Best of our wild blogs: 21 Dec 15

Otters of Singapore
Otters in Singapore

Ternate False Fusus (Hemifusus ternatanus) @ Sembawang
Monday Morgue

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How much would you pay for clean air?

NUS survey hopes to quantify the cost of haze to people who are left out in official estimates
Audrey Tan, Straits Times AsiaOne 21 Dec 15;

Some economists believe that this year's haze episode will be twice as costly as the one in 1997.

An Indonesia-based research centre estimated that the haze will cost the region US$14 billion (S$19.7 billion) due to losses linked to agriculture production, forest degradation, health, transportation and tourism, up from the US$9 billion in 1997, said The Wall Street Journal.

But such estimates capture only costs easily identified from economic data.

Other costs, especially those experienced by the man in the street, are harder to put a finger on.

Two researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) hope to put a figure to this through a survey to find out if people are willing to pay for clean air. And if so, how much.

"This survey will supplement macro estimates made by the economists, as it quantifies the cost of the haze to people who 'fall through the cracks' in official estimates," said Assistant Professor Ryan Chisholm from the NUS department of biological sciences, the principal investigator behind the project.

Aside from individuals, the study will take into account the losses suffered by small businesses. For instance, the incomes of freelance photographers would have been affected by the haze, Prof Chisholm, 38, said.

He is working with fourth-year environmental studies student Lin Yuan, 24, on the survey, which aims to get 1,000 responses by next month.

A key question in the survey is whether respondents are willing to pay a "haze tax" - by channelling 0.1 to 2 per cent of their annual income to a haze mitigation fund - if air quality remained good all year round.

Ms Lin said: "Although the oil palm, pulp and paper plantations may generate economic growth for the country, it may come at a cost.

"The macro estimates, together with the results from such a survey, could give the authorities a better picture."

Professor Euston Quah, who heads Nanyang Technological University's department of economics, said to look at the economic impact of haze would be to consider factors like productivity loss, losses to businesses, tourism, and outdoor recreation and impact on health, including psychological impacts such as depression.

But there are some factors, such as the long-term impact on health, that are difficult to quantify.

He told The Straits Times: "In the case of outdoor recreation and leisure, while one could estimate the loss in revenue receipts from declines in users, there are some other losses such as jogging and strolling, and simple leisure pursuits including sitting on the bench in parks."

Prof Chisholm believes his study would plug this gap.

He was inspired to do the study when he could not finish a walk at the Southern Ridges with his parents visiting from Melbourne due to the haze in September.

He said: "There have been informal discussions about whether people would be willing to pay for clean air, but this survey would be the first in Singapore to officially test this hypothesis."

Mr Tan Yi Han, president of volunteer group PM.Haze (People's Movement to Stop Haze), said the study was interesting as it could potentially help the Singapore Government gauge how much it should spend to help tackle the haze.

"If the results of the survey show that Singaporeans are willing to pay to tackle the haze issue, it would send a signal to the Government to invest in haze-tackling measures, such as switching all palm oil in the country to sustainably-sourced ones, or investing in research," he said.

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Hong Kah North launches 'zero waste' campaign

Audrey Tan Straits Times 20 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE - Hong Kah North constituency in Bukit Batok has launched a new initiative to further reduce its carbon footprint, doing its part to support the global climate pact sealed in Paris this month.

Under the initiative launched on Sunday (Dec 20), the constituency will intensify its efforts at getting residents to generate less waste through the 3Rs - reduce, reuse and recycle.

Under the Hong Kah North Towards A Zero Waste Community campaign, the Hong Kah North Grassroots Organisations (GROs) and the Waste Management and Recycling Association of Singapore (Wmras), which is partnering the constituency, are pushing for change in three areas.

They are: Recycling, reducing food waste and increasing awareness of environmental conservation and environmentally-friendly practices through the setting up of a eco community fund.

The campaign was launched by Dr Amy Khor, MP for Hong Kah North, at the Hong Kah North Community Club (CC) on Sunday.

To promote the recycling of material like newspapers, clothing, metal cans, plastic and e-waste, the constituency has placed four smart bins within the CC.

