Best of our wild blogs: 13 Dec 15

Chek Jawa is great at high tide
wild shores of singapore

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Increase in dengue cases due to warmer year-end weather: Expert

An expert says the dengue virus follows the mosquitoes' breeding cycles, which have shortened. As a result, more people are infected.
Liyana Othman Channel NewsAsia 12 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE: October is when the traditional dengue peak period ends. Yet, the number of cases recorded this October and November were higher than those in the same months last year.

Figures from the National Environment Agency (NEA) show 274 cases of dengue reported so far this week, even before the week ends on Sunday. This is 13 cases more than the previous week. Similarly, statistics on the Health Ministry website show an up trend in the number of dengue cases from October onwards, compared to the same period last year.

This has been attributed to slightly warmer than usual year-end weather, due to the El Nino phenomenon.

Said Dr Leong Hoe Nam, Infectious Diseases Specialist, Mount Elizabeth Noeva Hospital: "The weather is getting warmer. The virus follows the mosquitoes' breeding cycles, which have shortened, and because of that, it infects more people. What we're more worried about is that we're going into 2016, and the mosquito transmission rate is so high. So come next year, the number of dengue cases might even be higher."

Earlier this week, a 59-year-old Singaporean woman died from the virus. She lived at Jalan Minggu, which is part of a cluster identified by NEA as a high-risk area. The cluster includes Jalan Chegar, Jalan Isnin, Jalan Khamis, Jalan Rabu, and Block 23 Sin Ming Road.

Residents Channel NewsAsia spoke to expressed their concerns and shared measures to deter the Aedes mosquitos from breeding in their homes.

"We make sure that the water is cleared, especially the potted plants," said one resident, while another said they keep their containers covered before going away on holiday.

"Make sure there's no stagnant water around. I myself have gotten dengue three times in my life, so I'm quite cautious," said a third resident.

Currently, the top hot spot is a cluster spanning Tampines Ave 3, Ave 4, Street 81 and Street 91, with 109 cases since the start of the cluster.

Authorities also urge the public to check their surroundings regularly and take measures to eradicate any mosquito breeding habitats.

- CNA/dl

Dengue cases hit unusual year-end high
Yuen Sin, Straits Times AsiaOne 16 Dec 15;

A total of 361 dengue cases were reported last week, the highest weekly number recorded so far this year, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said yesterday.

While higher weekly numbers have been recorded in the past two years, with a weekly high of 891 cases last year and 842 in 2013, these were recorded around June and July - not towards the end of the year.

Four people have died of dengue fever this year, three in recent months.

Last Wednesday, a 59- year-old woman died at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital. She lived in Jalan Minggu, in Upper Thomson, an active dengue cluster.

On Nov 28, a 79-year-old man died a few days after being admitted to Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

The other victims were a 60-year-old from India who was visiting her son here in September, and a 53- year-old woman from China who died in February.

Dengue outbreaks are usually triggered by the interplay of weather conditions and a change in the dengue strain, according to Professor Annelies Wilder-Smith, who studies infectious diseases at the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine.

While the number of dengue cases in the first 10 months of this year fell by about half compared with the same period last year, the Aedes mosquito population has doubled.

The NEA said warmer than usual year-end weather caused by the El Nino phenomenon could result in shorter mosquito breeding periods and shorter incubation times for the dengue virus.

The DENV-2 serotype, which had been the dominant strain before 2013 until it was replaced by DENV-1, has now returned.

Dengue cases due to the DENV-2 serotype have increased, accounting for half of all cases here.

A switch in the dominant strain usually signals a higher number of infections as fewer people would have immunity.

A total of 10,142 dengue cases were reported as of Dec 12. In the whole of last year, there were 18,335 cases with five local deaths.

There were 60 active dengue clusters as of Monday, with 114 cases recorded in the largest cluster of Tampines Avenue 3 and Avenue 4, and Tampines Street 81 and Street 91.

Twenty-three of the cases were identified with the DENV-2 strain.

The longest-existing cluster, which has been around since Oct 13, is at Eastwood estate in Bedok.

