Best of our wild blogs: 10 Dec 14

A cry in the night ...
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Editorial: Preserve Ubin's charm

The Straits Times AsiaOne 9 Dec 14;

SINGAPORE - Pulau Ubin is like a smiling, rustic uncle whom everyone loves because he has always been there. His "ulu" world frozen in time and a life gone feral somewhat, few would want to step into his shoes but none would want him to change.

It is all quite illogical, especially when a land-starved city state ought to be making far better use of every square metre of precious space.

All the more, it is reassuring that there is wide support for the latest push to preserve Pulau Ubin, with plans to dovetail community efforts with state initiatives under the watch of a minister of state.

There is no shortage of areas to focus on - tackling shoreline erosion and supporting endangered plants, such as the Eye of the Crocodile, and wildlife like hornbills.

More than 2,000 ideas have already emerged and more will likely pour in as efforts gain momentum. Some divergence in thinking can be expected.

But should camps emerge, one can only hope these are mainly of the outdoor kind to bring people closer to Ubin's natural offerings.

The hankering to preserve Ubin might well reflect a lesson learnt late about heritage bulldozed in the name of progress.

Once gone, it is irreplaceable. That central thought itself deserves preservation, should new ideas spring up to exploit tourism opportunities or develop a "world-class" conservation showcase or some simulacrum of nature for edutainment.

While facilitating access to the island to promote appreciation, one should be wary of a hydra-headed maze of concrete creeping up slowly across the island.

Some infrastructure, preferably with natural materials, is needed but the less disturbed, the better.

Sustaining Ubin's charm can draw inspiration from the saving of the Chek Jawa wetlands, a worthy example of well-considered green activism.

Given the changing nature of challenges, the island will always need the untiring attention of volunteers. As such, the community-state effort should be seen less as a "project", as evident in its name, and more as a lifelong link with a favoured isle.

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Ride. Return. Recharge. Repeat.

Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 9 Dec 14;

Singapore could have up to 1,000 electric cars zipping around roads here by 2016, as part of an official car-sharing scheme. The Government has asked firms to submit proposals for a trial that will last up to 10 years, and also involve setting aside parking spaces for the cars and installing more charging stations.

The inter-agency Electro-Mobility Singapore task force, which is led by the Economic Development Board (EDB) and Land Transport Authority (LTA), yesterday issued a request for information (RFI) for proposals, which should be submitted by Feb 27 next year.

It said people should be able to pick up the cars at one location and drop them off at another, and the self-service scheme could span Housing Boardtowns, the Central Business District and city-fringe areas, industrial estates and business parks.

Registered users will be able to use their smartphones to see which electric cars are available nearby, and pay to reserve a vehicle as well as a parking space near their destination.

The scheme is expected to complement other transport modes such as trains, buses, cycling and even walking, for example, by helping people to get to MRT stations. In fact, companies submitting proposals are encouraged to work with "public transport operators and TransitLink to offer rebates or discounts to public transport users who transfer from trains or buses to car-sharing and vice versa", according to the RFI.

The scheme is part of the Government's push to make Singapore a "car-lite" nation. LTA chief executive Chew Men Leong said people could use public transport most of the time, and tap the scheme for "the occasional travel which would be more convenient by car, such as family outings on weekends or bulk shopping".

"Car-sharing is one way to support a lifestyle which doesn't require one to own or maintain a car," he said.

The scheme is the second phase of the Government's electric-vehicle test bed, which started in 2011. The first phase, which ended last year, was open to only corporate users and involved 89 electric cars and 71 charging stations islandwide.

Data from the first phase suggested that electric cars are technically viable here, although their high cost and the lack of a widely accessible charging infrastructure are problems.The average daily driving distance for electric cars was 46km, close to the national average of 50km for a normal passenger car, but far less than the electric cars' reported range of 120km-160km per charge.

The data also showed that charging the vehicles would not significantly impact the electricity grid, even if a large percentage of private cars were electric.

The Government will consider waiving vehicular taxes for the scheme's electric cars, including the certificate of entitlement fee and road tax. It will also pay up to half of the costs of charging infrastructure installation, subject to a cap to be determined.

The EDB told The Straits Times that the timeline for the trial was to give the winning company or consortium enough time to recoup investments.

Car-sharing Association of Singapore president Lai Meng has said having 3,000 parking spaces for the scheme would be a good start, as that would mean 30 to 40 spaces for each constituency.

