Best of our wild blogs: 26 Apr 15

Raffles Lighthouse (Singapore Maritime Week 2015) Part I
Rojak Librarian

Butterfly of the Month - April 2015
Butterflies of Singapore

Short Night Walk At Ang Mo Kio Town Garden West (24 Apr 2015)
Beetles@SG BLOG

Brown-throated Sunbird enjoys a leaf bath
Bird Ecology Study Group

Blue-winged Pitta flew into our living room!
My Nature Experiences

LKCNHM featured on The 5 Show
News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

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Singapore can take lead as low-carbon investor

Jessica Robinson, Nathan Fabian The Straits Times AsiaOne 25 Apr 15;

Paris is preparing to host the most important summit on climate change in a generation, where all countries in the world have agreed to pledge action.

The aim is to launch a new global effort to reduce the human imprint on the climate.

Global momentum is gathering. We want a more livable and sustainable world for everyone - with an economy that is cleaner, healthier, quieter, safer and more energy-secure, and that supports a better way of producing, consuming and living.

One key area where we need examples of green, sustainable living is in cities.

We are living in an age when the world is adding 1.4 million people a week to urban areas, where half its population already lives.

This rapid global urbanisation, especially in developing nations, threatens to poison the air people breathe and the water they drink.

Singapore has something to teach us. Environmentally, it has performed well.

In 2011, Singapore was rated as Asia's top-performing city in the Green City Index, created by the Economist Intelligence Unit and Siemens. This year, for the Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index, it was rated the top Asian city under the "planet" category.

Singapore has had many successes, achieving some of the highest rates of waste collection and recycling and lowest rates of water leakages. It performs strongly in terms of the allocation of green space and sanitation.

And it has an exemplary mass transit system - the need for private vehicles has clogged too many of the world's cities with pollution and congestion.

Of course, Singapore can do more.

For example, it has very low levels of renewable energy generation.

Recent policies - including an energy reduction strategy and a climate change plan, and in particular the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint 2015 - can change this.

However, one of the biggest hurdles to building more livable cities is the lack of strong investors to finance the increasingly profitable opportunities to build more productive, efficient, low-carbon infrastructure for transport, energy and buildings.

As Singapore pulls together the plan that it will submit to the United Nations climate talks taking place later this year, it might want to consider how it uses its national assets to achieve climate goals, in particular through the investment activities of its sovereign wealth funds.

As a recent report by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate showed, there are multiple benefits to be gained from investing in low-carbon infrastructure.

That is, before accounting for the vital importance of reducing climate risks, such as more intense storm surges and sea level rises, which pose such serious threats across the world, not least to coastal cities and island states such as Singapore and its neighbours.

Furthermore, the growing costs of carbon emissions mean that renewable energy and efficient buildings are now a better bet than many high-carbon assets.

The latest crash in oil prices only serves to remind us of the dangerous volatility of fossil-fuel commodity markets.

Singapore's two sovereign wealth funds, like the city-state itself, are already high-performing and well-run.

By size, they are in the world's top 12 sovereign wealth funds, with a combined half a trillion dollars in assets under management, based on estimates by the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute.

The latest annual report on the management of the Singapore Government's portfolio showed exemplary returns.

In GIC's case, an annualised return of 12.4 per cent has been achieved in the past five years, much higher than figures posted by many of its peers.

Moreover, Singapore's funds are already invested in infrastructure in developing countries.

Their higher annual returns are a lesson for investors who focus only on liquid assets, such as company shares, in developed countries.

Now, Singapore's Government can look to its sovereign wealth funds to show greater leadership and go further, by taking four important steps.

First, they should become world leaders in financing infrastructure that raises the efficiency of energy and water use, to build cleaner, low-carbon cities where people need not fear to breathe.

They can thus capture the incentives that governments are increasingly directing into the green economy.

Second, the funds should incorporate into their long-term risk assessments factors such as cumulative threats from climate change, natural disasters and environmental degradation, including water and air pollution.

In this way, they can perform a better risk-management function for the city-state, and avoid being caught out by potential losses as accelerating climate action threatens to undermine high-carbon assets.

Third, these funds should use their incredibly powerful voice to convince senior executives on the boards of companies to identify, manage and report on how these businesses are preparing for life in a low-carbon economy.

Fourth, the funds can use their experience as investors to work with Singapore's policymakers to formulate policies that assign the real costs of high-carbon activities, and so drive the private sector to back low-carbon infrastructure and technologies.

And of course this role should be extended beyond Singapore, to include working with policymakers from other countries in Asia, to effect wide-scale change in the region.

