Best of our wild blogs: 3 Jun 15

Singapore Bird Report – May 2015
Singapore Bird Group

Sisters' Islands Marine Park happenings: May 2015
Sisters' Island Marine Park

black bittern @ SBWR - June 2015

Mangrove campaigners battle to save the ‘roots of the sea’
Mangrove Action Squad

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More birds crash into Singapore buildings

BETWEEN September last year and April, at least 20 birds crashed into buildings in Singapore's central region, according to preliminary results of a study by the Nature Society (Singapore), or NSS.
Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 2 Jun 15;

This is the period when most migratory birds arrive and leave here each year.

In total, there were 47 collisions documented by the society's Bird Group.

The group said last month that birdwatchers had found an increasing number of dead or injured migratory birds in urban areas since the 1990s.

More than 100 species and thousands of birds pass through Singapore each year, including the blue-winged pitta and the large, wading whimbrel.

To understand the extent of such migratory bird collisions in Singapore, the Bird Group started a five-year survey last year to document these accidents.

It aims to identify bird species which are prone to crashing, where and when the accidents happen, and aspects of the urban landscape that may prove hazardous.

People can report such incidents through an online form.

The group also worked with an avian genetics laboratory at the National University of Singapore (NUS) which collected the dead birds.

The Bird Group found that the top three bird families affected were pittas, flycatchers and kingfishers.

Mr Albert Low, who authored the report, said: "These three families are predominantly nocturnal migrants. These birds may be especially vulnerable to collisions with lighted structures owing to the multitude of high-rise, intensely-lit housing and office blocks, which are a feature of Singapore's skyline."

The lights can distract the birds from cues they receive from the stars and moon.

The creatures could also crash into buildings because they are attracted to the light, or might circle the buildings until they become exhausted.

NUS Department of Biological Sciences research assistant David Tan said the glass on the buildings may be so reflective that it seems to be the sky.

He said one way to reduce such accidents is to put decals or louvres on the windows to make the buildings more visible to birds.

More research is needed to determine why such collisions happen, he added.

Singapore could also look to other countries. The city of Calgary in Canada, for example, has bird-friendly, voluntary guidelines for buildings, including using blinds to make clear glass more opaque or angling glass downwards so it does not reflect the sky.

In April, the government of New York in the United States announced that all of its state-owned and managed buildings will turn off non-essential outdoor lighting from 11pm to dawn during peak bird migration periods to reduce such collisions.

If you see an injured or dead bird that may have flown into a building, take photographs of it and go to /sgbirdcrash.

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The surprising side of Singapore

Niall McIlroy’s taste for the Lion City is renewed with the discovery of new attractions.
Niall McIlroy The Western Australia Yahoo News 2 Jun 15;

The Singapore Flyer, Sentosa and the great National Museum are all fantastic attractions — and more than worth flying fewer than five hours from Perth, as I’ve done on Scoot’s Dreamliner. But on this two-day visit, I’m not going to see any of these. Instead, I’m keen to find other surprises that lie below Singapore’s surface and how I can neatly fill a weekend away in the warmth.


My first stop is a blast from the past rather than the face of the future. A 10-minute bumboat ride from the Changi Village Ferry ($S2.50, about $2.40), Pulau Ubin is not what I was expecting on a trip to the Lion City.

It’s not actually Singapore — well, not the main island anyway — and although I’m getting around on two wheels, it’s by bike, not tuktuk.

Talking of bikes, Pulau Ubin is a real change of gear. This 10sqkm blob of green is ensconced in the strait between the main island and peninsular Malaysia but it seems so much further away from the bustle of big-city Singapore. And after flying to the US and back in the preceding six days, I’m desperate to stretch my legs, so this is just what the doctor ordered.

Just off the jetty, in the village there’s a clutch of small shops with signs in Mandarin, selling ice-creams, soft drinks and beer. And that’s about as much development as there is. But for the shopkeepers, the island is largely uninhabited and there was uproar recently when someone suggested building an ATM.

