Best of our wild blogs: 20 Jun 14

Javan Myna foraging around human activity
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Read more!

Mice can show the way to go green

Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 20 Jun 14;

RECENTLY, I was at a green, sustainability conference that made me see red.

As I was leaving for the day, I spotted a rubbish bin on the conference floor filled with tangled wires and cables, and other bins with stacks of papers and food remnants.

The recycling bins - located farther away, near the escalators - were not even full.

The situation was ironic considering the event - but it was far from the first time I had come across such wastage in four years of attending conferences.

The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) alluded to this issue last November when it launched guidelines for business events to encourage organisers to be more environmentally friendly.

The agency noted that large-scale events such as conferences and conventions can be major sources of greenhouse gas emissions, pollution and waste.

"Singapore is already making steady progress in some areas of sustainability" such as recycling and making buildings more earth-friendly, it said.

"However, more can be done in the Singapore Mice industry," it said, using the term for meetings, incentive travel, conferences and exhibitions.

Mighty industry

LAST year, Singapore hosted more international meetings tracked by the non-governmental Union of International Associations than anywhere else in the world.

The Republic surpassed the whole of the United States and South Korea, at 994 meetings to their 799 and 635 tallies, respectively. Almost one in 10 of the international meetings for the year was held here, according to the union.

Singapore has topped the list since 2011. Its count last year was also 37 per cent more than the 725 meetings held in 2010. Such Mice events and business travel have contributed mightily to Singapore's economy.

Last year, the events and business travel drew 3.5 million visitors to Singapore, making up about one in five of all visitors here.

These travellers spent a lot too: an estimated $5.5 billion in total, slightly less than one-quarter of all tourism receipts last year.

STB chief Lionel Yeo has said Singapore will work on bringing in more quality Mice events, given that the delegates and business travellers tend to spend more on average than leisure tourists.

Green practices

REDUCING waste, recycling and other sustainable measures make business sense, and may even cut costs.

STB has also said the industry should beef up its green practices to attract environmentally minded customers.

Cutting back on waste is good for Singaporeans and visitors in practical terms too. There is no need to queue for electronic badges.

Downloaded documents are also much cheaper and lighter than printed ones.

The STB's voluntary guidelines span seven categories, from audio- visual equipment and transport to food and beverage.

It recommends using digital or reusable signage, having a formal programme to donate excess food to charities, and tracking delegates' origins and how they got to Singapore to calculate the carbon cost of their travels.

Events of all sizes could make smaller changes, such as replacing plastic lanyards with cotton or recycled material versions, providing notepads with fewer leaves and doing away with gifts and bags, where possible.

Even something as simple as e-mailing documents, videos and images, or using services such as Dropbox to share them - rather than giving out thumbdrives and CDs - can help cut back on waste.

Organisers of some events have adopted green measures.

The recent Singapore International Water Week and World Cities Summit adopted environmentally friendly measures which included using porcelain ware instead of disposable cutlery, and water jugs in lieu of plastic bottles.

More impressive was the Responsible Business Forum on Sustainable Development last November, although it had the advantage of being a smaller affair.

The organisers recycled cooking oil used for meals, sourced 90 per cent of the entirely vegetarian food locally and bought carbon credits to offset its emissions from, say, delegates' travel and electricity use.

These and other efforts earned it the top Green Meeting Award at an annual international competition in Germany last month.

More data needed

BUT such efforts are few and far between. What's needed is more data about the sector's overall environmental performance.

The Building and Construction Authority's Green Mark programme for buildings has a specific goal: Green 80 per cent of all buildings in Singapore by 2030. But sustainability reporting for events in Singapore does not appear to have caught on, even though international standards and checklists have been available for some time.

Few organisers have publicly shared comprehensive post-event reports spelling out, say, the event's recycling rate and energy consumption.

With data, the industry's sustainability can be tracked, and areas for improvement identified.

Penalties and incentives can follow.

The way ahead

THE STB has been educating stakeholders about its guidelines since they were launched late last year.

It plans to track the results of its efforts from next year. It may, for example, find out how many events have adopted the guidelines.

