Best of our wild blogs: 6-7 Jul 15

Surveying the magical reefs of Sentosa Serapong
wild shores of singapore

Annual Labrador check up
wild shores of singapore

Double S - Stonefish and Sekudu

Interesting sea slugs at Chek Jawa

Limelight on Pulau Hantu
Hantu Blog

Green Corridor trail- Bukit Timah Station to Holland Road
My Nature Experiences

Greater Racket-tailed Drongo in Unihemispheric Slow-wave Sleep
Bird Ecology Study Group

Singapore’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) and what it means
Green Business Singapore

Malayan Racer (Coelognathus flavolineatus) @ Pulau Ubin
Monday Morgue

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2015: One turning point for the planet?

Jessica Cheam Straits Times 7 Jul 15;

The world is waking up to the existential crisis posed by climate change

When historians look back on the year 2015, it may well be remembered as a turning point in history when a revolution was sparked in the way humanity interacts with the planet.

After all, the world's nations have set a deadline this December to sign a landmark global climate treaty in Paris to tackle the growing environmental crisis. Critics will point out that at the last meeting in 2009 in Copenhagen, where an agreement was supposed to be inked, talks failed.

I was a journalist covering the summit then and had a ringside view of the political posturing leading up to the collapse of the negotiations. Watching global events unfold then and now, I have come to believe that this year might be different.

I'm not absolutely convinced a deal will be signed. But compared with 2009, the world is awakening to the existential crisis we face as a civilisation, at a pace and scale never seen before.

Letter from the Pope

The most visible manifestation of this awakening is the recent release of - and reaction to - Pope Francis' explosive encyclical on the environment on June 18, in which he describes in stark terms our planetary crisis and the "spiral of self-destruction" caused by the world's obsession with growth and consumption. In his 180-page teaching letter titled "Laudato Si (praised be) On Care For Our Common Home", the Pope goes into fascinating detail about the ills of our modern condition, touching on issues such as pollution, waste and the throwaway culture, climate change, the depletion of water, loss of biodiversity and global inequality.

"The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth," he writes in the letter, noting how things are at breaking point "due to the rapid pace of change and degradation", evident in recent large-scale natural disasters as well as social and even financial crises.

His observations extended to global leaders and the institutions that have failed to tackle the world's growing crisis: Those who "possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems".

Never before in the history of the Church has a papal document attracted so much attention.

It has been praised by even those beyond the environmental movement, such as United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, but it also expectedly attracted a fierce backlash from climate-change sceptics and conservative politicians who say the Pope has no business speaking outside religion.

Whether they like it or not, there is no doubt that his letter - following the tradition of those by his predecessors on the issues of their time - has captured the current zeitgeist and struck a chord with many worldwide, not least putting climate and environmental issues right in front of his 1.2 billion Catholic followers.

Obligation to protect

One other significant development was a historic decision on June 24 - the first in the world - by a Dutch court which ruled that the government had a legal obligation to protect its citizens from climate change. In the lawsuit brought by 886 citizens, the court ordered the government to cut carbon emissions by 25 per cent in five years' time - up from its current 15 per cent pledge.

This precedent, observers note, could trigger similar cases all over the world. Reports say similar lawsuits in Belgium and Norway are being prepared.

There are other developments happening at a speed and scale not seen in 2009: The global fossil-fuel divestment movement, growing corporate sustainability commitments, and the unprecedented growth of renewable energy worldwide are but some examples.

Mass extinction

The bigger question is whether these will be enough. Just last month , a new study confirmed that the world is entering its sixth mass extinction. Not since the age of the dinosaurs ended 66 million years ago has the planet seen species disappearing about 100 times faster than they used to, said the United States-led study.

These events may not register on the average Singaporean's consciousness in the same way as, say, breakdowns of MRT trains or the price of certificates of entitlement to own cars here, but they will have an impact on us and it's important to consider what these might be.

The effects of climate change are well-reported: From rising sea levels to extreme weather patterns and political instability to the threat of wars, Singapore will not be immune.

The Government, on its part, last week announced a pledge to cut carbon emission intensity (emissions per gross domestic product dollar) by 36 per cent by 2030; it also last year unveiled a Sustainable Singapore Blueprint that sets out a vision for the Republic to be a zero-waste, car-light nation with a flourishing green economy by 2030.

But going beyond hard targets, the recent global conversation should prompt a deeper introspection among us about Singapore's relationship with the environment. With this year being our jubilee year, this could not be more timely.

Singapore has managed to overcome its environmental challenges in the past 50 years - limited land, water and natural resources - with some foresight and integrated planning. But it still - for now - relies heavily on the outside world for food, water, energy and goods. Despite its limitations, Singapore is guilty of many of the observations in the Pope's letter about modern society, from its throwaway culture and those "vainly showing off their supposed superiority (with their possessions) and leaving behind them so much waste", to the "huge consumption of rich countries".

It has made me think that surely Singapore's vulnerability should serve as sufficient motivation for us to be world leaders in environmental sustainability.

It doesn't take much imagination to see that in a world with decreasing finite resources, a global shortage of any basic resource would put us at an extreme disadvantage, however much money we may have.

And when I refer to environmental sustainability, I don't mean merely planting trees all over the city - I mean a society in which a consideration and respect for our environment pervades all aspects of our lives and informs all our business decisions and policymaking. In this respect, we still have a long way to go.

The Pope's message, drawing on Saint Francis whose name he chose for his papal role, focuses on the idea of "integral ecology" and "just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace" - values I feel have had increasing resonance for Singaporeans in recent years, regardless of religion.

I hope this new column in The Straits Times, One Planet, will be a useful avenue for us to think deeply about some of these issues. I'd like to invite readers to get in touch with me on topics relating to the environment and sustainability that they feel is worth exploring and I will do my best to feature them in this column.

Whatever significance historians eventually assign to 2015, this year is a perfect opportunity, as the Pope puts it, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet.

This is a new fortnightly column by Jessica Cheam, the editor of Eco-Business, an Asia-Pacific sustainable business online publication. She was formerly a political and environment correspondent at The Straits Times.

