Best of our wild blogs: 6 May 14

10-11 May: World Migratory Bird Day
from wild shores of singapore

Oriental Pied Hornbill chick hooked by a discarded fishing line from Bird Ecology Study Group

Butterflies Galore! : Chocolate Albatross
from Butterflies of Singapore

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Stronger measures needed to halt forest fires: Balakrishnan

Devianti Faridz Channel NewsAsia 5 May 14;

SINGAPORE: There is an urgent need for governments, non-governmental organisations and local communities to collaborate, insist on transparency, expedite investigations and prosecute those responsible for forest fires, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan.

He said this is why Singapore has drafted legislation that will impose criminal and civil liabilities on companies causing transboundary haze.

Dr Balakrishnan made that point in his speech at the Forests Asia Summit in Jakarta on Monday.

The root of the problem is misaligned commercial interests, he noted, with companies burning forests for short-term profits.

"The main victims are the locals living on adjacent lands," Dr Balakrishnan added.

"The same companies causing the problem are not being made to pay for the damage they cause to the people most affected."

He urged governments to take stronger measures against companies found responsible for destroying the environment, including those behind the illegal burning of agricultural land.

Dr Balakrishnan said that halting development is impossible, and that people have the right to jobs despite the threat of climate change.

But he said this means regional governments need to find solutions that allow for sustainable economic development.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "There is therefore an urgent need for governments, for NGOs and for local communities to insist on transparency, to collaborate more effectively, to pursue investigations and to prosecute those responsible."

Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has also echoed these sentiments and warned Southeast Asia to stay clear of a self-destructing path of development.

President Yudhoyono encouraged Southeast Asian governments, organizations and civil society to continue developing a regional strategy to promote a low-carbon economy.

Dr Yudhoyono has acknowledged that the Riau forest fires were a "major disaster" and has committed to the development of a unified map of land use which will help mitigate deforestation, said Dr Balakrishnan.

- CNA/nd/ir

Urgent need for quick action on haze management, says Balakrishnan
Today Online 6 May 14;

SINGAPORE — There is an urgent need for governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and local communities to work together and insist on transparency, expedite investigations and prosecute those responsible for forest fires, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan.

Despite South-east Asia experiencing one of the worst episodes of haze last year — which had “brutal” impact on the economy, livelihoods, people’s health and the environment — the fire-burning season began even earlier this year, said Dr Balakrishnan, who was speaking at the Forests Asia Summit in Jakarta yesterday.

Last month, Dr Balakrishan had expressed frustration at the unwillingness of countries — among them Indonesia and Malaysia — to share the land use and concession maps needed for ASEAN’s haze monitoring system to work. The system aims to identify responsible parties and the causes of regional haze.

Yesterday, he stressed that it was important to remember that while the haze affected Singapore, there are far more citizens in Indonesia and Malaysia who were affected.

“Businesses also suffered losses and workers who work at worksites and even wafer fab (plants) were affected because the air in the plants was contaminated. Airports were closed and we all know that in fact, the external cost of haze far exceeded the short-term profits that the companies would have gained,” he said.

He also pointed out the irony of climate change negotiators running up large carbon footprints jetting off all over the world to engage in talks.

“I find it ironic that we argue about shaving a few percentage points in the international commitments, but yet right here in our neighbourhood, we are releasing such copious amounts of carbon dioxide,” he said.

In the meantime, while companies responsible for industrial-scale deforestation are not liable to pay for the damage that they cause to the external environment, the larger economy and the people are most affected by the hardships, he added.

It is impractical to call for a halt to development, but companies and other stakeholders can all operate in a more transparent way.

“Unilever has committed that it will track the source of its palm oil, all the way down to its plantations and therefore sends a message that it wants its sources to be derived from sustainable practices,” he said.

NGOs also play an important role. In a day and age where satellite photos are made available almost real-time, air quality sensors are always on, and with easy Web access, “we got to turn those eyes and build a system of transparency which makes people accountable for their actions”, Dr Balakrishnan said.

At the summit, Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, whose term ends this year, called on his successor to continue with Indonesia’s moratorium on granting forest concessions. The move, he said, has managed to reduced an estimated 211 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year, from what would have been the case if it was business as usual.

Singaporean Minister: Economic interests causing ‘environmental vandalism’
Bruno Vander Velde on the CIFOR blog Forest News 6 May 14;

Editor’s Note: Minister Balakrishnan’s speech can be watched in its entirety, above. His address begins at the 20:14 mark.

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Short-term economic interests in Southeast Asia are driving “environmental vandalism,” Singapore’s top environmental official said Monday.

Vivian Balakrishnan, the Singaporean Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, spoke in direct terms about the causes and effects of deforestation in the region, urging greater transparency, stronger law enforcement and stricter penalties for activities related to deforestation.

