Best of our wild blogs: 16 Mar 15

Update on mass fish deaths: West Johor Strait
from wild shores of singapore

Update on mass fish deaths: East Johor Strait
from wild shores of singapore

Mass Fish Death Pub Quiz – Sat 21 March, 9pm @ The Hangar
from biodiversityconnections

Naked again at Chek Jawa!
from wild shores of singapore

Crested Goshawk feasting on a Common Palm Civet
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Singapore Bird Report – February 2015
from Singapore Bird Group

Indian Mackerel (Rastrelliger kanagurta) @ Pasir Ris
from Monday Morgue

Read more!

Using ash from burnt trash to reclaim land

Audrey Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 16 Mar 15;

Your trash could one day be used to reclaim land.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) has embarked on a project to study if ash left over from burnt rubbish can be used as land reclamation material.

This is part of its efforts to conserve landfill space and prolong the lifespan of Singapore's only landfill on Pulau Semakau, which is situated about 8km south of the mainland.

"If incineration bottom ash can be used as reclamation material, it would conserve the space available on Semakau Landfill for disposal of other non-incinerable waste," an NEA spokesman said.

The Semakau landfill contains non-incinerable waste as well as the ash from incinerable waste.

A combination of sand and approved fill material - such as excavated earth and material from construction - can be used for land reclamation.

With Singapore producing more waste, the landfill could be filled up by as early as 2035, a decade earlier than the projection of 2045 made in 1993.

In 2013, Singapore generated 7.85 million tonnes of waste, up from 7.27 million tonnes the year before. About 60 per cent of this is recycled, but the amount of waste going into the landfill is also going up.

NEA figures showed that 1,700 tonnes of incineration bottom ash was generated daily last year, up from the 1,600 tonnes in 2013 and 1,500 tonnes in 2012.

As part of the study, which began in 2013, the agency is looking at how the ash - which contains metals such as iron and aluminium - can affect the marine ecosystem.

The NEA has engaged researchers at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) to do a risk-assessment study, which will include the development of guidelines on how to use such ash as land reclamation material.

NTU is working with the Tropical Marine Science Institute as part of the project.

The research project is expected to end next year. It is the latest measure undertaken by the Government to recycle incineration ash to make Singapore's only landfill last longer.

Last year, the NEA awarded a tender to build a $15 million recovery facility to salvage metals from incineration bottom ash.
And in 2009, the Land Transport Authority carried out a trial using processed incineration bottom ash in the sub-base layer of two 50m sections of Tampines Road.

The trial showed that, in terms of performance, incineration bottom ash can be used for road construction, although it has not been used in any other roads here since.

This is due to the additional processing cost and uncertainty in projected demand for the material in road construction.

Asked if the NEA will face similar challenges in using the ash for land reclamation, its spokesman said the ongoing research will enable it to see if additional processing is needed to make the ash suitable as land reclamation material.

Read more!

A Palm Oil King Develops a Green Conscience

Wilmar International’s chairman is cleaning up the industry that made him a billionaire
Yuriy HumberRanjeetha Pakiam Bloomberg 13 Mar 15;

The sprawling palm oil industry has long been a destroyer of rain forests and tormentor of endangered species across Southeast Asia, to hear environmental groups tell it. And if one executive embodied this $50 billion business, it was Kuok Khoon Hong, a 65-year-old Singaporean commodities magnate.

Known as the palm oil king, Kuok is a member of one of Asia’s most powerful business clans and co-founder and chairman of Wilmar International. These days he is no longer portrayed as a villain by activists and nongovernmental organizations. He’s become central to their campaign to prod the palm oil industry to adopt eco-friendly business practices that may start to slow the environmental damage in the region. “I would consider myself an environmentalist today,” he says. “I changed a few years ago when I saw the damage climate change had on the environment in some countries.”

Extracted from the orange pulp of a palm fruit, palm oil is the most used edible oil in the world. You use it every time you brush your teeth, wash your hair, eat ice cream, or put on lipstick. As commodities go, it’s cheap, versatile, and plentiful—palm fruit yields more oil than any other agricultural commodity. Cultivation of palm oil ties up more than 42 million acres worldwide, an area four times the size of Switzerland.

