Best of our wild blogs: 29 Jun 15

Joyful June at the Sisters Islands Marine Park, with a tinge of sadness
Sisters' Island Marine Park

Moth encounters
My Nature Experiences

Changeable Lizard (Calotes versicolor) @ Kranji
Monday Morgue

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Green groups fight haze problem together for the first time

The People’s Movement to Stop Haze will launch a campaign next month to raise awareness on what the public can do to combat air pollution in Singapore. WWF Singapore and the Singapore Environment Council will also be involved.
Alice Chia Channel NewsAsia 28 Jun 15;

SINGAPORE: Thick smog, a burning smell… For the past few years, air pollution has plagued Singapore during the haze season. That is typically during the drier months, from June to October. It was in Jun 21, 2013 when the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hit a high of 401, and the haze is expected to return.

“This year, it’s felt by many to be a more than dry year,” said Mr Simon Tay, chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. “There's a potential of El Nino. And really, if we think back to even two years ago, when there was 400 PSI, that was a dry year, and a lot depends on the wind direction of course. There will be fires, there will be haze. Sometimes, whether it's Singapore, Penang, KL, Southern Thailand, it just depends on the wind direction."

One group is taking action to prepare for this. The People's Movement to Stop Haze, or PM.Haze, is launching a campaign called We Breathe What We Buy.


Said the group’s president Tan Yi Han: "Since 1997, I realised that the haze keeps coming back year after year to affect us, and despite the best efforts of different parties such as the Singapore Government, we still haven't been able to eliminate the problem. And so I thought, why not us, rather than just complaining, how about we the people go and try to do something about the haze."

It will hold a series of activities to help the public understand the haze problem. These include nature walks, followed by outdoor forums to explore the issue. The group will also recruit and train volunteers to give talks about the haze in their schools.

"They're all at the stage where they can talk to and convince their friends or talk to their parents and really influence change,” said 24-year-old group member Chen Ting. “So we really want to start from the ground up. It's easier to get people to start good practices when young."

The group came up with these activities after a trip to Indonesia to get to the root of the issue.

Said Mr Tan: "What we saw there was a very shocking image of a huge area, almost completely devoid of greenery, so what we saw were dead trees, there were just a few farmers here and there. The farmers told us that almost every year, fires will spread through the whole area and there won't be enough people to stop the fire."

These fires are often started to clear land for plantations, especially those producing palm oil and paper.

Said Mr Tay: “The expansion of plantations in Indonesia and parts of Malaysia - this is the human factor that is really driving this phenomenon, because in that expansion, you're talking about plantations twice the size of Singapore. These tend to use fire and the amount of carbon released is huge. Some of them are also on peat land and this will make the smoke even more dense. Indonesia is today the world's largest palm oil producer. It continues to be ahead of the curve. So the challenge is can the palm oil industry be made more green?"

PM.Haze feels the public has a role to play.

"We are advocating now that we stop creating this kind of fire-prone areas, by stopping deforestation, or drainage of peat,” said Mr Tan. “A lot of this is unfortunately being done by big companies who have the ability to just clear large areas, and drain the peat from large areas, so here in Singapore, we are advocating that people should support companies that refrain from deforestation, drainage of peat swap and of course, burning.

“Fire-prone areas are areas which have been deforested, where the peat has been drained. And a lot of it has been done by the big companies, and so ironically, whenever we buy a product that contains palm oil or paper, we could be paying for these companies to continue their rampant destruction, which eventually causes the haze. Eventually, what we are saying is that we have been paying money for the haze. So right now why not we put this money and give it to the companies that are doing the right things, which are not causing deforestation or draining the peat."


Consumers can do this by using less paper and choosing products made from sustainable paper and palm oil. Palm oil is used in half of the packaged products found in supermarkets such as margarine and even shampoo, but it can be difficult to spot.

"While we educate consumers, we also have to help them,” said Mr Edwin Seah, executive director of the Singapore Environment Council. “So for example, one way is to simplify the labelling of palm oil in products. Palm oil comes under close to over 30 different names. So for the layman, it's very difficult to tell. So why don't we move towards a common labelling protocol for palm oil. If it's palm oil, just label it as palm oil and then let us know whether or not that palm oil came from sustainable sources."

One way is to look out for those with the Green Label. It is managed by the Singapore Environment Council, which certifies items - including palm oil products - made using sustainable practices. More than 3,000 products are certified under the scheme which was started in 1992. These include paper, detergent and paint. But the council has not received any food submissions.

"We're ready to do it and I think we have the processes in place,” Mr Seah revealed. “That's why as part of this campaign, what we want to go out to do is to work with the Government, we want to work with our fellow NGOs, as well as manufacturers and retailers, for example supermarkets, to say that if you want to have your food certified, your product certified, we can help you do it."

