Dry spells in first quarter gave rise to more fires last year

ROBIN CHOO Today Online 30 Jan 15;

SINGAPORE — The number of fire incidents last year rose 14.2 per cent, from 4,136 cases in 2013 to 4,724 cases. The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) largely attributed the increase to a spike in vegetation fires during the extended dry spell between January and March last year.

However, there was 2.2 per cent decrease in residential fires to 2,888 cases as compared to 2,952 the year before. This due in part to a fall in number of fires involving discarded items, according to the SCDF today.

The SCDF also noted a 17.5 percent rise in rubbish chute and rubbish bin fires, from 1,289 cases in 2014 to 1,514 cases the year before. It remains the largest category of residential fires, constituting 52.4 per cent of total residential fires.

Meanwhile, the total number of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) calls increased by 3.7 per cent. There were 155,781 calls year, up from 150,155 in 2013. The SCDF attributed the increase to the growing demand for ambulance services from an ageing population.

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Malaysia: Good news from Jane Goodall

TASHNY SUKUMARAN The Star 31 Jan 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: There is just not enough good news out there, believes renowned primatologist Dr Jane Goodall (pic).

To combat this, she will be launching her own blog Jane Goodalls All Good News, beginning this April.

It will be sharing stories of hope.

“When people are depressed or feeling sad, they can go to the blog. That’s my antidote,” she told reporters after giving a talk titled “Reasons for Hope”, organised by Roots and Shoots Malaysia, at Berjaya Times Square Hotel here yesterday.

She also shared her thoughts on the legends of Bigfoot, and China’s Yeren – large apelike creatures that are part of folklore.

“These legends are all over the world,” she said, adding that when she visited Ecuador, she had asked the natives whether they had ever seen a monkey without a tail.

“Three different farmers got word to me saying yes, they had seen a monkey without a tail, and it was six foot tall and walked upright. I am a romantic. I want something to be there!” she said.

The newly launched Roots and Shoots Malaysia is a humanitarian and environmental youth programme founded by Dr Goodall, with the support of Berjaya Youth (B-Youth), a youth empowerment initiative set up by Berjaya Corporation.

During her talk, which captivated hundreds in the audience, Dr Goodall encouraged people to take little steps to better the world, as a collective effort from millions would have a large impact.

“Man is the only creature which destroys its own home,” she said, saying there was a disconnect between humanity’s uniquely intelligent brain and its sense of compassion.

Dr Goodall said she was particularly concerned about the deforestation of tropical rainforests and climate change.

“Often these things come down to people power,” she said.

Dr Goodall said she was often inspired by passionate young people and even CEOs who admitted to making mistakes and putting things right.

After the launch, Roots and Shoots head Jyunichi Washizaki said the NGO was looking into collaborations with organisations such as Kiwanis and a selection of high schools to promote volunteerism in 2015.

A grant of RM500,000 was donated by Tan Sri Vincent Tan through the Better Malaysia Foundation to help out Roots and Shoots.

During his speech, Tan joked that Dr Goodall had inspired him to become a vegetarian and that he found her life’s work extremely impressive.

“Her organisation deserves much more financial support,” he said to applause, later joking with her that her efforts would not make her popular with timber tycoons and oil palm barons.

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Malaysia: Benalec in for the long haul in Tanjung Piai

The Star 31 Jan 15;

BENALEC Holdings Bhd is far from done with its reclamation project in south Johor.

Although it has just received approval to commence reclamation work for Tanjung Piai, it still has some 20 years before the whole project is completed.

Analysts say the next crucial step for Benalec is to secure off takers for the Tanjung Piai site and that would be a catalyst for the counter.

AmResearch’s May Hoy Ken believes Benalec’s “real litmus test” starts now. “With the DEIA (detailed environmental impact assessment) approval now secured, investors’ attention will naturally gravitate towards management’s ability to secure the maiden offtakers for Tanjung Piai,” he says.

According to the Tanjung Piai Maritime website, phase one is 1,000 acres, phase two another 1,000 acres and phase three, the remaining 1,485 acres.

An analyst says some buyers may prefer to see the physical development of the reclaimed land such as the set up of the jetty and the progress of work.

“It is crucial for Benalec to secure an off taker for phase one so that they can proceed with the reclamation work. Otherwise, their cashflow will be very tight,” says the analyst.

Kenanga Research estimates Benalec’s cost of reclamation at RM30 to RM35 per sq ft while CIMB Research assumes it will be RM52 per sq ft. Based on a cost assumption of RM30 per sq ft, it takes RM1.3mil to reclaim one acre and RM130mil to reclaim 100 acres.

However, the analyst points out that lower crude oil prices may bring down Benalec’s cost of reclamation because diesel, which accounts for some 20% of the overall cost.

On Tuesday, Benalec announced that it received the approval from the Department of Environment to commence reclamation work for its 1,410ha Tanjung Piai integrated petroleum and petrochemical hub and maritime industrial park in the Straits of Johor.

In its filing with Bursa Malaysia, the company said its 70%-owned subsidiary Spektrum Kukuh Sdn Bhd and Perbadanan Setiausaha Kerajaan Johor received the approval that came with several conditions.

One being that phase one of the proposed project includes the construction of an oil terminal, the construction of a jetty and a bridge linking the island to the mainland and dredging.

Also, the approval is valid for a two-year timeframe.

It is understood that Benalec has already begun work on the project, ahead of analysts’ expectations of work starting in February.

Mak says Benalec is in the midst of finalising its funding options to kick-start reclamation works, which he believes could involve around 100 acres to 200 acres initially.

“As at Sept 30, 2014, the group was in a healthy net cash position of around RM48mil. Furthermore, there are about RM312mil worth of land sales (173 acres) with SPAs (sales and purchase agreements) to be progressively recognised over the next three financial years,” he says.

More importantly though, the company has crossed a major milestone in the group’s quest to reposition Tanjung Piai as a future oil hub, he adds.

Tanjung Piai’s deep water depth and close proximity to the Jurong Petrochemical Hub puts it in a prime position to tap into spillover demand for oil storage from the various MNCs that are currently operating in Singapore, Mak adds.

CIMB says Benalec signed a development agreement with the state of Johor some two years ago, which gave the company the right to reclaim land at two sites in south Johor, namely Tanjung Piai for 20 years and Pengerang for 10 years.

Assuming that the average reclamation cost is RM52 per sq ft, a fair RM65 per sq ft selling price, and that works begin in 2015, Benalec could stand to gain RM566mil in net profit over five years, says CIMB.

“This is equivalent to double the group’s 2015 forecasted net profit. Our RNAV (revised net asset value) estimate factors in outstanding reclamation works in Malacca and potential new reclamation works representing just 20% of Tanjung Piai’s 1,000-acre,” says CIMB.

The research house is optimistic on Benalec’s chances to regain some lost ground in the long-delayed land reclamation contracts in south Johor.

However, all eyes are on the still-pending land sale of 1,000 acres of reclaimed land to 1MY Strategic Oil Terminal Sdn Bhd (1MYSOT). The 1MYSOT deal is for the reclamation and sale of 1,000 acres in Tanjung Piai for the construction and operations of a crude oil and petroleum storage facility together with a private jetty.

“The binding term sheet has been extended by an additional six months expiring June 11. While waiting for the terms and conditions of the sale and purchase agreement with 1MYSOT to be finalised, we expect Benalec to continue discussions on the sale of other parcels of land to be reclaimed with potential buyers while initial works commence,” says Affin Hwang Capital.

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Indonesia: Group Urges End in Trading of Indonesia’s Endangered Primates

Dyah Ayu Pitaloka Jakarta Globe 30 Jan 15;

Jakarta. Environmental group Protection of Forest and Fauna, or ProFauna, celebrated Indonesian Primate Day on Thursday with a nationwide campaign advocating for an end to the trade of primates in Indonesia, particularly those that are endangered.

The group said three protected primates are widely traded as pets in Indonesia, mainly through online forums and chatrooms: the Javan slow loris (Nycticebus javanicus), the Javan lutung (Trachypithecus auratus) and the silvery gibbon (Hylobates moloch).

All three “are popular with buyers because they are considered cute,” ProFauna spokesman Swasti Prawidya Mukti said.

The Javan slow loris is listed as “critically endangered” by International Union for Conservation of Nature due to rapidly declining habitat and poaching.

The same organization listed the Javan lutung as vulnerable and the silvery gibbon as endangered.

The three species is protected by law, but this has done little to actually protect them, Swasti said, such as enforcement of poaching laws.

“The trade [in protected primates] is no longer done in markets, but has moved online,” she said, adding that the primates are usually sold as babies, and often had their teeth clipped by poachers; adults, particularly lorises, can be quite aggressive.

Protected primates usually fetch between Rp 3 million and Rp 5 million ($240 and $400) online, while non-protected one like the long-tailed macaques sell for around
Rp 300,000.

ProFauna has lobbied several major online forums in Indonesia to ban users from trading endangered species, with mixed results.

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Millions of poor farmers to benefit from new type of insurance: study

Chris Arsenault PlanetArk 30 Jan 15;

Millions of poor farmers to benefit from new type of insurance: study Photo: R Narendra
Farmers winnow paddy crops at a field in Gudem Kotha Veedhi village in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh January 20, 2015.
Photo: R Narendra

Governments from Mongolia to Nigeria are creating new forms of insurance to protect the developing world's small farmers, who are suffering especially badly from extreme weather events made worse by global warming, a new study said.

Obstacles like poor infrastructure and lack of financing have been partly overcome in several countries, and insurance is now available to millions of small farmers, said the study released on Wednesday by Columbia University and the research group Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

More farmers are able to obtain coverage than before due to a switch to index insurance from traditional indemnity insurance, where the size of payouts is based on specific losses faced by a client.