“We have a problem,” he said. “The root of this problem is misaligned commercial interests.”

Balakrishnan spoke to nearly 2,000 attendees at the Forests Asia Summit in Jakarta, minutes after the President of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, delivered the keynote address. Relations between Singapore and Indonesia were strained last June when haze from peat fires in Sumatra drifted into Singapore, causing its worst air pollution on record.

But he also acknowledged the wider effects of continued deforestation on the climate.

“Even as we clear forests because we need more land for agriculture, ultimately this is self-defeating, because climate change progresses and sea levels rise,” he said. “Nature will take revenge on us.

“If we contuinue on this trajectory, all of us are in trouble.”

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Singapore's journey in harnessing solar power

Grace Chua The Straits Times AsiaOne 6 May 14;

SINGAPORE - People have long dreamt of harvesting energy directly from the sun.

That dream became a reality when Bell Laboratories unveiled the first modern solar cell made of silicon 60 years ago.

And in Singapore, solar cells have been around for more than three decades, warming water for homes and generating electricity for bus shelters and a Pasir Ris fish farm.

In fact, the earliest research started long before a recent national push turned solar energy from a minor curiosity in Singapore into a part of a $1.7 billion clean-energy industry.

In 1839, French physicist Alexandre Edmond Becquerel first noticed small electric currents being produced when metals in an electrolyte solution were exposed to light.

More than a century later, researchers from Bell Labs, the renowned research arm of telecommunications firm AT&T in New Jersey, noticed the same effect with a silicon material.

The first modern solar cells were made of silicon doped with arsenic and boron, and were able to convert about 6 per cent of the light that hit them into electricity.

Today, solar photovoltaic or PV cells are typically made of a silicon semiconductor material containing deliberately introduced impurities to alter its electronic properties. The material absorbs some of the light that hits it, and electrons within the silicon cell are knocked loose and able to flow freely. The flow of these electrons is a current.

Initially, Bell Labs' solar cells were used to power telecommunications equipment in remote areas. By 1958, they had gone to space on the Vanguard satellites in the United States' space programme.

At first, the cost of solar cells was astronomical, at up to US$250 per watt of generation capacity in the 1950s, compared to about S$1 a watt today.

Even so, the 1979 energy crisis caused by the Iranian Revolution sparked renewed interest in solar energy around the world, including Singapore.

Many in landed homes chose to install solar water heaters, which do not generate electricity but simply heat water collected in a tank.

And in 1983, a floating fish farm off Pasir Ris, Marina Farm, installed a $6,000 set of solar panels to cut its $800 diesel generation bill by half, while the Port of Singapore Authority started using solar cells to power its navigational beacons.

Despite foreign investments in electronics manufacturing then, there were only a handful of solar-system manufacturers and installers here in the 1980s.

Among them were Sunergy Manufacturing, Solar Generators Singapore and Compo Enterprises, the precursor to solar firm Sunseap.

"Local demand was so small, so what we did was mainly for re-exporting," said Compo and Sunseap founder Phuan Pui Jong, 70.

Research, too, was paltry, said Professor Yoon Soon Fatt, chair of Nanyang Technological University's school of electrical and electronic engineering.

"We did some work in the early days on the structure of silicon solar cells," said Prof Yoon, who joined the then-Nanyang Technological Institute in 1989.

"At that time there was no support, nothing. But as a young faculty member, you're always looking for new research areas. Solar PV was something that was interesting; the dream was to try and see how to squeeze as much efficiency out of silicon as we could."

It ramped up slowly. In 1982, the National University of Singapore built a $10,000 prototype low-energy house at its Kent Ridge campus with solar panels on its roof, while Singapore Polytechnic and Ngee Ann Polytechnic installed their first solar panels between 1991 and 1996 to test how well various systems worked in a humid tropical climate.

And the first solar installation to be connected to the national grid was a 4.2-kilowatt set-up at Tuas Naval Base in 1997.

In 2007, national support for the industry took a sharp turn.

The Economic Development Board injected $350 million into growing the clean energy sector, from research to test-bedding new technologies - both to boost energy security here and to diversify industry.

In 2011, these were topped up with an infusion of $195 million, while a National Innovation Challenge for new research on energy resilience received $300 million.

"Finally somebody was willing to fund this sort of research'," Prof Yoon said. "It's nice to look back and think we've come quite far over the years."

In 2010, the Housing Board began installing solar panels en masse on HDB rooftops to power lights and common areas, in a five-year, $31 million drive.

Today, the total installed solar capacity here is around 15 to 20 megawatts, a tiny fraction of Singapore's energy needs.

But a White Paper last year by the Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore suggested solar PV could meet some 4.8 per cent of the country's 2025 energy needs, especially as costs go down, and if steps are taken to manage the intermittent nature of the sun's energy.

"The future of solar will be several gigawatts of solar installed in Singapore," said Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore chief executive Armin Aberle.