"Public transport cannot be everything for everyone, since there will be days when you need a car," he said. "A car-sharing scheme plugs that weak link."

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Grow veggies, and help low-income students

Priscilla Goy The Straits Times AsiaOne 10 Dec 14;

SINGAPORE - Grow an education fund for the needy while growing your own vegetables.

That is what some residents in Bukit Panjang have been doing at a new "vertical farm" set up in the area in August.

Residents can rent 20 trays of compost, slotted into a rack, for $50 a month, and 40 per cent of the rent goes to a fund for students from low-income families.

The initiative is a partnership between agriculture company Pocket Greens and North West Community Development Council (CDC).

The donated rent goes to the North West Student Support Fund, which needs $550,000 a year to help about 2,500 students.

For Pocket Greens - so named as it aims to turn pockets of space into gardens - this was a natural thing to do.

Company co-founder Eng Ting Ting, 49, said: "I have another agriculture company, and we have been working with a lot of schools. They buy our growing kits, and their children learn how vegetables are grown.

"We know every school has some needy students, and we always include extra sets so these can be given to students who cannot afford to buy the growing kits."

Ms Eng, whose parents own an orchid farm, also wanted to make growing plants easier for people so as to cultivate their interest in nature and farming.

One attractive feature of the vertical farm is that people can generally reap their harvests in 10 days. With an automated irrigation system, they need only sow the seeds and return later to harvest.

The plants grown are "baby greens", and are harvested as young vegetables. These include red radish, sweet pea (dou miao), sunflower sprouts and broccoli.

The farm now has 48 racks, and has room for 80 in total. About 15 have been rented out.

"Given that this is a relatively new concept, the response has been very encouraging. Many people are curious and intrigued that they can grow veggies without toiling in the sun," said Ms Eng.

"We have had hardcore gardeners, and we have also had parents who do this with their children as a family bonding session."

Dr Teo Ho Pin, Mayor of North West CDC and the MP for Bukit Panjang, said the initiative promotes a culture of giving back.

"Many of my residents came here from (farms in) Lim Chu Kang and Ama Keng, so they have experience in farming and different skill sets," he said.

"Companies can share their different farming techniques with residents so there is a transfer of knowledge and skills."

Residents also give back to the needy in the community.

Retired cleaner Thor Tiak Soon, 61, who had adopted two racks at the vertical farm, said: "It is a good arrangement. I can grow vegetables while helping others."

Pocket Greens also wants to attract the younger generation to farming, and its efforts are starting to bear fruit.

Two undergraduates work part-time at the farm. Ms Tan Hwee Jie, 21, and Ms Toh Jia Hui, 20, have been helping to man a shop and guide customers on how to grow their vegetables.

Ms Tan said: "Our parents used to grow vegetables in Lim Chu Kang. I think we should learn more about that."

Ms Eng said more children should be exposed to the natural environment. "Some children who come here have never seen grasshoppers or earthworms, which I think is quite sad.

"We need to do more so that we (can) become a greener place."

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Malaysia: Dangerous weed mushrooming


SUNGAI PETANI: It has been dubbed the “worst weed of the century”, destroying native flora and crops, causing rashes that can leave humans permanently scarred and damaging the intestines of animals that eat it.

Called Parthenium hysterophorus, it was first detected here in September last year in Ulu Yam, Selangor.

But the highly-allergenic plant has since been spotted in Perak, Kedah and Negri Sembilan, raising fears that it has spread throughout the country.

Initial accounts show that the plant has even resisted attempts to control it through weedkillers.

A species of flowering plant native to Mexico, it can cause severe skin disease and hayfever in humans.

It is also toxic to livestock such as goats and cows, causing fevers, ulcers, anorexia and intestinal damage, and can quickly replace native flora by releasing toxic substances, causing massive crop loss.

Similar in appearance to ulam raja, P. hysterophorus is classified as a dangerous pest under the Plant Quarantine Regulations 1981 and can quickly propagate.

According to Professor Dr S. M. Rezaul Karim of Universiti Malaysia Kelantan, this is because one plant, which can reach several feet in height, can produce hundreds of thousands of seeds during its four-week life cycle.

“The seeds can be dormant in the ground for up to 10 years, making it impossible to get rid of.”

In Sg Petani, some areas had been sprayed with herbicide, only to see fresh plants springing anew just days later.

