Best of our wild blogs: 15 Dec 15

Malaysian state issues ‘fatwa’ against wildlife poaching
Mongabay Environmental News

Inclusion of REDD+ in Paris climate agreement heralded as major step forward on deforestation
Mongabay Environmental News

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Singapore 'on track' with green initiatives

Audrey Tan, My Paper AsiaOne 15 Dec 15;

Under the Government's SolarNova programme, the Housing Board has also committed to a target of 220MW-peak of power, generated through solar panels at some 5,500 blocks.

The deal to steer the world away from catastrophic climate change has been struck and Singapore, with its existing suite of initiatives, is on the right track, experts here told The Straits Times.

But there are other areas that could be looked into to make Singapore greener in the long term, they said.

"Singapore has already phased out coal and oil in its electric power sector and is thus on track for the next 10 to 15 years with its current measures," said Armin Aberle, chief executive of the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

But beyond 2050, Singapore needs to phase out natural gas - which now makes up 95.5 per cent of the fuel mix - and replace it with cleaner alternative energy. Professor Aberle said: "The main pillar will be solar energy, whereby a significant part of these future solar power plants could be on off-shore platforms."

Singapore is already moving in this direction. Last month, national water agency PUB announced that it is embarking on a feasibility study to assess the possibility of installing solar panels at its reservoirs and other facilities.

Under the Government's SolarNova programme, the Housing Board has also committed to a target of 220MW-peak of power, generated through solar panels at some 5,500 blocks.

Singapore has pledged that its greenhouse gas emissions will peak around 2030 at the equivalent of about 65 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, even if the economy grows. It will also be greener economically, reducing the amount of greenhouse gases emitted to achieve each dollar of gross domestic product by more than a third.

Subodh Mhaisalkar, executive director of the Energy Research Institute at Nanyang Technological University, said the power generation switch from fuel oil to natural gas, as well as increasing solar energy generation, "addresses more or less the only opportunities available to Singapore".

This, he noted, was because Singapore is a "renewable energy disadvantaged nation", with limited access to other alternative energy options such as hydroelectric, wind or geothermal power.

Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore's Foreign Affairs Minister, had said that the country will strive to curb its emissions in other ways.

This includes promoting greater energy efficiency in the domestic and industrial sectors; pushing for more green buildings; aiming for the petrochemical industry to continuously upgrade using the least pollutive and most efficient technologies available, as well as improving public transport.

But more importantly, Singaporeans need to change their consumption behaviour, like using less energy, buying less and wasting less, said Melissa Low, a research associate from the NUS Energy Studies Institute. "Without a mindset shift, efforts by the Government may not yield optimal results."

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Environment and sustainability a major focus this year: Experts

Companies and their partners are facing pressure to adopt sustainable practices or risk losing out in the eyes of consumers, especially after unprecedented levels of haze from forest fires in Indonesia choked the region.
Patrick John Lim Channel NewsAsia 14 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE: Tissue paper and other similar paper products are an integral part of our daily lives, but many people give no thought about how they are produced. However, this changed earlier this year, when unprecedented levels of haze from the forest fires in Indonesia choked the region.

Sustainability has taken a huge focus this year, with some experts describing 2015 as a watershed year when it comes to environment and sustainability.

Singaporeans are becoming more aware of where the products they buy come from, especially forest products related to the haze-causing forest fires. As a result, companies and their partners are facing pressure to adopt sustainable practices or risk losing out in the eyes of consumers.

People, now aware that purchasing even the most mundane item may perpetuate more forest fires, are now beginning to vote with their wallets. This culminated in supermarkets across Singapore pulling products associated with the forest fires, from their shelves.

Global personal care company Kimberly-Clark is one company which hopes to lead by example when it comes to sustainable practices.

In sourcing for materials for its paper products, Kimberly-Clark said it looks only at forests certified by Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) as sustainable. It said credible third-party authorities can help companies identify areas where they can be sustainable.

Said Kimberly-Clark’s director of communications & government affairs (Asia Pacific), Shweta Shukla: “Kimberly-Clark is sourcing its wood pulp or the raw material for its brands like Kleenex from FSC-certified sources or forests. Which essentially means that it is really the gold standard when it comes to picking and choosing suppliers that we source from.

"The FSC is a credible third party and most rigorous standard of responsible forestry and that's why we rely on them for certifying our suppliers and forests.”

Not all companies have direct control of where materials are sourced and how products are produced. Many work with other smaller firms as part of a larger supply chain.


However, increasing consumer pressure on sustainability is forcing corporates to not only look at their own processes but down the entire supply chain.

Said Mr K Sadashiv, partner, climate change and sustainability services at EY: "Supply chain participants intimately impact the way companies operate or its results. So companies have now realised that engaging in their supply chain or at least the material members of their supply chain is truly important for themselves in making sure that they are seen to be responsible not only for their own operations, but also for the operations of those supply chain participants.