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'Green' scheme no throwaway idea

Maryam Mokhtar The Straits Times AsiaOne 6 May 14;

From getting Philips to sponsor energy-saving light bulbs for rental flats to giving residents grocery vouchers in exchange for their newspapers and old clothes, Dr Amy Khor has built up a reputation for being a "green" mayor and MP over the years.

But a decade ago, even recycling companies were sceptical about whether her ideas could be sustained, the Mayor of South West District recalled in an interview with The Sunday Times.

Her environmental initiatives - such as a weekly "Trash-for-Cash" programme which lets the district's approximately 800,000 residents exchange unwanted items for daily necessities like rice - are still going strong though.

Last year, about 2,350 tonnes of recyclable materials were collected under the district's numerous recycling efforts. Many of these initiatives were started soon after Dr Khor became mayor in 2004.

"It takes considerable community energy to sustain and expand (such programmes), because recycling habits do not come naturally to us. But, we all know cognitively that our environment needs our individual and collective effort," said the 56-year-old, who is also Senior Minister of State for Health.

Her focus, however, will turn to explaining the benefits of the Pioneer Generation Package come May 27, when she will hand over the job of mayor to Parliamentary Secretary (Social and Family Development) Low Yen Ling to focus on additional responsibilities at the Health Ministry.

The change was among the promotions and appointments announced last Tuesday by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

He said that Dr Khor, who co-chairs a Pioneer Generation taskforce, would focus on implementing the package, and helping older Singaporeans understand and benefit from its raft of measures that are meant to help with their medical costs.

Mr Lee said she had done a lot as mayor by expanding community outreach, deepening engagement with residents and partnering grassroots organisations and business corporations.

Apart from environmentally friendly initiatives, Dr Khor, who is also Senior Minister of State for Manpower, has spearheaded social programmes such as Adopt-a-Rental Block. Under this, volunteers from schools, companies and the grassroots visit the elderly and low-income families, and help them with their needs.

The South West Community Development Council (CDC) was also the first to hold training sessions for grassroots volunteers, so that they could assess residents' needs better when giving out social aid.

The CDC started a baby bliss card incentive - giving newborns in the district specially designed cash cards with $38 stored value.

"If I may be allowed to say so, this is the original Jubilee package for the SG50 celebrations," said Dr Khor, referring to the special gift that all Singapore babies born in 2015, Singapore's 50th year of independence, will get.

Those who have worked with Dr Khor said she was good at engaging with different kinds of people, from ordinary residents to corporate chiefs.

Said ITE College West principal Yek Tiew Ming: "She's a really good people person and has this great ability to connect. People really like her. She's also very hands-on. When we're working on a project, you don't just see her at the launch, she follows up afterwards and gets her hands dirty."

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All households to receive free N95 masks from this week

Tan Qiuyi Channel NewsAsia 5 May 14;

SINGAPORE: Starting on Tuesday, every household in Singapore will receive free N95 masks - right in their mailbox.

That's courtesy of a community programme by Singapore Power, SingPost, and Temasek Cares, the philanthropic arm of Temasek Holdings.

They will be distributing 1.2 million emergency preparedness "starter kits" to homes nationwide from May 6-12.

The next time a haze hits Singapore, there's unlikely to be a last-minute scramble for masks.

Staff at Singapore Power have been volunteering their time getting the 'Stay Prepared' starter kits ready for the power company's meter readers and technicians to deliver to households across the island in one week -- including the weekend.

V S Raju, deputy director of Metering Data Management at Singapore Power, said: "We want to make sure that we reach out to residents, who can actually be at home then, so we can have an opportunity to explain (the programme) to them if there's a need to."

Each starter kit contains three N95 masks. And on the back of the packet are useful numbers -- like the police, civil defence and dengue hotlines -- residents can call in case of an emergency.

The flat, folded masks may be unfamiliar as it's a one-year-old design by technology company 3M.

Helen Foo, general manager of Safety & Graphics Business at 3M Singapore, said: "It's very comfortable and easy to use, and it's flat and easy to store.

"So an N95 mask need not have to be a cup-shaped version. A flat-fold N95 mask can be just as effective as it is."

Organisers said 1.2 million kits will be distributed to reach every household.

Another 17,000 will be delivered to 144 charity homes, while 300,000 more are on standby.

But masks are just a small part of preparing for an emergency, said Temasek Cares chairman Richard Magnus.

"We want every single household to begin to think about 'where do I get additional N95 masks for other members of my family?' And once they form that habit of mind, then it will become intuitive to start preparing for unforseen events in Singapore. That's the intention too," he said.

Postal workers at Singapore Post will deliver the kits to HDB flats and high-rise apartments, while Singapore Power meter readers will cover the country's landed homes.

