Best of our wild blogs: 9 May 14

Rose-ringed Parakeet’s varied diet
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Malaysia: Deforestation rate in Heart of Borneo worrying - WWF

patrick lee The Star 9 May 14;

PETALING JAYA: The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has expressed concern over the deforestation in the Heart of Borneo (HoB), a 17.4 million-ha forest the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei have agreed to conserve.

It claimed an area the size equivalent to 82 Kuala Lumpurs was deforestated between 2007 and 2012.

Up to two million ha of forest within HoB disappeared during that period despite a declaration signed in February 2007 to conserve the tropical forests.

According to the Environmental Status Report of the HoB 2014, the region, which covered about 30% of the whole island, saw an annual deforestation rate of 2.19%.

It said high deforestation rates were detected in HoB upland forests in Sarawak and Sabah, along with high rates in HoB lowland rainforests in Sabah.

The distribution of orang utan within the HoB was found to have decreased by 14% in those six years as well, occurring mainly in West Kalimantan and Sabah.

There is about 17.4 million ha of forest cover in the HoB, with Sabah and Sarawak taking up 3.64 million ha.

Borneo elephants, found only in Sabah’s south-east and east Kalimantan’s upper north regions, saw their habitat areas decreased by 125,000ha to 157,000ha in 2012.

In Sabah, habitats that were capable of supporting clouded leopards and some orang utan areas were found to have been reduced from 2007 to 2012.

“In 2013, only a few areas of lowland forest remain. Many of these are fragmented,” the report said.

A “surprisingly high” number of forest fire hotspots were also detected in Sabah’s eastern section.

“Deforestation of one area continued until no more lowland forest remained in the location,” the report added.

The WWF further warned that these environmental changes could have an impact on millions of people relying on watersheds and rivers within the HoB.

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Indonesia: Jakarta’s Air Quality Takes a Toxic Turn for The Worse

Erwida Maulia Jakarta Globe 9 May 14;

To Tifa Asrianti, the polka-dot fabric mask she carries in her bag is multifunctional.

Inside the overpacked trains she regularly boards to and from work during rush hour, the face mask saves her nose from unpleasant odors released by sweaty, fellow commuters.

On the Kopaja minibuses she takes from the train station to her office, the mask protects her from cigarette smoke casually exhaled by male passengers.

And while waiting for transportation on the side of roads congested with vehicles, she hopes the mask is able to filter the air pollution invading her lungs.

“Not that I believe the mask can really help, but it’s the least I could do,” said Tifa, a 30-something employee of a non-profit organization in Kuningan, South Jakarta.

People wearing face masks were not a common sight in Jakarta six years ago. Then came the H1N1 flu incidents in 2009, at the height of which the Indonesian government promoted the use of surgical masks to prevent the swine-based disease from spreading.

The flu died down, but people became accustomed to the masks and began wearing them in hopes to filter the smog-tainted city air they breathe in.

Now, the sight of half-covered faces is a common one throughout Asia — the light green or blue surgical ones are most used — as city commuters wait at bus shelters, board non-air conditioned public buses or ride motorcycles.

“The traffic jams are getting more inhumane. That’s a clear sign of more vehicles on the streets; more pollution,” said Tifa, a resident of Bekasi, West Java, who has been commuting to and from Jakarta for work over the past decade.

“And I can especially feel how dirty Jakarta air has become after returning from places like Pangalengan or Gunung Kidul, where the air is clean and light,” she said referring to the mountainous regions in West Java and Yogyakarta, respectively.

Alarming figures

Tifa’s assumptions on the state of the capital’s air was not wrong. Official figures show that the amounts of major, toxic pollutants invading Jakarta air have grown rapidly, along with the continuous increase in vehicles crowding the streets.

According to data from the Jakarta Police traffic directorate, the number of vehicles registered in Jakarta has grown by an average of roughly 10 percent every year for the past six years, bringing the total figure to 16 million in 2013 — consisting of 4.1 million automobiles and 11.9 million motorcycles.

