Best of our wild blogs: 9 Dec 14

Smooth-coated otters aren't beavers
from Life's Indulgences

Morning Walk At Venus Drive (08 Nov 2014)
from Beetles@SG BLOG

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Six and saving the earth, one bag at a time

Janice Tai My Paper AsiaOne 8 Dec 14;

Once he has four bags in hand and can no longer pick up any more, he throws them into a bin which his father wheels behind him.

Bowen is only six, but already making a big impact.

He completes his collection of bags and newspaper stacks an hour later and sorts the items into recycling bins for paper, metal and plastic before getting ready for breakfast and pre-school. The items are then picked up by a waste-collection company.

"Sometimes, I find it hard to wake up. But it is good for the earth and I have already made it a habit," he said.

Ashokan Ramakrishnan, a council member from the management of The Makena in Meyer Road, said: "We were pleasantly surprised with how small the boy is, but how big his idea was."

Bowen decided to start the recycling service after watching a documentary in June about polar bears losing their homes when ice caps melt because of the excessive use of fossil fuels.

He spent a day crafting a letter to the condo's management, asking for permission to let him take his neighbours' recyclable trash downstairs for a small fee.

"We didn't think the condo would permit it and expected that Bowen would get over the idea after a while," said his father, Kurt Beckman, 50, an American architectural designer who relocated to Singapore four years ago.

But Bowen delivered the letter in July and the management board at The Makena met him the next month.

They gave the green light and 28 households signed on for the service after he distributed fliers and went door to door to canvass for support.

After three months, his idea has caught on with other children in the condominium.

About 18 of them started their own collection services in the other four apartment blocks after Bowen presented his project to the residents at two gatherings.

A training session to teach the other children was held last month. About a fortnight ago, the children also gathered at the condo's multi-purpose hall to share their experiences.

"I hope my neighbours will make recycling a natural part of life," said Bowen.

The volume of recyclable materials collected since the start of the recycling service has tripled, said Mr Ramakrishnan. In the past, residents rarely used the recycling bins downstairs as they usually just threw rubbish down the central chute.

Bowen's project has also led to stronger bonds between residents - something that the condo's management had been scratching their heads over as the locals, Western and Indian expatriates largely kept to their own groups.

"It is amazing how one child with an idea can help them come together in a way that has never happened before," said Mr Ramakrishnan.

Parents started talking to one another about the projects and many took to recycling. At a flea market held in the property at the end of last month, they sold used items to their neighbours.

Bowen, who has two younger sisters, is donating $50 of the $72 he has collected so far to his father's project of building a school in Africa. He is saving up the rest to buy lollies and an iPad.

He said: "I want to change the world, maybe by telling my story to more children."

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Fish prices stable even after Malaysian ban

Cheryl Faith Wee The Straits Times AsiaOne 8 Dec 14;

SINGAPORE - Malaysia's ban on the export of some types of seafood to Singapore has not led to price hikes so far, as previously expected.

Most supermarkets and wet market stalls here have maintained price levels.

The ban came after rough monsoon seas affected fishing activities. Anticipating a shortfall in supply, Malaysia prohibited the export of seven types of fish and Indian white prawns to Singapore until the end of February.

Singapore's Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority said supply is stable as importers have been sourcing from other countries.

The seven varieties - which include white pomfret, selar and kembung - made up less than 5 per cent of total fish imports here last year. In October, 330 tonnes of these varieties were imported from Malaysia, down from 390 tonnes in October last year.

Mr Lee Boon Cheow, 75, president of the Singapore Fish Merchants' General Association, said the ban had not raised wholesale fish prices here. On the contrary, they fell by 10 to 15 per cent last week because of low demand during this time of the year, with many people travelling abroad.

Supermarkets, including Sheng Siong, Giant and FairPrice, said prices had remained stable.

Mr Victor Chai, director of fresh and frozen products at FairPrice's purchasing and merchandising department, said its diversified sourcing policy had helped. Also, its supply from Malaysia is mostly from farmed sources.

Cold Storage said the affected varieties do not make up a big chunk of its seafood business, while Prime Supermarket said it gets these fish from Thailand.

Prices at wet market stalls are also stable. Said Mr Chan Ken Chuah, 40, a fishmonger in Toa Payoh: "Most of the banned fish are small varieties that are not that popular anyway."

Likewise, prices of vegetables have remained stable at FairPrice and Sheng Siong supermarkets despite wet weather in Cameron Highlands last month and a crackdown on illegal workers there.

At Prime Supermarket, prices of greens from Cameron Highlands even fell by 30 to 40 per cent last week, with tomatoes and cucumbers more than 40 per cent cheaper than in the week before.

Consumers here are not overly concerned about the ban. Said Ms Celine Tee, who is in her 30s and works in human resource: "We can choose other varieties or cut down on seafood. Singapore has a wide choice of food available."