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Diverse goals of Singapore's nature areas

Natalia Huang Straits Times 7 Jul 15;

The news that Singapore Botanic Gardens has been awarded Unesco World Heritage Site status by the United Nations is a great feather in the country's biological and heritage cap.

The Gardens is the first botanic gardens in Asia to be awarded heritage status. While its heritage values won the award, it also represents a nature area which provides an important service as a sanctuary in the city for both biodiversity and people.

Biodiversity is the variety of life, of plants and animals, and makes our earth glorious.

In Singapore, we have representatives of primary and secondary forests, mangroves, grasslands, and coral reefs scattered across this relatively tiny island. Many of these areas are teeming with wonderful wildlife and extraordinary plants.

There are the insect-hungry pitcher plants, the pigeon orchid which bursts into bloom in fright following lightning storms, and the towering dipterocarp trees which playfully release winged seeds that swirl like helicopters down to the many shades of green below.

There is the colourful and conspicuous oriental pied hornbill, the enigmatic scaly ant-eating pangolin, and the Singapore freshwater crab found nowhere else in the world.

The Botanic Gardens houses a diverse range of native and exotic plants, with some majestic trees being over 100 years old. These plants attract both native and exotic wildlife, representing an island of refuge in the city and providing connectivity for wildlife through the landscape. The Gardens also provide captivating areas for children and adults alike to learn more about nature.

In its jubilee year, at a time of national stock-taking, Singapore has a unique opportunity to make a choice about the future of its natural areas. This is a choice about whether future Singaporeans will reminisce about the nature that used to be in Singapore, or whether they can actually go out and see it for themselves.

What does future Singapore want to look like? Do we want to be a concrete jungle, or one with green spaces and wildlife?

In a country where land is heavily managed, our natural areas should be managed or planned with careful thought and precision. What might constitute a reasonable nature conservation or management policy in Singapore?

This is a delicate affair, with passion, science, and land-use demands often in conflict. This is especially so in a city like Singapore which has limited space, unlimited endeavours, and increasingly interested citizens.

While protecting native biodiversity is top priority, what is possible in Singapore is a nature conservation policy with a diversity of goals that satisfies the needs of a diversity of people. Some examples of such goals could be:

Areas of high biological significance should be protected for perpetuity, not until they are needed for development. These areas would offer limited or no access to the public, with the purpose of protecting their biodiversity and ecosystems.

They could include places such as the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Nee Soon Swamp Forest.

With representatives of each vegetation type still remaining (though declining), pockets of each can be used to teach young Singaporeans about diversity in life, about each unique ecosystem, and about the history of Singapore's environment. Experiencing it for themselves trounces any classroom learning. The Botanic Gardens gives students a space to learn about our colonial history and the ecology of a diverse urban garden, complete with a tiny remnant of native primary rainforest.

At school, I did not learn about our biodiversity and discovered the wonders of nature only while studying overseas. Imagine my delight as an ecologist returning from overseas when I learnt of Singapore's incredible creatures.

It disturbs me to think of the many other students who left, or did not pursue biology studies, because they did not realise the biodiversity in their own country. We could solve this by improving native biodiversity education in our education system and having nature areas to facilitate this. Some areas could also be set aside for ecological research, critical to understanding our natural history and how to manage it.

Without regular visits to MacRitchie Reservoir, I get frazzled and make plans to leave the country. Spending time in nature areas recharges my energy and clears my head, and gives me a relaxing place to exercise. The plethora of joggers and walkers I see tell me I am not alone. The ability of nature to improve mental health and well-being is well-documented by scientific research. Keeping nature areas for recreational use (and mental health) may also contribute to talent retention in the country.

Few tours or tourism brochures advertise Singapore's biodiversity or nature areas. Yet we sit in a region popular with eco-tourists.

Eco-tourism in Costa Rica, for example, is poised to be a major revenue-generating industry, with exorbitant tourist and guide fees for national parks which tourists willingly pay. While our forests may not be as sizeable as Costa Rica's, Singapore can provide a "soft" introduction to tropical rainforests for city-loving tourists.

Certain natural areas could be demarcated for guided tours, with strict guidelines and limits to the numbers allowed in each day. These would be outside the most biologically sensitive areas and could be rotated through a set of specific areas. Compared with other rainforest experiences around the world, Singapore is special in having a dense rainforest just 10 minutes from the city.

Certain areas can be set aside for fishing, cycling, walking, bird-watching, setting up vegetable gardens and other hobbies. Living in harmony in a dense place means accepting and respecting others' joys. Apart from existing nature areas, we can also add biodiversity anywhere and everywhere through replanting or habitat creation.

NParks is already replanting our road median strips with what will, hopefully, become little strips of forests, instead of strips of turf. These strips will provide important corridors for animals to move through our city.

If we strengthen biodiversity in our nature areas and enhance the diversity of nature areas for multiple purposes, then perhaps the whole of Singapore, and not just the Botanic Gardens, will be celebrated internationally for its nature areas.

The writer is principal ecologist at Ecology Matters, an environmental consultancy providing ecological advice and biodiversity studies for environmental impact assessments.

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Winds may help Singapore stay haze-free

Feng Zengkun Straits Times 7 Jul 15;

SINGAPORE may not be hit by haze in the coming days, even though the number of fires in Indonesia has gone up.

This is because the variable wind directions in the first two weeks of this month could just as easily bring the haze here as not, according to the National Environment Agency's (NEA's) forecast.

The Meteorological Service Singapore website said the number of hot spots in Sumatra in Indonesia spiked from about 30 to almost 140 between Wednesday and Saturday last week, although it dropped to about 20 yesterday.

However, the NEA said last week that winds blowing towards Singapore over the first fortnight of this month are expected to be predominantly from the south-east or south south-west.

Winds from the south south-west would come from Sumatra, and so have a higher risk of carrying haze to Singapore.

Winds from the south-east, on the other hand, would be unlikely to bring the haze.

In its forecast for the fortnight, the NEA said that "slightly hazy conditions can be expected on a few days, in particular in the early morning, due to the accumulation of particulate matter under light wind conditions".

Singapore's 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), which indicates air quality here, stood between 59 and 65 across the island as of 8pm yesterday.