The motorbike industry especially has projected a market saturation for Jakarta. But in the mean time, despite public outcry over ever-worsening traffic congestion, the figures are expected to grow.

These numbers have yet to include the number of vehicles registered outside the capital, but regularly roaming its streets.

Along with the alarming growth in vehicles numbers, the concentration of at least four principal pollutants in the air have been increasing as well, according to the city’s Environmental Management Agency (BPLHD).

BPLHD statistics dating back to 2008 show that five major air pollutants regularly monitored by the agency — carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, lead and suspended particles with a diameter of 10 micrometers or less (PM10) — are all still below the hazardous levels specified in a gubernatorial regulation.

However, with the exception of sulfur dioxide, the amounts of these pollutants in the air have continued to increase over the past six years — with the growth of lead and nitrogen dioxide being particularly exponential.

The level of lead, notorious for causing brain and nervous system damage when congested in large amounts, stood at 0.33 microgram per cubic nanometer (mcg/nm3) last year; over 10 times higher than the level in 2008, and one-sixth of the hazardous threshold of 2 mcg/nm3.

The amount of nitrogen dioxide, meanwhile, rose to 74.14 mcg/nm3 last year — three times its 2008 figure and is alarmingly close to the dangerous threshold of 92.5 mcg/nm3. Nitrogen dioxide is known to be poisonous to lungs.

During the same period, PM10 and carbon monoxide levels rose by 86 percent and 60 percent respectively. Major concerns from exposure to PM10 include respiratory illness, damage to lung tissue and cancer. Carbon monoxide, meanwhile, is toxic to blood, and poses a health threat especially to those suffering from cardiovascular diseases.

The sulfur dioxide volume, meanwhile, dropped by 77 percent. But the decline may be attributable to the unavailability of data at some BPLHD monitoring stations, according to an agency analyst who asked not to be named because the person does not have the official capacity to give public statements.

Like PM10, sulfur dioxide also has been associated with respiratory illness and the aggravation of existing cardiovascular disease.

“The main source of these air pollutants are vehicles — the transportation sector,” Rusman Sagala, head of the environment preservation and management division of BPLHD Jakarta, said in an interview last month.

“Industrial activities are another contributor, but there are fewer industries in Jakarta now. Many of them have spread to places outside of the city.”

According to Health Ministry data, the transportation sector contributes between 70 percent and 80 percent to total outdoor air pollutants.

Rusman said although more and more carmakers and motorcycle producers are consciously applying cleaner technology compared to a decade ago, their efforts can’t keep up with the speed at which new vehicles are appearing on roads each year.

This has become particularly obvious in the distressing amounts of lead seeping into the air.

Due to its damaging and permanent effect on the human body, namely the nervous system, kidney function and immune system among others, the Indonesian government introduced a regulation in 2003 restricting the levels of lead added to fuel — the lowest grade of fuel should contain no more than 0.3 gram per liter (g/l).

A regulation issued by the director general for oil and gas last year further reduces the maximum level of lead allowed in fuel to 0.013 g/l.

But as previously mentioned, the lead levels in Jakarta’s air has more than tenfold over the past six years.

“There is less lead in fuel now,” Rusman said. “But accumulatively, amounts of it in the air has risen because the number of vehicles in Jakarta keeps increasing.”

The World Health Organization released an updated report in March saying that an estimated 3.7 million deaths worldwide in 2012 were associated with outdoor air pollution.

The number shows a near triple increase from the previous available data in 2008 — although the jump has also been attributed to new evidence made available on the direct correlation between exposure to pollution and illnesses.

In a breakdown according to diseases, WHO data revealed that 40 percent of the deaths connected to air pollution were caused by ischemic heart disease and another 40 percent was due to strokes.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease contributed 11 percent of the deaths, followed by lung cancer (6 percent) and acute lower respiratory infections in children (3 percent).

The March report — which did not mention specific countries but offered data on regions — named Southeast Asia as the second-largest contributor to the deaths after the Western Pacific region — with 963,000 fatalities.

Being the largest and most populous country in Southeast Asia, Indonesia is believed to have been a top contributor to the figure.

