Best of our wild blogs: 1 Apr 15

Sisters' Islands Marine Park happenings: Feb-Mar 2015
from Sisters' Island Marine Park

Crows and Eagle fight over Heron’s Nestings
from Singapore Bird Group

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Cars that auto-park, roads that supply power

Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 31 Mar 15;

Come rain or shine, Singapore's roads will serve an extra purpose in the year 2065 by absorbing rainwater to prevent floods or by generating solar power for the nation.

At exercise corners, fitness equipment will harness kinetic energy from people's workouts and turn it into electricity to charge electronic devices or supply power to the national grid.

To help Singapore adapt to its growing ageing population, cars will have become self-driving and be able to communicate with buildings to ensure safe and efficient travel and effortless parking.

These were among the visions submitted by Singaporeans to BuildSG2065 - a contest being held by The Straits Times and CapitaLand, one of Asia's largest real estate companies, to mark the country's 50th anniversary.

It requires Singaporeans to submit their visions for the Republic in another 50 years' time. They could win prizes.

The entries could also be displayed in an exhibition featuring the past, present and future of Singapore, using the pages of The Straits Times, which will commemorate its own 170th anniversary this year.

Submissions can be made in four categories: go green, space-age kampungs, smart spaces and weatherproof world.

Mr Ernest Lin, 25, who submitted an entry in the first category, sees a greater role for Singapore's roads, which makes up about 12 per cent of land use.

"In 2065, solar-power roads will be a reality in Singapore. Roads and expressways will act as a power generator to supply sustainable energy to charge cars, power homes, industries and so forth," he said.

Mr Ryan Wong, 36, said new, porous roads could help Singapore during heavy rain. "The roads will be able to absorb water, with technology keeping the surface dry and not allowing any water to accumulate on it," he said.

He added that rainwater collected in the roads' sub-layers could be used in eco-friendly precincts.

"This can also help Singapore to become a more 'weather-proof' nation," he said.

Others suggested ways for Singapore to become more energy self-sufficient.

Exercise corners at HDB blocks could have fitness equipment hooked up to charging boxes.

"These could convert kinetic exercising motions into energy to charge your phones and smart devices.

"You'd get free electricity while keeping fit and staying healthy," said Mr F. H. Lee, 52.

Student Angeline Aw, 15, said people will also be able to create energy through their clothes and shoes.

She said: "Our clothes and shoe soles can be embedded with piezoelectric materials that produce electrical energy when mechanical stress is applied to them.

"Since we are constantly moving, our movements would apply pressure onto the material, generating electricity."

Mr Benjamin Lim, 47, believes Singapore will be an island of self-driving cars by 2065.

"These will even know how to auto-park at the destination. We won't need to bother finding parking spaces because the smart buildings will communicate with the smart cars, and direct the cars to the right spots," he said.

The advances in technology will also bring Singaporeans closer, said 50-year-old Marilyn Yap. "Singaporeans in the same neighbourhood will be able to connect with one another using their smartphones," she said.

"The young and working adults can form long-lasting relations with their retiree neighbours and engage one another in sharing a new recipe, going for a walk or sharing a hobby."

To submit your idea, go online to from now until April 30.

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Singapore team to return from firefighting efforts in Chiang Mai: Ng Eng Hen

Channel NewsAsia 31 Mar 15;

SINGAPORE: After almost two weeks, 50 men from the Singapore Armed Forces and Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) have concluded firefighting operations in northern Thailand, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen announced in a Facebook post on Tuesday evening (Mar 31).

"With fewer hotspots, the haze in Chiang Mai has lifted," Dr Ng wrote. He added that Singapore's Chinook two helicopters flew 17 sorties over 35 hours and dropped over 200,000 litres of water to assist with firefighting efforts.

"LTC Marcel Xu, the mission commander, told me that they were operating at high terrain of up to 7,000ft. At times, the haze affected visibility. My thanks to all SAF and SCDF personnel for enduring the high temperatures and thick haze when carrying out these operations," Dr Ng said.

Dr Ng added that he was glad Singapore could help the people of Thailand, and wished those from SAF and SCDF a safe journey home.

- CNA/dl

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Malaysia: RM100,000 boost to save the Sumatran rhino

New Straits Times 1 Apr 15;

KOTA KINABALU: Efforts to save the endangered Sumatran rhinoceros have received a boost with the Federal Government contributing RM100,000 for its conservation in Sabah.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel said the amount would finance an advanced reproductive technology that could be used to save the most ancient line of the species and among five living rhinoceros species now on the brink of extinction.

“The only hope for these species now lies in bringing as many of them as possible into closely-managed facilities and use advanced reproductive technologies,” he said at the Asean Regional Forum Workshop on Combating Wildlife Trafficking here yesterday.

Palanivel said there was hope if successful methods for artificial insemination could be developed for the last few fertile females and males and if embryos could be implanted into surrogate mothers.

He also hoped the fund would contribute to the advanced reproductive technology by the Borneo Rhinoceros Alliance, a non-governmental organisation that has worked closely with the Sabah Wildlife Department.

He said the ministry would also present a paper on conservation efforts to impede the extinction of Sumatran rhinos and other endangered species in the National Biodiversity Council.

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Malaysia: Label with environmental impact information for aquaculture produce

NURADZIMMAH DAIM New Straits Times 31 Mar 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry is mulling proposal to include the environmental impact information on the labelling of aquaculture produce here, Parliament was told.

Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the label would inform consumers of the environmental impacts during production process.

"Generally, aquaculture operators like fish farmers have to abide by stringent regulations by the Department of Environment, so such indication in the label of produces will further improve awareness among consumers and help regulate operations by the farmers.

"The current regulations among others stated that every fish farm must be equipped with treatment pond to prevent untreated water from being released and might harm the environment," he said in responding to a supplementary question by Datuk Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa (Pas-Parit Buntar).

Ismail said the National Agro-food Policy 2011-2020 set by the ministry categorised three aquaculture sectors, namely, fish produce for food, decorative fish and sea weed as high value industry.

