Best of our wild blogs: 18 Dec 15

Celebrate Singapore’s Biodiversity at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum this December!
News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

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Baiting has no place in photography

Feeding an animal to get a good picture can cause harm to wildlife, ecosystems
David Tan Straits Times 18 Dec 15; Also in AsiaOne.

A juvenile grey-headed fish eagle photographed in the MacRitchie area in October. With nature photography growing both in popularity and affordability, so too has the pressure to obtain spectacular shots of wildlife, leading to a steady rise in questionable and unethical practices.PHOTO: DAVID TAN

Perched high above Little Guilin in Bukit Batok, a grey-headed fish eagle, one of Singapore's largest and most endangered birds, gets ready to pounce.

A carp struggles on the water's surface.

Photographers lie in wait - they have stuffed the poor fish with styrofoam so it is unable to sink.

The eagle dives, emerging with the fish in its talons. It devours the easy catch and, in the process, encounters a substance that tastes and feels unfamiliar.

The eagle does what it can to regurgitate the styrofoam, but many of these tiny particles of indigestible and potentially toxic material travel down its throat and remain in its gut, and could stay there for years.

In August this year, a group of photographers was filmed trying to obtain action shots of the eagle using this ploy. The evidence of their unethical practices was posted online and went viral, sparking outrage among nature photographers all over the world.

The incident, while exceptionally cruel, is hardly an isolated one.

Singapore is a biodiversity haven, home to more than 380 species of birds and 58 species of mammals. And with nature photography growing both in popularity and affordability since the 2000s, so too has the pressure to obtain spectacular shots of wildlife, leading to a steady rise in questionable and unethical practices.

The use of bait - an increasingly common practice in Singapore - appears at first to be not so clear-cut.

To its advocates, it is a harmless, even compassionate, pursuit. Feeding wild animals is good, they say, because it provides the animal with nourishment and helps it survive in an otherwise hostile environment.

So what does the science have to say about baiting and feeding?

Studies on rapidly declining farmland birds in Britain have shown that providing seeds during the barren winter months helps these birds to survive and maintain healthy population sizes during periods of food scarcity.

But such practices cannot apply to the humid tropics of South-east Asia, where food is plentiful all year round.

More importantly, most of the studies that show the benefits of feeding involve carefully managed conservation projects, such as those at zoos and aviaries, where both the types and amount of food provided are tightly controlled and feeding is carried out with clear conservation goals in mind.

No such monitoring or management occurs within local nature photography circles.

By far the most well-documented impact of baiting in the scientific literature is the habituation of animals towards human contact and human food.

As residents living in the vicinity of Bukit Timah and its long-tailed macaques are well aware, the less afraid wild animals are of humans, the greater the chance of experiencing some form of human-wildlife conflict as the animals become bolder and more aggressive.

The ultimate loser is the animal, since such conflicts are often followed by calls for culling to take place or result in the habituated animal being poached from the wild.

Another worry is the scientific evidence showing that opportunistic baiting of wild animals may cause malnutrition and even death.

Photographers generally rely on whatever bait is easiest to procure, which is often at odds with what an animal needs.

Last month, New Zealand news website The Dominion Post reported that an endangered kaka chick recently had to be put down after members of the public fed the chick's parents nuts, which the parents subsequently fed to their chick. The chick developed a severely deformed beak due to its bone development stopping prematurely.

In Singapore, the widespread use of store-bought insects to bait wild birds is also likely to cause harm.

Mealworms and crickets, by virtue of their relatively high fat content and low calcium to phosphorous ratio, are basically junk food for birds - full of empty calories and low on nutritional value.

And while some birds can survive on a pure mealworm diet for a day, data from animal husbandry studies around the world indicates that any more than that is likely to result in the creature developing serious obesity issues and liver problems.

This was the case earlier in March this year, when photographers were observed actively baiting the migratory hooded pitta with mealworms at the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

Over eight hours in a single day, the pitta consumed 27 mealworms and nothing else. This baiting went on constantly for at least three weeks, during which time the bird should have been foraging for a more diverse and nutritious array of food found naturally in the wild.

Indiscriminate baiting can also have negative consequences on the ecosystem.

Frogs have recently become a popular bait item among photographers, and many of these species, easily purchased from aquarium shops, are both potentially invasive and carriers of disease.

A 2012 study that included scientists from Singapore found that frogs from Singapore's aquarium trade were carriers of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, a fungus lethal to many frog species, and one that is currently decimating native frog populations in Madagascar and South America.

Among the carrier species were the crab-eating frog and the American bullfrog, both of which were recently used to bait the black- backed kingfisher in Venus Drive and the ruddy kingfisher in Bidadari respectively.

Although we have yet to experience a major outbreak of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis in Singapore, the continued use of carriers from the aquarium trade as bait increases the risk of this happening.

In some cases, the object of the lens may potentially be invasive itself. In February, photographers were spotted using seeds to bait the cut-throat finch, an African species likely introduced as a result of escapees from the pet trade, at Pasir Ris Park.

While most newly introduced species often fail to form stable populations and disappear quickly as a result, supplementary feeding may help them establish a stable breeding population. This could eventually lead to native birds being out-competed and ecosystems being destabilised.

The common thread underlying all these consequences is their intangibility. Unlike practices that cause immediate death and destruction, many of the negative consequences of baiting are incremental. Like the pieces of styrofoam in the grey-headed fish eagle's gut - they often accumulate without any noticeable impact until it is too late.

On the issue of baiting, the science is clear.

Baiting as it is currently practised has no place in nature photography. Ultimately, a good shot still depends on good old-fashioned patience, being observant and being unbelievably lucky.

About the writer

Mr David Tan, 26, is a researcher at the National University of Singapore's biological sciences department who studies urban ecology and evolution of birds.

As part of his work, he collects bird carcasses, which provide valuable genetic information that enables researchers to study bird evolution and conservation, among other things. He is also an avid birdwatcher and an amateur nature photographer.

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Malaysia Monitoring Possible Oil Spill After Freighter Sinks In Singapore Straits

Linda Khoo Hui Li Bernama 17 Dec 15;

PUTRAJAYA, Dec 17 (Bernama) -- Malaysia is closely monitoring the aftermath of yesterday's two-ship collision in the Straits of Singapore, which resulted in a freighter ferrying 560 metric tonnes of oil to sink as there is a possibility of oil spill in Malaysian waters.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said Malaysia had already taken precautionary measures against such an eventuality even though no oil spill was reported in the incident.

"Although the incident took place in Indonesian waters, monitoring is important because (we are) worried the oil spill could contaminate Malaysian waters through the currents, either through the Straits of Melaka, Straits of Singapore, or Johor waters," he told Bernama here today.

He said he had also been in touch with Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister, Masagor Zulkifli on the precautionary measures and preparedness of both countries in the event of an oil spill.