Meanwhile, Singapore government agencies should take the lead and plan marquee events according to the guidelines as much as possible, and publicise these efforts on their websites. This would help to further improve the stature of, say, Water Week, the World Cities and CleanEnviro summits, and the Singapore International Energy Week in October.

Such efforts - by raising public awareness - could encourage or pressure other event organisers to ramp up their sustainability measures. In the longer term, Singapore should look at instituting mandatory, minimum standards for the industry, perhaps based on the STB guidelines, and gradually raise the bar.

The National Environment Agency has taken a similar approach by removing the least energy-efficient air-conditioners and refrigerators from the market because they are household electricity guzzlers.

Three years ago, the Singapore Exchange introduced its sustainability reporting guide for listed companies, and hinted: "Conceivably, there will be progress towards mandatory reporting through regulations and rules in the future."

The next mega-event in Singapore will be the Singapore International Energy Week. That would be a good time to show the world how well Singapore can give its glitzy showcase events a touch of greenery too.

Read more!

Homeowners warm up to solar energy

Alice Chia Channel NewsAsia 19 Jun 14;

SINGAPORE: In recent years, more homeowners are warming up to renewable energy, with the number of solar panel installations increasing nearly four times.

For those reluctant to fork out the installation costs, there are other options. These include an upcoming crowd-leasing initiative that allows installation without any upfront costs.

Installing solar panels on your roof-top could set you back S$10,000. For those who baulk at the amount, one company has a solution.

From late July, SolarPVExchange will match investors with homeowners who want to install solar panels. Investors will pay for the installation costs.

With the solar panels, homeowners enjoy lower electricity bills. They pay a percentage of the amount they save to the investors for the next 20 years.

Investors can expect to get a minimum of five per cent return.

Gary Ow, 29, is one of the five investors who has signed up. He will be forking out about S$8,000.

Ow said: "I'm interested in the green movement, I want to save the environment in some small way. Investors in the company, or the system, get a regular steady return.

"It's not going to make anyone phenomenally rich, but if you're interested in regular cash in your pocket every month, it's okay."

Recognising the market potential, the company also matches suppliers with customers.

Customers can visit its website to check the viability of installing solar panels and get quotations.

Another company tapping into a growing interest in solar technology is Sunseap Leasing.

It now receives about 30 enquiries each month, compared to five per month in 2010.

Frank Phuan, director of Sunseap Leasing, said: "One reason is because solar panel prices have dropped over the years. Since 2009 till now, the prices have dipped more than half."

Two years ago, 28-year-old Jeanne Phua spent about S$7,500 to install solar panels on her rooftop.

She now sees a 10 per cent reduction of about S$80 in her monthly electricity bills.

"If we are going to stay here for a pretty long period of time, we'll be able to enjoy a lot more cost-savings," said Phua.

With the purchase, her contractor also provides regular maintenance and cleaning services for the panels.

In 2011, there were only 35 residential solar panel installations islandwide. Two years later, the number has increased to 129.

As of end 2013, the capacity of the grid-connected solar panels in residential and non-residential properties accounts for only 0.12 per cent of Singapore's overall power generation capacity.

Despite the technological advancements, many home owners are still reluctant to install solar panels. They felt that there wasn't enough information available on this topic, and that the upfront costs were still too high.

The government is also encouraging more to use solar power.

Homeowners can sell excess electricity generated from solar panels back to the power grid. They are paid the energy cost of the electricity they export into the grid. This amount is then offset from their electricity bill.

As of April 2014, there are 280 landed homeowners and town councils under this credit scheme.

With more options than ever for homeowners, prospects for solar energy are looking bright but suppliers say they will need to generate more awareness so that more will come on board.

- CNA/fa

Read more!

Malaysia: Pengerang resident fails to stop relocation of ancestors' tombs

YEE XIANG YUN The Star 20 Jun 14;

JOHOR BARU: A resident affected by the Refinery and Petrochemicals Integrated Development (Rapid) project in Pengerang, about 110km from here, has failed in his bid to file an injunction to put off the digging and relocation of his ancestors’ graves.