"Aquaculture industry basically focuses on increasing production and strengthening competitiveness through strategies including producing high-valued produce, ensuring consistent fish fries and increase food supply for aquaculture industry."

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In Vietnam, Rampant Wildlife Smuggling Prompts Little Concern

RACHEL NUWER New York Times 30 mar 15;

U MINH, Vietnam — Luc Van Ho slips through a tangled thicket of jungle, graceful as a dancer. A blanket of dried bamboo and melaleuca leaves on the forest floor barely crackles beneath his bare feet. Only the smell of cigarette smoke betrays his presence.

A hunter, Mr. Luc, 45, set out at dawn from his family’s bamboo-thatched home in Vietnam’s U Minh forest to check a half dozen homemade traps rigged along animal trails in the underbrush and on canal banks frequented by snakes and turtles.

He stops at a snare trap made of wood and bicycle brake wire, nearly invisible beneath leaves. The trap is empty, not unusual.

“Before, this forest was very different,” Mr. Luc said. “Now, the animals are so few that most hunters are changing their jobs.”

Still, in the previous two weeks, Mr. Luc had caught nine Southeast Asian box turtles and Malayan snail-eating turtles, five elephant trunk snakes, a handful of water birds and two rare Himalayan griffon vultures. For safekeeping, Mr. Luc stashed the vultures in his brother’s house, leaving them tethered in the bedroom until he can figure out what to do with them.

In the past, Mr. Luc’s hunting trips often yielded wildlife bonanzas, including prized pangolins. Also known as scaly anteaters, they are among the most trafficked mammals in the world. Mr. Luc works with traders willing to buy live pangolins for $60 a pound.

Although he caught just two pangolins last year, that price makes it well worth the effort to keep seeking them out. He knows, however, that this lucrative resource is finite.

“Pangolins will be extinct soon,” he said. Still, he expresses no plans to retire.

Mr. Luc is one of thousands of illegal hunters draining Vietnam, one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, of its animals. Its rhinoceroses have already gone extinct, and conservationists estimate that just a couple of its tigers, if any, remain. Even lesser known species like soft-shell turtles and civets are sought out for traditional medicines, food, trophies and pets.

Illegal wildlife is one of the world’s largest contraband trades, netting an estimated $19 billion a year, not including illegal fisheries and timber. While all Southeast Asian countries and many others outside of the region are involved, Vietnam plays a paramount role. The country is a major thoroughfare for wildlife goods bound for China, which arrive overland from Cambodia, Thailand and Laos; by ship from Malaysia and Indonesia; or by air from Africa.

“After China, Vietnam is the next port of call in terms of where to look to figure out what’s going on with wildlife trade,” said Dan Challender, a co-chairman of the pangolin specialist group at the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Vietnam is also a significant consumer of wildlife, especially those yielding the ingredients for traditional medicine, such as rhino horn, which is used to treat everything from cancer to hangovers. The exotic meats of rare animals are seen as luxuries by a rising middle class eager to advertise its prosperity.

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“Pangolin is frequently the most expensive item on the menu, so ordering it is an obvious way to show off to friends and colleagues,” Dr. Challender said. “The fact that it’s illegal isn’t played down and is even attractive, because it adds this element that you live beyond the law.”

International concern about the trade has never been greater, but conferences, new enforcement strategies and ivory crushes have yet to make a dent.

In February, the Obama administration issued a plan to curb illegal wildlife trade by strengthening enforcement, reducing demand and sending a handful of agents abroad. The United States is the second-largest market for illegal wildlife products, but only an estimated 10 percent of traffickers are caught because of inadequate resources supporting enforcement, as well as legal loopholes pertaining to certain products, such as ivory.

“Wildlife trade is higher profile now than it’s ever been, and that’s great,” said Chris Shepherd, regional director in Southeast Asia of Traffic, a wildlife trade monitoring network. “But all of the talk about this issue by world leaders is not trickling down to the ground yet.”

In January of this year, officials intercepted more than 7,500 protected pig-nosed turtles in Indonesia, a frozen tiger in Vietnam and 190 endangered black pond turtles in Singapore. As wildlife disappears in Southeast Asia, poachers increasingly turn to Africa.

More than 1,500 pounds of ivory and two tons of pangolin skins were intercepted in Uganda in January. Last year in South Africa alone, a record 1,215 rhinos were killed for their horns.

The illegal wildlife products that officials manage to interdict account for an estimated 10 to 20 percent of the total trafficked.

“We may be disrupting criminal networks, but we’re certainly not dismantling any of them,” said Scott Roberton, Vietnam country representative and regional coordinator for wildlife trafficking programs for the Wildlife Conservation Society. “The situation is going to get worse before it gets better.”

While China recently increased its arrests and prosecutions for wildlife crimes, those caught trafficking wildlife in Vietnam or other transit countries almost always escape punishment. Dealing in protected species is a criminal offense under Vietnamese law, as is selling wild-caught animals of any kind.

But even when trafficking kingpins are taken into custody, prosecution often depends on finding unrelated charges that are taken more seriously than wildlife crime, such as car smuggling. Poachers like Mr. Luc — who says he has never run into legal trouble — are rarely reprimanded, and punishment, if any, usually entails a small fine.

“Very few criminals caught for major violations like tiger or rhino horn possession ever do a day in prison,” said Douglas Hendrie, chief technical adviser for Education for Nature-Vietnam, a nonprofit organization based in Vietnam.

Wild-caught and protected animal products are easily procured in Vietnamese cities. “It’s not an enforcement priority yet, largely due to corruption, collusion and an absolute lack of concern,” Dr. Shepherd said. “People just do not care.”

Thien Vuong Tuu (“The Alcohol of the Gods”), a fancy restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City, advertises pangolin, bear, porcupine, bat and more on its illustrated menu. Customers interested in pangolin — sold for $150 a pound — must order it two to three hours in advance and place a deposit based on its weight.

