Getting green groups to make common cause

Student Ho Xiang Tian says boosting recycling rates could be a goal which green groups could work together on.
Audrey Tan Straits Times 13 Aug 15;

Environmental awareness is growing in Singapore, if the number of groups promoting the green cause is anything to go by.

As of February, there were at least 146 non-governmental and non-profit organisations, websites and green groups, according to the latest Singapore Green Landscape report compiled by consultancy Green Future Solutions.

Each one champions a different environmental cause, from biodiversity conservation to animal welfare to keeping the streets and waterways of Singapore clean.

However, a young advocate now hopes to get the different groups to work together, so as to effect greater environmental change.

In June, Singapore Polytechnic student Ho Xiang Tian, 19, created the Singapore Environment Networking Group on Facebook, with the aim of connecting all environmental groups and individuals interested in green issues.

"This will provide a common platform for everyone to communicate and work on common environmental goals," he said.

Boosting recycling rates could be one such goal, he added.

Last year, the domestic recycling rate fell to 19 per cent, from 22 per cent in 2010. The overall rate also fell by 1 percentage point to 60 per cent, with construction and demolition waste being the main contributor of recyclables.

"The biodiversity groups could be interested in the issue as more recycling would mean a longer lifespan for the Semakau Landfill," Mr Ho said, referring to the offshore dumping ground south of the Republic.

"Then wildlife habitats in Singa-pore would not have to be sacrificed for us to create another landfill," he added.

He said the idea of creating a networking platform for all groups came to him when he saw how the environmental club in his school worked with its counterparts in Nanyang Technological University, National University of Singapore and the Singapore University of Technology and Design to cut down on the use of disposables on their campuses.

"I thought that the collaboration was useful in terms of collating data, sharing ideas and seeing how the different groups worked together towards a common aim," he said. "It got me thinking... what if all the green groups in Singapore had a common goal?"

His Facebook page now has 179 members , and has seen a flurry of posts since the group was created.

In addition to sharing links to environmental news articles, the group's members post invitations to green events.

Wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai, who has been working on conservation issues in Singapore for the past three decades, noted that collaboration between green groups was becoming more frequent, and the latest initiative was a step in the right direction.

He said: "Strength comes in unity, and with more groups coming together, we can take better care of our environment, whether terres-trial or marine."

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Indonesia: Bold move to conserve Sumatran forest

WWF 12 Aug 15;

One of the last places on Earth where Sumatran elephants, tigers and orangutans coexist in the wild has received long-term protection. The Indonesian Ministry of Forestry approved a conservation concession – a lease of the land – covering 40,000 hectares of forest on the island of Sumatra.

Through an ambitious project combining innovative financing approaches with traditional conservation, WWF, the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) and The Orangutan Project (TOP) will join forces with local communities to actively manage the former logging forest, known as Bukit Tigapuluh (or Thirty Hills), to protect rather than exploit the land’s natural resources.

The joint initiative in Thirty Hills ensures that some of the last unprotected lowland tropical forest in central Sumatra is formally zoned for restoration rather than clearing, and provides the conservation groups with a 60-year license to manage the area.

The project effectively expands the protected forests of Bukit Tigapuluh National Park by more than 25 percent and encompasses an essential natural habitat for endangered Sumatran elephants and orangutans.

The multi-year effort to protect Thirty Hills' extraordinary forests and biodiversity highlights the importance of partnerships and persistence for conservation success in challenging environments.

WWF-Indonesia and Michelin are partnering in Thirty Hills on sustainable rubber production and reducing human-elephant conflict on a Michelin rubber plantation. FZS is working with local communities to enlist them as partners, and one of the early champions of the project, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, has provided funding and advocacy support since 2010 to WWF and its partners.

“I am honoured that my Foundation was a part of the effort to protect the Thirty Hills for the future. This incredible place – where elephants, orangutans and tigers coexist in the wild – is also one of the most threatened,” said actor, environmentalist and WWF-US board member Leonardo DiCaprio, who helped to focus global attention on the need to conserve the area.

Conservation groups have been working since 1995 to expand Bukit Tigapuluh National Park to its originally intended size, which includes logging concessions that surround it. Over the past few years, WWF and other groups have cultivated a broad base of support in Indonesia, including local and national politicians, communities and indigenous people.

“Our work to protect this area is an example of what can be accomplished when concerned organizations, governments and individuals work together to create a future where both nature and people can thrive,” said DiCaprio. “To protect this landscape, WWF and its partners had to think big, and think differently."

To achieve this conservation milestone, WWF established a commercial company to oversee the “ecosystem restoration concession” with the partners and will look for wildlife-compatible ways to generate revenue to support protecting the forest, including selling rattan, tapping shade-grown “jungle rubber” and harvesting medicinal plants in the forest.