The smart bins, sponsored by waste management firm Otto Waste Systems, are equipped with sensors that will alert the town council when they are full. On top of that, two additional smart bins for general waste will be placed within the CC.

The smart bins are in line with Singapore's drive to be a Smart Nation, which aims to optimise logistics and collection operations using integrated technological and management solutions.

Dr Khor also visited the nearby hawker centre to urge residents to reduce food waste by not over-ordering.

Lastly, through the setting up of the Hong Kah North Eco Community Fund, the constituency hopes to cultivate a green consciousness among residents, especially students.

Various individuals and companies have contributed $23,000 to the fund so far, part of which will be used to purchase simple composting machines for schools within the constituency. This will help raise recycling rate of food waste - the waste stream with the lowest recycling rate in Singapore.

Said Dr Khor, who is Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources and Health: "The historic global climate pact is but the first step for all of us to work towards ensuring that we will continue to have a liveable planet.

"We all have to do our part - government, companies, community and individuals - to conserve resources, reduce our energy consumption and contribute toward a reduction in energy intensity."

Hong Kah North rolls out smart bins in green campaign
Audrey Tan, The Straits Times AsiaOne 21 Dec 15;

The Hong Kah North constituency in Bukit Batok yesterday launched a new zero waste initiative, doing its part to support the global climate pact sealed in Paris this month.

Under the year-long pilot, the constituency aims to recycle more, reduce food waste, and raise awareness of environmental conservation and environmentally-friendly practices through a new fund.

The campaign, called Hong Kah North Towards A Zero Waste Community, is a partnership between the Hong Kah North Grassroots Organisations and the Waste Management and Recycling Association of Singapore.

This is the first large-scale project that the association is working on with a grassroots organisation.

To promote the habit of recycling, the constituency has placed four colourful smart bins at the community club. The bins, sponsored by waste management firm Otto Waste Systems, have sensors that will alert the town council when they are full. There will be two smart bins for general waste.

"Because they are attractively done up, people will be motivated to recycle and sort their recyclables," said Dr Amy Khor, MP for Hong Kah North SMC.

The constituency will be expanding its recycling efforts to include electronic waste, such as batteries and unwanted electronic devices, with specialised bins installed in the CC and at Residents' Committee centres.

The constituency hopes to get residents to produce less food waste, by encouraging them not to over-cook or over-order at coffee shops.

A new Hong Kah North Eco Community Fund was also set up.

Part of the $23,000 in the kitty will be used to purchase composting machines for schools in the constituency.

The funds would also be used to fund green projects proposed by students, with each successful project receiving up to $2,000.

Dr Khor, who is Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources and Health, launched the partnership yesterday. She said: "The historic global climate pact is but the first step for all of us to work towards ensuring that we will continue to have a liveable planet.

"All of us should do our part - Government, companies, community and individuals like all of us - to conserve resources, reduce our energy consumption and contribute towards a reduction in carbon emissions."

Hong Kah North resident Vivian Lim, 40, a housewife, welcomed the initiative and said she will use the new bins.

"The green efforts at the schools will also teach my nine-year-old daughter how to be environmentally friendly," Madam Lim said.

Hong Kah North launches campaign to encourage residents to go green
Smart bins that can alert cleaners when they are full will be installed in parts of the constituency.
Nadia Jansen Hassan Channel NewsAsia 20 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE: The Hong Kah North constituency is ramping up efforts to encourage residents to be more eco-friendly, generate less food waste and reduce carbon emissions, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor said on Sunday (Dec 20).

Under an initiative launched on Sunday, the Hong Kah North Grassroots Organisations will install smart bins in parts of the constituency. Alerts via text messages or email will be automatically sent to companies and cleaners when the bins are full. This helps save on manpower and reduce carbon footprint as the bins are only checked when required.

To intensify efforts at getting residents to generate less waste, recycling bins will also be placed in the Hong Kah North Community Club, said Dr Khor, who is the MP for the constituency.

Also launched on Sunday was the Hong Kah North Eco Community Fund, with a sum of S$23,000. The fund aims to help develop environmentally-friendly habits among young residents. Schools in the area will be able to tap on the fund if they have proposals for green projects.

An average of 20,600 tonnes of waste is generated every day in Singapore.