The new index model allows farmers to buy insurance so they receive a payout if the amount of rainfall in a given period increases or decreases beyond acceptable levels, or if average crop yields in a certain region drop below an acceptable level.

It was not viable for traditional insurers to assess and cover many small farms with low margins, as it was not worthwhile to investigate claims, the study said.

"This shift could change the lives of millions of smallholder farmers across the globe, who face increasingly erratic weather due to a changing climate," Dan Osgood, a Columbia University professor who co-authored the study, said in a statement.

Mongolia, for example, has adopted an index insurance system for livestock, linking more than 15,000 nomadic herders to commercial insurance and a government disaster safety net.

In India, where more than half the population is employed in agriculture, rainfall variations account for more than 50 percent of the fluctuations in crop yields, the study said.

Weather-based insurance, currently used by more than 12 million farmers, offers a crucial cushion to protect them against financial collapse due to crop failure.

In Nigeria, more than 6 million farmers will be benefiting from one crop insurance plan by the end of this year, said senior agricultural ministry official Débísí Àràbà.

The scheme allows farmers to buy insurance for the equivalent of $2.50 and offers a payout of up to $100 if their crops are destroyed by fires, floods or other disasters.

Government officials need to physically assess damage to crops in order for farmers to receive a payout under the current plan, he said, but the state is trying to move that process onto the internet.

"We want to improve the technology so farmers can take a picture of their (damaged) crops and send it in," Àràbà told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"We want to reduce the overhead costs of transactions and create greater private sector involvement... so farmers have access to the widest possible sweep of insurance products."

(Reporting By Chris Arsenault; Editing by Tim Pearce)

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Best of our wild blogs: 30 Jan 15

Sand and a sargassum sea
from The Long and Winding Road

Homefarm as the next generation of retirement housing in Singapore
from Green Drinks Singapore

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Forest City: Healthy foreign investment or blight on Iskandar?

Go-ahead for project once again raises spectre of real estate glut in south Johor
Anita Gabriel Business Times 30 Jan 15;

THE winds of change will soon blow over the quaint laid-back villages with their wooden jetties dotted with fish cages. The area, located in the southwest of Johor Bahru, is where mostly fishermen families have lived for over 30 years.

From this, the mega development Forest City will rise. To be built over nearly 2,000 hectares - four-fifths of that on reclaimed land - straddling decades, the iconic project is led by one of China's biggest developers, Country Garden Holdings, with the backing of the Sultan of Johor.

Understandably, the native residents will be upset over the bursts of activity in their sleepy town and potential loss of livelihood, as construction hurt water quality and marine life.

According to insiders, the grandiose project will be "very high end" with spacious luxurious villas, complete with Versace and Armani furnishings and dazzling water features (think Dubai's Palm Islands).

"Every island will stand out as a key destination. If Country Garden can market the project as a fantastic place to invest and go to, then won't it be fantastic for Iskandar?" said a top executive of a firm with projects in the Iskandar area.

But not everyone shares that view; such mammoth projects rolling out in quick succession has turned investors wary of Iskandar, Malaysia's bustling southern growth corridor, now noticeably beset with big over-crowding concerns.

Two weeks ago, the tense wait ended for this lofty project, with a gross development value of RM600 billion (S$223.4 billion) involving four man-made islands from 58 hectares to over 1,000 hectares - twice the size of Sentosa island; the developer received the green light to go ahead from the Malaysian authorities following a detailed environmental study on the project that is located close to Singapore's Second Link.

Last June, the developer stopped work that had begun six months earlier - by then, 40 per cent of the reclamation work under the first phase was already done - after Singapore expressed concerns over the project's transboundary impact and sought more details from Malaysia.

To date, Singapore has yet to receive any official response on the detailed environmental study from Malaysia.

This is not the only project that has stirred concerns between the neighbouring countries, whose ties have greatly warmed in recent years.

At the Causeway, a waterfront and "marine lifestyle" development is set to substantially alter Johor Bahru's skyline. Led by Hong Kong-listed Guangzhou R&F Properties; this Tanjung Puteri project sits on 47 hectares, two-thirds of which involve two plots of reclaimed land on either side of the Causeway.

The brakes were also slammed on this project last June after two months of work had begun pending a detailed environmental study and more recently, early this year, it received the nod to proceed.

While Tanjung Puteri is dwarfed by the Forest City project, it is a startling 290 metres from the Malaysia-Singapore international border, as disclosed in the project's environmental impact assessment report.

These mega projects have also sparked worries in the real estate market, which may weaken the allure of Iskandar and its sound business proposition as a hinterland to Singapore.

The massive overbuilding by gung-ho Chinese developers, coupled with the property curbs in Malaysia, have raised some red flags for Iskandar real estate.

Property prices are sliding, with Johor's house price index falling 2.8 per cent in the third quarter of last year, the first decline since 2012's first quarter, says an analyst, who expects prices to stay weak over the medium term.

That's getting hard to stomach, particularly for local property developers such as UEM Sunrise, one of Malaysia's largest property firms and land owners in Iskandar, which has deferred its high-rise launches in Nusajaya - one of five flagship zones in Iskandar - and slashed internal sales projections on the back of the anticipated supply glut.

Not all are naysayers. From the foreign direct investment lens, some say it augurs well for the state and by extension Malaysia that China investments are rising at a healthy clip.

But they warn that these big developments need to be part of a well-crafted and coordinated big-picture policy; anything less could prove too much of a risk for Iskandar, whose success in recent years after a slow start from its 2006 inception was touted as a handsome showcase of Malaysia's transformation efforts.

This is more so as real estate has become Iskandar's centrepiece, pulling in some 40 per cent of total investment dollars poured into the economic zone, which is deemed still in the early stage of a rapid build-up with footfall still far from the desired critical mass.

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Haze a major concern for SEA Games

LOW LIN FHOONG Today Online 29 Jan 15;

SINGAPORE — Haze will be a major concern for organisers of the 28th SEA Games in Singapore, particularly if conditions reach the same levels as in June 2013, when the Pollutant Standards Index hit a record high of 401 — which is considered hazardous.

To mitigate the risk of haze wreaking havoc on the June 5 to 16 Games schedule, outdoor events such as athletics’ 20km walk and marathon, and the triathlon at Orchard Road and East Coast Park have been scheduled earlier in the Games period to allow for them to be rescheduled and held later if the haze hits.

“We are very concerned because haze is an uncontrollable factor and it will affect the whole mood and sense of celebration,” said Mr Lim Teck Yin, executive committee chairman of the Singapore SEA Games Organising Committee (SINGSOC) yesterday.

“It not only affects the athletes but the spectators who are exposed to the haze. Our benchmark here is to complete 75 per cent of all events if we are hit by haze to declare a successfully conducted Games. We have to work with the SEA Games Federation and technical delegates, and we have done our homework in event scheduling. In that scenario (where 75 per cent is not completed), we are left with no choice but to say the Games must conclude and we will convene in two years’ time.”

But Mr Lim said cloud seeding — a form of weather modification used for the 2008 Beijing Olympics that disperses substances into the air to increase rain — to reduce air pollution will not be used during the SEA Games. The region, particularly Malaysia and Singapore, is affected annually by the haze caused by forest fires in neighbouring Indonesia, and Mr Lim said there is little they can do except to ride out the situation.

He added: “While we have some level of control over contingency planning of competition schedules, we really hope those who have a position to influence this will do the necessary.”

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Participants at consultation session discuss ways to battle dengue

Alice Chia Channel NewsAsia 29 Jan 15;

SINGAPORE: There were a total of 243 dengue cases from Jan 18 to 24 this year, which is an improvement from the peak of 898 cases seen in the first week of July last year.

However, Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who was speaking at a consultation session organised by the ministry on Thursday (Jan 29), said he felt more can be done, especially at construction sites. Last year, mosquitoes were found breeding in 7.5 per cent of such sites. There were 88 dengue clusters associated with construction sites, with an average of 32 cases per cluster.

Participants at the consultation session suggested improving hygiene standards at the sites. Other topics discussed included the option of releasing mosquitoes infected with a particular bacterium Wolbachia, as a method to control the mosquito population.

This was mooted by the Government last year, and a panel of international and local experts appointed by the National Environment Agency supported the use of this method in Singapore.

They also recommended careful selection of the bacteria strain to use, a concern shared by participants at the session.

Associate Professor Vernon Lee from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore, said: "The strain has to be suited to the local environment. We want it to be able to compete with the existing mosquito population, so that it can actually then suppress the mosquito population locally."

Punggol South Women's Executive Committee member, Ms Khong Sow Cheng, said: "It is quite technical. I am in a grassroots organisation, so we are wondering how it can be possible to make it simpler to inform the public about all these things, because it is something very new and in the scientific books. We are quite afraid that it may be doing something harmful to the environment."

She also said that it might be good to set up a booth at public or community events and have scientists and experts to explain the new technology.

The Environmental Health Institute, under the National Environment Agency, is looking into setting up a research consortium for further studies into the use of Wolbachia.

An assessment will also be done on the impact of the use of such technology to suppress dengue, and this will be facilitated by independent consultants.

Following the session on Thursday, Dr Balakrishnan said in a post on his Facebook page that there is still much work to be done.

"We agreed on the need for a multi-pronged approach, including vector control, eradication of breeding sites, and protection of vulnerable people, public education and vaccination when the vaccines are proven to be safe.

"We will also have to conduct more trials, share data with the scientists and carefully consider interventions like Wolbachia to reduce the mosquito population."

The ministry will take into account the participants' views in its speech for the Committee of Supply debate, which will take place in March. During the session, the Singapore Parliament will discuss the estimated budgets of the ministries and their plans for the financial year.

