Best of our wild blogs: 11 Dec 15

Here’s why market-based initiatives alone won’t save the world’s forests and climate
Mongabay Environmental News

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Vietnamese province asks to stop dredging with sand exported to Singapore

Vietnamese province asks to stop dredging sea passage on Phu Quoc Island
TUOI TRE NEWS 10 Dec 15;

Officials in Kien Giang Province have proposed a stop to the dredging of sea passages and to the export of sand at a military harbor on Phu Quoc Island, saying it causes erosion at a nearby beach.

According to a report by Phu Quoc authorities, the sand dredging has ‘eaten away’ a kilometer of beach on the island and poses a risk that the situation may worsen.

Kien Giang is a province in the Mekong Delta and Phuc Quoc is one of its districts.

Authorities of the Mekong Delta province said that they have multiple construction projects underway on Phu Quoc and the projects need sand for leveling.

The province has sent a written proposal to the Ministry of Construction, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, and the Vietnam People’s Navy.

The military port in An Thoi Town belongs to the armed services of the navy’s fifth zone, covering the waters of the Mekong Delta in the southern part of Vietnam.

Dredging passages for the port and exporting sand to Singapore are part of a project approved by the Ministry of Defense and carried out by the navy since 2010.

The High Command of the fifth zone had signed contracts with two Vietnamese companies, Duc Long and Hai Viet, to implement the project.

Sand pumped onto the 58,000-ton ship Ocean Colossus of Singaporean nationality is exported at US$1.3 per cubic meter. So far, the giant ship has made four trips to carry sand to Singapore.

Responding to the proposal of Kien Giang, Admiral Doan Van So – commander of the fifth zone – said that dredging the sea passages is urgent and necessary for military activities.

However, the navy already terminated the contracts with the two companies in the middle of November over their breaching them, he added.

Denying erosion has been caused by the dredging work, the fifth zone said it had checked the scene and passed the buck to climate change leading to a change in underwater currents.

Admiral So added that dredging sea passages on Phu Quoc and exporting sand can only be paused or terminated at the request of the High Command of the Vietnam People’s Navy.

Kien Giang demands Phu Quoc dredging stop
Le Hung Vong Vietnam News 14 Dec 15;

Kien Giang Province authorities have urged the Ministry of Natural Re-sources and Environment and Navy to stop the export of sand mined by dredging Naval Port Zone 5 in Phu Quoc Island and then to stop the dredging itself since it caused erosion along the coast.

In a dispatch to the Kien Giang administration, the People's Committee of Phu Quoc Island said the dredging of the channel into the military port has eroded around a kilometre of coast, destroying many trees and posing a further threat of erosion.

The dredging is being done by Duc Long Ltd and Hai Viet JSC.

The work, which began in mid-2010, was suspended soon afterwards following a ban on export of sand by the Government in June 2010.

However, the Government exempted the project contractors, allowing them to continue exporting sand.

Last week four large ferries carried sand from Phu Quoc to the Singapore-flagged Ocean Colossus.

Thus far more than 230,000 tonnes of sand have been transported to Singapore.

Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper quoted a source from the Kien Giang administration as saying that Duc Long and Hai Viet have dredged the passage and exported sand, but have yet to report how much they sold or pay the fees prescribed for excavating mineral resources.

Meanwhile, many construction projects are under way on Phu Quoc Island, many licensed by the Government, and they require huge volumes of sand for ground levelling.

In a dispatch to the Government, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, and Navy, the Kien Giang People's Committee urged them to suspend the exports and use the sand for the construction works in Phu Quoc.

It also called for suspending the dredging and taking urgent measures to stop the coastal erosion.

But in a reply, Rear Admiral Doan Van So, Commander of Naval Force Zone 5, said dredging the passage was "imperative and urgent" for military purposes.

Duc Long and Hai Viet had violated clauses in the contracts and so in mid-November this year Naval Force Zone 5 cancelled them, he said.

He claimed the erosion was caused by the impact of climate change and changes in the water flow rather than the dredging.

He also said any decision to call off the work can only be made by the Navy High Command and not his unit. HCM City has 246 safe food selling points

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Flash flood on PIE towards Changi Airport, flood alert issued for Orchard

The PUB had earlier warned that water levels could rise by 100 per cent.
AsiaOne 10 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE - The Public Utilities Board (PUB) has issued a flood alert around Orchard Road, following today's (Dec 10) heavy showers, while a part of the PIE has been hit by flash flood.

In a tweet at 5.28pm, PUB warned that the water levels at canals along Exeter Road and Somerset Road was near 90 per cent, and added that there was a high flood risk.

At 5.44pm, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said that there was a flash flood on the Pan Island Expressway (PIE) sliproad towards Changi Airport, before the East Coast Parkway (ECP) expressway, with congestion expected. Traffic is passable.