This puts it in the low-moderate range. Air is considered unhealthy when the 24-hour PSI crosses 100.

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Indonesia: Hot spots detected in Sumatra

The Jakarta Post 6 Jul 15;

The US Terra and Aqua satellites have detected 36 hot spots indicating forest fires in Sumatra on Saturday morning.

The two satellites showed that 11 hot spots are in Jambi, 10 in Riau, nine in South Sumatra, two each in Aceh and Lampung, and one each in North Sumatra and West Sumatra, head of the Pekanbaru Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Office Sugarin said as quoted by Antara.

“In Riau province, seven of the 10 hot spots were found in Indragiri Hulu,” he said.

As a result, from Friday to Saturday Riau was shrouded in a haze that included smoke from the neighboring provinces of Jambi and South Sumatra.

While visibility in Pekanbaru, Pelalawan and Rengat dropped to between three to five kilometers, it dropped even more to one kilometer because of haze in Dumai.

However, authorities at the Sultan Syarif Kasim II Airport in Pekanbaru had decided not to cancel flights to and from the airport.

Sugarin said the Air Quality Standard Index in the six regions in Riau indicated that the air quality was moderate.

He also predicted that based on the direction of the winds the haze could soon be blown across the Malacca Strait to Malaysia and Singapore.

Jakarta's cloud-seeding efforts run into snags
Strengthening El Nino effect plus dry season causing lack of clouds may spark more fires
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja Straits Times 7 Jul 15;

The Indonesian authorities have tamed a growing number of forest fires in neighbouring Sumatra in the past few weeks with cloud-seeding, although the operations to produce rain have not been as successful as hoped, a top official has told The Straits Times.

As the dry season takes hold, the authorities in Indonesia and its neighbours are worried about a spike in forest fires and burning off on agricultural lands. Adding to concerns, a strengthening El Nino weather pattern, which usually causes higher temperatures and drought in the region, could prime parts of Sumatra and Borneo for major blazes in coming weeks. This could overwhelm fire-fighting efforts and trigger a choking smoke haze.

The authorities began cloud-seeding on June 22 in Riau province opposite Singapore, but a lack of clouds and moisture in the air meant on some days there were no clouds to seed, said Dr Heru Widodo, head of the weather-modification team at the Indonesian agency for the assessment and application of technology.

"But it is not that the cloud-seeding wasn't effective, only the success rate was lower than that in March. Had we not done anything, there would have been so much haze now," he told The Straits Times. A dry spell in March caused a brief surge in fires.

He rated the current cloud-seeding operations at seven points on a scale of one to 10, adding that the team had flown 11 flights so far and used more than 20 tonnes of cloud- seeding chemicals.

The number of fire hot spots in Sumatra jumped late last month to about 150, then quickly fell before jumping back to nearly 140 late last week, according to Meteorological Service Singapore, citing satellite data. By yesterday, the number of hot spots fell to 18 from 56 on Sunday, going by the latest map posted.

Despite recent storms, fires have kept cropping up, Dr Heru said.

Fires have also been flaring up in Jambi province and further south.

"We have received reports of rising hot-spot activity in the southern part of Sumatra. We will set up a cloud-seeding operations base in Palembang, South Sumatra, on Wednesday," he said.

Since coming to office, Indonesian President Joko Widodo has pledged to be more active in fighting fires. Jakarta last September ratified the 2002 Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

Under the agreement, countries have to cooperate in taking measures to prevent, monitor and mitigate the haze by controlling the sources of fires, in exchanging information and technology, and in helping one another manage outbreaks.

When asked last night about forest fires in Sumatra and the ongoing challenges faced by cloud-seeding operations, President Joko said "we will have the report tomorrow", in response to a question from The Straits Times during a breaking-of-fast event with reporters.

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Taking our infrastructure to new heights

Today Online 6 Jul 15;

Singapore — Ms Low Pei Chin, 39, is a senior principal engineer in the Water Reclamation (Plants) Department, Planning and Development Division of PUB, Singapore’s national water agency. Her job involves managing development projects, making sure that schedules are followed and the projects don’t go over budget.

In 2012, the same year she joined PUB, a feasibility study of Phase 4 of the Jurong Water Reclamation Plant’s expansion was conducted. Today, it is in the construction phase and Ms Low is the project lead. She is also the lead on the Changi Water Reclamation Plant Phase II expansion, which started last June with the development of its concept design.

No ‘Armchair Engineer’

Ms Low said: “There isn’t a typical day on the job — every day is different, because the project team faces new challenges every day as the project progresses.”

To avoid becoming an “armchair engineer”, Ms Low strongly believes in going down to the project sites to “have a feel of the site conditions”. She added: “Time is also spent working with the consultants who are engaged to help develop the project, ensuring that it’s performed within scope and on schedule.”

One solution she is especially proud of is the first Thermal Hydrolysis System, which is due to be installed at Jurong Water Reclamation Plant as part of the Phase 4 expansion, and is currently being considered for Changi Water Reclamation Plant’s Phase II expansion as well.

“The new system can be described as a high-pressure cooker. The sludge from the treatment plant will be treated at a high temperature and pressure, which will make the sludge more biodegradable. It allows us to build one less digester and have less sludge for disposal, thus saving costs, and producing more biogas for energy recovery.”

Changing priorities

Ms Low foresees the role of water reclamation infrastructure changing and expanding.

“In the future, water reclamation infrastructure will play an even more important role as we engage in more energy and resource recovery, while still playing a critical role in water supply.”

“In my opinion, the main challenge for the water reclamation infrastructure of tomorrow is how to do more with less — less land, less manpower, lower costs. This is a multi-dimensional challenge and requires a diverse group of experts to come together and develop a balanced solution.”

Civil engineering

Mr Otard Chew is a senior engineer in the Geotechnical & Tunnels Division, Engineering Group of the Land Transport Authority. He provides specialist design services in the field of geotechnical and tunnel engineering, and supports other functions in LTA, including planning, design, construction and asset management.

Mr Chew started his civil engineering career in the private sector. In 2013, he joined the LTA to gain more exposure to other areas of civil engineering design, especially in the area of tunnelling for rail and road infrastructure.