About 25 people, including academics, doctors and community leaders, attended the session on Thursday. The consultation was the third in five sessions, to gather feedback from the public on various environmental issues.

- CNA/xk

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Malaysia: Dengue cases 65pc higher than last year

AZURA ABAS New Straits Times 28 Jan 15;

PUTRAJAYA: A total of 8,502 dengue cases were reported in the country for the first three weeks of this year compared to 5,141 cases for the same period last year, an increase of 65 per cent.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said he was worried this could be an indicator that the dengue situation this year could be far worse than last year.

"We urge everyone from the public to the medical practitioners to be vigilant by taking all the necessary measures to check the matter," he told reporters after a meeting to discuss on dengue today.

Dr Subramaniam also called on all medical practitioners in the private sector to treat all cases as dengue cases until they were proven otherwise.

This must be done, he added, because private clinics or hospitals had failed to detect 99 per cent of dengue cases of patients who came to seek treatment on their first visit.

Dengue cases take turn for the worse

KUALA LUMPUR: The number of dengue cases at Hospital Kuala Lumpur, the oldest and most-visited hospital in the country, has not only risen but become more severe.

Its internal medicine physician Dr Saiful Safuan Md Sani said there had been an increase of about 20% of dengue patients at the hospital.

Seven dengue patients with encephalitis had also been admitted in the past month, with four of them dying compared to an average of only one or two such cases a year.

“We do not know yet why patients are suffering a more severe dengue infection. They should seek treatment immediately if they suffer from vomiting, persistent abdominal pains, lethargy like being unable to get out of bed, and any bleeding,” he advised.

He said that since late 2013, HKL had between 80 and 100 dengue patients at any one time but in the past month, the number had shot up to 150 patients on some days, with an average increase of about 20%.

Since Monday, HKL has opened up two bigger wards for dengue patients, while the current wards were being used as spill-over cases from the bigger wards, he said.

“We are also adding a few canvas and trolley beds as back-up and should the need arise, we will put patients in general wards,” he added.

Dr Saiful said people must ensure that potential mosquito breeding places in their surroundings were cleaned up.

Health deputy director-general Datuk Dr S. Jeyaindran said the ministry had increased 55% of the capacity for beds in the past week for dengue patients, from 408 to 639.

On Wednesday, Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said one factor for the spike in cases and deaths was the shift in the dominant dengue serotype, which occurred last August, from DEN-2 to DEN-1.

From Jan 1 to 24, the Health Ministry reported 8,502 dengue cases nationwide, an increase of 65% or 3,361 cases compared with the same period last year (5,141 cases).

Foreign workers make up one third of HKL dengue patients
The Star 30 Jan 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Migrant workers seeking treatment at Hospital Kuala Lumpur in recent days made up one-third of the dengue patients at its wards.

Its internal medicine physician Dr Saiful Safuan Md Sani said the workers were mostly Indonesian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Nepalese.

“Whether locals or foreigners, the patients at HKL tend to come from crowded neighbourhoods,” he said.

The Malaysian Employers Fede­ration called on its members to provide proper housing for foreign workers and teach them good hygiene.

Its executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan said foreign workers should not be made to live in makeshift quarters with no proper facilities.

“If their workers are unhygienic, dengue could spread among them, affecting productivity and profits,” he reminded employers

There should also be better waste management at construction sites to prevent the spread of disease, he said.

“There are often piles of rubbish left at these sites which attract flies, while pools of stagnant water make it easy for mosquitoes to breed.

“Employers need to teach their workers about proper hygiene and how to look after their workplace and accomodations,” he added.

On Sunday, Deputy Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahaya said 3,000 new dengue cases were recorded nationwide in the past week, with 1,000 being in Selangor.

Selangor Mentri Besar Azmin Ali said the administration had been proactive in fighting the disease.

“We initiated the Terjah dan Musnah (Ambush and Destroy) anti-aedes campaign in areas with a high number of dengue cases,” he said after attending an event at the Tengku Ampuan Jemaah Mosque in Bukit Jelutong here.

Azmin said the problem should be addressed collectively by both the state and federal governments.

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Indonesia: Jokowi Folds Emissions Agency BP REDD+ Into Forestry Ministry

Basten Gokkon and Adelia Anjani Putri Jakarta Globe 29 Jan 15;

Jakarta. President Joko Widodo has disbanded Indonesia’s BP REDD+ agency, which was established in 2013 to help the country meet greenhouse gas emission targets from deforestation, and merged it with Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

The decision, which was issued via Presidential Decree No. 16/2015 issued on Jan. 23, will see the Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) Management Body, as well as the National Council on Climate Change, folded into the ministry.

Both agencies are peak government bodies whose role is crucial to halting Indonesia’s rapid deforestation rates and mitigating climate change.

“The task and function of reducing greenhouse emissions conducted by BP REDD+ as stated in Presidential Decree No. 62/2003 now will be integrated as the ministry’s task and function,” Article 59 of the decree said.

There was no elaboration on the technical arrangements, but the decree said that the authority would be given to minister Siti Nurbaya.

BP REDD+ was founded in 2013 by then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as part of Indonesia’s $1 billion REDD deal with Norway.

In 2009, Indonesia pledged to cut deforestation rates — which are estimated to be some of the fastest in the world — by up to 41 percent by 2020. A year later Indonesia signed a letter of intent with Norway, which outlined Indonesia’s commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and degradation of peatland, in exchange for payments of up to $1 billion from Norway.

BP REDD took over from the REDD+ Task Force, which was established in 2010, and has since worked on Indonesia’s REDD+ planning, including projects such as the One Map initiative — a centralized forestry map, which is aimed resolving conflicting land claims that have hampered emissions reductions targets.

The decision to disband the agency has met a mixed response from some within Indonesia, but Norway’s ambassador to Indonesia Stig Traavik took a cautious tone when contacted on Thursday.

He said it was natural for a new government to want to “manage things their own way” and Norway was open to some changes.

When asked whether he thought Joko was serious about Indonesia’s environmental pledge, he replied the two countries had a long partnership on climate issues and he was confident things would progress.

“We have heard about the decision but not in detail. The main thing now is how to reach the goal together,” Traavik said.

Abetnego Tarigan, executive director at the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, said for certain issues the merger could be positive.

“The previous president formed BP REDD+ with the help of the Norwegian embassy as a debottlenecking attempt in the efforts of solving environmental issues in Indonesia,” he said.

“However, the problems have been that the ministries were not working well because they couldn’t work hand in hand.”

Abetnego said what was important was whether efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions were effective.

“If merging BP REDD+ was an attempt to kill it all … I think that would be a colossal mistake,” he said.

“With the merger, the assumption is that there wouldn’t be any difficulties in solving environmental issues, as the ministry is a big institution and also has regional units in many areas.”

William Sabandar, former deputy of operations at BP REDD+, was less affirmative about the decision.

“This is how I see it as a former deputy of BP REDD+. What’s certain is that the presidential decree violates the agreement between the Indonesian government with the Norwegian government which is stated in the Letter of Intent in 2010.”

He said it was sad to see that the merger had not been considered thoroughly in terms of its local, national and international effects.

“The international dimension would be how they would consider Indonesia’s important role in the global climate change movement.

“The national dimension is how serious we are in boosting the country’s forest and land management across the archipelago.

“The local dimension is the BP REDD+’s role in involving the society and boosting welfare.”

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Most of Hawaii's coral recover from mass bleaching

AUDREY McAVOY Associated Press Yahoo News 29 Jan 15;

HONOLULU (AP) — Coral rely on algae for food and their survival.

So when the stress of warmer-than-average ocean temperatures prompted many of Hawaii's corals to expel algae last year — a phenomenon called bleaching because coral lose their color when they do this — many were worried they might die.

Now the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources says most of the bleached corals have recovered. It plans to announce the result of its coral surveys on Thursday.

Even so, scientists say the experience weakened the coral, making them more likely to get sick. It's also going to be harder for them to withstand warm temperatures in the future.

The incident is a blow to the state's fragile reefs, which are already under pressure from runoff from development, overfishing and recreational use of the ocean.

Coral reefs are a critical part of the ecosystem, and their health is vital to the ocean environment. Coral cover just one-tenth of the ocean floor but are home to 25 percent of known marine species. Some fish eat coral, others hide from predators in them. Some species use coral as nursery grounds. Some types of shark will frequent coral reefs.

Mark Eakin, the coordinator the Coral Reef Watch program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said coral bleaching demonstrates that "climate change isn't something of the distant future."

Kaneohe Bay on Oahu's east side suffered the most serious bleaching in the state, which is home to 15 percent of all coral under U.S. jurisdiction. Seventy-five percent of the dominant coral species there lost some color or turned completely white.

Subsequent studies after waters cooled showed 12 percent of the bay's bleached coral died, said Anne Rosinski, a marine resource specialist with the state Division of Aquatic Resources.

The remainder regained some color and have been recovering. The coral were weakened to begin with after being covered by runoff from flooding. Then after the bleaching, a boat propeller destroyed some of the coral, she said.

Most bleached corals off Maui and Kauai have also recovered.

The state is trying to do what it can to eliminate other stresses on the coral so they'll be in better shape to survive warmer temperatures, Rosinski said.

"I just worry how much the corals can take," she said.

There's even bleaker news expected from an isolated atoll about 1,000 miles northwest of Honolulu.

Lisianski Island, which is part of a national marine preserve, suffered months of warmer-than-normal waters over the summer. Researchers visiting in the fall observed some bleaching, but the area is so remote scientists haven't been able to return to check on them since even though temperatures were high there for weeks afterward.

"We're expecting when they go back there's going to be a lot of dead coral," Eakin said.