The business has made Kuok a billionaire and lifted many communities in Southeast Asia and Africa out of poverty. It’s also led to mass deforestation and a big air pollution problem. Some palm growers still take a slash-and-burn approach to clearing forests, although the practice is banned in Indonesia and Malaysia. That sends massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the air. In parts of Southeast Asia, only 5 percent of primary, or virgin, forest cover remains, according to Global Witness, an environmental group.

Kuok’s change in thinking has been gradual and owes much to pressure from shareholders and environmental activists. About two years ago, Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global, the world’s biggest sovereign wealth fund, dumped shares in Wilmar and 22 palm companies, citing environmentally harmful industry practices.

Greenpeace videos alleging that palm oil buyers including Unilever and Procter & Gamble contribute to deforestation scored millions of YouTube hits. On an investor call, environmentalists heckled the chief executive officer of Kellogg about buying palm oil from Wilmar. In 2013, Singapore, where Wilmar is based and Kuok lives, was covered in ash from plantation fires tied to the industry.

A Chinese immigrant family in British-controlled Malaya, the Kuoks started with a rice and flour shop before patriarch Robert Kuok rose to be one of the world’s top sugar traders. Robert’s nephew Khoon Hong set up Wilmar with a partner in 1991. Operating largely in Malaysia and Indonesia, the company grew to be one of Singapore’s biggest, with $43 billion in revenue in 2014, and it’s the Kuoks’ premier agribusiness.

Wilmar had argued that it was primarily a trading company and didn’t play a direct role in the environmental abuses—and thus couldn’t be expected to police the industry. Nevertheless, it was an attractive target for critics. One activist went on TV to blame Singapore’s ash on Wilmar. “I asked myself what we did wrong for us to be so wrongly accused,” Kuok Khoon Hong says.

Because of Wilmar’s industry position, “we were made to look like the biggest villain.” The activist on TV was Glenn Hurowitz, an executive director of the environmental consulting group Catapult, in Washington, and one of the strategists behind a yearlong attack by NGOs on the palm industry, with Wilmar as the No. 1 target.

Kuok tracked down Hurowitz. Within weeks the former tormentor was in Kuok’s office laying out a plan to change the palm oil industry and eradicate its links to deforestation. Face to face with Kuok, Hurowitz says he found the businessman interested in what he had to say. “He had not been focused on the environmental issues until we started talking,” Hurowitz says. “He deserves enormous credit for being open-minded.”

“He had not been focused on the environmental issues until we started talking. He deserves enormous credit for being open-minded.”
By late 2013 the sustainability momentum brought in Unilever CEO Paul Polman, whose company is the world’s biggest buyer of palm oil. Polman joined the talks as Unilever had been under pressure from activists. Wilmar, Unilever, and environmental groups wanted all palm oil companies to sign off on new industry standards, but most resisted. When Unilever agreed to join with Wilmar, Kuok broke industry ranks and made the environmental pledge in late 2013.

Wilmar and Unilever announced that not only would they abide by sustainable principles but they would also force their suppliers to do the same. They effectively promised that no trees of any kind, peat land, or orangutans were damaged or hurt in the making of the products. More companies jumped on board with zero-deforestation pledges. McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble, and Starbucks are among more than 30 companies with commitments to buy palm oil that’s certified as sustainable by the end of 2015.

Wilmar and Unilever are backing a database system that asks companies involved in the sale and purchase of palm oil to detail their transactions. If it works, industry players will be able to check the original source of their palm oil and determine whether the supplier is compliant with environmentally friendly practices. Yet another tool, an online map built by the World Resources Institute environmental group, uses satellite imagery to identify forest fires and tree clearing. In January, Wilmar set up a website that catalogs its supplier mills and plantations and lets visitors to the site check whether these are in an area that’s been deforested.

The push to clean up palm oil production faces big challenges. It’s a fragmented industry, and not every company has joined the sustainability push. Nor are the initiatives Wilmar and others have signed on to legally binding. Restoring the lost rain forests and animal habitats will take decades.

