Best of our wild blogs: 28 Jan 16

NSS Kids' Fun with Edible Plants at Bukit Brown
Fun with Nature

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Rubbish, Rubbish Everywhere at Punggol Marina

Punggol Dam blamed for Marina's litter problem
JUDITH TAN The New Paper 28 Jan 16;

Seeing all the rubbish floating in the Punggol marina is almost like a blast from the past.

Styrofoam cups and boxes, plastic oil drums, food wrappers, plastic bags and drink containers blanket the waters' surface.

And it has been happening since 2011 - litter washes up into the marina with the tide and some remains when the tide goes out, said Marina Country Club general manager Derrick Ong.

The litter problem became so bad that the propellers of at least three boats fell off at sea after they got entangled with the trash, he added.

Marina Country Club is on Northshore Drive near Punggol Way and near the mouth of Sungei Punggol in the north-east of Singapore.

At high tide, water from the Johor Strait flows into the river and the marina.

Mr Ong, 46, said the litter problem started when Punggol Dam, located near the club, was built in 2011.

The estuary of Sungei Punggol was dammed to form a reservoir that year.

When there is heavy rain and the reservoir's water level is high, the tidal gates are opened to allow the excess water from the reservoir to be discharged into the sea to prevent flooding.

Mr Ong told The New Paper: "The tide used to flow into Sungei Punggol all the way to Sengkang Community Club.

"Now, with the dam there, the rubbish and silt get collected at the piece of land near the dam. No one cleans it so whenever the floodgates open, the litter is flushed into our waters."

The dam is about a stone's throw from Pier 6, where boats fuel up before leaving the marina.

Mr Ong said high tide brings the litter in and between 1 per cent and 10 per cent of it is left behind when the tide goes out.

The rest is carried out by the tide and the club's employees clear what is left at the top of the ramp at Pier 5.

The rubbish collected every week is enough to fill one skip tank, he said.

Mr Ong said he had several meetings with officers from Public Utilities Board and National Environment Agency and had offered to clear the litter for a fee.

"I asked if $15,000 a month was fair. After all, I would also be charged for waste disposal. They never got back to me after that," he said.

The stench and gunk had an impact on those in the area.

A boat owner, who declined to be named, said: "The water becomes like pea soup. It isn't anything to crow about."

He sent TNP photos he took of the piers and a temporary drain adjoining the marina last November and December to show how bad the situation was.

He said it would worsen during the rainy season as the tide would carry the rubbish through the jetty into the marina where they park their boats.

"When it is low tide, the rubbish collects within the marina and doesn't get washed out. The water in the marina gets caked in and the rubbish often leaves a bad smell," he said.

The boat owner recently had overseas guests and wanted to take them out on his boat.

He said: "I felt ashamed because of the litter and the stench. It wasn't befitting the clean-and-green reputation of Singapore."

Another person affected by the rubbish is skipper of SwiftLady Fishing Charters, Mr Anthony Lee.

Whenever he takes clients out in his two fishing charter boats, he will have to dive into the murky waters to clear pieces of rope and plastic bags from the propellers of his boats before heading out.

"Visibility is bad, but I have to do it," said Mr Lee.

"It's quite dangerous to do this, but it's a good thing I am a strong swimmer. There's just too much rubbish."


Mr Vincent Lim, who runs a wakeboarding business out of Marina Country Club, is looking at moving his business to Sentosa.

"That or move to the Maldives," said Mr Lim, who has been water-skiing and later wakeboarding in the area since he was 17.

He is worried about the contamination in the waters..

"The waters here in Punggol are no longer conducive. My clients might fall sick," said Mr Lim, who is now in his 30s.

TNP approached the relevant government agencies and sent queries on the litter problem on Jan 15.

Boat owners later told TNP that cleaning teams turned up that weekend to drain the water and clear the rubbish.

The boat owner, who did not want to be named, was sceptical.

