Best of our wild blogs: 6 Jun 14

Tai Chong’s paper in PLOS ONE highlighted by EurekAlert
from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

Next big idea in forest conservation? Work locally, relentlessly, and, if necessary, ignore the government from news

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Repairs ‘good for Bukit Timah Nature Reserve’

Audrey Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 5 Jun 14;

CONSTRUCTION work in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve will affect the forest but will have long-term benefits for the ecosystem, say experts.

They were reacting to a National Parks Board (NParks) announcement on Monday that repair works would be carried out from Sept 15 onwards, and that public access would be limited for the next two years or so.

The works include piling to stabilise weakened slopes and upgrading of amenities such as the exhibition hall. Elevated walkways will also be built to replace damaged portions of the existing trail.

Mr Joseph Koh, chairman of the Nature Reserves Scientific Advisory Committee, said the works will "not necessarily" worsen the damage in the ecologically sensitive area, provided they are "done right".

Pointing to plans to install 1.3km of elevated walkways, he said at the NParks event on Monday: "Superficially, this sounds intrusive. But from the scientific point of view, boardwalks are useful to protect forest litter."

Noting that the walkways allow small organisms to live underneath, he said: "By building more boardwalks, we actually safeguard the soil, the forest litter and plants and animals that live there."

Mr Chan Ewe Jin, a council member of The Institution of Engineers, Singapore, said the dust and noise from construction could be minimised by measures such as using manual labour instead of heavy vehicles.

Other experts such as Dr Shawn Lum, head of the Nature Society (Singapore), say the upcoming repairs will be "beneficial for the long-term health" of the forest ecosystem.

Measures such as slope and trail restoration, which decreases erosion, and the protection of tree roots using boardwalks, he said, will help trees survive and regenerate. "This in turn will provide a more stable environment for the diverse animal life."

Strix Wildlife Consultancy director Subaraj Rajathurai said the while the works might pose an inconvenience to wildlife, it was only temporary.

The 51-year-old, who has explored Bukit Timah for more than 33 years, said: "Over the years, the reserve has suffered from the impact of the construction of the Bukit Timah Expressway, the increase in human traffic and developments in the area - parts of the forest have been eroded.

"The works will help repair some of the damage and minimise future impact."

The number of visitors to the 163ha reserve has increased from 80,000 in 1992, when it opened, to 400,000 last year.

Others also noted that NParks is talking to external consultants to see how to limit the adverse effects of the works on the reserve.

Mr Koh said: "In our discussions with NParks, it became very obvious to us that they were acutely aware of not just what should be done, but how it will be done."

For instance, piling works to stabilise the slopes will be done only on tarmac roads, and not on nature trails, to prevent trees from being uprooted.

A lot of thought was put into the piling project, which will be done in a way to avoid damage to the forest, said NSS council member Tony O'Dempsey.

"If stabilisation work is not done, slope failures could result in loss of valuable forest."

NParks said it would carry out the works manually as much as possible. If machines are needed, only small ones will be used.

The Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is one of four reserves here. It has the largest patch of primary rainforest and is popular among nature enthusiasts.

An orchid species thought to be extinct in Singapore was found here after more than 80 years, according to online journal Nature In Singapore.

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'Learn how to cut food waste the British way'

Grace Chua The Straits Times AsiaOne 6 Jun 14;

SINGAPORE - Singapore has been urged to follow the example of Britain, which has managed to slash its food waste by a fifth.

Dr Mervyn Jones of Britain's Waste and Resources Action Programme or Wrap - a government-funded not-for-profit group that looks at ways to reduce waste - said companies can be encouraged to trim food and packaging waste if it makes good business sense.

The head of Wrap's collaborative programmes told The Straits Times at the CleanEnviro Summit Singapore yesterday that although Singapore's conditions differ from Britain's, "a lot of the learning and methodology is already there".

For instance, Wrap has explored why consumers end up throwing out food - such as due to it going off because of improper storage - and totted up how much carbon a wine producer could save by using thinner glass.

It also demonstrated that food packaging made from recycled content is safe for food.

Dr Jones added that if recyclable material is not separated before incineration, it is akin to "taking a wodge of Singapore dollars and burning it".

He and other experts from Europe and Asia discussed the challenges of managing food waste, at the Marina Bay Sands conference yesterday.

For instance, Hong Kong is building two organic waste facilities that together will turn up to 600 tonnes of waste a day into biogas and compost.

But they will be able to handle only a small fraction of the 9,000 tonnes of food waste Hong Kong generates each day.

Dr Thomas Tang, sustainability director at environmental consultancy Aecom, said that food and other waste collected at home take up precious space in Hong Kong's and Singapore's small high-rise flats.

"You need a compact system but also a system where the waste is collected regularly," he added. "With any waste - cans, paper, plastics - you may have good intentions but you run out of space."

Dr Jones suggested separating wet waste from dry, instead of dividing dry materials into paper, plastic and so on.

But for food waste recycling to really make business sense, a market for the resulting compost has to be found, Dr Tang said - perhaps in green roofs or vertical gardens. "We've not really addressed where the true secondary market is," he added.

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Malaysia: NGO - Stop Penang hill-cutting

PHUAH KEN LIN New Straits Times 6 Jun 14;

PRESERVATION: Group wants state govt to halt hill projects, land reclamation

GEORGE TOWN: ENVIRONMENTAL non-governmental organisation Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM), has called for a halt to hill-cutting and land reclamation projects in Penang to preserve the environment.

Its president, S.M. Mohamed Idris, said huge quantities of gravel and sand used for reclamation had depleted natural resources.

He said land reclamation along the coasts of Jelutong, Tanjong Tokong and Batu Uban needed millions of tonnes of gravel and sand.

“We are calling for the local authority to stop approving hill projects and land reclamation before these natural reources run out.

“The environmental degradation must stop at once to ensure the next generation gets to enjoy what Mother Nature has to offer.”

Mohamed said at a press conference next to the reclamation project near Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway that the state government needed to take action to save the environment.

“The rock and sand are being extracted at a rate far greater than replenishment, so, the authorities have to get their act together to say ‘no’ to hill-cutting and land reclamation.”

Mohamed said SAM had been frustrated as its appeals to the state government had fallen on deaf ears.

“Penangites are at odds over the continuous approval of hillslope project and mindless destruction of the environment. This has to stop.”

He urged authorities not to bow to developers’ demand.

