Best of our wild blogs: 8 Oct 15

Grey-rumped Treeswift: Just before fledging
Bird Ecology Study Group

NASA photo shows New Guinea going up in flames
Mongabay Environmental News

Greenpeace releases dramatic drone video of Indonesia’s fires
Mongabay Environmental News

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World's oceans facing biggest coral die-off in history, scientists warn

A third global bleaching of coral reefs is underway following a massive and persistent underwater heatwave
A strong El Niño is set to worsen the plight of coral in 2016.
Karl Mathiesen The Guardian 8 Oct 15;

Scientists have confirmed the third-ever global bleaching of coral reefs is under way and warned it could see the biggest coral die-off in history.

Since 2014, a massive underwater heatwave, driven by climate change, has caused corals to lose their brilliance and die in every ocean. By the end of this year 38% of the world’s reefs will have been affected. About 5% will have died forever.

But with a very strong El Niño driving record global temperatures and a huge patch of hot water, known as “the Blob”, hanging obstinately in the north-western Pacific, things look far worse again for 2016.

For coral scientists such as Dr Mark Eakin, the coordinator of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coral Reef Watch programme, this is the cataclysm that has been feared since the first global bleaching occurred in 1998 .

“The fact that 2016’s bleaching will be added on top of the bleaching that has occurred since June 2014 makes me really worried about what the cumulative impact may be. It very well may be the worst period of coral bleaching we’ve seen,” he told the Guardian.

The only two previous such global events were in 1998 and 2010, when every major ocean basin experienced bleaching.

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, Australia, said the ocean was now primed for “the worst coral bleaching event in history”.

“The development of conditions in the Pacific looks exactly like what happened in 1997. And of course following 1997 we had this extremely warm year, with damage occurring in 50 countries at least and 16% of corals dying by the end of it,” he said. “Many of us think this will exceed the damage that was done in 1998.”

After widespread devastation was confirmed in the Caribbean this month, a worldwide consortium of coral scientists joined on Thursday to sombrely announce the third-ever global bleaching event – and warn of a tenuous future for the precious habitat unless sharp cuts were made to carbon emissions.

Since the early 1980s the world has lost roughly half of its coral reefs. Hoegh-Guldberg said the current event was directly in line with predictions he made in 1999 that continued global temperature rise would lead to the complete loss of coral reefs by the middle of this century.

“It’s certainly on that road to a point about 2030 when every year is a bleaching year … So unfortunately I got it right,” he said.

Hoegh-Guldberg said he had personally observed the first signs of bleaching on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in the past fortnight, months before the warm season begins. He said the warming pattern indicated bleaching this summer would likely affect 50% of the reef, leaving 5-10% of corals dead. Eakin said seeing bleaching on the reef at this time of year was “disturbing”.

“We are going to have to double our efforts to reduce the other threats to the reef,” said Hoegh-Guldberg of the icon that Unesco has considered listing as World Heritage in Danger, due to the threats of a mooted coal port expansion, agricultural run-off and climate change. “It’s like a hospital patient. If you’ve got a chronic disease then you are more sensitive to a lot of other things and if you want a recovery then you need to take all those other stresses off.”

The difference between this bleaching event and others before it is not just the extremity of sea temperatures, but how long they have persisted for. Corals can recover from bleaching if the temperature relents. But after a month or more the organisms that build these brilliantly coloured underwater cities die.

“This is not only a big event, but it’s more persistent than any of our past ones, including 1998,” said Eakin. In many areas the bleaching has now lasted far longer than the threshold month and in Hawaii, Guam, Kiribati and Florida there has been back-to-back bleaching events across the past two years.

Like rainforests on land, coral reefs are home to a riot of biodiversity. On just 0.1% of the ocean’s floor they nurture 25% of the world’s marine species. The impact of losing this would be devastating for the 500 million people who rely on coral ecosystems for their food and livelihood. These effects would not be felt immediately, but over the coming years as fish species move on or die off.

“It really does affect things like tourism and fishing,” said Hoegh-Guldberg. However, he said there was still hope, if governments acted immediately to relieve both global and local pressures on reefs.

“If we were to take strong action on the emission issue and we were to take strong action on the non-climate issues such as overfishing and pollution, reefs would rebound by mid to late century,” he said.

NOAA declares third ever global coral bleaching event
Bleaching intensifies in Hawaii, high ocean temperatures threaten Caribbean corals
NOAA HEADQUARTERS EurekAlert 8 Oct 15;

As record ocean temperatures cause widespread coral bleaching across Hawaii, NOAA scientists confirm the same stressful conditions are expanding to the Caribbean and may last into the new year, prompting the declaration of the third global coral bleaching event ever on record.

Waters are warming in the Caribbean, threatening coral in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, NOAA scientists said. Coral bleaching began in the Florida Keys and South Florida in August, but now scientists expect bleaching conditions there to diminish.

"The coral bleaching and disease, brought on by climate change and coupled with events like the current El Niño, are the largest and most pervasive threats to coral reefs around the world," said Mark Eakin, NOAA's Coral Reef Watch coordinator. "As a result, we are losing huge areas of coral across the U.S., as well as internationally. What really has us concerned is this event has been going on for more than a year and our preliminary model projections indicate it's likely to last well into 2016."

While corals can recover from mild bleaching, severe or long-term bleaching is often lethal. After corals die, reefs quickly degrade and the structures corals build erode. This provides less shoreline protection from storms and fewer habitats for fish and other marine life, including ecologically and economically important species.

This bleaching event, which began in the north Pacific in summer 2014 and expanded to the south Pacific and Indian oceans in 2015, is hitting U.S. coral reefs disproportionately hard. NOAA estimates that by the end of 2015, almost 95 percent of U.S. coral reefs will have been exposed to ocean conditions that can cause corals to bleach.

The biggest risk right now is to the Hawaiian Islands, where bleaching is intensifying and is expected to continue for at least another month. Areas at risk in the Caribbean in coming weeks include Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, and from the U.S. Virgin Islands south into the Leeward and Windward islands.

The next concern is the further impact of the strong El Niño, which climate models indicates will cause bleaching in the Indian and southeastern Pacific Oceans after the new year. This may cause bleaching to spread globally again in 2016.

"We need to act locally and think globally to address these bleaching events. Locally produced threats to coral, such as pollution from the land and unsustainable fishing practices, stress the health of corals and decrease the likelihood that corals can either resist bleaching, or recover from it," said Jennifer Koss, NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program acting program manager. "To solve the long-term, global problem, however, we need to better understand how to reduce the unnatural carbon dioxide levels that are the major driver of the warming."

This announcement stems from the latest NOAA Coral Reef Watch satellite coral bleaching monitoring products, and was confirmed through reports from partner organizations with divers working on affected reefs, especially the XL Catlin Seaview Survey and ReefCheck. NOAA Coral Reef Watch's outlook, which forecasts the potential for coral bleaching worldwide several months in the future, predicted this global event in July 2015.

The current high ocean temperatures in Hawaii come on the heels of bleaching in the Main Hawaiian Islands in 2014?only the second bleaching occurrence in the region's history?and devastating bleaching and coral death in parts of the remote and well-protected Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

"Last year's bleaching at Lisianski Atoll was the worst our scientists have seen," said Randy Kosaki, NOAA's deputy superintendent for the monument. "Almost one and a half square miles of reef bleached last year and are now completely dead."

Coral bleaching occurs when corals are exposed to stressful environmental conditions such as high temperature. Corals expel the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, causing corals to turn white or pale. Without the algae, the coral loses its major source of food and is more susceptible to disease.

The first global bleaching event was in 1998, during a strong El Niño that was followed by an equally very strong La Niña. A second one occurred in 2010.

Satellite data from NOAA's Coral Reef Watch program provides current reef environmental conditions to quickly identify areas at risk for coral bleaching, while its climate model-based outlooks provide managers with information on potential bleaching months in advance.

The outlooks were developed jointly by NOAA's Satellite and Information Service and the National Centers for Environmental Prediction through funding from the Coral Reef Conservation Program and the Climate Program Office.

For more information on coral bleaching and these products, visit:

NOAA Press Release dated 8 Oct 15

Corals worldwide hit by bleaching
Warm ocean waters combine with El Niño to turn reefs a stark white.
Alexandra Witze Nature 8 Oct 15;

From Hawaii to Papua New Guinea to the Maldives, coral reefs are bleaching — in so many regions that the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officially declared a global bleaching event on 8 October. The event, the third in recorded history, is expected to grow worse in coming months.

Warm ocean temperatures, linked to climate change and a strengthening El Niño weather pattern, have triggered reefs to expel the algae that colour them. Reefs in parts of the Pacific, the Indian and the Atlantic oceans have now turned white. By the end of the year, the bleaching could affect more than a third of the world’s coral reefs and kill more than 12,000 square kilometres of them, NOAA estimates.

“We’re in shock and awe of what’s happening,” says Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a marine scientist at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. “It’s a doozy of an event.”

Bleached corals are more vulnerable to stressors such as disease that can kill them. In 1998, the biggest bleaching event in history led to the death of 16% of the world’s coral reefs.