He said: "The water was drained and the place cleaned, but for how long? I hope this will be for the long term. We will see."

SLA, PUB closely monitoring site

The Punggol Dam acts as a barrier to separate the reservoir from the sea.

This is to prevent flooding in the Punggol area, said the Public Utilities Board (PUB).

"When there is heavy rain and the reservoir water level is high, the tidal gates are opened to allow the excess water from the reservoir to be discharged to the sea. This is to alleviate flood risks in the upstream catchment," said its spokesman, adding that it is not used to flush litter out to the marina.

In a joint reply, Singapore Land Authority and PUB explained that a temporary drain leading to the sea bordering the Marina Country Club was constructed on State land as part of the North Eastern Coast reclamation project.

The project was first announced in Parliament in 1984, to reclaim 875ha of shallow foreshore and swampland at the north-eastern coast of Singapore from Pasir Ris to Jalan Kayu, including Punggol.

"As the location is subject to tidal influence, litter may be brought in during high tides. We will continue to closely monitor the condition of the site and ensure it is regularly cleaned and maintained," the statement said.

The two agencies will also look into measures to reduce the litter brought in by the tides.

"We are reviewing the need for the drain," they said.


The New Paper understands that the temporary drain was part of a drainage system to capture rainfall and channel it towards the sea.

As for the maintenance of common channels, fairways and anchorages, Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said it deploys garbage collection and flotsam retrieval craft on a daily basis.

It collects garbage from ships at the anchorages and retrieves flotsam and debris along the common channels, fairways and anchorages.

An MPA spokesman said: "This is to ensure that all vessels will be able to navigate safely within the port and to ensure that the port waters are kept clean.

"However, due to currents, wind and tides, flotsam and debris may be washed towards the shorelines overnight."

MPA said it takes a serious view on and enforces strict regulations against the pollution of the sea within Singapore port waters.

It also said that it is an offence for anyone to litter in Singapore waters

If convicted, offenders can be fined up to $10,000 or jailed up to two years or both.

When contacted, the Municipal Services Office, which coordinates public agencies to work more closely together especially when responsibilities are split, said it is monitoring the issue.

Its spokesman said it will work with the government agencies to ensure regular monitoring and cleaning of the area.

She said: "We will also work with them to put in place systemic arrangements to prevent future recurrence."

During high tide, the water carries litter from the open sea into the marina. The rubbish covers the water surface where the boats are moored at Marina Country Club in Punggol. Between 1 and 10 per cent of it is left when the tide goes out.
The litter problem started when Punggol Dam was built in 2011 to dam the estuary of Sungei Punggol and form a reservoir. Whenever the floodgates open to regulate the water in the reservoir, the litter is flushed into the marina.

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What the Paris climate deal could mean for Singapore in 2030

Gautam Jindal, Melissa Low, Ho Juay Choy, The Business Times AsiaOne 28 Jan 16;

IN PARIS last month, countries adopted a global agreement that commits both developed and developing countries to contribute towards collective global action till 2030 on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, and helping poor countries manage climate change impact. But the successful conclusion of the negotiations marks only the beginning of a journey in which each country will share the responsibility to save our planet from catastrophe.

Singapore played a key role in Paris, with its ministers and officials acting as facilitators to help countries reach agreement on thorny issues. Now, Singapore will also play its part as part of the global effort and thus will need to respond to the Paris Agreement's provisions over the next 15 years.

In 2009, as part of its Copenhagen pledge, Singapore committed that, by 2020, it would implement measures that will reduce its annual greenhouse gas emissions by 7-11 per cent below the business-as-usual (BAU) scenario. The BAU scenario emissions were projected to reach 77.2 million tonnes by 2020; thus the 7-11 per cent reduction target would require annual emissions to be brought down to 68.7-71.8 tonnes instead.

The pledge also contained a further commitment that Singapore will achieve a reduction of 16 per cent below BAU levels, if a legally binding global agreement is reached. Singapore has reiterated this commitment numerous times, such as in its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), which is the 2030 target that Singapore submitted before the Paris negotiations.