Still, the campaign is more than a public-relations gesture, says Dave McLaughlin, vice president for agriculture at the World Wildlife Fund: “They’re putting their credibility on the line.” These global companies, he says, “really are exposed on the palm oil issue. It’s difficult. The circumstances and the issues are not easy, but they’re doing it.”

The bottom line: Wilmar’s and Unilever’s push to stop deforestation in the palm oil industry has moved other big companies to follow suit.

Read more!

Malaysia: Prolonged dry spell hits northern Sabah districts

The Star 16 Mar 15;

KOTA KINABALU: A prolonged dry spell in Sabah with low river levels has prompted fears of water supply shortfall, especially in the drought-prone northern districts of Matung­gong, Kudat and Pitas.

Worried that the situation could worsen if the dry spell persists for another month or so, many rural folk have started digging wells for their water supply.

“The situation is not that serious as there is still water from the wells. But if the rain doesn’t come next month, things could get worse,” said Jailani Hamdan, the state assemblyman for Matunggong, which was one of the worst-hit districts during the 1998 drought.

He said that despite the dry spell since February, most rural folk in Matunggong were still able to cultivate their crops.

Sabah Meteorological Services Department director Abdul Malek Tussin said wetter weather was expected by May with the onset of the inter-monsoon season.

“The current dry spell is characteristic of the ending of the current north-east monsoon,” he added.

A Sabah Water Department official said the water supply situation in the state was still under control.

However, he urged consumers to conserve water and avoid wastage.

Read more!

Global dependence on food imports leaves countries vulnerable

Chris Arsenault PlanetArk 16 Mar 15;

ROME (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Global grain imports have increased more than fivefold over the past half century, stoking fears that countries have become too dependent on the vagaries of international markets for their food, an environmental researcher said.

If prices rise, or wild weather prompts countries to impose grain export bans, as Russia did in 2010, nations heavily dependent on imports could face crisis.

More than a third of countries import at least 25 percent of their grains, an increase of 57 percent since 1961, said Gary Gardner, a researcher at the Worldwatch Institute in Washington.

Thirteen countries were 100 percent dependent on imports for their grain supply by 2013, an 18 percent increase from 1961, said Gardner, author of the report "Food Trade and Self-Sufficiency" published this week.

World grain imports rose from just over 50 million tonnes in 1961 to more than 300 million tonnes in 2013, the report said.

"More and more countries depend on global markets for their food - that creates vulnerability," Gardner told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Friday.

Russia's 2010 ban was partially responsible for triggering social unrest and a revolution in Egypt as more than 500,000 tonnes were not supplied and global prices rose damaging Egypt's state bread subsidy program, a farm lobby group said.

Global food prices are currently at their lowest levels in more than four-and-a-half years, the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture organisation (FAO) reported this month.

But population growth, expanding appetites for meat in developing countries - which requires grain for feed - and environmental pressures mean this trend won't last forever.

Governments should do their best to protect farmland and water resources, Gardner said, to nurture homegrown production and not just leave food supplies to the mercy of global markets.

The number of hungry people worldwide has dropped by nearly 200 million since 1990 to 805 million in 2014, according to the FAO.

However population pressures and economic growth are leading countries to convert farmland into urban or suburban areas. In the United States alone, agricultural lands the size of Indiana were "paved-over" between 1982 and 2007, Gardner said.

"National agricultural endowments need to be protected," he said. "The market has an important role to play but it shouldn't be the final arbiter of who gets food and where it comes from."

(Reporting By Chris Arsenault; Editing by Ros Russell)

Read more!

UK could double its fish catch if quotas allowed stocks to recover, says study

Following scientific advice on rebuilding overfished species would double British catches within a decade creating thousands more jobs, study suggests
Fiona Harvey The Guardian 13 Mar 15;

Fishermen in the UK could benefit from doubled fish catches within a decade and an expanded industry, if European Union fishing quotas were in line with scientific advice, a new study has found.

British fleets would be able to land 1.1bn tonnes of fish a year – up from about 560m at present – within a decade if scientific advice on re-stocking overfished species were heeded, according to estimates from the New Economics Foundation.

