Best of our wild blogs: 19 Jun 15

Fabulous reef and seagrasses of Tanah Merah
wonderful creation

Seagrassy surprise at Tanah Merah

Seagrasses taking over sandy artificial shores!
wild shores of singapore

Birdwatching in Bukit Brown (June 14,2015)
Rojak Librarian

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EDB predicts hot interest in solar power

The Economic and Development Board is looking at the possibility of installing solar systems in many places, including HDB housing blocks, schools, military camps and police facilities.
Eileen Poh, Channel NewsAsia 19 Jun 15;

SINGAPORE: The first solar leasing tender under the SolarNova programme was called earlier this month, to drive the use of solar energy in Singapore.

The programme is the largest in terms of capacity in Singapore so far and consolidates demand across three government agencies - the Ministry of Home Affairs, PUB and the Housing and Development Board (HDB).

Said Mr Goh Chee Kiong, executive director of Cleantech at the Economic and Development Board (EDB): "We envisage that solar systems will be installed at many places, such as HDB housing blocks, military camps, water treatment facilities, schools and the Ministry of Home Affairs' facilities, such as police facilities.

“Also, we are very keen to build capabilities in the solar industry. Extending from the solar industry, there should also be innovation opportunities around smart grids and energy management."

EDB said more than 10 agencies have expressed interest in tapping solar power and it is currently working with them to determine their needs.

The adoption cost of solar power has been coming down, but so have electricity charges. To begin with, Singapore's electricity prices are relatively low, but tariffs have fallen in the past six months, due to lower global oil prices.

At least one solar company here said it are not likely to bid for the latest HDB tender, as they may not be able to offer lower rates compared to conventional power. Still, EDB said it believes solar power will be cost-competitive in Singapore.

"We are gratified in a way that solar power prices continue to go down in a trajectory that is fairly promising - in part because of global trends, as well as the economies of scale in Singapore,” said Mr Goh. “Solar power prices have become more competitive compared to years before, so even with the slide in conventional power prices, we believe that over time, solar power will continue to keep pace and be cost competitive in Singapore."

Singapore-based solar developer Sunseap Leasing, which plans to bid for the latest Government tender, says a leasing model could keep costs low for building owners. It cuts down the upfront costs - such as installation fees - and allows companies to pay on a per use basis. The service provider will also operate and maintain the systems.

"There are certain asset maintenance and monitoring costs that we are able to do better and more economically compared to say a typical building owner,” said Sunseap Leasing’s director Lawrence Wu. ”It makes sense for us to be managing off a thousand or two thousand rooftops of solar power, as opposed to having a landlord own it, and manage its own solar power, which is only one rooftop."

“To put things in context, for example, we can have two engineers tracking about 1,000 systems, but for a building owner with only one system, he may still require one engineer to track," Mr Wu added.

The company has also won several Government tenders on solar power.

One expert said that as the solar energy industry in Singapore develops further, the corresponding labour expertise needs to be in place too.

Said Dr Thomas Reindl, deputy CEO at Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore: "We need to train more manpower, not just in the engineering side, but also the solar side, because these solar (systems), they don't fly up on the rooftop, so you need qualified professional installers."

The research institute said it is working with the Singapore Workforce Development Agency and the Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore to come up with internationally-accredited training on courses for installers and system designers.

- CNA/ek

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Indonesia: No need to import food to face El Nino - VP Kalla

Antara 18 Jun 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The government does not need to import food commodities to face the impacts of El Nino on Indonesia, Vice President M. Jusuf Kalla said.

"Effects of the El Nino phenomenon are expected to be moderate. If we prepare well, we will not have to import food," Kalla stated while officiating the Environmental and Forestry Week at the Jakarta Convention Center here on Thursday.

According to the forecast of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), Indonesia will be hit by El Nino from July to November.

This natural phenomenon usually triggers drought that could affect the harvest of crops.

If El Nino persists till the planting season in October, the country could be forced to import food commodities, Kalla explained.

Indonesia had been severely affected by El Nino in 1998. The government had been forced to import as much as five million tons of food commodities, the vice president recalled.

