Best of our wild blogs: 3 Dec 15

10 beautiful organisms in MacRitchie
Love our MacRitchie Forest

Jokowi leaves COP21 talks as questions remain over Indonesia haze reforms
Mongabay Environmental News

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Problem at Shell Bukom plant

Shell says declares force majeure on base chemicals from Singapore plant
Reuters 2 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE Dec 2 (Reuters) - Royal Dutch Shell has declared force majeure on production of base chemical products at its Bukom plant in Singapore, effective Dec. 1, due to a technical issue, a spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

The move came after a technical problem at Bukom's ethylene cracker complex, she said.

The company was seeking "to resume normal operations and supply as soon as possible, so as to minimise the potential impact on our customers," the spokeswoman added. (Reporting By Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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‘Make volunteering more social’ to encourage others to give

AMANDA LEE Today Online 3 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE — In future, volunteering or making a donation could be more social — one could nominate someone else to take on the task, after doing so themselves, akin to the ice-bucket challenge that went viral last year.

This was a suggestion by a participant of the ongoing SGfuture engagement series, at a session held yesterday.

Sixty-two participants from various sectors, such as private companies and non-profit organisations, were invited to discuss about the “Future of Giving”. They were divided into nine groups to discuss how businesses can help make Singapore a giving nation and how technology can be used to build a giving community.

Speaking to TODAY, co-founder of social content platform “The Shiok Collective” Andrew Tan, 29, said his group suggested that the movement requires people to nominate another person on social media, such as Facebook, after volunteering at an event or donating to a charity.

“Inspired by the ice-bucket challenge, (we) want to see Singaporeans encouraging people to give,” he said.

Mr Tan added that a one-stop app for news about giving, and giving users a platform to research non-government organisations, could be created to build a giving community.

Yesterday’s session was also part of the inaugural week-long #GivingWeek which started on Tuesday and ends on Monday. So far, 150 companies have joined #GivingWeek, organised by the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre. It will be held annually from this year, after the success of #GivingTuesdaySG.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, who is leading the SGfuture engagement series with Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing, said the series of SGfuture engagement sessions is to bring “like-minded” people together to talk about the kind of future Singaporeans want. She added it would be an “extensive engagement” series and cover “all areas”, such as sustainable development and caring for Singapore.

One of the #GivingWeek participants is support service company Accela, which is encouraging the public to donate an amount to a charitable cause in exchange for a cup of coffee by its in-house barista. AMANDA LEE

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More mosquitoes, warmer weather call for vigilance against dengue: NEA

The National Environment Agency says it has observed an increase in the Aedes mosquite population, and warmer year-end weather due to the El Nino phenomenon.
Channel NewsAsia 2 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE: The National Environment Agency (NEA) is urging members of the public and stakeholders to stay vigilant and continue to work as a community to prevent dengue cases from rising.

In a media release issued on Wednesday (Dec 2), NEA said it is observing an increase in the Aedes mosquito population and slightly warmer weather than is usually expected during the year-end period due to the El Nino phenomenon.

"The warmer conditions support faster breeding and maturation cycles of the Aedes mosquitoes, and shorten incubation periods for the dengue virus," the agency said.

It added that the proportion of dengue cases due to the DENV-2 serotype has increased and now accounts for half of all dengue cases in Singapore. Since March 2013, it had been the DENV-1 serotype that had accounted for most of the dengue cases.

"This change in the main circulating dengue virus may be an early indicator of a future dengue outbreak unless measures are taken to suppress the Aedes mosquito population," said NEA.

The agency said that as of Oct 31, 8,520 dengue cases have been reported, which is about 48.6 per cent lower than last year's figure of 16,569 for the same period. However, the current Aedes mosquito population is double that seen during the same period in 2014.

NEA added: "As a large proportion of our population is still susceptible to dengue infection due to the lack of immunity, an increase in the Aedes mosquito population and slightly warmer-than-usual weather could lead to a surge in dengue cases unless measures are taken to suppress the Aedes mosquito population.

"All stakeholders need to ensure that their premises are free of stagnant water which could lead to mosquitoes breeding and step up efforts to stem dengue transmission."

NEA said it will continue to closely monitor areas with active transmission of dengue and the transmission patterns, and work with the Inter-Agency Dengue Task Force, as well as Town Councils, to rid public areas and housing estates of potential mosquito breeding habitats.

It also advised the public and stakeholders to take appropriate precautions to prevent mosquito breeding by practising the five-step "Do the Mozzie Wipeout" and regular use of repellents.

- CNA/hs

More dengue-carrying mosquitoes than usual in October
Today Online 2 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE — While the end of the year typically signals a relief from the Aedes mosquitoes that carry dengue, the authorities have cautioned that the Aedes mosquito population in October was double what was seen in the same month last year.

“We are seeing an increase in the Aedes mosquito population, and are also experiencing a slightly warmer-than-usual year-end weather due to the El Nino phenomenon,” the National Environment Agency (NEA) said in a statement today (Dec 2).

Warmer weather supports faster breeding and maturation cycles of the Aedes mosquitoes and shortens the incubation period of the dengue virus. The agency urged the public to stay vigilant to prevent dengue cases from rising.

While the weekly number of dengue cases was on a downward trend this time last year, there were 284 cases last week, up from 254 the previous week and the second consecutive increase.