Eakin recalled diving on a reef in Thailand after most of the coral there died after a 2010 mass bleaching event. He said the fish were hanging out in the water not knowing what to do.

"Severe bleaching events are like a blight that goes through and kills all the trees in the forest," he said.

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World's cities experiencing more heatwaves, study shows

Number of extremely hot days a year has increased in hundreds of cities since the 1970s years, with frequencies peaking in the last five years
John Vidal The Guardian 30 Jan 15;

World cities are experiencing more heatwaves and fewer cold spells, according to a study of extreme temperatures in hundreds of urban areas over the past 40 years. It found that many cities are seeing fewer extremely windy days than in the 1970s and have more extremely hot individual days and nights.

The climate researchers from US and Indian universities identified 620 of the world’s urban areas with a population over 250,000 and then chose 217 which were situated close to an international weather station with rainfall, wind and temperature records stretching back to 1973.

They found that four of the five years with the most heatwaves had occurred since 2009. They were experienced mostly in Africa, East Asia, Europe and North America.

“The number of extremely hot days increased significantly at most sites [over the 40 years]. However, a few urban areas in East Asia showed significant declining trends. Only 2% of the urban areas experienced significant declines in the frequency of extreme hot days,” said the authors.

“Extremely windy days declined substantially during the last 40 years with significant declines in about 60% in the urban areas,” said the authors, who defined heatwaves as periods of at least six days where the daily maximum temperature was hotter than 99% of days since 1973.

The results, published in Environmental Research Letters, also showed a significant decline in six-day or longer cold spells. Around 17% of urban areas were found to have experienced a significant increase in daily rainfall and 10% experienced a significant increase in annual maximum precipitation.

“Our results show significant increases in heat waves and the number of hot days and warm nights, and at the same time declines in cold waves and extreme windy days in many urban areas over the last 40 years. We also find that the number of changes in precipitation extremes was modest, which is somewhat surprising as our previous work showed a predominance of increases in precipitation extremes in major US urban areas,” said lead research author Vimal Mishra from the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar.

“Urban areas make up a relatively small part of the global land area; but they are the centre of wealth, so damage to urban infrastructure could result in potentially large economic losses,” he said.

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Best of our wild blogs: 29 Jan 15

Love MacRitchie Walks in 2015
from Toddycats!

Coastal works at Changi and Pulau Ubin
from wild shores of singapore

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Study to suss out air pollutants here

Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 29 Jan 15;

Singapore is planning to start a comprehensive study of its key air pollutants so it can understand how to better manage them.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) has asked for proposals for a 14-month project to develop an emissions inventory of several air pollutants, including sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter.

The study will look at all land-based sources including motor vehicles, power stations, refineries, waste incinerators and gas stations, aircraft emissions, transboundary sources and even natural sources such as sea spray.

The pollution in 2013 will be used as the base year, and this will be calculated using information such as the vehicle population, typical distances travelled, fuel type used and a review of historical air quality data.

NEA said in tender documents that the new inventory must be detailed and flexible enough that it can be used to model how emissions would change if factors such as air pollution control equipment, fuel type, aircraft flight paths and the motor vehicle fleet composition are changed.

The inventory will also be used to "prioritise air pollutants of concern and to develop targeted approaches to control the pollutants", the NEA added.

The study will look abroad to pollution in Malaysia and Indonesia that may affect the Republic.

These sources include industrial areas and road traffic in Johor, Malaysia, shipyards in Batam and haze from these nearby countries.

To make sure the inventory passes muster, the contractor must review the systems used in several developed places including Britain, Germany, Japan, Hong Kong and California in the United States.

The deadline for the proposals is Feb 17. Experts lauded the attention to detail in the proposals.

"It's very good that the inventory will include hourly emissions and differentiate the emissions by day of the week and month of the year," said Dr Erik Velasco, a research scientist at the Singapore- MIT Alliance for Research and Technology's Centre for Environmental Sensing and Modeling.

He said emissions inventories always lag by one or two years due to data needs, so 2013 would be a proper base year for the study.

But since Singapore had its worst haze then, "it would be a biased year... if transboundary emissions are included".

The NEA specified that the contractor must quantify based on available data the pollution arising from transboundary smoke haze for that year.

Dr Velasco, who gave a course on air quality management, including emissions inventories, to the authorities last year, added that Singapore should look to places such as Los Angeles, Paris, Toronto, Mexico City and Tokyo in developing its inventory.

"Those are cities with good and long experience developing emissions inventories.

Singapore is a city-state, so inventories at different scales, such as the country or state scale, may not fit its needs," he said.

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Expect haze this year - and earlier too: Experts

Amelia Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 29 Jan 15;

SINGAPORE - The haze may be upon Singapore yet again - and earlier than usual.

The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) has been slowly inching upwards over the past couple of days.

Readings since Sunday show that it has been hovering in the 60s and 70s range.

As of 9pm last night, the 24-hour PSI stood at 62 to 67 - within the moderate range - while the three-hour reading was 58.
This rise is coupled with an impending dry phase of the north-east monsoon - with total rainfall for this month and the next expected to fall below average.

While the National Environment Agency had said this year's dry spell was not likely to be as bad as last year's drought, experts told The Straits Times last week the haze could come earlier this year.

This will happen if the dry weather in Malaysia triggers wildfires, with winds carrying the smoke over to the Republic.

After a wet November and December which led to flash floods here, the total rainfall this month could be up to 60 per cent below the long-term average of 242.4mm for January.

From Jan 1 to 21, the total average rainfall recorded at rainfall stations islandwide was 83.7mm.

Singapore is affected by severe smoke haze periodically as a result of forest fires in neighbouring countries.

This is due to the practice of open burning to clear land for agricultural uses. The situation is worsened during dry seasons or if there are changes in wind direction and low rainfall.

According to the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre, a few hot spots were observed in Peninsular Malaysia and Kalimantan as of yesterday.

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PM Lee after Laneway Festival mess: 'Do the right thing'

Channel NewsAsia 28 Jan 15;

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday (Jan 28) called on Singaporeans to help the country progress from a "cleaned city to a truly clean city", after highlighting the state of Gardens by the Bay following the 2015 Laneway Festival last Saturday.

Mr Lee put up a picture on his Facebook page illustrating rubbish strewn on the ground following the music festival at the Meadow at Gardens by the Bay. He contrasted this with the actions of Myanmar sports fans, who were seen picking up litter at National Stadium after their football team's clash with the Lions.

"It takes continuous effort to keep Singapore clean. We need to progress from being a cleaned city to a truly clean city," Mr Lee wrote.

"All of us can play a part – picking up our own litter, educating our children and grandchildren, and reminding others to do the right thing. Visit the Public Hygiene Council's page to find out how you can help."

- CNA/kk

PM Lee calls for clean, not cleaned, city
Rachel Au-yong My Paper AsiaOne 29 Jan 15;

SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday called on Singaporeans to pick up their own litter, so that Singapore can progress from being a "cleaned city to a truly clean city".

He singled out litterbugs who attended a music festival on Saturday and left the venue strewn with plastic bags and other rubbish.

In a Facebook post, Mr Lee put up a photograph of the Meadow at Gardens by the Bay, which was covered with litter after some 13,000 people attended the 2015 Laneway Music Festival over the weekend.

He contrasted this behaviour with that of Myanmar's football fans, who were seen picking up litter at the National Stadium even after their team lost to Singapore during the AFF Suzuki Cup in November.

"It takes continuous effort to keep Singapore clean. We need to progress from being a cleaned city to a truly clean city," wrote Mr Lee.

"All of us can play a part - picking up our own litter, educating our children and grandchildren, and reminding others to do the right thing. Visit the Public Hygiene Council's page to find out how you can help."

Since April, penalties for littering have become twice as harsh.

Offenders face a maximum fine of $2,000 for the first conviction, $4,000 for the second conviction and $10,000 for the third and subsequent convictions.

S’pore likely to become garbage city without foreign workers: ESM Goh
Today Online 29 Jan 15;

SINGAPORE — The Republic may end up as a “garbage city”, said Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong today (Jan 29) following reports of how a part of the Gardens by the Bay was covered with rubbish following a music festival.

His remarks came a day after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong posted on his Facebook page a picture that showed rubbish strewn on the ground following the 2015 Laneway Festival at The Meadow at Gardens by the Bay. About 13,000 people attended the event last Saturday.

Mr Lee contrasted the situation with the actions of Myanmar sports fans, who were seen picking up litter at the National Stadium after their football team played the Lions last November.

In a Facebook post, Mr Goh wrote: “Our reputation as one of the world’s cleanest cities is going down the rubbish chute. It looks like a case of ‘monkeys see, monkeys do’.”

He noted that Tokyo has no rubbish even though the Japanese capital has no garbage bins in public places.

“The Japanese take their snack wrappers, empty bottles and ponchos home to dispose. That is why Tokyo is a fine city without ‘fine’ signs. That is why it is a clean city with no foreign workers.”

Mr Goh added: “Without foreign workers, Singapore is likely to become a ‘garbage city’. Cleanliness is a character thing. It shows who you really are.”

In his Facebook post on Wednesday, Mr Lee said: “It takes continuous effort to keep Singapore clean. We need to progress from being a cleaned city to a truly clean city.”

Dish the dirt, you'll likely end up soiled
John Lui The Straits Times AsiaOne 3 Feb 15;

Online trolls expose their own sense of inferiority when they launch virulent attacks Last week, rubbish left at a music festival caused us to wake up to the threat posed to the nation by rich white people.

It began with Facebook posts, by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, directed at behaviour we've lived with forever.

They mentioned littering at a music festival, and how we as a people have a way to go before we learn to show care and respect for public areas. It sparked an online ruckus.