Poor prognosis

The current event began in 2014 in parts of the Pacific — including the Hawaiian Islands, which experienced mass coral bleaching around multiple islands. Global ocean temperatures last year were nearly 0.6 degrees Celsius higher than the twentieth-century average, a record high. “We came into 2015 with very warm oceans, and now we have a full-formed El Niño coming,” says Mark Eakin, coordinator of NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch programme, run out of Washington DC.

Source: NOAA
This map shows areas at highest risk of bleaching from now until January 2016.

To top it all off, a warm mass of water dubbed 'the blob' has been shuttling back and forth across the northern Pacific for the past several months, also helping to keep temperatures high. (It is unclear whether the blob is linked to climate change or other large-scale atmospheric patterns.)

“The temperatures we’re seeing are anomalies, and have the potential to dramatically impact the integrity of reefs around the world,” says Ruth Gates, a marine biologist at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology in Kaneohe.

NOAA models suggest that by mid-2016, the bleaching will have spread even further through most of the world’s coral-bearing regions, extending across nearly all of the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific.

NOAA uses data on sea-surface temperature, gathered by its Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellites, to produce global maps depicting where waters are warm enough to trigger bleaching. Local marine scientists, volunteers and others — under the umbrella of monitoring groups such as Reef Check in Marina del Rey, California — then go out to inspect the conditions where bleaching may be happening.

Private eyes

A privately funded venture, the XL Catlin Seaview Survey, has been mapping reefs in 26 countries since 2012. Among other technologies, it uses a high-resolution camera attached to an underwater scooter to quickly compile 360-degree images of reefs.

This effort should help scientists to document mass bleaching during the present event better than during the last one, which happened in 2010. The Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, an international government-based initiative, was reorganized in 2008 and shifted from gathering data on reefs to preparing reports on the basis of data from others. As a result, there was not a full network in place during 2010 to monitor coral status, Eakin says. “We’re not going to let this one slip by,” he adds.

Marine scientists need to document long-term changes to corals in many regions to understand how reefs might survive bleachings, says Gates. In a bay off the island of Oahu in Hawaii, some corals that experienced bleaching in 2014 surprisingly managed to reproduce this year, even with back-to-back bleachings. And earlier this year, a Nature paper1 reported that 12 out of 21 reefs studied in the Seychelles managed to mostly recover after the devastating bleaching of 1998.

But Hoegh-Guldberg notes that bleaching events may now be coming too quickly, giving corals no time to recover between them. “Reefs, like rainforests, take time,” he says. And other factors, such as ocean acidification, are also stressing corals to the point that decades from now, reef communities will look and function much differently than they do today, says Cheryl Logan, a marine biologist at California State University, Monterey Bay, in Seaside.

Nature doi:10.1038/nature.2015.18527

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Corporate Singapore ups the ante in fight against haze

Nisha Ramchandani Business Times 7 Oct 15;

THE corporate community in Singapore is stepping up efforts in the fight against the haze, with firms committing to sustainability by adopting green procurement practices.

This comes as the burning of forests in Indonesia has resulted in a stubborn haze blanketing Singapore and cities in Indonesia and Malaysia.

On Wednesday, the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) and Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) announced that they have asked certain major firms from the supermarket, pharmacy and furniture industries to underscore their support for environmentally friendly practices by declaring that they do not offer products made with wood, paper or pulp from companies linked to the forest fires in Indonesia.

The retailers, including household names such as Cold Storage, Sheng Siong and Ikea Singapore, operate a number of outlets from which consumers buy paper-based products.

SEC and Case said that they would send declaration forms to these companies and their subsidiaries and expect them to respond with the declarations within a week.

The two bodies said in a joint statement: "They are a good starting point for retailers to commit to a green procurement process, and for consumers to show their support for brands that have environmentally friendly practices. With heightened efforts from both retailers and consumers, SEC and Case are confident that more companies will join us to promote environmentally friendly conduct."

Meanwhile, NTUC FairPrice has announced that it was yanking all products sourced from the Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) Group from its shelves, including two of NTUC's house brand paper products and brands such as Paseo, NICE and Jolly.

The move by Singapore's largest supermarket chain comes on the back of the SEC imposing a temporary restriction on the use of the "Singapore Green Label" certification for APP's products. APP is one of the five Indonesian firms named by Singapore's National Environment Agency as a likely contributor to the haze.

Seah Kian Peng, chief executive of FairPrice, said: "We initiated meetings with the various parties concerned when a list of firms, including APP, was named by the authorities as suspects for contributing to the haze.

"As a fair business partner, we reserved taking action pending further information and investigation by the authorities. Our decision to withdraw all APP products is a result of the temporary restriction of their Green Label certification."

The SEC has requested companies with paper products certified under the Singapore Green Label Scheme to declare that they are using sustainably-sourced materials.

FairPrice was unable to sign the declaration for the two house brand products earlier because it was waiting for APP's confirmation of its compliance with SEC's requirements.

Associate professor (strategy and policy) Lawrence Loh of the National University of Singapore Business School said: "The current move by some of our business entities is really a good . . . start to show they're serious."

He added that it was beneficial for companies to augment diplomatic efforts, which are happening at the government-to-government level, albeit slowly.

Aside from cultivating customer goodwill, FairPrice's move will strengthen its long-term business, in ensuring that each and every part of the business was acting in a sustainable fashion.

"Customers do care," Prof Loh said, adding that the move to remove specific products from the shelves would also pressure FairPrice's competitors to follow suit. "Suppliers will be more responsive too."

He said that any potential loss in revenue for FairPrice would be more than offset by customer goodwill.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Singapore Business Federation on Wednesday urged businesses to follow global industry standards on sustainable agricultural practices, citing examples such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil for palm oil cultivation and the Forest Stewardship Council for responsibly managed forests. Both chambers also encouraged the business community to commit to buying only sustainable products and adopting green procurement practices.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS) have set the tone too, with the ABS expected to issue guidelines soon on responsible financing. This week, MAS said that progress was being made in ensuring that Singapore financial institutions and listed corporations promote sustainable development.

An MAS spokeswoman said on Monday: "MAS has been in discussion with ABS on how our banks can help to promote lending practices that support sustainable development."

Singapore Exchange is pushing for greater transparency from listed companies on the environmental and social aspects of their businesses, with sustainability reporting on a "comply-or-explain" basis likely by financial year 2017.

Separately, Singapore Minister of Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan announced on Facebook on Wednesday that Indonesia had accepted Singapore's offer of a haze assistance package, after what he described as a "good discussion" with his Indonesian counterpart, Retno Marsudi, on Wednesday evening.

"Good for our countries to work together to resolve this as soon as possible," Dr Balakrishnan wrote.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said that it had sent a formal request to Jakarta for the names of the companies suspected of being linked to the haze in Indonesia, in response to the request by the Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar, who had said that if Singapore wanted the names of the companies to be officially sent to it, it had to be done through the government-to-government channel.

MFA had reiterated its offer of assistance to Indonesia, which includes, among other things, a team from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) to provide assessment and planning assistance and up to three C-130 aircraft for cloud-seeding operations and for ferrying the SCDF team.

Up to 30% losses for SMEs due to haze: SCCCI
Kranji farm Bollywood Veggies has had at least 80 per cent of its outdoor events cancelled, while Adventure Paddlers, a water sports company, says more than 60 people have cancelled their bookings over the past two weeks.
Channel NewsAsia 8 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: The Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) has estimated that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have suffered losses of approximately 10 to 30 per cent due to the haze.

The organisation said it is collating feedback from businesses to understand the extent of the issue, and will seek help from the Government. SCCCI represents more 40,000 companies in Singapore from a wide spectrum of trades and industries.

SCCCI president Thomas Chua Kee Seng, said: "After receiving our feedback, the Government should be able to evaluate the situation and come up with a long-term strategy to help businesses combat the impact of haze. The haze problem is not new and is likely to return again next year."

SCCCI has also drafted two letters to their counterparts in Malaysia and Indonesia to urge them to relay the plight of businesses in their countries to their respective governments.

Kranji farm Bollywood Veggies has had at least 80 per cent of its outdoor events, such as farm tours, cancelled. The farm's owner said it will be forced to retrench some employees, if the situation persists.

Said farm owner Ivy Singh: “S$3,000 a day would be break-even for us and we are not even hitting that. For example, one of the days we only did S$200. The bulk of our costs is in staffing costs. If it continues at this rate, the first people I have to lay off would have to be my Singaporeans."

Adventure Paddlers, a water sports company, said that more than 60 people have cancelled their bookings over the past two weeks. This has resulted in a 60 per cent dip in revenue.

The Indonesian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (KADIN) and the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) have issued a joint statement. They said organisations in Southeast Asia have lost millions of dollars due to the haze.

They also urged businesses involved in agriculture in Indonesia to ensure that they are not contributing to forest fires and to embrace sustainable practices.

- CNA/xk

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Indonesia accepts Singapore's offer of haze assistance package

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan says his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi indicated on Wednesday evening (Oct 7) that Jakarta will accept Singapore's offer of assets and personnel to fight forest fires.
Channel NewsAsia 7 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: Indonesia has accepted Singapore's offer for a haze assistance package to deal with forest fires, Singapore's Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan announced on Wednesday (Oct 7).