The NEA also noted there has been a 48.6 per cent dip in dengue cases reported in the first ten months of this year from the same period last year — 8,520 cases this year compared with 16,569 last year. However, the proportion of dengue cases caused by the DENV-2 serotype has increased.

The DENV-2 serotype now accounts for half of all dengue cases in Singapore. “As a large proportion of our population is still susceptible to dengue infection due to the lack of immunity, an increase in the Aedes mosquito population and slightly warmer-than-usual weather could lead to a surge in dengue cases unless measures are taken to suppress the Aedes mosquito population,” the NEA said.

More Aedes mosquitoes because of warm weather
Samantha Boh, The Straits Times AsiaOne 4 Dec 15;

The Aedes mosquito population has grown, coinciding with the warmer-than-usual year-end wea-ther, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) yesterday .

The proportion of dengue cases due to a variant virus - the DENV-2 serotype - has also risen and they now account for half of all cases, an increase from about 44 per cent in mid-May.

This could mark an impending shift from the DENV-1 serotype that had accounted for most of the dengue cases since March 2013.

NEA said the change in the main circulating virus may be an early indicator of a future dengue outbreak. The last serotype switch, from DENV-2 to DENV-1 in March 2013, resulted in a historic high of 22,170 cases that year.

As of Oct 31, 8,520 cases have been reported. This is about 48.6 per cent lower than the 16,569 in the same period last year. However, the Aedes mosquito population in October was double that in October last year.

NEA noted that warmer conditions caused by El Nino could result in shorter breeding periods for Aedes mosquitoes and shorter incubation times for the dengue virus.

"As a large proportion of our population is still susceptible to dengue infection due to the lack of immunity, an increase in the Aedes mosquito population and slightly warmer-than-usual weather could lead to a surge in dengue cases unless measures are taken to suppress the Aedes mosquito population," NEA said. It urged people to take measures to prevent mosquito breeding in and around their homes.

As of Tuesday, there were 48 dengue clusters.There were 284 cases of dengue in the week ended Nov 28, a slight increase from the 254 cases the week before.

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Indonesia committed to manage forests and energy: President

Antara 2 Dec 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesia is committed to managing forests sustainably and accelerating the use of renewable energy, President Joko Widodo stated.

"The use of renewable energy is expected to reach 23 percent by 2025, and electrification in rural areas will reach 100 percent in 2019," President Widodo stated at a press conference here on Wednesday.

Indonesias commitment was conveyed by President Widodo during a meeting of the heads of state and government at the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP-21).

The commitment was presented along with 17 other countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Congo, Ethiopia, France, Gabon, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Liberia, Mexico, Norway, Peru, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The promise was delivered by the president as the lives of one billion people are directly related to the forests, while six billion are indirectly affected by forest-related issues.

With regard to the use of renewable energy, President Jokowi stressed Indonesias commitment to accelerate the use of renewable energy.

"Indonesia has a clear policy direction on the use of renewable energy," he noted.

The president urged developed countries to reduce emissions and increase international cooperation as well as to contribute on climate change issues.

On the sidelines of the conference, President Widodo held bilateral meetings with 13 heads of state and government from the Netherlands, Norway, Serbia, Peru, Vietnam, Iran, the Philippines, Colombia, Papua New Guinea, Japan, Madagascar, and Mexico.

During the meeting, the president held a discussion on concrete efforts to strengthen bilateral cooperation with friendly countries.

Around 150 heads of state and government were present to offer political support for an agreement to cope with global warming.

President Widodo and First Lady Iriana arrived at the Halim Perdanakusuma Airport, Jakarta, at 10 a.m. local time after visiting Paris, France, to attend the COP-21 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

President Widodo had earlier expressed hope that the climate meeting in Paris would end with an ambitious agreement to make the earth a better place and to improve the peoples welfare.

"Reaching an agreement in Paris is a must. I hope we are all part of a solution to make the earth a more convenient place for our children and grandchildren," Jokowi told 147 heads of state and government during the Leaders Event here on Monday.

He said the Paris climate agreement should reflect balance and justice in line with the nations priorities and capability to ensure sustainable development though not affecting the growth of developing countries.

"In order to arrive at an agreement in Paris, all countries, especially advanced nations, should contribute to mitigation and adaptation efforts," he remarked.

The contribution could be through the mobilization of US$100 billion financing until 2020 to be increased in the coming years along with the transfer of environmentally friendly technology and capacity expansion.

As one of the countries having the largest forests that serve as the lungs of the world, Indonesia chose to be part of a solution, the president affirmed.

"I am here to lend strong political support for the success of the COP-21," he added.(*)

RI looks to developed world for help
Ina Parlina and M. Taufiqurrahman, The Jakarta Post 2 Dec 15;

Shortly before leaving the COP21 climate talks in Paris to return home, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo expressed optimism that developed countries would do more to help the developing world cut carbon emissions.

“From what I saw in the bilateral talks, a good number of countries will be willing to help us [address climate change issues], for example [by improving cooperation in] energy, peatland restoration and forest conservation. I believe there is reason to be optimistic,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

The assistance of developed nations, Jokowi said, would be crucial for developing nations to balance economic growth and action on climate change.

At past conferences in Copenhagen in 2009 and in Cancun, Mexico, in 2010, developed countries committed to raising US$100 billion per year by 2020 to help developing countries deal with climate change.