If kits cannot be delivered to a postal address, residents will receive delivery advice with information on where to collect their kits.

Singapore Power has also set up a hotline (1800-738-2000) for the public to get information about the delivery process. The hotline will operate from May 5 to May 24, 8am to 8pm daily.

Costing some S$4 million in total, the starter kit programme taps into a S$40 million Temasek Emergency Preparedness Fund launched in March.

- CNA/de

Free N95 masks in kits for every home
Adrian Lim MyPaper AsiaOne 6 May 14;

SINGAPORE - Every household here will receive three N95 face masks, as part of a nation-wide push to get individuals to think about being prepared for emergencies, such as haze crises and flu pandemics.

The 3M brand foldable masks are packed in a "Stay Prepared" kit that will also contain instructions in four languages on how to put them on, and useful emergency contact numbers.

A total of 1.2 million kits will be delivered to homes between today and next Monday. The initiative is led by Temasek Cares, a non-profit philantrophic arm under Temasek Holdings, in partnership with Singapore Power and Singapore Post.

Temasek Cares will be pumping in $4 million from its $40 million war chest, called the Temasek Emergency Preparedness Fund, for the mask distribution programme.

The fund was set up earlier this year to help Singaporeans prepare and deal with emergencies. Last month, a $1.5 million project to train 60 therapists to help children deal with traumatic situations, such as accidents, was also launched.

Richard Magnus, chairman of Temasek Cares, said the kits will give households an "initial stock" of masks to encourage them to plan their own contingencies.

"It's a habit of mind we want to prompt... Last June, there was a severe haze that impacted Singapore... we need to be prepared," said Mr Magnus.

The ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre expects this year's haze to be worse than last year's.

This is because of lower than usual rainfall expected from now till October in parts of the region and the El Nino weather pattern, which is linked to drought, said reports.

Being prepared earlier will also prevent a repeat of last June, when people scrambled to stock up on face masks.

An additional 17,000 kits will also be delivered to over 140 charity homes, and another 300,000 have been prepared on standby for needy families.

Mary Abishagam, 57, a senior administrative assistant with Singapore Power, said she will be volunteering an extra three hours every day, on top of her regular work, to help pack the kits for delivery.

"It's going to be challenging, but we will manage... We are getting people prepared and not many people have thought of keeping masks in their homes," she said cheerily.

Members of the public who wish to get more information about the delivery of the kits can call a hotline, 1800-738-2000, from today until May 24, between 8am and 8pm daily.

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Malaysia: Water woes far from over - experts

patrick lee The Star 6 May 14;

PETALING JAYA: Water supply woes are far from over although rationing has been called off.

Experts have warned that water crises in the Klang Valley may be the norm until the completion of the Langat 2 treatment plant in Selangor.

S. Piarapakaran, president of the Association of Water Energy Re­­­search (Awer) said Selangor’s water treatment reserve margin was too low to guarantee constant flow during dry seasons or unexpected plant shutdowns.

Periodic spike in demand would also occur during major festivals.

“In the water services industry, you must have (a comfortable) reserve margin after you meet daily demands … if anything were to happen, we’d be able to face it,” he said.

He added that an ideal treatment reserve margin would be 20% – roughly 928 million litres a day (MLD) – instead of the current one of less than 3%.

Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor (Syabas) maintains that there is no more reserve margin.

The 20% reserve could possibly be achieved should the Langat 2 water treatment plant – capable of supplying 1,130MLD – be completed this year.

Piarapakaran argued that blaming the dry weather in the first few months of the year was not the way to go forward.

“The possibility of this (water crisis) occurring every year is quite high,” he said.

Malaysian Water Association (MWA) president Syed Mohamed Adnan Alhabshi said factors such as high usage and large non-revenue water (NRW) figures also added to the problem.

He said the average Malaysian used 212 litres of water a day and that low tariffs (or in some cases, no tarrifs, i.e. free water) were not going to encourage people to save water.

“If the per-capita usage is not going to drop, we have to focus on NRW,” he said.

NRW is made up of four components: leakages and overflows, theft, meter under-registration and unbilled authorised usage such as for firefighting and flushing of mains pipelines.

Selangor defends lifting of water rationing
a ruban The Star 5 May 14;

SHAH ALAM: The Selangor government has again defended its decision to end the water rationing exercise, saying that prior studies were carried out before doing so.

Executive councillor for infrastructure, Dr Yunus Hairi, said the state was confident of the measures it took to address the problem.

"Among the state's plans is to pump water from nearby ponds into the Sungai Selangor dam and through this, the water distribution from the dam will be more efficient," he said in a statement issued Monday.

He cited efforts to seek the help of the Thai government in using cloud-seeding technology to harvest rain at the dam.

These were among the reasons why the state had decided to call off the rationing that has been troubling over a million consumers, he said.