When the customer returns for dinner, the manager presents the live pangolin to the table, then slices its throat on the spot to prove that the meat is fresh and has not been substituted.

“Pangolin is very popular with customers, because it treats a lot of sicknesses,” said Quoc Trung, the restaurant manager. His staff will also dry and package pangolin scales left over from dinner — a popular ingredient in traditional medicines that are still covered by Vietnamese health insurance.

On a Sunday night, families with young children and groups of middle-aged men fill the restaurant. At one table, two French-speaking men order a cobra to the delight of their female companions. Two young servers bring out a large, writhing snake, its mouth bound tightly shut with plastic twine.

As the customers film with their smartphones, one server holds the snake taut. The other carefully feels along the animal’s abdomen until he locates the heart, then opens it up with a pair of scissors and removes the beating organ with his bare fingers.

As the servers wring out the animal, the blood drips into a ceramic bowl to be mixed later with alcohol and drunk.

“The government doesn’t allow exotic meat, but we have our sources and good connections with the police,” Mr. Quoc said after the show concluded. “The demand is so high for these things, so we have to supply them.”

Given the widespread lack of enforcement, grass-roots conservation organizations in Vietnam increasingly find themselves on the front lines. Education for Nature-Vietnam recently conducted a survey of restaurants, hotels and shops in 12 districts in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, recording each violation of wildlife laws and insisting that authorities follow up.

Several months later, the group repeated the survey and found the availability of illegal products ranging from snake “wine” to bear bile had fallen by nearly 60 percent in eight of the districts. “When authorities put us out of work by doing their job effectively and consistently, then we’ll no longer have to do this,” Mr. Hendrie said.

Save Vietnam’s Wildlife, a nonprofit based at Cuc Phuong National Park, organizes training sessions across the country for park rangers and the police, conducts community education programs and operates one of the country’s only rehabilitation centers for confiscated animals.

In Vietnam, much of the wildlife intercepted from illegal traders is sold by officials back into the black market. Nguyen Van Thain, Save Vietnam’s Wildlife’s founder, often must race to the sites of recent confiscations to try to recover animals before that can happen.

“Corrupt rangers still want to sell animals back to the trade,” Mr. Nguyen said. Even if the animals are not sold, very few return to the wild, because of a lack of rehabilitation facilities.

Animals not sent to a specialized rescue center often “just sit around until they die,” Dr. Shepherd said.

Over the last three months, Mr. Nguyen has helped rescue 20 pangolins, but the maximum capacity at his center — one of only two in Vietnam that can care for pangolins — is less than 50. With a budget of just $90,000 a year, he has few resources with which to expand the center and hire additional staff.

Mr. Nguyen says he is not confident that attitudes will change in time to spare his country’s wildlife.

“The problem in Vietnam is that conservation is a new way of thinking,” he said. “Vietnamese people need to learn to take seriously what we have now. We need to take care of our own environment and wildlife if we want it to be around in the future.”

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Indonesia and Brazil: Subsidies to industries that cause deforestation worth 100 times more than aid to prevent it

Brazil and Indonesia paid over $40bn in subsidies to industries that drive rainforest destruction between 2009 and 2012 - compared to $346m in conservation aid they received to protect forests, according to new research
More than half of the world’s forest loss between 1990 and 2010 took place in Brazil and Indonesia.
Arthur Neslen The Guardian 31 Mar 15;

Brazil and Indonesia spent over 100 times more in subsidies to industries that cause deforestation than they received in international conservation aid to prevent it, according to a report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI).

The two countries handed out over $40bn (£27bn) in subsidies to the palm oil, timber, soy, beef and biofuels sectors between 2009 and 2012 – 126 times more than the $346m they received to preserve their rainforests from the United Nations’ (UN) REDD+ scheme, mostly from Norway and Germany.

“The fact that domestic subsidies for commodities that cause deforestation so vastly outweigh international aid seeking to prevent it shows we need a radical rethink,” Will McFarland, one of the report’s authors told the Guardian.

“By making the cost of producing these commodities cheaper, subsidies increase their profitability and make them more desirable to investors. That in turn artificially inflates their growth, and threatens the rainforests further. With subsides running at over 100 times that of forest aid, we should be urgently trying to reform this system.”

Asad Rehman, a senior international climate campaigner for Friends of the Earth compared Brazil and Indonesia to “cancer charities asking for donations whilst subsidising cigarette production at the same time”.

“Deforestation is ultimately driven by consumption demands in the North,” he said. “We all have a responsibility to tackle the businesses that are colluding in this destruction. The only real solution to this failure is empowering communities to safeguard their forests.”

More than half of the world’s forest loss between 1990 and 2010 took place in the two countries, with an average 2.7m hectares (6.7 acres) of rainforest lost in Brazil and 1.2m hectares in Indonesia.

Indonesia’s rate of forest destruction rose steeply in the last decade and may now have overtaken that of Brazil, where deforestation has declined since a peak in 2004. Between 2008 and 2012 forest clearing accounted for 61% of Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions, and 28% of Brazil’s.

Part of the problem lies in a lack of coordination between national environment ministries seeking to protect their natural resources and other government departments motivated by imperatives to protect commodity exports and reduce rural poverty.

McFarland said the phenomenon was “incredibly contradictory” and demanded the conditioning of future aid on environmental protection measures. “Through subsidy reform, modest sums of forest finance can be used to ensure that any subsidies are provided in a manner that both protects forests and the poor,” he said.

In Brazil, commodity subsidies have been focused on beef and soy production, while in Indonesia they have mainly gone to timber and palm oil.

Between 2008 and 2011, one reform, linking rural credit subsidies to environmental criteria in the Brazilian Amazon, saved $1.4bn – and an estimated 346 sq km (133 sq miles) of rainforest – according to the ODI study.

Lord Stern’s New Climate Economy report last year recommended that the international community up its forest protection aid to at least $5bn per year by 2030, with payments tied to verified emissions reductions.

