Best of our wild blogs: 28 Apr 15

Checking out the plankton bloom at Pasir Ris
wild shores of singapore

Learning Journey to Raffles Lighthouse (Singapore Maritime Week 2015)
Psychedelic Nature

Snakes in the grass
Bird Ecology Study Group

A Murmuration of Starlings in Singapore?
Singapore Bird Group

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Piecing together a prehistoric puzzle

Audrey Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 28 Apr 15;

Perched on its hind legs at the centre of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, Twinky the dinosaur has been immortalised with its front limbs in the air and its head lifted high, as though midway through a hearty meal of leaves and buds.

At 12m in length, it is the smallest of the trio of diplodocid sauropod dinosaurs at the new museum in Kent Ridge, which the public can visit from tomorrow.
Next to Twinky is graceful Apollonia, its 24m-long frame reaching up to overlook the museum's mezzanine.

Then there is Prince, all 27m of "alpha" male, stretched in a seemingly lazy manner across the centre of the 2,000 sq m exhibition space.

Their easy poses belie the efforts of a team of almost 30 museum staff, professional art movers and dinosaur experts to set up the exhibit - the star attraction of Singapore's first and only natural history museum.

Research associate Martyn Low, 33, said it took the team two weeks of 12-hour days last August to assemble the fossils of the three giants, which arrived in Singapore in 53 crates between 2012 and 2013.

There were more than 1,000 elements to the three 150-million- year-old skeletons, with some bones weighing more than 200kg. The heaviest was the sacrum (the pelvis and the bones fused to it).

It was the first piece to be mounted on each of the three frames, with the help of a chain block and two "spidermen" - professional art movers trained to walk on the frame, said project manager Tan Swee Hee, 43.

Due to its weight, getting the sacrum positioned was a challenging task. "But once the sacrum was in place, the vertebrae and tail grew from both ends very quickly," Mr Low said.

The work was as challenging administratively, as it was physically. "Every single bone needed to be kept track of, as each one is an asset," said Mr Low.

The dinosaurs were acquired for about $8 million in 2011 from Dinosauria International, a Wyoming-based fossil company that found the remains between 2007 and 2010 in Ten Sleep, a town in the American state.

The bones were wrapped in paper towels, then encased in a protective plaster and burlap cast called a jacket so they could be transported without being damaged. Each jacket was marked for identification and moved to the lab where it was removed using a cast cutter.

Workers then painstakingly chipped rock away from the bones using an air scribe. A consolidant, or a strengthening liquid, was then used to preserve and harden the fossils.

When the bones arrived in Singapore, they were kept in a temperature-controlled warehouse in Tagore Lane until their new home was ready for them last year.

Before the bones could be mounted, experts like "dinosaur builder" Brock Sisson had to design the "poses" that would bring them back to life.

"We worked with the museum on making (the dinosaurs) interact, and came up with a design for the family group," said the American.

The dinosaur trio were found together, and could well have been a family.

At the museum, Prince looks as if it is welcoming visitors, while Apollonia watches over Twinky at play.

Said Mr Sisson: "The main hall where the dinosaurs are is a great space - it's going to showcase the exhibit very nicely.

"I've been to other museums where the dinosaurs are just in a big room, but they fit very nicely here and fill the space - it's going to be a neat exhibit."

Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum: 7 things to watch out for beyond the dinos
AUDREY TAN Straits Times 28 Apr 15;

SINGAPORE - Walk through the doors of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum in Kent Ridge from April 28, and you will see through a frosted panel the museum’s three main stars: Prince, Apollonia and Twinky.

They were among the largest creatures to roam the earth some 150 million years ago, and up until today, the trio of diplodocid sauropod dinosaurs are still the tallest inhabitants of their new world: Singapore’s latest museum, and the only one dedicated to showcasing Southeast Asian biodiversity.

Apollonia, the second largest at 24m long, stands proud and tall in the centre of the 2,000 sq m exhibition space of the museum.

She is flanked by Prince, the ‘alpha’ at 27m long and Twinky, the smallest at 12m long.

But even though the dino trio has grabbed the attention of many people, from imaginative children to reptile enthusiasts to fans of the prehistoric era, there are other treasures within the hallowed halls of the Republic’s first and only natural history museum worth visiting. Spread across two floors are 20 zones of biodiversity and heritage, in which 2,000 artefacts are displayed.

Here are some of the must-sees in the museum.


The Biodiversity Gallery dominates the first floor, and comprises 15 zones, two of which are exhibits on the marine and rainforest habitats.