A row of red bicycles stands in a rack: hire starts from just a few dollars and I roll out of the village between the Chinese Opera stage and the temple. Both are a rich red, said to ward away demons, but the rest of Pulau Ubin is very green indeed. The name means “granite island” and the rock was mined to build parts of Singapore. When it ran out in the 70s, the villagers left and their little wooden kampong houses stand abandoned.

There’s little sign of the quarrying either — the forest has swallowed up most of it but for a large emerald lake in one of the deepest pits.

With the wind in my face, it’s pleasant cycling among the verdant green of fruit-less durians, palms and banana trees along a dirt track. Crickets, birds and a crowing rooster are the only sounds I have for company until a plane takes off from nearby Changi, reminding me I’m only minutes from a big city.

Instead I feel like I’m in rural Indonesia or Malaysia, and that’s the beauty of it — this really feels like a secret little escape, although I’m told at weekends I wouldn’t be so lucky. As I pass the village chief’s clapboard house, his friendly black dog comes out to greet me. Native animals include wild boar (also tame), pythons (not so but harmless), monitor lizards and otters, but I don’t see any.

A towering common pulau tree shades the handful of tombstones — one of the Muslim cemeteries that scatter the island. Some eight storeys high, the tree is said to predate Sir Thomas Raffles’ colonisation of Singapore for the British in 1819.

I reach the Chek Jawa Wetlands, which are a rare example of what many parts of the Singapore coast were like before development. On the new boardwalk of the Mangrove Walk, I take the pleasant sloshing of the high tide in exchange for it obscuring the native seahorse, pipefish and sponge populations that live in this bay. There’s a good view, though, of the forest, mangroves and even out to Malaysia from the Jejawi Tower.

Back on mainland Singapore, The Coastal Settlement restaurant is housed in what locals call a “black and white” bungalow. This one is more colourful than that. There are two Morris Minors round the side; above them the wall is festooned with old office furniture, deckchairs and carousel horses. Inside, it’s just as eclectic: Vespas parked along the shelves beside waist-high wireless radios, while chandeliers and disco balls hang from the ceiling. The food’s really good, too; and well priced. I have tasty truffle fries ($S15), beef rendang ($S18) and a glass of Cape Mentelle ($S10).

You’d chalk up a lot of air miles and probably need a lot of inoculations to explore the Amazon, Mississippi, Congo, Nile, Ganges, Mekong and Yangtze, but I get the chance to “dip a toe in them all” — or reasonably close approximations anyway — at the River Safari.

The latest addition to the city’s great animal experiences, the River Safari opened next to the Singapore Zoo and the Night Safari last year and is a fantastic set-up of linked walk- through aquariums stocked with animals native to each river, some of them endangered.

So in the Mekong, I gaze into the eyes of a giant catfish which can weigh up to 350kg and of which there are only a few hundred in the wild, while in the Ganges I’m avoiding the look behind the bulbous snout of a huge Indian gharial.

The Amazon River Quest makes a real splash, particularly when our boat — which resembles a rollercoaster — is raised on to a platform and slides down some rapids into an ecosystem that resembles the river.

Thankfully there’s a good overhead commentary and the river is well signed, for in the quickest 10 minutes of my life I’m treated to a who’s who of Amazonian animals along the banks, from brown tufted capuchin monkeys to Caribbean flamingos and, most impressive of all, a pair of jaguars — not in the open air, of course.

A second boat ride circles the Upper Seletar Reservoir, which is rich in birdlife. Higher up on the banks are the white rhino, Asian elephants and giraffes of the neighbouring zoo and night safari.

Many visitors come to see panda pair Kai Kai and Jia Jia. I don’t catch sight of the latter, a female sadly shy of breeding, but inside his purpose-built gallery — which is kept from 16-24C — Kai Kai is full of beans, or possibly bamboo. I catch him lying on his front on a wooden bed before he disappears into his cave, only to re-emerge to relieve himself. Then he sits in the bough of a tree for all to see.

I reckon you’d need a full day at the zoo to take both boat rides and to spy all the animals you’ve never heard of, such as the perpetually pregnant manatee, or sea cow, which could teach Jia Jia a thing or two.