IT surveillance consultant Eric Lee, 47, was hospitalised for five days after contracting dengue early last month.

The Eastwood Way resident suspects that he contracted the disease within his housing estate.

"Mosquito breeding in this estate is still prevalent," he said.

The NEA said anyone infected with dengue should apply mosquito repellent to prevent mosquitoes from biting them and infecting others, and that those with symptoms should consult a doctor.

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Land fiasco leaves wildlife group in a fix

Acres won $26.5m in damages in suit against errant contractor but may not get a cent of it
Carolyn Khew Straits Times 13 Dec 15; Also on AsiaOne

In 2004, wildlife rescue group Acres (Animal Concerns Research & Education Society) got the licence to build a desperately needed animal shelter.

The Singapore Zoo was running out of space to keep endangered animals that had been illegally imported here and rescued from dealers and homes. The planned sanctuary was to give up to 500 exotic animals - such as star tortoises, slow lorises and sugar gliders - a place to stay and recover before they were returned to their places of origin.

Today, Acres still does not have its shelter. Instead, it has a poisoned piece of land about the size of two football fields, which will cost at least $20 million to fix, a court award for $26.5 million in damages which it will probably not see a cent of, and broken dreams.

"We were so close," said Acres executive director Louis Ng, as he talked about its "biggest setback".

"We had not only completed the construction of the shelter, but volunteers had painted it and planted trees. It was all ready to go."


It's not just about taking out the contaminated earth. You need someone to take it out and clean it before it can be safe to dump into the landfill.

ACRES EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR LOUIS NG, on the difficulty in finding a contractor to clean up the group's site
But the area then became plagued by a stench and brackish water started to seep through to the surface. A National Environment Agency probe found the land filled with decomposing woodchips and other contaminated earth that polluted the groundwater.

A.N.A Contractor (Anac) and its director Tan Boon Kwee had been contracted by Acres to level low-lying areas of the land.

But the firm filled the site with contaminated earth and woodchips which rotted over time. Acres sued the firm and won. In 2013, Anac was ordered to pay $26.5 million in damages to the non-profit group.

But Tan, 52, had started liquidating his assets and giving his cash to friends and relatives. He was jailed for 14 months in October, but Acres got nothing - not even the $206,000 that Tan was supposed to pay for the group's legal costs.

There is little that Acres can do now except to depend on the goodwill of contractors willing to clean up the 1.5ha site, said Mr Ng, who is also a Nee Soon GRC MP. So far, a few contractors have inspected the site but none has taken up the job.

"It's not just about taking out the contaminated earth. You need someone to take it out and clean it before it can be safe to dump into the landfill," he said, adding that the earth is believed to contain toxic materials. He suspects the contractor had levelled the site using alternating layers of good and bad earth, increasing the complexity of cleaning up the site.

When The Sunday Times visited the site located in Jalan Lekar recently, the area was covered with thick overgrown plants. Enclosures for animals had rusted and some parts of the ground were sunken.

Mr Ng said he had never expected things to turn out this way as Anac had previously taken up major construction jobs and offered the lowest bid at $750,000 for the tender.

Singapore Management University law professor Eugene Tan said that to better protect themselves against such errant contractors, non-profits could seek volunteers who are professionals in construction, for example, to help assess prospective contractors.

"Non-profits often feel compelled to work with contractors offering the lowest quotes for a job. It is not a case of 'penny wise, pound foolish'. They may lack the ability to make a considered decision when awarding a contract given the lack of in-house expertise," he added.

Lawyer Amolat Singh said non-profits could consider insisting on a performance bond before a construction contract is awarded so that they can recover some money if something goes wrong.

He added that in this case, Acres has exhausted all means. "It really is a tough situation to be in."

The rescued animals are now kept in an outdoor sanctuary located near the Acres office.

Responding to queries, the Singapore Land Authority said there are no immediate plans for the site and it is monitoring the situation.

For Mr Ng, the good thing is that Acres is continuing its work.

"We built modified enclosures for the animals and we are still doing our rescue work," he said. "If we had just given up, I think the over 4,000 animals we rescued would be dead."