Plants Zone

One of the first few exhibits to greet visitors strolling through the turnstiles is an exhibit called the 10 common trees in Singapore.
Some trees may be familiar, like the Saga, with its small, bright red seeds. These scarlet seeds are also known locally as the Red Love seeds, as they represent earnest love and affection. But guests may learn lesser known facts about the tree at this exhibit, such as how the seeds are toxic if eaten raw. Other Singapore trees include some with colourful names, like the Trumpet Tree - which bursts into pink or white blooms after a dry spell - or the coastal Sea Apple Tree.

Dinosaurs Zone

This zone may be named after the dinosaurs, but visitors will also get a glimpse of another extinct creature: the dodo bird. Aside from genuine Dodo bones, which are on loan from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, visitors browsing the Demise of the Dodo may also be interested in checking out a model of the flightless pigeon, which went extinct due to hunting by humans, interference from domesticated animals, and competition from invasive species.

Anthropods Zone

Singaporeans may best know crabs for being delicious when cooked in gravies of chilli, black pepper or salted egg yolk, but few may know that the animal actually belongs to a larger class of animals known as the anthropods.

Referring to organisms with an exoskeleton, a segmented body and many pairs of legs, anthropods also include insects and extinct marine creatures called trilobites.
This zone is nestled near the back of the museum, and in it you will find an eye-catching exhibit known as the Tank of Superlatives. Curious to find out which are the world’s largest (Japanese Spider Crab) and smallest crabs (Coral Spider Crab)? Or did you know that the beautiful red-white Mosaic Reef Crab is the most poisonous crab known? Visit this exhibit and find out.

Marine Cycles Zone

One of two habitat zones in the museum - the other being tropical rainforests - this section will immerse guests in waves of marine facts. Guests can view interesting specimens like sea stars and a specimen of the Neptune’s Cup Sponge, which was previously thought to have been extinct in Singapore since 1908 until they were spotted recently in 2014 and 2011. Visitors to this section will also get to see a map depicting the location of the Coral Triangle, an area widely considered the world’s richest underwater wilderness, which sits just south of Singapore.


This is the largest zone in the Biodiversity Gallery. One exhibit that should not be missed is a cordoned section depicting marine mammals - including a 2.7m long tusk from the narwhal, also known as the “unicorn of the ocean”. Skeletons of a short-finned pilot whale and a dugong are also on display.
Venture further into the L-shaped zone to view a side-by-side comparison of a human and an ape skeleton. These animals are known to be a close relative of the human, but how similar are we really?


The mezzanine floor, just a short flight of steps away, is dedicated to the Heritage Gallery. This showcases Singapore's history of biodiversity exploration, pioneers of the nature scene here, and a section called Singapore Today presents a summary of the geology of the island, and the conservation work being undertaken in the Republic.

Leatherback Sea Turtle

Mounted on a wall in the Heritage Gallery, this 1.75m long specimen was caught at Siglap Beach on Singapore’s eastern coast in 1883. The leatherback sea turtle is the largest turtle species in the world, and this specimen is the only recorded sighting of the animal in the Republic.

The Singapore Tiger

An exhibit of a tiger skin on display at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum on April 18, 2015. -- PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

This skilled hunter thrived in Singapore during the 19th century, preying even on humans and reportedly killing more than 300 people every year. But the tables were turned decades later, when the last local tiger was shot in Choa Chu Kang during the early 1930s.

Singapore Today

The Republic may currently be known more as a concrete jungle than a country with sprawling nature areas, but biodiversity is still thriving in our green and blue spaces. Find out more about how marine and terrestrial conservation is being managed in Singapore in this section.

Hunt for dino bones in museum with an app
It gives facts on parts of dinosaurs, allows visitors to take selfie with one
AUDREY TAN Straits Times 28 Apr 15;

THE lair of three rare dinosaurs opens to the public today, after more than five years in the making.

Guests to the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum in Kent Ridge will not only get to see the genuine fossils of the three diplodocid sauropod dinosaur stars - Prince, Apollonia and Twinky - but also get the chance to "hunt" for bones.

But instead of a hammer and chisel, aspiring palaeontologists (fossil scientists) need only a mobile application called App-ollonia, a play on Apollonia's name.

Developed by Singapore software firm mgg software, App-ollonia is free for download on iOS and Android devices.

Using the app, museum visitors must first "collect" four of Apollonia's bones - its skull, fibula (lower leg bone), cervical vertebra (neck bone) and coracoid (a bone near the shoulder blade).

This is achieved by using the app's camera function to scan the QR codes placed around the biodiversity gallery on the first floor of the museum. The QR codes show where the bones are hidden.