Singapore is spoilt for places to eat but I didn’t expect one of the tastiest and most enjoyable to be in the middle of the road. Every evening between 6pm and 1am, Boon Tat Street in the heart of the CBD is closed to traffic and instead is dotted with hundreds of plastic tables and chairs as people come to enjoy freshly cooked satay from the hawkers at Lau Pa Sat.

There are about 10 open-air satay stalls under the towering skyscrapers. We flag down a man in a Best Satay shirt from stalls seven and eight; he shows us to a table and takes our order. Minutes later he reappears carrying sizzling skewers of chicken, beef and mutton, a plate of onion and rice balls and little polystyrene bowls of satay.

I’m a satay fan and this is just fantastic — the meat is beautifully tender and the nut sauce has just the right viscosity, with a lovely subtle chilli bite at the back of the throat. The whole meal of 30 sticks between three comes to $S18 — I can see why it stops traffic.


It’s said breakfast is the most important meal and for many Singaporeans it’s the sweetest. The dish of choice? A combination of crisp toast filled with kaya — coconut jam and runny egg — washed down with a cup of very sweet black coffee. On the Katong street behind my hotel, the Grand Mercure Roxy, Chee Mee Chin Confectionery is one of the best exponents of this delicacy and has served it up from an old-style coffee house for close to 70 years. I order my coffee black with a round of kaya toast. Thankfully, it’s not as runny as I remembered but it’s a little too sweet for my liking.

Singapore is showing its green side again this morning but this time I’m on the mainland at the Southern Ridges Walk. This linkage of parks sweeps around the southern end of the island, from the top of Mt Faber 9km north- west to Kent Ridge Park.

I cross the seven undulating curved-steel ribs of the Henderson Waves, Singapore’s highest pedestrian bridge, enjoying the cooler air and the views of the south of the city.

There’s another little world up here — most of the walk is on a raised platform that winds through the canopy between palms, ferns and thick green bamboo, amid tall, thin Medan berokok trees, weeping figs and red sandalwood. The siren of the cicada is a constant accompaniment, punctuated pleasantly by the rusty gate screech of Asian glossy starlings and the musical woop of a black-naped oriole. It’s so pleasant to be caught in the fold of this green curtain.

Even in the few years since I last visited, Chinatown has changed a lot. The main strip is now taken up with hawker stalls as well as restaurants in those great old shophouses that date back to colonial times. It’s all under a high glass canopy with a cooling system, so there’s good eating to be had rain, hail or shine. The surrounding area is a whirl of mercantilism; goldsmiths, markets, dim-sum restaurants, bars, tailors — very insistent they are, too — seed and nuts stalls, and even one that sells sausages.

What hasn’t changed is the religious harmony in Chinatown — the area has a Hindu temple, Malay mosque and the $S62 million Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, said to house part of one of Buddha’s teeth, which was found after the collapse of a Burmese stupa.

I lunch where the locals do at nearby Maxwell Food Centre, enjoying that Singapore speciality, chicken rice. It’s cheaper at Maxwell than on the main drag — just $S3.50 — and the rice, which is boiled in chicken stock and served with strips of meat, is very tasty.

A great way to cool off on a muggy Singapore evening is with a bumboat ride along Clarke Quay. Time it for after sunset as I have and there’s also the bonus kaleidoscope of bright city lights against a constantly changing sky as the boat wends between the skyscrapers that loom over Boat and Marina quays.

Having been in Seattle in the past week, I’d been spoilt for choice for great beers but the brews at Brewerkz are anything but pint-sized in terms of taste. The Brown ale is a winner but on the steep side at $S16 a pint.

I have a last but almost unreal look at the city from on high on the balcony at restaurant and bar Level 33. Perched in the wind, each skyscraper is a twinkling beacon in the black. Synchronised light shows play across the roofs of buildings and below it all is the flat liquid square of Marina Reservoir. It looks like science fiction but it is Singapore fact.