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COP21 climate change summit reaches deal in Paris

BBC 13 Dec 15;

A deal to attempt to limit the rise in global temperatures to less than 2C has been agreed at the climate change summit in Paris after two weeks of intense negotiations.

The pact is the first to commit all countries to cut carbon emissions.

The agreement is partly legally binding and partly voluntary.

Earlier, key blocs, including the G77 group of developing countries, and nations such as China and India said they supported the proposals.

President of the UN climate conference of parties (COP) and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said: "I now invite the COP to adopt the decision entitled Paris Agreement outlined in the document.

"Looking out to the room I see that the reaction is positive, I see no objections. The Paris agreement is adopted."

As he struck the gavel to signal the adoption of the deal, delegates rose to their feet cheering and applauding.

US President Barack Obama has hailed the agreement as "ambitious" and "historic", but also warned against complacency.

"Together, we've shown what's possible when the world stands as one," he said.

And although admitting that the deal was not "perfect", he said it was "the best chance to save the one planet we have".

China's chief negotiator Xie Zhenhua said the deal was not perfect. But he added that "this does not prevent us from marching historical steps forward".

Nearly 200 countries took part in the negotiations to strike the first climate deal to commit all countries to cut emissions, which would come into being in 2020.

The chairman of the group representing some of the world's poorest countries called the deal historic, adding: "We are living in unprecedented times, which call for unprecedented measures.

"It is the best outcome we could have hoped for, not just for the Least Developed Countries, but for all citizens of the world."

Key points

The measures in the agreement included:
• To peak greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and achieve a balance between sources and sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century
• To keep global temperature increase "well below" 2C (3.6F) and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5C
• To review progress every five years
• $100 billion a year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020, with a commitment to further finance in the future.

The speeches and the cliches at the adoption of the Paris Agreement flowed like good champagne - success after all has many fathers! The main emotion is relief. The influence of the COP president, Laurent Fabius, cannot be overstated. His long diplomatic career gave him a credibility seldom matched in this arena. He used his power well.

The deal that has been agreed, under Mr Fabius, is without parallel in terms of climate change or of the environment. It sets out a clear long term temperature limit for the planet and a clear way of getting there. There is money for poor countries to adapt, there is a strong review mechanism to increase ambition over time. This is key if the deal is to achieve the aim of keeping warming well below 2C.

More than anything though the deal signifies a new way for the world to achieve progress - without it costing the Earth. A long term perspective on the way we do sustainability is at the heart of this deal. If it delivers that, it truly will be world changing.

Ahead of the deal being struck, delegates were in a buoyant mood as they gathered in the hall waiting for the plenary session to resume.

Mr Fabius was applauded as he entered the hall ahead of the announcement.

Earlier, French President Francois Hollande called the proposals unprecedented, while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on negotiators to "finish the job".
However, the celebratory mood has not been shared among all observers.

'Almost nothing binding'

Nick Dearden, director of campaign group Global Justice Now, said: "It's outrageous that the deal that's on the table is being spun as a success when it undermines the rights of the world's most vulnerable communities and has almost nothing binding to ensure a safe and liveable climate for future generations."

Some aspects of the agreement will be legally binding, such as submitting an emissions reduction target and the regular review of that goal.

However, the targets set by nations will not be binding under the deal struck in Paris.

Observers say the attempt to impose emissions targets on countries was one of the main reasons why the Copenhagen talks in 2009 failed.

At the time, nations including China, India and South Africa were unwilling to sign up to a condition that they felt could hamper economic growth and development.

The latest negotiations managed to avoid such an impasse by developing a system of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).

In these, which form the basis of the Paris agreement goal of keeping global temperature rise "well below" 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrial levels, nations outline their plans on cutting their post-2020 emissions.

An assessment published during the two-week talks suggested that the emission reductions currently outlined in the INDCs submitted by countries would only limit global temperature rise by 2.7C.

Nick Mabey, chief executive of climate diplomacy organisation E3G, said the agreement was an ambitious one that would require serious political commitment to deliver.