The app also provides interesting facts about a particular bone when a QR code is detected. For instance, those who "collect" the fibula will learn that it is the part of the skeleton from which palaeontologists take samples to determine a dinosaur's age.

"This app helps make the experience fun and interactive, and gives visitors more information about the different parts of the dinosaur," said mgg software managing director Steven Tan, 49.

After all the bones are collected, visitors can scan a QR code in the museum's brochure to watch Apollonia come to life. They can also take a selfie with a preloaded image of Apollonia.

"The dino app is a good souvenir that visitors can take home, and it's free," said museum research associate Martyn Low, 33. "I remember just flipping through dinosaur books when I was young. This is fantastic - the dinosaur actually moves in front of you."

The three dinosaurs, which were discovered in Wyoming in the United States, are a few of the largest creatures to roam the earth 150 million years ago. Apollonia, the second largest of the trio at 24m long, was chosen as the app's model because its skeleton has more bones than 12m- long Twinky, which was the first to arrive in Singapore. Apollonia arrived before 27m-long Prince.

The $200,000 app was created for the museum pro-bono. Said Mr Tan: "I was very touched and impressed by the museum's work to preserve natural history. So I decided that... we will also do our part to donate to our country."

The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum is also launching its own website to give more details about the exhibits.

The website is still in the beta version, but is accessible at

NUS Environmental Studies undergraduate Song Lin, 22, said: "The dino app seems like a good way to interact with lifeless artefacts."

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Blue-chip companies and SMEs to compete for new CSR award

Elizabeth Mak The Business Times AsiaOne 28 Apr 15;

SINGAPORE - Some of the biggest names on the Singapore Exchange (SGX), as well as a number of notable small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), are vying for an inaugural national award which aims to showcase the highest level of corporate social responsibility (CSR) excellence in Singapore.

The accolade, called the Singapore Apex CSR Awards, is organised by Singapore Compact for Corporate Social Responsibility, with the Singapore Business Federation and The Business Times as co-presenting partners.

So far, it has attracted entries from both blue chips and mid-sized companies across several business sectors including property and construction, marine and telecommunications. Both listed and unlisted companies may participate.

Kwek Leng Joo, president of Singapore Compact for CSR, said: "Global research findings have strengthened the evidence that companies' financial performance goes hand in hand with good governance, environmental stewardship and social responsibility.

"As the highest honour for CSR leadership at the national level, the Singapore Apex CSR Awards are designed to recognise companies with successful and sustainable business models."

Singapore Compact for CSR's executive director Christopher Ang added: "Over time, the awards will serve to raise the standard of business responsibility in Singapore and set a benchmark for the national CSR standard in Singapore."

CSR is a management concept in which companies integrate social and environmental causes into their business culture, ensuring compliance and taking responsibility for those issues.

KPMG in Singapore, part of a multinational professional services company, is the knowledge adviser for the awards.

For the purposes of the awards, they define CSR as "the accountability of a firm to create long-term value and build resilience to environmental and social changes".

They will be judging applicants on five criteria: risks and materiality; impact on value chain; stakeholder engagement; corporate governance; and transparency and disclosure.

The awards are a platform to show how an organisation has created shared values from its perspective in a holistic manner.

They will be competitive as the organisation is required to demonstrate best CSR practices in all five areas, but they will also show that the company stands apart from its peers in an increasingly competitive global marketplace, said Mr Ang.

"Recognising their achievements provides a benchmark for other companies aspiring to better sustainability practices," he added.

The awards, which will be given out annually, are supported by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources.

Entries will be divided into two categories: small and mid-sized companies with revenues under S$300 million, and large companies earning S$300 million and above.

Interested parties can download the submission template at

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Malaysia: Deforestation - A morass of a problem


ACCORDING to recent reports, Malaysia suffered the highest rate of forest loss in the world at 14.4% or about 47,278 sq km between 2000 and 2012, followed by Paraguay at 9.6%.

This figure is shocking and mangrove forests are also facing a similar situation.

According to a forest-tracking tool developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), there was a 115% jump in deforestation over the three-month period of January till March 2013.

The report also claimed that the trees in Malaysia are being felled at four times the sustainable rate, as per World Bank standards.

Meanwhile, World Resources Institute (WRI) reported that more than 25,800ha of mangrove tracts worldwide were destroyed from 2001 to 2012. Malaysia lost 4.6% of its mangroves during that time, with approximately 1,000ha of mangroves felled each year, peaking at 4,052ha in 2009.

Unrestrained felling can have unforeseen environmental consequences.

Last year, Selangor was also hit by a severe water crisis resulting from various factors, including poor rainfall at the water catchment areas.

The livelihood of indigenous people are also threatened when the forests is logged as many of these communities rely on the forest as their main source of survival.