Now that the Paris conference has resulted in a legally binding agreement, Singapore will have to further bring down its annual emissions to some 65 million tonnes by 2020. While the Singapore Sustainable Blueprint clearly shows the planned reductions to be achieved by sectors such as power generation, industry, transport, etc, to meet the 7-11 per cent target, Singapore must now relook how each of these sectors can dig deeper and contribute towards the stricter target with only four years to go.


The Paris Agreement has also established a review mechanism with a five-year cycle, wherein countries are required to submit a revised, more ambitious target every five years after 2020. The rationale is that as time progresses, new technological and economic advancements will allow countries to reduce more emissions cost-effectively and provide greater financial or technology transfer to countries that require such assistance.

In its current pledge submitted before the Paris Agreement, Singapore communicated that it intends to reduce its emissions intensity - that is, emissions per S$GDP - by 36 per cent as compared to 2005 levels by 2030. Thus, by 2025, Singapore should be prepared to submit an even more ambitious target for 2030 and thereafter. This may prove challenging.

As a small island state with limited land and limited access to renewable energy, and having already converted most of the power generation to the cleanest fossil fuel possible, Singapore does not have any other alternatives to achieve the required reductions. At the same time, petrochemical companies can be expected to continue adding refining capacity to their operations here. Thus, it is no surprise that achieving the 36 per cent emissions intensity reduction is by itself a "stretch goal".

Towards this effort, Singapore has been actively promoting solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. However, there are concerns that irregular output of PV due to cloud formations can cause damage to electrical equipment if PV is deployed on a large scale. Thus, for the time being, the Energy Market Authority (EMA) has placed a cap of 600 megawatts of PV installation for Singapore. However, as and when there are improvements in technologies - such as accurate solar forecasting, demand management and battery storage - Singapore should be able to accommodate higher amounts of PV capacity.

Energy efficiency will also have to play a significant role in this effort. The Energy Conservation Act, currently in its formative years, mandates corporations to meet certain criteria in appointing energy managers, monitoring and reporting energy consumption, and developing energy efficiency improvement plans.


This is a logical first step, as it allows the government to collect necessary data and develop a baseline, while giving companies the time to develop their long-term energy management strategies. In time, the Act should ideally graduate towards mandating companies to achieve certain levels of energy efficiency improvement by adopting the best possible technology and efficient practices.

Other initiatives - such as promoting the adoption of electric vehicles, the use of more energy-efficient appliances, and mandating stricter green building codes - could provide areas for achieving the required additional reductions.

The Paris Agreement recognises that, for some countries, achieving emissions reduction internally may not be feasible due to technology or economic factors. Thus, they may have to apply innovative techniques to achieve their objectives. To overcome this limitation, the Agreement has approved a mechanism whereby countries can bilaterally co-operate among themselves to achieve emissions reduction in a host country, and allow the achieved reduction to be counted towards the target of the other country.

To ensure that such a mechanism does not result in any form of double counting of efforts, transfer of credits will be possible only between two countries, both of which will have emissions reduction pledges under the Agreement. The credits will be allowed to be counted only towards the efforts of either the host country or the country that purchases the credits.

Japan has already started practising a similar mechanism called the Joint Crediting Mechanism, under which it intends to facilitate transfer of low-carbon technology to 15 countries and count the credits generated towards achieving its climate change objectives. While Singapore has clearly stated its intent to achieve the objectives outlined in its INDC through domestic action, its 2030 pledge does state that it will continue to study the potential of international market mechanisms. It would be useful for Singapore to keep a close eye on further developments in this space.

Gautam Jindal and Melissa Low are research associates at the Energy Studies Institute (ESI) of the National University of Singapore. Ho Juay Choy is an adjunct research associate professor at ESI
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Authorities up measures to reduce Zika virus risk in Singapore

Due to the presence of Zika in the region and the volume of travel by Singaporeans and tourists, it is "inevitable that there will be imported cases of Zika into Singapore in time to come", say the Health Ministry and NEA.