Wan Junaidi said the Department of Environment (DoE) would provide him with updates on the latest developments relating to the incident, adding it would also work with the National Environment Agency (NEA) of Singapore.

Singapore's Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) in a press release posted on its Facebook page said, a freighter carrying 560 metric tonnes of bunker fuel, sank after it collided with a chemical tanker in the Straits of Singapore at 8.14pm yesterday, in Indonesian waters about six nautical miles (11km) north-west of Batam.

The freighter 'Thorco Cloud' bearing the Antigua and Barbuda flag with 12 crew members, collided with a Cayman Island-registered chemical tanker 'Stolt Commitment'.

Reports said six crew members were missing following the collision.

Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency director-general Admiral Datuk Ahmad Puzi Ab Kahar when contacted said initial reports said the 'Thorco Cloud' had sank.

He urged Malaysian vessels passing through the straits to exercise care when approaching the site.


Indonesia testing 'oil' found after freighter collision
Navy official says fuel spotted in Strait of Singapore after freighter collides with chemical tanker; 6 crew missing
World Bulletin 17 Dec 15;

Rescue teams were searching Thursday for six crewmembers missing after their oil-laden freighter collided with a chemical tanker in the Strait of Singapore, as Indonesian authorities announced that fuel found at the site was being tested.

Col. Ribut Eko Suryatno, commander of the Batam island marine base, told the Tribun Batam newspaper that oil from the Thorco Cloud had been sited in the waters of the Singapore Strait.

"We have taken a sample of the oil," he said of the navy’s efforts to determine the level of sea pollution.

Commissioner Police Hero Hendrianto Bakhtiar, director of sea and air police for the Riau Islands region, told, "six lost crew members are still being sought by the navy and the Search and Rescue Agency.”

Bakhtiar said the Thorco Cloud freighter, which was carrying 560 metric tons of bunker fuel, was hit by chemical tanker Stolt Commitment while sailing from Singapore to Taiwan in the busiest commercial shipping route between Riau Islands and Singapore.

Six of the 12 crewmembers have been rescued by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore since the accident occurred at 08.30 p.m. (1330GMT) Wednesday around 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) northwest of Batam island.

Six of the total 12 crew could be saved by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore and transported to a hospital in the country.

The Indonesian navy has deployed three ships to help regulate maritime traffic at the site of the collision.

As of Thursday afternoon, only the tip of the crane used in moving cargo was visible from the body of the Thorco Cloud.

MPA Press Release 17 Dec 15;

On 16 December 2015 at 2014 hours (Singapore time), Cayman Islands-registered chemical tanker “Stolt Commitment” and freighter “Thorco Cloud” bearing the Antigua and Barbuda flag collided in the eastbound lane of the Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) in the Singapore Strait. The incident happened in Indonesian waters 6 nautical miles (11 km) north-west of Batam.

The chemical tanker sustained minor damage and is in stable condition. The freighter carrying 560 metric tonnes of bunker fuel sank. There was no Singaporean crew member on either vessel.

MPA deployed two patrol craft for search and rescue operations. Singapore’s Police Coast Guard (PCG) supported MPA by deploying five boats, and rescued five of the 12 freighter crew members. A sixth was rescued by the chemical tanker. The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) dispatched two vessels to assist in the search and rescue efforts. SCDF also conveyed the six rescued crew members to Singapore General Hospital. Search and rescue operations for the remaining freighter crew members are on-going.

MPA has alerted the Indonesian authorities of the incident. The Indonesian authorities have also commenced search and rescue operations. MPA is assisting the Indonesian authorities to survey and mark the sunken freighter to ensure navigational safety.

MPA has issued navigational broadcasts to vessels in the vicinity to keep clear of the area and to report any sightings of the missing crew members. There is no disruption to shipping traffic in the Singapore Strait. While there are currently no reports of any oil spill, MPA has also put on standby anti-pollution craft.

Freighters collide, six missing in Batam waters
The Jakarta Post, Batam 18 Dec 15;

A freighter laden with steel pipes cut through the traffic separation scheme (TSS) onto the western lane off Batam and collided with another freighter carrying chemicals on Wednesday evening.

The collision caused the MV Thorco Cloud, laden with pipes, to sink. Six of its Filipino crew members are missing. Indonesia’s port authority remains on standby to prevent any pollution that may occur as a consequence of the accident, as does Singapore’s port authority.

Batam Port Authority Office head Gajah Rooseno told The Jakarta Post on Thursday that the mishap had occurred when the Antigua-flag carrying MV Thorco Cloud, that had departed the Batu Ampar Port in Batam for Durban, South Africa, cut through the TTS into the western lane, around two miles north of Sambu Island, Batam.

At this time, the Cayman Island flag carrier MV Stolt Commitment, laden with liquid chemicals, had been travelling the western lane from Singapore to Kao Shiung, Taiwan. The accident sank MV Thorco Cloud and ripped the stern of the MV Stolt Commitment.

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Illegal ivory, pangolin scales worth S$1.3m seized by Singapore customs

The 0.8-tonne shipment contained 255 pieces of raw elephant tusks weighing about 505kg and pangolin scales weighing about 324kg.
Channel NewsAsia 17 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE: An illegal shipment of elephant tusks and pangolin scales – worth an estimated S$1.3 million – was seized by Singapore authorities last week.

The air shipment from Lagos, Nigeria was bound for Vientiane, Laos via Singapore when it was intercepted at the Changi Airfreight Centre last Saturday (Dec 12), the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) and Singapore Customs said in a press release on Thursday.

The 0.8-tonne shipment contained 255 pieces of raw elephant tusks weighing about 505kg and pangolin scales weighing about 324kg. The shipment was labelled as “complete wigs of synthetic textile materials”, the release said.

This is the fifth largest seizure of illegal ivory by Singapore authorities since 2002, AVA and Singapore Customs said. A freight forwarding company is assisting AVA with the investigations.

“We have zero tolerance on the use of Singapore as a conduit to smuggle endangered species, their parts and products,” said Mr Chua Teck Hui, Singapore Customs’ Head of Air Checkpoints Branch. “We will continue to collaborate with other national and international enforcement agencies to curb wildlife trafficking.”

Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), to which Singapore is a signatory, elephants and pangolins are endangered species. International trade in ivory and pangolin scales is prohibited without CITES permits.

The maximum penalty is a fine of S$50,000 per scheduled specimen, up to a maximum of S$500,000, or imprisonment of up to two years.

- CNA/cy

S$1.3m worth of illegal ivory, pangolin scales seized
Today Online 17 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE — An air shipment supposed to contain wigs turned out to be an illegal load of ivory and pangolin scales, estimated to be worth S$1.3 million.