Dr Balakrishnan said on Facebook that this was conveyed to him by Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi whom he had a good discussion with on Wednesday evening. "Good for our countries to work together to resolve this as soon as possible," Dr Balakrishnan added.

Indonesia's government had earlier accepted Singapore's offer of assistance on Sep 11, only to change its stance days later, saying it was beefing up resources to tackle the forest fires on its own. Vice-President Jusuf Kalla was later quoted as saying to Singapore: "Please come if you want to help. Don't just talk."

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) earlier sent a formal request to the government of Indonesia for the names of the companies suspected of contributing to haze pollution.

MFA said the move was in response to a request by Ms Siti Nurbaya, who said that if Singapore wanted the names of these companies to be officially sent to it, it had to be done through the Government-to-Government channel.

“We look forward to an early response from the Government of the Republic of Indonesia on our requests so that we can take the necessary action against those who are responsible for the haze,” the MFA said.

The request was sent via the Indonesian embassy in Singapore, the MFA said. In the same note to the embassy, Singapore again reiterated its haze assistance offer to Indonesia of:

A C-130 aircraft for cloud seeding operations;
Up to two C-130 aircraft to ferry a fire-fighting assistance team from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF);
A team from SCDF to provide assessment and planning assistance;
High resolution satellite pictures and hotspot coordinates; and
A Chinook helicopter with one heli-bucket under-slung, subject to their operational availability.
“Singapore stands ready to assist Indonesia in its haze combatting and fire-fighting efforts,” MFA said.

Neighbouring Malaysia has also offered to assist Indonesia in putting out forest fires after hundreds of its schools were shut across the nation due to the choking haze.

- CNA/cy

Indonesia indicates it will accept Singapore’s offer to help fight haze
Today Online 8 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE — Indonesia has indicated it will now take up Singapore’s offer to help fight the ongoing haze, Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on Facebook today (Oct 7).

Jakarta had declined Singapore’s assistance package several times since the smog descended last month, saying it has the resources to manage.

But Dr Balakrishnan wrote last night that his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi has now indicated Jakarta will take up the offer following a “good discussion” the pair had this evening. “Good for our countries to work together to resolve this as soon as possible,” he added.

Singapore’s assistance package includes assets and personnel, such as a C-130 aircraft for cloud-seeding operations, a Chinook helicopter with a water bucket for aerial fire-fighting, and up to two C-130 aircraft to ferry the Singapore Civil Defence Force fire-fighting assistance team. In addition, Singapore also offered to provide high-resolution satellite pictures and hotspot coordinates.

Earlier in the day, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a statement that the Indonesian government had yet to turn over the names of errant companies suspected of playing a part in causing the haze that has plagued Singapore since last month.

A formal request for the names of these companies was sent to the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in Singapore, the ministry added.

“This was in response to the request by the Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister, Ms Siti Nurbaya Bakar, who had previously said that if Singapore wanted the names of these companies to be officially sent to it, then this had to be done through the Government-to-Government channel,” an MFA spokesperson said.

“We look forward to an early response from the Government of the Republic of Indonesia on our requests so that we can take the necessary action against those who are responsible for the haze.” In its note to the Indonesia embassy, Singapore also reiterated its haze assistance.

Air quality and visibility improved significantly today, thanks to rain in the early morning. As at 7pm, the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading was 86 to 108, the three-hour PSI was 70 and the one-hour PM2.5 concentration was 22 to 41 microgrammes per cubic metre.

The NEA said prevailing winds are forecast to be weak and to blow from the east or southeast tomorrow, and the 24-hour PSI is expected to improve to the moderate range.

Eight hotspots were detected in Sumatra today, and the NEA attributed the low hotspot count to partial satellite pass, when the orbiting satellite’s field of view covers just part of a region of interest. The agency added that widespread haze continues to persist in parts of Sumatra, and some haze spreading westward from Kalimantan was observed over the sea at the far south of Singapore.

Jakarta accepts foreign help to fight raging forest fires
Francis Chan and Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, Straits Times AsiaOne 8 Oct 15;

After weeks of trying to tackle the country's forest fires on its own, Indonesia yesterday welcomed help from abroad, including from Singapore and Russia.

Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in a Facebook post last night: "Had a good discussion this evening with (Indonesia's) Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi who indicated that Indonesia will now take up our offer. Good for our countries to work together to resolve this as soon as possible."

As for the Russian offer of a Beriev Be-200, which can carry up to 37,200kg of water, it came after earlier talks had stalled.

Indonesia has been facing mounting pressure, both at home and abroad, to resolve the transboundary haze crisis, with Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha the latest leader to demand more collective action. Parts of southern Thailand were shrouded by smoke from forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan that has already affected air quality in Singapore and parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

The haze prompted General Prayut to push for ASEAN-level efforts to tackle the decades-old issue. His call on Wednesday follows that by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Tuesday to do more.

Singapore has repeatedly said it stands ready to help but its offer was turned down until last night. Its assistance included a Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) land firefighting team, a C-130 aircraft for cloud seeding and a Chinook helicopter equipped with a water bucket for aerial firefighting.

Yesterday, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs extended another SCDF team to provide assessment and planning assistance, high-resolution satellite pictures and hot spot coordinates.

Mr Atmadji Sumarkidjo, a close aide of Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan, said last night Russia has offered a Beriev Be-200.

As to when the Singapore assets will be deployed, he added: "We are trying to find the right timing... The haze is thick now so they won't be effective."

It is widely recognised that President Joko Widodo's administration is already doing more than any previous government to tackle the latest haze crisis. But the high economic and human costs prompted Indonesian politicians to ask the government to do more, including accepting foreign offers of aid.

Democratic Party spokesman Imelda Sari said: "Indonesia must open up. We do not need to be embarrassed to get assistance from the neighbouring countries. This is part of the ASEAN solidarity."

Mr Mochammad Romahurmuziy, a senior leader in the United Development Party, said that "with help from neighbouring countries, we can solve it (crisis) faster".

Singapore's Foreign Minister Reports Indonesia Accepts Offer of Haze Assistance
Erin Cook Jakarta Globe 7 Oct 15;

Jakarta. Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Vivian Balakrishnan, on Wednesday evening hinted at a resolution to the stand-off between Indonesia and Singapore over the management of haze from Indonesia choking the city-state.

Taking to his official Facebook, Balakrishnan said recent discussions between his office and his Indonesian counterpart, Retno Marsudi, had been productive with Indonesia accepting Singapore's assistance.

"We reiterated our haze assistance package, which includes assets, personnel, high-resolution satellite pictures and hotspot coordinates," he said.

The Indonesian government has turned down assistance from Singapore, offered since the crisis began in September, but Balakrishnan is confident the two countries have made a break though.

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has submitted a request to the Indonesian Embassy in Singapore to for the names of companies suspected as being responsible for the crisis which has seen schools and businesses close and respiratory related illnesses to spike across the two countries and in to Malaysia.

Singapore has repeatedly said it will prosecute companies within its jurisdiction responsible for the haze, caused by outlawed slash-and-burn practices in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

The Indonesian Embassy in Singapore is yet to respond to the request.

Jakarta accepts foreign help to fight raging forest fires
The Star 8 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: After weeks of trying to tackle the country's forest fires on its own, Indonesia on Wednesday welcomed help from abroad.

Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in a Facebook post on Wednesday night: "Had a good discussion this evening with (Indonesia's) Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi who indicated that Indonesia will now take up our offer. Good for our countries to work together to resolve this as soon as possible."

As for the Russian offer of a Beriev Be-200, which can carry up to 37,200kg of water, it came after earlier talks had stalled.

Indonesia has been facing mounting pressure, both at home and abroad, to resolve the transboundary haze crisis, with Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha the latest leader to demand more collective action.

Parts of southern Thailand were shrouded by smoke from forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan that has already affected air quality in Singapore and parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

The haze prompted General Prayut to push for Asean-level efforts to tackle the decades-old issue. His call on Wednesday followed that by Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak on Tuesday to do more.

Singapore has repeatedly said it stands ready to help but its offer was turned down until Wednesday night.

Its assistance included a Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) land firefighting team, a C-130 aircraft for cloud seeding and a Chinook helicopter equipped with a water bucket for aerial firefighting.

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs extended another SCDF team to provide assessment and planning assistance, high-resolution satellite pictures and hot spot coordinates.

Atmadji Sumarkidjo, a close aide of Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan, said Russia had offered a Beriev Be-200.

As to when the Singapore assets will be deployed, he added: "We are trying to find the right timing... The haze is thick now so they won't be effective."

It is widely recognised that President Joko Widodo's administration is already doing more than any previous government to tackle the latest haze crisis. But the high economic and human costs prompted Indonesian politicians to ask the government to do more, including accepting foreign offers of aid.

Democratic Party spokesman Imelda Sari said: "Indonesia must open up. We do not need to be embarrassed to get assistance from the neighbouring countries. This is part of the Asean solidarity."

Mochammad Romahurmuziy, a senior leader in the United Development Party, said that "with help from neighbouring countries, we can solve it (crisis) faster". - The Straits Times/Asia News Network

Indonesia Should Accept Others' Help on Haze, New Diplomat Says
Chris Brummitt Bloomberg 8 Oct 15;

Indonesia should accept help from other countries to put out the forest fires that have covered parts of Southeast Asia with haze, according to the country’s ambassador-designate to the U.K. who also heads a think tank.