Sumatra has the highest rate of deforestation on the planet, and has approximately 130,000 square kilometres of remaining habitat for wildlife, only one-third of which has some form of protection from development and logging.

Since 1985, Sumatra has lost at least half of its forest cover, and species like elephants, tigers and orangutans are getting squeezed into shrinking islands of forests in a sea of palm oil and pulp and paper plantations.

“We are working together to ensure the protection of an extraordinary place and create a better future for the local communities of the Bukit Tigapuluh landscape,” said DiCaprio. “This project serves as a model for innovative conservation projects around the globe.”

The Indonesian government singled out the Thirty Hills at the 2010 tiger summit in Russia as one of six priority areas for the critically endangered Sumatran tigers. There are estimated to be 30 living in Thirty Hills, along with more than 120 Sumatran elephants and 160 orangutans.

The area is also home to two forest-dwelling indigenous groups. Some areas will be set aside to help them improve their livelihoods.

Most of the orangutans are survivors of the illegal pet trade and are part of the only successful reintroduction programme for the Sumatran orangutan led by FZS, TOP and the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

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Indonesia’s illegal cage bird trade pushing Black-winged Mynas towards extinction

TRAFFIC 12 Aug 15;

Jakarta, Indonesia, 12th August—So rare that captive breeding centres have been robbed, the soaring prices and drop in availability of Black-winged Mynas in trade point to a species on the brink.

Black-winged Mynas are prized in the cage bird trade for their striking black and white plumage, lively behaviour and singing ability; today their extreme rarity in the wild adds to their desirability.

The species is native only to the islands of Java and Bali and is protected under Indonesian law. Despite this, illegal capture in the wild continues, while trade is carried out openly in Indonesia’s notorious bird markets.

Surveys by TRAFFIC and Oxford Brookes University researchers between 2010 and 2014 found significantly fewer Black-winged Mynas available in the three largest bird markets in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta: down by three-quarters since the 1990s. This coincides with a more than ten-fold increase in asking prices and the near complete decimation of the species in the wild.

Just a few hundred individuals of this once common bird remain in the wild. The Black-winged Myna is currently assessed as Critically Endangered by IUCN.
The birds are now so valuable that a captive breeding centre, where birds were being reared for conservation purposes, suffered a double robbery in June 2014, and almost the entire breeding stock, more than 150 birds were stolen.

While the bulk of trade in Black-winged Mynas appears to supply domestic demand, there is also an unknown level of international trade.

The authors of the latest study, published in Bird Conservation International, recommend that Indonesia lists the species in Appendix III of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

“An Appendix III-listing is essentially a call for support by a country to assess the international trade in a species,” explained Vincent Nijman, Professor at Oxford Brookes University.

“That information would be essential for devising an action plan to save the species,” he added.

The demise of the Black-winged Myna is an eerie reminder of the fate of its close relative, the Bali Myna. The two are similar in appearance, and indeed the trade in Black-winged Mynas partly arose as a replacement species for the increasingly rare and expensive Bali Myna.

Commercial captive breeding is unlikely to remove pressure from remaining wild populations of Black-winged Mynas as long as enforcement efforts to prohibit the poaching and trade of the birds are absent or inefficient.

“TRAFFIC is extremely concerned over the increasing threat of extinction from trade to the Black-winged Myna”, said Dr Chris Shepherd, Regional Director of TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia.

The open and widespread illegal trade in birds in Indonesia, is pushing these mynas and many other species down a dangerous path.

“Indonesian authorities should demonstrate willingness to uphold their own national wildlife laws. It is high time for uncompromising and swift action against the illegal trade in the notorious bird markets,” said Shepherd.

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Humans have already used up 2015's supply of Earth's resources – analysis

Earth ‘overshoot day’ – the day each year when our demands on the planet outstrip its ability to regenerate – comes six days earlier than 2014, with world’s population currently consuming the equivalent of 1.6 planets a year
Emma Howard The Guardian 12 Aug 15;

Humans have exhausted a year’s supply of natural resources in less than eight months, according to an analysis of the demands the world’s population are placing on the planet.

The Earth’s “overshoot day” for 2015, the point at which humanity goes into ecological debt, will occur on Thursday six days earlier than last year, based on an estimate by the Global Footprint Network (GFN).

The date is based on a comparison of humanity’s demands – in terms of carbon emissions, cropland, fish stocks, and the use of forests for timber – with the planet’s ability to regenerate such resources and naturally absorb the carbon emitted. That implies the excess demands being placed on natural systems are doing more permanent harm that cannot be easily undone.

The GFN estimates that human consumption first began to exceed the Earth’s capacity in the early 1970s and the overshoot day has been falling steadily earlier ever since, due to the growth in the global population alongside the expansion of consumption around the world.