The illegal shipment was discovered and seized at the Changi Airfreight Centre last Saturday (Dec 12) after officers from the Singapore Customs and Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) discovered 255 pieces of raw elephant tusks weighing about 505kg and pangolin scales weighing about 324kg.

The shipment, labelled “complete wigs of synthetic textile materials”, originated from Lagos, Nigeria and was en route to Vientiane, Laos.

This is the fifth largest load of illegal ivory seized by Singapore authorities since 2002, the Singapore Customs and AVA said in a news release today.

A freight forwarding company in connection with the shipment is assisting AVA with the investigations.

Elephants and pangolins are endangered species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), to which Singapore is a signatory.

Under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act, a CITES permit is required for any import, export or re-export of CITES wildlife and their parts and products. Offenders can be fined up to S$50,000 per scheduled specimen (not exceeding an aggregate of S$500,000) and/or jailed up to two years.

The same penalties apply to any transit or transhipment of CITES specimens through Singapore without proper CITES permits from the exporting/importing country.

“We have zero tolerance on the use of Singapore as a conduit to smuggle endangered species, their parts and products,” Singapore Custom’s Head of Air Checkpoints Branch Chua Teck Hui said. “We will continue to collaborate with other national and international enforcement agencies to curb wildlife trafficking.”

“The logistics industry plays a vital role in protecting the endangered species and tackling the illegal wildlife trade. AVA would like to remind all shipping, transport, logistics and freight forwarding companies to be prudent and exercise caution when accepting shipping and freight assignments to ensure that their companies are not implicated in wildlife trafficking,” said Ms Lye Fong Keng, the deputy director of the Quarantine & Inspection Group (Wildlife Section) at AVA.

$1.3m of ivory, scales seized en route to Laos
Janice Heng, My Paper AsiaOne 18 Dec 15;

AN AIR shipment of illegal ivory and pangolin scales, worth an estimated $1.3 million, was intercepted and seized by the authorities on Saturday at the Changi Airfreight Centre.

In a joint release yesterday, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) and Singapore Customs said they had been working closely to detect and intercept shipments of illegal wildlife and wildlife products smuggled through Singapore.

The 0.8 tonne shipment originated from Lagos, Nigeria and was on its way to Vientiane, Laos via Singapore. The shipment was labelled "complete wigs of synthetic textile materials".

But when Singapore Customs and AVA officers inspected it, they found 255 pieces of raw elephant tusks weighing about 505kg and pangolin scales weighing about 324kg.

The shipment was seized, marking the fifth largest seizure of illegal ivory by the Singapore authorities since 2002. A freight forwarding company in connection with the shipment is assisting AVA with the investigations.

"We have zero tolerance on the use of Singapore as a conduit to smuggle endangered species, their parts and products," said Chua Teck Hui, head of Singapore Customs' Air Checkpoints Branch, Singapore Customs.

"We will continue to collaborate with other national and international enforcement agencies to curb wildlife trafficking," he added.

Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), to which Singapore is a signatory, elephants and pangolins are endangered species. International trade in ivory and pangolin scales is prohibited without Cites permits.

Under Singapore's Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act, a Cites permit is required for any import, export or re-export of Cites wildlife and their parts and products.

Those involved in the illegal wildlife trade face a fine of up to $50,000 per specimen and up to a total of $500,000, up to two years in jail, or both.

This also applies to any transit or transhipment of Cites specimens through Singapore without proper Cites permits from the exporting or importing country.

Anyone with information on the illegal wildlife trade can contact AVA on 6805-2992 or provide information through the online feedback form on AVA's website,

Singapore seizes huge shipment of elephant tusks, pangolin scales
Reuters 17 Dec 15;

Singapore authorities have impounded half a tonne of elephant tusks in one of the largest ivory seizures made in the city-state in over a decade.

The tusks, weighing 505 kg (1,100 pounds), were found along with 324 kg of pangolin scales in an air shipment on its way to Laos on Dec. 12, Singapore Customs and the agriculture and veterinary agency said in a joint statement on Thursday.

The boxes were labeled as synthetic wigs and had come from Nigeria, the authorities said, adding that the shipment had an estimated value of S$1.3 million ($920,000).

Trade in ivory and the endangered pangolin, a mammal that looks like an anteater, is restricted under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), but demand remains strong in parts of Asia, where these animal products are prized for their supposed medicinal value.

The seizure was the fifth-largest seizure made in Singapore since 2002, and follows the seizure of 3.7 tonnes of illegal ivory earlier this year in a shipping container that listed the contents as tea leaves from Kenya.

Illegal trade in wildlife products covered by CITES carries a penalty of up to two years jail or a fine of up to S$500,000.

(Reporting by Rodney Joyce; Editing by Miral Fahmy)

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Malaysia: Online illicit wildlife trade thriving

THARANYA ARUMUGAM New Straits Times 17 Dec 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: As illegal wildlife traders seek to expand their businesses, they have resorted to promoting wildlife animals online.

Kanitha Krishnasamy, Southeast Asia programme manager for Traffic, a wildlife trade monitoring network, said in Malaysia, trade via social media, Facebook in particular, was growing.

In January, the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) detained seven suspects aged between 19 and 30 in Op Taring. Sixty-four totally protected animals were seized, including sun bear cubs and leopard cat cubs.

“In July, Perhilitan officers arrested a man and his accomplices in Klang by setting up a meeting at a hotel via social media.

“They rescued two baby Orang Utans, which were to be sold for RM40,000,” Kanitha told the New Straits Times.

However, she said online trade was relatively new in Malaysia and there were difficulties in monitoring due to the frequency and sheer volume of wildlife being traded.

“Anyone can sit in their home anywhere in the world and place an order for any totally protected animal without having to meet up. The items are shipped out with just as much ease.”

Kanitha said since online trade via social media often took place in closed groups or forums, enforcement depended on information from the public that had access to such information.

“Therefore, we urge the public to report suspicious activities. The volume and frequency are high and no agency can deal with the problem alone.

“Collaboration with police and the Multimedia and Communications Ministry is crucial.”

Kanitha said poaching and wildlife trade were thriving in Malaysia as it was a key consumer and trader (import, export and transit country).

However, she said, a number of species took a bigger hit, such as tigers, deers (Sambar and Barking species), pangolins, sun bears, freshwater tortoises and turtles.

“In June, the Malayan Tiger moved from ‘Endangered’ to ‘Critically Endangered’ classification under the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List.

“This is the same category that the Sumatran rhinos and leatherback turtles are in. If we don’t do something, we know how this will end for Malaysia’s iconic animal.

“Sabah and Sarawak face similar challenges. Wildlife consumption and trade continue to be an issue. For example, trade involving bear parts and products, such as gall bladder, is more prominent in East Malaysia than it is in the peninsula.”

Meanwhile, Sabah Wildlife director William Baya said online trade was not rampant in the state, but it was harder to stop the practice.