“The weed spreads like wildfire. You can look at examples in other countries, such as Australia which spends millions of dollars yearly trying to control it,” said Dr Karim, who heads the university’s parthenium weed research group.

According to Dr Karim, P. hysterophorus not only competes with other plants for nutrients – it also releases chemicals which damage other plants.

Its effect on people, he said, was particularly worrying as it often grows by the roadside where the public can easily come into contact with it.

“We need to find out how many communities in Malaysia have been affected,” he said.

“In some nations, the rash can become so bad it leaves people permanently scarred. It can take three months for the symptoms to subside,” he said.

Checks by The Star during a recent field trip to Sungai Petani saw the weed growing as high as 1.2m (4 ft) in close proximity to restaurants, paddy fields, businesses and irrigation drains that allow the seeds to hitch a ride to other areas, thus propagating its spread.

According to DOA representatives, the area had been sprayed several times with weedkiller to no avail.

In a media release, the DOA listed several methods of controlling the weed, including destroying the weed in its early stages before it flowers and produces seeds, and curbing it in residential areas using salt water in a 1:4 ratio of salt to water.

The department believes that the weed arrived in Malaysia by way of seeds being carried through imported machinery or in fertiliser.

Among the known affected areas are Kinta, Hulu Perak, Selama, Perak Tengah, Manjung, Kuala Kangsar, Pokok Sena, Hulu Selangor, Kuala Muda, Kota Setar, Seremban and Kuala Pilah.

The DOA’s Plant Biosecurity Division has formed a technical committee on the control, containment and removal of P. hysterophorus that will come up with a standard containment operating procedure and work with state governments to identify and monitor problem areas as well as destroying existing weeds.

State agricultural officers have been briefed on how to deal with the problem while an exercise to identify places where the weed grows is already underway.

Try to avoid contact with killer weed at all costs, says doc
TASHNY SUKUMARAN The Star 10 Dec 14;

PETALING JAYA: Individuals should exercise care with the Parthenium hysterophorus as the weed has asthma and eczema-causing properties.

“If they come into contact with the weed and begin feeling itchy or short of breath, they should immediately take an antihistamine to counter any allergic reaction,” advised Malaysian Medical Association president Dr H. Krishnakumar.

“And be sure to wash your hands or the relevant body parts which had come into contact with the plant,” he added.

Hypersensitive individuals who frequently experience rashes or hayfever should exercise caution when going outdoors by wearing long-sleeved garments.

Dr Krishnakumar said that if severe allergic reactions – such as throat swelling and low blood pressure – were experienced, the victim should go to the hospital immediately.

“Don’t delay. The reaction might cause your airways to become blocked,” he said in outlining some worst case scenarios.

There are over 50 Department of Agriculture officials monitoring P. hysterophorus infestation in Malaysia, which is believed to have spread due to the import of animals from affected countries.

Its visual similarity to ulam raja has also hastened the spread, with landscaping companies using it for decorations.

Parthenium pollen grains have been shown to inhibit tomato, brinjal and beans, among other crops.

The Star revealed yesterday that the plant was slowly encroaching upon grassland in Malaysia, causing allergic reactions in people.

Clearing harmful weeds from Kampung Baru Saga
New Straits Times 29 Nov 14;

SEREMBAN: The state Agriculture Department has begun to weed out the highly toxic Santa Maria Feverfew proliferating in Kampung Baru Saga, Rantau, near here.

Its director Mustafa Umar said some 10 officers from the department were tasked to manually pull out the noxious weed to prevent it from becoming a public hazard.

The department sprayed weedkiller on Nov 11 and 20 on the grass before it started on its latest operations.

The Santa Maria Feverfew, scientifically known as Parthenium hysterophorus, is known to cause allergic reactions in humans and those who come into contact with the plant often experience dermatitis and repository illnesses.

The toxic weed is also known to be harmful to cattle and domestic animals.

“We began a two-hour operation to uproot the weed which was growing along the main road of the kampung,” he said.

Last Monday, Harian Metro reported that the weed, which had been thriving in the village, caused severe rashes on the hands and feet of resident S. Kaliammah, 63, after she came into contact with it.

Mustafa said the weeds were removed in plastic bags before being burnt at a field in the village.

Although the plants were pulled out, Mustafa said the department had provided weedkiller to some 570 residents to spray around the area, including their own compounds.