Flash floods have already occurred at Maxwell, Boon Keng, and Bendemeer, PUB said. Traffic remains passable at Maxwell, the agency added.

Meanwhile, PUB said that there was a high-flood-risk at MacPherson Road and Playfair Road, with water levels above 90 per cent.

A heavy rain alert was issued at 5.16pm by the National Environment Agency, warning of thundery showers with gusty winds expected around most part of the island from 5.20pm to 6.20pm.

Large parts of Singapore was flooded on Dec 5 after heavy rains. Singapore is currently experiencing the northeast monsoon, and short-duration thundery showers are expected mostly in the afternoon and early evening, NEA said in its fortnightly weather forecast early December.

Based on long-term statistics, December is the wettest month in the year, NEA added. The rainfall for the first fortnight of Dec 2015 is likely to be near normal.

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Still a lot of work to be done at climate change talks: Masagos

Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli says that despite an agreement on a new climate change framework, there are still clauses that need to be discussed within the group members at the climate change conference in Paris.
Channel NewsAsia 10 Dec 15;

PARIS: As talks for a global climate deal enter the last stretch, Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said there is still a lot of work to be done.

Mr Masagos said major emitters, including the United States, China and the European Union, have forged a substantive agreement on the broad principles of a new climate change framework to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which is expiring in 2020.

He was speaking to Channel NewsAsia in Paris on Thursday (Dec 10), where a climate change conference is being held.

"Certainly there's an attempt to reduce the amount of variability of the agreement that's just been sent out to every party,” he said. ”It's still too early to say that it will be accepted. As far as I know, there is still a lot of work to be done. Particularly when there are clauses which some particularly large companies want to put in, (take) out and vice versa. So, (there's) still some way to go."

Mr Masagos also talked about the importance of everyone following through with their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). It refers to actions that countries have committed to take to address climate change.

"The INDCs only make a meaningful impact when everybody commits to them, (when) everybody actually carries them out, make sure they are measurable, reported and then everyone agrees ... that in five years' time, we have actually moved forward,” he said. “Without that agreement for every party who has committed to the INDCs to move forward on them, I think the agreement will unravel."

- CNA/ek

Review global warming pledges or risk 3°C rise in temperatures: WWF Singapore
"It is has become clear the current level of pledges are not enough to secure against climate-related problems," says the World Wide Fund for Nature Singapore of UN climate talks in Paris.
Channel NewsAsia 10 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE: The World Wide Fund for Nature Singapore (WWF Singapore) called on countries to return to the discussion table for a review of their climate change pledges before 2020, to ensure the rise in global temperatures is limited to no more than 1.5°Celsius higher than pre-industrial times.

"Without a review of these commitments before 2020, we would risk putting the world on track to warm by at least 3°C," said the organisation in a press release issued on Thursday (Dec 10).

Said WWF Singapore CEO Elaine Tan: “It is has become clear the current level of pledges are not enough to secure against the type of climate-related problems we could all be affected by, like food security and extreme weather.

"We still have the ingredients for a successful outcome in Paris, but we are at a pivotal moment where strong leadership is needed for a firm commitment before the Friday deadline."

WWF's head of delegation to the United Nations climate talks in Paris Tasneem Essop said there are "more options" in the draft agreement to have all nations come back to improve their pledges before 2020.

"That said, they’ll need to close existing loopholes to make sure any pre-2020 review and ratcheting up mechanism is comprehensive - covering adaptation, finance, and emissions reductions - and does not let some countries off the hook," she said.

The 195-nation UN talks have been billed as the last chance to avert the worst consequences of global warming: Deadly drought, floods and storms, and rising seas that will engulf islands and densely populated coastlines.

- CNA/kk

Tough for countries to give up thirst for oil: Perspectives panel
Despite global investment in renewable energy, experts discussing the Future of Oil say fossil fuels will be the main energy resource for years to come.
Samantha Yap Channel NewsAsia 10 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE: Over the past week, business and political leaders in Paris been in negotiations to put forward proposed reduction targets to greenhouse gas emissions, in order to keep the global temperature rise to below 2°Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

And while the effectiveness of global climate conferences is usually fodder for sceptics, a slate of promises from countries at the climate change conference (COP21) in Paris to cut emissions - together with pledges to invest in renewable energy in Africa and China, for example - show that there is room for optimism should these promises be kept.

Nonetheless, experts on Channel NewsAsia’s Perspectives panel discussing The Future Of Oil they believe that it is going to be difficult to wean countries off their thirst for oil and stem global warming despite the emergence of alternative energy sources.

“If you look at the overall demand around the world, almost any way you slice it, all elements of energy that we know of today will be required and interestingly enough today, about 80 per cent of energy comes from fossil fuel,” said Mr Mark Nelson, President of International Products for Chevron International.