Yunus was commenting on a statement by Association of Water and Energy Research Malaysia president S. Piarapakaran that the state was gambling on the fate of the people by lifting the rationing despite the water level at the Sungai Selangor dam not reaching the 55% mark.

"He (Piarapakaran) should look into the efforts of the state government in handling the water crisis to get a better understanding," he said.

Piarapakaran was quoted in a Malay daily as saying that the state's efforts in addressing the water crisis such as the use of membrane technology was irrelevant.

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Malaysia: 60% drop in local fruit production sees prices go up

p. aruna The Star 6 May 14;

PETALING JAYA: It is literally a less fruitful year for Malaysians with a 60% drop in local fruit production brought about by the recent dry spell.

Fruits have also become costlier with price rises of between 50 sen and 60 sen a kilo for many varieties.

The situation is not likely to get any better as the year progresses.

With the Meteorological Department forecasting another dry spell later, fruit growers are bracing for another round of poor harvests.

Malaysian Fruit Farmers Association president Hong Jok Hon said the drop in supply of fruits, including limes, guava, mangoes, papayas, watermelons and starfruit was expected to last until July before the situation returned to normal.

However, he said the drought expected between June and October might cause the harvests to be poor during the next season.

Hong said the prices of these fruits had risen by about 15% or an average of 50 cents to 60 cents per kilo, depending on the type of fruit.

Fruits usually take a longer time – between four and six months – to be harvested as compared with vegetables.

He said the production of fruits was expected to drop in May.

“In my own farm, I used to get about 7,000 to 8,000 mangoes and jackfruits a week but the number has dropped to 1,000 fruit,” he said.

As for guavas, what used to be about 1,000 baskets a week had dropped to just 200 baskets.

The harvest of about six tonnes of lime had dropped to one tonne, while starfruit could not even be harvested as the fruits dropped off before they could ripen.

On prices, Hong said guava had gone up from about RM3 per kilo to RM3.50, mangoes from RM2.50 to about RM3, bananas from about RM4 to RM4.50.

Malaysia Fruit Exporters Association president Ricky Yong said the export of local fruits had dropped by up to 40% because of the dry spell. All the associations have recorded a decline in all its main exports – starfruit, durian, pineapples, papaya and jackfruit.

“Even seasonal fruit like durians are affected as the flowers dry up during the dry spell.”

Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority’s (Fama) Market Information Services Division senior director Dr Bisant Kaur said the supply of papayas was expected to drop even further as a disease had affected the fruit.

“We are expecting more mangoes and durians in June, but whether the fruits will stick to the tree or drop before harvest is yet to be seen,” she said.

According to data from Fama, the price of starfruit had increased by 16.5% while the price of guava had gone up by nearly 15%.

Several variations of mangoes and the new dragon seedless watermelon, however, showed a drop in prices last month.

Reduce exports to stabilise prices, Government urged
The Star 6 May 14;

PETALING JAYA: Export of local fruits should be reduced temporarily until production returns to normal, said Consumer Association of Penang (CAP).

Its president S.M. Mohamed Idris said the association had received many complaints about the increase in the price of fruits.

“Consumers are complaining that local fruits – papayas, rambutans, pineapples, bananas – have become so expensive.

“In the markets, the traders are grumbling that they are forced to raise prices due to the drop in supply.

“We visited several farms and saw for ourselves that the fruit trees, such as papaya trees, are bare,” he said when contacted.

He urged the Government to temporarily cut down on its exports of local fruits to keep prices from shooting up.

“We should stop exporting so much, so we have enough for domestic consumption and the price will be under control.

“These are the most nutritious food, it is important to ensure that fruits are affordable,” he said.

Another option, he said, would be for authorities like Federal Agricultural Mar­keting Authority (Fama) to facilitate consumers getting the fruits directly from farmers instead of going through middle-men to cut the cost.

Nutrition Society of Malaysia (NSM) president Dr Tee E Siong said individuals should consume two servings of fruit each day.

“Two servings means, for example, one banana and one apple, or one papaya and one guava.

“Even now, people do not consume the recommended intake. With higher prices, this may become worse,” he said when contacted yesterday.

Intake of fruits, he said, could not be substituted with vegetables as it contained different nutritional value.

“Even before the drought people were saying local fruits were expensive.

“It is important for Fama to keep the prices of fruits under control,” he said.

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Indonesia Should Strike Balance in Protecting Environment: SBY

Josua Gantan & Vita A.D. Busyra Jakarta Globe 5 May 14;

Jakarta. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said in remarks delivered on Monday morning that Indonesia should strive for a balance between protecting the environment and the use of forests by local communities, while Singapore called on Indonesia to take stronger measures.

“It is about striking a balance between the need to conserve the environment and guaranteeing the rights of local communities over their customary forests,” Yudhoyono said in a speech at the Shangri-La hotel in Jakarta, at a Forests Asia Summit 2014 event. “By doing so we provide them with the means to improve their welfare and economic progress.”

