Best of our wild blogs: 12 Feb 15

Sighting of Lesser Adjutant
from Bird Ecology Study Group

3 things you can do today on food waste
from Green Future Solutions

Illegal logging contributed to deadly Malaysian floods, according to government minister
from news by Morgan Erickson-Davis

Read more!

Elephant Patrols Seek to Protect Indonesia’s Rainforests

Agence France-Presse Jakarta Globe 11 Feb 15;

Trumon, Indonesia. Indonesian men ride on Sumatran elephants as they patrol though dense jungle in the west of the tropical archipelago, warriors on the front line of the fight against illegal logging and poaching.

They trek alongside rivers, over rough terrain and deep into the rainforest in an area that is home to numerous endangered species, from orangutans to tigers, but which has suffered devastating deforestation in recent years.

The sprawling Indonesian archipelago has large swathes of tropical forest but vast tracts are being felled to make way for palm oil and pulp and paper plantations, destroying biodiverse habitats and adding to greenhouse gas emissions.

Much of the logging that takes place is illegal as it happens outside concessions granted to companies, but it is hard for authorities to keep track. Poaching of endangered species is also common, with elephants killed for their ivory and tigers for their pelts.

The elephant patrol project, run with communities in the Trumon district of Aceh province, on Sumatra island, aims to give a helping hand.

It employs local men as “mahouts”, or elephant-keepers, who keep a lookout for illegal logging and poaching and report it to authorities to follow up.

Hendra Masrijal, 33, quit his job as a food vendor to become a mahout. He is among a group of around about 25 keepers involved in the scheme, including former separatists who fought against the central government until a peace deal was struck a decade ago.

“It makes me sad when I see pictures of elephants killed by poachers for their tusks,” Masrijal told AFP. “Their habitat is also being encroached [on] by farmers and villagers.”

The patrols deep into the jungle last between two and seven days, with mahouts normally spending 15 to 20 days a month on expeditions.

The initiative covers a vast area of 27,000 hectares called the “Trumon Wildlife Corridor”, which is wedged between two conservation areas. Authorities are currently trying to push through legislation to give it protected status.

As well as keeping a watch for logging and poaching, the program has staff who conduct training in local communities and develop eco-tourism to give villagers who have traditionally lived off illegal practices an alternative livelihood.

Tisna Nando, a spokeswoman for USAID, which has funded the expansion of the project over the past year, said communities were “enthusiastic” about the initiative.

“They see that they can actually benefit economically from protecting the forest in the area, rather than cutting it down,” she told AFP.

A study last year published in the journal Nature Climate Change showed that Indonesia had for the first time surpassed Brazil in its rate of tropical forest clearance, despite a moratorium on new logging permits imposed several years ago.

Agence France-Presse

Arrested poachers killed six Sumatran elephants: police
Antara 11 feb 15;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - The eight poachers who were detained on Tuesday evening had killed six Sumatran elephants in two provinces, the Riau Provincial Police said.

"They belong to a cruel syndicate; they shot the elephants in their heads for their tusks. I strongly suspect they are part of a syndicate because they operated in different provinces, i. e. in Riau and Jambi," Senior Commissioner Y. S. Widodo, who is the head of the criminal investigation unit of the Riau police, stated here on Wednesday.

The local police detained the eight poachers and seized weapons and a pair of two-meter-long tusks on Tuesday evening.

They admitted that the tusks were taken from a male Sumatran elephant killed in Mandau, Bengkalis district, Riau province.

"During interrogation, the suspects confessed to have killed three elephants in Tesso Nilo National Park in Riau, three days ago. The elephants that were poached comprised a female and two males," he noted.

In September 2014, they had also killed two elephants in Jambi, and had sold their tusks at a price of Rp8 million, Widodo revealed.

The poachers names were announced by their initials as FA (50), HA (40), R (37), MU (52), S (30), R (30), I (25), and AS (50). FA was the main perpetrator behind the illegal hunting activities.

They face a five-year term in prison and are liable to pay a fine amounting to Rp200 million.