These are reminders we have seen in the past, about the piles of garbage left behind whenever big groups gather, whether it is in Chinatown during Chinese New Year, or in Geylang Serai during Hari Raya Puasa, or in foodcourts and cinemas, or at the National Stadium after a game.

This time, however, the posts and news reports triggered a torrent of online conversations. The litterbugs in question were not your run-of-the-mill local specimens.

The alternative-music jamboree the Laneway Festival was the event in question, so the Internet's hatred targeting system locked on to the young people who left garbage on the grass.

More specifically, the young, white, beer-swilling people with money, paying $140 and more to see edgy haircuts playing synthesisers.

Laneway's 13,000 ticket-holders embody everything a certain sector of society here loves to hate - foreign, boozed-up and moneyed, taking over a public park with their weird artsy music.

And now, these privileged few have the audacity to pollute our hallowed ground with their rubbish - it was a magic combination of traits that made writers on Facebook and in the alternative media lose their collective minds.

According to people at the event, only about half the crowd were white, but that did not matter. In the alternative media, Laneway was the gathering place of the devil's own Caucasian hipster invasion force.

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Bengal cat giveaway on Facebook "unethical": SPCA

Diane Leow Channel NewsAsia 28 Jan 15;

SINGAPORE: Claws have come out after a home breeder posted on Facebook that he would give a Bengal kitten away to one "lucky" person – if they “like” his Facebook page and leave a comment as to why they deserve the cat.

The post, which went up early on Wednesday morning (Jan 28) on Designer Bengal Singapore, stated: "We are pleased to be giving away for FREE a gorgeous Bengal kitten to one lucky winner on 9th May 2015, whom will be randomly picked in this contest." The word "contest" was later edited out, and replaced with the words "no fee adoption".

The post has since been taken down, following an outcry from people who felt that giving a kitten as a prize was inappropriate. Comments from netizens include: “Are you kidding me? This as a prize? Why don’t you put up a wife as a prize for people to win?” “How is it okay to give away a kitten as a Facebook contest prize?! OH MY GOD. Is this even legal?”

Professional pet photographer Nicholas Lee from Furry Photos said it is in "bad taste" to use pets as a contest prize. "Animal welfare advocates have been trying to educate the public that pets are a serious long-term commitment and using them as a commodity undermines that," he said.

The man behind the Facebook page, Mr Alfred Khan, said he removed the post due to negativity raised from their "intention of generosity".


Ms Joanne Ng, Chief Executive Officer of the Cat Welfare Society, told Channel NewsAsia she was aware of the situation and got in touch with the Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), as well as the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA).

“More importantly, are they a legitimate breeder or have any license at all to sell this cat? These are the first few questions we would like to address,” Ms Ng said.

She added that many problems currently stem from irresponsible pet owners, who allow their pets to roam freely, refuse to sterilise them, or breed them at home.

“When they reach the point when it’s too much to handle, they will start abandoning the pets,” Ms Ng added. “These are very real issues we face every day.”

Ms Ng reiterated that business practices like this are “not beneficial to society”, as animal welfare societies continue to pour in resources in order to take care of abandoned animals. “This is outright irresponsible,” she said.

SPCA told Channel NewsAsia it "vehemently opposes" the giving of any live animal - regardless of animal type, breed, age or temperament - as a present or gift, in any contest or competition no matter the circumstance.

"It is categorically unethical to give away a kitten as a prize. It is disingenuous of Designer Bengal Singapore to now change 'tack' and claim the Bengal kitten is up for adoption," said Ms Corinne Fong, Executive Director, SPCA Singapore.

"To randomly pick a person without receiving any due affirmation of this person’s experience with kittens, is tantamount to consigning the animal to an unknown fate," she added.


Mr Khan, who said he has been running a Bengal cat breeding service out of his home for three years, said the post was not meant to be a competition or promotion for his business. “People assume this is cheap publicity. Indirectly, of course it looks like that. It’s not a promotion; I am doing it out of sincerity. If you want a cat, I can make your dream come true,” he said.

“Having a Bengal cat can be very therapeutic. I was thinking maybe this cat could help a cancer patient, or a sick person – something beneficial,” Mr Khan added.

He also said he was prepared for some negativity stemming from the post, but did not expect the backlash. “When I saw that – and how people took screenshots of my picture – I had to delete the post and apologise.”

Mr Khan said that as a cat lover, he had planned to screen the applicant before handing over the Bengal kitten by meeting the person's family, understanding his or her character traits, and seeing if they are able to afford to keep the kitten. The cat would be sterilised as well, he said.

“We will also give them guidance on how to take care of the cat, what (issues) you can foresee in the future, and what kind of food is suitable,” he said. Mr Khan added that follow ups are essential.

“This is going to be a constant relationship, because I am giving them this kitten for free. This is not for them to resell it. This is for them to keep and to love. It has to be from the heart,” he said.

A check on Facebook showed that there were no specific guidelines on product giveaways, unless it involves regulated goods such as firearms, alcohol or tobacco.

- CNA/dl

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Cleantech SMEs get S$2.5m boost from JTC, SPRING Singapore

Channel NewsAsia 28 Jan 15;

SINGAPORE: Six local clean technology (cleantech) SMEs will receive a total of S$2.5 million in funding from JTC Corporation and SPRING Singapore to test-bed their new sustainable technologies and solutions.

The selected companies will also have a head-start to carry out test-bedding projects at JTC's developments and facilities.

In a media released issued on Wednesday (Jan 28), JTC and SPRING said that six projects were selected out of 14 proposals submitted as part of the first JTC-SPRING Joint Grant Call for Test-bedding of Sustainable Solutions.

The selected projects include a decentralised wastewater recycling system that treats grey, brown and black water for non-potable uses, and thin, flexible organic solar films on building facades under tropical climate conditions, among others.

The six companies are: Omega Solar, Ecosoftt, HVS Engineering, vTrium Energy, Transkinect and Sun Electric.

Four out of the six projects will also be test-bedded in CleanTech Park, bringing the total number of technologies being test-bedded at the park to 20. Mr Leow Thiam Seng, director of JTC's Aerospace, Marine & CleanTech Cluster, said: “The test-bedding projects not only allow JTC to try out new innovative solutions, but also enable SMEs to implement their technologies in a real-world environment and help them build a track record to go to market."

Mr Ho Chi Bao, director of the manufacturing and engineering division at SPRING Singapore, said that he hopes that more local SMEs will explore business opportunities in the cleantech industry.

“SPRING sees the JTC-SPRING Joint Grant Call as a promising platform to help them test-bed innovative solutions. These companies will get to validate their technologies in a commercial site with real-world conditions. This partnership would form a strong project reference for the companies and act as a stepping stone as they grow their customer base and expand overseas,” he said.

- CNA/ac

Remanufacturing, cleantech offer opportunities for Singapore firms: Iswaran
Channel NewsAsia 28 jan 15;

SINGAPORE: The Government will continue to invest in research and development (R&D) capabilities and infrastructure to support high value-added industries and ensure that Singapore remains a competitive and attractive base for companies, Second Minister for Trade and Industry S Iswaran said on Wednesday (Jan 28).

Speaking at the opening of the Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre (ARTC) and the JTC CleanTech Two @ CleanTech Park - the first eco-business park in Singapore - Mr Iswaran identified remanufacturing and clean technology as sectors that present promising business opportunities for Singapore companies.

He said that in a climate of rising resource costs and concerns over environmental sustainability, the use of remanufactured components is fast gaining international traction.

"The remanufacturing industry in the United States, which is currently valued at US$50 billion (S$67.6 billion) and supports 180,000 jobs, is growing fast at 15 per cent per annum," Mr Iswaran said. "Remanufacturing is also gaining prominence in Asian countries such as China, with the Chinese remanufacturing market growing from US$0.4 billion in 2010 to a projected US$8 billion in 2015.

"In view of this outlook, the Singapore Economic Development of Singapore (EDB) has identified remanufacturing as a key sector in its Future of Manufacturing initiative, which aims to make Singapore a regional hub for advanced manufacturing processes."

Remanufacturing focuses on ways to extend the usable life of products by restoring or improving on their original engineering specifications. In a climate of rising resource costs and concerns over environmental sustainability, the use of remanufactured components is fast gaining international traction.

As for clean technology (cleantech), which focuses on products and services that enable greater energy efficiency and mitigate the impact on the environment, Mr Iswaran said the global market size is expected to more than double from US$2.3 trillion in 2012 to about US$5 trillion in 2025.

Mr Iswaran said CleanTech Two and ARTC will deepen the Government's efforts to strengthen Singapore's capabilities in cleantech and remanufacturing.

CleanTech Two will offer 22,000 square metres of specially-designed laboratory and office space to support the R&D efforts of key cleantech companies.

Six of these have received JTC's and SPRING Singapore's Joint Grant Call to test-bed their technologies.

Mr Heah Soon Poh, assistant chief executive officer of JTC Corporation, said: "Another opportunity for CleanTech Park and how we are going to do it is the ability for us to use it as a living lab, as a test-bed for companies.

"I refer to the grant call that we have done together with SPRING and we have got six companies to come in to use our buildings, to use our park, to use this area for them to be able to do test-bedding."

ARTC - a collaboration between A*STAR, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and over 29 local and global industry partners, such as Rolls-Royce and Singapore Aero Engine Services (SAESL) - will be the anchor tenant of CleanTech Two.

ARTC will also create a platform for local small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to co-develop remanufacturing technologies alongside industry leaders.

According to Mr Iswaran, there are 12 SMEs among ARTC's partners. These include a firm called AmpTec, which is in the process of developing a dry ice blasting machine.

"This innovation will provide an alternative way to clean aircraft engine components without using polluting industrial chemicals and heavy scrubbing. This will cause less damage to the surface of the components and maintain the quality and performance of the engine," Mr Iswaran said.