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Get closer to nature

Lea Wee The Straits Times AsiaOne 9 Dec 14;

The new extension at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve promises visitors new experiences - from walking on mudflats to crashing through the plants growing under the canopy of secondary forest.

The $29-million extension, which opened yesterday, adds an extra 31ha to the original 130ha reserve in north-western Singapore. It has more kid-friendly features, including an obstacle course and play area.

For the first time, visitors can step onto the mudflats during low tide and go up close to mudskippers and other creatures.

They can also try to spot foraging birds and insects while crossing a 150m-long suspension bridge which ascends gradually to a height of 3m. While treetop walks at MacRitchie and Southern Ridges overlook the canopy, this is the first boardwalk in Singapore that takes visitors through the mid-canopy.

A 1.3km-long coastal trail offers visitors a pano- ramic view of the Kranji waterfront and the Straits of Johor. They can look out for raptors, including the white-bellied sea eagle, hunting for prey.

While the reserve used to feature only one free guided walk which focused on the habitat of the mangrove forest, there will now be six new walks, including two for children under 12 years old.

The new walks, conducted by volunteers and students, will educate visitors on other habitats - based on the themes of sky, mud and water - at Sungei Buloh.

Special signs that are written and illustrated simply have been put up for children. In fact, the new extension hopes to instil a love for nature in them through more kid-friendly features.

A Junior Adventure Trail, near the Visitor Centre, has an obstacle course for children, allowing them to experience what it feels like to be a crab or a mudskipper in the mangrove. Duck under "prop roots", leap among "pencil roots" and cross a mangrove river on a pulley boat. To play, those under the age of 13 must be supervised by adults.

Also near the Visitor Centre is the Little Heron Deck, an area which has sculptures of mudskippers.

A gallery at the Visitor Centre features the plants and animals found in the mangroves.

A camera transmits live scenes from various areas of the reserve and projects them onto a wall in the gallery. There are also static displays with information on the mangrove habitat.

The new extension has five wooden lookout points scattered throughout. These are semi-sheltered and often slightly elevated to give visitors unobstructed views of the reserve and the sea.

The National Parks Board hopes the new extension will draw more people to Sungei Buloh and reduce the number of visitors flocking to the main reserve, which now has about 100,000 visitors a year.

Ms Sharon Chan, the reserve's deputy director, says: "Over the years, we've seen a rising number of visitors going to the reserve. With these numbers, there will be an impact on the wildlife there."

The expansion plans took into account comments from the public that the reserve is not very accessible, she says. The new extension is more accessible by public transport. A bus stop, located outside its entrance in Kranji Way, is served by bus No. 925.

The entrance to the main reserve in Neo Tiew Crescent remains. Visitors have to take a five-minute drive or a 15-minute walk from the bus stop. It is also served by bus 925.

Nature lovers and families welcome the new ecological space. Retiree and bird enthusiast Alan OwYong, 68, says: "With the new boardwalks, trails and canopy, getting around will be so much easier for the young and old."

He says there are more opportunities to get closer to different types of wildlife as the extension has different habitats with more forest cover, compared to the mainly mangrove habitat at the reserve.

Financial planner Kelvin Ang, 38, who has three children, also welcomes the new addition to Sungei Buloh. "There may be ample nature parks in Singapore, but there is a lack of kids-centric ones that introduce nature in a simple yet educational manner."

Housewife Goh Yi Liang, 42, has never taken her three children to Sungei Buloh, but plans to do so now. She says: "It's good for the young to have a little adventure in nature. The guided walks will be educational for the kids."

What: A guided walk is held every Saturday at 9.30am. There are six kinds of walks, each limited to 15 participants. To register, go to
Where: Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve extension, Kranji Way
Open: Monday to Friday, 7.30am to 7pm; weekend and public holiday, 7am to 7pm
Info: Entry is free, call 6794-1401 (including for tidal timetable)

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Singapore to trial electric car-sharing programme

JOY FANG Today Online 9 Dec 14;

SINGAPORE — Taking another step towards the large-scale adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) here, the Government announced yesterday that it is calling for a Request for Information (RFI) to trial a car-sharing programme involving 1,000 such vehicles and lasting up to a decade.

The RFI was issued by an inter-agency task force co-led by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the Economic Development Board (EDB). The trial will enable the authorities to gain a deeper understanding of the operating models and support required for EVs to succeed on a larger scale here, the LTA and the EDB said in a joint press release. Having a shared fleet of EVs offers the potential of reaping economies of scale because of the higher daily mileage and potentially lower running cost, the task force said.

Concurrently, it aims to explore whether a one-way car-sharing model — in which users pick up cars at one place and return them at a different location — can be viable.

The RFI comes after the authorities completed the first phase of a test bed for EVs between June 2011 and December last year. During the earlier phase, 53 organisations — private firms, public agencies and higher institutes of learning — were involved, with 89 electric vehicles deployed and 71 charging stations installed islandwide. Two market perception surveys, as well as studies on the technical and economic feasibility of EV deployment, were conducted.