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Malaysia: El Nino to bring a host of woes

The Star 6 Jun 14;

PORT DICKSON: It’s not just water woes that the El Nino phenomenon will bring.

The impending hot and dry weather is likely to contribute to ­forest fires and hazy conditions across state borders, affecting agriculture and health.

Which is why open burning is so dangerous during this period, says the Natural Resources and Environ­ment Ministry as it urges all parties to take precautionary measures to prevent it.

Deputy Minister Datuk Sri Dr James Dawos Mamit called on state governments, the local authorities and landowners to closely monitor dry and easily combustible areas such as waste disposal sites, peat forests and plantations.

“The hot and dry weather has the potential to cause fires which would contribute to the haze. I urge everyone to cooperate and refrain from open burning,” he said after launching Friends of the Environment or RAS in conjunction with the 2014 World Environmental Day here yesterday.

According to a World Meteoro­logical Organisation statement, the El Nino phenomenon is expected to occur on a global scale around the middle of this year.

The El Nino generally results in lower than average rainfall in Malaysia during the dry South-West Monsoon, which started on May 15 and is expected to continue until September.

Dawos said the Department of Environment would step up monitoring and enforcement, adding that offenders could be fined up to RM500,000 or jailed not more than five years, or both upon conviction.

Meanwhile, the Meteorological Department agreed with a World Meteorological Organisation forecast that El Nino would begin some time this month or in August, and would persist through next year.

“In general, the country will receive less rainfall during the El Nino period, especially in Sabah and Sarawak. The El Nino lifespan is between six and 18 months,” the department said in a statement.

Shortage of water supply had badly affected a number of states, including Selangor, which carried out a rationing exercise for about three months until May. But the problem is not over.

Water in Negri Sembilan dams was reported to have fallen to critical levels.

The Gemencheh dam dipped to 98m, some 12m lower than the normal level, despite the wet weather in the state in recent weeks.

The most severe impact of the El Nino was seen during the 1997-1998 period, where a substantial part of the country experienced dry and hot weather, along with hazy conditions. However, the last occurrence of the phenomenon in 2009-2010 did not leave a significant impact on local weather.

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Indonesia: Forces Gather on the Slopes of Javan Volcano to Take on Monkey Raiders

Ari Susanto Jakarta Globe 5 Jun 14;

Klaten, Central Java. Klaten’s Disaster Mitigation Agency, or BPBD, and villagers around Mount Merapi will join forces this weekend to search for thousands of long-tailed macaques living nearby and drive them back to the forests of the volcano’s upper slopes.

Klaten BPBD head Sri Winoto said the agency could not think of another solution to the increasing effect of monkey raids on farmer’s crops other than forcing them back into their old habitat.

Traditional tools including wooden sticks and firecracker will be used to frighten the monkeys away instead of slaying them with guns or poison.

“Despite their failed harvest as a result of the monkey raids, we warned all villagers not to injure or kill the animals. What we will do is drive them back to their home in the forest,” he said.

Monkey raids have become a serious problem since 2010. Pyroclastic flows of hot ash from the volcano’s massive eruption that year ruined the primates’ habitat as the surrounding vegetation and so the monkey food supply was destroyed.

Since then, hordes of monkeys have moved lower down the slopes and into human habitation in search of food, such as fruits, bulbs and vegetables.

Although Merapi’s forest is now revitalized, the monkeys have not returned to their habitat and now prefer to live around the villages in Mount Merapi National Park. They have settled and reproduced in the forests on the edges of the villages of Kendalsari, Balerante, Tegalmulyo, Sidorejo, Panggang and Talun.

“Around 25 hectares of farmland in Kendalsari was invaded by monkeys, with nothing left in the farms except chilies that are too spicy for the monkeys to eat,” Kendalsari village chief Supadi said.

Farmers are worried about their crop yields, which have been increasingly hit as macaque populations have grown. Supadi said villagers had tried many ways to scare the monkeys off as they approached farms, but there were just too many of them.

“They always come in many groups and the number continues to increase. We avoid killing the animal as it is against the law on conservation, even [though] we have no solution,” Supadi said.

For the indigenous people of the mountain’s slopes, monkey raids are commonly viewed as a sign of rising volcanic activity. But the volcano is now residing at normal status after its alert level was lowered last month.

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Indonesia: Giving Value to Logged Forests

David Gaveau Jakarta Globe 5 Jun 14;

Most governments consider establishing protected areas like national parks where human presence is forbidden as the best way to conserve tropical forests. However, given economic demands, societal pressure on land, and the cost of forest protection, protected areas are unlikely to ever constitute more than a minor part of the tropical landscape.

Some conservationists now propose combining protected areas with logging concessions to sustain larger forest landscapes than possible via protected areas alone. When logging concessions — parcels of natural forest leased out to companies to harvest natural timber — are additional to protected areas, they present an opportunity to maintain larger and better-connected forest landscapes. This approach has the merit of generating income and employment — arguably making it easier to gain political and public support for conservation. The integration of logging concessions in a forest protection strategy makes sense in countries such as Indonesia, where management of protected areas remains weak, where the government seeks economic opportunities for its people, where the urgency for conservation action is high, and where logging concessions are de facto a kind of protected area because their conversion to plantations is prohibited.

Timber harvesting in Indonesia’s logging concessions is selective. Concession managers cut only commercially valuable trees larger than a certain diameter, leaving other trees standing for long-term regeneration. Between two and 20 trees are typically removed from each hectare of forest, once every few decades. Generally, this leaves more than 90 percent of the trees standing, and the remaining vegetation recognizably constitutes a forest. Not only does selective logging maintain a forest structure, but also a logged tropical forest can remain a biologically rich forest. A recent global study concluded that timber extraction in tropical forests has relatively benign impacts on biodiversity, because 85 to 100 percent of mammal, bird, invertebrate and plant species richness remains in forests that have been harvested once. Thus it appears logging concessions could be used as a conservation intervention to protect Indonesian forests. But these observations come with caveats.

We only expect logging concessions to maintain forest cover if they are not reclassified for oil palm or acacia (paper-pulp) plantations. This is a crucial point, because although logging concession areas are officially required to keep a permanent forest cover, their classification is easily changeable. For example, between 2000 and 2010, the Indonesia national and provincial governments reclassified 25 percent of areas allocated for natural timber harvesting in Kalimantan for use as oil palm plantations, which essentially legalized deforestation. Logged forests have also been excluded from the recent moratorium on new plantations in forested areas, so their conversion could continue. There is little doubt that the reclassification of logged forests into industrial plantations has been facilitated by the pervasive judgment that equates logged forests with “degraded” or “secondary,” undeserving of conservation concern.