Muthu’s Curry at the heart of Little India has been serving up curries on banana leaves since 1969 and a feast of vegetable samosas, Peshwari naan and chicken dum biryani is a deliciously satisfying way to end a happy, contented couple of days that have passed all too quickly.

It’s lucky Singapore isn’t so far away. And after cycling, cuisine, river safaris, bumboats and brew, the only thing that wasn’t a surprise is that, once again, it was so much fun.

Niall McIlroy visited Singapore as a guest of Singapore Tourist Board, Scoot and Grand Mercure Roxy.


Scoot flies daily from Perth to Singapore on its new 787 Dreamliner. The twin-aisle, wide-bodied plane has on-board wi-fi in both economy and premium cabin ScootBiz. Flights depart from Perth at 6.35pm with one-way fares from $149, including taxes.

Grand Mercure Roxy on Marine Parade, roughly equidistant between the airport and city, is a great base. A 32sqm king deluxe room is from $S260 ($248) including breakfast for one, taxes and internet. The hotel operates a complimentary shuttle to and from all terminals at Changi Airport between 6.30am and 2am. or

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Lesser-known sites make list of places to visit in Singapore

HOLLY MATTHEWS Today Online 3 Jun 15;

SINGAPORE — The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum, the NUS Baba House and Bukit Brown Cemetery have made it to the to-do list for travellers to Singapore, according to the latest Traveler’s Choice Landmarks ranking by travel website TripAdvisor.

These landmarks ranked third, sixth and seventh, respectively, on TripAdvisor’s list of top 10 must-see landmarks in Singapore, which saw relatively lesser-known sites make the cut, such as the Kranji War Memorial (in fourth place).

Nonetheless, well-known favourites the Singapore Flyer (first), Marina Bay Sands SkyPark (second) and Merlion Park (fifth) still featured on the list. The list did not include attractions such as the Singapore Zoo and Gardens by the Bay, which are classified under “Nature and Parks” on the website.

TripAdvisor releases these rankings annually — for countries, regions, and globally — by taking into account the quality and quantity of reviews on the site gathered over a 12-month period.

Industry watchers were surprised by some of the inclusions. Dr Michael Chiam, a senior tourism lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, said: “I am generally quite surprised that those relatively obscure and out of the way sites came out top.”

Ms Shirley Tee, course manager of Nanyang Polytechnic’s diploma in hospitality and tourism management programme, felt the rankings signalled a shift in what tourists look for.

“Travellers going overseas would like to see things that are somewhat off the beaten track,” said Ms Tee, adding that tourists now “want to experience something (they) don’t get back home”.

Singapore’s landmarks did not make the list of top 25 landmarks in Asia, which featured the likes of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Taj Mahal in India and the Great Wall of China.

As a destination, Singapore ranked 18th among the top 25 in Asia, and did not make it onto the list of the top 25 destinations worldwide, according to the rankings released in March.

Singapore’s tourism arrivals have taken a hit of late, with numbers on a continued decline in the first quarter of this year. From January to March, there were 3.6 million visitors to Singa­pore, down 6.1 per cent from the same period a year ago. Last year, arrivals fell for the first time since 2009, by 3.1 per cent.

Ms Tee said the Republic should look beyond its planned star attractions and consider the appeal of community-driven sites, such as Bukit Brown Cemetery, which sits on land slated for development. “I think people want something that is by the community, for the community,” she said.

Dr Chiam agreed, adding that embracing heritage is the way forward. “When people come to a country, they want to know what the locals do, what the local beliefs are, what is the history behind who we are, and I think that has not been emphasised enough. We have a unique thing that is ours, and people would like to hear our story,” he said.

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Warm days, thundery showers expected in first half of June

Meteorological Service Singapore also expects there to be "slightly hazy conditions" on some days in the first half of June.
Channel NewsAsia 2 Jun 15;

SINGAPORE: The first half of June will consist of “a few warm days” and “short-duration thundery showers”, said the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) in a media advisory on Tuesday (Jun 2).

MSS said in a news release that during the next fortnight, "Southwest Monsoon conditions are forecast to set in and low-level winds are expected to blow from southeast or south-southwest”, and that Singaporeans can expect several warm afternoons with maximum temperatures of around 34 degrees Celsius.