Channel NewsAsia 27 Jan 16;

SINGAPORE: A set of control measures to reduce the risk of the Zika virus taking hold in the local population will be introduced, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) and National Environment Agency (NEA) on Wednesday (Jan 27).

The authorities said it is “inevitable that there will be imported cases of Zika into Singapore in time to come” due to the presence of Zika in the region and the volume of travel by Singaporeans and tourists.

Already, Taiwan had reported an imported case of Zika virus infection from Thailand on Jan 19. Other countries with ongoing Zika outbreaks include Brazil, Cape Verde, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Martinique, Panama, and Suriname.

As such, authorities said the measures that will be implemented include:

Travellers to countries with Zika virus infection will be advised to protect themselves from mosquito bites by wearing long, covered clothing, applying insect-repellent, and sleeping under mosquito nets or in rooms with wire-mesh screens to keep out mosquitoes. Health advisory posters will be placed at the airports for outbound travellers.

Returning travellers from affected areas are advised to seek medical attention if they develop symptoms of Zika such as fever, skin rashes, joint and muscle pains, headaches and red eyes in the next 14 days.

In the event of a case of Zika virus infection in Singapore, NEA will step up intensive vector control. Together with members of the Inter-Agency Dengue Task Force, NEA will intensify search and destroy efforts to control the Aedes mosquito population.

They added that there is a high risk of subsequent local transmission as the Aedes mosquito vector is present here, and the virus may become endemic in Singapore. The Zika virus is transmitted through Aedes mosquitoes and vector control remains the mainstay to prevent transmission of the virus.

According to MOH and NEA, the Zika virus infection has been added to the List of Notifiable Infectious Diseases under the Infectious Diseases Act. MOH is also raising awareness of Zika virus infection among the medical community so that doctors stay vigilant against possible suspect cases.

“All confirmed cases will be admitted to a public hospital until they recover and test negative for the virus,” said MOH and NEA. “Admitting them into a single room at the hospital will also minimise their risk of being bitten by mosquitoes while they are carrying the virus, which may result in further local transmission.”

- CNA/xk

Government expects total number of dengue cases in 2016 to be high
"Besides checking homes, NEA has also intensified checks for other areas, including construction sites, and taken stern action against those found breeding mosquitoes," says Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli.

Channel NewsAsia 27 Jan 16;

SINGAPORE: The Government expects the total number of dengue cases in 2016 to be high, with cases spiking earlier than usual.

At least 11,200 dengue cases were reported in 2015 and in the last two months of the year, more than 193,000 inspections were conducted, with about 4,000 breeding habitats removed.

More than 1,000 households in dengue clusters were also fined in 2015.

Under the Control of Vectors and Pesticides Act, households within dengue clusters found with breeding habitats can be fined up to S$5,000.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said in Parliament on Wednesday (Jan 27) that the current penalties have been effective in keeping re-offending rates low.

He said: "Besides checking homes, NEA (National Environment Agency) has also intensified checks for other areas, including construction sites, and taken stern action against those found breeding mosquitoes.

“In 2015, more than 900 Notices to Attend Court were issued to construction site contractors and at least 100 court prosecutions were taken against contractors for repeat offences. In the same period, more than 100 Stop Work Orders (were) issued to construction sites to ensure that proper mosquito control measures were put in place before construction was allowed to resume."

About S$2.5 million is set aside each year by the authorities to develop dengue surveillance and control tools. Additional funds have also been committed to develop a method which can prevent mosquito eggs from hatching.

On measures to prevent a Zika virus outbreak in Singapore, Mr Masagos said the Health Ministry is working with NEA to enhance ongoing laboratory surveillance of sample Zika infections.