If we paid greater attention to the value of logged forests, the protection gains may have been even better. Policy makers, officials and concession staff should all be encouraged to take pride in the value of well-managed logged forests and their global conservation values. The creation in 2004 of the 5,700-square-kilometer Sebangau National Park, an area logged throughout the 1990s but containing the largest contiguous orangutan population on Borneo, indicates that the government of Indonesia is recognizing the value of logged forests for biodiversity conservation. The government should go further and designate all its remaining logging concessions as protected areas under the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Protected Area Category VI to protect them from reclassification into plantations.

The World Database of Protected Areas contains many examples of permanent forest reserves where hardwood extraction occurs. For example, adding Kalimantan’s logging concessions to the existing protected-area network would increase the permanently protected forest in Kalimantan by 248,305 square kilometers.

Such changes would require a shift in mind-set on the part of producers, governments, and conservation groups, especially because government policy presently does not guarantee timber concessions permanent status as natural forest.

Still, such a decision would have long-term benefits for wildlife and the maintenance of ecosystem services from forests, while continuing the generation of income from forests. Such changes are required to achieve sustainable forestry practices; moreover, a permanent and inviolate forest estate like this would also have value under the future of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) programs.

Indonesia’s government has taken steps toward the long-term maintenance of its logged forests. In recognition of the importance of logging concessions for biodiversity, economic development, and social aspirations, the government launched the Ecosystem Restoration concept in 2007. The ecosystem restoration license is granted to companies for a period of 60 years and can be extended once for another 35 years. The aim is to enable heavily logged forests to recover their potential to produce commercial timber while maintaining a minimum level of ecosystem services. The initiative has had a slow start, however, and as of 2012, only 1,005 square kilometers in two areas — about 0.9 percent of Kalimantan’s total concession area — had been granted an ecosystem restoration license.

A major impediment to the permanent protection of logged forests in Indonesia is the high economic potential of oil palm plantations. The returns on plantations are much higher than returns from timber harvesting in natural forests. The conversion of logged forests to plantations makes short-term economic sense. What may be overlooked in the political decision-making regarding such land-use conversions are the significant values of natural forests to the well-being of many of Kalimantan’s people. This includes not only people living close to these forests, but also the many people in downstream and coastal areas that are affected by negative environmental impacts from unsustainable land use.

For all the benefits that plantations bring to people, poor accounting of negative impacts impairs political decision-making that would maximize the well-being of Indonesians. Given the importance of logged (“secondary”) forests for biodiversity conservation as well as for societal aspirations, and the high rate at which these forests are reclassified to plantations, Indonesia would do well to minimize conversion of natural forests to plantations and expand forest restoration opportunities.

David Gaveau is a scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

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Philippines: Rising sea level to affect 13.6M Filipinos in coastal areas

Mario Casayuran Manila Bulletin 1 Jun 14;

At least 13.6 million Filipinos living in the coastal areas will have to relocate to higher, safer places when the level of the sea rises by the year 2050.

Sen. Loren Legarda, chairperson of the Senate climate change committee, issued this warning as she called on the government to address the vulnerability of Philippine communities to the negative effects of climate change, including rising sea levels.

“The celebration of World Environment Day is not only about the environment per se. Climate change, disasters and extreme weather events are the other issues that are linked to the environment,” she said.

Legarda cited a 2012 Asian Development Bank (ADB) study ‘’Addressing Climate Change and Migration in Asia and the Pacific’’ which stated that the Philippines is among the most vulnerable countries to climate change and it is ranked fifth in terms of individuals affected by sea level rise.

“The message of this year’s World Environment Day focuses on the risks posed by rising sea level and the vulnerability of coastal communities and small island nations. Several studies have already noted the high vulnerability of coastal communities in the Philippines to sea level rise. This is the challenge that we must address because according to a study by the ADB, sea level rise will affect at least 13.6 million Filipinos who will have to relocate to higher, safer places,” Legarda said.

Legarda said a study by the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) Climate Change Program showed that a total of 167,290 hectares of seashore land in 171 coastal towns under 10 provinces would go under water if the sea level rises by one meter.

The 10 provinces are Cagayan, Palawan, Iloilo, Zamboanga Sibugay, Camarines Sur, Negros Occidental, Capiz, Bohol, Tawi-Tawi and Sulu.

Legarda said that while there is little the country could do to prevent sea level rise, it could reduce the risks and act ahead of time to protect the communities that will be most affected.

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Burma Home to 26 New Species Discoveries in 2012-13

SAW YAN NAING / THE IRRAWADDY| Thursday, June 5, 2014 |
The Irrawaddy 5 Jun 14;

Twenty-six species in Burma are among 367 new species that were discovered by scientists in the Greater Mekong region in 2012-13, according to a new report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), a non-governmental organization working on wildlife conservation globally.

Michelle Owen, conservation program manager at WWF-Myanmar, told The Irrawaddy, “I hope that this report inspires people in Myanmar to go into environmental science as a profession. Scientists and communities play a crucial role in discovering new species and there is a great opportunity across the country for more species to be found.”

Titled “Mysterious Mekong,” the WWF report was released on Thursday, World Environment Day, “highlighting creatures both bizarre and beautiful” in the Mekong region. Among the 26 species in Burma, there were 14 plants, seven fish, four amphibians and one reptile newly discovered in 2012-13.

“Of particular interest are a new species of dragonfish with striking and complex maze-like markings on each individual scale; a species of ginger plant found in western Myanmar’s Rakhine [Arakan] Yoma cloud forests above the Bay of Bengal; a catfish from a tributary of the mighty Irrawaddy River with a unique flame-shaped ‘suction cup’ on its throat; and a Tanintharyi stream toad with bumpy, chocolate-colored skin and long, slender limbs,” according to a press release accompanying the report.

Owen said the discoveries of these new species affirmed that the Greater Mekong was one of the world’s most biologically diverse regions. The discovery of 26 species in relatively unexplored Burma was testament to the need to invest in conservation and the development of a green economy in the country, added Owen.

“Our biggest concern is ensuring that areas of high biodiversity are conserved and managed so that known and unknown species are protected,” Owen told The Irrawaddy. “The 26 new species discovered in Myanmar only begin to scratch the surface of what is possible, given that Myanmar’s ecosystems are so rich and varied.”