However, he is optimistic that the impacts of El Nino will moderate this year.

Moreover, the Ministry of Agriculture has planned to set up a special team to tackle the effects of El Nino, particularly by providing water pumps in drought-hit regions.

Agriculture Minister Amran Sulaiman affirmed that the ministry will distribute 20 thousand water pumps in drought-affected regions.

Across Indonesia, 96 districts covering a total area of 198 thousand hectares have been identified as prone to drought.

The ministry has sent a team to Indramayu, West Java, to distribute water pumps to local communities facing a shortage of clean water.

Furthermore, the meteorological agency has predicted weak El Nino, which could reduce precipitation to 40 to 80 percent, particularly in the provinces of Sumatra, East Java, Bali, West and East Nusa Tenggara, and Papua.

In 1997-1998, Indonesia had experienced a prolonged drought induced by the strongest ever recorded El Nino, which had triggered widespread fires.

The greatest loss caused by forest and land fires in Indonesia occurred in 1997, when fires wiped out millions of hectares of forest and plantation areas and inflicted US$2.45 billion in losses.

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Pope's climate change encyclical tells rich nations: pay your debt to the poor

Pontiff’s 180-page intervention in climate change debate casts blame for ‘ecological crisis’ on the indifference of the powerful
Stephanie Kirchgaessner The Guardian 18 Jun 15;

Pope Francis has called on the world’s rich nations to begin paying their “grave social debt” to the poor and take concrete steps on climate change, saying failure to do so presents an undeniable risk to a “common home” that is beginning to resemble a “pile of filth”.

The pope’s 180-page encyclical on the environment, released on Thursday, is at its core a moral call for action on phasing out the use of fossil fuels.

But it is also a document infused with an activist anger and concern for the poor, casting blame on the indifference of the powerful in the face of certain evidence that humanity is at risk following 200 years of misuse of resources.

Up to now, he says, the world has accepted a “cheerful recklessness” in its approach to the issue, lacking the will to change habits for the good of the Earth.

“Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods,” the papal statement says. “It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”

The release of the statement was timed with the pope’s upcoming trip to the US, where he will speak before the United Nations and a joint session of the Congress.

“This is his signature teaching,” said Austen Ivereigh, who has written a biography of the pope. “Francis has made it not just safe to be Catholic and green; he’s made it obligatory.”

Ivereign added: “It captures his deep disquiet about the direction of the modern world, the way technology and the myth of progress are leading us to commodify human beings and exploit nature. This comes right out of his soul.”

The encyclical, which can now be considered the church’s official position on the environment, includes practical guidance. Pope Francis rejects “simple solutions” to climate change such as cap and trade systems, which he says give rise to harmful speculation. He also dismisses any suggestion that population increases harm to the environment and should therefore be controlled, and resists making any judgment on genetically modified foods.

The essay was released following months of intense speculation about how far the pontiff would delve into a scientific realm that, depsite the overwhelming agreement of scientists, is still considered controversial in some countries such as the US, where views on climate change are divided along political lines.

Cardinal Peter Turkson, the pope’s top official on social and justice issues, flatly rejected arguments by some conservative politicians in the US that the pope ought to stay out of science.

“Saying that a pope shouldn’t deal with science sounds strange since science is a public domain. It is a subject matter that anyone can get in to,” Turkson said at a press conference on Thursday.

In an apparent reference to comments by Republican presidential contender Jeb Bush, who said he did not take economic advice from the pope, Turkson said that politicians had the right to disregard Francis’s statement, but said it was wrong to do so based on the fact that the pope was not a scientist.

“For some time now it has been the attempt of the whole world to kind of try to de-emphasise the artificial split between religion and public life … as if religion plays no role,” he said. Then, quoting an earlier pope, he said the best position was to “encourage dialogue between faith and reason”.

“Reason does have blind spots, but at the same time, reason can also challenge religion to become practical,” he said.

Francis, who was elected in 2013 and has put social justice and reform of the church at the heart of his papacy, said on Thursday that his text should not be read as a green manifesto, but instead as a social teaching.