- CNA/cy

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Architect of green building movement

Some 30% of structures are environmentally friendly and BCA chief aims for 80% by 2030
Samantha Boh Straits Times AsiaOne 21 Dec 15;

Over the last decade, green buildings have sprouted up across the island from Jurong to Pasir Ris.

From just 17 in 2005, there are now more than 2,500 of these environmentally friendly buildings, making up around 30 per cent of all buildings here.

Dr John Keung, chief executive officer of the Building and Construction Authority (BCA), has been credited with the flowering of green buildings here.

Today, he is recognised for spearheading three masterplans to encourage green buildings and even won a global award in October, the 2015 World Green Building Council Chairman's Award.

However, initially, some people thought that he was moving too fast. "They told me: 'Look, you may be moving a bit too fast, the industry cannot catch up'," said the 62-year-old, referring to the other CEOs from the industry.

The CEOs, who headed firms in sectors such as construction, architecture and property development, feared that Singapore did not have enough people who could design a green building in a cost-effective way.

They also worried that demand was insufficient to justify entry into green building design and construction.

"I told them we will create the demand. We will make sure whoever wants to develop expertise in green buildings will have business, they can secure projects to do," Dr Keung told The Straits Times.

"The second thing I told them is that the BCA Academy will provide courses to train people in the industry to make sure they know how to design, build and operate a green building."

True to his word, he pushed for regulations that mandate minimum environmental sustainability standards for existing buildings and introduced incentives for developers to build or retrofit green buildings, among other strategies to create demand.

Partnerships were also forged with overseas institutes, such as one with University College London to offer a master's degree in green building maintenance. Other courses, including a diploma in mechanical engineering that focuses on green building technology, are also offered at the academy.

To date, the BCA Academy has trained at least 13,000 individuals, who Dr Keung calls "green-collar workers". The aim is train up to 20,000 by 2020.

Dr Keung, who has a Master of Science in town planning and a doctorate from the University of Wales in Britain, said he has been passionate about issues on environmental sustainability since his university days. He decided to push the green building movement in Singapore in a "big way" when he became the chief of BCA in 2006. The father of three had previously worked at the Urban Redevelopment Authority and Housing Board.

Dr Keung believed that Singapore had a role in sharing its knowledge with other countries in the region. As of September, the BCA has had more than 270 overseas applications from 75 cities in 14 countries for Green Mark certification - a testament of how it is taking the benchmark beyond Singapore's shores.

Dr Keung stressed that it makes business sense to go green.

A building with a Green Mark Platinum rating, which is at least 30 per cent more energy efficient than buildings without Green Mark certification, will get returns from its "green premium" - the extra construction cost to go green - in 21/2 to 61/2 years.

"You get back everything you invest to make that building green. And after that, whatever you gain year after year is a net gain," he said. "And a green building will also give you better indoor environmental quality and is a healthier building," he added.

Mr Lee Chuan Seng, emeritus chairman of engineering consultancy firm Beca Asia, said Dr Keung's efforts have made Singapore the leading nation in the region in delivering green sustainable buildings.

"John's relentless perseverance and, at the same time, (his) calm reassurance when things get tough, have been a great encouragement to BCA staff and industry partners."

But Dr Keung is not resting on his laurels. "I must say I am happy to see the progress, but if you ask my colleagues, they will know I am not exactly 'very happy' because we want to do a lot more," he said.

His target, and that of BCA, is for at least 80 per cent of all buildings here to be environmentally sustainable by 2030.

In the coming years, the BCA aims to shorten the payback period for going green and get energy guzzlers like data centres and supermarkets on board the Green Mark scheme.

It also hopes to get building users more involved in cutting energy consumption, and to make research breakthroughs to make buildings even more energy efficient.

Said Dr Keung: "All these are things we want. We intend to stretch our target and, in the longer term, achieve them."

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New run along Rail Corridor could be last chance to explore historic stretch

Hariz Baharudin, New Paper AsiaOne 21 Dec 15;

Runners who love nature, you’re in for a treat.

On Jan 31, Swiss sports brand Compressport will be taking runners on a lush tree-covered trail, across a variety of terrain.