The conservation program manager highlighted southeastern Burma and the adjacent Kaeng Krachan National Park in Thailand as areas ripe for further new discoveries in future.

“Kaeng Krachan National Park and Tanintharyi National Park the forests across the border in Myanmar [in Tenasserim Division] are some of the least explored areas in Southeast Asia,” Owen said in the WWF report.

“They are the beating heart for species recovery in Thailand and Myanmar and Kaeng Krachan is home to one of the world’s most important tiger populations,” added Owen.

The WWF report lists 290 plants, 24 fish, 21 amphibians, 28 reptiles, 3 mammals and 1 bird all described as new species in 2012-13 from the Greater Mekong.

Regional highlights included a giant flying squirrel, a skydiving gecko, a fish that mates head-to-head and an eyeless cave-dwelling spider. The region spans Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam and China’s southwestern Yunnan province.

Dozens of new flora, fauna species in Myanmar
Associated Press Yahoo News 6 Jun 14;

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — A dragon fish with intricate, maze-like markings on every scale, a frog with rough, chocolate-colored skin and a ginger plant are among more than two dozen flora and fauna species found in Myanmar since it emerged from a half-century of military rule and isolation.

The World Wildlife Fund said Thursday the discoveries by global scientists in the last two years highlight the need to invest in conservation as the biologically diverse nation of 60 million revs up its economic engines and opens up to foreign investment.

Already, it is starting to succumb to many of the pressures felt by neighbors in Southeast Asia, from deforestation and illegal wildlife trade to mining and the development of hydropower.

The 26 plants and animals newly identified in Myanmar include a species of dragon fish, which are hugely popular in the Asian aquatic world. The so-called "scribbled arowana," is creating a buzz on the aquarium fish blogosphere because of its unheard-of complex, maze-like markings on every individual scale.

Previously unidentified by scientists, a ginger plant collected from a single region in the cloud forests of the western state of Rakhine had been hiding in plain sight at local markets, WWF said. And a chocolate-spotted frog, a member of the Amolops family, was discovered in a mountain range that stretches along Myanmar's western border and India.

Win Myo Thu, co-founder of the local environmental group EcoDev, believes scientists have only scraped the surface of what is yet to be discovered in his country.

In part because Myanmar was cut off from the rest of the world for such a long time, limiting the ability to carry out a proper inventory, "there is a huge, huge knowledge gap," he said. "The more research that is done, the more species we are going to find."

He too worries about the impact economic development will have on the country's "biotreasures."

"Unfortunately, no one is paying attention to protecting biodiversity," he said. "They say OK, we will do this or that, but on ground it's an entirely different story."

Many of the national parks are protected, but only on paper.

The WWF said some of the more remarkable and charismatic discoveries made in 2012-13 elsewhere in the Mekong Delta region of Southeast Asia included:

— The Cambodian tailorbird — a small, dark warbler with an orange-red tuft on its head discovered, surprisingly, in that country's capital, Phnom Penh, during spot checks for the avian flu.

— A giant flying squirrel, its fur red and white, spotted initially by scientists at a bush meat market in Laos. In the same country, they found a species of huntsman spider, the first of its kind in the world without any eyes, something scientists say is attributable to living permanently without daylight.

— In Vietnam, a tiny, almost transparent fish that mates head-to head, its sex organs just behind its mouth. Scientists also found the Helen's flying frog, just 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Ho Chi Minh City, which glides between treetops using its large, webbed hands and feet.

New species discoveries in the Greater Mekong
WWF 4 Jun 14;

A giant flying squirrel, a skydiving gecko, a fish that mates head-to-head, and an eyeless cave-dwelling spider are among the 367 new species revealed by scientists in the Greater Mekong region in 2012-2013, and described in WWF’s new report, Mysterious Mekong.

WWF released the report on World Environment Day, highlighting creatures both bizarre and beautiful. Among the 15 species highlighted is a new species of flying squirrel (Biswamoyopterus laoensis), discovered based on a single animal collected from a bush meat market in Laos. With its distinctive red and white fur, the Laotian giant flying squirrel is also the first record of the genus from Southeast Asia.

In Cambodia, a new warbler was found hiding in plain sight in the capital Phnom Penh. The Cambodian Tailorbird (Orthotomus chaktomuk) was first spotted in 2009 during routine checks for avian flu. Subsequent tests — from the bird’s plumage to its song and genes — formally identified O. chaktomuk as a new species.

“The species discoveries affirm the Greater Mekong as one of the world’s richest and most biodiverse regions,” said Dr Thomas Gray, Manager of WWF-Greater Mekong’s Species Programme. “If we’re to prevent these new species disappearing into extinction, and to keep alive the hope of finding other fascinating creatures in years to come, it’s critical that governments invest in conservation and green growth strategies.”

In Vietnam, a peculiar-looking bat was first seen in 2008 on Vietnam’s Cat Ba Island, but it wasn't until later, after catching some of the bats, that a team of researchers found out it was a previously unknown species. Griffin’s leaf-nosed bat (Hipposideros griffini) is recognised by its grotesque, fleshy nose that assists in echolocation, the sonar-like ability bats use to help them navigate.

Also discovered in Vietnam is a tiny, almost transparent, fish with a very complex anatomy. Phallostethus cuulong bears its sex organs just behind its mouth. It mates head-to-head, with the male using its "priapium" to hook onto the female.

Among the 21 new amphibian species documented in the report is Helen’s Flying Frog (Rhacophorus helenae), discovered less than 100 kilometres from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. The huge green frog managed to evade biologists until recently by gliding between treetops — using its large, webbed hands and feet — and only coming down to breed in rain pools. Helen’s Flying Frog was found in a patch of forest surrounded by agricultural land, highlighting the urgent need for conservation in lowland forests.

“Lowland tropical forests are among the most threatened habitats in the world due to human pressures, such as logging and degradation,” added Dr. Gray. “While Helen’s Tree Frog has only just been discovered, this species, like many others, is already under threat in its fast shrinking habitat.”

Another high flyer is a new species of parachute gecko (Ptychozoon kaengkrachanense), discovered in the montane evergreen forest in western Thailand’s Kaeng Krachan National Park. The camouflage-patterned gecko extends flaps of skin on its flanks and between its toes to help it glide down from branch to tree trunk.