"As such, supply chains have become intrinsically a key participating member in the whole sustainability movement.”

Going forward, analysts said this sustainability movement will only gather momentum.

World leaders met in Paris this month for a UN climate change conference to discuss a binding, universal agreement on climate.

"Sustainability is not just all about corporate social responsibility, which was the buzzword a few years ago. It's the lens by which businesses will be judged by consumers, by shareholders and general stakeholders at large. Companies cannot afford to ignore sustainability and need to embed it in their operations to make themselves successful in the longer run,” said Ms Monica Hira, sustainability and climate change partner at PwC Singapore.

Singapore regulators are doing their part to ensure companies are aligned to the environmental trends. Earlier this year, the Singapore Exchange announced that it will require listed companies to publish sustainability reports starting from Financial Year 2017.

- CNA/dl

2015: When NEA, supermarket chains cracked the whip on haze-causing suppliers
This year saw authories using the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act to go after companies that burn land in Indonesia. Other organisations also did their bit to send an unequivocal signal to firms that there will be commercial penalties if they risk the health of citizens.
Channel NewsAsia 14 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE: 2015 was a year which saw the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act being wielded for the first time. The haze episode this year was the longest recorded since 2013, blanketing the Singapore skyline for about three months. The Pollutant Standards Index hit hazardous levels, forcing schools to shut for the first time since the SARS outbreak in 2003.

As in previous years, the culprits were farmers who burned large swaths of land to make way for palm oil, pulp and paper plantations.

Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who tabled the Bill in 2014 when he was the Environment and Water Resources Minister observed that there has overall been a concerted effort to stamp out the haze.

Said Dr Balakrishnan, who is now the Minister for Foreign Affairs: "In fact, there's been another level which I've been very pleased with, and that is the way the civil society organisations like the Environment Council, CASE, supermarkets on their own volition have taken action to send this very clear unequivocal signal to companies, that if they continue to risk our health and the welfare of ordinary citizens, there will be commercial penalties."

The National Environment Agency has served notices to six companies, asking them to take steps to put out the fires. Asia Pulp and Paper Group, one of the companies believed to be behind the land burning, saw its products taken off the shelves in several supermarkets.

Action is also being taken on another part of the supply chain. In an unprecedented move, banks were issued guidelines to ensure the companies they lend to behave responsibly.


But while Singapore has toughened its stance, Dr Balakrishnan stressed that other countries in the region must play their part to prevent the haze from recurring.

"This is not a national or transnational argument," he said. "This really ought to be about authorities in the region dealing with errant companies that are releasing unconscionable amounts of greenhouse gases into the environment, and are putting the health of millions of people at risk, and in fact are damaging the regional economies by many billions of dollars by our own estimates. So that's really the context in which this recurrent haze episodes should be viewed. And we must not tolerate business as usual."

The haze aside, there appears to be greater environmental awareness among consumers. Increasingly, they are looking at how companies' activities impact the environment, so it comes as little surprise that the Singapore Exchange has asked all listed companies to publish sustainability reports from 2017.

"Companies now will be beginning to take a look at the impact of their activities and not only their own activities, but interestingly also the impact of their entire supply chain, because an organisation is as good as its supply chain," said Mr K Sadashiv, Southeast Asian leader for Climate Change and Sustainability Services at Ernst and Young.

He added: "Those who have not embarked on some of these performance improvements would have to see this as a fillip to get going and I would dare say that if they ignore this, they will actually fall back compared to their peers, and the markets are shrewd enough and astute enough to recognise this, and potentially such companies who do not carry out the activities and therefore report them might actually be punished by the markets, through impact on share value, through impact on reputation, through being seen as to be behind by their peers and competitors

Globally, countries have woken up to the reality that the planet could warm to dangerous levels unless urgent action is taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions. World leaders recently convened in Paris for COP21 and emerged with a hard-won accord to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures.

The Paris agreement - which Dr Balakrishnan said, "strikes the right balance" between means of implementation and ambition - is formed based on voluntary action plans from all nations, rich or poor. Singapore, for example, aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions intensity by 36 per cent by 2030.

It plans to achieve this by using energy more efficiently. Some measures include harvesting more solar energy, constructing more green buildings, promoting public transport and becoming more energy efficient, both in the industrial sector and at home.

- CNA/hs

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Global arbiter of animal names gets steady funds

Audrey Tan, The Straits Times AsiaOne 15 Dec 15;

A global commission that helps to standardise the scientific names of animals was saved from extinction two years ago, when the National University of Singapore (NUS) agreed to fund it to the tune of $100,000 a year for three years.