“We want to see development take environmental concerns into account. We must ensure high economic growth does not come at the expense of environmental preservation. We must find a balance between the two,” Jokowi said.

He added, however, that a planned new peatland management body his delegation had hinted would be unveiled in Paris would have to wait another week.

The President also declined to say who would chair the body.

Earlier on Tuesday, during a panel discussion attended by the Prince of Wales, Alliance of Indigenous People (AMAN) chairman Abdon Nababan expressed his disappointment at Jokowi’s refusal to make a quick decision on the peatland management body.

In his speech to the opening of COP21 on Monday, Jokowi vowed that he would ensure his administration would pay more attention to the environment at the same time as ensuring economic growth, saying that Indonesia, which contains one of the largest expanses of forest in the world and is deemed part of the “lungs of the world”, had resolved to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.

He also renewed Indonesia’s commitment, laid out in its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), to reduce its carbon emissions by 29 percent by 2030, or 41 percent with international support.

One of the government’s most important recent measures, he said, was cutting fuel subsidies and reallocating the funds to infrastructure development.

During COP21, the Indonesian delegation is looking to seal an agreement that countries will be allowed to decide their own climate initiatives according to their capabilities.

Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi said Indonesia would push for the principle of common but differentiated responsibility and respective capabilities.

The principle, first agreed in 1992, recognizes that countries at different stages of development have different obligations in dealing with climate change.

“Indonesia’s stance, which is translated into our INDC of 29 percent or 41 percent, came after weighing three considerations, namely Indonesia’s strategic position as the home of a great swathe of forests, its geography, which makes it vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and the consideration that Indonesia [as a developing country] needs room for economic development,” Retno said.

Meanwhile, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that given the recognized dangers of fossil fuels, hopes for future prosperity in the developing world now rested on bold initiatives.

Jokowi optimistic about developed nations` support to handle environmental issues
Antara 2 Dec 15;

Paris (ANTARA News) - President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) is convinced that developed nations will assist Indonesia in reducing global warming and carbon emissions following the 21st Conference of Parties (COP-21) in Paris.

"Judging by the results of our bilateral meetings, many countries will help us handle environmental problems through renewable energy, peatland restoration and forest conservation. I am optimistic (about the assistance)," the President said shortly before returning to Jakarta on Tuesday.

He said Indonesias participation in the COP-21 is to lend strong political support to the success of the UN climate change conference.

"The strong political support means that we want to implement our development programs by always complying with the concept of environmental conservation," he said.

Therefore, he added, the government will not pursue higher economic growth at the expense of the environment.

"Both of them must continue on an equal footing," he said.

The President said a plan to set up a peat ecosystem restoration body will be realized next week.

As an island state, Indonesia is among the countries most affected by the impact of climate change. To this end, Indonesia has prepared documents and plans to unveil a special mission during the climate change conference.

"We will continue to urge the developed nations to take the lead and assist developing countries in overcoming global warming, such as undertaking efforts to reduce carbon emissions through technology transfer," spokesman for the Foreign Ministry Arrmanatha Nasir remarked.

Indonesia is committed to reducing 29 percent of its emissions in 2030 through its own endeavors, and by 41 percent through international assistance. It has also reduced its emissions by adopting measures in the energy sector. It has shifted from using fuel oil in the manufacturing sector and has increased the use of renewable energy by 23 percent in 2015. (*)

Jokowi in hot seat to halt rapid deforestation
David Fogarty, Straits Times AsiaOne 3 Dec 15;

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has come under pressure at major United Nations-led climate talks in Paris to do more to halt rapid deforestation and step up efforts to tackle annual forest and land fires.

His closely-watched address on Monday to more than 150 other world leaders and thousands of delegates was a disappointment to many non-governmental organisastions (NGOs). In his speech, he announced no new measures to preserve Indonesia's dwindling rainforests, which are being cleared mainly to expand agriculture, mining and infrastructure.

It was hoped that he would announce a detailed presidential instruction, currently under negotiation by his government, that would further protect and restore Indonesia's badly degraded carbon-rich peatlands.

Mr Joko's speech was "no worse but certainly no better than most of the others", said Mr Doug Boucher, director of Tropical Forests & Climate Initiative, of the Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists think-tank.

"It didn't have a really major announcement and it didn't have a recognition that the world was expecting Indonesia to do more," he told The Straits Times yesterday on the sidelines of the climate conference, where forests are seen as a key way to put the brakes on climate change.

There is still hope that Mr Jokowi will announce a more detailed set of rules that includes plans to re-wet large areas of dried-out peat and to block up an estimated 2 million km of canals that companies and illegal loggers have built to drain peatlands.

In his speech, Mr Joko told delegates his government has moved to restore peat by establishing a peat restoration agency. This had previously been announced.

"His landmark pledge to protect and restore peatlands, if given the force of law, could do much towards cutting Indonesia's emissions," Greenpeace Indonesia forest campaigner Teguh Surya said in a statement.

"But by failing to announce any new protection for forests, he is allowing the juggernaut of deforestation to roll on, guaranteeing future bouts of devastating forest fires."

Since 1990, Indonesia has lost 31 million ha of rainforest, an area nearly the size of Germany.

Indonesia has the world's third-largest extent of tropical rainforests and the majority of tropical peatlands. When cleared and drained, the peatland releases large amounts of planet-warming greenhouse gases over decades. Draining them also primes them for intense fires that can burn for weeks, releasing a thick choking haze.