While the growing global energy demand presents a huge opportunity for renewable energy, fossil fuels will still remain a big source for the world’s energy, he added.

“Even if renewables were to triple in usage over the next 25 years, oil and natural gas would still account for over 50 per cent of energy supply," Mr Nelson said.

“It is really oil which has not surprisingly been the main use and provider of energy, and I don’t see that changing dramatically,” said Ms Hari, who also said that fossil fuels are still going to be a mainstay for many industries, including industries that rely on alternative energy.

“A lot of people argue quite rightly, that if you’re going to power your car with electricity, that electricity was produced by burning coal, so you’re just shifting from one fossil fuel to another."


According to Prof Davies, he believes that a combination of the world’s energy demand, and the price of oil and other fossil fuels, have been too convenient to give up.

Said Prof Davies: “We’ve never paid the full price of using fossil fuels and we’ve never cleaned up after ourselves.

“It’s a very difficult thing to accept and I’m sure it won’t make me popular, but we have had fossil fuels too cheap.”

Oil prices have tumbled since reaching highs of US$115 a barrel in June 2014, but with the emergence of new energy sources, changes in the digital economy and a lack of unity in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, oil prices have hovered around the US$40 mark per barrel in recent days.

Mr Hughes warned that the risk of a low oil price environment means that there will not be enough capital invested in technology around renewables.

“Governments have to play a role in order to kickstart that particular industry across a range of different jurisdictions to move to the point where you have a price parity where renewables can stand on their own two feet and compete equally with oil and gas,” he said.

Helping the environment will come at a cost and if energy consumers are to move forward in the renewable space, they will need to ask themselves how much they are willing to pay.

Said Mr Hughes: “The key question then is to what extent should governments, industry and society want to back subsides within the renewable sector in order to turbo charge the use of renewables across the Asia-Pacific?"


What needs to happen is for the world to figure out how to have more alternatives in the balance, more hybrid technologies and how to burn oil more efficiently, Ms Hari proposed.

“I think the steps are being taken to use more renewables in power and to use more gas,” said Ms Hari.

“What’s been thrown in the mix now is environmental consciousness. It is fashionable and I think it is needed for us to think about the environmental consequences.”

Prof Davies said that since Southeast Asia is a mature oil province that has found most of the oil it is has, the region needs to increase the recovery from existing fields.

“By doing that, you can extend the life of oil production in this part of the world,” he said. “Two-thirds to three-quarters of fossil fuels need to stay underground in order not to go beyond this 2°C temperature rise."

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U.S. government forecaster maintains outlook for strong El Niño this winter

Chris Prentice PlanetArk 11 Dec 15;

A U.S. government weather forecaster on Thursday said the El Nino weather phenomenon that is underway is expected to remain strong through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2015-16, before tapering off during the late spring or early summer.

The Climate Prediction Center (CPC), an agency of the National Weather Service, in its monthly forecast broadly maintained its outlook for strong El Nino conditions likely to persist through the winter.

"El Niño has already produced significant global impacts and is expected to affect temperature and precipitation patterns across the United States during the upcoming months," CPC said.

The phenomenon is a warming of ocean surface temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific that occurs every few years, triggering heavy rains and floods in South America and scorching weather in Asia and as far away as east Africa.

Japan's weather bureau said earlier Thursday that El Niño is now at its peak and weather would return to normal by summer.

(Editing by Alden Bentley and Jeffrey Benkoe)

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Coastal erosion washes away beaches, threatens tourism in Senegal

* Beach tourism important to Senegal's economy
* Erosion affects other West African coastal states
* Recovering lost beaches possible, but costly

Makini Brice Reuters 10 Dec 15;

SALY, Senegal, Dec 10 (Reuters) - The European winter is the high season for tourism in Senegal as visitors flock to its sea and sun to escape the cold, yet since last year the doors of the luxury Hotel Espadon have been closed.

Its swimming pool has turned a swampy green. The skeletons of old parasols poke out from the sand and the sea gnaws at the foundations of its pretty beachfront rooms.

The problem is not high prices or mismanagement but coastal erosion that is blighting the West African country's coast.

The Atlantic has washed away beaches, forcing hotels to make a drastic choice: save their property by building sea walls that block the view or let the water rise and risk losing everything.

"Every day I receive tourists who come to see if it's true what they say about the Hotel Espadon's current state," said Sonore Khadim Tall, the building's superintendent. "They can't believe their eyes and some of them even cry."

As a Paris summit focuses on climate change it is tempting to place the whole blame for Senegal's erosion on rising sea levels but reckless building on beaches compounds the problem, said Papa Goumbo Lo, head of Senegal's national institute for scientific research.

