Best of our wild blogs: 27 Nov 14

STEP-NUS Sunburst Environment Programme, 16-22 November 2014
by Psychedelic Nature

Algae-eating snails and British writers
from Hantu Blog

Straw-headed bulbuls foraging
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Temasek Snail – A revisit
from Stir-fried Science

Read more!

Experts call for more to be done to tackle food waste

VALERIE KOH Today Online 27 Nov 14;

SINGAPORE — Up to one-third of food produced globally for human consumption is lost or wasted. In South Asia and South-east Asia, 414 calories from food produced for human consumption end up uneaten per person each day. But even in the face of these glaring World Bank statistics, countries around the region continue to lack the political will to address this, said a former food security researcher at S Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

Speaking at a dialogue at the Responsible Business Forum on Sustainable Development yesterday, Ms Sally Trethewie said there is a lack of a policy framework targeting food loss and waste in the region. “Perhaps one clever way to go about it is to make food loss and waste synonymous with food security,” she said. “For so long, the focus has always been on food security and producing enough food to feed us.”

Food loss is defined as food discarded during production and processing, while food waste is food thrown away at the retail and consumer levels.

Food loss is less prevalent in Singapore, given the nation’s reliance on food imports. But food waste is skyrocketing, with a whopping 796,000 tonnes generated last year, past figures from the National Environment Agency (NEA) showed. In South-east Asia, food loss and wastage is spurred by several issues, said Ms Trethewie, now a senior consultant with Bell Pottinger.

For instance, the adoption of modern technologies in the early stages of the supply chain is relatively low.Little attention is also paid to recycling food. In Singapore, a marginal 13 per cent of the food waste generated was recycled last year, said the NEA, below the food recycling rate of 16 per cent in 2010. But little information on food loss or waste is known, added Ms Trethewie.

Ms Aleksandra Barnes, another speaker at the dialogue, agreed and pointed out the lack of transparency around food waste, which she felt was the first step towards long-term change in this area.

Once the head of Tesco’s group corporate responsibility arm, Ms Barnes said the giant supermarket chain, in an effort to provide greater transparency, revealed this year that an estimated 56,580 tonnes of food were wasted at its stores and distribution centres during 2013-2014. Tesco took active steps to reduce food waste by liaising with its suppliers. Said Ms Barnes: “For example, we were establishing direct relations with banana suppliers and telling them, ‘Don’t put aside your small bananas or the ones that are not going to be winning any beauty contests. Send them to us and we’ll put them into value packs or process those bananas in the store and put them in milkshakes.’”

The supermarket also targeted consumers by providing, for instance, recipes for leftover cheese. Back home, local supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice is making reducing food waste a mission. Last month, it announced it would roll out a structured framework to address food waste early next year. Plans include enhancing and implementing internal processes and creating greater awareness of the issue among customers.

Read more!

Risk from extreme weather set to rise

Roger Harrabin BBC 26 Nov 14;

Climate change and population growth will hugely increase the risk to people from extreme weather, a report says.

The Royal Society warns that the risk of heatwaves to an ageing population will rise about ten-fold by 2090 if greenhouse gases continue to rise.

They estimate the risk to individuals from floods will rise more than four-fold and the drought risk will treble.

The report’s lead author Prof Georgina Mace said: “This problem is not just about to come… it’s here already."

She told BBC News: "We have to get the mindset that with climate change and population increase we are living in an ever-changing world – and we need much better planning if we hope to cope."

The report says governments have not grasped the risk of booming populations in coastal cities as sea level rises and extreme events become more severe.

“People are increasingly living in the wrong places, and it's likely that extreme events will be more common," Prof Mace says.

“For most hazards, population increase contributes at least as much as climate change - sometimes more. We are making ourselves more vulnerable whilst making the climate more extreme.

“It is impossible for us to avoid the worst and most unexpected events. But it is not impossible to be prepared for an ever-changing world. We must organise ourselves right away."

The report’s team said the UK was comparatively resilient to extreme events – but still vulnerable because of the high density of people living in areas at risk.

The report advises all levels of society to prepare – from strategic planning at an international and national level to local schemes by citizens to tackle floods or heatwaves.

Its scenarios are based on the assumption that the world stays on the current trajectory of emissions, which the authors assume will increase temperature by 2.6-4.8C around 2090. It assumes a population of nine billion.

They say they have built upon earlier work by calculating the effects of climate change coupled with population trends. They warn that the effects of extremes will be exacerbated by the increase in elderly people, who are least able to cope with hot weather.

Urbanisation will make the issue worse by creating “heat islands” where roads and buildings absorb heat from the sun. As well as building homes insulated against the cold, we must also ensure they can be properly ventilated in the summer, the report says.

The authors say cutting greenhouse gas emissions is essential. But they argue that governments will also need to adapt to future climatic shifts driven by climate change.

They suggest threats could be tackled through a dual approach. The simplest and cheapest way of tempering heatwaves, they say, is to maintain existing green space. Other low-cost options are planting new trees, encouraging green roofs, or painting roofs white to reflect the sun.

The authors say air conditioners are the most effective way of keeping cool – but they are costly, they dump heat into city streets and their use exacerbates climate change.

Flooding is another priority area, the report says. It finds that large-scale engineering solutions like sea walls offer the most effective protection to coastal flooding - but they are expensive, and when they fail the results can be disastrous.

The ideal solution, the authors think, may be a combination of “hard” engineering solutions like dykes matched with “soft” solutions like protecting wetlands to hold water and allow it to seep into the ground.

A scheme at Pickering in Yorkshire previously featured by BBC News is held as an example. The report concludes more research is needed to measure the effectiveness of these ecosystem solutions.

It insists that governments should carefully prioritise their spending. They should protect major infrastructure like electricity generation because of its knock-on effect on the broader economy. They should expect some lower-priority defences to fail from time to time, then work to minimise the consequences of that failure .

The authors identify excess heat as another potential threat to economies and agriculture if temperatures climb too high for outdoor workers.

They examine projected rises in the “wet bulb” index used by the US Army and others to measure the temperature felt when the skin is wet and exposed to moving air.

Some areas may experience many weeks when outdoor activity is heavily restricted, they fear – although the trend of agricultural labour loss may be offset through the century as more and more people move to cities.

It puts a figure on those at greatest overall risk: populations in poor countries make up only 11% of those exposed to hazards but account for 53% of the disaster deaths.

Some economists argue this shows that poor nations should increase their economies by burning cheap fossil fuels because that will allow them to spend more later on disaster protection.

The authors also call for reform of the financial system to take into account the exposure of assets to extreme events.

They say: “Unless risks are accurately evaluated and reported, companies will have limited incentives to reduce them. And valuations and investment decisions will continue to be poorly informed.”

One author, Rowan Douglas, from the Willis Research Network, said he suspected this might be the most significant contribution of the report.

The authors want organisations to report their maximum probable losses due to extreme events, based on a 1% chance of the event on any given year.

“The 1% stress test is not as extreme as it might sound – it implies a 10% chance of an organization being affected once a decade,” they say.

They say decisions made over the next few decades as the world builds vast urban areas will be key to the resilience of people by the end of the century.

Read more!