Indonesia had turned down offers of help from Singapore and Malaysia, in part because helicopters couldn’t take off due to the smoke. Singapore reiterated its offer of assistance on Wednesday with equipment including a C-130 aircraft for cloud-seeding operations and two similar planes to transport its fire-fighting team. The city-state’s Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said later that day his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi “indicated that Indonesia will now take up our offer.”

“We should accept the assistance for two reasons,” Rizal Sukma, executive director of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said in an interview on Tuesday. “First, it will demonstrate we are all in this together. The second reason is more practical: so everyone understands how difficult it is in putting out these fires.”

Indonesia, which set a deadline two weeks ago to put out the fires, said Monday that it’s difficult to push for a timeline as farmers are still burning to clear land and as weather patterns are unpredictable. President Joko Widodo’s recent trip to Sumatra island for a progress check was cut short as the smoke was so thick his plane couldn’t land, forcing him back to the capital.

Shutting Schools

The haze, exacerbated by dry conditions from El Nino, has blown across Southeast Asia, blanketing Singapore, parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand in a smog that has shut schools and caused outdoor events to be suspended. In parts of Indonesia, people were forced to flee their homes.

Indonesia has sent soldiers to help fight the blaze and threatened to punish palm oil and other plantation companies that are burning land. Singapore’s largest supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice said Wednesday it will remove from its shelves toilet paper and other products sourced from a company whose suppliers may have been involved in the fires.

“We are not allergic to outside help,” Willem Rampangilei, head of Indonesia’s National Disaster Management Authority, said Monday. “We are happy to get offers. But we have to see how much that assistance can actually be deployed.”

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How climate change will affect transboundary haze

Today Online 8 Oct 15;

Discussions about the ongoing transboundary haze focus mainly on local and immediate causes. Topics include which agencies on Sumatra and Kalimantan are responsible for the fires directly causing the smoke, what can be done to punish transgressors and the transnational help offered within the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) to assist Indonesian authorities in putting out the hot spots.

Something that has not featured prominently in the debate, however, is whether a changing climate influences the likelihood of future regional haze occurrences. Would future weather and climate over South-east Asia favour conditions that could lead to more frequent haze episodes? The latest climate research by regional scientists make for disquieting reading.

In our current climate, the haze often coincides with the dry Southwest monsoon season. This occurs from June to September, and the dry surface conditions enable local residents from provinces in Sumatra and Kalimantan to rapidly clear land either for subsistence farming, or for commercial palm oil and timber plantations. The prevailing winds then move the smoke over towards Singapore and Malaysia.

How would climate change caused by increased emissions of greenhouse gases affect the monsoon, in particular future temperature and rainfall patterns?

Average annual temperatures are all but certain to increase in all climate model simulations until 2100, but future average annual rainfall patterns throughout South-east Asia do not show a similar strong increasing trend.

However, seasonal changes in rainfall patterns are likely in the future because of projected increases in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the next century. Climate model simulations recently utilised and reported by the Centre for Climate Research Singapore indicate that less Southwest monsoon rainfall is expected. Worryingly, the projected future decrease in rainfall is clear over regions in Sumatra and Borneo where current hot spots are located, meaning these areas are likely to be drier.


There are two “natural” climate phenomena affecting South-east Asia — El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) —that may also be influenced by climate change, and these could consequently influence haze development.

A short primer: ENSO and IOD are periodic oscillations of sea surface temperature occurring in the equatorial Pacific and Indian Oceans, respectively. Under El Nino (or positive ENSO) conditions, historical rainfall over the Indonesian archipelago is decreased substantially. Likewise, positive IOD conditions, characterised by warmer-than-normal water in the western Indian Ocean, often results in a decrease of rainfall over Sumatra and Java.

The timing of these oscillations is important. In particular, the co-occurrence of these two during their positive phases during the Southwest monsoon could make already dry surface conditions even drier.

Research by Indonesia’s National Institute of Aeronautics and Space showed that both El Nino and positive IOD conditions simultaneously developed in 1997 and 2006. Both were years in which significantly drier-than-average conditions occurred over most parts of Indonesia during the Southwest monsoon. Unsurprisingly, significant haze that blanketed Malaysia and Singapore resulted during these periods.

Of note is that the current haze event also coincides with strengthening El Nino and positive IOD phases, and monthly rainfall in the associated Indonesian hot spot areas has significantly been lower than average for the past two months.

Therefore, the important question is, would future ENSO and IOD events be affected by climate change? Last year, two modelling studies by Australian-based researchers published in the academic journal Nature appear to indicate that occurrences of both phenomena are affected by global greenhouse gas warming.

The probability of these events occurring is considerably increased; the likelihood is doubled from one in 20 to one in 10 for the occurrence of strong ENSO, and trebled from one in 18 to one in six for strong IOD events occurring in the future.

Given the clear association of these phenomena with overall dry regional conditions, these are changing odds that could — and should — be of concern when considering transboundary haze development.


Thus, while we rightfully are concerned with the causes and impacts of the ongoing haze, let’s not neglect the elephant in the room that is climate change. There is evidence indicative of a future climate favouring more frequent transboundary haze episodes.

Stakeholders in ASEAN should tap this knowledge and adopt two approaches towards reducing the negative impact of haze. First, increase societal capacity in adapting to future haze events. For instance, authoritative and accurate health advisories can educate and inform affected people of the appropriate courses of action when air-quality thresholds are exceeded. Greater resources should also be devoted to treating heart- and lung-related illnesses that will increase with the onset of haze episodes, especially for people predisposed towards these ailments.

Second, the knowledge that business-as-usual greenhouse gas emissions can factor in more transboundary haze episodes must be considered by ASEAN governments at the forthcoming Climate Change Conference in Paris. Pledging carbon-curbing actions that limit global temperature increases would definitely help in mitigating the effects of climate change on the haze.

Hopes of stopping land burning — the root cause of the ASEAN transboundary haze — are hamstrung by political and cultural issues that engender no easy solutions. This situation is complicated by climate change. Instead, anticipating likely increases in future haze events and adapting accordingly could be a sensible, complementary and effective option for all affected stakeholders in the long run.

Lastly, there is a temptation to solely accuse climate change for a presumptive increase in haze events. This would be a mistake; it shows a misunderstanding of how regional climate change only promotes the ambient conditions enabling the haze, rather than being the root cause.


Dr Winston Chow is an urban climatologist working as an assistant professor in the Department of Geography, National University of Singapore. The views and opinions expressed in this essay are solely his own and do not express the views or opinions of his employer.

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Instead of pointing fingers, start restoring peatlands

Bustar Maitar, Strait Times AsiaOne 8 Oct 15;

Out the window, I could see Singaporeans hurrying down the street before rushing inside to escape the choking haze.

With NGO colleagues from Europe and the United States, I was attending a conference last week on how businesses can tackle deforestation, while much of South-east Asia was suffering from the impact of weeks of forest fires.

Recent days have seen schools closed in Indonesian towns, as well as in Singapore and Malaysia's capital, and the haze is expected to continue for months. It was ironic to sit in a room with some of the most powerful companies in the world that could take steps to address this problem, while we couldn't even go outside during the coffee break.

When reporting on forest fires, the media always asks: Who are the culprits? Is it communities or companies setting forests on fires?

However, with the haze now becoming an annual scourge, the question should really be: How can these fires be prevented?

The answer is that the real cause of the worst haze is the drainage of peatlands.

Peat swamp forests - that line much of the coasts of Sumatra and Kalimantan (Borneo) - are being drained to create more and more oil palm and pulpwood plantations.

And when the peatlands are drained, they become a tinderbox that any campfire or cigarette butt can set alight, burning in conditions that create more smoke than ordinary forest fires.

The situation in Indonesia worsens in El Nino years such as this, which are characterised by periods of drought that increase the extent and longevity of peat fires, which can continue to smoulder underground for weeks or more, as long as the peat remains dry.

It is estimated that the extensive burning of peat and vegetation in the 1997 El Nino year released between 0.81 and 2.57 gigatons of carbon, then equivalent to a staggering 13 to 40 per cent of global carbon emissions from fossil fuels. Global climate change is expected to create a vicious circle, increasing the frequency of El Nino events.

So, when this is known, why do companies continue to drain these peatlands? And why does the government not do all it can to protect and restore Indonesia's remaining peatlands?

The answer is simple: Plantation companies covet peatlands because they represent a rare resource: a broad area of land which is only sparsely populated.

However, oil palm and pulpwood acacia trees cannot grow if their roots are constantly wet, so plantations require the peatlands to be drained. Meanwhile, local and national governments have designated palm oil as a priority industry, favouring investors' interests over environmental concerns.

The costs of this short-sighted rush to open up Indonesia's forests and peatlands are all too apparent at the moment. Indonesian President Joko Widodo's Cabinet calculates that the fires and haze have set Indonesia back an estimated 300 trillion to 475 trillion rupiah (S$30 billion to S$47.5 billion).

Yet, even as the crisis raged, President Joko's government announced it would revise a dozen regulations to smooth the way for further forestry and plantation enterprises.