The problem arises when builders construct too close to the beach or extract coastal sand for projects, exacerbating erosion and rendering buildings vulnerable to tides.


Tourism accounts for 11 percent of Senegal's economy, but over time erosion could affect the country as a whole, given that two thirds of the population live in the coastal region around the capital Dakar.

Other countries in the region are affected. Gambia's 15 coastal hotels are at risk due to erosion. Nigeria's environment ministry has launched a programme to fight erosion and Ghana, which has 1 million annual visitors, has built a 30-km sea wall.

Around 1 million people also visit Senegal every year and in 2014 the government set itself the goal of tripling that number.

Saly, where the Espadon is located, is one of the country's biggest tourist hubs but risks missing out. Since 2010, the town 50 km (32 miles) southeast of Dakar has lost 30 metres of beach.

Ousmane Diop, head of environment and client relations at the nearby Filaos Hotel, said visitors who return to the hotel these days are drawn by loyalty to the staff rather than the beach.

Only a postcard of the beach remains and the water is accessible across a ramp beside a sea wall.

"If we hadn't built the wall, the ocean would have been in the restaurant," Diop said, pointing at an open-air dining area with a sea view.


Tourism in West Africa has already been hit by perceptions of insecurity in countries like Mali, where Islamist militants attacked a luxury hotel on Nov. 20, and disease, after Ebola killed thousands in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Senegal tried to offset the problem in May by scrapping visa requirements and halving airfare taxes.

But numbers from the World Travel and Tourism Council show visits have been flat this year compared to last year and tourism employees in Saly say their numbers are down. Many hotels along the coast closed early last season.

Ibou Sakro Thiandoum, president of Saly's natural resource commission, called for greater central government action, saying, "We are orphans here."

For his part, Ernest Dione, national coordinator for the Ministry of the Environment, defended government initiatives, pointing to its study on erosion and an emergency action plan.

It is possible to recover lost beaches through the use of wave breakers and other tools but it is expensive, Lo said.

The work has started in Saly, where boulders line the shore to break waves. Some beaches have already been recovered but the process stands incomplete for lack of funds.

These initiatives are inadequate and to solve the problem beach homes responsible for erosion in the town should be torn down, said Ousmane Diouf, an artist at the Filaos hotel.

"As long as man destroys nature, he destroys himself," he said. (Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Estelle Shirbon)

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Permeable dams prevent land loss and save mangroves in Suriname

Suriname is aiming to reverse coastal erosion of mangroves countering destructive erosion along the country’s coastline with these permeable dams breaking the waves and trapping sediment and reclaiming land. (Photo: Sieuwnath Naipal)
Desmond Brown Caribbean 360 10 Dec 15;

PARIS, France, Thursday December 10, 2015, IPS – Suriname’s coastline is eroding so quickly scientists predict the country’s maze of mangroves could disappear in just 30 years unless there is urgent action on climate change.

To counter this destructive erosion, Sieuwnath Naipal has been leading efforts to “mimic nature” by placing permeable dams along the coast to break the waves and trap sediment and reclaim land.

Once the land is back, mangroves can recolonize the area and help protect the coastline against further erosion.

“We have a coastline which is very flat, just like a pancake,” Naipal told IPS on the sidelines of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21), where he has been presenting his project and urging international support.

“The capital (Paramaribo) is near to the coastline and it is nearly equal with the mean sea level. The protection actually is the mangroves and the mangroves are under attack with the rising of the sea level and also the intervention of humans.

“Over the last 10 years the coastline has retreated 600 metres at certain locations. It’s a rapid retreat of the coastline so we have to act now,” Naipal said.

But he said saving the Suriname coastline is an expensive venture, explaining that one kilometer of protection (building dykes and dams) costs about US$6.5 million.

The Suriname coastline is fed by silt washed down by the Amazon River.

“Changes in the Amazon have impacted the coasts. Annually you have millions of tonnes of sediments being transported in. So we can make use of that,” Naipal explained.

Suriname, situated on the northeast coast of South America, has about 100,000 acres of mangroves spreading over 386 kilometres. The width varies from three to eight kilometres and sometimes up to 14 kilometres.

“These mangroves have the function of trapping sediments. We know (that) where we have mangroves we have a lot of sediments trapped and where you don’t have the mangroves then you have lots of erosion,” Naipal said.

The country’s densely populated coastline is home to approximately 90 per cent of its 500,000 residents. Due to migration and an ever increasing population, people are moving towards the sea and mangroves are destroyed to make way for settlements.

Naipal said his mangrove reintroduction project aims to stop such losses.

The Russian-trained hydrology professor at the Anton de Kom University of Suriname is assisted by students from the university on the project.

“We get support from Conservation International Suriname. We got some seed money to show that it’s possible and the government is looking to take this over,” he said.