Mathis Wackernagel, president of the GFN told the Guardian: “The big problem is not that our deficit is getting bigger, it is that it cannot be maintained in the long-run. Even though we are in a deficit equation we are not taking measures to take us in the right direction. The problem is psychological – somehow we are missing this basic physical law. It is obvious to children, but for 98% of economic planners it is a minor risk not worth our attention. In the end the question is – does it matter to the government?”

The GFN estimate that the world’s population currently consumes the equivalent of 1.6 planets. This figure should rise to two planets by 2030 based on current trends. On a per capita basis, the UK consumes around three times more than the equivalent level that ecosystems can renew, but its relative share is dropping as developing economies grow and consume more.

The impact of this “ecological deficit” can be witnessed through deforestation, soil erosion, depletion of water resources and the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Wackernagel added that the UN’s crunch international climate change conference in Paris in December and global diplomatic efforts were providing hope for change.

“The conference in December is sparking conversations and we are seeing unheard of agreements between the US and China,” he said.

“The two biggest emitters are starting to co-operate and the G20 leaders have recognised we have to move out of fossil fuels by the end of this century – although this is a bit too slow in my opinion.”

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Rich nations' climate plans fall short of hopes for Paris summit

ALISTER DOYLE Reuters 12 Aug 15;

Developed nations are on track to cut their greenhouse emissions by almost 30 percent by 2030, Reuters calculations show, falling far short of a halving suggested by a U.N. panel of scientists as a fair share to limit climate change.

Australia became on Tuesday the last big developed nation to submit its strategy for cuts in the run-up to a U.N. summit in Paris in December, rounding off pledges by nations led by the United States, the European Union and Japan.

The developed nations, which have historically emitted most greenhouse gases by burning fossil fuels, are expected to lead by announcing deep cuts before the Paris summit, which is meant to agree a United Nations pact to limit warming beyond 2020.

Their collective ambitions are falling short.

A Reuters review of national pledges shows that a core group of developed nations intends to cut emissions to the equivalent of 9.0 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2030 from 12.2 billion in 2010.

That implies a 26 percent cut but the final total could be closer to 30 percent mainly because U.S. President Barack Obama's cuts run only to 2025, opening the possibility of deeper cuts beyond that date. U.S. emissions account for about half of the total for developed nations.

The other developed nations' cuts extend to 2030.

"The overall ambition of the developed countries is still not sufficient," said Niklas Hoehne, founding partner of the New Climate Institute that tracks pledges, referring to a U.N. goal of limiting rising temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times.

Last year the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said rich nations that were members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in 1990 should halve emissions by 2030 from 2010 to limit warming.

The depth of rich nations' cuts is a benchmark for emerging economies considering how far to rein in their rising emissions. A few emerging nations, led by China, have set goals but many others such as India and South Africa have yet to act.


A Climate Action Tracker that Hoehne helps to compile estimates that current pledges put global temperatures on track to rise by 3.1 Celsius by 2100, threatening ever more droughts, floods, heat waves and rising sea levels.

Frank Melum, a senior analyst at Thomson Reuters Point Carbon, said pledges by rich nations could be ratcheted up by reviews after the Paris summit.

"Many of the 2030 targets reflect policies that have already been adopted, for example renewable targets and power plant regulations, so in a way countries are promising what they are fairly confident they can deliver on," he said.

"Ambitions could increase should they take on new measures, but for every percentage point it will get harder," he said.

The national promises are hard to compare because many nations have picked the most flattering starting years for action, including 1990, 2005 and 2013. Some are vague about how far they will use forests to soak up greenhouse gas emissions.

Australia's conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Tuesday his country, the world's largest exporter of coal and iron ore, would cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

David Waskow, a director at the U.S.-based World Resources Institute think-tank, said Australia's plan was weak, noting the U.S. goal would achieve similar cuts five years earlier.

"The U.S. and the EU have come in with fairly strong and achievable targets," he said.

As a guide for Paris, the United Nations says it will calculate by how much all the national plans submitted by Oct. 1 will slow down warming.

It has said it is already clear that the cuts will not be enough to limit warming to the 2C target but hopes the U.N. deal will put in place mechanisms to strengthen action in future.

(Editing by Gareth Jones)

Factbox - Rich nations' CO2 cuts fall short of halving by 2030
Reuters 12 Aug 15;

Following is a table showing that developed nations' plans for combating climate change fall well short of cuts outlined by scientists to avert the worst of global warming.

Current pledges by developed nations will cut emissions to 9.0 billion tonnes, a fall of 26 percent from 12.2 billion in 2010. The pledges apply for 2030 except for the U.S. plan, which runs to 2025. That leaves room for deeper U.S. cuts by 2030 that could push the total reduction to about 30 percent.

A 2014 report by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicated that rich nations that made up the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in 1990 would have to halve emissions by 2030 from 2010 levels to help limit warming to a U.N. goal of two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times.