The state Health Department and the state Veterinary Department would brief the villagers on methods to handle the plant to prevent any allergic reactions.

Village head S. Ravi, 47, said he was grateful to the authorities for their swift action in removing the weeds.

“We have distributed flyers about the dangers and methods to handle the weed to the locals,” he said recently. By Khairul Najib Asarulah

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Indonesia: ‘We’re Victims, Too,’ Says Riau Pulp & Paper Executive

Blame Game: The head of pulp and paper giant April’s Riau unit says regulators too responsive to NGOs; should weaken peat protections
Kennial Caroline Laia Jakarta Globe 10 Dec 14;

Singapore. The top executive at the Riau subsidiary of Indonesia’s second-largest pulp and paper giant, Asia Pacific Resources International Limited, says that although he’s willing to talk about the environmental damage his company has been accused of causing, environmental groups have never extended an invitation for dialogue — and that the government needs to loosen regulations for preserving peatland, restricting its development, if his industry is to thrive.

Kusnan Rahmin, president director of Riau Andalan Pulp & Paper (RAPP) says his company is all for a dialogue to find solutions for Riau’s fires, adding that there should be more progressive communication among stakeholders.

“We are open to talk about fires in Riau,” Kusnan said in Singapore last Thursday. “We’re open to any cooperation for solving fire problems in the area with any stakeholders — be it government, local and international nongovernmental organizations, or communities living in the area.”

While RAPP may be, in its top executive’s words, “open to any cooperation,” Kusnan has made clear what kind of cooperation he’d like to see: a regulatory process that favors his company and weakens environmental standards.

“We need a lot of support from the government in the form of regulations, infrastructure and the environment, because the government needs to support plantation companies like us,” Kusnan said, as quoted by news portal

“Support pulp and paper, not just the NGOs that exist to protest; [until now] if an NGO says ‘moratorium,’ the [government] directly [obliges] with a moratorium.”

One of the laws Kusnan complains inhibits the growth of Indonesia’s pulp and paper industry is regulation (peraturan pemerintah) number 71 on peatland management, which came onto the books in 2014.

That regulation establishes standard criteria for assessing peatland degradation: If the groundwater in the area is more than 40 centimeters below the peat’s surface and/or quartz or other sediments beneath the peat layer are exposed, the ecosystem is considered damaged, triggering possible penalties. The regulation also imposes a strict liability standard for those responsible for peatlands found to be damaged — for example by excess drainage or fire — and requires concession holders to conduct an environmental impact analysis before developing peatland areas.

Kusnan says his company plans to approach the Forestry Ministry about weakening or otherwise revising the regulation, which he believes was developed without consulting his industry.

“We have never been invited to any dialogues by those institutions who campaign for a clean environment, especially the latest one,” Kusnan said, referring to President Joko Widodo’s recent visit to Sungai Tohor village in Riau’s Meranti Islands, which has been severely affected by peat fires.

During his visit, Joko symbolically installed a water gate on a drainage canal surrounding a plot of peatland in Sungai Tohor. The president pledged to act against forest fires and prioritize people’s interests in finding solutions to fires on the island.

The Jakarta Globe could identify at least two corporations operating in the immediate vicinity of the site Joko visited: Lestari Unggul Makmur, which is affiliated with April’s Riau unit, RAPP; and Nasional Sago Prima, a subsidiary of Sampoerna Agro.

Kusnan denies claims that RAPP or agents acting on the company’s behalf have excessively drained peatland in Riau or intentionally set it ablaze to clear land for monoculture plantations.

“I have to confirm that we must be foolish to ignite fires in peatland or in forest. We don’t do that. In fact, how could we burn down land where we are operating? Our workers, our families, our assets are all there,” Kusnan said.

Watchdog group Eyes on the Forest is among those who dispute Kusnan’s claim.

“In June and October 2014, [Eyes on the Forest] visited the southern part of [RAPP’s Pulau Padang, Riau] concession and observed the company clearing forest, stacking newly cut natural forest logs and constructing canals to drain the peat for plantation development and to transport the natural forest logs to April’s pulp mill in Pangkalan Kerinci,” the group said in a report published on Dec. 1.

The Jakarta Globe’s requests to respond to these specific allegations were not returned as of press time.