These arrests were the first of their kind after four years, despite several poaching incidents having been reported.

The WWF had recorded 43 cases of poaching of Sumatran elephants in Riau, but no arrests had been made. In 2012, 15 such cases had been reported, but no arrests had been made. In 2013, there had been 14 cases of elephant deaths, of which 13 were found dead in Tesso Nilo National Park.

According to reports, 14 wild elephants were found dead under unnatural circumstances in 2014.

F012 (f001/INE)

Police Nab 8 Hunters for Killing Elephant in Riau
Jakarta Globe 11 Feb 15;

Ivory can fetch up to $800 a kilogram on the international black market. (Reuters Photo/Bobby Yip)

Jakarta. The Riau Police on Tuesday arrested eight alleged ivory hunters who are suspected of having shot an elephant to cut off its tusks.

Officers confiscated two two-meter-long pieces of ivory, modified hunting rifles, six 7.6-millimeter bullets, blades and an axe.

The hunters allegedly told the police that they had been hunting for wild boars in the acacia woods of Bengkalis when an elephant walked past them. They proceeded to shoot the animal.

“The suspects are guilty of taking part in an illegal hunt,” Riau Police spokesman Adj. Sr. Comr. Guntur Aryo Tejo told, a news portal.

Police say the ivory is worth approximately Rp 10 million ($780) per kilogram on the international black market.

If found guilty of having violated the 1990 law on natural resources conservation, the hunters could face up to five years in jail and a fine of Rp 200 million.

Read more!

StarHub signs 3-year sponsorship deal for School Green Awards

Kamini Devadass Channel NewsAsia 12 Feb 15;

SINGAPORE: StarHub will be the title sponsor for the Singapore Environment Council's (SEC) School Green Awards (SGA), starting this year, after a Memorandum of Agreement was signed between the two parties on Thursday (Feb 12) in conjunction with the launch of the SGA 2015 at MINDS Fernvale Gardens School.

With this partnership, the awards will now be called the SEC-StarHub School Green Awards.

The info-communications company will provide S$150,000 in cash annually for the duration of their title sponsorship.

"Through the School Green Awards, StarHub hopes to empower the youth in Singapore to proactively take care of our planet," said Mr Tan Tong Hai, chief executive officer of StarHub.

"The School Green Awards will allow the corporates to harness the ideas from youths. What StarHub hopes to do is to publicise the ideas so that corporates will look at it and hopefully adopt such ideas," he added.

Ms Isabella Loh, chairman of the Singapore Environment Council, said that the sponsorship was an "important milestone". She noted: "We have now formed a more sustained sponsorship, cooperation. That would mean that there is a more sustained impact on how we can leverage on creative ideas to influence, as well as act as an influencer and idea generator for the public."

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, witnessed the ceremony and also launched the programme to kick-start the annual environmental awards programme for schools.

The awards recognise schools which address issues such as waste minimisation and resource conservation. Students work in teams and submit a report of their school's environment standards.

The SEC received 344 submissions for the awards last year, with about 435,500 students participating.

One of those who participated in last year's awards is Mr Danniel Khor from ITE College East. He shared about what his team did to promote recycling in his school: "In school, we used recycled materials - for example, plastics, plastic bottles, cans, steels - and used them to form our own personal Vivo Green mascot."

- CNA/av/ac

StarHub plants $450,000 to grow 'green' students
Audrey Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 15 Feb 15;

Telco StarHub will give $450,000 over the next three years to plant the seeds of environmental conservation among students.

The funds will be used to sponsor the School Green Awards, an annual initiative of the Singapore Environment Council (SEC), now in its 15th year.

Yesterday, SEC chairman Isabella Loh and StarHub chief executive Tan Tong Hai signed an agreement at the MINDS Fernvale Gardens School.

Under this deal, StarHub will give the council $150,000 each year for the SEC-StarHub School Green Awards.

The awards are meant to recognise schools for their efforts in areas such as waste management and the limiting of energy use.

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, was guest of honour at the signing.