He called on all Southeast Asian nations to develop strategies to promote sustainability. The growth in population would contribute to the increasing strain on resources, he said, adding that there would be a rise in demand for housing, transportation, food and energy.

“The central tenet of this strategy is about creating prosperity for everyone, in a way that does not harm the natural environment upon which we all depend,” he said.

Yudhoyono, as the end of his second five-year term has drawn near, said that he hoped that his successor would be able to prolong a moratorium that would last until 2015, protecting more than 63 million hectares of Indonesian forests and peatlands — an area larger than that of Malaysia and the Philippines combined.

He said that through such efforts the deforestation rate had fallen between 450,000 to 600,000 hectares annually between 2011 and 2013, down from 1.2 million hectares per year during the 2003 to 2006 period.

Despite the reductions, deforestation continued at a breakneck speed with little evidence of stopping, and environmentalists have criticized Yudhoyono for failing to act decisively.

The entire Asia-Pacific region has felt the environmental effects of smog and greenhouse gasses emitted by destructive forest clearing techniques, Yudhoyono said, citing the examples of wildfires in Australia, deadly floods in Pakistan and typhoons in the Philippines.

He said that Indonesia would learn from this season’s Riau fires and that illegal burning, logging and farming would not go unpunished — reiterating promises he had made many times before.

“I also call upon governments in Southeast Asia to develop regional strategies, strategies to develop their adapted capacity and to promote low-carbon economy,” he said. “I also urge businesses across the Asean [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] region to commit to sustainable land use and investment practices, to work with governments in enhancing environmental sustainability.”

Fires that swept through Sumatra’s Riau province in recent years as the result of harmful land clearing techniques have caused smog that drifted to Singapore and parts of Malaysia and Thailand, threatening the health of local populations in all four countries and causing nearly 50,000 of cases of respiratory ailment in Indonesia alone, along with widespread school closures and flight delays.

The fires kept Yudhoyono from fulfilling his 2009 promise to cut Indonesia’s greenhouse gases by 26 percent.

‘Should not blame slash-and-burn’

Singaporean minister for environmental and water resources Vivian Balakrishnan, who also spoke at the monday event, lamented the haze’s impact on Singapore and criticized Indonesia for its response and for deflecting the blame onto traditional growers rather than poorly regulated industries

“We cannot and should not blame slash-and-burn traditional agriculture,” he said.

He said local agricultural practices were thousands of years old and that today’s problems were industrial.

In a report by Nigel Sizer from the World Resources Institute, Global Forest Watch found 3,101 hot spots in Sumatra this year, with 87 percent of the fires in Riau and half of them on concessions held by pulpwood, oil palm and logging companies. Some of the largest fires were found on industrial plantations that had committed to eliminating fire from their practices.

Balakrishnan said that people had the right to jobs despite the threat of climate change, but that companies should take responsibility for the environment and commit not to earn profit at the expensive of the environment. He said transparency would breed responsibility.

“Satellites, drones… the Internet… We’ve got to turn those eyes into a system of responsibility that makes people accountable for their deeds,” Balakrishnan said. “Only, and only if we do those things, then can we fulfill the goals that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono set just now.”

U Win Tun, Myanmar’s union minister of environmental conservation and forestry, said that efficient use of natural resources was of paramount importance.

As a nation that has underdone rapid political and economic transformation, he said, Myanmar was looking to work with the world community to help reduce deforestation and to strive for sustainable forest management.

The Bogor-based Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) is organizing the two-day conference, which is one of the biggest gatherings of its kind in recent years, bringing together government officials, business executives, civil society leaders, development experts and some of the world’s top scientists.

BeritaSatu Media Holdings, with which the Jakarta Globe is affiliated, is a media partner of the Forests Asia Summit

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Indonesia: Peatland Fires Biggest Contributor to Carbon Emissions - Researcher

Vita A.D. Busyra Jakarta Globe 5 May 14;

Jakarta. Indonesia must take action now to prevent its peatlands from burning in what amounts to the largest single contributor to the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, a researcher said on Monday.

“The recent haze in 2013 and 2014 indicate that extreme episodes of fire and haze are becoming more frequent and more extreme,” David Gaveau, a scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), said at the Forests Asia Summit in Jakarta. “Therefore, we have to act now.”

Smoke from large fires in Riau province, Sumatra, last June swept into neighboring Malaysia and Singapore, covering the city-state in a thick haze that threatened to halt flights at Changi International Airport. Singapore residents were forced to remain indoors to avoid the heavy pollution. Fires this year also blanketed the region in smoke.

The harshest effect were felt in Indonesia, where schools were forced to close their doors and nearly 50,000 people suffered from respiratory problems.