ARTC will also work with NTU to develop a strong talent pipeline to support the shift towards eco-friendly production processes and techniques. To date, the centre has completed over 50 industry projects.

- CNA/ac/ms

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More enhancements to National Orchid Garden underway

MATTHIAS TAY Today Online 28 Jan 15;

SINGAPORE — The National Orchid Garden is set for its first facelift in 20 years, which will allow it to showcase a larger variety of orchids from all over the world, including rare species found in higher altitudes.

To be completed in phases by 2020, the plans were announced by Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee yesterday (Jan 28) at the opening of the World of Flowers Exhibition.

Three of the garden’s display houses will undergo changes to improve the tropical montane — high elevation — forest experience for visitors. The Cool House, for example, will be fitted with a new climate control system, allowing researchers to grow species that cannot be grown currently and double the number of orchid species showcased from the current 1,000.

In total, the enhancements are expected to cost around S$35 million. The plans for the Cool House are partially funded by a S$10 million donation from Sembcorp Industries to the Garden City Fund, the largest single donation by a corporate partner to date. The Cool House will be renamed the Sembcorp Cool House.

Donations were also made by the family of the late Lady Yuen Peng McNeice, which will go towards the enhancement of the Yuen Peng McNeice Bromeliad Collection enclosure. Another donation — anonymously made — will partially fund the enhancement of Tan Hoon Siang Mist House.

Works will begin next year, and the garden will remain open throughout. Describing the improvements, Singapore Botanic Gardens director Nigel Taylor said: “The Bromeliad Collection, which represent the lowland tropics will be the first (of the) three seamless connected features, second will be the Mist House, and third, the much expanded Cool House which represents the environment of mountain tops in the tropical environment.”

The Sembcorp Cool House will have two-level access, so that visitors can get closer to orchids and plants located at higher levels. A new deck overlooking the nursery area behind the garden will also be open to visitors interested in observing the orchids’ cultivation process.

Located in the Singapore Botanic Gardens, the National Orchid Garden sees an average of 500,000 visitors every year, and numbers are expected to grow with the enhancements. “We anticipate that the National Orchid Garden will be able to accommodate this increase comfortably, and that visitors will still be able to have an enjoyable experience,” said Dr Taylor.

Asked if entrance fees — currently S$5 for adults — would increase as a result of the improvements, the National Parks Board said there would not be one for the time being.

National Orchid Garden to bloom brighter after upgrade
Audrey Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 31 Jan 15;

Visitors to Singapore's one and only orchid garden will get to admire a greater variety of blooms in five years when it completes its first major upgrade since it opened 20 years ago.

The National Orchid Garden, located in the Singapore Botanic Gardens, will be spruced up to refresh its visitors' experience and showcase more orchid varieties, the National Parks Board (NParks) announced yesterday.

The enhancement will focus on four key areas in the 3ha garden: the Cool House, the Mist House, the bromeliad enclosure as well as the orchid nursery.

At the Cool House, visitors will be able to get up close and personal with more varieties of orchids, particularly those growing at higher altitudes, when a second level is built there.

Currently, the Cool House has only one level. Kept at between 16 to 20 deg C, it showcases species of plants found in elfin forests at higher elevations, such as the dancing lady and boat orchids.

The bromeliad enclosure, which features plant species grown in the lowlands, and the sub-mountainous Mist House will have improved ventilation, misting and irrigation systems that are more energy efficient.

The three areas will also form a tropical orchidetum showcasing a diversity of orchids and other plants from the habitats at different elevations.

"Visitors will be able to enjoy a seamless experience akin to ascending a tropical montane forest as they make their way through the orchidetum," NParks said.

When the upgrade is fully completed by 2020, visitors can also get a glimpse of the orchid nursery from a viewing deck.

The nursery, where the plants are cultivated for display, was previously not open to the public.

The orchid garden will remain open to the public during the $35 million upgrade, which will be done in stages.

Of that sum, $10 million was donated by Sembcorp Industries to partially fund the enhancements to the Cool House, which will be renamed the Sembcorp Cool House.

Thanking Sembcorp, NParks chief executive Kenneth Er said: "The contribution will go towards creating an environment for researchers to grow and bring orchids to flower that are naturally found at higher elevations.

"This, in turn, will create a refreshing educational experience for visitors to learn more about these orchids and their environments."

During yesterday's event, Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee also launched the World of Flowers Exhibition at a gallery in the Singapore Botanic Gardens Heritage Museum.

An educational exhibit featuring text and photographs on flowers, it will run daily until May 31.

It is closed every last Tuesday of the month. Admission is free.

Read more!

Malaysia: Goodall to raise awareness on wildlife and environment

JEROME KUGAN The Star 29 Jan 15;

PETALING JAYA: Dr Jane Goodall, whose groundbreaking research on chimpanzee behaviour made her a household name among ape lovers, is visiting Malaysia for the first time.

Goodall, who turns 81 in April, is in town to raise awareness about Roots & Shoots, an organisation she co-founded in 1991 as a way of empowering young people to take part in projects on animals, the environment and the community.

In an exclusive interview with The Star, Goodall said she was glad that there were many Malaysians who showed concern about wildlife conservation and the environment.

She said she hoped that her visit would inspire more people, especially youths, to join the green movement and have a more positive outlook on Earth’s future.

“I’ve met so many young people and they seem not to have much hope,” she said yesterday.

“They read all the bad news, the doom and the gloom, and when I talk to them, they get angry and violent.

“Or just apathetic. They say – ‘You’ve compromised the future’.

“And they’re right. We have compromised the future,” said Goodall.

Besides launching this year’s programme for the Malaysian chapter of Roots & Shoots that she co-founded in October last year, Goodall is scheduled to make four public appearances during her two-day stop in Kuala Lumpur.

Her first appearance will be a talk hosted by the British International School in Bandar Utama today between 9.30am and 11.30am.

Some 700 students from schools in the Klang Valley are expected to attend.

On the same day, the eminent primatologist is the guest of “An Evening With Jane Goodall” presented by The Iclif Leadership and Governance Centre.

The event, which includes dinner and a one-hour talk by Goodall, will be held at Lanai Kijang.

According to the organisers’ website, tickets have been sold out.

Those keen on hearing Goodall’s insights should try to score tickets for “Reasons for Hope: A Talk by Jane Goodall” tomorrow between 9.30am and 12.30pm at Berjaya Times Square Hotel.

Presented by Borders and co-organised by Roots & Shoots Malaysia and Berjaya Youth, the talk is to be attended by more than 2,000 people.

Goodall’s final engagement will be at the Starbucks outlet in Kota Kemuning tomorrow, where she is slated to officially launch a one-year programme of collaborative projects by the coffee franchise and Roots & Shoots Malaysia.

She will next travel to Singapore and South Africa to promote initiatives by Roots & Shoots and her namesake organisation, The Jane Goodall Institute.

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Modifying Indonesia’s Conservation Methods

If conservation by the authorities alone doesn’t work well, why not develop new strategies in which the role of more competent groups is recognized?
Erik Meijaard Jakarta Globe 28 Jan 15;

People love lists. Type in “the 10 best …” in your favorite search engine and a great number of options will result, varying from “… movies of all times,” to “… spaghetti sauces,” and also the rather amusing “10 Best Moments in Pro-Gaming History.”

Such lists are sources of endless arguments. The race between Jimi Hendrix, Slash and Keith Richards as best electric guitar player is a toss-up and declaring any of them as winner would certainly lead to major ridicule.

And so it will be with my list of favorite Indonesian conservation projects. Of course, I will defend my chosen top three with tooth and nail, but undoubtedly many will disagree. The point is to generate debate.

What to look for in favorite projects? First, among the many failing Indonesian conservation initiatives, a project seeking my nomination would have to have success, at least in saving a species from near-extinction, or rescuing a forest that pretty much everyone else wants to destroy.

Second, it would be nice if the successes resulted in strong societal support, with people living around the project being happy with or at least accepting it. If people don’t like it, the project would have to go on forever, requiring constant funding, efforts, political support, etc.

Thirdly, it helps if the project didn’t cost all that much. If you just throw enough cash at something, eventually something will stick and generate some positive outcomes. But with conservation funding being limited, the cheaper is certainly the better.

And finally, I have to know a fair bit about the project, as it is the only way for me to judge its qualities. So on that note of totally subjective assumptions, here is my top three list of conservation favorites.

Wehea, East Kalimantan

This community-based project managed to turn a 38,000-hectare timber concession into an area fully protected by communities from the local Wehea tribe.

The area boasts stunning forest with exciting species, such as clouded leopards and orangutans. The project has garnered strong support from, the local government, the community and local industries. Lately the project has had some management struggles, but for now the area looks safe. No illegal logging nor hunting has been reported for years.

Harapan, Jambi, Sumatra

This was the first Indonesian Ecosystem Restoration project, nearly 100,000 hectares of more or less degraded rainforest in a sea of oil palm and other plantations. The project was given a 95-year license to manage the conservation values in the area.

It wasn’t cheap — you don’t get forest-use licenses for free in Indonesia, even if they are for conservation. But the area is home to great wildlife; tigers, elephants — you name it.

However, there has been a fair share of troubles, with people trying to illegally encroach onto the land, but increasingly the project looks safe and is an excellent example of the restoration potential of degraded rain forests.

Sungai Wain, East Kalimantan

In the late 1990s, pretty much everyone had given up on this 6,000-hectare forest just outside the city of Balikpapan. Illegal logging was rampant, people were all over the forest and fires burned much of the remainder.

Hard work by a small group of dedicated conservationists first extinguished the fires, then managed to get local government support for protection, and eventually convinced the army and police to hammer big spikes into trees so that illegal loggers would be deterred.