Now the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) has found steadier footing in the form of a $1.35 million ICZN Secretariat Endowment Fund, almost all funded by the Lee Foundation.

The commission had been struggling financially previously, after the British-based charitable trust that was funding it ran out of cash.

The fund will be announced today at the general meeting of ICZN held in conjunction with the 32nd International Union of Biological Sciences Conference in Berlin, Germany. Other donors and supporters include the American Association for Zoological Nomenclature, the Ichthyological Society of Japan and several private individuals.

The endowment fund will not only ensure the long-term sustainability of the commission, but also help it set up a secretariat to coordinate cases involving conflicts over an animal's scientific name.

"By building up an endowment comprising gifts from the public and private benefactors around the world - an approach similar to the funding model of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum - it will allow ICZN to enjoy long-term operational sustainability," said ICZN commissioner Peter Ng, who also heads the museum.

Only the interest generated from the ICZN Secretariat Endowment Fund can be spent.

In the past, the commission lived largely on a hand-to-mouth basis, spending donations when they came in. The fund will also support the operations of the ICZN Secretariat, which will now be based at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum in NUS. It was previously based at the Natural History Museum in London, before moving to NUS after the university agreed to fund it in 2013.

The secretariat is responsible for coordinating the commission's activities worldwide.

This is important, as the organisation's 25 commissioners are volunteers who hail from around the world and are senior scientists and professionals in universities, museums or institutions.

"This is why it is important to have a secretariat, without which things would be extremely chaotic," said Prof Ng. "Singapore is, in many ways, the perfect place for the secretariat as we are so well connected - technologically as well as scientifically, and NUS is the perfect nexus as we are a global university centred here."

Prof Ng added that it was appropriate that the secretariat be based in Singapore, "especially as this is a part of the world where science is growing at a rapid pace and the challenges associated with biodiversity discovery conservation are especially acute".

Dr Jan van Tol, president of the ICZN, said: "The establishment of the secretariat at NUS is also an implementation of my vision that ICZN has to evolve into a truly international organisation, with a strong representation in the mega- diverse regions of the world."

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A single name for 4 species of swimming crabs

Swimming crabs were all thought to be part of one species until a 2010 study by researchers here showed otherwise.
Audrey Tan, The Straits Times AsiaOne 15 Dec 15;

The swimming crab is famous in Singapore and the region for being delicious when cooked in chilli or black pepper sauce, but it has also made a name for itself among the scientific community.

It was thought to be one species, Portunus pelagicus, until a 2010 study by local researcher Joelle Lai and crab expert Peter Ng found there were actually four species.

Because fisheries lump the species together, it is hard to tell if some are being over-harvested.

Data from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations shows that 203,843 tonnes were fished from the wild in 2013.

The number is a collective figure for all four species, and does not indicate whether one species or another is at risk of over-harvesting.

Professor Ng, one of the scientists behind the discovery, said it takes time for new scientific names to be accepted by the community, used widely and then translated into policies.

Still, the scientific names for the four species seem to be gaining traction. In Australia, the name Portunus armatus is slowly coming into steady use, said Prof Ng, who heads the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

"The names tell us there are discrete genetic populations - these have different life cycles, growth rates, requirements and habits, so we need to manage them differently... A wrong name is not a good start to good management."

The four species are differentiated based on form and structure (such as colour patterns and the shape of the shell), genetic characteristics and location.

Portunus pelagicus is widely found throughout the Indo-West Pacific Ocean in South-east Asia and East Asia. Portunus segnis is native to the western Indian Ocean and extends to the east coast of South Africa. Portunus reticulatus can be found in the eastern Indian Ocean, while Portunus armatus has been found around most of Australia.

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NTU scientists find way to help firms cut energy bills

FRANCIS LAW Today Online 14 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE — Scientists from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have designed an algorithm that can help companies and factories save as much as 10 per cent in energy bills by letting them know exactly how much power is being used throughout the day.

By analysing detailed power usage patterns over time, the algorithm predicts energy consumption needs and recommends ways to save energy.

The algorithm’s developer Assistant Professor Wen Yonggang from NTU’s School of Computer Engineering likens the principle to estimating the amount of food needed for a family, based on the number of diners and their preference for specific food.

“If we know how much food is expected to be consumed tomorrow night, we can save the cost by reducing the food wastage. In data centres’ context, if we know that only 100 servers are needed to run some services for the customers, we can turn off the rest of servers to save a lot of energy,” he said.

Power usage data is collected by sensors in existing computer chips in equipment such as servers, air-conditioning systems and industrial machinery, as well as external sensors.

Asst Prof Wen’s algorithm has been licensed by Evercomm, a two-year-old start-up, which is working with several semi-conductor manufacturers, including GlobalFoundries — the second largest foundry in the world — and several datacentre companies to help them cut energy consumption.