But an ODI finding that Brazil spent $2.7m in biofuel subsidies in 2009 – mostly for ethanol – illustrates how contentious such conditions may be in practice. New research by Timothy Searchinger published in the journal Science last week, found that any greenhouse gas reductions from bioethanol would depend on cuts to food consumption in the developing world.

The paper said that models used by US and EU agencies to evaluate ethanol’s greenhouse gas saving potential, expected up to half of the calories lost to its production not to be replaced by substitute crops. Most associated CO2 reductions would come from diminished diets which reduced the amount of carbon dioxide that people breathed out or excreted.

The McKinsey Global Institute says that in 2011, governments spent $1.1tn subsidising the consumption of resources such as water, energy and food.

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EU to ban owners from scrapping ships on South Asian beaches

Robert-Jan Bartunek Reuters 1 Apr 15;

European, Turkish and Chinese recyclers are set to benefit from strict new EU rules on breaking up old ships, but the practice of dismantling them on beaches in South Asia at great human and environmental cost will still be hard to stop.

Of 1,026 ocean-going ships recycled in 2014, 641 were taken apart on beaches in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, according to figures from the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, which campaigns for an end to the hazardous practice.

Tankers, cruise liners and other old vessels are rammed onto beaches and stripped down by hundreds of unskilled workers using simple tools such as blowtorches. Chemicals leak into the ocean when the tide comes in.

There is also a human cost: the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai estimates that some 470 workers have died in the past 20 years in accidents in Alang-Sosiya, the world's largest stretch of ship-breaking beaches, in Gujarat. Some 35,000 mostly migrant and unskilled workers operate there.

The new rules aim to stop what Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for the Environment and Maritime Affairs, called "the shameful practice of European ships being dismantled on beaches".

They will require that EU-registered ships be recycled only at sustainable facilities, and a list of these is expected to be published next year. It is likely to include yards in China, Turkey, North America and the European Union, but not South Asia.

"The European list will split the market into a safe market and a substandard market," said Patrizia Heidegger of Shipbreaking Platform.

It will be the first large-scale implementation of the International Maritime Organisation's 2009 Hong Kong convention on ship recycling, which until now has only been ratified by three countries -- Congo Republic, France and Norway.


The incentive to part with an old vessel at a South Asian facility is huge. Rules on disposing of asbestos, for example, are generally more lax, meaning the profits for breaking up a ship are higher.

Depending on raw-material prices, ship owners can make up to $500 per tonne of steel from an Indian yard, compared with $300 in China and just $150 in Europe.

To counter this, the European Commission is looking at ways to reward ship owners for recycling at approved facilities, although details are still to be decided.

Indian shipyard owners see the new rules as a ploy to fill empty yards in Europe. Fewer than 4 percent of all retired ocean-going ships passed through European facilities in 2014.

Haiderali G. Meghani, director of International Steel Corporation, a large ship recycling firm based in Alang, said concerns about poor safety and environmental standards in India were misplaced. "We are almost near to European standards," he said.

The European rules have one big loophole: owners can change a ship's flag or sell it on to a third party outside Europe, who can then scrap it at a non-approved facility. But ship owners are likely to face harsh criticism if they resort to such practices under the new regime.

European shipping groups such as Denmark's Maersk and Germany's Hapag-Lloyd [HPLG.UL] have already adopted policies to recycle only at facilities that meet international environmental standards.

At the Galloo ship recycling yard in Ghent, Belgium -- the largest in Europe -- the volume of ships recycled has more than quadrupled over the past 10 years to about 35,000 tonnes of steel per year.

It employs only about 30 staff, with most of the heavy work done by machines. European groups such as Maersk and French geoscience company CGG have sent ships to be recycled there.

"Large companies have started to come here," said Peter Wyntin, head of recycling. "They just can't afford the bad press any more of dismantling ships on some beach."

(Additional reporting by Tommy Wilkes in Delhi and Ole Mikkelsen in Copenhagen; editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Mark Trevelyan)

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Global green energy investment climbs after two-year decline

Nina Chestney Reuters 1 Apr 15;

Global green energy investment surged in 2014, after two years of decline, due to a solar boom in China and Japan and record offshore wind investment in Europe, a U.N.-backed report showed.

Renewables investment reached $270.2 billion last year, 16.6 percent above 2013 investment of $231.8 billion, said the report backed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The surge follows two years of declining investment due to lower prices for renewable technologies and was just 3 percent below an all-time high of $279 in 2011.

Solar power accounted for $149.6 billion of total investment, while wind power accounted for $99.5 billion, showed the report, which was prepared by the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre and Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

An unprecedented solar boom in China and Japan meant the two Asian economies invested $74.9 billion between them in solar in 2014, almost half the global total, while Europe accounted for$16.2 billion of the global offshore wind investment total of $18.6 billion.

In terms of capacity, 103 gigawatts (GW) of renewable generation capacity was added worldwide last year, compared with 86 GW in 2013, which is equal to the generation capacity of all 158 nuclear reactors in the United States.

Although 2014 was a turnaround year for renewables after two years of shrinkage, challenges remain such as policy uncertainty and structural issues in the electricity system arising from increasing amounts of wind and solar in the generation mix.

Brent crude oil prices, which sank in the second half of last year, could dampen investor confidence in solar in some oil-exporting countries, for example, or biofuels, but should not have a major impact on renewables investment overall.

"Oil and renewables do not directly compete for power investment dollars," Udo Steffens, president of the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, said in a statement.

"Wind and solar sectors should be able to carry on flourishing, particularly if they continue to cut costs per megawatt hour. Their long-term story is just more convincing," he added.

The full report is available at:

(This version of the story corrects paragraph 4 to say solar accounted for $149.6 bln of the total investment figure and wind accounted for $99.5 bln)

(Editing by Susan Thomas)

UN: New renewables broke through 100GW barrier in 2014
Mark Kinver BBC News 31 Mar 15

The solar and wind industries were the driving force behind the growth in investment in the global renewable energy sector

New renewable generating capacity broke the 100GW barrier in 2014, equivalent to the entire fleet of nuclear power plants in the US, a UN report shows.