This year's fires propelled Indonesia to become the biggest carbon polluter after the United States and China.

NGOs also point to Indonesia's perennial problem of poor law enforcement.

"If Indonesia's emission reduction targets are to be seen as credible, the Jokowi administration must step up law enforcement," Rainforest Foundation Norway's head of South-east Asia and Oceania Division Anja Lillegraven said in an e-mail yesterday.

Indonesia has pledged to reduce emissions by 29 per cent from business-as-usual levels by 2030.

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Indonesia's Billionaires Are Feeling the Backlash For the Haze

Neerja Jetley Forbes 2 Dec 15;

Every fall in the tropical rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra huge fires are set to clear land for timber operations and to plant palm oil trees. This sets off giant plumes of smoke that engulf the islands as well as nearby Singapore and much of Malaysia. And every fall the backlash against the recurring environmental disaster grows. This year’s thick haze was perhaps the worst since 1997, and the backlash included a boycott of an Indonesian company.

In October, at the height of the fire season, Singapore’s grocery-store chains NTUC FairPrice, Sheng Siong and Prime Supermarket removed all Asia Pulp & Paper products from their shelves. And the Dairy Farm Group–which operates chains such as Guardian, 7-Eleven, Cold Storage and Giant–stopped restocking APP products, which include everything from tissues to notebooks. APP is part of Sinar Mas Group, led by Eka Tjipta Widjaja (No. 4).

The moves came after the Singapore Environment Council suspended its Green Label certificate for APP paper products, pending an investigation of APP’s alleged role in the fires. APP says it has a zero-burning policy for all suppliers and that 90% of the fires were occurring outside of its concessions. Satellite imagery indicated otherwise, and the Singapore government served notice on APP. The company responded that it had “nothing to hide” and that “no supplier had been proven to be involved.” It invited officials to visit its operations.

Widjaja has come under attack because of Sinar Mas’ huge palm oil plantations. The palm oil criticism has put several other Indonesian billionaires on the defensive, such as Sukanto Tanoto (No. 34) of Asian Agri; Martua Sitorus (No. 25), cofounder of the world’s largest palm oil trading company, Wilmar International ; and Ciliandra Fangiono (No. 21), who heads First Resources. All deny any involvement with the fires.

For now the haze has dissipated with the return of the rainy season, but next year some of the country’s billionaires will find themselves targeted again if the fires create another catastrophe. –Neerja Pawha Jetley

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Malaysia: Air pollution knows no boundaries

A. BAKAR WEBB New Straits Times 2 Dec 15;

The periodical occurrences of forest and peat fires from the plantation companies and farmers’ land-clearing agricultural practices in Indonesia have caused massive haze problems. Winds blow the choking smoke from the forest and peat fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan across national borders into Malaysia, Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries. It is a known fact that the choking haze may cause adverse effects to human health, economy and social costs, such as lost productivity and missed educational and other human development opportunities.

Indeed, the haze problem is a classic example of a transboundary air pollution case. Article 1 of the 1979 Convention of Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution defines transboundary air pollution as “where the physical origin of the air pollution is situated wholly or in part within the area under the national jurisdiction of one State and which has adverse effects in the area under the jurisdiction of another State at such a distance that it is not generally possible to distinguish the contribution of individual emission sources or groups of sources”.

It is important to note that transboundary air pollution is governed by both customary international law and treaty regime. True, states have, in accordance with the Principle 21 of the Stockholm Declaration 1972, the “sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental policies”.

However, Principle 21 also specifically provides that, “states should have the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other states or to areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction”. The issue of transboundary air pollution is also addressed by Principle 2 of 1992 Rio Declaration.

Given that the transboundary nature of the environmental impact of the haze problem goes beyond the territory of the source state, affected states can bring the source state to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Indeed, one of the earliest legal cases involving transboundary air pollution is the Trial Smelter case which was brought to arbitration in 1935 and finally settled in 1941. In this case, fumes from a privately owned smelter at Trial, British Columbia, Canada, caused damage to orchards and crops across the border in the state of Washington, United States, during the 1920s and 1930s. To solve the problem, Canada and the US submitted their dispute to the ICJ through arbitration. The tribunal concluded that Canada was responsible for the damage caused by the smelter and granted compensation to the US. The Trial Smelter tribunal declared that: “No state has a right to use its territory in such a manner as to cause injury … to the territory of another or the persons or property therein …”
Arguably, if continuous, significantly harmful transboundary pollution must therefore be deemed inexcusable, it would be fair to assume that Indonesia is obliged to terminate its transnationally injurious conduct to stop infringing its neighbouring states’ rights.

However, a source state with a legal system which provides only a limited range of participation rights, poor law enforcement and legal remedies that are often biased, would not be effective in controlling environmental harm. Anyone who has followed the haze problem can be in no doubt that Indonesia’s current environmental laws are not capable and have limited success in addressing the forest and peat fires systematically.

Many of us would like Malaysia to seek resolution before the ICJ to address responsibility and liability for damage caused by the transboundary air pollution. However, some legal scholars concluded that international law represents an inadequate tool for the resolution of today’s long-range transboundary air pollution.

This is because, firstly, a state must have standing, and be able to demonstrate that it is an “injured state” i.e. suffered substantial harm. Secondly, it should be noted that only states may apply to and appear before the ICJ. Thirdly, both the state of origin and the affected state must consent to the jurisdiction of the ICJ before the case may be heard. Lastly, it has been argued that some countries are substantially more powerful than others. Suing another country may expose the plaintiff country to retaliatory actions.