In fact, there is regulation on peatland management, but it falls far short of providing adequate protection, and is not among those the government said it would revisit.

Meanwhile, there are no maps to base peat management regulations on. As an environmental non-governmental organisation, Greenpeace would like to see regulation of peat management urgently implemented, after measures have been taken to protect all peatlands, regardless of their depth or whether they are included in existing concessions.

Last year, President Joko went with Greenpeace to the fire-impacted village of Sungai Tohor in the heart of Riau province's peatlands, and helped the community dam a canal draining a nearby company plantation.

He later promised to ensure a thousand dams are built in Riau to end peatland drainage. A year later, the area where the President's dam stands is not impacted by the fires, but only a handful of the thousand dams were ever built, and so in the rest of Riau, little has changed.

Quite inexplicably, the President last week actually ordered canals to be dug in Central Kalimantan peatlands in order to transport water for firefighting purposes.

This is a disastrous mistake, as the canals will not supply enough water to douse the widespread fires, and will only contribute to drying out peatlands further over the long run.

Deforestation rates are still rising in Indonesia, and this year's fire season shows that a new level of ambition on peatland protection is needed. Around 11 million ha - around half of Indonesia's total peatlands - has been cleared and drained. While large players in the plantation industry have made strong commitments to forest and peatland protection, this generally only extends to a promise not to open up new areas of peatlands, so the impact on the ground is slim.

To stop the annual fire and haze crisis, we need companies and governments to work together to identify, protect and restore critical peatlands. This means that a "no development on peat" policy is not enough: companies need to address the legacy of their plantations by restoring drained peatlands to prevent them from catching fire.

In practice, this means that some plantation areas will need to be returned to their natural flooded condition. It means that companies that have benefited from a decade of peat drainage will need to set aside large amounts of money to compensate communities and restore the peat forests.

So far, only one company has actually started reflooding peatland areas, albeit in a very small percentage of its estate. We call upon the plantation industry to follow this example, and for buyers of plantation commodities like palm oil to help fund the restoration of peatlands.

Only then can we be assured that we are not merely fighting fires, but actually tackling the problem.

Bustar Maitar is the global head of Greenpeace's Indonesia Forest Campaign.

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Indonesian forest fires on track to emit more CO2 than UK

Greenpeace warns fires raging across forest and peatlands will match the worst year ever and exceed the total annual carbon output of the UK
Shocking drone footage captured by Greenpeace field researchers shows extensive peat and forest fires burning in Indonesia.
Damian Carrington The Guardian 7 Oct 15;

Fires raging across the forests and peatlands of Indonesia are on track to pump out more carbon emissions than the UK’s entire annual output, Greenpeace has warned.

As well as fuelling global warming, the thick smoke choking cities in the region is likely to cause the premature deaths of more than 100,000 people in the region and is also destroying vital habitats for endangered orangutans and clouded leopards.

New drone video footage from Greenpeace from around the Gunung Palung national park in Kalimantan shows the peat fires smouldering underground, as well as flames burning down trees, and the thick haze they produce.

There have been almost 10,000 fires in the last month across Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) and Sumatra, with the drifting smoke also provoking protests from neighbouring Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

The fires, mostly started deliberately and illegally to clear forest for paper and palm oil production, are on track to match the worst ever year of 1997. As in that year, the region is currently experiencing a strong El Niño climate phenomenon. This creates drought conditions in Indonesia, exacerbating years of draining of peatlands, and creating tinderbox conditions.

“As governments prepare to meet in Paris to save the world from catastrophic warming, the earth in Indonesia is already on fire,” said Greenpeace’s Indonesian forest project leader Bustar Maita.

“Companies destroying forests and draining peatland have made Indonesia’s landscape into a huge carbon bomb, and the drought has given it a thousand fuses. The Indonesian government can no longer turn a blind eye to this destruction when half of Asia is living with the consequences.”

Indonesia’s pledge to the UN on climate action has been criticised for being vague on how it will halt the fires.

The record forest and peat fires of 1997 produced huge carbon emissions, estimated by scientists at between 0.81 and 2.57 gigatonnes (Gt), equivalent to 13-40% of the entire world’s annual fossil fuel emissions. It lead to the biggest annual jump in CO2 ever recorded. By comparison, the UK’s carbon emissions for the whole of 2014 were 0.52Gt.

The health impact of the forest and peat fires is also expected to be large, with the resulting premature deaths across south-east Asia estimated at 110,000 deaths in an average year. More than 75,000 people are already suffering from upper respiratory infections as a result of the haze, according to media reports.

Raffles Brotestes Panjaitan, director of forest fire control in Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry, explained why so many fires are started deliberately:“Burning the forest is the fastest, cheapest and most profitable method, instead of clearing with heavy equipment,” he told Associated Press.

“Our regulation is clear: no burning of forests. But [big corporations] violate the law for the sake of profits.” He described the burning peatlands as a vast smouldering stove, burning up to 10 metres (33 feet) deep.

“Ironically, intact peatlands are actually very fire resistant, as they are protected by a high water table,” said Professor Susan Page, an expert on Indonesia’s peatlands at the University of Leicester, UK. “The problem arises when peatlands are drained. Dry peat ignites very easily and can burn for days or weeks, even smouldering underground and re-emerging away from the initial source. This makes them incredibly difficult to extinguish.”

The threat to wildlife is extreme, according to Mark Harrison, of the Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project (OuTrop). “Tropical peat-swamp forests are one of the world’s most important ecosystems. They are home to globally threatened wildlife, including the orangutan, southern Bornean gibbon and clouded leopard,” he said.

“OuTrop’s main research site in the Sabangau forest, Kalimantan, is a peat-swamp that is home to the world’s largest orangutan population,” said Harrison. “Fire here not only burns the surface vegetation, but also the peat soil that has taken thousands of years to form. This makes fire the biggest threat to Sabangau’s orangutans and many other species that call this forest home.”

The Indonesian government has deployed more than 22,000 soldiers, policemen and fire personnel to fight the fires, with aircraft conducting water-bombing and cloud-seeding operations. Another 6,000 soldiers are expected to be deployed soon.

But peatland fires are very difficult to extinguish and the only permanent solution is to restore and protect rainforests and peatlands. Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, has pleaded for the patience, saying the haze is “not a problem that you can solve quickly.” He said: “You will see results soon, and in three years, we will have solved this.”

Indonesia’s government estimates that 63% of its greenhouse gas emissions are the result of forest and peatland fires and land use change, but others say the proportion is as high as 80%.

In May, the government extended a moratorium on deforestation, but activists have called for it to be strengthened as it currently excludes secondary forests and areas earmarked for “national development”.

Products ‘linked to haze’ banned
The Star 8 Oct 15;

JAKARTA: New aerial footage released showed smoke billowing from Indonesian forest fires as smog-choked Singapore’s biggest supermarket chain announced a ban on products from a paper company accused over the haze shrouding South-East Asia.

Fires illegally started to clear land for plantations on Indonesia’s Sumatra island and the Indonesian part of Borneo have for weeks been producing thick haze that has cloaked Singapore and Malaysia, prompting the cancellation of outdoor events and school closures.

The smog-belching blazes are an annual occurrence during the dry season, but scientists have warned this year’s could be the worst on record due to an El Nino weather system that has created tinder-dry conditions in Indonesia and increased the risk of fires.

The drone footage filmed by Greenpeace showed acrid haze rising from dense jungle, trees reduced to fire-blackened skeletons, vast swathes of burnt peatland, and a city shrouded in haze on the Indonesian part of Borneo.

“Companies destroying forests and draining peatland have made Indonesia’s landscape into a huge carbon bomb, and the drought has given it a thousand fuses,” said Bustar Maitar, Indonesian forest project leader for Greenpeace South-East Asia.

“The Indonesian government can no longer turn a blind eye to this destruction when half of Asia is living with the consequences.”

Pressure mounted in Singapore, where air quality has been unhealthy for weeks, with supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice, which belongs to a state-linked trades union, announcing the withdrawal from its shelves of all paper products sourced from Indonesian-owned Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), which has corporate offices in Singapore.

This comes after the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) temporarily suspended the firm’s exclusive distributor Universal Sovereign Trading’s use of their green label pending further investigations.

The move also comes shortly after FairPrice was asked by the SEC to sign a declaration form stating that it did not carry products from the five companies being investigated for their possible connection to the forest fires in Indonesia.

FairPrice carries 14 housebrand paper products. Of these, two are sourced from APP through Universal Sovereign.

The chain also carries 16 other APP related products from various brands – including Paseo, NICE and Jolly – which will be pulled off the shelves too.

NTUC FairPrice executive director Seah Kian Peng said they had been proactively monitoring the situation over the past week.

“As a fair business partner, we reserved taking action pending further information and investigation by the authorities,” he said. “Our decision to withdraw all APP products is a result of the temporary restriction of their Green Label certification.”

Aida Greenbury, APP’s Jakarta-based managing director for sustainability, told AFP that the company was working with the Indonesian military to fight forest fires in suppliers’ landholdings, where more than 10,000ha had been affected.

“Regardless of who started the fires, we are working around the clock and bringing in additional resources to manage forest fires in our suppliers’ land,” she said in a statement.