On a shoe-string budget, later supported by local government funding, an effectively protected area was created that maintains constant water flows to Balikpapan’s oil industry (and thus prevents the city’s economic collapse).

Honorable mentions

I can think of a few more apparent successes, including the Bali starling project in Nusa Penida off of Bali; the massive Gunung Leuser ecosystem in northern Sumatra; the recently protected Batang Toru area, also in Sumatra; Ujung Kulon, Banten, and its surviving Javan rhinos; Nantu in Gorontalo province and its well-protected babirusas; and the amazing Sebangau National Park in Central Kalimantan, which would have been converted to oil palm if it hadn’t been for the collective action of activists.

What is interesting is that all these greatest conservation successes are largely driven by nongovernmental organizations or concerned people — not the central government. In fact, in my experience, a protected area or species solely managed by government authorities will almost invariably be in decline.

On reflection it appears that nongovernmental conservation organizations run much of the show in Indonesian conservation, at least with regard to creating conservation success. A good example is the Kutai National park in East Kalimantan. Much of the park burned in the 1980s and 1990s, and the remainder was over-run by illegal loggers and farmers.

According to government documents, the park has a $ 1 million annual budget, which translates into $5 per hectare — pretty decent by most international standards. So, it is certainly not lack of funding that’s challenging park management. Then why is park management still struggling to protect its forest and wildlife?

Indonesian conservation urgently needs better understanding of the conditions for success. If conservation by the authorities alone doesn’t work well, why not develop new strategies in which the role of potentially more competent groups is formerly recognized?

Wouldn’t that be the performance-based government system that Indonesia is now trying to develop?

The fact that conservation is not easy is even more reason to look hard at who achieves what in Indonesian conservation and select only the most effective and efficient group to govern the country’s threatened wildlife and habitats. A review of conservation roles and responsibilities is urgently needed.

Erik Meijaard is a conservation scientist coordinating the Borneo Futures initiative

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Smothered oceans: Extreme oxygen loss in oceans accompanied past global climate change

University of California - Davis Science Daily 28 Jan 15;

From the subarctic Pacific to the Chilean margins, extreme oxygen loss is stretching from the upper ocean to about 3,000 meters deep. In some oceanic regions, such loss occurred within 100 years or less, according to a new study.

Seafloor sediment cores reveal abrupt, extensive loss of oxygen in the ocean when ice sheets melted roughly 10,000-17,000 years ago, according to a study from the University of California, Davis. The findings provide insight into similar changes observed in the ocean today.

In the study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers analyzed marine sediment cores from different world regions to document the extent to which low oxygen zones in the ocean have expanded in the past, due to climate change.

From the subarctic Pacific to the Chilean margins, they found evidence of extreme oxygen loss stretching from the upper ocean to about 3,000 meters deep. In some oceanic regions, such loss took place over a time period of 100 years or less.

"This is a global story that knits these regions together and shows that when you warm the planet rapidly, whole ocean basins can lose oxygen very abruptly and very extensively," said lead author Sarah Moffitt, a postdoctoral scholar with the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory and formerly a Ph.D. student with the Graduate Group in Ecology.

Marine organisms, from salmon and sardines to crab and oysters, depend on oxygen to exist. Adapting to an ocean environment with rapidly dropping oxygen levels would require a major reorganization of living things and their habitats, much as today polar species on land are retreating to higher, cooler latitudes.

The researchers chose the deglaciation period because it was a time of rising global temperatures, atmospheric carbon dioxide and sea levels -- many of the global climate change signs the Earth is experiencing now.

"Our modern ocean is moving into a state that has no precedent in human history," Moffitt said. "The potential for our oceans to look very, very different in 100-150 years is real. How do you use the best available science to care for these critical resources in the future? Resource managers and conservationists can use science like this to guide a thoughtful, precautionary approach to environmental management."

The study's co-authors include: Russell Moffitt with the Marine Conservation Institute; Tessa Hill, professor in the UC Davis Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and at the Bodega Marine Laboratory; Wilson Sauthoff and Catherine Davis of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences; and Kathryn Hewett, UC Davis Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

The study arose from a graduate level course that was taught at UC Davis in winter 2013 by Hill. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation.

Journal Reference:
Sarah E. Moffitt, Russell A. Moffitt, Wilson Sauthoff, Catherine V. Davis, Kathryn Hewett, Tessa M. Hill. Paleoceanographic Insights on Recent Oxygen Minimum Zone Expansion: Lessons for Modern Oceanography. PLOS ONE, 2015; 10 (1): e0115246 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0115246

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Low oil prices won't hurt renewable energy, says US EIA

Tax incentives more important than oil price and oil is not in head-on competition with renewables for electricity production, says government’s chief energy analyst
Suzanne Goldenberg The Guardian 28 Jan 15;

Cheap oil is not about to kill off wind and solar power as some experts have claimed, the US government’s chief energy analyst said on Wednesday.

The historic drop in crude oil prices, with Brent crude trading at $49.04 a barrel in London on Wednesday, had raised fears that renewable energy sources would struggle to compete.

But Adam Sieminski, who heads the Energy Information Administration, said oil was not in head-on competition with renewables when it came to electricity generation – and that government policies would help shield the clean energy industries.

“A lot of the demand that is coming for wind and solar additions in the US is supported through tax incentives and state energy programmes that require a certain percentage of electricity to come from renewables,” Sieminski told a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

However, the EIA does expect US greenhouse gas emissions to creep up in 2014 – undermining Barack Obama’s efforts to fight climate change – with cheap oil encouraging economic growth.

Installations of industrial-scale solar power doubled in 2014 – because of those support programmes and falling prices for solar panels. However, renewables overall, excluding hydro, still account for only about 6% of US power generation.

Most of America’s electricity comes from coal and natural gas – not oil – so the cheap global oil prices would not have an immediate effect, Sieiminski said.

“I think that in the near-term the drop in oil prices is not really going to have much of an impact on wind and solar installations,” he said.

But it could be a different story for hybrid and plug-in vehicles. There are signs that $2 a gallon gas is making big cars and trucks more popular for US consumers again, and the head of the world’s top renewable energy agency recently warned low oil prices threatened electric cars. But even on cars, Sieminski said other factors came into play.

Car ownership is declining over recent decades because of urbanisation, and as a lifestyle choice among younger Americans. In addition, many cities offer perks to electric car drivers, such as the right to share the carpooling lane, or free charging stations.

“Is the growth in all electric vehicles really being driven by gasoline prices, or is it social?” he said.

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Madagascar seeks international aid after tropical storm kills 68

LOVASOA RABARY PlanetArk 29 Jan 15;

Madagascar's government appealed for international aid on Wednesday after a tropical storm earlier this month devastated large swathes of the Indian Ocean island, causing damage worth around $40 million.

Sixty-eight people were killed and 130,000 displaced when the tropical storm Chedza hit Madagascar on Jan. 16, the National Bureau of Risk Management and Disaster said.

The storm also lashed Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe in one of the worst disasters to hit the region in years. Rivers burst their banks, flooding vast areas and destroying homes, bridges and crops.

"The country is in a state of disaster and officially appeals for aid both nationally and internationally," Prime Minister Jean Ravelonarivo said on national radio on Wednesday.

Ravelonarivo estimated the damage at more than 100 billion ariary, roughly $40 million, and said major flooding had "caused massive degradation of key infrastructure".

Madagascar is one of the world's poorest nations and is currently also battling a plague epidemic which has killed at least 57 people since August.

The island's economy was battered after a 2009 coup that drove away donors and investors. A peaceful 2013 election has brought back some aid, but the nation is still struggling to impose stable government and economic reforms.

The IMF said Madagascar's economy early signs of recovery in 2014 with growth estimated at 3 percent, which could rise to 5 percent in 2015, but political instability, weak institutions and weak governance are hurting prospects.

(Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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Best of our wild blogs: 28 Jan 15

downtown eaglets @ singapore - Mar 2013
from sgbeachbum

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Reclamation works for Tanjung Piai oil hub project can now begin

The Star 28 Jan 15;

PETALING JAYA: Benalec Holdings Bhd has received the Department of Environment (DOE) approval to commence reclamation work for its Tanjung Piai petroleum hub and industrial park in the Straits of Johor, the company said in a Bursa Malaysia announcement.

This is the second major approval given for land reclamation works off the shores of Johor that separates Malaysia and Singapore in a space of two weeks.

On Jan 14, Country Garden Pacific View, which is a joint venture between China’s Country Garden and a state government entity, got the approval to reclaim 1,368ha of land near the Second Link connecting Johor and Singapore for a development project called Forest City.

The land reclamation works has not gone down well with Singapore that has expressed its concern to Putrajaya.

According to Benalec, its 70%-owned subsidiary Spektrum Kukuh Sdn Bhd and Perbadanan Setiausaha Kerajaan Johor received the approval that came with several conditions.

Among them is that the reclamation works in Phase 1 of the proposed project should include the construction of an oil terminal, the construction of a jetty and a bridge linking the island to the mainland and dredging.

The company said the approval was valid for two years.

Benalec plans to develop an Integrated Petroleum & Petrochemical Hub and Maritime Industrial Park on the reclaimed land to enable the company to earn recurring income.

Phase 1 of the proposed project is targeted to commence next month, the company said.

The company did not state the size of the land approved for reclamation, but based on previous announcements, the Tanjung Piai project encompasses 1,410ha, of which some 404.7ha have been identified for the purpose of constructing and operating a crude oil and petroleum storage facility together with a private jetty.

According to reports, among the directors of Spectrum Kukuh are the Johor crown prince Tunku Ismail Idris Sultan Ibrahim and Daing A Malek Daing A Rahaman, who are said to be partners to Benalec in the Tanjung Piai reclamation project.