Global investment in renewable energy during 2014 increased by 17% from 2013 levels to US$270bn (£183bn).

Investors have been attracted by the increasing cost effectiveness and low risk of the solar and wind sectors.

The analysis has been published by the UN Environment Programme (Unep) and Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Thinking big (and small)

"We have a continuation of what we have seen in previous years, which is a concentration of investment in two sectors - solar and wind," explained Eric Usher, lead editor of the Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment.

Offshore wind projects in Europe was a driving force behind European investment in renewables
Mr Usher, head of the Unep Finance Initiative, said that both sectors had recorded a good year.

"Solar was up 29% to US$150bn, while wind was up 11% to almost US$100bn. The other sectors did less well, some are maturing but others have yet to mature.

"Technologically, solar is doing well at both small-scale (roof tops) and larger scale.

"The big story in wind, in developed economies - Europe particularly - is large-scale off-shore, which had a very good year receiving US$18.6bn in financing in Europe alone."

The increase in investment was the first rise for three years after the global sector recorded a dip in investment levels during 2012 and 2013. The report said the commitments made in 2014 were just 3% below the record level of financing in 2011.

Globally, renewables accounted for an estimated 9.1% of the world's electricity generation. The report calculated that this contributed to saving of 1.3 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions - about twice as much as emitted by the global airline industry - if the electricity had been generated from fossil fuels.


Achim Steiner, Unep executive director, observed: "Once again in 2014, renewables made up nearly half of the net power capacity added worldwide.

"These climate-friendly energy technologies are now an indispensable component of the global energy mix and their importance will only increase as markets mature, technology prices continue to fall and the need to rein in carbon emissions becomes ever more important."

China was by fair the biggest investor, pumping a record US$83.3bn into the sector - up by more than a third on its 2013 financing.

The US was second, investing US$38.3bn. Japan was a close third with US$35.7bn.

Mr Usher told BBC News that innovation in the sector was being recorded around the globe, in developing nations as well as in the industrialised world.

"On the technology front, China has really scaled up, giving most countries and manufacturers a run for their money particularly when it comes to manufacturing solar and wind turbines," he said.

"At the same time in Europe, because we are getting the penetration levels of 25% or even higher in countries like Germany, Denmark and Spain, a lot of the innovations here relate to how you manage a grid with large-scale variable supply.

"So a lot of the technical innovations are coming from the grid operators."

'Exciting innovations'

Mr Usher added: "In North America, we see the financial sector doing some very exciting innovations. For example, they are bundling together tens of thousands of household-scale systems into financing structures that can get Wall Street bankers excited."

He explained the financing packages were set up for the gas and renewables sector, but renewable projects were "pulling away" from gas projects.

"They are very low risk. Once you have set up a wind farm or solar system, the risks are actually much lower than running a gas plant because you do not have a pricing risk.

Therefore the cost of financing renewables has come down remarkably. Now projects can raise financing at very low cost and that leads to a lower end-use cost of electricity."

Despite the return to growth in investment after a two-year dip, the report's authors say that a number of challenges still factor the sector as a whole, despite the growing strength of the wind and solar industries.

One was the fall in the global price of oil. But Udo Steffens, president of the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, was cautiously optimistic: "Oil and renewables do not directly compete for power investment dollars.

"Wind and solar sectors should be able to carry on flourishing, particularly if they continue to cut cost per MWh."

Another challenge that the report highlighted as an area of concern was the "erosion of investor confidence" caused by increasing uncertainty surrounding government support for renewables projects.

Michael Liebreich, chairman of the advisory board for Bloomberg New Energy Finance, explained: "Europe was the first mover in clean energy but is still in a process of restructuring those early support mechanisms.

"In the UK and Germany, we are seeing a move away from feed-in tariffs and green certificates towards auctions and subsidy, which are aimed at capping the cost of the transition to consumers."

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Limiting climate change could have huge economic benefits, study finds

Stopping global warming at two degrees would create nearly half a million jobs in Europe and save over a million lives in China, analysis of emissions pledges says
Arthur Neslen The Guardian 31 Mar 15;

Major economies would boost their prosperity, employment levels and health prospects if they took actions that limited global warming to 2c, according to the first analysis of emissions pledges made before the UN climate summit in Paris later this year.

Europe has promised a 40% emissions cut by 2030, compared to 1990 levels – and the report says this will bring real benefits, including 70,000 full-time jobs, the prevention of around 6,000 pollution-related deaths, and a €33bn cut in fossil fuel imports.

But if emissions were slashed by around 55% – the study’s proposed route for holding global warming to two degrees – those benefits would multiply to $173bn fuel savings, 420,000 full-time clean energy jobs and 46,000 lives saved, its authors say.

31 March is the deadline for developed countries to submit their climate pledges for the conference (so called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, INDCs), but few have yet done so and nations such as Canada and Japan are expected to miss the bell.

“This report adds to the growing body of evidence that greater climate ambition means better health,” said Anne Stauffer, the deputy director of the Health and Environment Alliance.

“The massive health benefits expected from mitigation action not only include premature deaths avoided but also reduced healthcare costs and increased productivity. This should be welcome news for European decision-makers.”

In other parts of the world, the effects of increased climate ambition would be even more dramatic, according to the New Climate Institute’s (NCI) analysis which uses data from the International Energy Agency.

Putting China on course for a world warmed only by two degrees would save over a million lives and create almost 2m jobs – compared to the 100,000 lives and 500,000 jobs set out in its climate deal with the US.

Comparable figures in the US for a 2C pathway would see 650,000 new jobs created and 27,000 deaths avoided.

“Despite the major achievements of the INDCs, this study has shown that the potential co-benefits of strengthening INDCs to meet a 2C compatible trajectory are many times higher than those already achieved,” the paper says.