Greenhouse gas emissions (millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, including land use, land use change and forestry):

Country 2010 if base base year planned target implied

emissions halved year for emissions cut year emissions

by pledge (pct) in target

2030 year

Australia 569 284 2005 548 26-28 2030 400

Canada 775 388 2005 789 30 2030 552

European Union (15) 3613 1806 1990 4130 40 2030 2478

Iceland 5 3 1990 5 40 2030 3

Japan 1235 617 2013 1343 26 2030 994

New Zealand 42 21 2005 48 30 2030 34

Norway 28 14 1990 40 40 2030 24

Switzerland 53 27 1990 51 50 2030 26

United States 5907 2954 2005 6223 26-28 2025 4543

TOTAL 12227 6114 13177 9054

SOURCE - Reuters calculations based on national submissions to the United Nations.

NOTES - Many nations are unclear about how they will account for changes in land use, including forests that soak up emissions. Turkey, an OECD member in 1990, has not yet submitted its plan.

(Reporting By Alister Doyle; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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Sucking CO2 from the Air Would Not Halt Effects of Global Warming

Sans reduced emissions, using extreme geoengineering to remove atmospheric carbon dioxide would not protect the oceans, models show
Maria Temming Scientific American 12 Aug 15;

As nations repeatedly fail to make major cuts in their greenhouse gas production, scientists and others have begun to wonder if climate change might be halted not by emissions cuts but by technology that removes those gases from the atmosphere. The approach is called geoengineering. Unfortunately, a recent simulation of its effects on the oceans found that even extreme methods would not be able to completely rehabilitate the ocean environment. The work was published in Nature Climate Change on August 3. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.)

The experiments focused on carbon dioxide removal (CDR), the process of extracting excess CO2 directly from the atmosphere. In theory this could help oceans because they become dangerously acidic when they absorb too much atmospheric CO2. One CDR idea is to plant trees that consume large amounts of CO2 and then burn the trees in facilities where the emissions can be captured and stored underground. But no one has ever tested this or similar carbon removal schemes on a large scale.

The next-best thing to large-scale testing is a large-scale simulation. In the new study researchers led by Sabine Mathesius, an environmental scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, used a computer model to investigate CDR’s effectiveness in rehabilitating seawater damaged by CO2 emissions.

A tale of two experiments

Mathesius’s team used their computer simulation in two experiments. In the first they wanted to see if carbon removal could reduce the atmosphere’s CO2 concentration to the level that was typical before the industrial revolution, thus restoring the marine environment its preindustrial state.

The researchers based their simulation on real-world carbon dioxide emissions from 1800 to 2005, and then projected those emissions into the year 2250. Then they simulated what would happen if technology could remove 18 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year—about half of present-day emission rates—from 2250 until 2700. The researchers found this did decrease atmospheric CO2 levels but could not restore the ocean’s preindustrial dissolved oxygen content or temperature. Even after 450 years of geoengineering, the model ocean was still almost as acidic as it would have been without any intervention at all.

But what might happen if someone invented a better, marvelous new carbon removal technique? The scientists wanted to know, so they raised the maximum removal rate to 90 billion tons of CO2 per year. That high performance is “frankly ridiculous,” says geophysicist Donald Penman from Yale University, who was not involved in the research. Yet even at this level, in the year 2700 the ocean was still warmer, more acidic and held less oxygen than the preindustrial marine environment.

In their second simulation the team modeled a world where, against all odds, present-day humans substantially reduced their greenhouse gas production. They wanted to learn whether emission cuts or after-the-fact carbon removal was better. And they did: When it came to preserving the ocean environment, removal was no match for decreased emissions. Even in the simulation where CDR pulled 90 billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere per year, the deep ocean was far more acidic than it was in the reduced emissions model. Penman says, “It is clear that rather than trying to clean up a mess, it would be wiser to simply not create the mess in the first place.”

According to Mathesius, CDR is ineffective for combating ocean acidification because of the way seawater circulates. There are regions of the ocean where surface water submerges into the deep ocean and stays there for centuries or even millennia, cut off from the atmosphere. So even if CDR does manage to significantly decrease the atmospheric CO2 concentration, the deep ocean remains highly acidic.

This is not the only work indicating that carbon removal will come up short. A study published on August 3 in Nature Communications shows that capping global warming at 2 degrees Celsius requires removing 1.8 billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere yearly from now until 2100—a tall order that exceeds the capabilities of current technology.

The studies do not mean that carbon removal is completely useless, Mathesius notes. “We’re only saying that CDR would not be strong enough to counter a business-as-usual scenario,” she says. “But there’s still the possibility that you take CDR as a supplemental measure.” Removal, although it cannot undo all the damage of excess emissions, might still prove valuable if combined with actual carbon cuts.

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