The dense wild forests of Malaysia are rich with various species of flora and fauna and attempts made to replace felled trees are often futile as the newly planted trees cannot replace old-growth forests.

Tree plantations like rubber and oil palm cannot “net-out” the loss of natural forests in terms of biodiversity, carbon storage or maintenance of ecosystem services.

The vast destruction of the mangroves, especially in the west coast from Kedah southwards, is another cause for concern.

Aquaculture is another sector that affects these mangroves.

Malaysia has 551,333ha of mangrove forest, which serves as breeding grounds and homes for many species.

Mangroves also protect coastal areas from storm surges and tsunamis.

In addition, vast amounts of carbon are released into the atmosphere during large-scale logging, as carbon is stored in the trees.

This is a significant contributor to climate change the world over as it releases more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.

Our forests have a huge potential to mitigate climate change but, with incessant logging, will not have the time or opportunity to regenerate.

The recent east coast floods were aggravated as logging in Kelantan has been so intense that there was not much forest left to act as a sponge to soak up the rain and release it into the ground at regular intervals.

Without the forests, water will rapidly flow into streams, heightening the risk of floods in cities, villages and agricultural sites.

The government is now looking at reforming forestry laws with the help of Transparency International Malaysia to curb illegal logging and it is hoped that this can be done as fast as possible to save more of our forests.

The Sarawak government’s recent moratorium on issuing timber licences until illegal logging and other illicit activities in the trade are weeded out is most welcome.

There must be more state-of-the-art monitoring mechanisms in place such as covert GPS surveillance of timber trucks as carried out in the Amazon, revealing how loggers defeat attempts to halt deforestation in the world’s greatest rainforest.

The operation began with two months of on-ground surveillance to identify the routines of the truckers.

At the same time, satellite images were cross-referenced with databases of logging permits to identify areas likely to harbour illegal tree felling.

Once the most promising targets had been identified, enforcement officers went undercover to install magnetically-attached GPS trackers on the trucks, allowing them to track and ultimately nab the illegal loggers.

This is an example of what should be done here to protect our forests.

There must be greater muscle from Putrajaya to proactively handle deforestation.

As at September 2014, the value of seized illegal timber was an alarming RM2.95mil, showing the scale of the problem.

This should be enough of a wake-up call for the authorities to take drastic action to curb illegal logging as well as help preserve what is left of our forests and wildlife.

We cannot be talking about environmental education without arresting the environmental degradation that goes on daily.

We must be tough and show the offenders that we mean business.

An ardent nature lover and a dedicated social worker, Ravindran Raman Kutty is Corporate Communications practitioner by profession.

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Indonesia: Forest moratorium to be improved

Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 27 Apr 15;

With deforestation and forest fires still prevalent in the country, calls are mounting for the government to not only extend but also strengthen a current moratorium on new concession permits for primary forests and peatlands, due to expire on May 13.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry has said that the moratorium would not only be extended but also improved by reviewing the permits that were issued before the moratorium was first enacted in 2011 by then president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

“There would be additional content,” the ministry’s secretary-general, Hadi Daryanto, told The Jakarta Post recently.

One of the improvements is that the new moratorium will be more inclusive by targeting specific institutions, according to him.

“It will be specific on the Environment and Forestry Ministry, the Public Works [and Public Housing] Ministry, the Agriculture Ministry and the National Land Agency [BPN],” said Hadi.

However, the new moratorium is likely to be in the form of a presidential instruction (Inpres), just like before, Hadi added.

Greenpeace SEA Indonesia’s forest political campaigner, M. Teguh Surya, said that an Inpres was not good enough.

“If that’s the case, then the moratorium will not be binding for all stakeholders because an Inpres is merely an internal instruction [involving only the government],” he told the Post.

The implementation of the new moratorium will also be coupled with the review of existing permits that were previously issued before the moratorium in 2011, which was extended once by Yudhoyono in 2013.

“There will be a ministerial decree to establish a task force on permit review. The task force will involve experts,” Hadi said.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry’s deputy for environmental damage control and climate change, Arief Yuwono, said that the review was aimed at improving the management of forests in the country, both in terms of permit issuance and monitoring.

“So a permit is not only an instrument to use land but also an instrument to manage and monitor [forests],” he said recently.

Arief said the review was crucial given that there were firms which obtained permits even without adequate facilities.

An audit on companies’ and local administrations’ compliance in Riau last year found that poor compliance was the major cause of rampant forest fires in the province, with some companies lacking even the most basic equipment to manage forest fires.