“The foreign debt of poor countries has become a way of controlling them, yet this is not the case where ecological debt is concerned,” Francis wrote. “In different ways, developing countries, where the most important reserves of the biosphere are found, continue to fuel the development of richer countries at the cost of their own present and future.

“The developed countries ought to help pay this debt by significantly limiting their consumption of non-renewable energy and by assisting poorer countries to support policies and programmes of sustainable development.” The question now is whether the pope’s sweeping statement will shake-up climate talks.

Turkson said on Thursday that the pope considered it imperative that “practical proposals not be developed in an ideological, superficial or reductionist way”.

“For this, dialogue is essential,” he said.

The release of the statement was timed with the pope’s upcoming trip to the US, where he will speak before the UN and seek to nudge climate change negotiators ahead of their December meeting in Paris. He will also speak before a joint session of the US Congress.

While much of the encyclical is a spiritual reflection on the biblical story of creation and humanity’s God-given role in caring for the Earth, both the statement and the presentation preceding it were infused with science, representing a rare locking of arms between the church and scientific community.

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a top climate scientist and scientific adviser to the Vatican, said the impact of global warming would be “abrupt, surprising, and irreversible”, and that it would shut down parts of the earth much in the same way that the body dies of a fever.

“The vital organ’s of the world’s body will collapse,” he said in opening remarks before a press conference.

The encyclical – a statement of papal teaching – describes an “ecological crisis” and includes a section devoted to the latest scientific findings. It argues that climate change is not just a “global problem with serious implications”, but has an impact felt disproportionately by the world’s poorest people.

Francis writes: “Those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms”. The failure to respond, he says, points to the loss of a “sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded”.

The question now is whether the encyclical will shake-up the climate debate, as Francis clearly hopes it will.

“I really think it is a game-changer,” says Ivereigh, the papal biographer. “In asking Catholics to reshape the market by changing their consumer habits, it could release a whole new form of people power.”

But a recent survey of Catholics in the US shows the pope faces a tought task. According to Pew Research, while eight in 10 Catholic Democrats say that there is solid evidence that global warming is real, only about half of Catholic Republicans agree. Far fewer – just one quarter of Catholic Republicans – believe that global warming is caused by humans.

The Argentinian pontiff heaps praise on efforts made by scientists to find solutions to man-made problems, and lashes out at those who intervene in the service of “finance and consumerism”.

“It is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, even more limited and grey,” he says.

The pope did not speak at the press conference on Thursday, but earlier in the week he said he hoped his message would be received with an “open spirit”.

The pope has previously expressed disappointment over the lack of an effective global plan to tackle climate change. But he faces an uphill battle to convert those who doubt human influence.

Even among Catholics in the US, views on global warming are sharply divided along political lines. A recent survey by Pew Research showed that Catholic Republicans view the nearly universally accepted scientific facts with deep scepticism.

Overall, the survey found that 71% of US Catholics believe the earth is warming, and about half (47%) believe humans are the cause and that it is a serious problem.

But while eight in 10 Catholic Democrats say that there is solid evidence that global warming is real, only about half of Catholic Republicans agree. Far fewer – just one quarter of Catholic Republicans – believe that global warming is caused by humans.

The UN climate chief, Christiana Figueres, said the church’s newly unveiled teaching on the environment underscored the “moral imperative for urgent action”.

“This clarion call should guide the world towards a strong and durable universal climate agreement in Paris at the end of this year,” she said in a statement. “Coupled with the economic imperative, the moral imperative leaves no doubt that we must act on climate change now.”

Jim Yong Kim, the World Bank president, agreed: “Today’s release … should serve as a stark reminder to all of us on the intrinsic link between climate change and poverty.”

He said the impact of climate change was most devastating for the “unacceptably high number of people living in extreme poverty”. Extreme weather events had taken the lives of more than 2.5 million people and resulted in $4tn in damages, he said.

“We must now seize this narrow window of opportunity and embark on ambitious actions and policies to help protect people and the environment,” he added.