As a final note, the role of financial market regulators needs to be given more attention.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore can do more to create the right regulatory framework for the country's investors and the broader financial sector, encouraging better management of the risks associated with climate change and encouraging capital to flow towards green investment needs - domestically, regionally and internationally.

The world manages around US$300 trillion (S$404 trillion) worth of financial assets.

There is great potential for funding a wholesale shift to a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy, thereby investing in the growth story of the future while generating strong returns.

With its astonishing success and prosperity, Singapore can and must take the lead. Other countries will look to the powerful example it sets in creating better growth and a better climate for its residents.

The city-state has a critical role to play in Asia's development, building on its strong legacy and emphasising relentlessly the importance of sustainability in the region.

The first writer is chief executive, Association for Sustainable and Responsible Investment in Asia (ASrIA), The second is chief executive, Investor Group on Climate Change, Australia and New Zealand.

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Biodiversity promotes multitasking in ecosystems

Virginia Institute of Marine Science Science Daily 24 Apr 15;

A new study of the complex interplay between organisms and their environment shows that biodiversity--the variety of organisms living on Earth--is even more important to the healthy functioning of ecosystems than previously thought.

The findings bolster the view that conservation of biodiversity benefits the plants and animals directly involved, and by extension the human populations that rely on these organisms and ecosystems for food, water, and other basic services.

Lead author on the study, to be published in the online journal Nature Communications on April 24, is Jonathan Lefcheck, a post-doctoral research associate and recent Ph.D. graduate at the College of William & Mary's Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

Co-authors of the international research effort hail from the University of Massachusetts Boston; the University of Minnesota; the University of Gothenburg, Sweden; Swansea University in Wales; the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Jena-Halle-Leipzig; the University of Leipzig; the University of Oxford; the University of Michigan; and the Smithsonian Institution.

"Many recent studies support the idea that greater biodiversity helps maintain more stable and productive ecosystems," says Lefcheck, "but this conclusion rests mostly on experiments that tested how losing species affects only a single ecosystem process, such as plant growth. "Our study," he says, "is the first systematic look at how biodiversity affects the suite of interconnected processes that keep ecosystems healthy and functioning."

The team examined the relationship between biodiversity and these various processes, termed "multifunctionality," by compiling and analyzing the results from 94 experiments conducted around the world. Each experiment involved manipulation of at least 3 different species and the monitoring of at least 2 and up to 12 distinct ecosystem functions--from the accumulation of soil nitrogen to the control of aquatic algae. The experiments were evenly divided between terrestrial and aquatic habitats.

The results of the team's synthesis were clear. "We found that biodiversity generally enhances multiple functions in experimental ecosystems," says Lefcheck. "In other words, as you consider more aspects of an ecosystem, biodiversity becomes more important: one species cannot do it all."

Co-author Dr. Emmett Duffy, director of the Smithsonian's Tennenbaum Marine Observatory Network and co-leader on the project, says, "Our review of these experiments suggests that, contrary to some prior interpretations, we may have actually underestimated the importance of biodiversity to the functioning of ecosystems in nature."

To illustrate the team's findings, Lefcheck turns to the focus of his own field research--the seagrass meadows of Chesapeake Bay and the coastal ocean.

"Seagrasses," says Lefcheck, "are home to a variety of small animals that perform different jobs. Some control algae that would smother seagrasses. Others keep out invasive species. Still others provide food for striped bass and blue crabs that are served on our dinner tables. By conserving this variety of animals we can we maximize the health of the grass bed, and the benefits to people."

Professor Nico Eisenhauer, a co-author from the German Centre of Integrative Biodiversity Research, adds "Only with this level of international, cross-system collaboration can we explore global patterns and understand the importance of biodiversity loss for all of humanity."

University of Michigan professor Bradley Cardinale, co-author and project co-leader, says, "People benefit from nature in many ways. Some extract goods like timber. Others recreate, hunt, or fish. Still others use the clean water. Our study suggests that species conservation helps sustain the variety of ecological processes that control the benefits people get from nature."

The scientists conducted the study as part of a working group established in 2010 at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara, California. The group's overall goal is to translate the results of ecological experiments into applied knowledge that can used to aid decisions in conservation and management.

Journal Reference:

Jonathan S. Lefcheck, Jarrett E. K. Byrnes, Forest Isbell, Lars Gamfeldt, John N. Griffin, Nico Eisenhauer, Marc J. S. Hensel, Andy Hector, Bradley J. Cardinale, J. Emmett Duffy. Biodiversity enhances ecosystem multifunctionality across trophic levels and habitats. Nature Communications, 2015; 6: 6936 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms7936

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