Global temperatures have already risen by 0.85 degrees since 1880, according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). As the warming effect of CO2 emissions is thought to take a decade to materialise, we may already be committed to over one degree of warming.

In the long term, that is likely to risk the future of coastal cities such as New York, Shanghai and Calcutta, according to scientists at the Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research.

If the planet warms by 2C by 2100, the Royal Society expects to see a third of the world’s currently-cultivated agricultural land disappear, the bleaching of all coral reefs, and an increase in water stress for 410m people.

At a rise of 4C, the limits for human and environmental adaptation are likely to be exceeded in many parts of the world, a 2010 paper by the Society said. It envisaged around half of the world’s current agricultural land becoming unusable, sea level rises of up to two metres, and the extinction of about 40% of the world’s species, as droughts and wildfires ravaged the globe.

“The ecosystem services upon which human livelihoods depend would not be preserved,” the study found.

“Our industries must face the challenge of massive decarbonisation,” said Sharan Burrow, the International Trade Union Confederation’s secretary-general.

“We have the technology and there are millions of jobs possible from the necessary investment and millions more saved if we avoid the devastation of extreme climate change. There are no jobs on a dead planet.”

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US climate treaty pledge relies on uncertain Obama actions

JOSH LEDERMAN Associated Press Yahoo News 1 Apr 15;

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States put forth its contribution Tuesday to a global climate treaty, relying entirely on a set of emission cuts ordered by President Barack Obama that may not survive beyond the end of his presidency.

Environmental groups and like-minded governments hailed the U.S. pledge as substantial and ambitious, and Obama's aides waxed hopeful that the U.S. announcement would spur other countries to follow America's lead. Yet with Obama's actions at home facing serious legal challenges and intense political opposition, the Obama administration conceded that many foreign capitals are dubious the U.S. will live up to its commitment.

Todd Stern, the U.S. special envoy for climate change, said the pollution rules Obama is counting on to achieve the U.S. goal are on solid legal ground, pushing back on Republicans who have pledged to repeal them or stop them before they can take effect.

"Undoing the kind of regulations we are putting in place is something that is very hard to do," said Stern. "Countries ask me about the solidity of what we're doing all the time, and that's exactly what I explain."

To fulfill its pledge, the U.S. has until 2025 to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases 26 percent to 28 percent below the levels recorded in 2005. Obama first set that goal late last year as part of a joint climate agreement with China, then codified it Tuesday as the formal U.S. contribution to the climate treaty that nations are seeking to finalize by December, when leaders convene in Paris.

The United States is already part of the way there. Earlier in his presidency Obama set a goal to cut emissions 17 percent by 2020, and the boom in U.S. natural gas production has had the ancillary effect of curbing emissions from dirtier coal-fired power plants.

In its written pledge, known to climate negotiators as an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution, the U.S. did not offer an exact formula for how it would achieve the remaining reductions. Yet it pointed to an array of steps Obama has taken or is taking to curb emissions. Obama has ordered higher fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, methane limits for energy production, cuts in federal government emissions and unprecedented pollution rules for new and existing power plants.

Many of those steps have drawn the ire of some Democrats and almost all Republicans — not to mention the energy industry. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has been urging U.S. states not to comply with Obama's power plant rules, and argued that the U.S. could never meet Obama's target even if those rules do survive.

"Considering that two-thirds of the U.S. federal government hasn't even signed off on the Clean Power Plan and 13 states have already pledged to fight it, our international partners should proceed with caution before entering into a binding, unattainable deal," McConnell said.

Although Tuesday marked the informal deadline for nations to relay their commitments to the United Nations, most countries blew through that deadline and will announce their pledges later in the year. So far the U.S., the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Mexico and Russia have put their pledges on the table, with most developing nations and heavy polluters like India and China expected to wait a few more months.

In its message to the U.N., the U.S. argued its pledge was both "ambitious" and "fair" — buzzwords in the long-running dispute about who bears the burden for fighting climate change: Wealthy, industrialized nations like the U.S. or poorer, developing countries like India. The developing countries have argued that since they have historically been responsible for less pollution, they hold less responsibility for taking the tough economic steps needed to curb future emissions.

The U.S. has sought to use its pledge and its diplomatic engagement on climate to ramp up the political pressure on other countries to make ambitious commitments of their own, in hopes of securing the most robust treaty possible.

Yet if McConnell and others succeed in thwarting parts of Obama's climate agenda, it's unclear how the U.S. could meet its goal. White House officials declined to say whether they had a Plan B. And since Obama has relied on executive authority to act on climate, the longevity of Obama's actions are up to the discretion of his successor.

"Foreign capitals remain nervous given the episodic history of U.S. climate engagement," said Paul Bledsoe, a climate adviser in the Clinton White House and a scholar at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. He said not all legal experts agree with the Obama administration that a future Republican president would have a hard time reversing Obama's actions.

US pledges emissions cuts of up to 28% ahead of global climate treaty
US confirms greenhouse gas emissions cuts proposals that will be ‘very tough’ to change, boosting prospects for a global climate change agreement at talks in Paris in December
Fiona Harvey and Suzanne Goldenberg The Guardian 31 Mar 15;

The White House pledged to cut carbon pollution by up to 28% on Tuesday, boosting the prospects for an international agreement on climate change at the end of the year.

With the US pledge, the countries accounting for nearly 60% of greenhouse gas emissions from energy have outlined their plans for fighting climate change in the 2020s and beyond, the White House said in a conference call with reporters.

“That’s a big deal,” Brian Deese, the White House climate adviser wrote in a blog post announcing the pledge. “The United States’ target is ambitious and achievable, and we have the tools we need to reach it.”

Deese told the conference call the US expected to achieve emissions cuts of 26% to 28% by 2025 relative to 2005 levels and was on track for an 80% cut in emissions by 2050.