Against this backdrop, resorting to international proceedings will rarely be the best way of settling claims of transboundary air pollution or environmental injury.

The inherent weaknesses of the law lead to the suggestion of other possible answers to curb the transboundary air pollution problem.

Arguably, what we as developing countries are lacking is on the issue of environmental justice. It has been argued that environmental justice entails social empowerment as well as the expansion of freedom from the inequities that often result from traditional systems of resource exploitation.

Studies conducted by some non-governmental organisations based in the United Kingdom found that there are a number of environmental injustices which unfortunately are common among developing countries:

A FAILURE of governments and law to protect people across society from harm;
A TENDENCY of certain parts of the private sector to seek to maximise profits by externalising costs, with implications for people and the environment;
A LACK of explicit discussion of the distributional impacts of policies and actions;
INADEQUACIES in the tools and procedures for implementing environmental justice; and
INEQUALITIES in access to these tools and procedures.

The sad truth is that laws and treaties will not be enough to solve the haze problem. Environmental justice is a powerful way of achieving environmental equity. The future we want is not just a greener landscape with neat rows of palm oil and rubber trees and economic development, but it is also about a more equitable, fair, just and healthy environment for all living beings, regardless of their status.

The writer is a Lutong, Sarawak-based lawyer, whose specialty is environmental law

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Record rains flood south Indian state; more to come

The heaviest rainfall in over a century caused massive flooding across the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, driving thousands from their homes, shutting auto factories and paralysing the airport in the state capital Chennai.
Channel NewsAsia 2 Dec 15;

CHENNAI, India: The heaviest rainfall in over a century caused massive flooding across the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, driving thousands from their homes, shutting auto factories and paralysing the airport in the state capital Chennai.

The national weather office predicted three more days of torrential downpours in the southern state of nearly 70 million people.

"There will be no respite," Laxman Singh Rathore of the India Meteorological Department told reporters on Wednesday.

No deaths were reported in the latest floods, but since heavy rain set in on Nov. 12 there have been 150 deaths in Tamil Nadu. More than 200 people were critically injured over the past 24 hours in Chennai, a senior home ministry official said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has blamed climate change for the deluge, injecting urgency into the debate at global climate talks in Paris and highlighting the vulnerability of tropical nations like India to extreme weather.

Physician Rupam Choudhury said he and a friend had to wade through neck-deep water to reach high ground from where an army truck brought him to his hospital in the heart of Chennai.

Dr. A. Ramachandran's Diabetes Hospital was running out of oxygen for patients and diesel for power generators, he said by telephone. Most mobile networks were down in the city and food supplies running low.

Chennai, India's fourth most populous city, is a major auto manufacturing and IT outsourcing hub. Ford Motor, Daimler, Hyundai and Nissan told workers to stay at home, while U.S. listed outsourcing firm Cognizant shut its 11 local offices.


Airlines suspended flights into Chennai's flooded international airport, causing wider disruption to air travel. Authorities later decided to close the airport until Dec. 6.

"The biggest challenge is to find a way to clear the inundated airport and main roads," said Anurag Gupta at the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) in New Delhi.

Passengers stranded at the airport said they did not know when they would be able to fly, or where to stay if they could not. "All of us here are getting agitated because none of the hotels nearby are vacant. Where do we go?" traveller Vinit Jain told Reuters Television.

In a limited initial relief effort, four helicopters dropped food, water and medicines, while fishing boats commandeered by the military were collecting stranded residents. A major relief effort by 5,000 soldiers was promised within 24 hours.

"The entire state machinery has collapsed. Most officials are forced to sit at home. It's a very frustrating situation," said a home ministry official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the record.

Weather experts say the seasonal northeast monsoon was responsible for the flooding in the city of six million, but was amplified this year by El Nino, a warming of the eastern Pacific Ocean that can have far-reaching climate effects.

Tamil Nadu is a major rice and sugar cane producing region, and a senior member of a local farmers' association said floods had washed out up to four agricultural districts.


Modi has ordered rescue teams and paramilitary forces to launch an extensive relief and rescue operation in Chennai.

He had blamed climate change for the heavy rains that hit the southern state last month, tweeting before attending the UN climate summit in Paris this week: "We are feeling the impact of fast-paced climate change."

Hundreds of divers and army rescue teams entered inundated homes, taking the injured to hospital. Authorities said more than a million people were affected by the flooding, with some residents bemoaning the slow response of the relief teams.

Social media networks carried many appeals for help, while others offered assistance. Siddarth, a popular Tamil film actor who goes by one name, was coordinating a relief effort on Twitter.

"The police want to help but there are no boats. We are trying not to panic," said Ramana Goda, who took refuge at a police station after fleeing his home with his family overnight.

(Additional reporting by Rupam Jain Nair, Krishna N. Das, Frank Jack Daniel, Nidhi Verma,Manoj Kumar and Mayank Bhardwaj in New Delhi; Sumeet Chatterjee and Clara Ferreira Marques in Mumbai; Writing by Krista Mahr and Douglas Busvine; Editing by Miral Fahmy, Nick Macfie and Mike Collett-White)

- Reuters

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Coral bleaching in Hawaii -- Hopefully, the damage is over

Lower sea temperatures could bring positive conditions for stressed coral
Bret YagerWest Hawaii Today 2 Dec 15;

KAILUA-KONA — Hopefully, the damage is over.