Transport experts expect the trial to be rolled out progressively in as soon as 18 months, given that the infrastructure is largely in place and needs only to be ramped up.

They added that the trial was a good way to introduce a greener mode of transport to commuters here and that the critical mass that could be achieved under the second phase might just be the step needed to kick-start the car-sharing movement here. However, there must be adequate infrastructure and support for companies, such as financial incentives, for it to take off, they said.

The RFI documents, which were put up on government procurement website GeBIZ, said companies were encouraged to form a consortium, comprising car-sharing operators, charging infrastructure service providers and EV manufacturers or providers, to submit a proposal.

Such a consortium will then be able to provide the hardware, software and maintenance services required to run this system.

Various models are being considered, such as a station-based model, where users park and charge their cars at designated car-sharing lots; a free-floating model, where users can park at any parking lot at public or private car parks, which may or may not have charging stations; or a hybrid model, which is a combination of the other two models.

Potential areas of coverage are Housing and Development Board (HDB) residential towns, the Central Business District and industrial estates and business parks. Commuters should be able to check the availability of the shared electric cars and book them online and via mobile apps. The closing date for submissions is Feb 27 at noon.

The analysts noted that the Government had to lessen the cost burden by providing incentives, such as free charging stations to companies. If it costs a lot of money to implement, the costs will be passed on to consumers, which would affect demand, said Dr Park Byung Joon, SIM University’s urban transport expert.

Currently, EVs are not sold in the open market, but they can be registered by companies, institutes and government agencies. They are exempt from Certificate of Entitlement (COE) premiums.

Professor Lee Der-Horng of the National University of Singapore (NUS) suggested that under the second phase, the authorities waive the COE and Additional Registration Fee for businesses looking to bring EVs in. The HDB and the Urban Redevelopment Authority can also make it easier by easing regulations or quickening the approval process for companies to install charging stations. Sufficient charging points at major activity centres is also crucial, he said.

Smaller EV trials have been conducted here, including the Autonomous Electric Shuttle and Toyota’s micro EV Auto Body COMS that are deployed in Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and NUS, respectively. NTU Associate Professor Gopinath Menon noted that the larger scale of the car-sharing trial will result in greater economies of scale and make EVs more affordable.

Dr Park said a one-way car-sharing model could be challenged during peak periods, when traffic usually flows in one direction — from the suburbs to the city or vice-versa. This may result in a poor distribution of available EVs as most cars will be either in the city areas in the morning or at the suburbs in the evening.

Electric vehicles ‘not economically feasible yet’
XUE JIANYUE Today Online 9 Dec 14;

SINGAPORE — Analysis of data from the first phase of the Republic’s 30-month test bed for electric vehicles (EVs) has found that while the deployment of EVs is suitable here, such vehicles are not economically feasible for adoption, even after taking into account the health and environmental benefits to society, the authorities said yesterday.

The first phase, conducted by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the Energy Market Authority, was carried out between 2011 and last year. A joint press release by the LTA and the Economic Development Board (EDB) said surveys done before and after the test bed found that participants were concerned about the purchase price of EVs, the availability of personal and public charging infrastructure as well as the limitations of the technology — such as the range, battery life and time taken to charge the vehicles.

A cost-benefit analysis found that the use of EVs is technically feasible here. For example, the average EV daily driving distance was 46km — close to the national daily average of 50km for a regular passenger car and much lower than the EV manufacturers’ reported range of between 120km and 160km per charge. One of the EVs recorded a distance of 156km on a single charge.

It was also found that the impact of charging EVs on Singapore’s electricity grid was insignificant. Studies by TUM CREATE — a joint research programme between Technische Universitat Munchen in Germany and Nanyang Technological University — showed that if all private cars here were assumed to be EVs, the daily load on the power system would increase by 4.8 per cent.

However, EVs are still not economically feasible here. The open market value of an EV is around three times that of regular cars. “As the current tax structure for vehicles in Singapore is ad valorem and progressive, this results in a greater tax burden for an EV,” the LTA and the EDB said.

After accounting for taxes and rebates under the Carbon Emissions-Based Vehicle Scheme, a Nissan Leaf EV costs S$200,000, while its non-electric equivalent Nissan Sylphy ICEV costs S$110,000, based on May prices.

Nevertheless, the LTA and the EDB noted that similar to the development of hybrid vehicles, the prices of EVs are expected to fall as the cost of the technology continues to decline and mass production achieves economies of scale.

Car-sharing firm smove, which started operations almost four years ago, operates on a small-scale EV car-sharing model. It has six EVs on its books, on top of 16 hybrid cars. Adding that the firm has temporarily suspended the usage of its EVs, its spokesman cited several obstacles to the adoption of EVs here, such as a lack of public education on such cars and an inadequate charging infrastructure. More charging stations should be located at residential and commercial hubs, for a start, he said.

