in combatting climate change.

In 2012, the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Assembly drew up a Draft Resolution on “The Creation of a Green Economy to Promote Sustainable Development.”

And governments and businesses across the region are showing increasing commitment to sustainable land use and investment practices, engaging in such initiatives as the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze, Voluntary Partnership Agreements under the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, and REDD+, which stands for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and foster conservation.

Myanmar, too, is gradually adopting a green-growth approach as it increasingly opens to foreign investment. Last December, the government hosted its third Green Economy Green Growth Forum, attended by environmentalists, scientists, diplomats and officials from UN agencies and international organizations.

Attention will be paid to how Myanmar’s leaders face the challenge of providing economic growth for the country’s 60 million people — a quarter of whom live in poverty — while managing the country’s rich natural resources for future generations. The test will come sooner rather than later, with foreign investment in 2013-14 already approaching 2012-13’s record $2.7 billion.

The world’s investment interest in Myanmar will be a point of discussion when ministers from around Southeast Asia meet at the Forests Asia Summit in Jakarta next month. Alongside chief executives, civil society leaders, development experts and the world’s top scientists, they will be examining how governments in the region can better develop a green economy through improved forest and landscape management.

Given the demands that a growing population — and a growing middle class — will make on Southeast Asia’s forests, the discussion could not come at a more critical time.

Peter Holmgren is director general of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Read more!