"Paris means governments will go further and faster to tackle climate change than ever before," he said.

"The transition to a low carbon economy is now unstoppable, ensuring the end of the fossil fuel age."

COP21: UN chief hails new climate change agreement as 'monumental triumph'
UN Press Release 12 Dec 15;

12 December 2015 – Following the adoption of the new Paris Agreement on climate change, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said government representatives made history today.

“The Paris Agreement is a monumental triumph for people and our planet,” said Mr. Ban in a tweet, immediately following its adoption. “It sets the stage for progress in ending poverty, strengthening peace and ensuring a life of dignity and opportunity for all.”

Gaveling the Agreement with a green hammer, the French Foreign Minister and President of COP21, Laurent Fabius, announced the historic news – a moment greeted with loud applause and cheers, as the room stood up. Many delegates hugged, while others had tears in their eyes.

For the first time today, 195 Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – pledged to curb emissions, strengthen resilience and joined to take common climate action. This followed two weeks of tireless negotiations at the United Nations climate change conference (COP21).

The Paris Agreement and the outcomes of COP21 cover all the crucial areas identified as essential for a landmark conclusion: mitigation – reducing emissions fast enough to achieve the temperature goal; a transparency system and global stock-take – accounting for climate action; adaptation – strengthening ability of countries to deal with climate impacts; loss and damage – strengthening ability to recover from climate impacts; and support – including finance, for nations to build clean, resilient futures.

“In the face of an unprecedented challenge, you have demonstrated unprecedented leadership,” the UN chief said taking the COP21 stage just minutes later. “You have worked collaboratively to achieve something that no one nation could achieve alone. This is a resounding success for multilateralism.”

Recalling that he made climate change one of the defining priorities of his tenure as Secretary-General, Mr. Ban said that most of all, he has listened to people – the young, the poor and the vulnerable, including indigenous peoples, from every corner of the globe.

“They seek protection from the perils of a warming planet, and the opportunity to live in a safer, more bountiful world,” he underlined. “They have demanded that world leaders act to safeguard their well-being and that of generations to come.”

Turning to the agreement itself, the Secretary-General said negotiators reached “solid results on all key points,” with an agreement that demonstrates solidarity and “is ambitious, flexible, credible and durable.”

“All countries have agreed to hold global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius. And recognizing the risk of grave consequences, you have further agreed to pursue efforts to limit temperature increase to 1.5 degrees,” he announced.

In addition, a review mechanism has been established whereby every five years, beginning in 2018, Parties will regularly review what is needed in line with science.

“Governments have agreed to binding, robust, transparent rules of the road to ensure that all countries do what they have agreed across a range of issues,” Mr. Ban added.

Meanwhile, highlighting the role of the private sector, the UN chief said business leaders came to Paris in unprecedented numbers and that “powerful” climate solutions are already available while many more are to come.

“With these elements in place, markets now have the clear signal they need to unleash the full force of human ingenuity and scale up investments that will generate low-emissions, resilient growth,” he said, adding that “what was once unthinkable has now become unstoppable.”

“When historians look back on this day, they will say that global cooperation to secure a future safe from climate change took a dramatic new turn here in Paris,” Mr. Ban stated. “Today, we can look into the eyes of our children and grandchildren, and we can finally say, tell them that we have joined hands to bequeath a more habitable world to them and to future generations.”

Ending his remarks, the UN chief said that all Parties should be proud of the Paris Agreement and that “the work starts tomorrow.”

“For today, congratulations again on a job well done,” he concluded. “Let us work together, with renewed commitment, to make this a better world.”

Addressing the hundreds of delegates, Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of UNFCCC, said “we did it in Paris.”

“We have made history together. It is an agreement of conviction. It is an agreement of solidarity with the most vulnerable. It is an agreement of long-term vision, for we have to turn this agreement into an engine of safe growth,” she exclaimed.

Several other top UN officials joined the Secretary-General in welcoming the new Agreement. This included the President of the UN General Assembly, Mr. Mogens Lykketoft.