“If any suppliers are found to have intentionally burned land, we

will disengage with them. We are ready to step up and do more to address challenges in the landscape.”

Tensions have been rising between the governments of Singapore and Indonesia over the haze, and the city-state’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked Indonesia in a statement yesterday for an “early response” to its requests for information on “errant companies suspected of being involved in the haze”.

Late last month, the National Environment Agency (NEA) began legal action against Singapore-listed APP and four Indonesian firms that it believes to be behind the burning.

APP was asked to supply information on its subsidiaries operating in Singapore and Indonesia, as well as measures taken by its suppliers to put out fires in their concessions.

The company said yesterday it had provided information in response to the agency’s request.

Under a 2014 law, Singapore can impose a fine of S$100,000 (RM297,033) for each day that a local or foreign company contributes to unhealthy levels of haze pollution in Singapore, subject to a maximum total of S$2mil (RM5.9mil). — AFP/ The Straits Times / Asia News Network

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Malaysia: Haze situation shows general improvement

The Star 8 Oct 15;

PETALING JAYA: Sabah and Sarawak are expected to have clearer skies while the south and west of peninsula Malaysia are likely to experience haze over the next few days.

This, said the Meteorological Department, was due to the south-easterly winds that were expected to remain.

“Sabah and Sarawak, however, are expected to be free of transboundary haze during the period,” said the department’s director-general Datuk Che Gayah Ismail yesterday.

He said the situation over the country had improved in general, as the majority of the Meteorological Department’s stations recorded visibility of more than 3km as of yesterday afternoon.

However, areas such as Kluang, Langkawi, Batu Embun in Pahang and Petaling Jaya recorded visibility of between 1.5km and 2.5km.

“As of noon, all stations in Sabah and most stations in Sarawak, except Kuching and Limbang, recorded visibility of more than 10km,” said Che Gayah.

Kuching and Limbang recorded visibility of 8km and 9km respectively.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said Malaysia is also expected to encounter weak winds from various directions until Oct 12 with the end of the tropical storm Mujigae in the north of Vietnam.

He said in a statement that based on satellite images, there were three hotspots in Kalimantan and 121 hotspots in Sumatera.

“Only one hotspot was discovered in Pahang,” said the minister.

As of 1pm yesterday, Port Dickson, was the only area that recorded unhealthy Air Pollutant Index (API) reading of 101. The readings became moderate after 2pm.

As of 4pm, 14 areas recorded good API readings while 38 areas recorded moderate API readings.

An API reading of 0 to 50 indicates good air quality; 51 to 100, moderate; 101 to 200, unhealthy; 201 to 300, very unhealthy and 300 and above, hazardous.

In Langkawi, the API reading was 75 at 4pm after it recorded unhealthy readings in the early hours of the morning until 9am.

After the schools reopened in Penang yesterday and a downpour the day before, the readings in the state dropped to moderate levels.

Haze: Less than 3km visibility until Thursday
New Straits Times 7 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Visibility of less than three kilometres in the waters off Kedah, Penang, Perak, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Malacca, Johor, Pahang and Sarawak is expected to persist until Thursday (Oct 8).

This condition is dangerous to ships that are not equipped with navigational equipment, said the Malaysian Meteorological Department in a statement today.

The same situation is also reported in waters off the Straits of Malacca, Tioman, Bunguran, Kuching and Reef South.-- BERNAMA

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Thailand's foreign ministry shifts gear as smog tightens grip on South

The Nation/ANN AsiaOne 8 Oct 15;

The Foreign Ministry is exploring all possible means, including diplomacy, in its bid to tackle the spread of haze into southern Thailand from agricultural fires in neighbouring Indonesia.

"We would like to assure people living in Thailand's South and anyone affected by the haze that we are doing our best," Foreign Affairs Minister Don Pramudwinai said yesterday, as smog levels continued to threaten the health of residents as well as disrupt flights in many southern provinces.

Indonesian Ambassador Lutfi Rauf separately confirmed that he would meet with Thai officials at the Foreign Ministry at 11am today. Don said his ministry would express concern about the smog's impact during the meeting.

He added that he would also seek the co-operation of haze-affected neighbours such as Malaysia in joining discussions with Indonesia.

Flights to the southern provinces of Songkhla, Krabi and Phuket were delayed amid thick haze yesterday.

Several planes were forced to circle for 20 minutes to an hour before landing as they waited for improved visibility.

Visibility on roads was also significantly reduced, with motorists in Songkhla saying they could see no more than 200 metres. In Phatthalung province, road visibility was down to less than 500 metres.

The level of particulate matter up to 10 microns in size (PM10) also rose beyond the safe limit of 120 micrograms in many parts of the South.

Phuket recorded levels of 163 micrograms while Krabi saw 130 micrograms. Complaints of eye irritation, skin irritation and respiratory problems have risen dramatically across the region in recent days.

Only one-third of children turned up at the Phuket City Municipality's nursery yesterday, as parents took precautions against the smog.

"Most children have fallen sick, so the parents have kept them at home," a nursery teacher said.

Elsewhere, Satun Primary Education Office chief Nisit Chaiphak said he had instructed the directors of 161 primary schools in the southern province to temporarily close if the smog level worsened.

In Trang province, shops on Pakmeng beach were all shuttered as tourists stayed away.

Local entrepreneurs are complaining about the economic impact of the haze.

"My friends and I reckon we will have to close our shops until the smog eases," said Wanna Suansri, a shop owner in the smog-blanketed province of Phatthalung. "Even when we open, there's no customers anyway."

Masks given out as haze blankets southern Thailand
Tan Hui Yee, Straits Times AsiaOne 8 Oct 15;

The authorities in southern Thailand have distributed face masks and urged residents to stay indoors as forest fires in Indonesia pushed air quality to unhealthy levels this week.

The worst-hit provinces yesterday were Phuket, Songkhla and Satun, where state monitoring stations recorded particulate matter in the air beyond the country's acceptable level of 120 micrograms (mcg) per cubic metre.

The PM10 level - or the amount of particulate matter equal to or less than 10 micrometres in diameter - was worst in the south-western Satun province. According to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, the 24-hour average reading there at 3pm yesterday was 187 mcg per cubic m. This was followed by Songkhla, with a reading of 156, and Phuket, at 146.

The thick smoke, aided by the wind, has also blanketed parts of Malaysia and Singapore.

Local reports say a crowd of about 20 people gathered at the Indonesian consulate in Songkhla yesterday morning and submitted a letter urging Jakarta to take responsibility and tackle the haze.

"We are not here to condemn anybody, but as we know that the origin of this haze is from Indonesia, we ask the Indonesian government to solve this problem," spokesman Bunchon Vichiensri told reporters. "This problem affects not only us, but the whole region."

The vice-governor of Songkhla, Mr Anuchit Trakulmututa, told The Straits Times he was considering requesting cloud seeding if the situation gets worse. "We have urged people to take care of their own health, delivered face masks and closed our provincial outdoor stadium to prevent people from exercising there and damaging their health," he said. "Fortunately, this is the school break season, so we don't need to close schools."

Meanwhile, Songkhla's Disease Prevention Office 12 director, Dr Suwich Thampaolo, urged residents earlier this week to stay indoors, close all windows and doors, wear face masks and see a doctor if they have breathing difficulties, reported The Nation.

In neighbouring Malaysia, the federal government is planning to pass a law to deal with companies domestically as well those based overseas that cause haze pollution, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said.

The Utusan Malaysia newspaper quoted him as saying that such a Bill, which is in the works, would give the government power to act beyond Malaysia's borders, similar to a law that has been enacted in Singapore.

Hazy conditions set to remain in Thailand's Phuket
Haze particles rose above minimum safety levels across southern Thailand earlier this week, above the country's acceptable level.
Arglit Boonyai Channel NewsAsia 7 Oct 15;

PHUKET: Thailand has seen its fair share of bad weather conditions this year, with drought, floods, and now the choking haze that has spread across parts of Southeast Asia from forest fires in Indonesia.

Haze particles rose above minimum safety levels across southern Thailand earlier in the week, including tourist destinations such as Phuket and Surat Thani.

The Pollution Control Department says the situation has improved in all its provinces, except Phuket. Particulate matter rose to 174 microgrammes per cubic metre on the island, above the country's acceptable level of 120 microgrammes per cubic metre.

But there has not yet been a significant decrease in tourist numbers at the popular beach destination. The Thai Hotels Association has urged the government to seek proposals for emergency measures from Indonesia. Major hotels in Pattani have warned that if the haze continues through the peak season in December, they expect bookings to drop, especially from Malaysian tourists.

For now however, the Tourism Ministry says tourist arrivals have increased in Thailand due to Chinese Golden Week. Phuket is also a major destination for Chinese tourists and China accounts for the largest number of foreign visitors after visitors from ASEAN countries.

In a bid to encourage local residents and tourists to protect against the choking smog, the government has handed out more than 8,000 face masks. Authorities expect hazy conditions to last until November at the very least.

- CNA/yt

16 flights led astray amid haze

Worst affected of the southern provinces is Phuket. Most air traffic disruptions occurred at Phuket airport Wednesday morning, with nine delayed landings, two planes diverted to other airports and another two forced to turn back, according to the Aeronautical Radio of Thailand (Aerothai), which said visibility was below 1,000 metres.