His colleague, Mr Muhammad Fahmi Bin Mahony, 30, joined LTA in 2008 after completing his National Service. In 2009, he resumed his studies with the Singapore Institute of Management while still working at LTA. He graduated with a Bachelor of Applied Science Construction Management (Hons) in 2012. He is also a senior engineer in the Geotechnical & Tunnels Division and is responsible for the implementation of site investigation works.

Said Mr Fahmi: “Our task is to ensure that all physical drilling, in-situ and laboratory tests are carried out safely and in accordance to standards and specifications spelled out in the contract. The team members and I check on contractors to ensure the classification/properties of soil and rocks are correct.”

A technical overview

A typical work day for Mr Chew and Mr Fahmi varies greatly. Mr Chew, 33, said: “It could include reviewing technical submissions to ensure that the consultant’s designs satisfy LTA requirements and are compliant with accepted codes.

“I attend technical discussions to find possible solutions to resolve various issues, as well as conduct site visits to inspect existing slopes or structures.”

In addition, Mr Chew is part of a task force of young engineers looking into trends in research and development that can improve the way civil engineering infrastructure in Singapore is designed and constructed.

The task force identifies potential research opportunities, creates concept research and development proposals, and participates in research and development collaborations with external parties.

Mr Fahmi’s work day may include writing specifications for tender, meeting with internal and external customers to understand their requirements or restrictions prior to site work and resolving site technical matters with contractors.

“There are many geotechnical engineering tests that have not been carried out in Singapore. My team and I are required to explore the available tests carried out overseas that may be suitable for our project. I also witness a particular test on-site or have a discussion with a contractor or consultant to understand the subject before the specification is drafted.”

Innovation and Opportunities

Looking ahead, Mr Chew noted a stronger push for an integrated design process, which refers to multidisciplinary collaboration between key stakeholders and design professionals to create a structure.

He said: “Space constraints and the rate of urbanisation are forcing infrastructures to go deeper underground or closer to one another, or both. Space has to be jointly planned for better development.”

Mr Fahmi relishes the opportunities working for a large organisation like the LTA has presented him.

“There are often opportunities for me to rotate through different parts of the organisation. Every placement I take will help me further my career. The more varied the placements, the more likely I am to gain a wider range of skills and experience,” he said.

Brick by brick

Mr Chew takes great pride and satisfaction as a civil engineer who helps to shape the nation’s infrastructure to benefit Singaporeans.

“To be able to make a difference on such a grand scale — it doesn’t get any better than this, does it?” he said. “I would thank the engineers of the future for continuing to practise civil engineering, and for continuing to improve people’s lives as we intended. We can all help to shape our country one brick at a time.”

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Malaysia: Tourist slammed for holding protected turtle


A TOURIST has been slammed for holding a protected turtle species in order to take a photo with it at an island, believed to be Semporna, Sabah, reported Sin Chew Daily.

The photo, together with others including that of an unidentified tourist putting a clown fish and puffer fish on his palm, has gone viral on social media, it reported.

It also reported that the tourist was likely to be someone who had purchased a package with Singamata Reef Resort as the resort’s logo was seen on the boat.

When contacted, the resort’s managing director Rodney Tong said it was believed that the man had bought the package from them on March 28.

Tong said his resort had tried to contact the tourist through an agent company to find out the details.

The resort added that it viewed the matter seriously and said action would be taken against its staff if they were found to be involved in the incident that could harm the sea creatures.

Sabah Wildlife Department director William Baya said his department had started investigating the case after receiving complaints.

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Malaysia: Cockle farmers quitting as yield dries up

The Star 7 Jul 15;

TAIPING: Cockle farmers in Kuala Sepetang are suffering losses up to RM200,000 because the shellfish are dying – and so is their business.

Kuala Sepetang Cockle Farmers Association president Koay Seng Lam said farmers had been harvesting empty shells since March and many were planning to quit.

Koay, 70, said several farmers had already decided to stop operations as they could not get any more bountiful harvests.

“I am planning to retire. I have been farming cockles for 40 years,” he told The Star.

“I am old but I do hope the younger generation can continue to breed cockles,” he said.

“As of now, we can only wait for test results conducted by the Fisheries Department to know what is causing the cockles to die and what can be done,” he added.

Association treasurer Lee Theng Ghee, 75, said the yield of cockles began to dwindle after the 2004 tsunami.

“We just can’t explain why it is so. We are hoping the Fisheries Department can explain to us,” he said.

Lee said it usually takes up to about 18 months for the cockles to be harvested.

“It is a lot of work to farm cockles.

“Farmers need to check on the cockles regularly to ensure they are thriving,” he said.

Cockles could be dying due to high amount of ammonia in water
IVAN LOH The Star 7 Jul 15;

TAIPING: Preliminary laboratory reports of water samples taken from the river at Kuala Sepetang, the largest cockle breeding ground in Malaysia, has shown a high amount of ammonia.

While not conclusive, Perak Fisheries Department director Dr Bah Piyan Tan said it was one possible factor that was causing the cockles to die.

“Ammonia is toxic. Cockles can’t be bred in water with high amount of ammonia.

“The ammonia level should be less than 0.25 parts per million (ppm) for aquaculture activities,” he told reporters during a site visit to the cockle breeding area in Kuala Sepetang by state executive council member Datuk Dr Mah Hang Soon yesterday.

“We are still waiting for a thorough report so we can plan for restoration or restocking of the cockles,” he said, adding that the samples were taken about two weeks ago.

“Other factors could be due to parasites or virus or other factor relating to climate change,” he added.

It was reported last month that cockles that were bred for consumption in Kuala Sepetang are dying.

According to the Kuala Sepetang Cockle Farmers Association, there has been a drop of about 90% of its cockle yield and it was getting lesser by the year.

Kuala Sepetang supplies the shellfish throughout Malaysia and Singapore.

Dr Bah Piyan said the department would try to expedite the overall report from the tests to carry out further action.

“When we have the results, we can then advise the cockle farmers on what to do.

“This issue not only affects farmers in Kuala Sepetang but also at coastal areas along the Straits of Malacca near Penang, Johor, Perlis, Malacca and Selangor,” he said.