Currently, charging service provider Bosch runs 71 charging stations on the island, with the majority found in west and central Singapore.

iCarsclub general manager Navin Kumar noted that young drivers usually start with driving vehicles owned by their parents and tend to stick to petrol-powered cars. To break the habit, EVs must be cheaper than regular cars, he said.

LTA, EDB seek proposals for electric vehicle sharing programme
Channel NewsAsia 8 Dec 14;

SINGAPORE: The Land Transport Authority (LTA) and Economic Development Board (EDB) have announced plans to trial an electric vehicle (EV) sharing programme.

In a press release issued on Monday (Dec 8), the inter-agency Electro-Mobility Singapore (EMS) taskforce - co-led by the LTA and EDB - said it is now seeking proposals for an EV car-sharing programme. It will see the introduction of up to 1,000 EVs and the development of charging infrastructure for such vehicles.

The taskforce aims to explore whether a one-way car-sharing model, in which users pick up cars at one point and return them at a different destination, can be viable. Checking for the availability of and booking of the shared electric cars will be done through online and mobile applications.

The trial will allow the Government to better understand the models and support required for EVs to succeed in Singapore.

Up to 5 per cent of the EV fleet will be used to test cutting-edge technologies such as smart sensors, driverless vehicles and advanced charging solutions that include wireless inductive charging.

Singapore concluded the first-phase of the national EV test-bed which focused on individual corporate users last year. The test-bed will now go into a second phase to explore fleet-based shared car operations.

"Compared to privately-owned EVs, EV shared-car fleets have the potential of reaping economies of scale with higher daily mileage and potentially lower running cost," EDB and LTA said.

"The pilot will help Singapore to be a regional leader in developing new technologies and innovative business models in the electric vehicles and associated charging infrastructure landscape," said Mr Yeoh Keat Chuan, managing director of EDB.

"This is also aligned with Singapore’s position as a Living Lab to develop smart sustainable city solutions that can eventually be exported to other cities in Asia and beyond.”

LTA’s chief executive, Mr Chew Men Leong, said the car-sharing initiative could be a step towards a "car-lite" society. "We are also evaluating if one-way car-sharing can possibly complement Singapore’s existing public transport system by serving as a first mile/last mile connector to public transport nodes," he said.

- CNA/ac

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Indonesia: Jokowi’s Call for Ecological Reform Reaches Palm Oil Firms

Jakarta Globe 8 Dec 14;

Jakarta. Following last week’s strong pro-peatlands and forests commitment by newly inaugurated President Joko Widodo, two of the world’s largest palm oil producers and traders have announced policies to address the criticism of deforestation in their supply chains.

However, Greenpeace says that where Musim Mas commits to immediately protect High Carbon Stock (HCS) forests, Kuala Lumpur Kepong (KLK) does not define exactly what it will protect.

The High Carbon Stock Approach, the global environmental group argues, is a tested tool that identifies degraded areas suitable for plantation development and forest areas that merit protection to maintain and enhance carbon, biodiversity and social values.

It is being overseen and further refined by the multi-stakeholder High Carbon Stock Approach Steering Group, which involves international non-governmental organizations including Greenpeace as well as palm oil producers Cargill, Agropalma, Wilmar, New Britain Palm Oil, Daabon and Golden Agri Resources, and one of the world’s largest pulp and paper companies Asia Pulp & Paper (APP).

“While Musim Mas will use the leading methodology to break the link between palm oil and deforestation, KLK fails to identify what forests the company plans to protect,” said Greenpeace Indonesia forest campaigner Annisa Rahmawati. “Without a clear definition, it is hard for us to believe that the company is serious about its commitments.”

Both Musim Mas and KLK are part of the Malaysia-based Sustainable Palm Oil Manifesto (SPOM), an industry initiative that has commissioned further carbon study. In their new policies, the companies say they will adopt the outcomes of that study after 2015.

Where the HCS Approach has explicitly been developed to implement commitments to break the link between palm oil and deforestation, the objective of the SPOM appears to rather be balancing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and socioeconomic aspects.

Greenpeace and other leading NGOs do not support the SPOM as it falls short of new benchmarks for responsible palm oil production and trade, and is not a multi-stakeholder driven initiative. However, the HCS Approach Steering Group has stated an openness to any new credible science and will consider recommendations from the SPOM study.

“With deforestation rates rising in Indonesia, KLK and Musim Mas need get their priorities [straight]. We urge these companies to make a long-term commitment to the best tools available, in particular the HCS Approach, to break the link between palm oil and deforestation. They also need to require their third party suppliers to do the same,” Annisa said.

KLK and Musim Mas’s announcements come days after a visit by Joko to the coastal peatlands of Riau. The president assured that his minister for environment and forestry is reviewing plantation concessions, and will revoke the permits of those that have damaged the ecosystem.

Greenpeace has declared its support of Joko’s push for environmental law enforcement, and pointed to a recent case in which a director and a manager of KLK subsidiary Adei Plantation and Industry were found guilty of negligence over forest fires in Pelalawan, Riau.