The average semi-conductor factory typically spends about S$50 million per year on electricity bills. Through the algorithm, a large factory can save up to S$1 million, according to Evercomm Singapore’s co-founder and product architect Ted Chen.

Evercomm has also developed a computer chip that can be integrated into existing sensors to allow data to be collected wirelessly and fed to a central server. These chips have been installed into street lamps around Taiwan’s National Dong Hwa University’s campus and analysis of the richer data is expected to save S$4.6 million in energy costs over seven years.

Mr Chen said: “Instead of collecting just power data from the machines, we actually go one step further and collect all the fundamental data like temperature, weather, etcetera, so we can tell you exactly why the power goes up and down, and what to change, so you can save energy.”

The company is working on another chip that would connect up to 2,000 sensor nodes, allowing the technology to be used by cities to monitor and manage energy consumption. Evercomm is exploring deploying this technology into HDB flats and housing estates.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelt the name of manufacturer GlobalFoundries. We are sorry for the error.

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Powerful Typhoon Melor slams Philippines, major disruptions

More than 700,000 people in the central Philippines fled to safer areas for fear of giant waves, floods or landslides as Typhoon Melor slammed into the archipelago nation.
Channel NewsAsia 15 Dec 15;

MANILA: More than 700,000 people in the central Philippines fled to safer areas for fear of giant waves, floods or landslides as Typhoon Melor slammed into the archipelago nation Monday, officials said.

Melor crossed the central Burias Island late Monday, with authorities warning that traditional thatched homes were unlikely to withstand the strong winds and that crops may suffer heavy losses. There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.

The typhoon brushed the northern tip of Samar, a farming island of 1.5 million people, early Monday with winds gusting up to 185 kilometres (115 miles) per hour, the state weather bureau said.

Samar was among areas devastated in 2013 by Typhoon Haiyan, when giant waves wiped out entire communities and left 7,350 people dead or missing.

Authorities warned that Melor's powerful winds might whip up four-metre-high (13-feet) waves, blow off tin roofs and uproot trees. They said heavy rain within its 300-kilometre diameter could trigger floods and landslides.

In Albay province in the southeast of Luzon island, almost 600,000 people were evacuated due to fears that heavy rain could cause mudslides on the slopes of nearby Mayon Volcano, according to the national disaster monitoring office.

Residents carrying bags of clothes and water jugs clambered onto army trucks in Albay's Legazpi City as authorities sounded an evacuation alarm, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.

Huge waves crashed into the city's deserted boulevard as palm trees swayed from the wind.

"The whole province is now a ghost town. We shut all establishments. No school, no work," Albay governor Joey Salceda said on ABS-CBN television.


Albay, a province of 1.2 million people, has become a model for disaster preparedness. It recorded zero casualties from Typhoon Hagupit last December due to prompt evacuations.

An additional 130,000 people were evacuated in Sorsogon province south of Albay.

The typhoon had moved over the Sibuyan Sea by late Monday and was next expected to hit Mindoro Island Tuesday afternoon, bringing with it winds of up to 170 kilometres per hour.

The storm's outer rain bands could hit the capital Manila, state weather forecaster Robert Badrina told AFP, but the risk of severe wind damage or flooding was unlikely.

Stormy weather has forced the cancellation of 40 domestic flights and halted 625 passenger and cargo ferry trips, the disaster monitoring agency said.

The government had prepared more than 200,000 food packs and other emergency items before the storm's landfall, social welfare secretary Corazon Soliman told DZMM radio.

The Philippines is battered by an average of 20 typhoons annually. Two of these usually hit in December, Badrina said, and are often among the strongest.

Last year Typhoon Hagupit brought floods and landslides to the central region, killing 53 people.

A low-pressure area, which could either strengthen into a typhoon or dissipate because of cold winds blowing from the north, was spotted east of the main southern island of Mindanao, Badrina said.

The weather bureau is studying the link between the increasing strength of year-end storms and climate change, he said.

Typhoon Koppu, the last deadly storm to hit the country this year, killed 54 people and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes after it pummelled the north in October.

- AFP/jb

Central Philippines in darkness as typhoon Melor hits
Wide areas of the central Philippines were plunged into darkness on Tuesday as powerful typhoon Melor barrelled into the coconut-growing region, causing flooding, storm surges and forcing almost 800,000 people to evacuate their homes, officials said.
Channel NewsAsia 15 Dec 15;

MANILA: Wide areas of the central Philippines were plunged into darkness on Tuesday as powerful typhoon Melor barrelled into the coconut-growing region, causing flooding, storm surges and forcing almost 800,000 people to evacuate their homes, officials said.