Moreover, as slash and burn practices to clear areas for plantations in Riau have continued, the current moratorium has been deemed as ineffective in saving peat forests in the province.

Teguh said that a permit review was an inseparable part of the moratorium extension considering there are 5.7 hectares of forests on which permits are overlapping at the moment.

“This is a potential problem and could only be solved with a permit review,” he said.

According to Teguh, the new moratorium was of paramount importance with regional elections scheduled to be held concurrently in December this year.

“So if the new moratorium is weak under the Inpres, unprotected forests or those that are protected halfheartedly are under the threat of extinction because they could be used as political capital [by election candidates],” he said.

Teguh said there were 4.3 million ha of forests that would be at risk of deforestation because their statuses were convertible production forest (HPK) and non-forest areas, also known as areas for other use (APL).

Non-forest areas are currently under the authority of local governments and the land agency.

The status of APL has been abused by local administrations as a loophole to obtain forest permits.

In 2013, for example, the former forestry ministry approved the Aceh administration’s request to convert protected forests into non-forest zones through spatial planning bylaws in spite of the moratorium.

Therefore, if the current government failed to address the weaknesses of the soon-to-expire moratorium, such as a flimsy legal basis and legal loopholes, it would be business-as-usual for the country.

“If President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo only copies and pastes Yudhoyono’s moratorium, then he doesn’t have the commitment to protect the forests as promised in his vision and mission, Nawacita,” Teguh said.

- See more at:

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Vietnam's elephants on brink of extinction

Vietnam News/Asia News Network AsiaOne 27 Apr 15;

HANOI - Experts and conservationists are calling for increased funding and efforts to save the dwindling number of elephants in Viet Nam.

At a conference held on Friday by the Viet Nam Forest Administration (VFA) and WWF Viet Nam, Tran The Lien, head of the VFA Department of Natural Conservation, said elephants are currently under threat of becoming extinct in Viet Nam due to failed efforts to protect them from being hunted by poachers seeking elephant tusks.

Statistics presented at the conference showed that the elephant population decreased from some 1000 in the mid-1980s to about 120 in 2014.

The elephants are often scattered in eight provinces: Son La, Nghe An, Ha Tinh, Quang Nam, Dak Lak, Lam Dong, Dong Nai and Binh Phuoc.

According to Associate Professor Nguyen Xuan Dang, an expert in biodiversity studies and conservation with WWF Viet Nam, each of the surviving elephant herds is now made up of only one to five elephants.

These herds often live separately from one another, which further increases the risk of extinction, Dang noted.

The largest herds live in three national parks: Yok Don National Park in Ea Sup District of Dak Lak Province, Pu Mat National Park in Nghe An Province and Cat Tien National Park in Dong Nai Province.

However, Dang said these herds comprise an imbalanced number of male-female elephants and many of the female elephants have already passed their reproductive age, noting that all are at high risk of being killed by illegal hunters.

Experts estimate that since 2009, at least 29 elephants were killed. Since the beginning of the year, four domesticated elephants and another wild elephant died after being injured or from starvation just in Dak Lak Province. Within the province, the number of wild elephants dropped from 550 in the 1980s to 60 to 65 today.

Besides illegal hunting, a WWF report presented at the conference also contributed other factors to the dwindling elephant population, which includes the loss of their habitat and increased degradation of the area landscape, illegal logging, urbanisation and conversion of forest land for coffee or rubber plantations, as well as strained relations between local residents and elephants.

In 2012, Dak Lak Province established the Elephant Conservation Center of Dak Lak Province. In 2013, the province approved a plan to work to protect elephants through 2020 with the use of VND85 billion (US$3.95 million) in funding.

Huynh Trung Luan, director of the centre, said protecting domesticated and wild elephants were difficult tasks.

The centre was currently only able to assist owners of domesticated elephants by providing training and dispensing medicines for the elephants, Luan said, noting that the domesticated elephants are mostly old and cannot reproduce.

At the same time, wild elephants in the province had been facing reduced areas for living due to illegal logging and burn-and-slash farming methods, he added.

At the beginning of this year, the centre was allocated 200 hectares of forest for conservation efforts, but Luan said it could take three years for the centre to complete an area designated for treating and protecting elephants.

Since 2004, the Government has approved a number of resolutions and projects aimed at protecting elephants, including a national project to protect elephants from 2013-20, in addition to separate emergency plans at the provincial level to protect elephants in the provinces of Dak Lak, Dong Nai.

According to Ngo Le Truc, an officer from the Department of Natural Conservation within VFA, the Viet Nam Forest Administration has also been carrying out an emergency plan to protect elephants and improve the capacity to prevent elephant tusk trading through 2020.