“Kaeng Krachan National Park is within one of the least explored areas in Southeast Asia - a transboundary wilderness with adjacent areas in Myanmar,” added Dr. Gray. “It’s the beating heart for species recovery in Thailand and Myanmar, hosting one of the world’s most significant tiger populations. Discovering new species here confirm the importance of conservation efforts by WWF and partners in this awe-inspiring place.”

In a cave in Laos, Dr Peter Jäger discovered a new species of huntsman spider (Sinopoda scurion), the first of its kind in the world without any eyes. The regression of the spider’s eyes is attributable to living permanently without daylight.

Mysterious Mekong spotlights 15 species newly identified by science among the 290 plants, 24 fish, 21 amphibians, 28 reptiles, 3 mammals and 1 bird all formally described as new species in 2012-2013 from the Greater Mekong. This region spans Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and China’s south-western Yunnan province. Since 1997, an incredible 2077 new species have been newly described by science in the Greater Mekong.

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'Raise your voice, not the sea level,' urges UN on World Environment Day

UNEP 5 Jun 14;

5 June 2014 – Barbados, a small Caribbean island at the cutting edge of the fight against climate change, will be hosting this year's World Environment Day, leading United Nations-wide efforts to draw attention to the plight of the world's small islands potentially in peril of being lost to sea-level rise.

“On World Environment Day, millions of individuals, community groups and businesses from around the world take part in local projects – from clean up campaigns to art exhibits to tree-planting drives,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message for the Day, marked every year on 5 June.

Mr. Ban was referring to activities and events taking place worldwide – ranging from a 45,000-strong clean-up campaign involving UN staff throughout Kosovo and the Baltimore Orioles baseball team raising awareness of the environment in Sarasota, Florida, to a bike ride around the lakeside in Geneva, Switzerland – all aiming to raise awareness of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and the convening of a youth conference on “Eco-civilization and Green Development” in Shanghai.

In support of the UN designation of 2014 as the International Year of Small Island Developing States, World Environment Day will focus on those countries in the broader context of climate change as its theme. Many of the events under way will also spotlight the upcoming Third International Conference on the Small Island Developing States, set to be held in Apia, Samoa from 1 to 4 September.

“Small island nations share a common understanding that we need to set our planet on a sustainable path,” said the Secretary-General, explaining that reaching that goal demands the engagement of all sectors of society in all countries.

“This year, I urge everyone to think about the plight of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and to take inspiration from their efforts to address climate change, strengthen resilience and work for a sustainable future,” said the UN chief. “Raise your voice, not the sea level.”

Home to 62.3 million people, these island nations play a crucial role in protecting oceans while contributing little to climate change - emitting less than 1 per cent of global greenhouse gases.

But they suffer disproportionately from the effects of climate change owing to their small size, remote locations, and limited economic resilience. Research shows that by 2100, global warming could lead to a sea-level rise of up to 2 meters, making many of these island States, especially in the Pacific region, uninhabitable.

Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), warned that the very existence of low-lying nations, such as Kiribati, Maldives, Marshall Islands and Tuvalu is threatened by climate change-induced sea level rise.

While climate change adaptation was a top priority for island nations, the lack of financial resources is an obstacle, with, for example, the capital cost of sea-level rise in the Caribbean Community countries alone estimated to reach $187 billion by 2080.

“Investing now to head off such a massive economic impact makes sound business sense,” Mr. Steiner said in his message.

A new report by UNEP says that climate change-induced sea-level rise in the world’s 52 small island nations – estimated to be up to four times the global average – continues to be the most pressing threat to their environment and socio-economic development; with annual losses at the trillions of dollars due to increased vulnerability.

The “SIDS Foresight Report” identifies climate change impacts and related sea-level rise as the chief concern among 20 emerging issues impacting the environmental resilience and sustainable development prospects of SIDS – including coastal squeeze, land capacity, invasive alien species and threats from chemicals and waste.

UN General Assembly President John Ashe, in his message on the Day, also appealed for a global call to action for people across the world to support SIDS and low-lying coastal States endangered by rising sea levels, and disproportionately impacted by climate change, the loss of biodiversity and forests and overfishing.

“Only by transitioning together to a green economy can we ensure a sustainable prosperous future for all countries threatened by rising sea levels,” Mr. Ashe said.

In her message on the Day, Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said that while small islands faced many challenges, they are also leaders under that treaty “both morally and practically” in terms of reminding nations of the risks and collective responsibilities to act while driving ambitious national and international action.

She went on to site a host of SIDS-driven initiatives, from improved adaptation of water resources in the Comoros to wind power projects in Cape Verde, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica and methane capture in Papua New Guinea and Cuba, that have leveraged the UN Clean Development Mechanism to build their own clean energy futures. Many of these nations have undertaken National Adaptation Programmes of Action under the Convention.

“Our pathway is clear. Clean energy economies produce profits without pollution, better livelihoods in stable industries, restore health and wider wealth and preserve water and essential resources,” Ms. Said, calling on all raise their voices and their ambition now.

On 5 June 1972, the General Assembly formed UNEP to, "provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations."

That same day was also designated World Environment Day and has since been celebrated as a worldwide day of environmental awareness.

Over the years it has grown to be a broad, global platform for public outreach that is widely celebrated by stakeholders in over 100 countries. It also serves as the 'people's day' for doing something positive for the environment, galvanizing individual actions into a collective power that generates an exponential positive impact on the planet.

During the global celebration in Barbados, UNEP designated Ian Somerhalder – an actor best known for his work on the international hit TV series, “The Vampire Diaries,” and on the critically acclaimed drama “Lost” – as a Goodwill Ambassador.

He joined fellow UNEP Goodwill Ambassadors Gisele Bündchen, Don Cheadle and Yaya Touré in sending an SOS to the world on behalf of SIDS. Their ‘message in a bottle’ is: “We are all connected. The challenges faced by islands will face us all. So, every action we take to reduce waste and mitigate climate change counts. Join one of our teams and pledge to make a difference by taking action for WED.”

Global warming damages corals vital to small islands: UN
Alister Doyle PlanetArk 6 Jun 14;

Global warming is causing trillions of dollars of damage to coral reefs, aggravating risks to tropical small island states threatened by rising sea levels, a U.N. report said on Thursday.

The rise in sea levels off some islands in the Western Pacific was four times the global average, with gains of 1.2 cms (0.5 inch) a year from 1993 to 2012, due to shifts in winds and currents, said the United Nations' Environment Programme (UNEP).