Known locally as Nona, the storm packing winds of 140 kph (87 mph) was about 40 km (25 mile) north-northeast of Romblon island early on Tuesday, moving west and weakening.

"Melor will continue to weaken as it crosses the central Philippines into Tuesday," weather provider Accuweather said. "However, damaging wind gusts higher than 130 kph will target the rest of southern Luzon to Mindoro."

Romblon residents reported heavy rain and strong winds from midnight. Power was cut as transmission lines and electric posts came down.

Alexander Pama, executive director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, said nearly 800,000 people had been evacuated to shelter areas.

"So far, we have not received any report of typhoon-related casualties," he said.

Media reported that three people had been killed on Samar island, where Melor first made landfall on Monday, although this could not immediately be confirmed.

Power services in six central provinces were disrupted and emergency teams were assessing damage to agriculture and infrastructure, Pama said.

Schools and some offices were closed. Dozens of domestic flights and ferry services were cancelled, and the fishing fleet took shelter due to waves as high as 14 metres (46 ft).

Another potential tropical system will hit the southern Philippines later this week, Accuweather said.

An average of 20 typhoons pass through the country every year. In 2013, typhoon Haiyan struck the central Philippines, killing more than 6,300 people and leaving 1.4 million homeless.

(Reporting by Manuel Mogato and Jerome Neil Morales; Editing by Stephen Coates)

- Reuters

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Malaysia: Typhoon fallout, heavy monsoon rains set to lash the country within days


KOTA KINABALU: Even with hundreds of families already displaced by floods in various parts of the country, the Meteorological Depart­ment has warned of more nasty weather.

Its Sabah director Abdul Malek Tusin said the state was most likely to be hit by the tail end of Typhoon Melor, which is now in central Philippines.

The typhoon is expected to bring strong winds between 64kph and 80kph and heavy rains to Sabah’s interiors, west coast areas and Kudat on Thursday and Friday. Waves of up to 3.5m at the Sulu and South China Sea are also expected.

Abdul Malek said the affected areas should brace for flash floods while all sea activities should be halted until the weather improved.

In Kuala Lumpur, the department’s deputy director-general Alui Bahari said heavy monsoon rains accompanied by thunderstorms were expected in Terengganu, Pahang, Johor and west Sarawak.

The department has issued a yellow alert, signalling imminent downpours in these areas within one to three days.

He called on the people to prepare for bad weather.

Alui said that they were constantly monitoring the situation and if it were to get worse, the department would issue an orange or red alert.

Orange signifies rain that lasts for more than a day, with an average rainfall of 0.5mm to 4mm per hour.

Red is the highest warning and signifies heavy rain lasting for a day or more, with an average of 20mm of rainfall per hour.

Alui said heavy rains were expected from a cold surge forming over the South China Sea due to north-east winds.

In Malacca, among those reeling from heavy downpours were 150 families in Alor Gajah.

Sunday’s heavy rain left several areas in waist-high flood after Sungai Pengkalan burst its banks.

The flood-hit areas include Kampung Gadek, Kampung Pengkalan, Taman Seri Bayu and Kampung Panchor.

In Bukit Mertajam, a freak thunderstorm wreaked havoc on at least 17 village houses in Permatang Janggus, Permatang Pauh.

The roofs were blown away in the 5.20pm storm on Sunday while some ceilings and walls were torn apart, causing residents to suffer damage to their homes amounting to tens of thousands of ringgit.

Homemaker Hazmiza Abu Hassan, whose family was among those affected, said she was taking a nap with her three children when her husband shouted for them to get up upon seeing the twister-like winds moving towards their wooden double-storey house.

“Everything happened so fast and before we knew it, all of us were running out of our house because we feared for our safety,” said the 36-year-old mother of four.

In Ipoh, at least 19 families were displaced following a flash flood that hit their village in Parit, Perak Tengah.

A Perak Fire and Rescue Department spokesman said that about 85 people were currently taking shelter at the Nurul Jannah Surau in Parit 6, Layang-Layang Kiri.

“The floodwater was about 0.6m high. Villagers moved to the temporary shelter on Saturday at about 3am,” he said.

Meanwhile, a state National Disaster Council secretariat spokesman said four families with 22 peo­ple, were relocated to SK Changkat Jong following a flood at Kampung Lorong Mesra in Chang­kat Jong, Teluk Intan at 6pm yesterday.

‘No cause for alarm despite incessant rain warnings’
The Star 15 Dec 15;

PETALING JAYA: There is no cause for the people to be alarmed despite warnings of incessant rain over the next two weeks especially in the Klang Valley, says Fire and Rescue Department director-general Datuk Wan Mohd Nor Ibrahim.

He said the department saw a high probability that the higher amount of rainfall would lead to flash floods in many areas.