Baya cited an example of a Facebook group that advertised the trade of protected wildlife.

“The authorities have been monitoring this group said to be trading Sunda clouded leopard, sun bears, slow loris, pangolins, hornbills and owls.

“Only one case has been traced, apprehended and prosecuted with the help of an agent provocateur.”

A check by the NST found a number of Facebook groups advertising protected wildlife as pets, such as “Free/jual/beli/swap haiwan peliharaan (Labuan)” (Free, sell, buy and swap pets) and “Laman jual beli haiwan peliharaan” (Pets trading website). Some groups were closed.

The groups, some with thousands of followers, were selling endangered species, such as slow lorises, civet cats, turtles and parakeets. Sellers even provided their contact numbers and pictures of the animals to attract buyers.

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Malaysia: Stricter penalties for wildlife crime

THARANYA ARUMUGAM New Straits Times 16 Dec 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Those involved in illicit wildlife trade will be dealt with stiffer punishment under an amended Wildlife Conservation Act 2010.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the amendments would cover a wider area of enforcement, including penalising those consuming protected species and increasing the penalties for crime against wildlife.

He said the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) recorded 23 cases of poaching out of 2,774 cases of wildlife crime between 2011 and August this year.

He said many wildlife poachers had evaded arrest, leading to the small number of those penalised.

Wan Junaidi said hundreds of cases could have escaped the radar, as poachers changed their modus operandi and remained a few steps ahead of the authorities.

The amendment, he said, would allow the authorities to act against those involved in wildlife crime, adding that wildlife meat on sale at restaurants was among the top issues to be addressed.

“There are weaknesses in the law and I’m discussing with the ministry’s legal advisers on finding ways to plug loopholes in the legislation so that we can get to the root of the problem and make sure all offenders are brought to justice.

“I have instructed Perhilitan to come up with papers detailing its recommendations and plans to better address the problem, including punishments and fines, before they are presented to the cabinet.

“Severe punishment will be imposed on those who commit wildlife crime, which is a lucrative business. This will include criminalising the dealing, smuggling, importing, transporting, exporting, eating, cooking, serving and processing of the meat and body parts of protected wildlife,” he told the New Straits Times yesterday.

Wan Junaidi said existing penalties were mild and there were certain areas in the law that did not cover what seemed to be offences.

“There is a huge market for wild animals and related products, which will lead to extinction. The ministry is responsible for protecting wildlife and we will be at the forefront to stop poaching.

“These smugglers are making millions. A fine of RM20,000, for example, is not a big deal to them.”

Currently, those involved in poaching and other wildlife crimes face a penalty of up to RM500,000 and a jail term of not more than five years.

On the increase in sale of wildlife meat via the Internet, Wan Junaidi said he would discuss the matter with the police.

He said there were challenges and constraints in curbing wildlife crime, including inadequate enforcement officers at the country’s entry points.

Wan Junaidi said Perhilitan had beefed up its wildlife crime unit to strengthen enforcement.

He said an intelligence unit was formed to enhance networking and intelligence gathering.

Wan Junaidi said the ministry, along with the police, Armed Forces, Customs Department, Interpol and the Asean Wildlife Enforcement Network, would enforce and facilitate investigations and intelligence-sharing to combat wildlife smuggling.

“Wildlife is part of our biodiversity.

“It is our responsibility to protect and conserve them for future generations.”

Meanwhile, Sabah Wildlife director William Baya said the state government had increased areas under its totally protected area category where hunting was banned.

Baya said there were 20 enforcement officers assigned to monitor illegal wildlife trade activities by checking markets, restaurants and roadside stalls in the state.

The NST yesterday reported an increase in wildlife being sourced from within the country for the international exotic cuisine market.

Wildlife trade monitoring network, Traffic, said the trend was worrying as those behind the illicit trade were aggressive in meeting the increasing demand.

It warned that failure to rein in culprits could spell the end of many endangered species.

Three detained, RM50,000 endangered species seized
ADRIAN DAVID New Straits Times 15 Dec 15;

HULU TERENGGANU: Three people, including a woman, were detained by the Terengganu Wildlife and Parks Department for being in possession of RM50,000 worth of endangered wildlife of various species, following three separate raids. Department deputy director Suhainah Pejalis@Farhana said that her officers seized 40 turtles and 20 frogs (katak demam) following two raids at a pig abbatoir at Wakaf Tapai in Marang on Dec 7 and 8.

"We picked up a man and a woman, both aged 60, at the same abbatoir on those two days.

They did not have any valid licence to trade in wildlife. We believe the catch will be sold to local restaurants," she said.

Suhainah added in the third raid yesterday (Monday), her officers detained a 27-year-old man at his home in Seberang Takir, Kuala Nerus for dealing in protected species via online sales.

The officers, she said, had kept watch on his unlicensed activities for a month and they managed to recover a hornbill and three burung murai batu (humming bird).

All three cases are being investigated under the Wildlife Protection Act, 2010 (Act 716) which upon conviction under Section 60(1)(a) has a fine of not more than RM50,000 or maximum two years jail, or both.

"For this year alone, we have made ten arrests under the Act for various offences.

The biggest offender was a man from Besut who was fined RM30,000 for being in possession of ten pythons, three giant tortoises, nine leatherback turtles and 26 katak demam.

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Malaysia: Over 1,400 tortoises seized in last quarter

PATRICK LEE The Star 17 Dec 15;

PETALING JAYA: More than 1,400 smuggled tortoises bound for Malaysia have been seized worldwide from July to Sep­tember this year.

A report by Paris-based wildlife group Robin Des Bois compiled reports showing that most of these seizures were in India.

Yet these paled to the raid by Madagascar authorities in Sep­tember, where 771 radiated tortoises headed for Malaysia were found.

It also showed that 125 sea turtles bound for Malaysia were seized.

In Malaysia, the report said that 2,600 turtle eggs were seized in Sandakan that might have come from the Philippines.

It was also mentioned that the organisation bought an Asiatic softshell turtle for RM700 from a market there to save it.

The turtle had reportedly been set free in the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary.

The report comes a week after US government agents arrested two Malaysians for smuggling wildlife items there for about a decade.

A US Department of Justice statement identified them as a male surnamed Ling, 35, and another male, Yeo, 33.

According to a criminal complaint on the case, Ling and Yeo started an online store called Borneo Artifact for this.

The complaint said federal agents bought orangutan skulls and other animal parts from the duo before arresting them.

Some of the packages were with invoices stating items inside as “crafts for decoration”.

The two men face a possible maximum of 20 years in jail and a US$250,000 (RM1mil) fine.

A check on the Borneo Artifact website showed that the items for sale there were listed as antiques.

However, it did have Ling’s and Yeo’s contact details and an e-mail address that was specified in the complaint.