The High Court rejected the claim by Lim Goo Kia on the grounds that Section 29 of the Government Proceeding Act provides for the court not to grant an injunction or make an order for specific performance.

Lawyer Jimmy Puah Wee Tse, representing Lim, told reporters outside the civil court at Menara MSC Cyberport here that Judicial Com­missioner M. Gunalan rejected the injunction in his chambers earlier yesterday.

“Now that the injunction has been rejected, the grave digging and relocation works for Lim’s ancestors’ graves would start at any time soon,” Puah said, adding that he would discuss with his client if he wanted to file an appeal as it had to be done within the next 30 days.

Puah said the injunction was filed to put on hold the grave digging and relocation of the graves at the Pengerang Chinese cemetery.

“Lim wanted digging work to be delayed until the start of the hearing for the main case, which is to oppose the state government’s decision to relocate the graves,” said Puah.

It was reported that four Chinese cemeteries at the Rapid site would be shifted to Bukit Gelugor to make way for the petroleum complex project.

Relocation works on 1,542 graves had been carried out since April 18.

Read more!

Malaysia: Bid to boost aqua-culture sector

G. SURACH The Star 20 Jun 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is expected to expand its aqua-culture sector in the fishing industry up to 50% by 2020 to sustain the people’s fish-based food demand.

Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the latest policy would ensure that all fishery products were divided equally between the fisheries and aqua-culture sectors.

“We started to implement this policy at the end of last year.

“Previously, the ratio was 80% of fisheries and only 20% of aqua-culture,” he said after launching the Malaysia International Seafood Exposition 2014 here yesterday.

The aqua-culture sector refers to the breeding, rearing and harvesting of all types of marine life such as fish farms, seaweed farming and cultivation of ornamental fish.

Ismail said the policy change was in line with the increasing global demand which could threaten fish supplies dramatically.

“Without rapid implementation of sustainable fisheries management practices to meet the ever growing demand, we may actually experience a reduction in seafood availability as we deplete one of the world’s most valuable resources,” he said.

Ismail also suggested coral-reef breeding be emphasised as it was part of the aqua-culture industry.

“Following feedback from my officers who went to Germany on an official visit, there is a demand to procure coral reefs from us.

“I will be speaking to the Terengganu Mentri Besar to seek his approval to gazette Pulau Bidong as a centre for coral-reef breeding,” he added.

Under the National Agro-Food Policy (2011-2020), the Government has set an ambitious target of two million metric tonnes of fish to be produced by the year 2020.

“This policy has been put in place to address the issue of food supply in Malaysia.

“With this policy, it guarantees that there will be a sufficient amount of food supplies which would also be safe for consumption in our country,” he said.

Ismail added that in line with the effort to develop Malaysia as a high-income nation, it was anticipated that the National Agro-Food Policy would also increase the revenue of farmers as well as agro-entrepreneurs.

In Malaysia, food fish production last year was at 1.74 million metric tonnes, valued at RM10.6bil. The total value of fish and fish products traded was RM5.9bil.

This contributed 1.3% to the national gross domestic product (GDP) and 12.5% to the agriculture GDP.

Besides food fish, ornamental fish trade accounted for 377 million pieces valued at RM629mil last year.

Read more!

A quarter of India's land is turning into desert: minister

Krishna N Das and Shyamantha Asokan PlanetArk 19 Jun 14;

India occupies just 2 percent of the world's territory but is home to 17 percent of its population, leading to over-use of land and excessive grazing. Along with changing rainfall patterns, these are the main causes of desertification.

"Land is becoming barren, degradation is happening," said Prakash Javadekar, minister for environment, forests and climate change. "A lot of areas are on the verge of becoming deserts but it can be stopped."

Land degradation - largely defined as loss of productivity - is estimated at 105 million hectares, constituting 32 percent of the total land.

According to the Indian Space Research Organisation that prepared a report on desertification in 2007, about 69 percent of land in the country is dry, making it vulnerable to water and wind erosion, salinization and water logging.

The states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh are the among the most arid. These are some of the cotton and rapeseed growing states of India.

(Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

Read more!