Dr Bah Piyan said the department would continue to closely monitor the situation.

Dr Mah said the harvesting of cockles had been gradually declining since 2005.

“According to farmers here, they used to harvest some 28,000 tonnes of cockles.

“Last year, it dropped to 13,000 tonnes. As of June, only 3,900 tonnes have been harvested,” he said, adding that about 7,000 tonnes are expected to be harvested this year.

Dr Mah said the state and all related parties would need to wait for a concrete report from the Fisheries Research Institute before planning for further actions.

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Hit by drought and seawater, Bangkok tap water may run out in a month

Alisa Tang PlanetArk 7 Jul 15;

Bangkok's tap water supply may run out in a month, as the country waits for long overdue rains to replenish sources depleted by drought and threatened by seawater creep, the chief of the capital's water authority said.

Thailand is suffering its worst drought in more than a decade. In an effort to maintain water levels in the dams that supply water for agriculture in the provinces as well as taps in the capital Bangkok, the government has asked farmers to refrain from planting rice since last October.

Despite these measures, water levels are critically low in the three key reservoirs that flow into the Chao Phraya River, one of the two main sources of Bangkok's tap water.

The quantity of water collected in the three dams totaled 5 billion cubic meters last November, compared to the normal 8 billion cubic meters, said Thanasak Watanathana, governor of the Metropolitan Waterworks Authority. As of Monday, there was about 660 million cubic meters left, according to the Royal Irrigation Department.

"Right now, there is only enough water in the dams to distribute for about 30 more days - if it doesn't rain," Thanasak told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.

Normally, the flow of water from the rains and dams keeps saltwater from the Gulf of Thailand at bay. But during droughts, the saltwater creeps upstream, turning the Chao Phraya brackish.

The seawater can kill crops and threatens the pumping station that siphons off water from the river, about 100 km (60 miles) from the gulf. The waterworks authority produces 5.2 million cubic meters of tap water per day for 2.2 million residential, business and industrial customers, but is not equipped to treat saltwater.

"Some days the saltwater increases, we don't intake the water from the Chao Phraya River. We stop and use the water from the Metropolitan Waterworks Authority stocks of water in canals. We can stop intake for 3 hours," Thanasak said.

The waterworks authority has asked Bangkok residents to store a reserve of 60 liters of drinking water in the event of a shortage. It has also urged people to use less water, but has had little success on this front in part, said Thanasak, because water customers pay only 8.50 baht ($0.25) per 1,000 liters.

"It's too cheap, so people don't feel the need to conserve. It has been this price since July 1999. It's probably the big city with the cheapest water in the world," he said.

The Metropolitan Waterworks Authority plans to invest 45 billion baht ($1.3 billion) over the next seven years to increase production and storage. It has also started discussions on a 30-year plan to forecast water demand, identify sources of water and protect against saltwater intrusion, Thanasak said.

Large-scale rainwater collection should be part of that solution, he said, adding that currently when it rains in Bangkok, all the water drains into the sea, wasted.

"We also have floods every year, and we waste that water by letting it out to the sea. So how can we save some of that water to solve the problems during the dry season?" he said.

"They are releasing so much rainwater into the sea. It's more than we have in our entire dam system. Even if we could save 10 percent of it, it would be a lot."

(Editing by Ros Russell)

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Thailand: Rice prices poised to climb as drought deepens


BANGKOK -- It is baking hot in the mid-afternoon just outside Laos' capital, Vientiane. Won, a local rice farmer, looks up at the cloudless sky. It should be humid and raining, but so far in June, this area close to the Mekong River, which separates Laos from Thailand, has only seen desultory showers every few days. Won has already planted rice on her 6 hectares of paddies, but just down the road other fields lay fallow, waiting for regular downpours that the rice crops need.

"We have some irrigation water but the water levels are much lower than last year, when the rain started earlier," she told the Nikkei Asian Review. "If rain doesn't come in July, I will let the rice die." Won said that the irrigation water will only last for a few weeks.

It is the same story in Fang, hundreds of kilometers away in Thailand's far north, near the border with Myanmar. Farmer Panbunta Kantapan said the situation is already desperate. "If the rain does not come soon there will be no point planting at all," he said, adding that he was considering planting a less water-intensive crop, such as corn.

El Nino is back

Heat waves and drought have gripped nations across South and Southeast Asia as El Nino has taken hold for the first time since 2009. It has brought heavier rainfall to the Americas and a hotter and drier summer to Asia.

That is bleak news for rice production and exports as the three nations suffering the effects of the drought -- India, Vietnam and Thailand -- are also the world's leading exporters. The grain is the world's third-biggest crop after sugar cane and corn, according to the United Nations.

In Thailand, water shortages are so severe in 22 of the 76 provinces that the government has asked farmers to delay planting this year's main crop due to low dam levels, affecting 3.41 million of the 4.16 million hectares of rice fields under cultivation. The meteorological department said at the end of June that the volume of water in central Thailand's biggest reservoir was at its lowest in 20 years.

Agriculture is certainly feeling the impact of hotter summers. Global rice production fell 0.5% on the year to 741.3 million tons in 2014 due to warmer weather, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization said in its April 2015 edition of Rice Market Monitor.

Despite the fall in output, the price of rice has been weaker this year compared with 2014, partly due to Thailand offloading stockpiles accumulated under a now-discontinued government subsidy scheme. According to the Oryza White Rice Index, the price has fallen from $490 per ton in June 2014 to $405 per ton in June 2015.

But that price is seen to rebound over the next few months as demand outstrips supply. Farmers who have guaranteed irrigation or who live in regions less affected by this year's weather could be benefiting from higher export prices.

"Since the cause of the drought is possibly from the El Nino effect, the price would rise along with the demand for rice," a senior official at the Thai Rice Exporters Association told the NAR on condition of anonymity.

Drawing on stockpiles

Thailand's Commerce Minister General Chatchai Sarikulya said earlier in June that he expected rice production to fall to 25 million tons this year, down from 30 million tons last year. However, he said Thailand would be able to draw from its stockpiles and export 10 million tons, up slightly from last year's 9 million tons.

That will make Thailand the world's No. 1 rice exporter this year, regaining the position from India, which had occupied the top spot since 2012.