Among the affected airlines was a flight from Thai Lion Air from Don Mueang airport which circled above Phuket for over an hour, while a Thai AirAsia flight made a U-turn back to Don Mueang at 8.20am.

The pilots of Bangkok Airways flight PG251, which departed Koh Samui airport at 8.05am for Phuket, turned around and returned to the island at 8.30am. Pilots of Thai Silk Air Flight SLK772 from Singapore to Koh Samui decided to circle until the weather was clear. The situation returned to normal after 9.30am, according to Aerothai's regional Approach Control Service.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Sek Wannamethee said the Indonesian ambassador Lutfi Rauf has been invited to the ministry today to discuss how to solve the haze problem. The issue is also a big concern for Asean senior officials currently meeting in Malaysia, he said.

In Phuket, PM10, which are less than 10 microns in size, reached 200 microgrammes per cubic metre Wednesday afternoon, compared with the safety limit of 120 microgrammes, according to the Pollution Control Department.

The tiny particles, which are about one-seventh the width of a human hair, are considered dangerous as they can easily lodge in people's lungs.

Authorities in the seven provinces have distributed 140,000 face masks to locals, said Public Health Minister Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn. State-run hospitals are also facing an influx of patients for treatment of respiratory-related disorders, he said.

Smoke from Indonesian fires blankets Thai holiday island of Phuket in haze
As the fume cloud smothering south-east Asia continues to worsen, Thailand calls in Indonesia’s ambassador for talks on tackling the recurring problem
Oliver Holmes The Guardian 8 Oct 15;

The Thai holiday island of Phuket has been plunged into a poisonous grey haze caused by illegal forest fires in neighbouring Indonesia.

Reduced visibility caused passenger planes from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur and destined for Phuket airport to turn around on Thursday. The noxious fumes which have been spreading for weeks have shut down many other parts of south-east Asia.

Schools have been closed in Malaysia and races in Singapore for the swimming world cup – the FINA world championship – were cancelled on Saturday. A marathon in Malaysia on Sunday was also abandoned.

The Thai foreign minister on Thursday invited Indonesia’s ambassador for a meeting to discuss the forest fires, the Bangkok Post reported. Pollution rose to 200 microgrammes on Wednesday evening, classed as “very unhealthy”.

Don Pramudwinai said before his meeting with ambassador Lutfi Rauf that he wanted short and long-term solutions to a problem that is repeated annually during Indonesia’s dry season when plantation owners slash-and-burn land on Sumatra, the paper said.

Tens of thousands of people in Indonesia and Malaysia have sought medical treatment for respiratory problems. The annual burning is decades old but Indonesia has faced mounting pressure to end the practice.

Scientists warn the pollution, caused mostly from the burning of drained peatlands, could surpass 1997 levels when the smog led to an environmental disaster costing an estimated US$9bn in damage.

Greenpeace says the fires kill roughly 110,000 people a year in the region through associated conditions.

Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak said this week that Indonesia needs to convict plantation companies.

Indonesia has deployed 20,000 security forces police to water bomb the fields and use chemicals to artificially induce rainfall. It also says it has investigated companies and ordered four to suspend operations.

At first rejecting offers to help from Singapore, a foreign ministry spokesman said on Thursday that Jakarta would now work “with a number of countries including Singapore” to fight the fires.

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Indonesia: Hundreds of thousands fall victim to haze illnesses

Rizal Harahap and Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post 7 Oct 15;

The thick haze that has blanketed parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan for months has caused hundreds of thousands of residents to suffer respiratory and other diseases.

Pekanbaru Health Agency head Helda S. Munir said 10,932 people in the provincial capital of Riau, had been treated for acute respiratory infections (ISPA) and other haze-related illnesses, such as skin and eye irritations in the past two months.

“ISPA patients alone amount to 9,636 people. The data was collected from 12 community health centers in the city’s 12 districts,” Helda said.

Meanwhile, the number of ISPA patients in North Penajam Paser regency in East Kalimantan has increased from 1,733 people in July to 2,194 people in August.

The regency’s health agency head Arnold Wayong said the increase in ISPA patients was believed to be due to the haze that has shrouded North Penajam Paser for months.

According to data from the Health Ministry, the number of ISPA patients from June to October in Riau Islands stood at 45,668; in Jambi the figure was 69,734; South Sumatra, 83,276; West Kalimantan, 43,477; South Kalimantan, 29,104; and 29,104 in South Kalimantan.

Arnold said most of the ISPA patients were children aged between 1 and 4. “We have asked community health centers to call on people to wear masks,” he said as quoted by Antara news agency.

While many authorities have stressed the importance of wearing masks to avoid respiratory illnesses, many people are reportedly reluctant to use them.

Many residents, including mothers with babies, in Solok, West Sumatra, were seen not to be wearing masks. “There has been distribution of masks [by the local government], but people don’t want to wear them,” Syahril, a resident, said.

Students in Pekanbaru were also reportedly reluctant to wear masks for long periods, claiming they caused breathing difficulties.

The air pollution has continued to get worse, reaching “dangerous” levels in Sawahlunto, West Sumatra, on Tuesday.

Sawahlunto Environment Agency head Iwan Kartiwan said the air pollution standard index (ISPU) had touched the “dangerous” level as the haze density was recorded at 347 micrograms per cubic meter of air (µg/m3).

“We have reported the data to the city’s health agency and the disaster mitigation agency for them to take measures,” Iwan said

According to the ISPU, a haze density level between 101 and 199 µg/m3 is categorized as “unhealthy”, while between 200 and 300 µg/m3 is “very unhealthy” and over 300 µg/m3 is “dangerous”.

North Sumatra Environment Agency also reported that the air quality had been deteriorating in many areas in the province on Tuesday. “Air pollution in Medan and surrounding areas is the worst because of the haze that continues to blanket North Sumatra,” said agency head Hidayati.

Besides causing illnesses, the haze also disrupted flights in some small airports in North Sumatra, including Aek Godang Airport in Padang Sidempuan regency.

Visibility at the airport amounted to 500 meters at 11 a.m. on Tuesday.

The haze has been blamed on smoke from peat land and forest fires in South Sumatra.

— Syofiardi Bachyul JB contributed to the story from Solok, West Sumatra.

Garuda Remains Upbeat Despite Haze Disruptions
Laila Ramdhini and Rausyan Fikry Jakarta Globe 7 Oct 15;

Jakarta. The chief of Indonesia’s flag carrier Garuda Indonesia remains optimistic that the airline can earn a profit in the third quarter of 2015, despite its recent spate of flight cancellations due thick haze blanketing Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Garuda booked a net income of $29.3 million in this year's January-June period, on the back of increased sales and lower costs. That was a major improvement compared to the $201.3 million loss it recorded in the same period last year.

Garuda president director Arief Wibowo told journalists at a media visit to BeritaSatu Media Holdings in Jakarta that he felt assured the airline's third quarter financial report will be in the black, but declined to provide details.

Still, he admitted that “July, August, September were very tough” months for Garuda, with a large number of flights disrupted by forest fires and the eruption of Mount Raung in East Java.

The company was forced to to cancel 1,870 flights in the three-month period, while its low-cost carrier unit Citilink cancelled 600 due to thick haze.

Airports at Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, and Jambi and Pekanbaru in Riau were among the worst hit by the haze

Arif pointed out that airports at Palangkaraya (Central Kalimantan), Jambi, and Pekanbaru (Riau) ̶̶ where Garuda has substantial operations ̶̶ are among the worst hit by the haze.

“Canceling a flight can result in considerable losses, from catering costs, fees for the cabin crew, burned fuel and wasted flight slots,” said Handayani, Garuda commercial director.

Aviation rivals from neighboring countries such as Malaysia have been better able to cope with the region's haze crisis as their airports are far better equipped compared to their Indonesian counterparts, said Garuda operational director Novianto Herupratomo.

“If only our airports had an instrument landing system, which helps assists landings [in] visibility levels of 800 meters,” he said.

Indonesia needs better aircraft for water-bombing operations
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, Strait Times AsiaOne 7 Oct 15;

Indonesia said it needs aircraft capable of hauling more water and flying farther, to put out forest fires which cause the haze that has been spreading throughout the region.

The country's disaster management agency, BNPB, yesterday said it is open to assistance from neighbours Singapore and Malaysia in acquiring larger water-bombers such as the Russian-made Beriev Be-200 or the CL-245 from Canada.

This came after talks to land those aircraft from the Russians and Canadians stalled in recent weeks.

"If Singapore or Malaysia have better access, they are welcome to help bring such aircraft here because Indonesia needs them," said BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho. "Any other country is also welcome to help."

Dr Sutopo's comments come after forest and land fires raging in Sumatra and Kalimantan intensified over the last few days, producing a thick haze that has since spread beyond Singapore and Malaysia, reaching the skies of Cebu in the Philippines, and Thailand.

The scale of the fires has reached a stage where emergency workers require better equipment, said Dr Sutopo, referring to the two amphibious planes that are purpose-built for fighting fires over sprawling landscapes.