"Zika is a notifiable disease under the Infectious Diseases Act,” he said. “However, the Zika virus is also transmitted by the same type of mosquitoes that transmit dengue. Therefore, whatever we do for dengue, if we are effective, will be effective also to prevent Zika from spreading. "

- CNA/xk

High number of dengue cases expected this year
LOUISA TANG QIANROU Today Online 28 Jan 16;

SINGAPORE – The number of dengue cases this year is expected to be high, with cases spiking earlier than usual, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli in Parliament today (Jan 27).

More than 11,200 dengue cases were reported last year, lower than in 2013 and 2014, but there have been more cases in the past few months compared with corresponding periods in previous years, said Mr Masagos, who was responding to a question from Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC) on whether current enforcement and fines were enough to deter owners of properties that are breeding mosquitoes.

Property owners in dengue clusters found with breeding habitats can be fined up to S$5,000. Mr Masagos said last year, more than 1,000 households in dengue clusters were fined. The current penalties have been effective in keeping reoffending rates low, but stiffer penalties will be introduced if necessary, he said.

The Ministry for the Environment and Water Resources has also set aside S$2.5 million each year “to conduct multi-disciplinary research in controlling the mosquito population”, for example, to develop surveillance and control tools such as Gravitraps.

And more than S$3 million has been committed over the next three years to developing a novel method of suppressing the Aedes mosquito population. The Ministry is also tracking the development of the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia, he said.

The number of reported cases of dengue remained high last week with 622 cases reported, higher than any week reported last year, with the National Environment Agency noting there has been a switch in dominant dengue serotype from DENV-1 to DENV-2.

In an article on the dengue outlook for the year in the Ministry of Health’s epidemiological news bulletin published this month, researchers noted that vector control efforts have delayed the exposure to dengue infection till adulthood, and “paradoxically” reduced population immunity to the virus.

Studies of blood donor samples by the Environment Health Institute showed that the epidemic in 2013 made little contribution to raise herd immunity, and Singapore’s resident population remains “highly susceptible” to dengue epidemics associated with any of the four serotypes.

The researchers also noted that the effects of the El Nino phenomenon will contribute to a rise in cases in the coming months, noting that after El Niño peaked in December 1997, there was a spike in dengue cases in January 1998, followed by another in August.

Also, while DENV-1, DEN-2 dengue cases have been dominant, other serotypes have also emerged in clusters. A new strain of DENV-3 was first detected in the week of 31 May to 6 June last year and has consistently been detected since then, while another strain has been circulating since April last year, mainly in the western area of Singapore.

A new strain of DENV-4 has also been circulating since last February in the Tai Hwan Close and Heights area in Serangoon. The researchers noted that El Niño could also affect local epidemiology, “due to the inevitable expansion of genetic diversity of the virus and more frequent introduction of new viruses”.

Singapore to step up surveillance for Zika virus

Today Online 27 Jan 16;

SINGAPORE — As it is “inevitable” that the Zika virus will eventually be imported to Singapore, authorities are stepping up measures to detect and potentially control infections, the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the National Environment Agency (NEA) said in a joint statement today (Jan 27).

In the wake of recent outbreaks in South America and a case reported in Taiwan, the MOH and NEA advised travellers to countries with local transmission of the Zika virus to protect themselves from mosquito bites. Pregnant women should reconsider their travel plans to countries with ongoing outbreaks and local transmission, given the increasing evidence of a link between Zika virus infection during pregnancy and brain malformation in their foetuses and infants, they said.

The agencies also said returning travellers from affected areas should seek medical attention if they develop symptoms of Zika such as fever, skin rashes, joint and muscle pains, headaches and red eyes and posters will be placed at airports to serve as reminders.

Since 2013, the NEA has had an ongoing surveillance programme for the virus, and no cases have been detected in Singapore so far, but the possibility of undetected cases could not be ruled out as most infected persons may display mild or no symptoms, NEA and MOH said.