The study, released to mark the U.N.'s World Environment Day on June 5, said a warming of waters from the Indian Ocean to the Caribbean was damaging reefs by killing the tiny animals that form corals with their stony skeletons.

"These 52 nations, home to over 62 million people, emit less than one per cent of global greenhouse gases, yet they suffer disproportionately from the climate change that global emissions cause," said Achim Steiner, head of UNEP.

"Some islands could become uninhabitable and others are faced with the potential loss of their entire territories," the study said.

The loss of corals is wiping trillions of dollars a year off services provided by nature, usually counted as free. Corals are nurseries for many types of fish, they help to protect coasts from storms and tsunamis and also attract tourists.

"Our fishermen are reporting less and less catches in areas where there was once a thriving trade," Grenada's Environment Minister Roland Bhola said on the sidelines of U.N. talks on climate change in the western German city of Bonn.

"We have been able to associate that with the issues of climate change ... the destruction of our coral reefs and other ecosystems like mangroves," he said.


A study last month estimated that each hectare (2.5 acres) of the world's coral reefs provided services worth $350,000 a year. That means that a loss of 34 million hectares of corals since the late 1990s is worth $11.9 trillion a year.

"Corals .. are probably the most threatened ecosystems on the planet," Robert Costanza, of the Australian National University and lead author of the study, told Reuters.

Some people in small island developing states are considering moving inland due to rises in sea level that are causing erosion and bringing more salt onto farmland, said Jacqueline McGlade, chief scientist of UNEP.

"But many of them don't have places to retreat towards."

The U.N. panel of climate scientists said in March there were warning signs that warm water corals were already experiencing "irreversible" shifts. It also says it is at least 95 percent probable that human emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause of a rise in average world temperatures.

"Addressing climate change ... is absolutely vital to the survival of small island states," Christiana Figueres, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, told a news conference.

The report said that small islands could shift to abundant solar and wind power to help cut fuel import bills, which are often between five and 20 percent of gross domestic product.

"We are doing what we can," said Marshall Islands Environment Minister Tony de Brum, pointing to plans to invest in solar energy. His nation also has the world's largest shark sanctuary as part of efforts to protect nature, he added.

(Editing by Gareth Jones)

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Report supports shutdown of all high seas fisheries

University of Faculty of Science British Columbia Science Alert 5 Jun 14;

Summary: Fish and aquatic life living in the high seas are more valuable as a carbon sink than as food and should be better protected, according to new research. The study found fish and aquatic life remove 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year, a service valued at about $148 billion US. This dwarfs the $16 billion US paid for 10 million tons of fish caught on the high seas annually.

Fish and aquatic life living in the high seas are more valuable as a carbon sink than as food and should be better protected, according to research from the University of British Columbia.

The study found fish and aquatic life remove 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year, a service valued at about $148 billion US. This dwarfs the $16 billion US paid for 10 million tonnes of fish caught on the high seas annually.

"Countries around the world are struggling to find cost effective ways to reduce their carbon emissions," says Rashid Sumaila, director of the UBC Fisheries Economics Research Unit. "We've found that the high seas are a natural system that is doing a good job of it for free."

Sumaila helped calculate the economic value of the carbon stored by life in the high seas by applying prices -- which include the benefits of mitigating the costs of climate change--to the annual quantity of carbon absorbed.

The report argues that the high seas -- defined as an area more than 200 nautical miles from any coast and outside of national jurisdiction--should be closed to all fishing as only one per cent of fish caught annually are exclusively found there.

"Keeping fish in the high seas gives us more value than catching them," says Sumaila. "If we lose the life in the high seas, we'll have to find another way to reduce emissions at a much higher cost."

The study was commissioned by the Global Ocean Commission and was conducted independently by Sumaila and Alex Rogers of Somerville College, Oxford.

Carbon prices were derived from data provided by the U.S. Federal Government Interagency Working Group.

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Great Barrier Reef authority approves dredge spoil dumping from Hay Point

Decision to give permit to coalport south of Mackay displays 'astounding level of arrogance', conservation group says
Australian Associated Press 5 Jun 14;

The government body that protects the Great Barrier Reef has approved the dumping of more than 370,000 cubic metres of dredge spoil in the marine park.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has issued a permit to allow a port authority to dump the spoil as part of a dredging project at Hay Point coalport south of Mackay.

The decision has angered conservation groups, and comes only months after the authority gave the green light for 3m tonnes of spoil to be dumped as part of a project to expand the Abbot Point coalport 200km to the north.

"It is an astounding level of arrogance," said a North Queensland Conservation Council spokeswoman, Wendy Tubman. "The government claims it is protecting the reef while allowing it to be subjected to such damage from out-of-control sea dumping."

She also says the federal and Queensland governments are taking Unesco "for a ride".

The UN’s environment arm has said it regrets the federal government's decision to approve the Abbot Point dredging project and has raised concerns about the overall health of the reef. Unesco is expected to discuss whether to list the reef as a world heritage site "in danger" when it meets next week.

The Ports Corporation of Queensland wants to carry out the works at Hay Point to make it easier for ships to access the port and to increase capacity. It is estimated 378,400 cubic metres of dredge spoil will be dumped within the marine park over three years. The dredging will be carried out within the marine park and the world heritage area.

Comment has been sought from the marine park authority.

Five Queensland mega ports win approval, including Abbot Point
Expansions will be allowed at other ports near Great Barrier Reef, including Gladstone, Hay Point, Mackay and Townsville
Australian Associated Press 5 Jun 14;

Five mega ports will be allowed along the Queensland coast, mainly in areas near the Great Barrier Reef.

Abbot Point, one of the world's biggest coal terminals, has been declared a port development priority area.

The declaration comes only six months after green groups lost a battle to stop 3m cubic metres of dredge spoil from being dumped in the reef marine park boundaries.

The North Queensland Conservation Council is taking action at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, with a preliminary hearing set down for August.

As well as at Abbot Point, expansions will be allowed at other ports adjacent to the reef, including Gladstone, Hay Point, Mackay and Townsville.

Brisbane has also been earmarked for major growth.

Queensland's deputy premier, Jeff Seeney, said dredging outside these priority port areas would be banned under the new strategy.

"Within and adjoining the Great Barrier Reef world heritage area, the Queensland government will prohibit dredging for the development of new, or the expansion of existing port facilities outside these port precincts, for the next decade," he said, adding the approach was consistent with Unesco world heritage committee recommendations.