The Compressport Rail Corridor Run will comprise a 5km fun run and a 10km competitive run through Singapore’s Rail Corridor.

The corridor, which stretches 26km, used to have train tracks owned by Malaysian railway company Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM).

After KTM ceased operations in 2012, the corridor was opened for public use. But parts of the Rail Corridor have been slated for development by national water agency PUB. These parts will be closed by the first half of next year.

Last month, it was also announced that there are plans to turn the corridor into paved cycling paths, shelters, event spaces and rainforest viewing platforms.

“The run offers people the last chance to run the corridor and embrace the trail before it closes,” says Mr Lai Kee Chow, one of the event’s organisers.

He and his team have been organising the run since May and have taken precautions to ensure it goes smoothly. Mr Lai says: “Runners in different categories start at different points because the paths can be narrow and we want everyone to be safe.”

There will also be sufficient water points along the run.

Prizes for the top 10 runners in the competitive category include cash, as well as Compressport vouchers and fitness products. Every participant who finishes the run will also receive a medal, regardless of position.

Mr Collin Ng, who is in charge of the route, says the run will be special because of the route’s diverse terrain.

He says: “People will be surprised at what they will find on the trail. It is a special one, with a lot of variety in terrain.”

Runners in the different categories will end up at the same end point — the historic former Tanjong Pagar railway station. Part of the proceeds from the run will go to three charities: Breast Cancer Foundation, Halogen Foundation and Shark Savers.

According Mr Lai and his team, more than 7,000 tickets have already been snapped up, and there is a limited number of tickets left. Ms Jasmine Goh, who is taking part, says she is looking forward to the scenery along the corridor.

She adds: “Also, January is a great month to run as it is not so hot.”

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Death toll rises to 45 in storm-hit Philippines

Floods almost three metres (nine feet) deep covered some riverside areas north of the capital Manila as heavy rain kept falling, civil defence offices said.
Channel NewsAsia 20 Dec 15;

CALUMPIT, Philippines: The death toll from two storms which battered the Philippines rose to 45 on Sunday (Dec 20) as several towns remained under water and rain kept falling in northern regions, disaster monitoring officials said.

The rain was caused by a cold front, dragged into the country by Typhoon Melor and Tropical Depression Onyok which hit the Philippines in succession last week. Floods almost three metres (nine feet) deep covered some riverside areas north of the capital Manila as heavy rain kept falling, civil defence offices said.

"Our home has been flooded up to the waist. It has been flooded for over two days," said Mary Jane Bautista, 35, in the industrial town of Calumpit 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of the capital. Her family and several others were forced to take refuge on nearby high ground - in front of a church where their only shelter is the awning over the entrance.

"My husband has to wade through the waters to go home to get supplies. If we need water, he has to go to the faucet in our kitchen," she told AFP, expressing fears the current could wash him away. "We had some food but it just ran out," she said, complaining that government relief goods had not yet reached her.

Around her, the streets had turned into fast-moving rivers, passable only by rowboats and people using inner tubes. Many low-lying areas north of Manila act as a catchment area for rain in other parts of the main island of Luzon.

"It (the flood) really takes a long time to recede because this is the lowest area," said Glenn Diwa, an officer with the regional disaster council.

Over 54,000 people in the region were huddling in government evacuation centres, she said, adding there was no guarantee they would be home by Christmas, one of the biggest holidays in the largely Catholic nation.

Melor hit the southeast of Luzon on December 14 and moved west across the archipelago. Even as it departed to the South China Sea, another storm named locally as Onyok hit the southern island of Mindanao and brought more heavy rain.

Almost a week after Melor struck, the death toll was still rising, with the bodies of four dead fishermen washed up in the eastern region of Bicol. "They left during clear weather. But they were caught by the typhoon on the way home," said Cedric Daep, the region's civil defence chief.

The unregistered vessel did not have a radio or even life vests, he told AFP.

The government weather station said Onyok had dissipated and the weather would improve nationwide by Monday.

The nation of 100 million people is battered by an average of 20 typhoons annually, many of them deadly. In 2013, Super Typhoon Haiyan wiped out entire fishing communities in the central islands, leaving 7,350 people dead or missing.

- AFP/ms

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