He said: "It is noteworthy that this year is the 15th year of the awards, and that it has grown over the years... I think this is something to be celebrated."

The School Green Awards, usually given out in November, received 344 submissions last year, up from the 28 it got during its inaugural run in 2001.

Mr Tan said: "Through the School Green Awards, StarHub hopes to empower youth in Singapore to proactively take care of our planet."

He said the funds, to be administered by the SEC, could be used to extend the programme to more schools.

It was expanded last year to include institutes of higher learning such as universities, polytechnics and Institute of Technical Education.

SEC's Ms Loh said this expansion would mean reaching out to about 70,000 more students. Last year, about 435,000 students took part.

She added: "StarHub's support will enable the School Green Awards to strengthen its outreach and education to students at all levels of education, and this sponsorship clearly highlights StarHub's commitment to the environmental cause in Singapore."

Read more!

Indonesia: The danger of floods becoming routine

Rizqy Amelia Zein Jakarta Post 11 Feb 15;

Every time the rainy season hits, flooding, landslides and tropical disease outbreaks occur like annual routines.

As a vast archipelago located on a very risky piece of earth, we can hardly avoid the fact that natural calamities are deeply embedded in our daily lives.

This week alone, severe flooding has struck twice in consecutive days and the Jakarta authorities declared a flood emergency.

Though many studies have confirmed flooding is Jakarta’s “geographical fate”, it is not entirely natural: a complex social and political process has made the city more vulnerable to disaster.

Disaster-mitigation and risk-awareness are far away from our mindset in dealing with environmental risks. Worse, commitment to harming the environment as little as possible or to generate positive impact for environmental sustainability, is barely practiced. The number of victims and the amount of material loss rises almost every time the flooding comes.

Let’s distinguish between hazard and risk. Hazard is anything that can harm people and the environment. Hazard is objective (manifested) or subjective (contains a systematic evaluation that makes the outcome more tolerable).

We all agree that the tsunami and earthquakes in Aceh and Nias were harmful, but construction of a nuclear reactor might produce diverse views regarding the danger. Environmental disasters are mostly hazards, not risks in themselves.

In Jakarta, the flood, or the hazard itself, is starting to be oddly perceived as something very ordinary, something that happens routinely every rainy season.

As a resident of Petogogan, Kebayoran Baru said, when the water level reaches 50 centimeters, he isn’t surprised. It is appalling that people are getting used to floods, as they no longer see flooding as something threatening.

Meanwhile, constant exposure to hazards can lead to greater and more damaging future risks. Jakarta faces the possibility of serious landslides and rising sea levels. The banality of environmental disaster also indicates that a hazard is socially constructed.

Despite dead bodies, damaged houses and disrupted daily lives, understanding risk requires undergoing a process that is at once social, political and cultural.

Unlike hazards, understanding risks at least incorporates two layers; probability and effect. Risk indicates the likelihood of certain diabolical events happening in the future causing massive destruction.

As Ulrich Beck argues in his book, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity, risk is “the dark side” of modernity, a logical consequence of the growing scientific and technological developments leading to excessive exploitation.

Risk thus has grown beyond time, space and social class. In a risk society, Beck adds, everyone can be vulnerable.

Beck expresses his concern regarding the transition from traditionalism to modernity, which he claims was unhealthy. Modernization has produced individualism, liberal democracy and overt belief in science, which are principles subsequently transformed into greed and negligence.

Environmental risks, Beck says, are the negative outcomes of modernization. It thus has a different nature from other risks, in particular ways. Firstly, it is very complex, uncertain, comprises causal correlation and produces multiple consequences.

Thus, it is a combination of manufactured (human-caused) and external (nature-caused) risks. Jakarta flooding is not only caused by the fact that Jakarta is a delta city, but also by poor city planning and people’s negligence regarding environmental issues.

Secondly, environmental risks are a combination of individual wrongdoings and long-term contact with various hazards. Yet people constantly blame the government, while disregarding their littering and other environmentally destructive behaviors.