But Queensland Greens senator Larissa Waters said the new "faux restriction" on dredging was useless.

"It won't apply to any of the damaging dredging already applied for which is the very dredging that Unesco was concerned about," she said, adding dredging would continue at 20 ports.

"This is atrocious news for the Great Barrier Reef."

The Australian Marine Conservation Society said coastline along the reef would be industrialised.

"The new policy won't stop a single port development or dredging proposal planned along the Queensland coast," campaigner Felicity Wishart said.

• This article was amended on 6 June 2014. The original version referred to a court battle that had been lost.

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India boosts local wheat purchases, gives buffer against El Nino

Mayank Bhardwaj PlanetArk 5 Jun 14;

Indian purchases of wheat from local farmers are set to climb at least 8 percent this year, bolstering government stocks against forecasts of below-average monsoon rains and the specter of a possible El Nino weather pattern.

Poor rains in India, where farmers depend on the annual June-September monsoon to irrigate nearly half their land, typically stoke inflation - a key worry for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's newly formed government.

"Higher procurement this year will add substantially to higher stocks and that gives us a considerable cushion to deal with any price rise if lower monsoon rains affect sentiment, pushing up prices," said a government official who did not wish to be named as he is not authorized to speak with media.

Larger state purchases in the world's second-biggest grain producer could also enable the government to allow more exports if it turns out the wheat is not needed domestically.

India has sold a total of about 11.5-12 million tonnes of wheat overseas in the past two years, dragging on global prices Wc1.

India's weather office has already forecast a high chance of El Nino, a weather warming event associated with droughts in some regions.

The monsoon typically arrives on June 1, but rains are late this year with the weather office expecting them to hit the southern Kerala coast over the next day.

Poor rains could thwart government efforts to boost growth which has nearly halved to 5 percent in the past few years and curb inflation that has been running close to double digits.

State procurement agency Food Corp of India has bought 27.6 million tonnes of new-season wheat from local farmers so far this year and will likely purchase a total of 28 million tonnes in the whole of 2014, said a government source, declining to be identified.

The government-backed corporation bought 25.9 million tonnes of wheat from local farmers in 2013.

Unlike rice, Indian farmers grow only one wheat crop a year, with planting from October and harvests in March.

The government buys rice and wheat from local farmers at a fixed price to help boost output, build stocks for its mammoth food welfare programs and to meet any emergency.

India eased a four year-old ban on wheat exports in 2011 by allowing private traders to sell wheat overseas. It later permitted some sales from state-run trading firms.

Shipments totaled 11.5-12 million tonnes in the 2012/13 and 2013/14 fiscal years that end on March 31, with about 6 million tonnes of exports from the Food Corp's warehouses.

The government has forecast a record 95.85 million tonnes of wheat output this year against 93.61 million tonnes in 2013.

(Editing by Joseph Radford)

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Indian monsoon may arrive in 24 hours: weather official

Ratnajyoti Dutta PlanetArk 6 Jun 14;

"Conditions have turned favorable for the monsoon onset in about 24 hours," an official of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) told Reuters on Thursday.

In a typical year, the monsoon begins on or around June 1 but government forecasters had forecast a five-day delay and below-average rainfall in this year's wet season.

Rains are vital to rejuvenate an economy battling its longest economic slowdown since the 1980s and to cool inflation that has averaged nearly 10 percent for the past two years.

The farm sector accounts for 14 percent of India's nearly $2 trillion economy, with two-thirds of its 1.2 billion population living in rural areas.

Half of India's farmland still lacks access to irrigation. The country plans to expand irrigation coverage by at least a tenth by 2017 to cut its dependence on the seasonal rains. Experts said the spread of rainfall near the southern coast does not qualify for a formal announcement of the monsoon onset.

Last month, the IMD predicted a delayed onset for this year's monsoon over the Kerala coast around June 5, give or take four days.

"IMD considers factors such as wind speed, cloud formation with rainfall quantum before announcing the onset of monsoon," said D.R. Sikka, former director of Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology. Heavy rainfall has already reached Sri Lanka, with flooding reported earlier this week in capital Colombo.

Usually, it takes around 24-48 hours for the monsoon rains to arrive on the south of coastal Kerala after crossing northern tip of Sri Lanka. Sowing operations in rice, pulses and cotton have already started in many growing areas of Northwest and Southern India, taking advantage of pre-monsoon showers.

Farmers have taken notice of the farm ministry's advisory to sow summer crops early this year as the second half of the four-month rainy season could be witness drier weather due to the El Nino weather pattern. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology in its latest update said there is high chance of El Nino weather event this year. ElNino has the potential to cause severe droughts in Asia Pacific including India.

(Editing by Douglas Busvine and Muralikumar Anantharaman)

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El Niño 70% likely to arrive in summer, says US weather forecaster

Complex interaction between atmosphere and warming oceans could unleash fierce weather events
Suzanne Goldenberg 5 Jun 14;

The chances of an El Niño, the global climate phenomenon that can destroy crops in Asia and offer a relief from harsh winters in North America, were raised to 70% on Thursday. But scientists said the coming El Niño was likely to be of only moderate strength.

In their monthly forecast, scientists from the US government's Climate Prediction Centre said warming sea temperatures in the Pacific continued to create the conditions for an El Niño this summer.

“The chance of El Niño is 70% during the northern hemisphere summer and reaches 80% during the fall and winter,” the centre said. Its ultimate strength had weakened over the last month. “Regardless, the forecasters remain just as confident that El Niño is likely to emerge,” the forecast said.

There has been growing anticipation of an El Niño this year – because of its widespread impacts.

In California, there has been hope that a strong El Niño could be a drought buster. The phenomenon is known for bringing wetter winters to Texas and southern California. They are also good news for Florida and the Caribbean, damping down the hurricane season in the Atlantic.

But El Niños can wreak havoc on fisheries in South America, and worsen droughts in part of Asia, Africa, and Australia.

That type of El Niño, with widespread global impact, has yet to fully materialise, the scientists said. While warmer sea temperatures in the Pacific were building conditions for an El Niño, the scientists said they were still not seeing the inter-action with atmosphere they would expect for a really big event.

“We are slightly favouring a moderate strength El Niño. While we are not ruling it out at this point, we are not expecting to see the next great El Nino,” said Mike Halpert, acting director of the Climate Prediction Centre.