The climate commitments would be “locked in” by the time Barack Obama leaves, and could not easily be reversed by a Republican president or Republicans in Congress, officials told the conference call.

“The undoing of the kind of regulations that we are putting in place is something that is very tough to do,” Todd Stern, the state department climate envoy, said. “The kind of regulation we are putting in place does not get easily undone.”

Some 33 countries have now committed to specific goals for fighting climate change, according to the United Nations agency overseeing the negotiations.

In addition to the US, the European Union, Mexico, Norway and Switzerland have outlined their plans to fight climate change after 2020, when the current commitments expire.

Those plans, and those of other countries offered over the next few months, will serve as the building blocks of an international agreement at Paris that is intended to limit warming to 2C, the threshold for dangerous climate change, Stern told the call.

Deese said the Obama Administration was on track to achieve those emissions cuts using existing legal authority, and that the US was on track to achieve emissions cuts of 80% by 2050, based on steps already set in motion by Barack Obama.

“We have the tools we need to meet this goal and take action on climate pollution,” Deese told the call.

However, Republicans in Congress said Obama would be unable to deliver on his commitment to the UN. “The Obama Administration’s pledge to the United Nations today will not see the light of day,” Jim Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who heads the Senate’s environment and public works committee, and denies the existence of man-made climate change.

Most countries missed the Tuesday deadline for submitting climate change plans, agreed at the United Nations negotiations at Lima last December. A number of the biggest carbon polluters, such as Brazil, India, Indonesia, Japan , are not expected to announce their commitments until October.

Russia has offered to cut emissions 25% on 1990 levels by 2030.

Campaigners welcomed the US pledge - which had been widely anticipated - but said the Obama Administration needed to move decisively to finalise new rules cutting carbon pollution on power plants to keep up the momentum before Paris.

The power plant rule is the centerpiece of Obama’s climate change plan.

“The United States is signaling that countries should have confidence it can deliver. To maintain that confidence, a strong final rule this summer to cut carbon pollution from new and existing power plants will be critical,” the World Wildlife Fund said in a statement.

Oxfam said the US needed to make deeper emissions cuts to help keep warming below 2C. “While this contribution does move us closer to the 2C pathway, it does not represent the level of ambition needed to avoid catastrophic climate change.”

Among those countries that have come forward, the EU has agreed to cut its emissions by 40% by 2030, compared with 1990 levels. China has promised its emissions will peak by 2030 but it has not officially submitted a pledge to the UN.

Mexico, the first developing country to make a climate commitment, said it will cut emissions by at least 22% - and as much as 40% if certain conditions are met. Norway offered a 40% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, from 1990 levels, and said it sought to be carbon neutral by 2050.

For the rest of the world, developed countries are expected to submit plans outlining substantial cuts in greenhouse gases after 2020, while most developing nations are likely to agree only to curb the growth of their emissions compared with “business-as-usual”, rather than make absolute cuts.

But the aggregate level of emissions targets proposed will be bitterly fought over by countries, experts and civil society. Based on the early submissions from the three biggest emitting blocs, global emissions would rise to a level that would see temperatures soar by at least 3.5C, according to some analyses, way beyond the 2C of warming that is widely regarded by scientists as the limit of safety, beyond which the effects of climate change are likely to become catastrophic and irreversible.

Birgit van Munster, of the Homo Sapiens Foundation, which has been analysing the pledges as they have come in, said: “If all humanity follows the example [of the first countries to submit pledges] we will be more than 700% over the likely emissions limit [needed] to limit global warming to less than 2C, and if this trend continues humanity will proceed to go beyond 5C, the end of human life on earth as we know it.”

Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics, said: “We can already see that the pledges for 2030 are likely to be significantly lower than a “business-as-usual” emissions pathway, but far in excess of 36bn tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, which the UN Environment Programme concluded last year was the level required for a pathway that offers a 50% to 66% chance of avoiding warming of more than 2C.”

It is unlikely that the pledges made in advance of the Paris talks will be enough to lower global emissions to a level consistent with scientific advice on 2C, as many participants acknowledge. However, many are hoping that Paris will provide a mechanism for the pledges to be upwardly reviewed in future years, according to each country’s ability.

“It is very important that the agreement in Paris includes the creation of a post-2015 process that raises the ambitions of countries’ planned emissions cuts,” Ward said.

Doug Parr, policy director at Greenpeace UK, told the Guardian: “Meeting the end of March deadline is an opportunity for major countries to demonstrate both urgency and leadership in the battle against climate change. But thus far we haven’t seen enough of either. Millions of people around the world are waiting for a signal that their political leaders are taking climate change seriously. They [the leaders] are still in time not to let us down.”

Once submitted, the 196 “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions”, as the plans are known, will be examined by the UN and other countries to decide whether they are fair and adequate. That process is likely to take until autumn, when the final preparations for the Paris talks will be put in place.

United States sets official strategy for Paris climate talks
Valerie Volcovici PlanetArk 1 Apr 15;

United States sets official strategy for Paris climate talks Photo: Mike Segar/Files
U.S. President Barack Obama (C) speaks during the Climate Summit at United Nations headquarters in New York, in this September 23, 2014, file photo.
Photo: Mike Segar/Files

The Obama administration on Tuesday published plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions up to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, part of a strategy to generate momentum for a global agreement later this year on combating climate change.

The formal submission to the United Nations fleshes out domestic measures to be taken and the White House said the U.S. target "will roughly double the pace of carbon pollution reduction in the United States."

The U.S. plan cited existing measures such as standards for vehicle fuel economy and improved appliance efficiency to help meet the target, and proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulations to cut carbon emissions from power plants and methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.

Many of those policy steps have run into hostility from Republicans who control both houses of Congress and threats of lawsuits from industry groups and some states challenging the administration's legal authority to impose those regulations.