RAPP disputed similar conclusions by a Greenpeace Indonesia report in July that found the company’s development of deep peatland areas in the same concession violated both government regulations and April’s own sustainable forest management policy. The company argued that it had met its obligations by completing an environmental impact study beforehand.

Kusnan said he and his company share a similar sense of victimhood as Riau’s residents, who complain of respiratory ailments from the peat fires’ persistent smoke and declining quality of the sago they grow.

“I have to say that we are also victims of these forest fires,” Kusnan says. “We felt a bit disappointed with the one-sided opinion in various media that often blame corporations as fully responsible for Riau’s fires.”

While the pulp and paper executive’s claim to victimhood might not sit too well with Riau residents — who during Joko’s visit were the ones accusing corporate concession-holders of intentionally degrading the peatland, and not the media — Kusnan insists he’s open to hearing from everyone.

“[We] actually welcome every stakeholder to talk with us,” Kusnan said. “Be it government or private organizations, we are pleased for criticism. Show us our mistakes and we will try as best as we can to fix it. Should there any lack of [comprehension toward the environment], we are also open for [any] education whatsoever.”

Much like the regulatory “cooperation” Kusnan hopes to see soon, the RAPP chief expressed a clear preference for the terms of the dialogue he would like to have: his own, no claims of responsibility attached.

“But it’s not the time for blaming each other,” Kusnan says. “It’s time for solutions. We fully understand that fires and drained peatland in Riau have become beyond bad. So, let’s cooperate to put out the fires.”

Zenzi Suhaidi, campaign manager for the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), says he’s skeptical about corporations’ willingness or ability to communicate, citing what he says is an absence of outreach when they take over communities’ land.

“What happens in the field is that many corporations forcibly take over land from people,” Zenzi says. “Some communities have opposed handing over their land, but some corporations strain themselves to take it, leading to irresponsible actions.”

Kusnan has said his company has taken responsible actions by funding community fire management training.

“We are one of the companies that is active in educating farmers to clear land via sustainable alternatives instead of using fire. We have disbursed $6 million for fire management training in communities where we are operating,” Kusnan says.

But Zenzi says that’s not enough, and emphasized that his group has no plans to participate in dialogues with the company about solving Riau’s fire and haze problem. “Walhi mostly does its work according to people’s mandate, where the problem is rooted,” Zenzi said. “Walhi doesn’t work with corporations.”

Dialogue would be a wasted effort to Wahli, Zenzi says, since his group is clear on its solution: The government is fully responsible for issuing licenses to corporations, and this, he argues, is the root cause of forest and peatland destruction in Riau.

“The government has to ensure the area that is supposed to be owned by people is given back to people,” Zenzi says.

According to a document obtained by the Jakarta Globe, corporations have acquired more than 10 million hectares of forest over the last 10 years. Between 2007 and 2011, 14 million operating licenses were issued to forest, palm and mining firms.

But according Kusnan, only 5.5 million hectares have so far been planted. “That 10 million hectares has not yet been fully developed,” he said. It appears, then, that growing pains may be unavoidable — either for industry or environment, or both.

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Indonesia: Wild tiger attacks cattle in Langkat, North Sumatra

Antara 9 Dec 14;

Langkat, N Sumatra (ANTARA News) - A Sumatran Tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) reportedly trespassed and preyed on cattle belonging to the local residents of a village in Bahorok Sub-district, Langkat District, North Sumatra Province.

Head of Section V of Bahorok Sub-district Pabel Turnip stated here on Tuesday that the local residents have filed a report regarding the tiger attack.

Due to the dwindling numbers of natural prey in its habitat in Mount Leuser National Park, the tiger was aggressively hunting for food in the local village.

"In fact, the local people are raising their cattle in the area within the tigers hunting corridor, and this has driven the tiger down to the residential area in Bahorok," Turnip explained.

Moreover, Turnip urged the local residents to change their cattle-raising method by avoiding the tigers zone to prevent further incidents.

Therefore, the local authority has set up a restriction zone for local residents in the area around the tigers habitat.

In the meantime, a local ranger Jhon Purba said that he and his unit were armed to stand guard round-the-clock at the location.

Purba stated that the CCTV footage of the Mount Leuser National Park Agency revealed the activity of the tiger in the habitat. Tourists and tourist guides have been advised to abstain from visiting the location as the situation is not conducive.

The carcass of the cattle was still lying at the outskirts of the forest.