Larger catches, with the revenue that would accrue to them – an extra €500m (£356m) a year in the UK alone, based on current prices – and thousands of extra jobs could become available if stocks were allowed to recover, because this would bring about higher yields.

Larger catches will only come at the cost of short-term gain, however: if the UK’s quota were to be re-balanced immediately, more than a tenth of current levels would have to be sacrificed. This could be much higher for other member states.

This is one of the major reasons why quota negotiations are strongly tilted towards a short-term view.

Griffin Carpenter, of the New Economics Foundation, said: “Our analysis shows that rebuilding fish stocks can result in more jobs, more profits and higher wages. Ministers are squandering significant economic potential through their failure to sustainably manage a vital environmental resource.”

Fishing quotas are set using historical quotas and records, and the size of the fleet in each EU member state. Ministers meet in Brussels each December to wrangle over quotas, but are not under an obligation to manage fish stocks without overfishing.

Under recent reforms to the EU’s common fisheries policy quotas should be moved to a “maximum sustainable yield”, bringing scientific advice to the fore in setting quotas. However, the obligation to work towards a maximum sustainable yield will be phased in gradually over the next five years.

There is dispute over what a maximum sustainable yield is, as scientists and fishermen disagree about the size of fish stocks in European waters.

Last December ministers set quotas above scientifically advised limits for nearly two-thirds of the EU’s fish stocks, according to the New Economics Foundation report.

Cod and whiting, which are the main species in most of the UK’s fishing areas, have good potential for recovery, the report found, and if they were well-managed the stock may rise to levels at which better catches are possible, while the UK would keep its share of the quota. British fleets would benefit from taking the same share of a larger pie.

Read more!

Global emissions stall in 2014 following slowdown in China's economy

Carbon dioxide emissions stayed the same last year compared to 2013, data shows, but falling oil prices may cause them to rise again
Fiona Harvey The Guardian 13 Mar 15;

A slowdown in China’s economic growth helped the world to a pause in the upward rise in greenhouse gas emissions last year, according to data released on Friday.

China burnt less coal last year than expected, as the projected rise in its energy demand faltered along with the rise in its economic growth, and as the expansion of its renewable energy generation continued.

Emissions of carbon dioxide related to energy use were flat in 2014, compared with the previous year, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Friday. Previous pauses or falls in the upward march of global emissions, such as that experienced in 2009, were closely related to economic shocks.

Global carbon dioxide output was 32.3bn tonnes in 2014, which the IEA said was unchanged from the previous year, while global GDP rose by 3%. However, the data is still preliminary and will not be confirmed until mid-June. It is not possible at present to say how much of the pause in the growth of emissions was down to policy and how much to economic forces, nor whether this pause is likely to continue.

The dramatic fall in the price of oil over the last few months will also be an important factor in whether emissions rise again next year, as cheaper oil is associated with increasing greenhouse gas levels.

Maria van der Hoeven, executive director of the IEA, warned that the apparent one-year pause in the growth of emissions was too soon to regard policies as successful. She said: “The latest data on emissions are indeed encouraging, but this is no time for complacency, and certainly not the time to use this positive news as an excuse to stall further action.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in 2007 that global greenhouse gas emissions must peak by around 2020 for the world to stay on track to hold global temperature rises to no more than 2C on average, the level regarded as the limit of safety beyond which the effects of climate change are likely to become irreversible and catastrophic.

Global governments will meet in Paris this December to discuss a possible new agreement on climate change to include commitments on curbing emissions after 2020, when current commitments end.

Ed Davey, the UK energy and climate secretary, said: “These figures show that green growth is achievable not just for Britain but for the world. However we cannot be complacent – we need to dramatically cut emissions, not just stop their growth. Getting a new global climate deal is absolutely vital, and the year ahead is going to be of critical importance.”

Ahead of the Paris conference, governments of major economies, both developed and developing, are expected to come up with proposals to cut or curb their emissions in the 2020s. The United Nations (UN) has set a deadline of the end of March for submitting such proposals, but this may not be met in all cases.

Last November, the world’s two biggest emitters - the US and China - jointly announced their commitments under the UN process. The US has pledged a cut of 25% to 28% by 2025, compared with 2005 levels. China has pledged that its emissions will peak by 2030, a goal that the European Union’s former climate chief told the Guardian was “very late” compared with what China is capable of.