Mangrove forests provide protection and shelter against extreme weather events, such as storm winds and floods, as well as tsunamis. Mangrove forests are also rich in biodiversity providing a habitat for wide varieties of animal and plant species. They are dynamic areas, rich in food. Live and decaying mangrove leaves and roots provide nutrients that nourish plankton, algae, fish and shellfish. Many of the fish caught commercially in tropical regions reproduce and spend time in the mangroves as juveniles or adults. Mangroves are also home to many birds and mammals.

With living biomass typically ranging between 100-400 tonnes per hectare, and significant quantities of organic matter being stored in the sediment, mangroves rival the sequestration potential of rainforests.

“Mangroves bring a lot of tourism, benefits fishers which is a big income earner for Suriname, and CO2 conservation is three to five times more than tropical forests,” Naipal said.

Ambassador Albert Ramdin, Advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Suriname, told IPS Suriname needs help with financing to adapt to climate change.

“We see sea level rise impacting the coastal areas which are not protected properly. We don’t have the money to build high dykes and dams and so on,” he said.

“The water management, the inundation of salt water far more into the interior of Suriname will have impact on the agricultural capacity. So for us there are very real dangers. On top of that, almost 90 per cent of our population lives in the coastal areas which with one metre sea level rise, it would mean that we would have to move the capital and all of the urban areas into the hinterlands of Suriname. That will be an enormous cost.”

Ramdin said the government is also committed to doing it part to implement mitigation and adaptation measures.

“We have a very low level of deforestation, less than one per cent. We are involved in sustainable logging so we have protected our natural resources pretty good but that is not enough because the impact comes from outside,” he said.

“So the Government of Suriname is already preparing for adaptation policies and is committed to doing so. It was one of the key priorities President (Dési) Bouterse stated in his recent address to parliament. So there are very concrete issues about agriculture, arable land, about food security, about losing land, about the inundation of salt water and we need to take care of that.

“So for us climate change is a real issue and there is the political commitment but again it should not stop there. Political commitment is one thing, but it’s about putting that into action and that’s what we’re doing here,” he added.

Suriname is covered with vast and pristine rainforests and rivers. Their protection is a national priority. Thanks to those forests, Suriname absorbs more carbon than it produces from burning fossil fuels; and so it plays an important role in combating global warming.

“Our forests annually absorb 8.8 million tonnes of carbon while our annual emissions are 7 million tonnes of carbon,” the country’s Minister of Public Works, Rabin Parmessar, said in a 2014 UN address.

“While many countries are striving towards becoming carbon neutral, our current development path has already made us carbon negative,” he said.

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A plea from small islands: more insurance for climate change

CAROLYN COHN Reuters 10 Dec 15;

Rising sea levels and tidal waves are washing away coastlines on many of the 196 inhabited islands of the Maldives, and there is no insurance policy to cover the costs.

Global leaders are close to the end of two weeks of talks to try to agree an accord to slow climate change. A draft agreement this week showed countries had made progress on some sticking points but remain divided over several core issues before Friday's deadline.

A weak deal could lead to a situation where "insurance will be pretty hard to find in some places", according to Matt Cullen, head of strategy at the Association of British Insurers, as droughts, flash floods and wildfires become more common around the world.

But the most vulnerable countries are already finding it onerous to fix the damage wreaked by climate change.

"As of now, there is insurance cover for high waters and flooding, but not for coastal erosion," Thoriq Ibrahim, minister for environment and energy for the Maldives, told Reuters by phone from Paris. "It's very expensive to repair."

The Asian Development Bank has described the "pancake-flat" Maldives in the Indian Ocean as the country most at risk in South Asia from climate change. If left unchecked, this could cause annual economic losses of nearly 13 percent of gross domestic product by the end of the century, it estimated.

AOSIS, the Alliance of Small Island States, which the Maldives currently chairs, wants developed countries and insurers to provide help for the costs of rising sea levels.

There are already some insurance options for managing other extreme weather losses.

Local insurers are able to provide cover for flood damage in the Maldives, Ibrahim said, who then farm some of the risk out to international reinsurers.

But the lack of specific climate change-related insurance meant one hotel resort in the Maldives was recently unable to claim on losses caused by erosion, a local insurer told Reuters.


For now at least, industry participants see insuring for rising sea levels as a no-go area - as risky as covering a house for fire when someone is already walking up the path with a lit match.

"Risks from the slowly but steadily rising sea level are not insurable because there is no sudden and unforeseeable trigger, which is a prerequisite for insurance," said Peter Hoeppe, head of geo risk research at reinsurer Munich Re.

Nevertheless, international insurers, working with multilateral lenders, governments and development organizations, have come up with special arrangements to help cash-strapped countries in the Caribbean and Africa deal with natural disasters such as hurricanes, extreme rainfall and drought.