While that is great news for the country's big rice exporters, it is cold comfort for the farmers still struggling for survival in Thailand's parched paddy fields.

As Thailand's dams cut water release, promise of rain next month
AsiaOne 6 Jul 15;

With water levels in dams "more critical than the 1987 and 1998 severe drought situations", the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) proposed yesterday that two major dams release less water to ensure stocks last for this month.

The Thai Meteorological Department said that downpours to alleviate the situation may not arrive till August.

The Royal Irrigation Department (RID), meanwhile, will send a team to look into the three-metre-deep collapse of a road in Saraburi's Nong Sua district by Klong Rapeepat.

During a meeting at the RID head office, agencies expressed concern over the effect of the drought on the Chao Phraya River Basin. Bhumibol Dam in Tak province, Sirikit Dam in Uttaradit, Khun Dan Prakan Chon Dam in Nakhon Nayok and Pa Sak Jolasid Dam in Lop Buri held water below the minimum reservoir level as of yesterday.

Another 14 dams contained only 30 per cent of capacity, the meeting was told.

The lack of dam-refilling rainfall at reservoirs - especially Bhumibol Dam and Sirikit Dam - in the first five days of July, prompted officials to claim the dams had 42 per cent less water than in 1987.

The RID plan to release eight million cubic metres of water from Bhumibol Dam and 17 million cubic metres per day from Sirikit Dam, must be cut to five million and 11 million respectively, an Egat official proposed. This was to ensure enough water to last the whole of July, or else it would affect the public's water usage, the official said.

RID deputy chief Suthep Noipairoj said a working team would investigate the real cause of the Nong Sua road collapse and check on roads at risk from subsidence. The team would study three possible causes: a drop in the underground water level after the RID failed to "send" water into irrigation areas; farmers' taking too much underground water; or natural conditions such as soil quality.

Council of Engineers deputy secretary-general Amorn Pimanmas said the road collapse might have been the result of a base failure, which could happen to a road running parallel to a canal. A "rapid draw down" phenomenon as water pressure within the soil built up, could lead to a base failure; soil underneath would slide towards the canal causing the road surface to collapse, he explained. But this base failure was more severe than usual, he said.

Amorn said other factors might be at play, such as how the road was built - if it soil was not compressed enough, water erosion, or the road having a heavy weight upon it.

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Retreating coastlines

Every year, from Vietnam to Bangladesh, big chunks of the shoreline are lost to the sea; damage and adaptation costs could be significant
Nirmal Ghosh Straits Times 6 Jul 15;

Just off the northern shores of the Gulf of Thailand sits a stark reminder of where many parts of Asia, and millions of residents, won't be in a matter of decades.

The Buddhist temple of Wat Khun Samut, now a popular tourist destination, was once a central part of a thriving community, long gone after the sea devoured the coastline. Only the tops of a few buildings still protrude from the rolling waters.

The temple, more than a kilometre out via a concrete pathway, has become a lab for climate-change researchers to check the effects of coastal erosion.

Every year, from Vietnam to Bangladesh, significant chunks of the shoreline are lost to the sea.

In the Gulf of Thailand, almost a third is affected - in some parts, more than 5m of shoreline disappears a year.

To the east, Vietnam's fertile Mekong Delta is particularly vulnerable, with about 40 per cent exposed to the growing risk from rising sea levels triggered by global warming.

Six resorts on Cua Dai Beach in Hoi An could collapse into the advancing sea, according to reports, and two recently completed resorts had not opened because of erosion.

Ho Chi Minh City also faces the twin threats of erosion and sea- level rise.

On the coast of Cambodia, Kampot and Kaeb provinces have in recent years seen their coastlines recede up to 200m.

To survive, threatened coastal communities will have to adapt.

"Without adaptation, hundreds of millions will be affected by coastal flooding and displaced due to land loss by 2100; the majority from East, South-east and South Asia," Dr Wong Poh Poh, a visiting professor at the University of Adelaide, said in a paper at a conference in Bangkok recently.

"Some low-lying countries (Bangladesh, Vietnam) and small islands are expected to face high impacts. Associated damage and adaptation costs could be several per cent of GDP," said Dr Wong, a specialist in erosion in coastal regions and small islands.

It's not just climate change and rising seas that are jeopardising future livelihoods and lifestyles.

One reason for the erosion in Hoi An, Vietnamese scientists say, is that dams upstream of the river system have reduced the amount of silt that is washed into the sea - which would otherwise settle back on the shore.

Many coastal zones have been left bare of protective mangrove forest cover, which has been converted to shrimp farms or industry, or even urban infrastructure.

In 2013, National University of Singapore researchers came to the gloomy conclusion that Myanmar's Irrawaddy Delta had lost 51 sq km of its mangrove forests a year, from 1978 to 2011.

The depletion of mangroves has been cited as one reason the storm surge that Cyclone Nargis churned up in 2008 met little resistance as it inundated the delta, killing thousands.

In an echo of Vietnam, in Thailand the upstream dams on rivers that discharge into the sea are also partially to blame; research has shown, for example, that just one, the Kaengkrachan dam, traps more than 65,000 tonnes of sediment every year - much of which, if it reached the Gulf, would settle back on shore and reinforce it.

In Thailand, tapping ground water for the 10 million people in and around Bangkok and industrial needs along the coast are contributing to land subsidence, says Dr Sakanan Plathong, a scientist with the Coral Reef and Benthos Research Unit at Prince of Songkla University in Hat Yai, Thailand.

Much of the Thai capital, built in a river delta, is at or below sea level - and steadily sinking.

The inherent vulnerabilities of living in a dynamic and shifting landscape are complicated by climate change - and not just from sea-level rise but also other factors associated with global warming.

These include shifts in rainfall distribution, more frequent and stronger storms and associated big waves or storm surges, and fields and fresh-water sources being affected by salinity.

Sea-level rise accelerates the erosion in ways that are as yet poorly understood. But the scientific consensus is that the global mean sea level has risen by 10cm to 20cm during the past 100 years.

In the past 20 years, the annual rate has accelerated to 3.2mm - almost double the previous rate.