As the impact of risks are often delayed, such behavior remains. Thus, mitigation is almost impossible without everyone’s willingness to act.

Lastly, as Beck emphasizes, like wealth, risks are not evenly distributed. The ones who suffer the most are not necessarily the same people contributing to the risks. In Jakarta, the construction of shopping malls, apartments, large business areas, etc. are not properly regulated. The poorest are left to deal with the aftermath.

Alas, the public discourse with regard to environmental disaster focuses on debate over who is to blame and whether a disaster is a national or local responsibility.

The most shameful reactions involve politicizing the disaster. We are still reluctant to discuss disaster-mitigation, promoting pro-environmental behavior or reforming city planning.

We may need to ponder Beck’s “reflexive modernization” idea — a modest premise that embodies the spirit of reform rather than exploitation. Science and technology are no longer solely used as tools for exploiting natural resources, but more as instruments to politically and economically manage risk.

Science and technology can be harnessed for adaptation, sustainability and precautionary principles instead.

Building more canals, floodgates, etc. is useless if people continue to litter, or if Jakarta officials have no commitment to reforming their urban-planning policies.

There is no instant solution for Jakarta flooding. Mother Nature is fighting back; if we do not move and take action, something nastier is waiting ahead for us.

The writer, a graduate of the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh is a researcher at Crisis and Community Development Center, faculty of psychology Airlangga University in Surabaya.

Read more!

Indonesia: Forest protection up in smoke

Adisti Sukma Sawitri Jakarta Post 11 Feb 15;

In his first 100 days in office, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo seemed to want to show the public he is simple and direct — though the opposite is true concerning his dithering on whether to appoint graft suspect Comr. Gen. Budi Gunawan as National Police chief.

But there is a thin line between simplicity and ignorance — as seen in the case of Jokowi’s trimming of institutions and regulations related to forests. Within three months, the administration has shown that its only interest is in capitalizing on the country’s most coveted resources.

While merging and disbanding a number of institutions related to law enforcement in forestry, Jokowi has effectively halted attempts to end illegal deforestation and reckless business practices that have contributed to land conflicts and paralyzing haze in the region. His merger of the former environment and forestry ministries was initially considered in line with his no-nonsense approach to end cross-sectoral issues regarding problematic forest-clearing policies.

There were already concerns that the new Environment and Forestry Ministry would not continue lawsuits against agroforestry companies allegedly involved in producing haze.

The merger was later followed by the dissolving of two organizations that had been the backbone of forest governance: the Presidential Working Unit for the Supervision and Management of Development (UKP4) and the REDD+ Management Agency (BP REDD+), which in the last months of 2014 had progressed significantly in forestry law enforcement, a surprising relief under former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s otherwise decade of inaction.

The UKP4 had started audits on local administrations and agroforestry companies in Riau — the main area of forest fires during the dry season. The BP REDD+ was progressing in establishing forest reference emission levels (FREL), a requirement in carbon-credit assessment in the REDD+ system that the government had tried to establish under funding from Norway.

The ministry, through a ministerial regulation, has also transferred the authority of 35 forestry-related permits to the Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM). This might speed up issuing of licenses — but the real problem of the transfer is that issuing a permit is not merely paperwork in forestry.

The permits transferred to the BKPM, for example, include various forms of logging licenses (IPK) for all forests, including natural forests. These permits usually coexist with other permits. An oil-palm plantation, for instance, should possess an IPK permit, location permit or land use rights, Environmental Impact Analysis (Amdal) and recommendations at various stages of local administrations.

A permit issuance also relates to forest spatial planning in regions, which the government has not made clear until today. The government has yet to realize the One Map policy, a single reference for the spatial planning of regions, due to differences across forest-related institutions, including the ministry. The failure in producing the single map proves the government has no clear reference on what is happening in the forests. Thus giving up the authority to the BKPM means transferring uncertainty to new investors.

The complicated licensing for forest production under the previous forestry ministry was puzzling and was a major source of corruption; but eliminating the process entirely may trigger new conflicts among companies, local administrations and residents.