These are the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility and African Risk Capacity.

The United States pledged more support for these initiatives in Paris, along with financial backing for a similar project in the Pacific Islands. Twenty of the countries most vulnerable to climate change, from the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan to the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, said in October they plan to work for a pooling mechanism to share insurance risk.

These arrangements typically pay out if a certain natural disaster is triggered - such as if a specific level of rainfall is exceeded within a set period - so those that have suffered get the cash far faster than if they have to assess damage and make claims.

Islands and insurers agree that more needs to be done, however, to understand the risks involved so that suitable insurance can be offered, for instance through the development of more sophisticated forecasting.

"We need to make pretty big investments in data analysis and technology, so we can be as informed as we can be," said Mike McGuire, chief financial officer at insurer Endurance Specialty Holdings. "As an industry, we never know exactly what's going to happen."

Small island states are pushing for a mechanism in a Paris accord to cover loss and damage, for instance from typhoons or sea level rise that exceed nations' abilities to adapt.

"There has to be some real international mechanism, funding, that is predictable," Jose Ramos-Horta, former president of East Timor and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, told Reuters in Paris.


Most of the existing multilateral initiatives will help only governments, rather than providing broader support for those suffering directly from natural disasters, according to Reto Schnarwiler, head of Americas and EMEA at Swiss Re Global Partnerships.

"The injured party is the government. They would use these proceeds for emergency relief, reconstruction of public infrastructure - it's not a facility for individuals and business."

A study by reinsurer Swiss Re shows that in the last 10 years, policies covered only 30 percent of global catastrophe losses, leaving governments, companies and individuals to pay $1.3 trillion.

In the U.S. island state of Hawaii, the risks from increasing natural disasters due to climate change are "real and large", according to Celeste Connors, executive director of Hawaii Green Growth. A category 4 hurricane over Waikiki - a beachfront area of the state capital Honolulu - could cause $20-40 billion in losses, she said.

"Hawaii has been lucky over the last several years, but luck eventually runs out. There's currently a gap between Hawaii's exposure and investment in climate-resilient infrastructure and post-disaster financing."

Other risks are also becoming uninsurable.

Robert Muir-Wood, chief research officer at catastrophe risk modeling firm RMS, said that in the Bahamas, houses built on canals were lying vacant due to lack of insurance against hurricanes. "That's one example of a dystopian future, where insurers simply walked away."

Without insurance, countries need to spend the money themselves to become more resilient to climate change.

The most drastic option is to move house.

The Pacific island state of Kiribati bought 6,000 acres (2,500 hectares) of land in Fiji last year to help safeguard future food supplies and perhaps to become a home if seas rise, as part of a policy of "migration with dignity".

"The worst case scenario is relocation of some islands," said the Maldives' Ibrahim. "We want to adapt, we want to stay, and we want funds for that."

(Additional reporting by Daniel Bosley in Male and Alister Doyle in Paris)

Tiny islands have powerful voice in UN climate talks
KARL RITTER Associated Press Yahoo News 11 Dec 15;

LE BOURGET, France (AP) — They barely break the surface of the ocean but in the U.N. talks on how to stop rising seas and other hazards of a warming planet, small island nations have the moral high ground.

They are "literally negotiating over their own survival," U.N. Environment Program chief Achim Steiner said.

While most countries think of climate change in terms of economic costs, Pacific atolls and remote island groups in the Indian Ocean and Caribbean picture a world map without them on it.

Rising seas are already eroding their coast lines and contaminating their freshwater wells. Many are in the path of typhoons and hurricanes that scientists say could become more powerful as the climate warms.

"We are already limping from climate disaster to climate disaster. And we know there is worse to come," Christopher Loeak, the president of the Marshall Islands, told the climate conference in Paris.

Their vulnerability gives the small islands a powerful voice on climate change relative to their tiny size and impact on world affairs. At the start of the Paris talks last week, U.S. President Barack Obama met with five leaders of island nations. Secretary of State John Kerry has been discussing the envisioned Paris deal with others, including Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga of Tuvalu, an island nation of just 10,000 people.

The Europeans, too, have been reaching out to small island leaders whom they see as useful allies in their attempts to get a strong binding climate pact at the conference, which is in its final days.

"These countries are not even as big as most American cities," said Jake Schmidt of the New York-based Natural Resource Defense Council. Yet Western countries want them as allies, he said, "because they speak with such a moral clarity about this challenge. And they signal to the larger developing country bloc that this is an issue that has to be dealt with."

One of the most important demands of the small islands is to get the world to cut greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F), a threshold many see as critical for their survival. This puts them at odds with Saudi Arabia, a major oil producer, and India, which is worried about being pressed to make emissions cuts that would stifle its economic growth.