Future data from the IEA, scheduled to be published in June, is likely to give an indication of whether China’s emissions could be expected to peak sooner than the 2030 deadline, on business-as-usual expectations.

Developed countries in the past decade have experienced a “decoupling” of carbon emissions from economic growth, with rising GDP alongside lower emissions. However, some observers have said this was only possible because the manufacturing and contingent energy use needed to fuel economic growth were taken on by developing countries such as China.

The pledges made by countries under the UN climate change negotiating process, including a commitment by the EU to cut emissions relative to 1990 levels by 40% by 2030, will be examined by the UN in the months leading up to the Paris talks.

'Long struggle' warning on climate
Roger Harrabin BBC 13 Mar 15;

America’s chief climate negotiator has warned of the long battle ahead to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Todd Stern told BBC News that by the end of the month, he expects the US to make a “quite ambitious” declaration on climate change.

He praised China’s projected offer to the December climate summit in Paris.

But he said the conference would not itself solve the climate problem. That, he argued, would need ongoing effort over decades.

Nations are desperate for the Paris meeting to avoid a repeat of the shambolic gathering in Copenhagen in 2009 that failed in its billing as the summit to save the planet.

This time, rich nations have agreed to make their offers well in advance to reduce the chance of last-minute chaos.

Long view

The EU has already offered a 40% cut on 1990 levels by 2030. The US will soon offer – probably a 26-28% reduction below 2005 levels by 2025. Comparison is hard because of different baselines, but some experts say the two appear roughly comparable in terms of effort.

China is expected to offer to peak emissions by 2030 at the latest, and to produce 20% of its energy from nuclear and renewables by the same date.

Mr Stern said: “You can look at the US, the EU, China - you could say I wish they did a little more than that, but that is a significant target the Chinese have announced. It’s not perfect - but then nobody’s is.”

He warned against expectations that the Paris summit would produce an agreement to keep global temperature rise within 2C.

“The two-degree goal will be reached if countries execute a deep decarbonisation of their economies over a significant period of time," he said.

“So what will we see from this agreement, if we get what I would like? We’ll get strong initial targets. They are not going to be everything everybody wants but I want to caution people against looking at this agreement from a 2015 snapshot.”

China’s commitment to add 800 gigawatts of renewables or nuclear was “really impressive,” he said. “This is an enormous amount – more than all the coal used in China now. To put it in perspective, the entire US energy system is about 1,100 gigawatts.”

I first met Mr Stern when he was advising President Clinton on climate policy. I asked if he felt positive about progress since then. He replied: “I think we have come quite far but there is quite far to go. In the US, more has happened to developing technologies and putting in place regulations that will drive the energy transformation. That has never happened before.

“On the international agreement, there has been a lot of movement and we have a historic opportunity to deliver an important agreement in which all countries are genuinely part of the regime and taking action that’s ambitious and rules-based, fair and durable. If we do this right, it will send a message to markets that we are on a path to action and there’s no going back.”

The US has recently begun to turn the screw on the other great power, India, which has declined to offer climate targets because it says India is too under-developed to make promises to cut emissions.

Pressure from the other powers is unwelcome in Delhi. “This is the pot calling the kettle black”, Kirit Parikh, a former member of India’s planning commission, told BBC News.

“China is saying it will peak in 2030 but not what level it will peak, and not when it will reduce emissions away from that peak,” he said. They could hit a peak and stay there. This is just an illusion of progress.”

His comments sound an alarm bell for Paris. The great economic blocs may be back-patting at their mutual efforts – but the summit is supposed to embrace all nations.

Mohamed Adow, a Kenyan working for Christian Aid, said: “The initial commitments from the big polluters are inadequate – they won’t put the world on the path to two degrees. Anyway, two degrees is too much for Africa – we are already seeing terrifying impacts after only 0.8 degree level of warming; that means adapt or die for parts of Africa and we can’t accept that.”

The great powers are likely to keep their promise to put their targets up for scrutiny this month - but when that happens it's them who will become the targets.

Read more!