The plan aims to create a comprehensive database on domesticated and wild elephants throughout the country, implementing plans to designate specialised areas of forests for elephants, restoring the landscape in some areas for elephants to live in and expand their herds, applying technology in conservation efforts and enforcing laws and regulations on illegal poachers and the hunting of tusks.

Lien, head of the Department of Natural Conservation, believes the conservation of elephants must involve the public by increasing their awareness and also enforcing laws and regulations to increase co-operation at the border and international levels to apprehend poachers and prevent elephant tusk traders from operating.

The Vietnam Forestry Administration is also working to build an agreement on cross-border elephant conservation between Yok Don National Park of Viet Nam and Mundulkiri National Park of Cambodia.

Van Ngoc Thinh, director of WWF Viet Nam, noted that rhinos were declared extinct in Viet Nam in 2010 and tigers were also under a major threat.

"We have to do everything to save elephants from the same fate," he said.

"This requires greater efforts from the Government and the people to preserve our biodiversity values for the country and its future generations."

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Over 80% of future deforestation confined to just 11 places

WWF 28 Apr 15;

Up to 170 million hectares of forest could be lost between 2010 and 2030 in these “deforestation fronts” if current trends continue, according to findings in the latest chapter of WWF’s Living Forests Report series. The fronts are located in the Amazon, the Atlantic Forest and Gran Chaco, Borneo, the Cerrado, Choco-Darien, the Congo Basin, East Africa, Eastern Australia, Greater Mekong, New Guinea and Sumatra.

These places contain some of the richest wildlife in the world, including endangered species such as orangutans and tigers. All are home to indigenous communities.

“Imagine a forest stretching across Germany, France, Spain and Portugal wiped out in just 20 years,” says Rod Taylor, Director of WWF’s global forest programme. “We’re looking at how we can tackle that risk to save the communities and cultures that depend on forests, and ensure forests continue to store carbon, filter our water, supply wood and provide habitat for millions of species.”

The report builds on earlier analysis by WWF showing that more than 230 million hectares of forest will disappear by 2050 if no action is taken, and that forest loss must be reduced to near zero by 2020 to avoid dangerous climate change and economic losses.

Landscape solutions vital to halting deforestation

Living Forests Report: Saving Forests at Risk examines where most deforestation is likely in the near term, the main causes and solutions for reversing the projected trends. Globally, the biggest cause of deforestation is expanding agriculture – including commercial livestock, palm oil and soy production, but also encroachment by small-scale farmers. Unsustainable logging and fuelwood collection can contribute to forest degradation, or “death by a thousand cuts,” while mining, hydroelectricity and other infrastructure projects bring new roads that open forests to settlers and agriculture.

“The threats to forests are bigger than one company or industry, and they often cross national borders. They require solutions that look at the whole landscape,” says Taylor. “This means collaborative land-use decision-making that accounts for the needs of business, communities and nature.”

The report is being released at the Tropical Landscapes Summit: A Global Investment Opportunity, an international gathering of political, business and civil society leaders in Jakarta, Indonesia.

“The summit is an opportunity to advance green investment and build transformational public-private partnerships,” says WWF International Director General Marco Lambertini, who will address the summit. “Indonesia has a major opportunity to transition into an innovative green economy that prioritizes human prosperity and well-being as much as a healthy environment. Choosing to retain healthy and natural forests for multiple purposes and to optimize the productivity of the surrounding land will be a compelling example of this approach. We need smart land-use planning that recognizes the long-term value of healthy forest landscapes.”

Indonesia in focus

Despite a recent slowdown, deforestation remains a major issue in Indonesia. Sumatra has lost more than half of its natural forests due to paper and palm oil plantations, and the remaining forest is severely fragmented. WWF projections show that another 5 million hectares of forest could be lost by 2030. Forest cover in the Borneo deforestation front, including Malaysia and Brunei, could be reduced to less than a quarter of its original area by 2020 if current trends continue. New Guinea, which includes Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, could lose up to 7 million hectares of forest between 2010 and 2030 if large-scale agriculture development plans materialize.

“The Indonesian government and local policymakers can shift from development plans that yield short-term gains to land-use approaches that will safeguard forests and provide economic opportunities,” Taylor says. “The moratorium on new forest conversion permits provides an opportunity to assess what can be done to halt these deforestation fronts and develop a greener, more inclusive economy.”

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Like shale oil, solar power is shaking up global energy

Henning Gloystein and Aaron Sheldrick Reuters 27 Apr 15;

(Reuters) - One by one, Japan is turning off the lights at the giant oil-fired power plants that propelled it to the ranks of the world's top industrialized nations. With nuclear power in the doldrums after the Fukushima disaster, it's solar energy that is becoming the alternative.