“The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes,” Maria Neira, director of WHO’s public health department, said in the statement. “Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution; the evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe.”

Bambang Wispriyono, an environmental health expert at the University of Indonesia (UI), took a particular note on the colorless organic compound benzopyrene. This fuel residue is not among principal air pollutants regularly monitored by BPLHD, but it is a known carcinogen.

Two studies administered at UI under Bambang’s supervision a few years back found that people spending more time on the streets had higher levels of benzopyrene in their blood stream compared to regular office workers.

“Toll gate officers, traffic policemen… they all have more benzopyrene metabolites in their bloods and urine than office employees,” Bambang told the Jakarta Globe. “The effects are not immediate, but these officers working on the streets are facing more health risks, including cancer.”


The restriction on lead levels, the introduction of emission tests for vehicles in Jakarta and the addition of air quality in the criteria for the Adipura cleanliness awards given to cities and provinces are some indications that the Indonesian government has been paying growing attention to air pollutants’ impact on health.

But measures taken to curb the effects lag behind the pace of vehicle growth and, subsequently, the increasing number of toxic pollutants we breathe in every day.

Tjandra Yoga Aditama, the health ministry’s director general for disease control and environmental health, said his office is drafting strategic action plans to curb the dangerous effects of air pollution for the years 2015 to 2019, although not much has been said about the plans.

The Ministry of Environment, meanwhile, has been calling for what it calls a “grand design of the national air quality monitoring system,” an effort to improve the monitoring of air quality across Indonesia and, hopefully, measures to tackle issues related to air pollution.

The WHO, in its latest statement on Tuesday, reiterated its growing attention to diseases stemming from air pollutants and calls on individual cities worldwide to take the necessary actions in improving air quality, citing efforts made by Copenhagen and Bogota as successful examples.

The global health agency said these two cities have improved their air quality by prioritizing networks dedicated to urban public transport, walking and cycling.

“We cannot buy clean air in a bottle, but cities can adopt measures that will clean the air and save the lives of their people,” said Carlos Dora, coordinator for interventions for healthy environments at WHO.

In the mean time, face masks can provide a viable option.

“The ones commonly used can protect against PM10, but can still be infiltrated by gases,” Rusman said. “But they can at least reduce health risks.”

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Indonesia: Aceh Activists Slam Lenient Sentence Demand for Defendant in Land Dispute

Nurdin Hasan Jakarta Globe 8 May 14;

Banda Aceh. Environmental activists in Aceh slammed the prosecution for seeking what they view as lenient punishment for the director of a palm oil company who is accused of damaging a natural habitat for orangutans.

Prosecutor Rahmat on Wednesday asked the Meluaboh district court for a sentence of 10 months imprisonment and a Rp 150 million ($13,000) fine for Subianto Rusyid, the director of Kalista Alam, in violation of the 2009 law on environment protection and management.

Rahmat told the court that Subianto was guilty of negligence for failing to control his subordinates who operated on the lush forest and peatland region in the province’s Nagan Raya district without the proper permit.

The 61,803-hectare Rawa Tripa peatland is situated in Leuser ecosystem, and a parcel of 1,605 hectares is the main habitat for orangutan and several other protected wildlife species.

Aceh environmental activists united under the Coalition to Save Rawa Tripa (TKPRT) said the sentence would not be a deterrent for the defendant.

“The prosecutor’s demand is too lenient compared to the environmental damages caused by the land concession in Rawa Tripa,” said Fadila Ibra, spokesman for the coalition, on Thursday.

Fadila said Kalista Alam has also allegedly violated the 2004 law on natural resource conservation for operating in the Leuser ecosystem, which has been declared a conservation area. He said the law would punish violators with five years in prison and a Rp 2 billion fine.

“The judge’s demand is less than half of what the laws stipulate. This will not deter those who have destroyed the environment,” Fadila said.

Kallista Alam obtained the permit to open the plantation in Rawa Trip from then Governor Irwandi Yusuf in August 2011.