And the waters of the Gulf of Thailand are rising at the higher end of the range - 3mm to 4mm annually, says Dr Sakanan.

Adaptation includes building barriers. Dr Sakanan has successfully slowed the progress of the sea with bamboo-fence barriers.

But while barrier works are under way in all the vulnerable countries, they are small-scale and disparate rather than integrated, experts say.

In May, an official from Vietnam's Ministry of Planning and Investment, citing research, was quoted in reports as saying some US$30 billion (S$40 billion) was needed for Vietnam to cope with and adapt to climate change - from 2 per cent to 6 per cent of its average gross domestic product.

But there was also opportunity, Dr Wong said in a telephone interview. "You have to think positively. There may be new types of fisheries or agriculture. We have to increase what we call coastal resilience - the ability of human society to adapt to rising sea levels," he said.

"And also the resilience of the coastal ecosystems - like the mangroves and coastal forests. Of all the phrases now being thrown around, I think coastal resilience underlies everything."

At Wat Khun Samut, the abbot, Phra Somnuek Athipanyo, is both sceptical and phlegmatic.

"The researchers spend two or three hours a day here. We live here all the time," he told The Straits Times, standing on a parapet of the compound, with the insistent brown water of the Gulf below lapping and sucking at a jumble of old concrete electricity poles set up as a breakwater.

"Sometimes I think all these researchers are dreamers," he said.

"They come with theories that they are going to reclaim the land. All these people spend time in classrooms.

"For us, we know what works and what does not. I think the best you can do is protect this place so that it doesn't get worse. The currents are very strong.

"We really need a 10km dyke here. It will cost millions of baht. So we are building our own small one, little by little.

"Instead of using money on research, they should be spending it on building barriers."

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Scientists say warming seas could kill off coral reefs in Pacific, Atlantic oceans

Coral reefs are essential to ocean health, but dangerous coral bleaching is occurring more often and more widely due to warmer water, scientists report
Associated Press The Guardian 7 Jul 15;

Abnormally warm ocean temperatures are creating conditions that threaten to kill coral in the equatorial Pacific, north Pacific and western Atlantic oceans, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said on Monday.

Coral bleaching occurs when coral is stressed by changes in its environment, causing it to release algae living in its tissue. The coral then turns pale or white and becomes more susceptible to disease. In severe cases, it can die, permanently changing the habitat for fish and shellfish.

“The bleaching that started in June 2014 has been really bad for corals in the western Pacific,” said Mark Eakin, NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch coordinator, in a news release on Monday. “We are worried that bleaching will spread to the western Atlantic and again into Hawaii.”

The warmer oceans are a result of El Nino weather patterns and overall climate change, Eakin said. However, the frequency of these events indicate overall warming is more of a concern than individual weather patterns.

Eakin said in an interview on Monday that while El Nino weather patterns are in place, they developed well after this current event of coral bleaching began.

“We’re seeing an actual progression that goes along with this sort of big event, but it’s happening without a huge El Nino,” he said. “We’re seeing the more frequent return of these events primarily because the water temperature without an El Nino is already so warm it takes less ... to tip the scales and cause the corals to bleach.”

Global warming is affecting the oceans and “making the corals more susceptible”, he said.

Ocean temperatures, light and nutrient levels can cause bleaching. But NOAA says only warm temperatures can cause the widespread bleaching that scientists have been seeing since last year.

In 2014, Hawaii experienced widespread bleaching for the first time in nearly two decades. If it happens again this year, it would be the first time in history the Hawaiian Islands experienced consecutive years of bleaching, NOAA said.

Coral can recover from mild bleaching, but two consecutive years of bleaching could cause severe damage.

“Many healthy, resilient coral reefs can withstand bleaching as long as they have time to recover,” Eakin said. “However, when you have repeated bleaching on a reef in a short period of time, it’s very hard for the corals to recover and survive.”

In 2014, Kaneohe Bay on Oahu’s east side suffered the most serious bleaching in the state, which is home to 15% of all coral under US jurisdiction. Of the dominant coral species there, 75% lost some colour or turned completely white.

Coral reefs are a critical part of the ecosystem and their health is vital to the ocean environment. Coral covers just one-tenth of the ocean floor, but it is home to 25% of known marine species. Some fish eat coral, and others hide from predators in it. Some species use coral as nursery grounds and some types of shark frequent coral reefs.

15,000 sq km of coral reef could be lost in current mass bleaching, say scientists
Noaa predicts third-ever global bleaching event could cause a 6% global reduction in coral reefs in less than two years. More than a third of coral reefs affected may be destroyed forever
Karl Mathiesen The Guardian 7 Jul 15;

A massive coral bleaching event currently ravaging coral reefs across the globe could destroy thousands of square kilometres of coral cover forever, US government scientists have said.

In figures exclusively released to the Guardian, scientists from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) said about 12% of the world’s reefs have suffered bleaching in the last year. Just under half of these, an area of 12,000 sq km of coral, may be lost forever.

But the devastation is only getting started. The event could continue well into 2016. Noaa announced on Monday that the western Atlantic is about to heat up, turning the corals of the Caribbean bone white. When this occurs, bleaching will have hit every tropical ocean basin on Earth since June last year.

In all, scientists forecast a total of 15,000 sq km of reef may not recover and losses to the world’s remaining coral reefs would be a devastating 6%.

Dr Mark Eakin, the co-ordinator of Noaa’s Coral Reef Watch programme, said that given uncertainties around how long the event will continue it was very difficult to predict exactly how much reef would be wiped out.

“It probably won’t be as big as 1998, so we’re probably talking hopefully no more than 10%. Even if we’re talking one to 10% of the coral reefs around the world that’s a huge amount of coral reef area,” he said.

Global bleaching events have only been recorded twice before, in 1998 and 2010. Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, said Noaa’s figures, while rough, were decent estimates of the potential damage. He said, before 1998, bleaching of this magnitude had not occurred for “hundreds, if not thousands, of years”.

In 1998, a massive El Niño (an upwelling of warm water in the Pacific) set off a chain of warming events in oceans across the world that killed off 16-19% of the world’s coral reefs. Mark Eakin, the co-ordinator of Noaa’s Coral Reef Watch programme, said this year’s El Niño was playing a part, but “it’s almost certainly being driven largely by global warming”.