"We want the carcass to be dragged by the tiger into the forest," Purba noted, adding that no one should come near the area because if the tiger detects human scent, it will get distracted and will ignore the carcass.(*)

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Underestimating the ocean: new evidence from IUCN highlights the carbon-regulating capacity of the ocean

IUCN 9 Dec 14;

Gland, Switzerland, 9 December 2014 – Protecting key carbon-absorbing areas of the ocean and conserving fish and krill stocks are critical for tackling climate change. This is one of the findings of a report released today by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in which top marine scientists describe how atmospheric carbon is captured, stored and moves in the ocean.

The report, The Significance and Management of Natural Carbon Stores in the Open Ocean, underlines the significant role of the open ocean in absorbing, moving and storing carbon and, for the first time, using the latest science, looks in detail at its role in climate regulation. Over half of all absorbed carbon emissions end up in the ocean. The report suggests poor ocean management practices are putting this vital ecosystem service at risk.

At the heart of this report is the new concept of ‘mobile carbon units’ – animals such as plankton, fish and krill, which provide an important service that must be addressed in ocean management. The report defines the critical role that the food chain plays in basic ocean processes, including those that regulate climate. It also warns that the role of the ocean in storing and managing carbon must now be factored into policy and decision making at all levels.

“The world is at a crossroads in terms of ocean health and climate change,” says the report’s co-editor Dan Laffoley, Vice Chair, IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas. “Neglect the ocean and wonder why our actions are not effective, or manage and restore the ocean to boost food security and reduce the impact of climate change. The choice should be an easy one.”

The ocean is already showing signs of stress, tending to more acidic conditions. It is also warming and holding less oxygen, which in turn is leading to dead zones.

“A sick ocean is one that loses its capacity to support planetary processes. As governments convene for climate talks in Lima in the hopes of getting an international carbon reduction agreement back on the rails, these results highlight the need for immediate action on ocean carbon, ensuring that it is taken into consideration in climate policies,” said Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme.

Diatoms, the microscopic plankton that are a food source for many larger organisms, are estimated to transfer about 150 million tons of carbon per year to the deep ocean (at depths of more than 1,000 metres) – the equivalent carbon capture of about 250,000 square kilometres of restored tropical rainforest (as it grows), or an area the size of the United Kingdom. Krill are believed to capture about 22.8 million tons, but ongoing climate change due to human activities could undermine their carbon removal potential. Sargassum, a golden floating seaweed covering large tracts of the vast Sargasso Sea close to Bermuda, is a carbon sink of regional importance and a critical habitat for a number of endangered species, including turtles and eels.

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Deforestation cuts into climate change goals: TRFN

Chris Arsenault PlanetArk 9 Dec 14;

Mines, palm oil plantations, large farms and mining projects are contributing to an alarming pace of forest destruction, a new report has found, hampering efforts to curb global warming.

Satellite imagery indicates that more than 30,000 hectares of forest are lost daily, said the report "Securing Forests, Securing Rights", launched in Peru on Monday by a coalition of rights groups during international climate change talks.

Forests play a key role in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere; chopping them down worsens global warming.

Over the last decade an average total of 13 million hectares of forest have been cleared annually, with tropical forests particularly affected.

"The expansion of industries like mining, palm oil and agribusiness are the hidden drivers of deforestation," Helen Tugendhat, a coordinator with the Forest Peoples Programme, one of the groups who researched the report, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The report aims to show that indigenous communities who live in the world's forests are often the best custodians of the land for maintaining trees and slowing climate change.

But governments looking to spur economic growth are keen to exploit resources from forested areas, Tugendhat said, often triggering the displacement of indigenous communities.

To allow major projects to proceed, these same states often blame local communities for poorly managing forests in order to access the land and the riches beneath it, she said.

Forests cover 30 percent of the planet's surface and are home to an estimated 350 million indigenous people whose cultures and livelihoods depend upon them.

The report urged companies, governments and consumers to halt the production and trade of commodities derived from deforestation and included case studies from Indonesia, Malaysia, Cameroon, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

More than 10 percent of Malaysia's forests were lost from 2000 to 2012, the world's highest national rate, the report said. The figure is three times higher than that the Malaysian government reported to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, according to the report.

The European Union and China are the main importers of timber from the Democratic Republic of Congo, even though much of this wood is obtained illegally.