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Malaysia: Sabah bracing for tail end of typhoon

The Star 17 Dec 15;

KOTA KINABALU: Residents living off Sabah’s western zones including Kudat, the interior and Labuan have been warned against going out to the sea due to Typhoon Melor.

Sabah Meteorological Department director Abdul Malek Tusin said the state is predicted to feel the effects of Typhoon Melor, which has slammed through the Philippines a few days ago.

“Strong winds have been reported at Kudat and the surrounding coastal areas,” he said.

“We expect to feel the effects from the tail end of Typhoon Melor soon,” he said, adding that flash floods were very likely to occur.

“All sea activities should be put on hold for safety reasons,” said Abdul Malek.

The typhoon is expected to bring winds up to 80kph and heavy rain to Sabah’s interior, west coast and Kudat today and tomorrow.

Waves of up to 3.5m in the Sulu Sea and South China Sea are also expected.

Abdul Malek urged residents on the west coast to keep updated with the latest Typhoon Melor news at or call the hotline at 088-413 960.

Floods worsen in Meru, Klang and Kuala Selangor
MAZLINDA MAHMOOD New Straits Times 16 Dec 15;

SHAH ALAM: Flood worsened in Meru, Klang and Kuala Selangor today, increasing the number of flood victims in Selangor to 612 people from 157 families at 5pm today from 497 people yesterday evening.

The number of victims in Meru, Klang increased to 208 people from 184 victims yesterday while the victims from Kampung Parit Mahang also increased from 28 yesterday to 147 people today.

Flood victims in Meru are now sheltering at Dewan Merak, Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Meru in Klang which now houses the highest number of flood victims.

In Kuala Selangor, two new relief centres have been opened in Sekolah Rendah Pasangan, Kampung Asahan, and Bukit Kuching Community Hall to accommodate the increasing number of victims.

The relief centre at the school is now a temporary home for 76 victims while the community hall provides shelter for 24 people.

Meanwhile, Selangor Fire and Rescue Department operations assistant director Mohd Sani Harul said the two relief centres in Sepang district, the Taman Gemilang Hall in Dengkil, and Surau RTB Labu Lanjut have been closed as all victims have returned home.

As of 5pm today, eight relief centres are still operating in Selangor, five in Kuala Selangor, two in Klang and one in Kuala Langat.

Other relief centres which are still opened are Kampung Parit Mahang Community Hall (147 victims), Surau Ladang Tuan Mee (40 victims), and Surau At-Taufikiah, Puncak Alam (10 victims) in Kuala Selangor, Sekolah Kebangsaan Sultan Abdul Samad, Kapar (58) in Klang and Genting Sanyen Community Hall (49) in Kuala Langat.

The victims include 13 babies, 15 senior citizens and seven disabled people.

More than 2,000 defence staff on alert over Typhoon Melor
The Star 18 Dec 15;

KOTA KINABALU: The state Civil Defence personnel are on standby to face any eventualities as the tail-end effects of Typhoon Melor hit parts of Sabah.

Sabah Civil Defence Department director Col Mulliadi Al-Hamdi Ladin said they had placed more than 2,000 personnel on standby since getting an alert from the Meteorological Department earlier this week.

“So far, the west coast areas, including Kota Marudu, Kota Belud, Tuaran, Kota Kinabalu and Papar, are experiencing a downpour,” Mulliadi said yesterday, adding that there had not been any reports of calamities caused by the typhoon.

The typhoon is expected to pack winds of up to 80kph and heavy rain to Sabah’s interior, west coast and Kudat until today.

Waves of up to 3.5m in the Sulu Sea and South China Sea are also expected.

Residents on the west coast can keep up to date with the latest Typhoon Melor news at or call 088-413 960.

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Indonesia: Government prepares new forestry permit order

Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 17 Dec 15;

In a bid to improve management of the forestry sector, the government is revising Government Regulation No. 6/2007 (PP No. 6/2007) on forest management, planning and use.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry said on Wednesday that the revision would be a priority next year.

The ministry’s social and partnership forestry director general, Hadi Daryanto, said that it was important to revise the regulation as much of its content was complicated and contradictory.

He said the contradicting parts had been fixed in the latest draft of the revision.

“Regents no longer have the authority [to issue permits or recommendations]. This revision will speed up the permit process so that these recommendations [from regents] are no longer needed,” he said on Wednesday.

Hariadi said the regulation had led to inefficient forest governance, causing trillions of rupiah in state losses.

“If we look at the study done by the KPK [Corruption Eradication Commission] in 2013 on the cost of obtaining forestry permits, as well as injustice in the sector with 97 percent of the permits going to big businesses and only 3 percent going to small businesses, we can clearly see that we need to fix the system,” he said.

KPK investigator on the forestry sector, Hariadi Kartodiharjo, said the government was in the process of combining two existing drafts of the revision.

“There are two separate processes [for the revision] at the ministry. The first draft was made during the tenure of Zulkifli Hasan. And now there’s the second draft initiated by Hadi, but the focus [of the second draft] is only on social forestry. These two drafts are being combined by the ministry but they haven’t received input from civil society organizations,” he said.

Hariadi said the government should also change the current paradigm of the forestry permit system through the draft revision.

“In the current [PP No.6/2007], all permit processes start and depend on the private sector. They have to look for their own maps, regents, resulting in high economic costs. According to the KPK study, it costs Rp 5 to 10 billion to process a permit,” he said. “So the current system is very much passive. In the future. The government should be active in handing out permits because it should know where its natural resources are.”

According to Hariadi, the PP explains forestry permit issuance procedures in too much detail, leading to a bloated permit issuance process.

“PP No. 6 breaks down Law No. 41/1999 on forestry in too much detail, such as an overly rigid and procedural permit attainment process, resulting in high permit costs,” he said. “For example, every commodity in a forest needs its own permits, leading to too many permits needed to be obtained. What we want is for a production forest to only need one permit.”

Furthermore, the PP led to legal uncertainty in regard to who had the authority to issue forestry permits.

Law No. 23/2014 gives the authority to the provincial governments, while PP No. 6/2007 gives authority to regional governments.

The government should make sure that the revised regulation allows provinces to regulate their own forestry sector, Hariadi said.

“People in Papua doesn’t have a permit system that is catered toward their culture. They are still hunting, so we can’t use scientific forestry. We have to use local wisdoms [for the permit system in Papua],” he said.

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Indonesia: More Dead Fish Found Floating in North Jakarta Waters

Carlos Roy Fajarta Jakarta Globe 17 Dec 15;

Jakarta. Thousands of dead fish have again washed up on the north coast of Jakarta in the past few days, presumably due to a lack of oxygen in the polluted waters.

“In the morning, I found just a few dozen dead fish [floating on the water] but as hours went by, the number grew to hundreds and it created a foul stench,” Bambang, a 47-year-old fisherman at Muara Angke port said on Thursday.