A huge patch of climate change-generated hot water, known as ‘the blob’, has been wobbling across the northern Pacific since this time last year. It first bathed the reefs of the Hawaii and the Marshall Islands in June 2014. It has now returned to where blitzed reefs have only just begun the slow process of rebuilding.

Other hot patches of water washed through the South Sea Islands during the southern Pacific summer. Reefs in the Indian Ocean were also hammered by warm temperatures.

“We are seeing real changes in the ocean as related to climate change,” said Eakin.

Corals can only tolerate a narrow range of temperatures. If the water around them warms by just 1C and this lasts more than a week, they are likely to bleach. After a mild warming event it is possible for polyps to regain their colour. But under extreme warming, the corals will die, meaning new colonies will have to grow.

“The recovery speed of these reefs, when you get a big bleaching event, is not a matter of a few years. It’s more on the scale of a decade or so,” said Eakin.

To establish the expected loss of coral from the current bleaching, Noaa used recent research from James Cook University, which found 40% of reefs in the Seychelles that were bleached in 1998 had now been replaced by weed and algae. Once this type of ‘regime change’ occurs, corals are unlikely to return.

Hoegh-Guldberg confirmed this “really high proportion” of lost corals was probably typical for massive bleaching events.

“The sorts of conditions we are facing are similar to 1998 and if it continues to develop we are going to lose coral again,” he said.

Hoegh-Guldberg said the background warming of climate change could also hamper recovery. After a warming event, corals that stayed stressed by even slightly warmer than normal temperatures recover more slowly.

“We’ve only had a 0.8C change in global temperature,” he said. “We’re already starting on a journey where just a mild change in temperature is causing a massive deduction in coral reefs. Just imagine when we get to 2C or 3C or 4C.”

In the Marshall Islands capital atoll of Majuro, where the Guardian observed massive bleaching last year, the first, fragile signs of a recovery have been found by scientist Karl Fellenius.

“Because the thermal event last July to December was severe, the coral colonies died right way. So the ‘bounce back’ would be new patches of coral on those clean skeletons, not recovery of those corals,” said Fellenius, who works on Majuro for the University of Hawaii Sea Grant programme.

“There are patches of new coral both on the lagoon side and ocean side of Majuro. Stuff is growing. But that’s like saying that 100 babies were born this year in the village, a ‘bounce back’ of sorts after 100,000 people died in a catastrophe last year,” he said.

But in dire news for the reefs in Majuro, and across much of the northern Pacific, the sea has begun to reheat.

“As of yesterday I see small patches of new bleaching on broccoli coral on the outer reef flat. That’s the first report [from the Marshall Islands] as far as I know,” said Fellenius.

Eakin said his models, which have predicted the passage of this event with remarkable accuracy, said the second wave of bleaching would also hit Hawaii and other Pacific island groups before moving into the Indian Ocean.

“This is two years in a row, and corals getting nailed in successive years like that are really going to take a beating,” he said.

This was the problem for corals worldwide as bleaching events piled one atop the other.

“The concern isn’t just about whether conditions are going to go back to normal, because we certainly expect they will. The question is how long does it take before they go back up to the really high temperatures that cause bleaching? That’s been coming much more frequently and in some areas its been getting much more intense,” he said.

There are stopgap measures that can greatly assist the chance of reef recovery for the time being. When a coral bleaches, it loses its ability to clean itself of algae. Once algae cover the surface, it is impossible for coral to repopulate. Herbivorous fish graze the coral and help keep it algae free. In polluted water, algae grow faster.

“Pollution and overfishing, if you’ve got a lot of that going on then coral reefs don’t recover very quickly. But if you can control those other factors you can improve the ability of corals to bounce back,” said Hoegh-Guldberg. Fellenius said he had asked the Marshall Islands government to enact temporary fishing closures during bleaching episodes.

But Hoegh-Guldberg, who in 1999 predicted the loss of most of the world’s coral reefs by the middle of this century, said the only hope for coral reefs to survive long term was rapid curbing of carbon emissions to stop the world from warming more than 2C.

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Study urges 10 climate actions to curb warming, lift GDP

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 7 Jul 15;

More efficient energy use and investments in greener cities are among 10 measures that can help the world to slow global warming while also spurring economic growth, an international report said on Tuesday.

Action across the 10 areas could achieve between 59 and 96 percent of the cuts in greenhouse gas emissions needed by 2030 to keep global warming below a U.N. maximum of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, it said.

"We've identified some of the most promising opportunities," Felipe Calderon, a former Mexican president who chairs the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, told Reuters of the 10 goals.

"The most profitable ... is energy efficiency," he said of the report, drawn up by former heads of government, business leaders, economists and other experts.

It urged the Group of 20 major economies to set high global energy efficiency standards in sectors such as lighting, vehicles and buildings, estimating that curbs on energy waste could boost world economic output by up to $18 trillion by 2035.

Investments by cities in cleaner public transport, building insulation and better management of waste could cut greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution and bring savings worth $16.6 trillion by 2050, the report said.

Last year, the Commission said action to combat climate change, mainly shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energies such as solar and wind power, could lift economic growth rather than depress it as many governments fear.


Apart from energy efficiency and cities, Tuesday's report recommended greater focus on forestry, $1 trillion a year in clean energy investment, carbon pricing, infrastructure, low-carbon innovation, business and investor action, limits on aviation and shipping emissions and curbs on hydrofluorocarbons, which are potent greenhouse gases.

The report did not estimate dollar benefits for each sector, some of which overlap. Benefits hinge on assumptions about the cost of damage from greenhouse gases, which are now emitted without penalty in many nations.

Last year's report estimated, for instance, that air pollution, largely from burning coal or oil, was equivalent to a 4.4 percent brake on annual world gross domestic product. Such pollution causes 3.7 million premature deaths a year, it said.

Tuesday's report urged governments to step up action before a U.N. summit in Paris in December that will try to agree a global deal to limit emissions, blamed by almost all experts for causing more heat waves, downpours and rising seas.

(Editing by Gareth Jones)

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