“Rest assured, we are ready to face any possibility (of floods). However, the public must remain calm in facing such a disaster and contact the authorities for assistance,” he told The Star yesterday.

On the preparations, Wan Mohd Nor said the department had set up a national control room to brace for the floods.

“We have set up operation centres to monitor the flood situation in the country since Nov 20,” he added.

He reminded the public to be wary of flash floods and landslides.

“Be vigilant for any impending danger due to the rain and floods. Listen to public announcements and be ready if the order to move out is issued,” he said.

It was reported that some 14,000 department personnel nationwide are on standby and prepared to be deployed for rescue operations.

The department is also equipped with equipment, including 600 rescue boats and 100 trucks.

Typhoon Melor effect likely to cause flash floods in Sabah
STEPHANIE LEE The Star 14 Dec 15;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah is most likely to be hit by the tail effects of Typhoon Melor as it slammed central Philippines.

The typhoon, which will bring strong winds between 40 and 50 mph and heavy rains in Sabah's interiors, west coast areas and Kudat is expected to hit on Thursday and Friday.

On Monday, state Meteorological Department director Abdul Malek Tusin said that the affected areas should brace for flash floods during these two days.

All sea activities are also advised to be halted until the weather improves as the tail effects of Typhoon Melor is able to cause waves of up to 3.5m at the Sulu and South China Sea.

"We are monitoring the situation," Malek said.

It was reported that more than 700,000 people in the central Philippines fled to safer areas for fear of giant waves, floods or landslides as Typhoon Melor slammed into the archipelago nation Monday.

Over 400 flood victims in Selangor
The Star 14 Dec 15;

SHAH ALAM: The number of flood evacuees in Selangor has increased to 443.

State Fire and Rescue Department assistant director Mohd Sani Harul said 108 families were affected so far, compared with 309 people from 77 families earlier.

In a statement Monday, he said a new relief centre was also opened at Sekolah Kebangsaan Abdul Samad, Kapar in Klang to house 33 victims from seven families.

Currently, eight relief centres were opened in Selangor.

"The relief centre at Surau Kampung Lembah Paya, Sepang recorded the highest number of flood victims with 172 from 42 families followed by Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Meru, Klang Hall (111).

"Other relief centres opened were Surau Ladang Tuan Mee, Kuala Selangor (37 victims), Taman Gemilang in Dengkil (23), Salak Lama Community Centre, Kampung Salak Tengah in Sepang (29), Kampung Baru Salak Tinggi Community Centre in Sepang (21) and the Klang Municipal Council Hall Kampung Kuantan in Klang (17)," he said.

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Malaysia commits to retain 50% of forest cover after COP 21 deal

The Star 15 Dec 15;

PUTRAJAYA: Malaysia has reiterated its commitment to retain 50% of its forest areas after signing an agreement with 195 countries at the Paris climate change talks (COP21).

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the country would increase efforts to protect and preserve its forests.

“By preserving our forests, this will reduce greenhouse gas emissions through carbon sequestration.

“Among the existing initiatives that use this approach are the Central Forest Spine (CFS) project and the Heart of Borneo programme.

“Under CFS, we establish a corridor in Peninsular Malaysia that will combine several clusters of forests that require reforestation and declare them as permanent forests (hutan kekal).

“As for the Borneo corridor, we have received co-operation from Indonesia and Brunei.

“The Sarawak Chief Minister (Tan Sri Adenan Satem) has also stated his commitment to stop giving out logging licences,” he told a press conference here yesterday.

Dr Wan Junaidi represented Malaysia in Paris over the weekend for the COP21 talks.

He also stated Malaysia’s commitment to reduce the greenhouse gas emission to 45% based on the Gross Domestic Product by 2030.

“Malaysia has declared this in its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, which is presented to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“We must reduce the usage of hydrofluorocarbon gas and hydrochlorofluorocarbon as we are producers of electronic products such as air-conditioners, refrigerators and so on.

“We need to find an alternative so that the industry will not be affected,” he said.

After two weeks of negotiations for the COP21 deal, 195 countries agreed to try and limit the rise in global temperatures to less than 2°C.

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Indonesia: Haze Is Gone but Answers Remain Thin

Basten Gokkon Jakarta Globe 14 Dec 15;

This year’s wildfire and haze crisis saw nearly 2 million hectares of forested land across the Indonesian archipelago go up in flames and the lives of millions around the Southeast Asia region affected by the thick smoke, seeing scores of respiratory illness and the forced closure of schools and businesses.

The country’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) labeled the catastrophe as a “crime against humanity of extraordinary proportions” after 19 people died from breathing toxic fumes and an estimated 500,000 cases of respiratory tract infections were reported since July.

The damage also extended to the nation’s finances as the government estimated the haze crisis costs set Indonesia back up to $47 billion, a huge blow to the country’s already sluggish economy.