The governor’s decision to grant the company a land concession permit was met with protests by environmental activists who said that the area was the habitat of Sumatran orangutans, which are critically endangered, and other rare animals.

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In China, 64 percent say they are environmentalists - report

Anna Nicolaou PlanetArk 8 May 14;

The survey by Dutch research agency Motivaction said in China, where public anger has mounted over hazardous levels of pollution in towns and cities, environmentalists had a greater sense of urgency about action needed to tackle the problem than Western counterparts, where the financial crisis has knocked environmental policy down the political agenda.

Motivaction, which interviewed more than 48,000 consumers in 20 countries through online surveys, found Chinese greens tended to be socially conservative, devoted to family and traditional Asian values, and pro-business groups which believed strongly in the role of technology to solve problems.

In contrast, it said, the United States and Europe have developed a "cosmopolitan environmentalism", a movement supported frequently by liberal, highly-educated and politically active groups.

The report said multinational companies needed to understand Chinese environmentalists and how to harness their potential.

China, blamed for nearly a third of global carbon emissions, is the world's biggest investor in green technology, which the report said could give it a competitive advantage in future, and was pressing ahead with investment in the sector.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang promised to tackle pollution in March after an official Chinese report dubbed Beijing "barely suitable" for living due to hazardous smog. China pledged to spend $1.65 billion to combat air pollution and $330 billion on water shortages. [ID:nL3N0LI023]

Governments aim to agree a new United Nations pact to combat climate change at a summit in late 2015. European environmentalists have often accused China of stalling efforts to agree a new global deal.

However, when faced with public anger at home, the Chinese government has acted, including amending environmental protection laws last month to impose tougher penalties on polluters. [ID:nL3N0NG35Q]

"When the Chinese government decides to do something, they do it. It's not the talking shop that we see in Europe," said Kathryn Sheridan, CEO of a Brussels-based sustainability communications consultancy.

(Editing by Barbara Lewis and Janet Lawrence)

China fertile ground for green progress: report
Anna Nicolaou PlanetArk 8 May 14;

In Europe, financial crisis has knocked environmental policy down the political agenda and populist movements see environmentalism as a hobby of European elites.

Meanwhile in the United States, the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks pushed energy security to the top of the political agenda.

But in China, the world's biggest polluter, some 64 percent of Chinese identify themselves as environmentalists, more than double that of Europe and the United States, a report published on Wednesday by Dutch research agency Motivaction finds.

Motivaction interviewed more than 48,000 consumers in 20 countries about their values and behavior, through online surveys.

Not only are many more people in China describing themselves as environmentalists, they also have a very different profile from climate champions in the West.

The report finds they tend to be socially conservative, devoted to family and traditional Asian values, and pro-business groups who believe strongly in the role of technology to solve the world's problems.

In contrast, the United States and Europe have developed a "cosmopolitan environmentalism", a movement supported frequently by liberal, highly-educated and politically active groups.

The Chinese-style environmentalists have a much greater sense of urgency as they experience, for example, the choking pollution of Beijing, and the new report concludes multinational companies need to understand how to harness their potential.

Already China is the world's biggest investor in green technology, which the report says can give it a competitive advantage as innovative companies tend to thrive.

China, which is blamed for nearly a third of the world's carbon emissions, is also pressing ahead with investment.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang "declared war" on pollution in March after an official Chinese report dubbed Beijing "barely suitable" for living due to hazardous smog. China pledged to spend $1.65 billion to combat air pollution and $330 billion on water shortage. [ID:nL3N0LI023]

There is still a big challenge to persuade China to sign up to a new global deal on tackling climate change, hoped for at a U.N. summit in 2015.

European environmentalists have tended to see the Chinese government as a roadblock to an international climate deal.

However, when spurred by its own growing population of environmentalists threatening social unrest over levels of pollution, it can act more decisively than Western coalitions.

"When the Chinese government decides to do something, they do it," says Kathryn Sheridan, CEO of a Brussels-based sustainability communications consultancy. "It's not the talking shop that we see in Europe."

(Editing by Barbara Lewis and Michael Perry)

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