In Sumatra last year, an estimated 163,336 hectares were burned, and of that amount peatlands accounted for 137,044 hectares, or 84 percent, Gaveau said, citing Landsat data analysis.

Peat, which is made up of layers of dead vegetation and other organic matter, contributed heavily to carbon emissions because of the substance’s density.

Individuals and companies in Sumatra have been eager to clear land to free up space for palm oil plantation, pulp and paper ventures and mining.

Dharsono Hartono, president director of Rimba Makmur Utama, a forest conservation company formed in 2007, said that peatlands covered 22.5 million hectares, or about 12 percent of Indonesia’s total land area. In 2005 alone, emissions from burning peat accounted for 44 percent of Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions, he said.

In Sumatra, 57 percent of burned “non-forest” areas were so-called “forest cemeteries,” or combinations of shrub and exposed soil with stumps, downed trunks and branches, Gaveau said, citing Landsat information.

“The bulk of the burning did not occur in forests, but on the lands that were already deforested, and these lands are easy to burn,” he said. “Last year, the forests actually burned in those degraded lands [were] in preparation for plantations. You can imagine once the forest [was] being burned, it would quickly be converted to agriculture. But actually it could be a good number of years before the forest becomes converted to agriculture.”

He added that in Sumatra last year, 52 percent of the total burned land was within concession areas, but 60 percent of this burned area — or 50,248 hectares — was occupied by small landholders.

Bogor-based CIFOR organized the two-day conference, one of the biggest gatherings of its kind in recent years, bringing together government officials, business executives, civil society leaders, development experts and some of the world’s top scientists.

BeritaSatu Media Holdings, with which the Jakarta Globe is affiliated, is a media partner of the Forests Asia Summit.

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Indonesia preparing coral reef management regulation

Antara 5 May 14;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesia is preparing a regulation in an effort to improve sustainable coral reef management given the upcoming World Coral Reef Conference (WCRC) in Manado, North Sulawesi, between May 14-17, 2014, a minister said.

"For the substance of the conference, Indonesia as the host country is preparing a regulation for sustainable global coral reef management," Marine and Fisheries Minister Sharif Cicip Sutardjo said here on Saturday.

The minister noted that the regulation is being prepared because of concern about the condition of the increasingly degraded world coral reefs.

According to him, coral reefs in Indonesia are the best in the world and, therefore, they should be protected with a regulation.

"The sustainability of coral reefs in Indonesia should be protected with an unequivocal regulation," the marine and fisheries minister said.

Meanwhile, the WCRC national committee chairman, Sudirman Saad, said the conference is expected to produce a sustainable coral reefs management communiqu, an action plan from coastal countries to save the coral reefs ecosystem and steps toward a sustainable coral reefs management convention.

Further, he pointed out that as part of the WCRC, there will be the International Blue Carbon Symposium (IBCS), the World Ocean Business Forum (WOBF), the Extra Ordinary Senior Official Meeting (SOM) and the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs Fisheries and Food Security (CTI-CFF) Ministerial Meeting.

The IBCS aims to bridge the meeting of researchers and stakeholders regarding blue carbon in the scope of coral triangle regions, while the WOBF will promote business and investment opportunities in Indonesias marine and fisheries sector at an international forum and help in the exchange of information on environmental-friendly business management.

"The Extraordinary Senior Official Meeting and the CTI-CFF Ministerial Meeting are part of the Coral Triangle Initiative agenda," he noted.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Indonesia: Riau forest fires cause losses amounting to over Rp20 trillion

Antara 5 May 14;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - Forest and land fires occurring in the Riau Province between February and April 2014 caused economic losses worth more than Rp20 trillion, as per data furnished by the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB).

"It should be kept in mind that once the fires break out, it will be difficult to extinguish them and can cause huge losses," BNPB Chief Sutopo Purwo Nugroho recently stated here.

The haze disaster triggered by the fires disrupted around 30 percent of the economic activities and caused monetary losses in Riau.

The BNPB had spent around Rp164 billion, or one-third of its budget, to deal with the fires nationally.

The fires also caused environmental damages as more than 21.9 thousand hectares of forest and plantation areas were gutted by the fires.

The haze also affected the health of several residents in Riau and the neighboring provinces, such as in West and North Sumatra.

The largest loss caused by forest and land fires in Indonesia was in 1997, when fires wiped out millions of hectares of forest and plantation areas and caused losses worth US$2.45 billion.

The El Nino phenomenon is forecast to develop and affect Indonesia between May and October 2014. El Nino-induced drought usually triggers forest and peatland fires in Indonesia.

According to President Director of PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP) Kusnan Rahmin, his company failed to achieve its targets of production and planting as a result of the fires.

"The worst is the damage on our companys image internationally because although we did not start the fires, our company was mentioned as one of the areas affected by the fires," he pointed out.