This year’s devastating disaster prompted conservation scientist from Borneo Futures Erik Meijaard to claim it was “the biggest environmental crime of the 21st century” after the Indonesian government failed to protect the lives of millions of people, the nation’s protected forests and wildlife and the global environment from the fires and haze engulfing the region.

Blame game

The fires and haze happen every year in the country, and tackling them has been a seasonal challenge for almost every Indonesian government for the past 17 years.

For this year’s fires, the Indonesian government — under the leadership of President Joko Widodo who has faced the disaster twice since taking office in October last year — and regional authorities conveniently put the blame on a weather anomaly known as El Nino, in which dry seasons are prolonged as an outcome from high sea water temperatures in the equatorial Pacific ocean.

They also pointed the finger at the wind direction for the haze blanketing neighboring countries Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines, which was also visible from a photograph taken from a million miles away by NASA’s Earth-observing DSCOVR satellite in late October.

Meanwhile, environmentalists say that at the root of the problem is the decades-long unsustainable practice of land clearing known as slash and burn where soil — particularly peat which is a dense organic matter in the process of becoming coal, and rich in carbon — is set on fire as a cheaper way to clear it for monocultural plantations, commonly oil palms or acacia.

Data from World Resources Institute (WRI) in September showed that more than 37 percent of the fires in Sumatra occurred on pulpwood concessions, while a good proportion of the rest are on or near land used by palm oil producers.

Based on the type of soil, the same report showed that 52 percent of the fires occur on peatland which is highly flammable.

Mansuetus Darto, chairman of the Bogor-based Oil Palm Smallholders Union (SPKS), also pointed out that a “rotten bureaucracy” on the regional government level played a role as to why the fires continued to reappear despite the change of state administrations.

“During election periods, running officials promise under the table methods to securing permits and concession areas in exchange for huge financial support from companies who wish to operate in the electoral districts,” Mansuetus told the Jakarta Globe recently.

Such political practices, he suggested, would also hinder the process of law enforcement against the firm’s executives when fires go out of control on the company’s concession areas.

In the spotlight

While the perennial problem of forest fires continued to spiral — particularly in Jambi, Central Kalimantan, South Sumatra, Riau, West Kalimantan and South Kalimantan which all declared a state of emergency in September after air pollution indices went off the charts — awareness built up exponentially over the hazy situation.

An analysis from Twitter Indonesia revealed that Indonesians posted nearly 2 million tweets in which they used the hashtag #MelawanAsap (#BattlingHaze) to garner support and attention domestically and abroad during the worst period of the disaster.

According to the report, it was the second-most tweeted subject in the country this year.

In the global arena, the fires and haze disaster also further marred Indonesia’s foreign relations especially after recently exercising its policy to execute foreign nationals earlier this year.

Neighboring countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Thailand, slammed the Indonesian government for its inability to immediately and effectively douse the fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra as they were also choking in the harmful smoke.

An unprecedented response to the criticisms, however, came from Vice President Jusuf Kalla who said that citizens from the neighboring countries shouldn’t have complained, but instead should thank Indonesia for the other months in which they could breathe clean air produced by the archipelago’s forests.

The Indonesian delegations attending the 21st conference of parties organized by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change were also expected to face tough questions regarding this year’s over 15,000 scorching forest fires, which produced from nations who gathered up in Paris.

Based on its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution for global carbon cuts effort to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, Indonesia has vowed to cut 29 percent of its carbon emission by 2030, a fairly ambitious target compared to its 26 percent pledge until 2020.

To tackle the fires on the ground, the Indonesian government deployed more than 26,000 troops and 30 aircraft to conduct water-bombing and cloud-seeding operations, as well as stationed several warships off Kalimantan, on standby to evacuate victims if required.

Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and Japan sent assistance to help extinguish the fires which catapulted Indonesia as the world’s biggest carbon producer in the September to October period as it generated emissions each day exceeding the average daily emissions from all US economic activity.

While technical and financial aid continued to pour into the country, persistent rains in late October, which lasted through November, ultimately extinguished the fires and cleared the sky of the orange-yellow smoke which blanketed the region.

“It was the nature that finally played its role when all human efforts seemed ineffective in mitigating this disaster,” Aditya Bayunanda, forest commodity leader with WWF Indonesia, told the Globe.

Still, environmentalists praised all mitigation measures done by the administration of Joko, who cut short his first state visit to the US to handle the haze, noting the policies the president made, such as putting a moratorium — although only in the form of a presidential order which has the weakest legal power compared to a government regulation (PP) or a presidential decree (perpres) — on issuing permit for concession areas on peat and drawing up a blueprint to restore 2 millions of peat over the next five years.