Francis has been sending his encyclical to church officials around the world over the last few days, Federico Lombardi, the Holy See’s head of communications, said.

The pontiff included a personal handwritten note in his communication, ending with a plea for help: “United in the lord, and please do not forget to pray for me.”

Pope attacks emissions trading as a possible 'ploy'
Nina Chestney and Valerie Volcovici Reuters Yahoo News 19 Jun 15;

(Reuters) - Pope Francis attacked one of the major policy initiatives in the fight to combat climate change, warning in his encyclical published on Thursday that the trading carbon credits could merely reward speculators instead of controlling global greenhouse gas emissions.

The pope, the first from the developing world, cautioned that carbon trading systems could be a smokescreen to allow large carbon emitters in wealthy countries to keep doing so, suggesting it might be "a ploy which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors."

The sharp critique of the market-based approach to curbing emissions comes as support for carbon trading is growing, embraced by institutions like the World Bank and United Nations, as well as the heads of many multinational companies and countries like China..

Emissions trading schemes, such as one in place in the European Union and those being piloted in provinces across China, allow polluters to buy and sell permits to release the carbon dioxide that is blamed for global warming.

Under these systems, companies or countries are given permits to release carbon dioxide up to a certain amount. To exceed that cap, they can buy permits on an open market from others who, by virtue of emitting less, have excess licenses to sell.

The European Commission declined to respond to the pope's comments but the International Emissions Trading Association, a lobby group for the carbon trading industry, issued a statement that described Francis's views on carbon trading as "out of step with most economists and analysts."

Carbon markets "contain safeguards against the excessive speculation warned about in the encyclical," the group said. "It misses the more important point that market mechanisms can help keep the costs down for producers and consumers alike."

The EU operates the biggest emissions trading scheme in the world, while 40 nations and over 20 cities, states and regions around the world now set a price on CO2 emissions.

Ottmar Edenhofer, chief economist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and a consultant to the Vatican, said the pope's comments should not be seen as an outright rejection of emissions trading.

"The pope is more or less asking scientists to check if this is an instrument which will provide a solution," he told Reuters.

Edenhofer speculated that the pope included the issue in response to longstanding concerns about carbon trading schemes from Latin America. The pope, an Argentine, is the first pontiff from the Americas and the Southern Hemisphere.

A bloc of Latin American countries including Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador have been hostile to the role of carbon markets in an international climate change agreement, claiming it may let rich countries escape emissions reductions targets while failing to deliver climate justice to the poor.

The U.N.'s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), for example, allows projects such as re-forestation in developing nations to earn carbon credits for the richer governments and companies that pay for them.

Edenhofer said the Vatican may have addressed carbon trading because "many people in Latin America are quite suspicious about this market-based instrument," especially indigenous people.

"There are incidences of CDM projects in Latin America being designed and implemented in a way that failed to take into account the concerns of local communities which were strongly against the project affecting their ancestral territories," said Guy Edwards, director of the climate and development lab at Brown University.

Others placed the pope's comments in the context of his wider concern for the fate of poorer countries and his insistence on fairness in any international climate agreement. The encyclical makes specific mention of Bolivian bishops who have demanded industrialized countries assume a greater burden in fighting climate change.

"Some people interpret this as a condemnation of carbon markets, but I think pope is saying that this is not a game of catch up for developing countries," said Mindy Lubber, president of investor group Ceres.

"What he seems to be appropriately questioning is whether we need to design solutions that work, not only from a technical perspective, but whether we need to be talking about what's fair and what's just."

But the pope also appeared to warn that a reliance on market-based solutions such as carbon trading would not be enough to see off the threat posed by global warming.

"This system seems to provide a quick and easy solution under the guise of a certain commitment to the environment," he wrote, referring to carbon trading, "but in no way does it allow for the radical change which present circumstances require."

(Reporting by Nina Chestney in London and Valerie Volcovici in Washington; Additional reporting by Susanna Twidale in London, Barbara Lewis in Brussels and Marcelo Teixeira in Sao Paulo; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Alan Crosby)

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