"We are not against the target of 1.5 degrees. But the issue is, how can such a target be implemented?" said Indian negotiator Ashok Lavasa. "And why do they talk about only 1.5 degrees; why not any other target?"

The small islands are also asking for a "loss and damage" mechanism to ensure support when they are hit by climate impacts such as extreme weather events made worse by climate change. This makes wealthy nations nervous.

The U.S. at first didn't want the issue to be part of the agreement at all, worried that it would pave the way for claims of liability and compensation. In the latest draft they suggested mentioning it in a section on adaptation to climate change.

But the small islands want a separate section for "loss and damage" to show it's not about adapting to climate change, but coping with unavoidable impacts, said Thoriq Ibrahim, the environment minister of the Maldives and chair of an alliance of small island nations.

The Maldives, an island group in the Indian Ocean, is on average just 5 feet (1.5 meters) above sea level. Scientists say seas could rise about 3 feet (1 meter) by the end of the century.

Already, some of the smallest of the 196 inhabited islands are running out of freshwater during the dry season, which keeps getting longer, Ibrahim said.

In one of the first projects approved by the recently created Green Climate Fund, a U.N. program for poor nations impacted by climate change, the Maldives will receive $23.6 million to secure the freshwater supply on its outer islands.

Climate change also poses an existential threat to the Marshall Islands, which protrude only 6 feet (2 meters) above sea level in most places. King tides, when the alignment of the Earth, moon and sun combine to produce the most extreme tidal effects, and storm surges are getting worse, causing floods that contaminate fresh water, kill crops, and erode land.

In Kiribati, a Pacific nation made up of 33 coral atolls, President Anote Tong is already making contingency plans for when and if the country becomes unlivable. Kiribati has bought 8 square miles (20 square kilometers) of land in Fiji in case the population has to be moved.

"We have homes that get washed away. It's happening more often and it's more severe," Tong said in Paris.

When villagers ask him what to do about seawater breaking into the land damaging their water supply and running their crops, his answer isn't reassuring.

"I tell them you may have to leave your villages because there is nothing we can do to protect you," Tong said.

Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein and Athar Parviz contributed to this report.

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Look beyond hotspots to help people weather climate shocks: study

Laurie Goering PlanetArk 11 Dec 15;

Targeting money only at areas hit by drought and other climate extremes in an effort to build resilience among the world's poorest may be ineffective, researchers said.

In Mali, for example, over much of the last decade, farmers and herders have struggled with worsening drought that has killed crops and animals and often made rural people poorer and hungrier.

But the fallout from those losses has impacts far beyond drought-hit regions, new research by the London-based Overseas Development Institute suggests.

Failed harvests in crisis zones, for instance, can lead to higher food prices and stunting of children in cities and across the country.

That suggests narrow responses will overlook many of those affected, researchers said.

"Donors always want to focus resources on particular locations. They want to do hotspot mapping," said Emily Wilkinson, a lead researcher on the new report, released on the sidelines of U.N. climate talks in Paris.

But the impacts of disasters don't only show up where they happen, and "that's a very important finding", she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The study, which looks at worsening droughts in Mali, typhoons in the Philippines and heat waves in India, suggests that measures to reduce poverty and build capacity to deal with worsening climate shocks must work hand-in-hand, or risk being ineffective.

"New ways of working are required to link institutions that have previously been poorly connected," said the report, supported by the UK-funded Building Resilience to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) program.

More decentralized government, so decisions can be made closer to the source of the problem, may also be useful in many situations, as can looking at innovative ways to pay to reduce risk, such as insurance programs.

Insurance should not be seen as "a panacea for managing risk", Wilkinson said.

But in a world where risks are becoming more unpredictable, it can be a useful balance to other "structural" risk reduction measures - such as protective walls built to survive only a certain level of flooding.


The aim of the research was to look at which actions and instruments would continue to work and be helpful in a "very uncertain future" of climate extremes, she added.

India, for instance, has made progress in dealing with worsening deadly heat waves in recent years simply by declaring them as a type of disaster for the first time.

Instead of developing a federal heat stress plan, it has had states put together their own plans, which can be much more tailored to local problems.

At the same time, building links among states and cities is crucial, because without them, lessons from innovative policies in Odisha or Ahmedabad, for instance, might not be used elsewhere.

"The map of how very hot days is going to affect India is shifting, and more states in the south will be affected. You don't want to wait for an extreme event, a disaster, before an initiative gets replicated there," Wilkinson said.

Government public works programs, and other social safety net measures - such as supplying quick cash handouts just after or even before a predicted disaster - appear to be another way of stopping disaster-hit communities from falling into worsening poverty as they sell their assets to survive.