Showers are also forecast for the late morning and early afternoon, caused by "strong solar heating of land areas". The showers are expected to occur on at least five to seven days during this period.

MSS added that thundery showers with gusty winds can also be expected on up to two days – “due to Sumatra squalls”. These are likely to happen pre-dawn and in the morning, met officials said.

Those in Singapore may experience “slightly hazy conditions” on some days, during the early morning, “due to the accumulation of particulate matter under light wind conditions”, MSS said.

- CNA/hs

Mix of 34°C days, short thundery showers and slight haze expected over next 2 weeks
Today Online 3 Jun 15;

SINGAPORE — Several warm days with temperatures going up to around 34°C in the afternoon are expected over the next two weeks, said the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) today (June 2).

Short thundery showers are also likely on five to seven days, mostly in the late morning and early afternoon, while thundery showers with gusty winds can be expected on one to two days in the pre-dawn and morning, said the national authority on weather and climate in an advisory, adding that rainfall for the first two weeks of this month is likely to be near-normal.

Slightly hazy conditions on a few days, particularly in the early morning, can be expected as well.

The MSS said South-west Monsoon conditions are forecast to set in and low level winds are expected to blow from the south-east or south-south-west.

The average daily maximum temperature for June is 31.3°C, while the average daily minimum temperature is 24.8°C.

Providing a review for last month, the MSS said inter-monsoon conditions prevailed, and Singapore experienced wet weather conditions on most days.

Thundery showers fell mainly in the late morning and afternoon, with the highest total rainfall of 119.6mm recorded on May 3 over Bukit Panjang area.

Most parts of Singapore received near-average rainfall last month. The highest rainfall of 352mm and 368mm — 80 per cent to 115 per cent above average — were recorded over the western and northern parts of the island around Choa Chu Kang and Woodlands, respectively.

The lowest rainfall of 59mm and 67mm — 50 per cent to 80 per cent below average — were recorded over the eastern and south-western parts of the island around Changi and Tuas, respectively.

Scorching days and thundery showers ahead
Carolyn Khew The Straits Times AsiaOne 3 Jun 15;

CARRY an umbrella to shield yourself from the heat and showers over the next two weeks.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said in its latest forecast yesterday that the temperature here is expected to hit about 34 deg C on a few warm days in the first half of this month. This is higher than the long-term average daily maximum of 31.3 deg C for the month.

The agency added that short thundery showers due to the strong solar heating of land areas are likely on five to seven days, mostly in the late morning and early afternoon.

Also, thundery showers with gusty winds are expected on one to two days in the pre-dawn hours and morning.

The NEA also predicted slight haze on a few days, particularly in the early morning, due to the accumulation of particulate matter under light winds.

Scorching temperatures in the past few days have sent people seeking shade.

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Activists: Decline of elephants in Tanzania is catastrophic

TOM ODULA Associated Press Yahoo News 2 Jun 15;

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The sharp decline of the elephant population in Tanzania, most likely due to poaching, is catastrophic, a wildlife conservation group said Tuesday.

The Tanzanian government on Monday estimated that 65,721 elephants have died in the country in the last five years. The report showed the number of Tanzanian elephants plummeting from an estimated 109,051 in 2009 to 43,330 in 2014.

Steve Broad, the executive directors of wildlife conservation group TRAFFIC, said it is incredible that poaching on such an industrial scale had not been identified and addressed.

The statistics back concerns by TRAFFIC in a 2013 report that the Tanzanian ports of Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar have become main exit points for vast amounts of ivory, the group said in a statement.

According to the conservation group, at least 45 tons of ivory have flowed from Tanzania to international markets in Asia since 2009.

It said a breakdown across the country showed some smaller elephant populations had increased, notably that in the famed Serengeti region, which rose from 3,068 to 6,087 animals. However, beyond the most heavily visited tourist locations, elephant numbers were significantly down.

Of particular concern is the Ruaha-Rungwa ecosystem, where only 8,272 elephants remained in 2014, compared to 34,664 in 2009, according to government figures, the statement said.