International non-profit association, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), has a certification scheme as well. While its secretariat is based in Malaysia, the products it certifies are not widely found in Asia. Many companies in the region do not commit to using sustainable palm oil.

WWF Singapore publishes a report to assess firms on their efforts to do so. But it said many Asian companies do not want to be part of the report and do not submit information for assessment. It understands that one reason is that it is more expensive to use sustainable palm oil, so it hopes consumers can make their voices heard, to put pressure on the companies.

The public can visit the campaign website, which will be launched in July, and pledge to support sustainable products. Organisers hope to collect 50,000 pledges within the first six months of the campaign.

"We will then try to come together in roundtables and discuss sustainable palm oil in Singapore,” said WWF Singapore’s director of communications Kim Stengert. “ We encourage all businesses using palm oil to speak to us pro-actively as soon as they can. And we'll also try to see if these companies can come up with voluntary commitments to solve the haze problem."

To address the haze problem, a think-tank says there is a need to engage more stakeholders.

Said Mr Tay: "We have to get the producers and the large buyers, and then the finance companies, and then the large retail companies like supermarkets."

But one supermarket cites challenges in providing products made from sustainably farmed palm oil. NTUC FairPrice said a balance must be struck to address the price difference compared with those from normal sources. It will also need to assess the rate of adoption by major manufacturers.

"Right now, consumer demand would not be effective because there aren't enough products that are labelled, so that you can differentiate between the labelled and unlabeled,” Mr Tay shared. “But to create the conditions, we need to start upstream, where the producers are, the big buyers, and the retailers, but at the end, we'll have to have to depend on greater public awareness and consumer demand."


It is hoped that one of the largest consumer groups in Singapore can come on board too.

Mr Seah said: "The public sector as you know represents a significant demand base, we've got 80,000-over civil servants, close to 70 statutory boards. So that represents a very significant consumer base. And if they are willing to go out and say that we will only procure goods that are 100 per cent from sustainable sources, I think that will send a very strong message to your suppliers and manufacturers who want to then do business with the government."

But there is an understanding that the haze is a complex problem. To solve it, different groups need to work together.

Mr Tay said the Singapore Government must set the right tone, which it has, and see that the Indonesian and Malaysian governments particularly, pick this up: “The next set of institutions that really must do much more are the financial institutions. Singapore is a major investor, a trading hub, investment comes from us, listed companies in Singapore facing Singapore exchange routes, run plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia, and really these are the macro controls."

It is hoped that through the campaign, consumers can play a bigger role, to bring about change and stop the haze.

- CNA/hs

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Malaysia: Hot and dry until August

The Star 29 Jun 15;

PETALING JAYA: The hot and dry season has begun and is expected to last until end of August.

The country is smack in the active phase of the south-west monsoon, according to Malay-sian Meteoro­logical Department’s National Weather Centre senior meteorologist Dr Hisham Mohd Anip.

“It is normal to have this kind of weather during this period,” he said when commenting on the hotter and drier weather.

MetMalaysia stations were recor­ding daytime temperatures ranging between 33°C and 35°C.

In its weather bulletin for May, MetMalaysia noted that most areas in Malaysia recorded average higher temperatures than the long-term average for the month.

If it is any relief, the temperatures are not expected to go higher than those recorded between February and March, when they ranged as high as 37°C to 38°C.

Dr Hisham said this was because the sun was located further north of Malaysia compared with being directly above the country between February and March.

He also said that it was normal for most parts of the country to receive less rainfall during this season, except for Sabah and northern states of the peninsula.

Most states could expect to receive 100mm to 150mm rainfall per month, half of that from March to May, he said.

However, for the northern states of the peninsula and the western part of Sabah, the opposite was occurring, with rainfall in the northern states hitting 150mm to 250mm, significantly higher from the 50mm to 150mm seen in March to May.

Sabah has a much lower average for the past four months, with less than 50mm per month, though the western part of the state (where Mount Kinabalu is) has a had normal rainfall of 200mm to 300mm so far this month.

On the El Nino phenomenon, which is expected to cause tropical Pacific Ocean surface temperatures to rise, he said it did not have much impact currently and was still at weak-to-moderate stages around Sabah and northern parts of Sarawak.

Dr Hisham said as the season progressed, the haze was expected to return.

Although Singapore’s Meteorolo­gical Services reported scattered or isolated hotspots with localised plumes and haze in central Sumatra, western Borneo and Vietnam, the Air Pollution Index (API) shows that Malaysia was still free from haze, which usually accompanies the hot and dry weather.

Good or moderate air quality was recorded throughout the country yesterday.

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