Trading environmental assessment for faster permit issuance, for example, also means being less careful in handling environmental problems, including haze.

Reluctance to address haze problems means following in the footsteps of Yudhoyono.

Despite pioneering commitment in emission reduction by announcing the government’s willingness to reduce emissions by 26 percent to 41 percent in 2019, Yudhoyono remained weak in law enforcement, resulting in rampant forest fires that have spread haze in the region for the past few years. Hundreds of residents particularly in Riau, Malaysia and Singapore have suffered respiratory problems. People cannot go to work and children cannot go to school. Numerous flights have been delayed; land travel also has poor visibility.

Public interest should become a top government priority, beyond economic interests.

Punishing irresponsible companies that have allowed or intentionally carried out slash-and-burn practices is the government’s moral obligation. It should not be taken as a barrier for business but rather a way to save and protect citizens.

Singapore has introduced a law to prosecute companies that cause haze — regardless of the origin of the forest fires. The haze bill was criticized by businesspeople. But Singapore kept a firm stance, considering the menacing effects of haze.

The world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, the Norway Pension Fund, has pulled its funds from palm-oil companies engaging in deforestation. Several banks have also announced zero tolerance to ensure environmental sustainability for palm-oil companies.

A recent report from the US-based Climate and Land Use Alliance reported that BNP Paribas often seeks independent verification by civil society organizations before approving financing in the palm-oil industry. Last year, Deutsche Bank divested from the Bumitama Group in response to the company’s alleged deforestation activities. HSBC withdrew banking services from Sarawak, Malaysia, due to concerns about money laundering and deforestation. Against such global pressure on the palm-oil sector, Jokowi seems to lead an orchestra of his own. Appearing more lenient in a sector swamped in graft and poor business practices does not make the sector more appealing, let alone improve the investment climate.

As the world’s largest crude palm oil producer and consumer, Indonesia can be a game changer in global efforts to save rainforests, not only by appearing supportive at the UN climate conference, but by bringing about strong law enforcement to reduce deforestation and promote good business practices in forestry.

So, has Jokowi simplified or ignored forestry issues? Either way he should not ask Yudhoyono for better advice.

The author is a staff writer at The Jakarta Post

Read more!

In China, a fight to save a forest tests toughened environment law

Sui-Lee Wee PlanetArk 11 Feb 15;

In China, a fight to save a forest tests toughened environment law Photo: REUTERS
A man looks at a contaminated river in Cangnan county of Wenzhou, Zhejiang province in this July 24, 2014 file photo.

A lawsuit filed against four Chinese mining executives accused of destroying a stretch of forest is shaping up as a test of China's strengthened environmental law and the ability of green groups to make companies more accountable for their actions.

Environmentalists hope the case will prompt a wave of legal action across China, where discontent is rising over a growth-at-all-costs economic model that has spoiled much of the country's water, skies and soil.

The miners hired workers to clear about two hectares (five acres) of forest on Hulu Mountain in southern Fujian province in 2008 in a bid to extract granite from the mountaintop without a license, according to two environmental groups who filed the suit and Chinese state media reports.

The plaintiffs sued the executives under amendments to the environmental protection law, which took effect on Jan. 1, demanding they fund restoration of the forest to its natural state.

Three of the mining executives were jailed last year for between 14 and 18 months after being convicted of illegally occupying agricultural land. The fourth was not charged in that case but Reuters was unable to contact the executive. It was unclear if the four had lawyers.

The environmental lawsuit, filed at a Fujian court in early January, was the first to be accepted under the new law. A court in eastern Shandong province has since accepted two similar cases.

Liu Xiang, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told Reuters he expected the Hulu Mountain lawsuit, which has attracted wide publicity in China, to be heard in March.

"We have a good starting point now. I can use (this law) as a tool to exercise my right of oversight," said Ma Yong, deputy director of the All-China Environment Federation, a body controlled by the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

The federation is not a plaintiff in the Hulu Mountain lawsuit, but is involved in the other two cases.