PT RAPP deployed, among other resources, hundreds of workers, two helicopters, and 30 water pumps to help put out the fires, he emphasized.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Australian coalmining is entering ‘structural decline’, reports says

Demand from India and China predicted to falter due to higher uptake of renewables and make huge projects commercially unattractive
Oliver Milman 5 May 14;

Coalmining in Australia is entering a “structural decline”, with projects set to become unviable due to unrealistic expectations over the potential to export the fossil fuels to China and India, according to a new report.

The study, by the US-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, suggests that two huge coalmining projects in central Queensland, backed by Indian cash, “are likely to prove uncommercial” due to unfavourable market conditions.

The projects, backed by Adani and GVK, which bought its coal assets from Gina Rinehart in 2011, will attempt to open up vast deposits of coal buried in the Galilee Basin region. Clive Palmer’s China First mine is also slated for completion by 2017, removing a projected 40m tonnes of coal a year for export.

But the IEEFA analysis shows that the wholesale cost of electricity in India, a key export market, is half that of Galilee coal-fired power, making it financially unattractive for the Indian government.

That, coupled with a new focus on renewable energy such as solar and wind, and a falling coal price due to the flood of new resource from the Galilee Basin, will cause significant problems for Australian projects, the study found.

“Renewables are a lower cost, cleaner solution, particularly when the deflationary impact of wind and solar is incorporated,” the study states.

The price of coal has dropped sharply in the past three years. The mining industry has claimed this is part of a cyclical reverse in fortunes as the resources boom cools.

However, several high-profile projects have been cancelled recently, including the departure of BHP, Anglo American and Lend Lease from the vast mine, rail and port operation required to mine and ship coal from the Galilee Basin.

Tim Buckley, director of IEEFA, told Guardian Australia that India is likely to follow China in looking more to renewable energy than coal-fired power.

“People think India will just follow the same growth of China, but India’s economy has choked on coal energy and it doesn’t need more expensive coal imports,” he said.

“The solution for energy poverty in India isn’t coal, it’ll be a mix of energy sources, as China has started to move towards.”

Buckley said China’s huge investment in renewable energy will be replicated, albeit on a smaller scale, by India, influenced by the pro-solar policies of prime ministerial front-runner Narendra Modi. The cost of electricity generation from solar in India has fallen 65% in the last three years.

“The last thing Australia should do is flood the market with extra coal, there’s no way it can handle the number of projects currently in train,” Buckley said.

“China’s premier has made it clear he’s waging a war on pollution and the clear message is that they want anything other than coal.

“Meanwhile India has the majority of the top 10 most polluted cities in the world, as well as water scarcity issues. The move away from coal isn’t so much about climate change, it’s pollution, health and economics. That’s why savvy investors aren’t putting their money in coal.”

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Ocean data points to strong El Nino: climate scientist

Colin Packham PlanetArk 6 May 14;

El Nino - a warming of sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific - affects wind patterns and can trigger both floods and drought in different parts of the globe, curbing food supply.

A majority of weather forecasting models indicate that an El Nino may develop around the middle of the year, but it was too early to assess its likely strength, the U.N. World Meteorological Organization said on April 15.

Dr Wenju Cai, a climate expert at Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, said rises in Pacific Ocean temperature above those seen in previous El Nino years and the quick movement of warm water eastwards had raised fears of a significant event.

"I think this event has lots of characteristics with a strong El Nino," said Cai.

"A strong El Nino appears early and we have seen this event over the last couple of months, which is unusual; the wind that has caused the warming is quite large and there is what we call the pre-conditioned effects, where you must have a lot of heat already in the system to have a big El Nino event."

He based his conclusions on studying data released by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Meteorologists say the prospect of an El Nino will likely be firmed up in the next month or two, although forecasting the strength of such a weather event is hard to do.

The chance of an El Nino developing in 2014 exceeded 70 percent, Australia's Bureau of Meteorology said on April 8.

Australia's weather bureau will issue is next El Nino outlook report on Tuesday, while Japan's meteorological agency is expected to updated its forecast in the next couple of weeks.

The worst El Nino on record in 1997-98 was blamed for massive flooding along China's Yangtze river that killed more than 1,500 people.

A strong El Nino will also increase fears that production of many key agricultural commodities in Asia and Australia will suffer.

(Editing by Ed Davies)

El Nino is likely to emerge as early as July: Australia
Colin Packham PlanetArk 6 May 14;

El Nino - a warming of sea temperatures in the Pacific - affects wind patterns and can trigger both floods and drought in different parts of the globe, curbing food supply.

The bureau said sub-surface sea temperatures had warmed by as much as 6 degrees in recent months. Higher sea temperatures prompted an Australian climate scientist on Monday to warn that the weather event, which can cause both floods and drought in different parts of the globe, could be one of the strongest in nearly two decades.

(Editing by Ed Davies)

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