“The incumbent government is definitely doing a better job compared to the previous administrations in handling the fires and haze … issuing those policies is a good start,” Aditya says.

Mansuetus from SPKS said that the government also received brownie points when they imposed a strict law enforcement againt the people who have been suspected for causing the fires, slapping them with legal charges and placing them on the government’s blacklist.

As of October, the Environment and Forestry Ministry has charged some 413 plantation companies with allegations of burning their concession areas causing the wildfires and haze, and 14 of them received sanctions, including operating permit termination.

Gone, for now

The whole nation may still be recuperating from the haze trauma that scarred half a million people in Indonesia, but experts have warned the government that another tsunami of fires is likely to engulf the country’s forested areas and peatlands sooner rather than later.

WWF Indonesia’s Aditya pointed out that many have predicted that Indonesia’s ongoing rainy season would be ephemeral with estimations of another long dry season to begin as early as March next year.

“I would really like to see the every government’s preventive measurement towards the forest fires from now until next year’s dry season,” Aditya says.

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Climate deal may be terminal for coal, but death will be lingering

Today Online 15 Dec 15;

It is tempting to take the champagne-fuelled view that the historic global climate agreement reached in Paris signals the death of coal, but even if the dirty fuel is terminal, it will be a long, lingering demise before the final hacking cough.

This is simply because coal is, and will remain for decades, the main fuel in the world’s top and third-biggest emitters, China and India.

While China has changed direction on coal fairly dramatically in the past two years, its pledge at the climate summit that ended last weekend in the French capital is only that its emissions will peak by 2030.

That means the Chinese are allowing themselves 14 more years of increasing emissions, despite their commitment to lower the share of coal in their energy mix to below 60 per cent.

India did not commit to any absolute cuts in carbon emissions, instead promising to shave a third off the rate at which it emits greenhouse gases over the next 15 years.

What this means is India aims to cut carbon intensity, or the amount of carbon per rupee of economic output, by between 33 and 35 per cent by 2030 from 2005 levels.

But given that India is also planning on rapid economic growth in order to lift hundreds of millions of its people out of poverty, this means that pollution will rise in absolute terms, even if the South Asian nation does manage to use energy more efficiently in economic terms.

India is still planning on doubling its coal output to 1.5 billion tonnes by 2020, which is an ambitious target, but one that is ominous for its carbon emissions should it be achieved.

India may add another 170 to 200 gigawatts of coal-fired power in the next few years, which would require as much as 500 million tonnes of coal a year to operate.

India’s planned new coal-fired generation is roughly equal to its target of 175 gigawatts of renewable generation by 2020, which could be scaled up to 350 gigawatts by 2030.


This does show that India, like China, is planning on adding significant amounts of clean energy, but not so much as to end the need for a new coal-fired generation.

The undertaking by developed countries at the Paris summit to provide US$100 billion (S$141 billion) a year of clean-energy funding to the developing world by 2020 sounds like a major commitment, but in reality is probably well short of what will be required if China, India and other emerging Asian countries such as Indonesia are going to limit pollution.

India needs US$2.5 trillion by 2030 to achieve its already fairly modest plan, meaning developed nations are likely going to have to spend more than they currently envisage on helping the developing world.

Whether this level of funding is possible is a moot point, especially if the Republicans manage to win back the United States presidency before 2030.

It is hard to see a Republican president being as supportive of combating pollution as President Barack Obama has been, given many of the conservative party’s leading figures are climate-change sceptics.

What the Paris summit has changed is that coal, and other fossil fuels, have effectively been put on notice that their time is coming to an end.

This, of course, assumes that there is genuine follow-through on the words of the summit, and countries and private companies commit to spend the trillions of dollars needed to de-carbonise the global economy.

But in the meantime, coal is far from dead in Asia, even if it is under threat in the US and Europe, although how much is driven by climate policies and how much by the economics of alternatives, such as natural gas and rooftop solar panels, becoming cheaper.

The only way to limit coal’s growth in Asia is to try and encourage countries such as India and Indonesia to effectively skip a step in their industrial development.

In other words, they should not build power plants and distribution grids, rather, they should electrify their economies by going straight to small-scale renewables for households and larger-scale projects for industry.

This is not the current path being trod by India, Indonesia, or indeed any Asian country. Rather, they are all planning on building huge power plants and distribution networks.

But it can be done, with mobile phones showing the way in Africa. Many countries in the continent effectively skipped the step of building fixed copper or fibre networks, moving straight to cellular networks that can deliver voice and data.

A similar process can happen in electrification in Asia, and in Africa as well, but it will require a dramatic change in the policy mindsets of the governments involved.

Until this happens, coal’s future in the developing world is assured, at least for the next decade or two. REUTERS


Clyde Russell is Asia Commodities Columnist at Thomson Reuters.

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