"Commercial operations on (DRC) forest lands involve land grabbing and the eviction, forced labor, arbitrary arrest, rape, torture and murder of community members," the report said.

Some countries, however, including Brazil, have achieved notable reductions in rates of deforestation.

(Editing by Ros Russell)

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EU presses for accountability, opening rift at UN climate talks

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 10 Dec 14;

European Union insistence on a right to challenge nations about their plans for fighting climate change, in the run-up to a United Nations summit in 2015, opened a rift at U.N. climate talks in Lima on Monday.

Washington said a review of national pledges for curbing rising greenhouse gas emissions before the U.N. summit in Paris next December was "not fundamental" and Beijing signaled hostility to the idea of letting other nations challenge its policies.

The dispute has big implications for the deal in Paris, which could either be a patchwork of purely national offers to fight climate change beyond 2020, or one where countries and outside observers including green groups are able to challenge and influence the scope of national pledges.

"There should be a process of assessment. That's absolutely imperative," Miguel Arias Canete, European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, told a news conference.

Under a U.N. timetable, about 190 governments have an informal deadline to submit national plans for limiting rising greenhouse gas emissions before March 31, 2015, to give time for a review before the Paris summit.

The European Union, which announced in October that it plans to cuts its emissions by 40 percent by 2030, said the informal deadline made no sense unless it allowed nations to review each others' plans for averting more heatwaves, floods and rising sea levels.

Last month, the United States said it plans to cut its emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, equivalent to 14 to 16 percent below 1990 levels, and China has promised to cap its soaring emissions by around 2030.

China last Friday demanded that all references to any formal review of emission targets should be deleted. But a new draft text for a U.N. decision in Lima, published on Monday, retained the idea of a formal review, requiring for example that countries answer within four weeks questions about their climate pledges.

The United States took a middle path, saying the important issue was to encourage ambition. "The U.S. is perfectly happy to have a consultative process," said Todd Stern, special climate envoy and head of the U.S. delegation.

"We had a concern from the beginning that we didn't want to scare countries off ... The most important part of this idea is sunshine. You encourage countries to be ambitious because they don't want to look bad," Stern said.

If a country receives criticisms, "it's certainly possible that x, y, z country may modify its contribution in some way. It's not fundamental," he added.

Separately, a scientific study on Monday revised down the likely rate of global warming this century but said it was still severe after promises by the three top emitters to limit emissions.

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.

Australia pledges $200 million to Green Climate Fund
Matt Siegel PlanetArk 10 Dec 14;

Australia will contribute A$200 million over four years into a U.N. fund to help poor nations cope with global warming, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Wednesday, despite earlier having said it did not intend to contribute to the fund.

The pledge to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) is the latest in a string of stinging policy reversals for former climate-change skeptic Abbott, whose struggling conservative government has hit record low approval ratings.

"I've made various comments some time ago but as we've seen things develop over the last few months I think it's fair and reasonable for the government to make a modest, prudent and proportionate commitment to this climate mitigation fund," he told reporters in Melbourne.

The money for Australia's contribution to the fund will be allocated from its aid budget, Abbott said, and will officially be announced later today by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru.

The GCF is a major part of a plan agreed in 2009 to raise financial flows to help developing nations tackle climate change, from public and private sources, to $100 billion a year by 2020.

It aims to help emerging economies curb their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to changes such as heatwaves, mudslides and rising sea levels, and is seen as vital to unlock a U.N. climate deal meant to be agreed in late 2015 in Paris.

G20 leaders put an uncomfortable spotlight on climate change at last month's leader's summit in Brisbane despite efforts by host Australia to focus more narrowly on economic growth.

Japan pledged $1.5 billion to the fund during the summit and U.S. President Barack Obama pledged up to $3 billion, putting the fund within sight of its $10 billion goal.

In November, the United States and China set goals for curbing climate change, brightening prospects for Paris even though their promises, including Beijing's plan for a undefined peak in greenhouse gas emissions by around 2030, were vague.

The policy reversal follows Abbott's decision on Tuesday to abandon a plan to radically reshape Australia's universal healthcare system by charging patients a fee to see their doctors.

Despite significant accomplishments this year - concluding free trade deals with Japan, South Korea and China, and hosting the G20 leaders summit - the Labor Party opposition has surged ahead of the government by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent in the latest Newspoll released on Nov. 18.

(Editing by Richard Pullin)

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