In his visit to the province Joko declared his preference for farms owned by individuals — as opposed to corporations — to curb the haze crisis that stems from peatland fires in Riau and across Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Joko said private farmers had minimal impact on the environment when compared to corporate monoculture plantations such as those for oil palms and pulpwood, which have been the main cause of environmental damage in the province.

The president added that he had ordered Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya to review and monitor concessions currently operated by large companies across the country.

“If they are indeed destroying the ecosystem with their monoculture plantations, they will have to be terminated,” Joko said.

“We must put a stop the [destruction], we mustn’t allow our tropical rainforests to disappear.”

The president revealed that the government also plans to employ a new approach in managing Indonesia’s peatlands, vast expanses of which can be found in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Fires on these two Indonesian islands, which often lead to transboundary haze problems in Singapore and Malaysia, begin on peatlands as it is drained and subjected to slashing and burning to give way for the cultivation of commercial plants.

Local farmers and large corporations have for years been placing the blame on each other for igniting fires on peatlands.

Corrupt government officials, meanwhile, have been blamed for lax law enforcement that allows fires and haze problems to recur every year, harming the health of both local and neighboring residents, and increasing economic losses as airports are forced to close.

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Philippine storms show climate change threat: Greenpeace

Channel NewsAsia 8 Dec 14;

MANILA: Greenpeace global chief Kumi Naidoo said on Sunday (Dec 7) increasingly violent storms hitting the Philippines showed the world had to act on climate change, as Typhoon Hagupit barrelled across the country.

Naidoo was in the Philippines to "bear witness" to the damage done by Hagupit, the strongest storm to hit the Philippines this year, and planned to visit some of the worst-affected areas on Monday.

"Nature does not negotiate, We actually have to wake up and smell the coffee. We need to understand that we are running out of time," he said, in a warning to UN negotiators meeting in Lima, Peru, to hammer out the broad outlines of a new world pact on global warming.

Naidoo, the international executive director of the environmental group, said that the typhoon passing over the Philippines was an example of the massive damage poorer countries would experience if climate change worsens. He said the storms hitting the Southeast Asian archipelago were getting stronger and stronger, showing the urgency for world governments to act quickly.

Naidoo blamed "all coal and gas companies and other polluting companies," for the worsening climate problems, adding that it was unfair that they should make huge profits while poor nations suffer the ill-effects.

He warned that the world was facing a "make or break moment," and called on governments to adopt the "polluter pays principle," as well as a committment to give full access to renewable energy by 2015. Rich and poor countries should act together, he said, as even the richest nations would not be immune from the impact of a warmer planet.

Storms in the Philippines have become symbolic of the potential damage of climate change ever since Super Typhoon Haiyan unleashed the strongest winds ever recorded on land when it struck the country in 2013 just before climate change talks began in Warsaw.

More than 7,350 were left dead or missing, inspiring greater sympathy for the poor among the negotiators and prompting the Philippine envoy to the talks, Yeb Sano, to go on a tea and water fast for the duration of the negotiations. Sano is expected to join Naidoo in his visit to the areas ravaged by Hagupit.

However activists observing the talks in Lima have said the pace of the negotiations was too slow and lacked a sense of urgency, with rich and poor countries disagreeing on what steps to take.

While Typhoon Hagupit is not as strong as Haiyan, it has brought new destruction to areas that are still struggling to recover from Haiyan's fury.

- AFP/de

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Heatwaves likely 'every other year' by 2030s, says Met Office study

Carbon emissions continuing at their current levels will lead to dramatic rise in severely hot weather patterns in central Europe and the Mediterranean
Arthur Neslen The Guardian 8 Dec 14;

Torrid European summers like the one in 2003 which claimed an estimated 70,000 lives are set to become a regular occurrence within two decades and the “new normal” by the end of the century, according to a new Met Office study.

The climate modelling, which was published in Nature Climate Change on Monday, foresees a dramatic rise in the chance of severely hot weather patterns in central Europe and the Mediterranean, if greenhouse gas emissions continue along their current path.

“Extremely warm summers that would occur twice a century in the early 2000s are now expected to happen twice a decade,” said Dr Nikos Christidis, the lead author of the new paper. “The chances of heatwaves as extreme as seen in 2003 have increased from about one-in-1,000 years to about one-in-100 years and are projected to occur once every other year by the 2030s-2040s under continuing greenhouse gas emissions.”

As well as the record-breaking European summer of 2003, severe heatwaves in the last decade have baked Moscow in 2010, Texas in 2011 and Australia, in its ‘angry summer’ of 2012-2013.

The odds of further extreme temperature events have already whittled rapidly since the last Met Office paper on climate change 10 years ago, Peter Stott, another of the paper’s authors, told the Guardian. “The predictions in that paper have been borne out by observations since,” he noted.

Between the Met’s 2004 climate change report looking at weather events in the 1990s and its new study, which covers the 2003-2012 period, temperatures in central Europe and the Mediterranean have risen by 0.81C.