"Tanzania has been hemorrhaging ivory with Ruaha-Rungwa the apparent epicenter and nobody seems to have raised the alarm," Broad said, and urged the government to take action to bring the situation under control.

The Tanzanian government says it has added an additional 1,000 rangers to protect wildlife, but Broad said "there is a real risk that it could be a case of too little too late for some elephant populations."

In February China imposed a one-year ban on ivory imports that took immediate effect amid criticism that its citizens' huge appetite for ivory has fueled poaching that threatens the existence of African elephants.

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India minister blames climate change for deadly heatwave, weak monsoon

Reuters Yahoo News 2 Jun 15;

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's earth sciences minister has blamed climate change for a heatwave that has killed 2,500 people and for deficient monsoon rains, after the government said on Tuesday the country was headed for its first drought in six years.

"Let us not fool ourselves that there is no connection between the unusual number of deaths from the ongoing heat wave and the certainty of another failed monsoon," Harsh Vardhan said. "It's not just an unusually hot summer, it is climate change," he said.

The minister's comments affirm warnings from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that India will be hit by frequent freak weather patterns if the planet warms.

The arrival of the June-September monsoon rains, on which nearly half of the India's farmland depends, has already been delayed by about five days, and Vardhan said there was no certainty about when the rains would arrive.

India, the world's No. 3 emitter of greenhouse gases, is under growing pressure to tackle its carbon emissions after the world's top two emitters - China and the United States - last year agreed to new limits starting in 2025.

But Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said he would not bow to foreign pressure and instead focus on increasing the country's use of renewable energy.

His ministerial colleagues have said that because India's per-capita energy consumption is lower than Western countries, its economy should not be unfairly shackled by commitments to curb carbon when it needs to grow its economy to cut poverty.

The U.N. is hoping countries can agree a deal to slow global warming at an upcoming climate summit in Paris in November.

(Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Tommy Wilkes)

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Radical transition' of economy needed to curb climate change: study

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 3 Jun 15;

Harmful impacts of global warming such as heat waves and sea level rise are mounting and show a need for a "radical transition" to a greener economy, a study presented at U.N. climate talks said on Tuesday.

Damage is growing even though average temperatures have risen only 0.85 degree Celsius (1.5 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times, less than half the 2C set as a maximum acceptable rise by almost 200 nations, it said.

"Negative impacts are not only something in the future - they are something now," said Zou Ji, a co-leader of the U.N. review of consultations about science policy for governments working on a U.N. climate deal in Paris in December.

All sides at the presentation of the report, on the sidelines of June 1-11 talks on the Paris accord, said government promises so far for curbs on greenhouse gas emissions were too weak to stay below the 2C goal.

"Limiting global warming to below 2C necessitates a radical transition ... not merely a fine tuning of current trends," according to the report based on talks between experts and governments.

Such a transition would mean deep cuts in greenhouse gases, shifting from fossil fuels such as coal and oil to renewable energies such as wind, hydro and solar power, it said.

The report also concluded that the 2C goal was too often wrongly viewed as an acceptable maximum, a "guardrail" up to which climate change would be manageable.

But impacts of climate change, such as damage to coral reefs or a melt of Greenland's ice that is raising sea levels, showed risks were already increasing.

"The guardrail concept in which up to 2C would be considered safe would be better seen as an upper limit, a defense line," said Andreas Fischlin, a co-leader of the report.

Thomas Stocker, a senior Swiss scientist from the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said governments faced tough choices in managing the risks of warming.

"The elephant in the room is what we can do to change the trend in emissions," he told delegates.

Many developing nations favor setting a ceiling of 1.5C above pre-industrial times, arguing that their economies are vulnerable to impacts such as storms, floods, droughts and sea level rise.

Collin Beck, representing the Solomon Islands, said scientists should do more to examine ways to set up a defense line against 1.5 degrees.

(Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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Everything you need to know about the Paris climate summit and UN talks

As UN climate negotiations resume in Bonn, we look at why the crunch Paris climate conference from 30 November to 11 December is so important
Fiona Harvey The Guardian 2 Jun 15;

What is happening in Paris this December?
The governments of more than 190 nations will gather in Paris to discuss a possible new global agreement on climate change, aimed at reducing global greenhouse gas emissions and thus avoiding the threat of dangerous climate change.

Why now?
Current commitments on greenhouse gas emissions run out in 2020, so at Paris governments are expected to produce an agreement on what happens for the decade after that at least, and potentially beyond.

Why is this important?
Scientists have warned that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, we will pass the threshold beyond which global warming becomes catastrophic and irreversible. That threshold is estimated as a temperature rise of 2C above pre-industrial levels, and on current emissions trajectories we are heading for a rise of about 5C. That may not sound like much, but the temperature difference between today’s world and the last ice age was about 5C, so seemingly small changes in temperature can mean big differences for the Earth.

Why has nobody thought of getting a global agreement on this before now?
They have: global negotiations on climate change have been carrying on for more than 20 years. The history of climate change goes back much further: in the 19th century, physicists theorised about the role of greenhouse gases, chiefly carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere, and several suggested that the warming effect would increase alongside the levels of these gases in the atmosphere. But this was all theoretical.

Only in the past few decades have scientists begun the measurements necessary to establish a relationship between current carbon levels and temperatures, and the science conducted since then has consistently pointed in one direction: that rising greenhouse gas emissions, arising from our use of fossil fuels and our industries, lead to higher temperatures.

Hasn’t global warming stopped?
No. Global temperatures have been on a clear upward path. There was a spike in 1998, after which temperatures were lower – but still warmer than previous decades – that led some climate sceptics to claim that the world was cooling.

During the period since 1998, global temperatures have risen at a slower pace than they did in the previous 30 years. That, too, has been seized upon by sceptics as evidence that global warming has “paused”.

But it is important to note that temperatures have not fallen, or stalled – they have continued to rise. Given the variations that characterise our weather systems, a period in which the rate of warming slowed is not unexpected.

For the past two years, the rate of warming seems to have accelerated again, but little can be construed from that.

What progress have we seen on a global agreement?

In 1992, governments met in Rio de Janeiro and forged the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. That agreement, still in force, bound governments to take action to avoid dangerous climate change, but did not specify what actions. Over the following five years, governments wrangled over what each should do, and what should be the role of developed countries versus poorer nations.

Those years of argument produced, in 1997, the Kyoto protocol. That pact required worldwide cuts in emissions of about 5%, compared with 1990 levels, by 2012, and each developed country was allotted a target on emissions reductions. But developing countries, including China, South Korea, Mexico and other rapidly emerging economies, were given no targets and allowed to increase their emissions at will.

Al Gore, then US vice president, signed up to the protocol, but it was quickly apparent that it would never be ratified by the US Congress. Legally, the protocol could not come into force until countries representing 55% of global emissions had ratified it. With the US – then the world’s biggest emitter – on the outside, that was not going to happen.

So for most of the following decade, the Kyoto protocol remained in abeyance and global climate change negotiations ground to a near-halt. But in late 2004, Russia decided to pass the treaty – unexpectedly, and as part of a move to have its application for World Trade Organisation membership accepted by the European Union. That made up the weight needed, and the protocol finally came into force.

So we had a global agreement?
Not quite. The US, under George W Bush, remained firmly outside Kyoto, so although the UN negotiations carried on year after year, the US negotiators were often in different rooms from the rest of the world. It was clear a new approach was needed that could bring the US in, and encourage the major developing economies – especially China, now the world’s biggest emitter – to take on limits to their emissions.

What followed was, agreed at Bali in 2007 after much drama, an action plan that set the world on the course to a new agreement that would take over from Kyoto.

This is taking a long time. What happened next?
It did take a long time. But getting agreement from 196 countries was never going to be easy. The next act of this long-running drama fully demonstrated that: the Copenhagen conference of 2009.