The CL-245, or its newer variant the CL-415, is able to fly with more than 6,000 litres of water, while the the larger Beriev can carry more than twice that amount.

Most helicopters being used in water-bombing operations across Indonesia now can haul about only half a tonne of water, which is rougly equivalent to500 litres.

Haze from forest fires suspected to have been started by people trying to clear land for cultivation of crops like oil palms, using outlawed slash- and-burn techniques, have sent air pollution levels soaring, at times, to hazardous levels.

Singapore was one of the first of Indonesia's neighbours to offer its assistance, which comprised a firefighting team, a C-130 aircraft for cloud seeding and a Chinook helicopter equipped with a water bucket for aerial firefighting.

Malaysia has also offered aircraft to help douse the fires.

Indonesia initially turned down their offers but recently said it welcomes the help and would turn to them when the time arrives.

Dr Sutopo said his government had reached out to the Canadian embassy in Jakarta and also the Russian ambassador to Indonesia for the aircraft, but to no avail.

That was because they have already been deployed for firefighting operations elsewhere, he added.

The Indonesian government has been under pressure at home and abroad to resolve this decades-old crisis, which has affected more than 28 million of its people.

According to government estimates, the forest fires and haze have cost Indonesia between $30 billion and $47.5 billion.

The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) in Palangkaraya - the capital of Central Kalimantan where schools were forced to close for more than three weeks - peaked at almost 1,000 at 9am yesterday, before falling to 331 at 8pm, just under the hazardous level of 350.

South Sumatra and Central Kalimantan have been the two provinces where most of the firefighting and haze mitigation efforts have been focused due to the severity of the conditions there.

Firefighting operations in Ogan Komering Ilir regency, one of the worst-hit areas in South Sumatra, have seen "very slow progress", said BNPB chief Willem Rampangilei yesterday afternoon.

South Sumatra, which saw thousands of hot spots emerge in recent days, now has almost 3,700 troops on the ground fighting fires. Another region of concern was East Kalimantan.

The absence of clouds over Indonesia has restricted cloud-seeding operations, while some helicopters were grounded yesterday because of the low visibility caused by thick haze, said Mr Willem.

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4 individuals, organisations awarded Singapore's highest environmental accolade

Liyana Othman Channel NewsAsia 8 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: On Wednesday (Oct 7), four individuals and organisations received the President's Award for the Environment, given to those who have made significant contributions towards environmental and water sustainability.

One of them is Mrs Kirtida Mekani. She has been an advocate for the environment for the past two decades, serving as the founding executive director of the Singapore Environment Council, and contributing to environmental sustainability at the United World College of South East Asia, through the Mekani Sustainability Fund.

But her proudest achievement to date is the Plant-A-Tree programme, an initiative under NParks' charity, the Garden City Fund. Around 17,000 trees of 200 different species have been planted since its inception in 2007.

"Why trees?" said Mrs Mekani. "Trees are very important to me. Trees give you a lot of lessons in life. They don't discriminate. And by planting trees, you're making an impact, you're supporting everyone. These trees you plan today, day in and day out, they're appreciating. They're giving you oxygen, they're locking carbon dioxide, they're enhancing our environment."

East View Primary School is another winner. Recycling is big in the school. For example, it has green walls that are self-irrigated by rainwater collected from the roof. The water that drips down is then used for various science experiments. All this to develop students to become caring global citizens.

"When you care for your global home, you'll care for your immediate home and your friends as well," said East View Primary School's principal Yao-Lee Seow Foong. "And with our evinronmental science movement that we have adopted, we have taught our children to really care for each other, and also to care for the plants that they look after."

Other environmental champions include Mr Kwek Leng Joo, deputy chairman of City Development Limited and semiconductor firm Systems on Silicon Manufacturing Company.

Already in its 10th year, the award aims to inspire more people to play a part in tackling Singapore's environmental challenges.

Said Mrs Mekani: "We all have to chip in, we all have to come together and make a difference.What we are doing, somebody someday is going to reflect and say, 'hey, they did a good job. They've left a beautiful Singapore for us'."

- CNA/hs

CDL's Kwek Leng Joo among winners of President's Award for the Environment
Lynette Khoo Business Times 7 Oct 15;

CITY Developments Limited (CDL) deputy chairman Kwek Leng Joo is among four winners to be conferred the President's Award for the Environment (PAE) 2015, Singapore's highest environmental accolade.

Organised by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, this annual award recognises individuals, educational institutions and organisations for their outstanding contributions towards environmental and water resource sustainability in Singapore.

This year marks the award's 10th anniversary since 2006 and the first time where there are four winners instead of three.

The other winners are Kirtida Mekani, a member of a registered charity Garden City Fund (GCF); East View Primary School; and Systems on Silicon Manufacturing Company.

They received the award from President Tony Tan Keng Yam at a ceremony held at the Istana on Wednesday.

Calling Mr Kwek "a visionary and strong advocate for the environment", CDL said that Mr Kwek has championed sustainable practices to be adopted by businesses and spearheaded CDL's sustainability strategy since 1995.

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Father and son jailed for illegally importing sugar gliders, spotted doves

The duo tried to import two spotted doves and three sugar gliders into Singapore on Aug 25, but were stopped by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority at Tuas Checkpoint.
Channel NewsAsia 8 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: A father-and-son pair was sentenced to three and two months’ jail respectively for smuggling animals into Singapore on Wednesday (Oct 7).

Toh Ng Siow, 44, and his son Toh Han Rong, 20, also received the same sentence for the charge of animal cruelty as the illegally-imported animals were subjected to unnecessary suffering or pain. Both sentences will run concurrently.

The two Singaporeans had attempted to import two spotted doves and three sugar gliders into Singapore on Aug 25. However, their efforts were in vain after the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) detected the animals in a Singapore-registered car at Tuas Checkpoint.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) was notified and according to investigations, it was revealed that the animals - sourced from Johor, Malaysia - were imported into Singapore without the relevant import licences.

The smuggled animals were also transported in a manner that subjected them to unnecessary suffering or pain, AVA said. Food and water were not provided to the animals during the transportation.

Said AVA in a press release: “The spotted doves were kept in compressed bird cages that were hidden precariously outside the vehicle (in the gap between the rear bumper and the car boot). Placed in close proximity to the road, the journey would have been hot, noisy and bumpy for the spotted doves. Such conditions of travel would have caused significant stress to the spotted doves.”

The sugar gliders were concealed in a small black pouch, and placed behind the glove compartment that was enclosed, small and covered, reducing ventilation for the sugar gliders. The smuggled animals were seized and sent to the Singapore Zoo and the Jurong Bird Park.

The elder Toh will start his three-month jail term on Wednesday, while Han Rong’s jail term starts on Dec 14. He is currently out on S$8,000 bail and his passport has been impounded.

AVA also reiterated to members of the public that under the Animals and Birds Act, it is an offence to import or tranship any animal or bird without written authorisation. Those found committing this offence are liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding S$10,000 or to imprisonment for a term of up to 12 months, or both.

- CNA/xk

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SGX-listed firms expected to publish sustainability report from FY2017

This will help meet growing demand from investors for more information on sustainable aspects of businesses, says Singapore Exchange.
Nicole Tan Channel NewsAsia 7 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: Companies listed on Singapore Exchange (SGX) will be expected to publish sustainability reports on a comply-or-explain basis starting from Financial Year 2017. SGX said this will help meet growing demand from investors for more information on sustainable aspects of businesses.

Ahead of the implementation, SGX has been gathering feedback from investors and companies on how to best execute the new requirements.

Singapore's first naturally-cooled mall, Star Vista, is among a rising number of green buildings in the city-state. Amid a growing desire for sustainable business practices, SGX is challenging firms to articulate and disclose what they have done in this area.

SGX special advisor Yeo Lian Sim, said: “As an exchange, we do not tell companies how they run their businesses, but we do tell companies that they should produce reports and make disclosures in a timely manner to investors who have invested in their equity.

“The reporting is of what the company already does. So we have seen for instance from our focus groups, that companies - large and small - already manage their risks, and they try and realise opportunities. So, what they have not yet done is to articulate these risks in terms of environmental and social and governance metrics."

In 2011, SGX released a set of guidelines for sustainability reporting for listed firms. Currently, the move is voluntary - but already, 160 out of 537 of mainboard-listed companies published these reports in 2013.

Ms Yeo added: "Investors clearly want it, they are in favour of the increased understanding it gives them. For the company, making these sustainability reports will be some increased effort for sure, but there are also benefits. These better-informed companies have investors that are likely to be more lasting, and that definitely should translate into value for the company."

Industry watchers have said it is a step in the right direction in encouraging sustainable business practices.

EY Climate Change and Sustainability Services partner K Sadashiv, said: "Those who are already doing, or taking steps that are of a sustainable nature that have not been reporting, will begin to showcase what exactly they are doing to make it clearer.

“And those who have not embarked on doing anything at all, would because of this start thinking of doing something. So, you will find a mixed bag of companies, those who have already done something will start talking about it. Those who have not yet done anything, will start doing it, which will lead to reporting. Unless they have carried out some activities, they will have nothing to report on."

Separately, the Association of Banks in Singapore is set to announce new guidelines on responsible financing later this week.

- CNA/xk

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