As world leaders began arriving in Lima for talks on a new global climate treaty, the UK energy and climate change secretary, Ed Davey, said that the new research underscored the urgency of climate mitigation action.


“This research by leading academics adds to the mounting scientific evidence that extremely damaging weather events will become more frequent and severe as a result of increasing climate change,” he said. “Time is running out and more needs to be done globally to preserve the quality of life we take for granted.”

The planetary warming trend poses a particular threat to life-sustaining infrastructure in the water-scarce Mediterranean, which is expected to be one of the regions worst-affected by climate change.

Under a business as usual scenario, the “new normal” by 2100 would be for summers 6C warmer than today across Europe, Stott said.

“By the end of the century, these sorts of changes would be threatening the ability to sustain agriculture in that part [the Mediterranean] of the world,” he said. “But for the UK too, when we get summers where we share continental weather patterns, which will still be pretty frequent, there will also be a greater risk of such heatwaves. Overall we are expecting drier, warmer summers in the UK.”

The Met Office is currently researching how jetstream variations and changes to the circulation characteristics of weather patterns may interact with climate change. These could, for instance, increase the risks of ‘blocking patterns’ that slow the movement of weather systems, allowing heatwaves to develop and intensify.

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California's Worst Drought Ever Is 1st Taste of Future

Becky Oskin Yahoo News 8 Dec 14;

LOS BANOS, CA - SEPTEMBER 05: A tractor kicks up dust as it drives through an unplanted field on September 5, 2014 in Los Banos, California. As California suffers through a third straight year of drought, the state's reservoirs are at record lows and a large number of fields in the central valley sit unplanted. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The drought now plaguing California is the worst to parch the central and southern parts of the state in the last 1,200 years, a new study finds.

The 2012 to 2014 drought's lack of rain isn't remarkable on its own, according to tree-ring records reported in the study. There have been three-year periods when less rain and snow fell. But the current drought comes at a time of extreme heat. Record-high temperatures exacerbated the drought, creating the driest soil conditions since the 9th century, according to the study, published Dec. 3 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

"Precipitation is not the whole story for California drought," said lead study author Daniel Griffin, a tree-ring researcher at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. "When we factor in temperature, this drought really stands out as an extreme and unprecedented case for the past 1,200 years." [The 5 Worst Droughts in US History]

The new study was driven by curiosity, the researchers said. With the long view of a paleoclimatologist, co-author Kevin Anchukaitis said he was skeptical that the recent drought could be worse than some of California's driest years. For instance, in 1580, one of the thirstiest years in the tree-ring record, rivers flowed at just a quarter of their usual volume, and giant sequoias grew no new wood. "Anytime you think it's bad, we say, 'You should have seen this [year],'" said Anchukaitis, a scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

To look back at water conditions 800 years ago, Griffin and Anchukaitis collected tree-ring samples from 278 blue oak trees in central and southern California. These trees grow only in California and are extremely sensitive to rainfall — their rings are clearly wider during wet periods, and pinched during dry spells. "These blue oaks are just like rain gauges," Griffin said. The researchers merged their data with 1,200 years of records from the North American Drought Atlas, a database of drought reconstructions based on tree rings from species including California bristlecone pines and giant sequoias.

Then, to compare drought years past and present, the scientists estimated soil moisture levels according to the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI), a measure of precipitation and evaporation. (Soil moisture is an important index in the state, which grows about half the nation's vegetables, worth $10 billion.)

Based on precipitation alone, the tree-ring records confirmed the researchers' gut instincts: There were past droughts that saw less rainfall. However, in terms of PDSI soil moisture, both 2014 alone and the cumulative three-year drought are the worst in 1,200 years, the study found.

"I don't think we had a good idea it was going to be so severe," Anchukaitis said. "It was surprising to us."

California's climate history is marked by much longer droughts, including megadroughts lasting 100 years, and several decades-long droughts. There were also 66 short-term dry periods that lasted between three and nine years during the 1,200 year study period, which makes the current drought just one of many minor dry spells, if only the lack of rain is considered.

But the one-two punch of high heat and low rainfall is the first taste of what's to come as climate change raises temperatures in the West, the researchers said. "Drought is going to continue to happen, and sometimes, it will be exceptionally severe," Griffin said. "This drought is a harbinger of what we can expect in the future."

California's heat waves will make 2014 the warmest year in the historical record, according to the National Weather Service office in Hanford, California. The heat means the air evaporates more moisture from plants and the soil. Heat waves also cause more evaporation from streams, rivers and the mountain snowpack.

Despite a good soaking this week from a series of storms, a little more than 55 percent of California remains in exceptional drought, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday (Dec. 4). Northern and central California need 18 to 21 inches (46 to 53 centimeters) of rain to end the drought, according to the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center.

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Poorest countries 'left behind': Climate finance report

AFP AsiaOne 8 Dec 14;

LIMA - Half of nearly US$8 billion (S$10.6 billion) in climate finance given to the developing world since 2003 went to just ten countries, and nations most at risk got the short end of the stick, a report said Sunday.