What happened at Copenhagen?
Everything but the treaty. All of the world’s developed countries and the biggest developing countries agreed – for the first time – to limits on their greenhouse gas emissions. This was a landmark, as it meant the world’s biggest emitters were united towards a single goal.

The emissions reductions agreed on were still not enough to meet scientific advice, but they were a big advance on reducing emissions compared with “business as usual”.

But what didn’t happen turned out to be the point that NGOs and many in the press seized on. What didn’t happen was a fully articulated and legally binding treaty.

Is that important?
It depends on your viewpoint. The Kyoto protocol was a beautifully written, watertight, fully legally binding international treaty, a sub-treaty of the similarly binding UNFCCC. But it never met its objectives, because it wasn’t ratified by the US, and not by Russia until it was too late. And none of the countries that failed to meet their commitments under Kyoto have been sanctioned.

The Copenhagen agreement, on the other hand, was not fully adopted by the UN in 2009 because of last-minute chaos at the conference, though it was ratified the following year in the form of the Cancun agreements. For this reason, the Copenhagen agreement was derided as a failure by green groups

But the targets agreed at Copenhagen, in the form of a document signed by world leaders, still stand.

What is likely to be agreed in Paris?

We know already what the biggest emitters have committed to. The EU will cut its emissions by 40%, compared with 1990 levels, by 2030. The US will cut its emissions by 26% to 28%, compared with 2005 levels, by 2025. China will agree that its emissions will peak by 2030.

Other major countries, including India, have yet to come up with their targets – known in the UN jargon as INDCs – despite being asked to meet a deadline at the end of March.

If the commitments from the major countries are in the bag, does that mean the Paris agreement is settled?
Not at all - the other key question, apart from emissions reduction, is finance. Poorer countries want the rich world to provide them with financial help that will enable them to invest in clean technology to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, and to adapt their infrastructure to the likely damage from climate change.

This is a hugely contentious issue. At Copenhagen, where the finance part of the deal was only sorted out at the very last minute, rich countries agreed to supply $30bn ($20bn) of “fast-start” financial assistance to the poor nations, and they said that by 2020, financial flows of at least $100bn a year would be provided.

Poor nations want a similar provision in place beyond 2020, but there is strong disagreement over how this should be done. Some want all the money to come from rich country governments, but those governments are adamant that they will not provide such funding solely from the public purse. They want international development banks, such as the World Bank, to play a role, and they want most of the funding to come from the private sector.

An agreement on this is still possible, but it will be one of the main obstacles to a Paris deal.

Will world leaders go to Paris to agree this?
No. World leaders, including Barack Obama and the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao, attended Copenhagen but were then embarrassed when that conference ended in scenes of chaos and vicious recriminations. So they’re not coming back. Paris will be attended by high-level ministers of all the world’s governments, who have the power to sign a deal on behalf of their countries.

On behalf of the French government, the conference will be led by foreign minister Laurent Fabius, and environment minister Segolene Royal, but the French president Francois Hollande will also play a key role. They are all confident that a deal can be made.

What else can we expect before Paris?
Plenty. There will be a long series of meetings in the run-up to the conference, which have already begun: in late May, a business and climate summit brought together leading private sector companies and government officials; in June, a meeting in Bonn to hammer out some of the key details of the negotiating text; in July, a meeting of scientists; in September, a convening of world leaders as part of the UN annual general meeting; and more meetings of officials, negotiators, ministers and civil society throughout the autumn.

It is also important to note that the climate talks are not happening in a vacuum.

The UN is also pressing world governments to produce a set of “sustainable development goals” this autumn, which will take over from the millennium development goals that were pegged to 2015. These will include issues such as access to clean water and sanitation, access to energy, gender equality, education and health. Those SDGs will have a profound effect on whether the world can meet its climate change targets, and meet them in an equitable fashion that allows poor countries to lift their citizens out of poverty while not passing climate thresholds.

This will be a key year for international relations. If nations can meet and agree equitable goals on the climate, on economic development, on social and environmental issues, and do so in a spirit of cooperation, it will bode well for future development.

But, as the French president Francois Hollande told delegates in Paris in late May, that might be hoping for a “miracle”.

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