Government schemes aimed at least in part at reducing risks from climate shocks are already in use in countries such as Ethiopia, Mexico and Bangladesh, the report said. Tanzania has a "Social Action Fund" that gives people cash in exchange for making efforts to cut their own disaster risk.

But often, incentives to build resilience to disasters before they hit are still lacking or ineffective, Wilkinson said.

"That's the big challenge," she said. "We have the right instruments but they're not doing the job yet."

Progress is also slower than the rate at which climate-linked disasters are worsening, which threatens to stall progress on reducing poverty or could even drive more people into it, the report warned.

"Building resilience capacities incrementally may not be enough to secure poverty reduction in the face of climate change," it said. "The scale and scope of future climate risks will require a transformational shift in the way risk is managed."

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

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Whales entangled at alarming rate along California coast

GILLIAN FLACCUS Associated Press Yahoo News 9 Dec 15;

LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — An unusual warming in the Pacific Ocean may be having disastrous consequences for the majestic whales that use the waters off California as a migratory super-highway.

This year alone, more than 60 whales entangled in fishing gear have been spotted along the coast — a more than 400 percent spike over normal and a pattern that began in 2014. Scientists believe the whales may be following prey closer to shore as warm water influences feeding patterns, putting them on a collision course with fishermen, crabbers and lobstermen.

The situation is so dire that the crab fishery has begun working closely with state and federal agencies and environmental groups to figure out where and how the whales are running into their gear. The ocean mammals also have become entangled in gill nets and lobster gear, but authorities have identified the crab fishery as the most urgent concern.

"This time of year, the whales would be offshore but with the blob of warm water, they're right off the beach. They're right where the crabs are," said Jim Anderson, a crabber who's helping to mobilize the state's 562 licensed Dungeness crab fishermen. "You go talk to a guy who's been fishing for 40 or 50 years and he's never seen anything like it."

Whales that have rope stuck in their mouths or wrapped tightly around their fins or tail will eventually die if they can't free themselves. Highly trained volunteer rescue teams are only able to disentangle a small percentage despite tracking devices that allow them to follow the hobbled animals for miles. Many swim away and their fate is never known.

A humpback whale that was partially freed recently off La Jolla, California had line stuck in its mouth, a huge knot of rope six feet behind its tail and 200 additional feet of rope and buoys dragging behind it. Another rescued nearby had a 70-foot line looped over its tail that was connected to a lobster pot still swinging from the rope's end underwater.

Keith Yip, who volunteers as the leader of a disentanglement team sponsored by SeaWorld, was involved in both rescues. He's been called out four times in the past six weeks and has logged 10 rescues in the past two years — one-fifth of all the calls he's had in a 30-year career.

"It's another job in and of itself recently," said Yip, who is the curator of mammals at SeaWorld. "My weekend days alone just the past couple of weeks I've spent on the water."

Rather than crack down on the Dungeness crab fishery, which can bring in up to $100 million a season, state and federal agencies decided to tap into the crabbers' collective knowledge to figure out where wayward whales and fishermen are overlapping. The crab season is delayed this year because of a massive bloom of toxic algae in the Pacific, but crabbers are committed to help when the season does resume later this winter or next year.

At a training session this fall in Half Moon Bay, nearly 100 crabbers already learned how to photograph tangled whales, call them in to a hotline and then "babysit" them until authorities arrive. A best practices guide has been distributed to all crabbers.

And when crabbing does resume, fishermen will work alongside scientists on their boats to test different densities and strengths of rope and gear configurations, including a new "sinking rope" that reduces slack in the line that could entrap whales. Another pilot program will log where crabbers drop their pots on GPS-enabled iPads.

"We've got pots in the water, we've got ropes in the water and we've got whales in the water," said Anderson. "What can we do to make this a safe place for everybody?"

Environmental groups are on board, too. The cooperation comes against the backdrop of a two-decade battle between environmentalists and lobster fishermen on the East Coast that hasn't yielded answers but has financially devastated lobstermen, said Geoff Shester, California campaign director for Oceana.

It's a promising start but ultimately might not be enough, said David Anderson, captain of Capt. Dave's Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari in Dana Point, California.

Anderson, who is no relation to the crab fisherman, was among the first to realize there was a serious problem under the water when his tours kept running into distressed whales.

Now, a critical part of his work also involves documenting — and responding to — entangled whales off the Southern California coast. Anderson, who's certified by federal marine authorities as a volunteer rescuer, believes the hobbled whales here are a symptom of a larger crisis that's telegraphed to the surface with each struggling creature.

"We've had more than 50 entangled whales this year off California, but that's just the tip of the iceberg," he said. "Most of the whales we're not seeing — and it's a huge problem."

This story corrects the name of the whale watching company in Dana Point to Capt. Dave's Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari.

Associated Press Writer Julie Watson in San Diego contributed to this report.

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