The top recipients were Morocco, Mexico and Brazil, which each got more than US$500 million (406 million euros) of the US$7.6 billion total, according to an analysis of spending over the last decade in 135 countries.

The report of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), a UK think-tank, was released ahead of the second and final week of UN negotiations in Lima for a world pact to curb potentially disastrous global warming.

"Mexico and Brazil are among the top 10 emitters of greenhouse gases, and with Morocco, all have huge renewable energy potential," said a statement.

However, many of the poorest countries were left behind.

"Conflict-affected and fragile states such as Ivory Coast and South Sudan, where it is generally difficult to spend finance, received less than US$350,000 and US$700,000 respectively," said an ODI statement.

"Several middle income countries that are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and have significant clean energy potential, such as Namibia, El Salvador and Guatemala, also received less than US$5 million each."

The aid from rich nations is meant to help poor and vulnerable countries adapt to climate change impacts and curb Earth-warming greenhouse gas emissions through a shift away from fossil fuels like oil, coal and gas.

Funding for adaptation rocketed from US$3.8 million in 2003 to US$2 billion this year, said the report.

"While not enough, the trends in spending are positive," it said.

"Poor countries such as Niger, Bangladesh and Nepal have received nearly US$400 million over the last decade to help them cope with this growing threat."

However, the ten most vulnerable nations, including Somalia, the Solomon Islands, Burundi, Niger and Eritrea, benefited from only seven per cent of adaptation aid.

"Effective use of climate finance will help win the support of poor countries which have contributed the least to climate change but bear the brunt of its impacts," report author Smita Nakhooda said.

Lives depend on it

Finance is a sore point at the UN climate talks, with developing nations insisting that rich economies show how they intend to honour promises to muster up to US$100 billion in climate finance per year from 2020.

To date, nearly US$10 billion in startup capital had been promised for the Green Climate Fund, the main vehicle for channelling the money.

On Friday, a UN report said developing countries may need up to US$500 billion per year by 2050 for adaptation alone.

"There is substantial scope to improve results and learn from experience" on climate financing, said the ODI statement.

Funds need to become less risk averse and more flexible when it comes to donor conditions and scrutiny.

"There are now too many small climate funding 'pots' with substantial overlap and finance is spread too thinly between them," added Nakhooda.

"The lives of millions of people in poor countries affected by climate change depend on getting this right."

Sticky issues re-emerge at UN climate talks
KARL RITTER Associated Press Yahoo News 8 Dec 14;

LIMA, Peru (AP) — The momentum from a historic U.S.-China pact to resist global warming is showing signs of fading at U.N. climate talks as the familiar rich-poor conflict persists over who should do what to keep the planet from overheating.

Last month's joint emissions pledges by Presidents Xi Jinping and Barack Obama spurred hopes for a global climate deal a year from now in Paris. But heading into the second half of the Dec. 1-12 Lima talks, China and the U.S. remain on opposing sides on a series of vital issues.

Time remains to work things out; environment ministers are just starting to arrive. The conference's high-level phase begins Tuesday.

Some main areas of discord:


Governments must agree on what information they should be obliged to provide in the greenhouse gas-reduction pledges they make for the Paris agreement. The end of March is the U.N.-set deadline for submitting pledges, though many countries including China have said they may need more time.

The U.S. and other developed countries want contributions to be focused on slashing or curbing emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases. They are resisting demands from developing countries including China and India — the world's No. 1 and No. 3 greenhouse gas polluters — to add financial commitments to help poorer countries tackle climate change.

A fight also has also erupted over whether to establish a review process so emissions targets can be analyzed and compared ahead of Paris. The U.S. and the European Union want a review but China, which has never before been required to take any climate action in the U.N. talks, has opposed that in Lima.


The Paris agreement would take effect in 2020 but it's not clear what period the initial emissions-reduction pledges would cover. The U.S. is pushing for a five-year commitment period and has already set its target for 2025.

The European Union favors a 10-year span and has set its target for 2030. China also backs a 10-year period.

Brazil has proposed a hybrid: Countries give firm five-year targets and "indicative" 10-year targets.

Unless countries agree on a common commitment period they will be out of step with one another and comparing their targets will be more complicated.


As usual, much time in Lima has been spent arguing about money. Rich countries long ago pledged to help poor countries limit emissions and cope with rising sea levels, droughts, floods and other impacts of climate change. In 2009 they agreed to commit $100 billion annually by 2020. But the financing so far isn't close to that level and poor countries say they need the money now.

A new Green Climate Fund reached $10 billion in pledges this week — including $3 billion from the U.S. Developing countries including China, which is not a contributor, say that is far too little given the urgent need for immediate action. Some scientific models say greenhouse emissions need to halt by mid-century or damage from climate change could be irreversible.


The Paris agreement is supposed to be "applicable to all," unlike the 1997 Kyoto emissions treaty, which required only developed countries to take action to fight climate change. For everyone else, it was voluntary.