Independent climate scientists said they too were expecting one of only moderate significance.

“We are going to have an E Niño. The question is the strength,” said Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research. “It hasn't taken off in the last month the way one might have thought if it was going to be a really major event.”

There was still time for a stronger El Niño to develop, however. It typically continues to develop over the summer months.

“We are on the precipice of actually having it here. The ocean has reached the minimum temperature but we are waiting to see the interaction with the atmosphere,” Halpert said. “It is certainly within the realm of possibility that it does become a very strong event but it would take some interaction with the atmosphere that we are not seeing right now.”

El Niño Likely: 70 Percent Chance by Summer
Becky Oskin Yahoo News 6 Jun 14;

Time to place your bets: The chance of an El Niño developing this year continues to rise, forecasters with the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration said today (June 5).

NOAA's Climate Prediction Center (CPC) puts the odds of an El Niño at 70 percent this month and 80 percent during the fall and winter. But it's too soon to officially declare an El Niño, because the ocean and atmosphere are sending mixed signals, the CPC said in its monthly El Niño outlook, released today.

First, a quick definition: An El Niño is part of a natural climate cycle called the El Niño Southern Oscillation. The cycle swings between warmer water (an El Niño) to colder water (La Niña) in the eastern Pacific Ocean. [How El Niño Causes Wild Weather All Over the Globe (Infographic)]

During a potential El Niño year, scientists watch for unusually warm water in the eastern Pacific, along with weakening easterly trade winds, which usually block warm water from flowing toward the eastern Pacific.

Currently, wind and rainfall patterns don't quite match with a maturing El Niño. As warmer water moves eastward, so do the clouds and thunderstorms associated with it. Tropical rainfall patterns still haven't shifted away from Indonesia as expected during an El Niño year, the CPC said. Trade winds haven't slowed down yet, either, though the winds usually don't weaken until fall during an El Niño.

However, even though the atmosphere isn't showing strong signs of an El Niño, ocean temperatures have crossed the threshold that forecasters typically use to define an El Niño, the CPC said. Its latest measurements peg temperature anomalies between 1.1 and 2.9 degrees Fahrenheit (0.6 and 1.6 degrees Celsius), above the 0.9 F (0.5 C) threshold.

The missing atmospheric response to this warm water makes for a tricky forecast. The ocean is clearly heading toward an El Niño, but the atmosphere says "conditions neutral," the CPC said.

The CPC said significant uncertainty accompanies their outlook for strength: forecasters aren't sure whether this year's El Niño will be weak or strong. For now, models call for a moderate-size event.

But forecasters remain "just as confident that El Niño is likely to emerge," the CPC said.

El Niño is known for moving atmospheric moisture around the globe, causing snowy winters in the Northeast and wet winters in the Southwest. In turn, drought often strikes in Southeast Asia and Australia.

The next El Niño update will be released on July 10.

U.S. weather forecaster sees 70 percent chance of El Nino
Josephine Mason PlanetArk 6 Jun 14;

The U.S. weather forecaster said there was an increased likelihood of an El Nino weather phenomenon striking during the Northern Hemisphere summer in its monthly outlook on Thursday.

The Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, said there was a 70 percent chance of El Nino, which can wreak havoc on global crops, during the summer and 80 percent during the fall and winter.

(Reporting by Josephine Mason; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

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China's experts divided over carbon emissions peak

Matt McGrath BBC News 5 Jun 14;

Xie Zhenhua said China was determined to "peak" in its emissions as soon as possible, but there's no firm date
China's senior climate negotiator says his scientists are divided over when their carbon emissions will peak.

Reports earlier this week suggested that China would introduce an overall emissions cap by 2020.

Speaking on the fringes of UN climate talks in Bonn, Xie Zhenhua said that his country was determined to peak "as soon as possible".

But he said the experts weren't united and it wasn't possible to give a firm date at this point.

President Obama's announcement of a plan to cut carbon from power stations by 2030 was widely praised around the world.

Speaking the next day, the chairman of China's Advisory Committee on Climate Change indicated that the country would limit its emissions for the first time.

Emissions impossible
He Jiankun said that the next five year plan, that would run from 2016, would see an emissions cap and that overall carbon output would peak sometime after 2030.

But Mr He clarified his statements to say that he didn't have the authority to speak on behalf of the government.

The issue of when China's emissions will reach their peak and start to decline is of crucial importance to negotiators here.

Reining in the world's biggest and fastest growing source of CO2, is critical if global temperature increases are to be kept under 2C, the threshold for dangerous impacts according to scientists.

Despite its dizzying speed of development, China has been slow to take on carbon reduction targets.

In 2009, the country's leaders committed China to cutting emissions of carbon relative to economic development. They would reduce the amount of carbon used for growth by 40-45% in 2020, compared to 2005.

To get there, the country has embarked on a rapid expansion of renewable energy and replanting forests, a point made by China's lead negotiator at these talks.

"I am telling you that China is doing its utmost to reduce its carbon intensity but you have to realise that China is in the process of realising modernisation and the total amount of CO2 emissions will be increasing in the future," Mr Xie said, speaking through an interpreter.

He added that China was doing a great deal with renewables, leading the world in installed capacity of wind, solar and bioenergy.

They have already overtaken their targets on planting new forests.

Broad church
However their scientists weren't clear about when total carbon would begin to fall.

"Peaking year is a very complex issue and related closely with economic development, social development and environment issues," Mr Xie said.

"It is a long term issue, and we have mobilised Chinese experts and scientists to try and find an answer on that."

"This process has been going on for more than one year and I can tell you the opinions of the scientists and scholars differ quite a lot."

If China was to set out a goal for emissions to peak it could transform the atmosphere at these negotiations which are showing few signs of a major breakthrough.

"We are working very hard to find a balanced equilibrium between economic development and environmental protection and we hope we can find an answer to that issue as soon as possible."

Mr Xie revealed that he had been personally told of the US move to curb power plant emissions in a phone call from America's special envoy on climate, Todd Stern.

He offered some support for the American move.

"People in the US have quite differing opinions, some people supporting and there are also strong opposition, and the US government by making this decision have overcome many difficulties," the negotiator explained.

Mr Xie said that China would work hard to get agreement on a global climate treaty, agreed by all nations, in Paris in December 2015.

China would be in a position to outline what it will be able to offer as part of that deal, in the first half of next year, he said.

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