He added: “It is not unusual that many fish die, like this. But this year, there has been an increase both in the frequency and the volume.”

In late November, a large number of dead fish were found in waters near Ancol Dreamland, an amusement park in North Jakarta.

The Jakarta Environmental Agency (BPLHD) said it would take samples of the dead fish and the water at Muara Angke for analysis.

Earlier this month, the agency said it suspected Ancol fish deaths were caused by industrial pollution.

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US grants Indonesia $250m for ambitious environmental scheme

Liza Yosephine, 17 Dec 15;

The US government, through its development aid agency, granted US$250 million to Indonesia to fund an ambitious long-term partnership as Indonesia plays a pivotal global role in tackling environmental problems.

US Ambassador Robert Blake said on Wednesday evening that the program in Indonesia conducted by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) was the largest in the world.

“Building on the momentum of the recently held COP21 in Paris, we want to achieve a sustainable natural resource management in Indonesia through this partnership,” said Blake during an event at his official residence in Jakarta.

Blake said that the projects under this initiative were going to address challenges in several different areas, like forestry and land use, marine conservation and fisheries management, clean energy expansion, access to water and sanitation services, adaptation to climate change and disaster risk reduction.

The US would be working with the Indonesian government at both national and local levels and in the private sector, as well as with civic societies, he added.

A breakdown of the funds sees the largest amount allocated to the forestry sector with a total amount of $70 million dedicated to achieving a more sustainable land use management to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Marine and fisheries management, as well as water and sanitation programs, are the next two sectors with the highest amount of fund allocation, each receiving $40 million respectively.

Furthermore, as much as $20 million will be invested in renewable energy development and $19 million will be used for projects to assist the government and local communities in adapting to climate change.

The remaining $60 million will be used to fund partnerships that will be spearheaded by USAID, such as higher education initiatives, science and technology and other partnerships of various kinds that will help to achieve all the different goals.

Some of the goals that have been set include the sustainable management of 8.4 million hectares of forest and peatland and the reduction of deforestation rates by 41 percent in Aceh, Kalimantan and Papua.

Both governments will work with local communities to focus on maintaining biological diversity and make them less vulnerable to fires.

The program also aims to protect 6 million hectares of Indonesia’s marine ecosystem, which is important for Indonesians who continue to fish and derive sustainable livelihoods from the marine ecosystems, according to Blake.

There is also the goal to deliver clean water and sanitation services to 1.5 million of Indonesia’s poorest citizens.

The forestry and water resources conservation director at the National Development Planning Board (Bappenas), Basah Hernowo, said this project was part of the 2015-2019 National Mid-Term Development Plan to boost economic development in Aceh, Central Kalimantan, Papua, South Sulawesi and East Java.

In the partnership, he said USAID would manage the funds while Bappenas would be responsible to facilitate the collaboration between the government and the local communities through initiatives such as the Forest Management Unit to explore partnerships.

USAID Indonesia director Andrew Sisson said that the agency would also work with other ministries, local administrations and non-governmental sectors to design various projects to help reach the environmental goals.

“Sustainable natural resource management is so important to protect the livelihoods and economic welfare of millions of families and future generations,” he said.

Sisson pointed out the importance of the Indonesian government’s leadership, adding that international partners were present to give support to help Indonesia manage its environmental issues. (rin)(+)

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Indonesia: Rising sea levels threaten 2,000 islands 17 Dec 15;

An expert has warned that rising sea levels caused by climate change need to be considered in development planning as 2,000 islands and 42 million homes are on track to be submerged before 2050.

“According to experts, there will be a sea level rise of up to 90 centimeters by 2050, which could drown 2,000 small islands in Indonesia,” Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry public policy specialist Achmad Poernomo said as quoted by Antara in Jakarta on Wednesday.

Around 42 million homes located in coastal areas were at risk of drowning, he added.

The expert was speaking during the launch of the climate change mitigation and adaptation study program at Gadjah Mada University’s (UGM) Graduate School in Yogyakarta.

“Rising sea levels is one of the disaster risks that has emerged as a result of climate change,” said Poernomo.

Uncertain fishing seasons, changes in fish migration patterns and increasing numbers of fish washed up on beaches were other impacts of climate change, he added.

Poernomo said disasters resulting from climate change must be jointly tackled and anticipated by the government and all of society by supporting sustainable development programs.

“The fisheries and maritime affairs minister [Susi Pudjiastuti] has written a letter, asking all regional heads to manage natural resources sustainably,” said Poernomo.

Sudibyakto, from UGM’s Disaster Management master’s program said almost 85 percent of disasters in Indonesia were closely related with climate change-related phenomena.

Despite being at high risk of disaster, he said, Indonesia had limited human resources in the field of disaster mitigation.

“The number of available human resources with expertise in disaster mitigation is not proportional to the level of disaster risks in the country,” said Sudibyakto.

He said that to tackle that imbalance, in the field of disaster management, Indonesia needed to produce 1,500 bachelor’s degree graduates, 250 master’s degree holders and 50 PhD graduates within the next 15 years.

Sudibyakto said that apart from a shortage of skilled human resources, commitments by local administrations to allocate funds for disaster mitigation programs were still limited and they had not yet included higher disaster budgetary allocations in their priority lists.

“This reality has caused many disaster-risk reduction activities and programs at the local level to be not well planned or implemented,” he said. (liz/ebf)(+)

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New storm approaches Philippines after typhoon kills 20

A tropical depression, locally named "Onyok", was heading for the southern island of Mindanao as Melor moved further out to the South China Sea after claiming at least 20 lives, the government weather bureau reported on Thursday.
Channel NewsAsia 17 Dec 15;

MANILA: A new storm was threatening to dump heavy rain on the southern Philippines on Friday (Dec 18), as people in northern farming regions battled floods from deadly Typhoon Melor, authorities said.

A tropical depression, locally named "Onyok", was heading for the southern island of Mindanao as Melor moved further out to the South China Sea after claiming at least 20 lives, the government weather bureau reported on Thursday.

Melor tore in from the Pacific Ocean and hit the eastern Philippines on Monday, then caused major flooding across the central and northern regions of the archipelago throughout the week.

Although the typhoon left the Philippines on Wednesday, floodwaters about a metre (three feet) deep still covered farming regions about an hour's drive north of Manila, the national capital.

Local disaster management officer Angie Blanco said these floods were expected to rise further as waters from other parts of the main island of Luzon flowed into the floodplain.

"Maybe tonight, it will hit four to five feet," Blanco told AFP. "But people are not leaving unless they are forced to do so. They are used to this situation."

In the riverside town of Macabebe, about 42 kilometres (26 miles) north of Manila, men with rolled up trousers and women holding up their skirts waded through knee-deep waters, carrying sacks of groceries and bottles of drinking water on their shoulders.