Record warm ocean temperatures around Hawaii and an El Nino that closely rivals with the record 1997-98 event have caused unprecedented bleaching of the state’s reefs. However, sea temperatures appear to be returning to normal, bringing hope to scientists that the worst may be over.

Ruth Gates, a research professor with the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, said things are looking better under the water, but scientists will be keeping a close eye on the reefs in the coming months.

“Many of the bleached corals in Kaneohe Bay are now showing signs of recovery — that is, their color is returning to normal darker brown rather than very pale brown or white that was the state of play in the middle of the bleaching event in September,” Gates said. “The immediate threat to corals associated with higher than normal sea water temperatures has receded. The longer term impact of the bleaching event remain to be seen, sometimes bleached corals recover but they fail to reproduce the following year. This is not good.”

Ruth said the HIMB will be monitoring bleached corals for at least the next year.

A massive stretch of warm water off the leeward coast drove temperatures to a high of 87 degrees off of Kawaihae in mid-September, and jacked sea temperatures about 5 degrees above normal in peak August and September, according to the National Weather Service. That helped to spread coral bleaching across an estimated 50 percent of our reefs. The water off Kawaihae has since cooled to 82 degrees.

While things may be cooling down, the body of warm water off West Hawaii is still 2 to 3 degrees above normal, said Kevin Kodama, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Honolulu. El Nino could keep the ocean’s heat content slightly above normal through the winter, Kodama said.

Beyond the island shores, the sea temperatures associated with El Nino are now very close to the 1997-98 event in the Central Pacific, and exceeds that event west of here, said Axel Timmermann, an oceanographer with the International Pacific Research Center.

“The current event is shifted more to the west compared to the 1997 event, so it is a little bit complicated,” Timmermann said. “What matters for the large-scale global impacts are the temperatures in the Central Pacific, and there we are currently really very close to the recorded October values in the 1997 event.”

On land, El Nino is expected to dry out the Big Island and even cause drought, especially in leeward areas where the winter tends to be the dry season anyway. Fire personnel also expect the dry weather ahead to raise fire danger because of a massive fuel load created when vegetation flourished during heavy rainfall this summer.

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Australia: Sea grass a potential solution in climate fight

Peter Hannam, Environment Editor, The Sydney Morning Herald 3 Dec 15;

How to make sea grass sexy?

That's the problem Carlos Duarte has been been trying to solve since at least 2009, when he and fellow marine researchers came up with the term "blue carbon" to describe the surprisingly large role the world's sea grasses, mangroves and salt bushes might play in tackling climate change.

"One hectare of healthy sea grass has the capacity of holding 15 times the carbon of one hectare of Amazonian rainforest," Professor Duarte, a marine ecologist at Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, said. "Their role as a carbon sink has been neglected."

While mangrove and salt bushes can play key roles in protecting fragile coastlines from wave damage and promote biodiversity, it's the humble sea grass that provides the largest potential to store more carbon from the atmosphere.

"Firstly there are no forest fires in the water," Professor Duarte, who is also an adjunct professor at the University of WA, said. That compares with the hundred-year cycle - or less for Australia - between blazes that destroy many woodlands and release carbon back to the skies.

Secondly, if one plants three trees, in 20 years only one may survive, he said. By contrast, since sea grass clones, billions can grow over a similar period. This grass would be drawing down carbon and even raise sediment levels by as much as 5mm a year or faster than the rising sea-levels, he said.

Australian role

The value of coastal wetlands is gaining recognition in Australian government circles. Environment Minister Greg Hunt chaired an event at the Paris climate summit on Wednesday, outlining plans to protect the resource and quantify its carbon potential.

"We now need to find out how much blue carbon can be stored by these ecosystems and how this can contribute to emissions reductions," Mr Hunt said.

New research based at the University of Melbourne and funded by the federal government "will also aim to explore how coastal management activities impact on carbon emissions and identify high priority areas for restoration and conservation," he said.

The study will measure the existing carbon store, estimated now at about 2.5 billion tonnes of carbon, with the potential of using money from the $2.55 billion Emissions Reduction Fund to extend the resource "if accounting issues are resolved", he said.

Lessons learned will be shared with nations such as Indonesia, which has the largest share of the world's mangrove forests.

Justine Bell, a law lecturer in the University of Queensland attending the Paris talks as an observer, welcomed the focus on the coastal fringe, especially mangroves.

"People see them as eyesores that prevent them from accessing the coast," Dr Bell said. "They are absolutely critical" by biodiversity and coastal protection, she said.

Professor Duarte said the hosts of the Paris talks had shown an interest in working out how to include blue carbon in the climate agreement being thrashed out at the summit.

"They are looking for the best investments for small island states," he said, adding that France - as the world's biggest maritime state with its far-flung island colonies - may also have an interest of its own in the potential for blue carbon.

Fairfax Media is a partner of the United Nations Foundation

Australian research to unlock 'blue carbon'
AAP 9News 2 Dec 15;

The federal government is set to unveil new research into unlocking "blue carbon" from coastal areas, to offset carbon emissions, at major climate talks in Paris.

The research, to be undertaken by the National Environment Science Program, is part of Australia's aim to become one of the first countries to include blue carbon in its emissions inventory.