The amendments, the first changes to China's environmental legislation in 25 years, enshrined tougher punishment for polluters as part of China's declared war on pollution. They also apply to acts committed before the changes took effect.

Among the measures, government-registered organisations that meet certain criteria can sue polluters.

In addition, China's Supreme Court said last month it would give environmental groups the power to sue before any pollution had occurred if they could show that a particular activity could threaten the public interest.

The court also said a plaintiff's litigation costs, including legal fees, could be borne by the defendant.


Wu Anxiang, a second lawyer for the plaintiffs, said there was enough evidence to show the executives were responsible for the forest's destruction.

Photographs obtained by Reuters from one of the plaintiffs, Fujian Green Home, show a naked peak and slabs of stone stacked along one of its ridges. The other plaintiff is Friends of Nature, a Beijing-based group.

The executives worked for Hulu Mountain Sand Base Hengxing Stone Factory, according to Friends of Nature and Chinese state media. It was not possible to contact the factory, which has no website nor publicly available phone number.

Chinese courts have previously rejected many environmental lawsuits because there was no framework to clarify who was eligible to sue. In 2013, courts turned down 10 lawsuits filed by Friends of Nature and the All-China Environment Federation.

The courts said the law didn't specify whether they belonged to the "relevant" organisations that could sue, said Zhang Bojun, director of Friends of Nature.


Environmentalists say they believe the amendments were passed because the ruling Communist Party is aware of the growing public anger over pollution. Environmental protection is likely to be a major topic at next month's annual parliament session.

"I think based on the current political viewpoint, we should be successful," said Liu, the lawyer.

Liu said it could cost 1 to 2 million yuan ($160,061 to $320,123) to restore the forest based on an assessment from an ecological expert.

Ge Feng, head of the Friends of Nature legal team, said she hoped the case would spur other environmental organisations to file public interest lawsuits.

Despite the changed legal parameters, local governments are likely to pressure courts not to go hard on industries that drive their economies, some experts said.

"The fundamental problem is how to make the courts stop being selective about what cases they accept," said Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a non-governmental organization.

"In terms of using the judiciary to solve China's environmental problems, we still have a long way to go."

(Additional reporting by Beijing Newsroom; Editing by Dean Yates)

Read more!

UN deal to combat global warming complicated as length of draft text balloons

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 12 Feb 15;

Almost 200 nations complicated a drive for a U.N. deal to combat climate change in 2015 on Wednesday by more than doubling the length of a draft negotiating text to about 100 pages of radically varying solutions.

Government delegates said the additions at the Geneva talks, set for Feb. 8-13, were to let all countries air their views, ranging from OPEC nations fearful of phasing out fossil fuels to small island states worried about rising sea levels.

"It's like 195 authors trying to write a book together," said Ahmed Sareer of the Maldives, chair of the 44-nation Alliance of Small Island States, which added text including stress on a need for deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

"It's to be expected," Elina Bardram, head of the European Commission delegation, said of the additions.

The European Union added text, for instance, outlining proposals for cutting emissions from aviation and shipping under a global deal to avert more heatwaves, floods and droughts. The United Nations says 2014 was the warmest year on record.

The new text, of about 100 pages, swells a draft of 38 pages from talks in Lima last year, complicating the task ahead of a Paris summit starting in November that is due to agree a U.N. deal to limit global warming.

Geneva is the last session for adding texts. Under U.N. rules, an official draft as the basis for talks has to be ready six months before the summit.

The text lists a huge range of options that are unlikely to be resolved before Paris. One option is to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, another sets no clear timetable.

The length "is not a show-stopper," said Christiana Figueres, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, adding that it was vital to hear all views.

Still, the length, twinned with sharper positions by many nations, increased the challenge for the next round of talks in June, she said.

The last time nations tried to work out a deal to combat climate change, in Copenhagen in 2009, draft texts ended up unmanageably long at 200 pages, said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Copenhagen failed to nail down a deal.

"Adding text was the easy part," he said. Still, he said 100 pages should not be a problem since countries could not complain - as many did in Copenhagen - that their views had been ignored.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Read more!