"Their houses are built high so they don't think they need to evacuate but disaster control personnel are on standby if the waters rise further," Blanco said.

On the mainly rural southern island of Mindanao, which will be hit by Onyok, preparations were underway for the depression which is forecast to hit on Friday.

Although Onyok is only a tropical depression, it is forecast to bring heavy rain to areas not used to fierce weather.

The Philippines is hit with about 20 major storms a year, many of them deadly, but they normally strike north of Mindanao.

But some of the storms have in recent years tracked further south, catching residents unprepared with horrific consequences.

Tropical Storm Washi claimed more than 1,200 lives after striking Mindanao in December 2011, then Typhoon Bopha left at least 1,900 dead and missing in the same region a year later.

Government agencies in the Mindanao regions in Onyok's path said they were making preparations.

"We will do pre-emptive evacuation and forced evacuation if necessary," Amado Posa, the area's disaster management operations officer, told AFP.

Other preparations include identifying vulnerable areas, designating evacuation centres and pre-positioning heavy equipment and food supplies, he said.

- AFP/ec

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Human water use 'greater than thought'

Andrea Szöllössi BBC 18 Dec 15;

New calculations show that our already sizeable water footprint is 18% bigger than we thought.

The study is based on a century's worth of observational data drawn from 100 river basins across the world.

It reveals a significant increase in the water being "lost" to the atmosphere as a direct result of human activity.

This occurs through evaporation from land and water surfaces, and from plants as they transpire.

Based on data

The old estimates of human water consumption add up to a staggering number: 9,100 cubic km per year. This volume is about twice the size of Lake Michigan in the US.
Fernando Jaramillo and Georgia Destouni from Stockholm University in Sweden have now used freely available data to update these assessments, to reveal a more precise picture of how much humans are impacting the natural water cycle at the global scale.

Their research suggests human water management strategies are responsible for an additional quantity of water the size of Lake Ontario being transferred to the atmosphere - a significant element of consumption that the earlier approaches had underestimated. It means the human water footprint is actually closer to 10,700 cu km a year.

"Previous assessments of human water consumption were mainly based on national statistics and global scale models. The novelty of this study is that it's based on data," Dr Jaramillo emphasized.

The team has published its work in Science magazine. A presentation was also made this week to the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union - the world's largest annual gathering of Earth scientists.

Evaporation and transpiration

The authors explained that water consumption by humans goes beyond drinking water, industrial water, and water for municipalities.

Water that would normally be in rivers but ends up being in the atmosphere as vapour due to human activity has been largely overlooked, and this is what the authors focused on.

"The loss is from the landscape through the atmosphere and that leaves less water for both humans and other ecosystems in the landscape", Prof Destouni explained.

This displacement of water into the atmosphere occurs through water evaporation or through transpiration by plants. So the total flow of water to the atmosphere is given by evapotranspiration.

"We used a simple water budget: water lost by evapotranspiration is precipitation minus water runoff," Dr Jaramillo answered when asked how they used the data.

The footprint

Looking at their data, the scientists could see an increase in evapotranspiration when comparing the first and second halves of the last century.

The question they then asked was how much of this change was being driven by human activity.

They found that areas previously identified as having experienced the ecological consequences of dams and irrigation also showed the biggest increase in evapotranspiration.

"Dam and irrigation developments - even though local - have a big global impact on human water consumption. That's what has not been calculated before and what we've estimated in this paper," Prof Destouni said.

"The water footprint could be up to 20% larger than previously estimated," Dr Jaramillo revealed.

"In dry areas, reducing the water in the environment can have an enormous impact on humans and ecosystems. In a wet landscape, it is in relative terms not as big in the direr areas. Central Asia (Aral Sea), Middle East, areas around the Mediterranean - these are examples of most vulnerable."

Irrigation, dams, and ground water

Dr Jaramillo explained how human water management leads to more evapotranspiration.

"With irrigation, we are moving water from one place to another - and part of this water will simply evaporate from the ground surface. These crops in order to grow, they take this water in and by respiration they send this water to the atmosphere.

"When you build a dam and make a reservoir, you're also consuming a lot of water. The water surface you create causes more evaporation; otherwise that water would be running on a river.

"Also if you increase the level of the water by say 90m, the groundwater on the hillsides will also increase by 90m. A lot of plants now have access to water that previously wasn't there. Those plants will also transpire more water."

Prof Destouni explained how evapotranspiration induced by human activity is linked to climate change and weather: "The atmosphere is warmer due to global warming and warmer air can hold more water vapour."

Transport of moisture in the atmosphere is also changed: "There is more vapour coming from the land rather than the sea. You get the effect that it rains more in other places.

"If we don't understand how transfer of water and water vapour happens, we will misinterpret things and then our measures for mitigating climate change or adapting to climate change will not be effective."

Uncertainty lingers

"In some regions, we just open the tap and water comes out. We don't think about it. How much water are we consuming?" Dr Jaramillo said, highlighting the worldwide uncertainty regarding the numbers on human water consumption.

"Our lack of knowledge is gigantic. We're lagging so much on studies on the water cycle and water consumption.

"It is serious that at this point in time people did not use all the data that was available to actually calculate this change. People continued to make estimates using old data," Prof Destouni commented.

The Stockholm University scientist emphasized the importance of using this openly accessible data to "continue to measure these kinds of things so that we can actually see these changes happening".

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2016 set to be hottest year on record globally

UK Met Office estimates 2016 will be at least as hot as 2015, which would mean the three hottest years ever had occurred in a row
Damian Carrington The Guardian 17 Dec 15;

2016 is set to be the warmest year ever recorded, according to a forecast issued by the UK Met Office on Thursday.

Climate change and the peaking of the El Niño weather phenomenon are expected to drive the global average temperature next year above the record now certain to be set for 2015, which itself beat a new record set in 2014.

The forecast comes just five days after 195 nations agreed a historic deal to fight global warming at a UN summit in Paris by keeping the world’s temperature rise under 2C, with an ambition to restrict the rise to 1.5C.

The Met Office forecast indicates the global average temperature in 2016 will be 1.14C above pre-industrial temperatures, showing how challenging it will be to meet the 1.5C goal. The Met Office said there was just a 5% chance the global average temperature in 2016 would be below that in 2015.

“The vast majority of the warming is global warming, but the icing on the cake is the big El Niño event,” said Prof Adam Scaife, head of monthly to decadal prediction at the Met Office.

El Niño is a natural cycle of warming in the Pacific Ocean which has a global impact on weather. The current episode is the biggest since 1998 and is peaking now, but the global temperature effects take time to spread around the globe. “We expect the peak warming from El Niño in the 2016 figures,” said Scaife.

Rising temperatures driven by global warming combined with natural variability leads to a greater chance of extreme weather events, he said: “When variability adds to the underlying warming, it can give impacts that have never been seen before.”