The government is also working on including marine carbon incentives as part of the $A2.55 billion emissions reduction fund, which pays Australian organisations to curb carbon pollution.

The research, which will be funded out of the NESP's $A23.9 million six-year funding, builds on previous work done by the CSIRO.

The project will be revealed at an Australian-led roundtable on day three of the United Nations climate change conference on Wednesday.

Research has already demonstrated that coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, seagrass beds and salt marshes can be much more effective than forests at sequestering carbon, the government said.

© AAP 2015

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Cove director's new doc warns of impending ecological catastrophe

Johnny Langenheim: Racing Extinction shows humans are driving earth’s sixth great extinction; coral reefs could be the first global ecosystem to disappear
Johnny Langenheim The Guardian 2 Dec 15;

In early 2014, a story made headlines around the world. At a factory in Wenxhou, southeast China owned by a Mr Li, whale sharks were being slaughtered in their hundreds, their various constituent parts distributed for food, medicine and cosmetics not just in China, but in the west too.

Footage of an undercover sting in the factory is among the most viscerally shocking sequences in Racing Extinction, which airs tonight on the Discovery Channel in the UK. The new documentary by Louis Psihoyos, director of The Cove, is based on the premise that we humans are driving earth’s sixth great extinction event – the first time that such a happening has been caused by a species.

Ocean advocate and Emmy winning photographer and cinematographer Shawn Heinrichs has been reporting from the frontline of the trade in sharks and rays for many years now and was a core member of the Racing Extinction crew. He and his colleague, photojournalist Paul Hilton were key to gaining access to Hong Kong and Mainland China’s notorious trade in endangered and protected species.

“Louis realized he had to go to the heart of the trade and that meant going to China,” Heinrich explains. “At the Li facility, we posed as western buyers opening up new markets in the USA.”

Li is captured on camera admitting to smuggling whale sharks out of China, in contravention of a CITES ban. “Those whale sharks were coming from the South China Sea around the disputed islands, others from Indonesia and the Philippines,” he says. In other words a significant proportion were and probably still are, being caught in the Coral Triangle.

Racing Extinction makes for sobering viewing. We are currently losing species at 1000 times the background rate – that is, the natural rate of extinction. And vital marine ecosystems like reefs, sea grass and mangroves could be among the first truly catastrophic losses of the Anthropocene era.

“Certain forecasts are saying we could lose most of the world’s reefs by 2050. We just can’t afford to increase CO2 emissions further. 40% of the world’s fish come from coastal resources, two billion people depend on the ocean – we’re literally threatening the world’s fisheries.”

Extrapolate on scenarios like this one and you begin to understand just how ubiquitous a crisis climate change presents. “What are hungry, frustrated people going to do? Climate change could be the single most important factor threatening [US] national security,” Heinrichs suggests.

The same point was made by Bernie Sanders during October’s Democratic debate on CNN, though his assertion failed to make headlines. Nevertheless, It’s a major concern for policy makers – leading think tank the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) states that “climate change could have a serious effect on regional and global stability.”

As Heinrichs puts it, “the poor custodial decisions we are making today are breeding the issues of tomorrow.”

There are examples of positive change in the film and many of these come from the Coral Triangle. There is the story of the Indonesian village of Lamakera, whose residents have been traditional hunters of manta rays for generations. According to Heinrichs, they were conscripted into commercial fishing and quickly obliterated the regional manta population. That trade has now largely stopped and a programme is underway to help the community convert to hand line fisheries as well as getting locals involved in research and a fledgling eco tourism enterprise.

“If you can change a place as remote as Lamakera to the sustainable utilization of resources while embracing cultural traditions, there’s hope,” says Heinrichs.

Then there’s the province of Raja Ampat in West Papua, Indonesia, the global epicentre of marine biodiversity. It is also one of the world’s foremost conservation success stories, where communities, N.G.Os and local government have worked together to turn it into the world’s first conservation province. Both sharks and rays are protected throughout Raja Ampat – legislation that has impacted on policy at the national level, with a blanket ban on manta ray fisheries across Indonesia – the first of its kind anywhere in the world.

“Big iconic species are a way to bring people into conservation – you start with whales, move onto sharks and their tourism value and then bring in turtles, dugongs…from there you can begin protecting entire ecosystems,” says Heinrichs.

Progress of a kind. But if negotiators are unable to agree a binding agreement at the climate talks in Paris over the next two weeks to keep global warming below 2C, these efforts may prove too little too late for the the Coral Triangle, the world’s reefs and quite possibly the planet’s storehouse of marine life. This is a race we can’t afford to lose.

Racing Extinction airs on the Discovery Channel tonight at 9pm.

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First small sign of climate accord on five-year review of carbon cuts

Barbara Lewis and Alister Doyle PlanetArk 3 Dec 15;

Climate negotiators in Paris are drawing close to resolving one of the sticking points for a breakthrough emissions pact by favoring a five-year review period on promised greenhouse gas cuts, a top official said on Wednesday.

Regular reviews are seen as a crucial part of any agreement since countries' current pledges to cut emissions - submitted by 185 nations to the United Nations - will fail to prevent temperatures from rising 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times, seen as a dangerous level.

Countries have disagreed as to how often audits of those plans should take place. While many major emitters including China, the United States and the European Union supported a five-year period, a term included in an outline U.N. text last month, others such as India have been reluctant to commit.