The U.S., EU and other rich countries want to tear down a 1992 firewall that divides the world into developed and developing countries. The latter, from oil-rich Gulf states to the poorest of Africa, are in no hurry to remove the firewall because it makes clear that developed countries are more responsible than they for climate change.

The issue is among the most difficult in the U.N. talks and not likely to be resolved in Lima.

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Global warming threat cut slightly, still severe: study

Reuters Channel NewsAsia 8 Dec 14;

LIMA (Reuters) - Projected global warming this century has slowed but is still at a severe rate after promises by China, the United States and the European Union to limit greenhouse gas emissions, a scientific study showed on Monday.

The Climate Action Tracker, produced by an independent group of scientists, said temperatures were set to rise by about 3 degrees Celsius (5.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times by 2100, the lowest since the tracker was set up to monitor promises made by governments in 2009.

The study, issued during U.N. talks on global warming in Lima, said the rate was 0.2 to 0.4C less than projected after pledges by China, the United States and the European Union in recent weeks to rein in emissions.

Even so, a warming of 3C would cause far more extreme weather such as heatwaves and storms, disrupt food and water supplies and accelerate a thaw of Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, according to a U.N. panel of climate scientists.

And it is far above a goal set by almost 200 nations in 2010 of limiting average surface warming to 2C, viewed as a threshold for ever more damaging disruptions to the climate.

Temperatures have already risen about 0.9C since the late 19th century, according to the U.N. panel of climate scientists.

Still, scientists involved in the tracker said pledges by the top emitters marked progress in the right direction for the talks in Peru, where about 190 nations are working on a deal to rein in emissions to be agreed in Paris in a year's time.

"This represents a very important first step," said Bill Hare, of Climate Analytics which compiles the tracker with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Ecofys and the NewClimate Institute.

China promised last month that its emissions will peak around 2030 and the United States agreed to aim to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

In October, the European Union said it would cut its emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Many other nations have yet to outline their planned cuts as part of the Paris deal.

Niklas Hoehne, of the NewClimate Institute, said there were still many uncertainties - Beijing, for instance, has not indicated the size of its emissions by 2030.

(Reporting By Alister Doyle; Editing by Alan Crosby and Andrew Hay)

Stern warning: Legally-binding climate deal 'not necessary'
Matt McGrath BBC News 8 Dec 14;

A legally-binding international treaty may not be the best way to tackle climate change.

Leading economist Lord Nicholas Stern said that a commitment to sustainable development was more important than a binding deal that "lacked credibility".

He was speaking in Lima, Peru, where negotiators from 194 countries are heading into a second week of UN talks.

They hope to agree a text that would form the basis of new global compact, to be signed in Paris next year.

Many developing countries support a legally binding deal that would be structured in a similar way to the Kyoto Protocol, signed back in 1997.

'Serious mistake'
One key element of that agreement was that countries faced sanctions if they failed in their commitments to cut carbon.

According to Lord Stern, a deal in Paris would work better if it steered away from this format.

"Some may fear that commitments that are not internationally legally-binding may lack credibility," he said.

"That, in my view, is a serious mistake. The sanctions available under the Kyoto Protocol, for example, were notionally legally-binding but were simply not credible and failed to guarantee domestic implementation of commitments."

In Lima, negotiators are trying to hammer out the format that mitigation efforts should take. By the end of March next year countries have to declare their hands, but they have yet to formalize what will be included in these commitments and what will not.

Lord Stern believes that grounding the process in the laws and promises that countries undertake by themselves is a better model for a deal than a top-down process like Kyoto.

"It will be enforceable and deliverable through the arrangements and laws in the countries themselves.

"That way you will get stronger ambition as countries won't be tempted to be hesitant about some type of international sanction."

While the European Union has stated that it is committed to legally binding mitigation targets, other countries have sought different formats.

According to US special envoy on climate change, Todd Stern, the US is unhappy with the prospect of a legally binding deal, knowing that getting it ratified in the Senate would be an uphill battle.

"Proposals that would involve, in effect, a kind of designated burden-sharing on how reductions should be split up among countries of the world has extremely little chance of political viability," he said, speaking to reporters last month.

"Countries are not going to buy into that."

Over the next week here in Lima, negotiators will try to make progress on the format of a deal. For observers such as Mohamed Adow from Christian Aid, any agreement must has some legal teeth.

"The UN multilateral system works best with clear rules," he told BBC News.

"To ensure that the pledges included in the Paris deal are implemented on the ground, countries need to trust each other. Having at least some legally binding rules to the Paris agreement is the best way to make sure countries will hold each other accountable."

Regardless of whether the deal ultimately is legally binding or not, Lord Stern believes that a focus on equity and sustainable development is the most important element, and one that would win strong support from developing countries.

"It means that the richer people have the bigger responsibilities but I think that speaking strongly about development and reducing poverty is a much better way to search for an equitable agreement."

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