Benalec said the approval represents a major milestone for the company and takes it a step closer to realising its business plans and to be in sync with the country’s aim of establishing itself as a storage and trading hub in Asia Pacific.

Benalec’s shares rose six sen at yesterday’s close to 78 sen, with 8.6 million shares changing hands. The stock is now trading at a two-month high..

The project was first proposed in March 2013.

The project will be financed via internally generated funds and bank borrowings, an earlier announcement said.

In a note late last year, following Benalec’s first-quarter financial year 2015 results, CIMB Research’s Sharizan Rosely said that he expected Benalec’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation margins to trend lower than its forecast 24% for the full year.

At current prices, Benalec is trading at a price-to-earning ratio (PER) of 26 times and a forward PER of 11.64 times with a market capitalisation of RM623mil.

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Smart cities: What it takes to build a city

Akshobh Giridharadas, Channel NewsAsia 27 Jan 15;

SINGAPORE: What goes into building a city and what does it take to build a city from the ground up?

Managing Director at PwC Capital Projects & Infrastructure, Keith Martin said on Tuesday (Jan 27): "The starting point of good planning is really to understand the demand for a new city space or new urban development.

“So, there must be a way of measuring demand, assessing that demand, understanding the type of demand, the timing of that demand, the population growth, and the affordability of the demand, so that the master plan can be demand driven and reflect the needs of the end users.”

An oversupply of infrastructure could be as detrimental as an under supply. The oversupply of housing in certain parts of China has sparked fears of an impending property bubble.

Apart from balancing the physical needs of land, water and the environment, analysts have pointed out that is also important to consider social needs in the entire ecosystem.

EY Advisory Services Partner, Sam Wong said it is not only important to look at the physical or infrastructure aspects, but the human side of it as well.

He said: “People make up and exhibit the culture and this is what a city should be known for. In commercial terms, we call it unique selling points. Similarly in a city, what is the unique selling point is that it is relevant to its stakeholder."

Microsoft Public Service Group Director, Stephanie Hung said there are three big development considerations when building a smart city. She said the first is to consider how the Government can be assisted to build trustworthiness while the second is to deal with building sustainability. The third, she added, would be to focus on the people in the cities.

While people build cities, it is equally important that cities today are built for its people.

- CNA/xk/el

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Local standard for organic food in works

Audrey Tan Ruiping The Straits Times AsiaOne 28 Jan 15;

Consumers may soon get to buy organic vegetables with a local stamp of approval.

A unit under the Singapore Manufacturing Federation is developing a new standard for organic produce, The Straits Times has learnt.

"Organic certification may build upon this new standard," said its spokesman in response to queries.

But as discussions with stakeholders are still at a preliminary stage, the federation's Standards Development Organisation is unable to disclose further information, she added.

Currently, Singapore farmers who want to label and sell their produce as organic must obtain certification from an organic certification body overseas. There are at least 200 of them from more than 80 countries, and each sets its own standards.

There is no widely recognised official organic food standard in Singapore, and the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority said it does not have a definition or specification standard for organic produce.

So if local organic certification comes to fruition, it could boost the branding of local crops and help consumers better identify organic produce, farmers and marketing experts say.

Organic-certified food can cost up to three times as much as that produced by conventional methods, said Dr Guan Chong of SIM University's school of business. "Certification helps consumers recognise organic products in the market and provides assurance on the claims related to organic farming," she said.

"Without certification, consumers are less likely to trust marketeers' claims."

Farmer Liao Jun Jie, 26, from the family-run Quan Fa Organic Farm in Kranji, believes organic certification is good for the branding of local produce.

There is demand for organic-certified products these days, he said, especially among younger consumers. "But there are many products in the market that claim to be organic although they may not follow organic farming standards," he added.

Aside from not using synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilisers, organic farming has other requirements, such as crop rotation.

This means a crop cannot be grown on the same patch of land, as this affects nutrient levels in the soil.

Quan Fa has applied for organic certification from the Organic Agriculture Certification Thailand, which the farm will receive by the end of next month, but Mr Liao said local accreditation would better assure consumers.

Personal assistant Jileen Tan, 51, who occasionally buys organic produce, said a Singapore certification would be reliable.

"So far, Singapore has been stringent with quality control. So I would trust it more," she said.

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100 Days Into His Presidency, Jokowi Garners Plaudits From Indonesia’s Environmental Groups

The president has stayed mum on the reclamation of Benoa Bay, which is facing a massive development project
Kennial Caroline Laia Jakarta Globe 28 Jan 15;

Jakarta. Amid rising tensions and an onslaught of criticism triggered by the ongoing skirmish between the National Police and the national antigraft agency, President Joko Widodo has managed to come out on top in the eyes of one group.

One hundred days into Joko’s term in office, Indonesia’s environmental activists extended their appreciation to the president for his commitment to protecting the nation’s forests, saying the moves he has made so far have been largely “positive.”

Forest Watch Indonesia chairman Togu Manurung praised Joko’s “brave” stance against large corporations that control — and destroy — large swathes of Indonesia’s forests, while also defending the interests of the local communities.

“In his very first month in office, Joko flew to Riau to witness firsthand the devastation caused by haze and forest fires. He also addressed the issue of forest management, suggesting that the local people control the land; not big companies,” Togu told the Jakarta Globe on Tuesday.

“Although it’s still much too early to evaluate Joko’s administration in terms of its commitment to the environment, Joko himself has been very supportive of our plight to save the nation’s forests and peat lands from fires and corporate mismanagement,” he added.

Togu’s sentiments were made on the same day Joko ushered in his 100th day in office amid a barrage of media reports scrutinizing his unpopular policies, most notably his recent controversial pick of Comr. Gen. Budi Gunawan as the sole candidate for the influential role of National Police chief.

Joko chose not to withdraw his nomination of Budi, flagged in 2010 for his suspiciously “fat” bank accounts, even after the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) declared him a graft suspect.

The matter has since escalated into an all-out brawl between the police and KPK, with the president heavily criticized for failing to stand up for the antigraft body — widely popular among the public — against the infamously corrupt police force.

Togu cited Joko’s visit to Sungaitohor village, Riau, in late November, following a request made through Petition.org.

A Sungaitohor resident had asked the president to inspect a site not far from the village which has been ravaged by annual peat fires for more than 17 years.

During the visit, Joko pledged his support for local communities, who have often been blamed by big corporations for intentionally igniting fires in order to clear forests and peat lands to make way for plantations in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

The slash-and-burn method has been deemed responsible for the recurring haze crises that regularly disrupt flights and force airports to shutdowns, while endangering the health of tens of thousands of people in region. The environmental disturbance has even drawn criticism from neighboring Singapore and Malaysia, who are also affected.

Local farmers and activists, meanwhile, are pointing the finger at large corporate-run plantations, holding them responsible for the devastating fires.

“We appreciate Joko’s visits to several locations [afflicted by haze], such as in Riau and Pontianak, to experience the problem firsthand,” Togu said.

Joko has since repeatedly threatened to revoke operating licences of companies that cause fires in forested areas. He also pushed regional officers to quickly work on reducing the number of hotspots in their respective areas by whatever means necessary, adding that he would dismiss those who failed to do so.

“Such measures may seem extreme, but they are needed to preserve our forests,” Togu said.

“However, Joko needs to ensure that his promises are not mere lip service; he must push the minister to do her job,” he added, referring to Forestry and Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya.

Another move praised by environmental groups was Joko’s decision to grant clemency to Eva Susanti Bande, an activist convicted and sentenced to four years in prison in 2010 for defending farmers of Luwuk, South Sulawesi, in a land dispute against a local palm oil plantation.

Still, Togu questioned the organizational restructuring of the Forestry Ministry and the Environment Ministry, which were merged into a single state entity under Joko.

“Since the merger, the government has failed to explain the new ministerial structure. This has to be addressed immediately to avoid confusion,” he said.

Executive director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), Abetnego Tarigan, echoed the sentiment, saying the ministry’s performance in the next few years would largely depend on its bureaucratic structure.

“How can [Siti] draw up new policies if the ministry’s organizational structure is still in disarray? How can [the ministry’s officials] fully understand their respective roles?” Abetnego said.

The Walhi chief also questioned the implementation of Joko’s recent environmental promises.

“Since assuming office, Joko has been issuing statements that seem to convey his commitment to [Indonesia’s] environmental issues, including on the haze and fire crises. However, there have been no concrete policies to support his statements,” he pointed out.

Abetnego added that Joko’s administration still had the job of evaluating policies left by his predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, including a contentious presidential decree issued last year that changed the status of Bali’s Benoa Bay from a conservation zone into a buffer zone, allowing commercial development in the area.

Despite public protests — conducted mainly in Bali and Jakarta — demanding the government to retract the decree, Joko has so far stayed mum on the issue. The reclamation of Benoa Bay is now continuing under a massive development project by Tirta Wahana Bali International (TWBI), a property development unit of tycoon Tomy Winata’s Arta Graha Network.

Abetnego last week expressed concern over what is now widely seen as systematic efforts to incapacitate the KPK through the criminalization of its leaders — four of them have been reported to police over different cases following the antigraft body’s naming of police general Budi as suspect.

Abetnego said this would hamper law enforcement in the deeply corrupt forestry sector, which has allowed companies to
irresponsibly cut down hundreds and thousands of hectares of trees by bribing local officials.

“To Walhi, the KPK represents a force of change in the sustainable management of Indonesia’s natural resources, which for years has been marred by corruption,” Abetnego said.

“Measures taken by the KPK have truly stirred fear among greedy government officials and businesses, even in the environmental sector.

“Walhi supports and encourages the people of Indonesia to unite in their fight against these corruptors and save the KPK,” he added.

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