Solar power is set to become profitable in Japan as early as this quarter, according to the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation (JREF), freeing it from the need for government subsidies and making it the last of the G7 economies where the technology has become economically viable.

Japan is now one of the world's four largest markets for solar panels and a large number of power plants are coming onstream, including two giant arrays over water in Kato City and a $1.1 billion solar farm being built on a salt field in Okayama, both west of Osaka.

"Solar has come of age in Japan and from now on will be replacing imported imported uranium and fossil fuels," said Tomas Kåberger, executive board chairman of JREF.

"In trying to protect their fossil fuel and nuclear (plants), Japan's electric power companies can only delay developments here," he said, referring to the 10 regional monopolies that have dominated electricity production since the 1950s.

Japan is retiring nearly 2.4 gigawatts of expensive and polluting oil-fired energy plants by March next year and switching to alternative fuels. Japan's 43 nuclear reactors have been closed in the wake of the 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima power plant after an earthquake and a tsunami - since then, renewable energy capacity has tripled to 25 gigawatts, with solar accounting for more than 80 percent of that.

Once Japan reaches cost-revenue parity in solar energy, it will mean the technology is commercially viable in all G7 countries and 14 of the G20 economies, according to data from governments, industry and consumer groups.

A crash in the prices of photovoltaic panels and improved technology that harnesses more power from the sun has placed solar on the cusp of a global boom, analysts say, who compare its rise to shale oil.

"Just as shale extraction reconfigured oil and gas, no other technology is closer to transforming power markets than distributed and utility scale solar," said consultancy Wood Mackenzie, which has a focus on the oil and gas industry.

Oil major Exxon Mobil says that "solar capacity is expected to grow by more than 20 times from 2010 to 2040."

Investors are also re-discovering solar, with the global solar index up 40 percent this year, lifting it out of a slump following the 2008/2009 financial crisis, far outperforming struggling commodities such as iron ore, natural gas, copper or coal.


By starting mass-production of solar panels, China is the driving force in bringing down solar manufacturing costs by 80 percent in the last decade, according to Germany's Fraunhofer Institute.

In Japan, residential solar power production costs have more than halved since 2010 to under 30 yen ($0.25) per kilowatt-hour (kWh), making it comparable to average household electricity prices.

Wood Mackenzie expects solar costs to fall more as "efficiencies are nowhere near their theoretical maximums."

Solar is already well-entrenched in Europe and North America, but it is the expected boom in Asia that is lifting it out from its niche.

China's new anti-pollution policies are making the big difference. Because of these policies, Beijing is seeking alternatives for coal, which makes up almost two-thirds of its energy consumption.

China's 2014 solar capacity was 26.52 gigawatt (GW), less than 2 percent of its total capacity of 1,360 GW.

But the government wants to add 17.8 GW of solar power this year and added 5 GW in the first quarter alone, with plans to boost capacity to 100 GW by 2020.

Coal-dominated India, with its plentiful sunlight, could also take to solar in a big way.

Despite this boom, fossil-fueled power is far from dead.

"Additional generating capacity, such as natural gas-fired plants, must be made available to back up wind and solar during the times when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing," Exxon says.

(Additional reporting by Charlie Zhu in Hong Kong, Nina Chestney in London, Christoph Steitz in Frankfurt and Osamu Tsukimori in Tokyo; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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Extreme weather already on increase due to climate change, study finds

Researchers say heatwaves that previously occurred once every three years are now happening every 200 days thanks to global warming
Karl Mathiesen The Guardian 27 Apr 15;

Extreme heatwaves and heavy rain storms are already happening with increasing regularity worldwide because of manmade climate change, according to new research.

Global warming over the last century means heat extremes that previously only occurred once every 1,000 days are happening four to five times more often, the study published in Nature Climate Change said.

It found that one in five extreme rain events experienced globally are a result of the 0.85C global rise in temperatre since the Industrial Revolution, as power plants, factories and cars continue to pump out greenhouse gas emissions.

“A lot of us and our colleagues were surprised by how high these numbers are already now in the present day climate,” said Dr Erich Markus Fischer from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

What represents an extreme day varies depending on the background climate. In the south-east of England, for example, temperatures used to reach 33.2C once every 1,000 days, but are now happening as much as once every 200 days.

Future warming will bring a more volatile, dangerous world, even if the world manages to keep temperature rises within a 2C limit to which governments have committed, Fischer’s research found. On average, any given place on Earth will experience 60% more extreme rain events and 27 extremely hot days.