Is climate change fuelling war?

AFP By Richard Ingham Yahoo News 11 Feb 15;

Paris (AFP) - For years, scientists and security analysts have warned that global warming looms as a potential source of war and unrest.

Storms, droughts, floods, and spells of extreme heat or exceptional cold: all can destroy wealth, ravage harvests, force people off land, exacerbate ancient rivalries and unleash a fight for resources, they say.

These factors are predicted to become more severe as carbon emissions interfere with Earth's climate system.

Yet some argue there is evidence that man-made warming is already a driver in some conflicts.

"In a number of African countries the increase in violent conflict is the most striking feature of the cumulative effects of climate change," South Africa's Institute for Security Studies (ISS) warned in 2012.

"In the Sahel region, desertification is causing clashes between herders and farmers because the availability of cultivated land is being reduced.

"Climate-related effects of this nature are already resulting in violent conflicts in northern Nigeria, Sudan and Kenya," it added.

The idea leapt to prominence in 2007, when UN chief Ban Ki-moon said violence in Sudan's Darfur region was sparked in part by a two-decade-long decline in rainfall that devastated cattle herds.

Arab nomads were pitched against settled farmers in a rivalry for grazing and water.

The tensions bloomed into full confrontation between rival militias -- an escalation due "to some degree, from man-made global warming," Ban argued.

Others have drawn a link between the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings and climate change-induced heatwaves in cereal-exporting countries.

Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan took their grain off the global market -- and within four months, global food prices hit their second record peak in three years.

This may have lit the fuse in powder-keg Arab countries burdened by poverty, youth unemployment and authoritarian rule, according to this view.

Former US vice president Al Gore, now a Nobel-honoured climate campaigner, believes climate change was a factor, among others, in the Syrian conflict.

"From 2006 to 2010, there was a climate-related historic drought that destroyed 60 percent of the farms in Syria, 80 percent of the livestock and drove a million refugees into the cities, where they collided with another million refugees from the Iraq war," Gore said in Davos last month.

- Caution -

Climate scientists are cautious about drawing a causal link between global warming and current conflicts -- as opposed to future ones.

"The example of Darfur is often put forward to illustrate the effect of climate on conflict between groups," French climatologist Jean Jouzel writes in a new book.

"But the reality is more complex, and most researchers acknowledge that the political and economic context was the prime factor."

Mark Cane, a professor of Earth and climate sciences at Columbia University in New York, said there was "a strong case" to link discontent in Syria to the drought which in 2007-2010 was the worst ever recorded there.

But he pointed to a problem: ascribing a role for climate change, usually discernible over decades, to a single weather event.

Furthermore, "it is impossible to look at any single conflict and argue conclusively that it wouldn't have happened but for a drought or some other climate anomaly," Cane told AFP by email.

Governance and other factors also weigh in, he noted. What magnified the impact of Syria's drought, for instance, was gross waste of water and a surge in population, other experts have said.

- Risk factor -

Scientists are cautious about declaring a link between conflict and climate change until the evidence is overwhelming.

In the military, though, it's different. Armed forces have to respond swiftly and cannot wait until the proof is all there, which is why climate is now a risk factor in their planning.

In many countries, military analysts already include climate change in risk management, Neil Morisetti, a former British admiral and climate advisor to the British government, now director of strategy at University College London, told AFP.

"Some will say it (the risk) is here already," he said.

"If you look at where climate change is going to have its greatest effect, and is already having an effect, it's that belt north and south of the equator... this is where a lot of raw materials are, where the world's supply chains and trade routes run, and where ultimately a lot of the number of the markets and emerging powers are."

And a volatile world, said Morisetti, "poses a risk to political geo-stability."

Whether or not they agree that the effects are evident, the experts are united in their heralding of worse to come.

"Human security will be progressively threatened as the climate changes," the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCCC) warned in its overview report.

The Pentagon agrees.

"Rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels, and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty and conflict," it said in a 2014 Global Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap.

Read more!