"It seems now there is a growing consensus that (reviews) will be every five years," U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres told a news conference on the third day of talks.There was still little progress on thornier issues, though, such as funding for developing nations and a long-term goal for phasing out fossil fuels.

That prompted French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to urge delegates to quicken efforts to whittle down a lengthy draft.

On the reviews, there was still uncertainty about when they would start and any conditions to ensure they result in increased action. "These are issues for negotiations," said Ajay Mathur, director general of the bureau of energy efficiency and a leading member of the Indian delegation.

Two days after world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping gave speeches of encouragement, delegates are locked in debating a draft text of more than 50 pages shot through with points of disagreement that have held back a deal since negotiations began four years ago in South Africa.

(Editing by Tom Heneghan)

On climate frontlines, Pacific islanders consider moving
Alister Doyle PlanetArk 3 Dec 15;

On the frontline of climate change, many people in low-lying Pacific islands say they will consider migrating if droughts, floods or rises in sea level worsen, a study showed on Wednesday at United Nations talks.

Even so, very few of the islanders surveyed in Kiribati, Tuvalu and Nauru have the money needed to move, the report by the U.N. University and the European Union said.

"Pacific islanders are facing the brunt of climate change impacts and are increasingly finding themselves with few options," Tuvalu's Prime Minister Enele Sosene Sopoaga said, commenting on the report.

The first survey of its kind, it said more than 70 percent of households surveyed in Kiribati and Tuvalu and 35 percent of those in Nauru, said family members would be willing to move if the impact of climate change worsened.

It said that 1.3 percent of people in Kiribati, 10 percent of those in Nauru and 15 percent of those in Tuvalu had moved internationally in the period 2005-15. It did not give comparisons with previous decades.

The researchers projected that international migration would increase sharply by 2055 from all three island states. Storms and "king tides" are likely to worsen. Sea levels have risen about 20 centimetres (8 inches) in the past century.

It said only 26 percent of the 6,852 people surveyed in the three nations reckoned they had enough money to migrate - average monthly earnings are just $12 per capita.

Almost 200 nations are meeting in Paris until Dec. 11, trying to work out a deal to limit a rise in temperatures blamed on increasing emissions of greenhouse gases.

Courts in New Zealand and other countries have rejected applications for asylum from islanders who cite a rising sea level as a cause for moving.

They say it cannot qualify as fleeing "persecution" under the United Nations' 1951 refugee convention. The U.N. refugee agency also opposes adding a category of climate refugees.

Koko Warner of the U.N. University's Institute for Environment and Security said governments needed new ways to help. "Climate change is one of the really big stressors ... Our current institutions do not address that yet," she said.

Last year, Kiribati bought 6,000 acres of land in Fiji to help safeguard future food supplies and perhaps to become a future home if seas rise, as part of a policy of "migration with dignity".

(Editing by Gareth Jones)

Protecting forests must become the norm in supply chains: Prince Charles
Barbara Lewis and Megan Rowling PlanetArk 2 Dec 15;

Business leaders, environment ministers and even royalty urged companies to eschew raw materials that destroy forests, at the U.N. climate summit in Paris on Tuesday.

The CEO of Marks and Spencer, Britain's high-street retail giant, said $150 billion per year of value was at stake, in terms of the resources forests provide for business, including palm oil, soy and timber.

Marc Bolland took to the podium on the sidelines of the climate summit, alongside representatives of indigenous Amazon dwellers and Peru's environment minister, while on a separate stage Britain's Prince Charles and Brazilian officials also called for the protection of forests.

"We will reward countries that tackle deforestation," Bolland pledged, saying firms should source their raw materials from sustainable nations.

"Working alone is not enough. We need partnership. We need scale. It's about produce and protect," Bolland said.

Marks and Spencer is a member of a Consumer Goods Forum that includes Unilever and Nestle, which is working for sustainable business practices to minimize waste of resources such as water and energy, as well as trees.

Prince Charles singled out Unilever as a pioneer of sustainability, but said companies had to do more.

"It remains the case that many of the world's largest companies and their financial backers pay scant, by which I really mean no, attention to the deforestation footprint of their supply chains," the prince told delegates.

All commodities firms should commit to stopping deforestation, he added, so that not cutting down more trees than are replaced becomes "the norm, rather than the exception".

Companies are increasingly aware of the benefits of sustainable practices for their brands as environment campaigners name and shame bad practice on social media, and pressure on resources, such as water, agricultural crops and trees, drives up costs.

Representing the people of the Amazon, whose way of life depends on the forest, Brazil's Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira said laws and incentives must persuade local authorities and business to protect the rainforest.

"We need to put together protection and production," she said.

Data issued last week showed the destruction of Brazil's Amazon forest, the world's largest intact rainforest, rose by 16 percent versus a year ago as the government struggled to enforce legislation and halt illegal clearings.

Globally, the loss of forest cover is stabilizing as replanting counters approximately 12 million hectares of forest clearance every year, according to U.N. figures.

When forests are degraded or destroyed, the carbon they store is released, with deforestation accounting for an estimated 10 to 15 percent of carbon emissions worldwide.

On Monday, Germany, Norway and Britain announced a collective aim to provide $5 billion from 2015 to 2020 for conservation efforts in forest countries if they demonstrate measured and verified emissions reductions.

(Editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit

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