Numbers of extreme weather events spiral even higher at a rise of 3C, a level of warming that the world is on track to exceed with current levels of manmade global greenhouse gas emissions.

Drawing links between specific weather events and climate change can erode the sense that climate change is something that will happen in the future, rather than causing havoc in the present. But the science, called attribution, has proved complicated.

Peter Stott, a scientist at the UK’s Met Office Hadley Centre, said the new study was an important step in attribution science.

“What has been lacking up to now is a robust calculation of how much more likely extreme temperatures and rainfall have become worldwide.”

The study shows warming of the atmosphere increases the number of times temperatures reach extreme levels and evaporates more water from the oceans. It is from this hotter, wetter background that extreme weather events emerge.

Longer events, such as heat waves and prolonged rainy periods, will also occur more often.

“When we talk about 15-day precipitation or 15-day heat waves rather than one-day cases, one very robust finding is the longer the period the higher the fraction that is attributable to warming,” said Fischer.

The study also found that the effects of warming will vary around the world. Weather events at the equator will become more extreme with 2C of warming, meaning tropical countries already dealing with frail infrastructure and poverty will experience more than 50 times as many extremely hot days and 2.5 times as many rainy ones.

But some already dry regions including the parts of the Mediterranean, North Africa, Chile, the Middle East and Australia will experience less heavy rain days.

“In the UK, for a one-in-a-thousand day, which is one in three years, we would probably be well adapted to that,” said Stott. “But I think we’ve shown that we are vulnerable to more extreme situations – those that happen once in a century. For example the wet winter we had in 2013-14. Or indeed the heatwave we had back in 2003 when many vulnerable, eldery people died. But in the tropics, in parts of the developing world, they are extremely vulnerable to one-in-three year events.”

Saleemul Huq, a Bangladeshi scientist who has been involved in the UN climate negotiations, said the developing world was already struggling to cope with extreme events.

“The increased probability of high rainfall events will enhance the adverse impacts of these events in many parts of the world, particularly for vulnerable communities. For example short bursts of intense rainfall in Dhaka already cause huge traffic jams and misery for its citizens,” he said.

Study blames global warming for 75 percent of very hot days
SETH BORENSTEIN Associated Press Yahoo News 28 Apr 15;

WASHINGTON (AP) — If you find yourself sweating out a day that is monstrously hot, chances are you can blame humanity. A new report links three out of four such days to man's effects on climate.

And as climate change worsens around mid-century, that percentage of extremely hot days being caused by man-made greenhouse gases will push past 95 percent, according to the new study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Humans have not had as great an effect on heavy downpours, though. The Swiss scientists who did the study calculated that 18 percent of extreme rain events are caused by global warming. But if the world warms another two degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) — expected to happen around mid-century — about 39 percent of the downpours would be attributed to humanity's influence, according to the study. That influence comes from greenhouse gases, mostly carbon dioxide from the burning of coal, oil and gas.

"This new study helps get the actual probability or odds of human influence," said University of Arizona climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck, who wasn't part of the research. "This is key: If you don't like hot temperature extremes that we're getting, you now know how you can reduce the odds of such events by reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

Lead author Erich Fischer, a climate scientist at ETH Zurich, a Swiss university, and colleague Reto Knutti examined just the hottest of hot days, the hottest one-tenth of one percent. Using 25 different computer models. Fischer and Knutti simulated a world without human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and found those hot days happened once every three years.

Then they calculated how many times they happen with the current level of heat-trapping gases and the number increases to four days. So three of the four are human caused, the team said.

And when the scientists dialed up the greenhouse gases — using current pollution trends — to simulate a world about mid-century, they got 26 of those super-hot days, "almost a whole month," Fischer said.

The figures that Fischer and Knutti calculated are global estimates. The margins of error, plus or minus about 13 percent with current hot days, grow larger when smaller regions are considered. However, they found Africa and South America now have the highest percentages of unusual hot days that could be blamed on human influence, 89 percent and 88 percent respectively. Europe, at 63 percent, and North America, with 67 percent, come in at the lowest. By mid-century, if emissions continue at current pace, all continents will be able blame at least 93 percent of super hot days on humans.

Half a dozen outside scientists praised the study as valid, elegant and important.

When people ask if a single weird weather event is due to human activity or just natural variation, that's the wrong question because both factors are always involved, said Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer, who wasn't part of the study but praised it heavily. This study, he said, asks the right question: "How much of the change is due to human activity and how much is natural variation?"

And once that percentage of damages, costs and deaths can be attributed to human influence, it's easier for governments to put a price on carbon dioxide emissions in an effort to control global warming, said Duke University climate scientist Drew Shindell.

Nature Climate Change:

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