Seeking to take a leadership role ahead of U.N. talks from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 in Paris, U.S. officials highlighted that countries producing 60 percent of global greenhouse gases have now pledged to cut or slow the pace of those emissions. The U.S. plan relies on a host of executive actions to hit the upper end of the target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

"What is significant about where we are today is ... that the countries that have made commitments span the spectrum of countries, including emerging economies," said Brian Deese, the senior environmental advisor to Obama, a Democrat.

China announced its plan to cap its emissions around 2030 in a joint announcement with the U.S. last November. Mexico on Friday announced a goal to cap its emissions in 2026.

The European Union, Switzerland, Norway and Russia have also submitted plans to slash their greenhouse gas emissions, meeting the U.N.'s informal deadline of March 31.

But major carbon emitters from India to Brazil and Canada to Japan have yet to produce their plans, which may hinder the process of reaching agreement before the Paris talks, according to some environment policy observers.

(Editing by Susan Heavey and Grant McCool)

US makes climate pledge to to UN
Roger Harrabin BBC 31 Mar 15;

The US has pledged to tackle climate change by cutting its carbon emissions 26-28% by 2025.

It made the formal offer to the UN as a step towards a global deal in Paris in December.

The EU has already promised to cut its emissions by a roughly similar proportion.

Tuesday was the deadline for wealthy nations to make their offers – but some, such as Canada, have failed to submit in time.

The announcement was made on Twitter with the words: "America is taking steps to #ActOnClimate, and the world is joining us" - accompanied by a picture of the President in China.

The US announcement said: "The target is fair and ambitious. The United States has already undertaken substantial policy action to reduce its emissions. Additional action to achieve the 2025 target represents a substantial acceleration of the current pace of greenhouse gas emission reductions.

"Achieving the 2025 target will require a further emission reduction of 9-11% beyond our 2020 target compared to the 2005 baseline and a substantial acceleration of the 2005-2020 annual pace of reduction, to 2.3-2.8 percent per year, or an approximate doubling."

Analysts examining the promises made by the first few nations to commit say they are not strong enough to hold global temperature rise to the internationally agreed maximum of 2C.

The early deadline was set for rich nation submissions because the UN is desperate for the Paris meeting to avoid a repeat of the shambolic gathering in Copenhagen in 2009 that failed in its aim of protecting the climate.

Todd Stern, the US chief climate negotiator, previously told BBC News that America’s contribution would be “quite ambitious”.

But he warned that the Paris process would not itself solve the climate problem. That, he argued, would need ongoing effort over decades.

Road ahead

The US has a climate action plan announced in 2013 with new restrictions on power plant emissions and tougher standards on vehicles.

But President Obama's policies are being strongly resisted by Republicans in Congress and the law courts, and other nations have been watching keenly to see if he would formally submit the offer to the UN.

The EU has offered to cut emissions 40% on 1990 levels by 2030 (the US offer is based on a 2005 baseline). Switzerland and Mexico also unveiled pledges.

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.

Dr Jeremy Woods, who runs the Global Calculator project at Imperial College London said: “The declarations are an important first step. However, since most experts agree that all of the intended pledges will not be enough to limit global warming to 2C, it’s vital that the international community has a clear view well now of the scale of the challenge ahead.

“Over the last decade, the EU’s emissions have shrunk, the US’s have remained more-or-less stable but China’s have risen dramatically from just over 10% of global emissions in 2000 to just under 30% in 2013. The world has been going in the opposite direction to that needed to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

"Unless major emitters (governments and businesses alike) can find ways and reasons to dramatically change course we will move into uncharted and dangerous waters very soon.”

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

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Rich nations' fossil fuel export funding dwarfs green spend: documents

Barbara Lewis Reuters 31 Mar 15;

Rich nations provided around five times as much in export subsidies for fossil-fuel technology as for renewable energy over a decade, according to OECD data seen by Reuters.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) figures on export credits are central to a debate on targeting funding ahead of U.N. climate talks in Paris at the end of the year.

Just when the European Union is leading the push for a new global deal on curbing emissions and is phasing out domestic coal subsidies, the documents underline the scale of the developed world's investment in exporting technology for the most polluting fossil fuel.

Earlier this year, a document seen by Reuters provided the closest yet to official figures on coal export credits.

Further documents give the context of all energy export subsidies.

One, dated March 4, when the OECD held closed-door talks on the issue, shows OECD governments provided preferential loans and state-backed guarantees worth $36.8 billion between 2003 and 2013 for exporting fossil fuel power-generation technology, including almost $14 billion for coal.

A document from October 2014 shows another $52.6 billion in export credits was allocated for the extraction of fossil fuels, including coal, taking the fossil fuel total to $89.4 billion.

Export credits for technology for renewable energy, which has no extraction costs, were $16.7 billion.

An OECD spokesman said he could not comment on documents marked confidential. But the documents themselves say the data should be public.

"There would seem to be a pressing need to issue coherent, complete and accurate figures on official export credit support that is relevant to climate change issues," the March 4 document says.

EU officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the March talks made little progress and the issue would be raised again at OECD level in June.

The OECD has said it wants a decision on how export credits can help tackle climate change in time for the U.N. summit that begins on Nov. 30 in Paris.

A debate within the EU, which accounts for two thirds of OECD nations, is deadlocked because Poland has blocked as too ambitious a compromise to allow export funding for only the most efficient coal technology, the EU officials said. Britain and France objected, saying the compromise was not ambitious enough.

Germany, the biggest EU user of export credits both for coal and renewables, the data shows, is planning measures to make operators of coal plants, such as RWE, curb production at their oldest and most-polluting power stations as part of efforts to achieve climate targets.

A letter to the European Commission from industry associations, the European Power Plant Suppliers Association, EU Turbines and Germany's VDMA, said halting coal export credits would lock developing nations into less-efficient technology and curtail European industry's competitiveness.

Environment campaigners dismiss those arguments.

Sebastien Godinot, an economist at WWF, said the industry had "failed to bring any concrete evidence that the OECD export finance policy drives more efficient technology".

(Editing by Dale Hudson)

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