Heatwaves have scorched China, Russia, Australia, the Middle East and parts of South America in the last two years. The recent floods in the northwest of England are estimated to have been made 40% more likely by climate change.

Despite rising greenhouse gas emissions trapping ever more heat on Earth, the last decade has seen relatively slow warming of air temperatures, dubbed a “pause” in climate change by some.

In fact, global warming had not paused at all. Instead, natural climate cycles led to more of the trapped heat being stored in the oceans. Now, according to the Met Office, all the signs are that the period of slower rises in air temperatures is over and the rate of global warming will accelerate fast in coming years. 2014 was the first year the world passed 1C of warming above pre-industrial levels.

The temperature trend caused by climate change will continue to be upwards unless carbon emissions begin to fall. However, the Met Office does not expect the run of back-to-back records from 2014-16 to continue indefinitely, as El Niño is expected to wane during 2016.

“But the current situation shows how global warming can combine with smaller, natural fluctuations to push our climate to levels of warmth which are unprecedented in the data records,” said a Met Office statement.

“This is yet more evidence that the world is warming fast. We’ll see far more savage storms and floods in places like Cumbria and Chennai if governments do not act to cut carbon pollution,” said Simon Bullock at Friends of the Earth.

“The Paris agreement was crystal-clear that urgent measures are needed now, yet David Cameron’s government has reacted by stamping on the solar industry, while championing fracking. This morally bankrupt response is the exact opposite of what is needed.”

Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics, said: “Global mean surface temperature continues to rise. This means governments must act strongly and urgently to cut emissions of greenhouse gases if there is to be any chance of keeping future warming to well below 2C, as laid out in the Paris agreement.”

He added: “This projection is another fatal blow to claims by climate change ‘sceptics’ that global warming has stopped or stalled.”

The Met Office forecast for 2016 predicts a global average temperature of 1.14C above pre-industrial levels, with a 95% likelihood of being between 1.02C and 1.26C. 2015 is expected to be about 1C warmer.

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Towards a new green deal

Today Online 18 Dec 15;

The global agreement reached in Paris last week is actually the third climate agreement reached in the past month.

The first happened at the end of November, when a group of billionaires led by Mr Bill Gates, Mr Mark Zuckerberg, and Mr Jeff Bezos announced the creation of a US$20 billion (S$28.3 billion) fund to back clean-energy research.

On the same day, a group of 20 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, India, China, and Brazil, agreed to double their investment in green energy, to a total of US$20 billion a year.

Of the two pre-Paris announcements, it was that of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition (BEC) — Mr Gates and his fellow entrepreneurs — that grabbed most of the headlines. This is not surprising, given the strong association in the popular imagination between innovation and the private sector. If a technological breakthrough is needed in the fight against climate change, whom should we expect to provide it, if not the wizards of Silicon Valley and other hubs of free-market innovation?

Mr Gates himself is the first to acknowledge that the public perception is far from accurate.

“The private sector knows how to build companies, evaluate the potential for success, and take the risks that lead to taking innovative ideas and bringing them to the world,” reads his coalition’s manifesto. “But in the current business environment, the risk-reward balance for early-stage investing in potentially transformative energy systems is unlikely to meet the market tests of traditional angel or venture capital investors.”

On its own, the free market will not develop new sources of energy fast enough. The payoff is still too uncertain.


Just as in previous technological revolutions, rapid advances in clean energy will require the intervention of a courageous, entrepreneurial state, providing patient, long-term finance that shifts the private sector’s incentives.

Governments must make bold policy choices that not only level the playing field, but also tilt it towards environmental sustainability. Then — and only then — will private financing follow. So far, however, austerity has prevented sufficient public financing. One hopes that the Paris agreement changes that.

As with the information technology revolution, advances in clean energy will require the involvement of both the public and the private sector.

Because we do not yet know which innovations will be the most important in decarbonising the economy, investment must be allocated to a wide array of choices. Long-term, patient finance must also be available to help companies minimise uncertainty and bridge the so-called “Valley of Death” between basic research and commercialisation.

The BEC’s argument — that the “new model will be a public-private partnership between governments, research institutions, and investors” — shines a welcome spotlight on the relationship. Unfortunately, however, aside from Mr Gates and his colleagues, there are few signs that the private sector can be counted on to lead the way.

The energy sector has become over-financialised. It is spending more on share buybacks than on research and development in low-carbon innovation. The energy giants ExxonMobil and General Electric are the first and tenth largest corporate buyers of their own shares.

Meanwhile, according to the International Energy Agency, only 16 per cent of investment in the US energy sector was spent on renewable or nuclear energy.

Left to their own devices, oil companies seem to prefer extracting hydrocarbons from the deepest confines of the earth to channeling their profits into clean-energy alternatives.

Meanwhile, government R&D budgets have been declining in recent years — a trend driven partly by under-appreciation of the state’s role in fostering innovation and growth, and more recently by austerity in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Tight budgets are straining the agencies that could be driving path-breaking innovation.

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was a catalyst for the IT revolution.

By contrast, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) has a 2015 budget of US$280 million — barely a tenth of DARPA’s. In 1981, energy accounted for 11 per cent of the total US public R&D budget. Today, it accounts for only 4 per cent. Meanwhile, problematic demand-side policies are also in crisis, impeding the deployment of existing renewable-energy technologies.

The main public-sector bodies playing a leading role in promoting the diffusion of green-energy technologies are state development banks.

Indeed, Germany’s KfW, the China Development Bank, the European Investment Bank, and Brazil’s BNDES are four of the top ten investors in renewable energy, amounting to 15 per cent of total asset finance.

The public sector can — and should — do much more. For example, subsidies received by energy corporations could be made conditional on a greater percentage of profits being invested in low-carbon innovations.

After all, it was this kind of condition — imposed on the US telephone company AT&T in the early twentieth century, in exchange for being allowed to retain its monopoly — that led to the creation of Bell Labs, a crucial incubator of innovation.

Similarly, while charitable donations by billionaires certainly should be welcomed, companies should also be made to pay a reasonable amount of taxes. After all, as the BEC’s manifesto points out, “current governmental funding levels for clean energy are simply insufficient to meet the challenges before us”.

And yet, in the United Kingdom, for example, Facebook paid only £4,327 (S$9,150) in tax last year, far less than many individual taxpayers.

The willingness of Mr Gates and other business leaders to commit themselves and their money to the promotion of clean energy is admirable. The Paris deal is also good news.

But they are not enough. If the low-carbon revolution is to be achieved, we will need both the public and private sectors to commit more fully to green innovation, from both the supply and demand sides. PROJECT SYNDICATE


Mariana Mazzucato, Professor of the Economics of Innovation at the Science Policy Research Unit of the University of Sussex, is the author of The Entrepreneurial State: debunking public vs. private sector myths.

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