“Today's agreement signals nothing less than a renaissance for humankind as we collectively embrace the global challenge of climate change and endeavor to transition to a more sustainable way of living that respects the needs of people and our planet,” Mr. Lykketoft said in a statement.

Echoing this message, the President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Oh Joon, said the world has reached a key milestone in collective action for sustainable development.

“Bold action against climate change will contribute to poverty reduction. The United Nations Economic and Social Council will take part in follow-up efforts,” he added.

Earlier today, at a meeting of the Committee of Paris [Comité de Paris] – the body which is overseeing the negotiations at COP21 – the UN chief spoke alongside the President of France, François Hollande as well Minister Fabius.

“The end is in sight. Let us now finish the job. The whole world is watching. Billions of people are relying on your wisdom,” the Secretary-General had told delegates.

In an emotional address during which he held back tears, Laurent Fabius said the agreement “will serve meaningful causes, food safety and security, public health, the fight against poverty and for essential rights, and therefore peace.”

“People worldwide, our citizens, our children, wouldn't understand if we didn't adopt it and wouldn't forgive us,” he insisted.

“It is rare to be given the opportunity to change the world,” said President François Hollande, wrapping up the meeting. “You have the opportunity to do that.”

Has history been made at COP21?
Matt McGrath BBC News 13 Dec 15;

I'm not a fan of hyperbole, but it would be churlish to say the adoption of the Paris Agreement was anything other than a globally, historic moment.

This carefully worded document that balances the right of countries to develop with the need to protect the planet is a truly world changing instrument.

It sets out, for the first time, a global approach to a problem of humanity's own making: the recent rapid warming of the Earth that science says is mainly down to the use of fossil fuels.

The deal sets out a firm goal of keeping temperature rises well below 2C, and will strive for 1.5C.

This is no easy task as researchers say that this year 2015, the world has gone through 1C above pre-industrial levels.

It also sets out a means of getting there. It's a little convoluted in terms of language, but that's what you get when you try and get 196 parties to agree to a plan of action.

Critical sentence

The agreement text means that emissions of greenhouse gases will have to peak globally and reduce rapidly thereafter, in accordance with the best possible science.

This phrase is crucial according to observers, meaning that the Paris deal will be guided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And the IPCC say that carbon emissions will have to go to zero by the end of this century.

There is a stonking piece of UN jargon that has been crafted to get around the tricky business of differentiation, the long standing division of the world into developed and developing countries only.

It's called CBDRRCILNDC, which translates as Common But Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities, In the Light of Different National Circumstances.
Essentially it means a gradual shift away from the absolute firewall set up in 1992 when the UN Convention was adopted. Over time more countries will take on more cuts.

Another sign of this breakdown of differentiation is the adoption of a single system of measuring, reporting and verifying that countries will do what they say under the terms of the agreement.

But it is not all one way. The deal re-iterates the "flexibility" that the developing nations will only come into this system when they are ready to do so.

There is also a separate article on loss and damage. While it doesn't put the rich countries on the hook for compensation or liability, the fact that it is there in the body of the agreement is a big win for the poorer nations.

The finance sections also reflect this give and take. The poorer nations won't have to contribute any cash; the richer ones will have to give more money in the new deal and with greater predictability.

A key part of keeping ambitions high is a reviewing mechanism - and the one agreed is built on the idea of no backsliding on promises. There will be a review of what countries are now proposing in 2018. Countries will have to endure a "global stocktake" in 2023 and two years later make new carbon cutting commitments.

While the deal is toothless when it comes to penalties for missing any targets, the UN is counting on peer pressure to keep countries moving forward. It's worked so far, with 187 countries lodging national climate plans before the end of this meeting. No one wanted to turn up empty handed.

The key thing about this deal may ultimately not be the rules and mechanisms and targets it sets - it's about signals and signs.

"We are sending a critical message to the global marketplace," said US Secretary of State John Kerry at the conclusion of the meeting.

Among the celebrations though were reminders that the hard work on climate change was now only beginning.

South African Minister Edna Molewa channelled the spirit of Nelson Mandela, not for the first time:

"I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb….I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended."

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