Zika virus infections have also been added to the List of Notifiable Infectious Diseases under the Infectious Diseases Act, while the MOH is raising awareness of such infections among the medical community. Any confirmed cases will be admitted to a single room at a public hospital until they recover and test negative for the virus, to minimise the risk of being bitten by mosquitoes while they are carrying the virus, which is also transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes.

Asked about such infections in Parliament today, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said if any Zika cases are found here, the NEA will step up its vector control activities around the case area. But, he stressed that stamping out the breeding of mosquitoes is key to reducing such threats. “If we are effective with this, we can also stop Zika from spreading when it comes to Singapore,” he said. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY LOUISA TANG

'Challenging' to stop spread of Zika virus in Singapore: Health Minister
If a case of Zika virus infection is detected in Singapore, vector control operations will be stepped up to prevent further transmission of the Zika virus infection, says Minister Gan Kim Yong.
Channel NewsAsia 28 Jan 16;

SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Health (MOH) and the National Environment Agency (NEA) will take necessary steps to contain the spread of the Zika virus, but Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said it may be "challenging" to prevent the virus from spreading and eventually becoming entrenched in Singapore.

Mr Gan said on Thursday (Jan 28) that the presence of the Aedes mosquito vector here is one reason for his assessment. The mild, non-specific nature of the symptoms in the majority of infected patients will also make surveillance "difficult", he added in his written response to MP Lim Wee Kiak's parliamentary question.

The MOH and NEA on Wednesday announced it is upping control measures to prevent the onset of the virus. Some of these measures include issuing advisories to travellers heading to areas with Zika outbreak.

Mr Gan said MOH has issued a medical circular to increase the awareness of Zika among the medical community. As the virus has been included in the list of legally notifiable diseases, all medical practitioners and diagnostic laboratories are required to notify MOH of suspect and confirmed cases of Zika virus infection within 24 hours, he reiterated.

"If a case of Zika virus infection is detected in Singapore, vector control operations will be stepped up to prevent further transmission of Zika virus infection. MOH will also actively look for additional cases in high risk areas in relation to the case," the Minister said.

"Confirmed cases will be admitted to a public hospital for further management and public health precautions will be taken to ensure that they are not bitten by mosquitoes."

He added: "We urge the public to do its part by remaining vigilant and taking appropriate precautions to prevent mosquito breeding."

- CNA/kk

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All school classrooms to get air purifiers for hazy conditions

MOE will deploy about 25,000 air purifiers to all primary and secondary schools in Singapore by July this year, says Acting Minister for Education Ng Chee Meng.

Channel NewsAsia 27 Jan 16;

SINGAPORE: In preparation for future haze seasons, the Ministry of Education (MOE) will deploy air purifiers to all school classrooms, said Acting Minister for Education Ng Chee Meng on Wednesday (Jan 27).

In a written reply to a parliamentary question from MP Christopher de Souza, Mr Ng said MOE will send about 25,000 air purifiers to all primary and secondary schools in Singapore by July this year. Similarly, Voluntary Welfare Organisation-run special education schools and MOE Kindergartens will also have air purifiers, Mr Ng added.

Schools will be provided guidelines on the use of the air purifiers as well, he said.

The move comes after the completion of the haze management review, and the measures are to enhance the well-being of students and staff during a haze situation, said Mr Ng. The measures were introduced in consultation with the National Environment Agency and the Ministry of Health.

“This enhancement to haze management measures takes into account the unusually prolonged hazy season last year as a possible forerunner of future haze seasons,” he explained. The Pollutant Standards Index in Singapore reached unhealthy and hazardous levels in 2015, forcing primary and secondary schools to close for a day.

- CNA/xk

MOE to deploy 25,000 air purifiers to primary, secondary schools
ASYRAF KAMIL Today Online 27 Jan 16;

SINGAPORE — The Ministry of Education (MOE) will deploy about 25,000 air purifiers to all primary and secondary schools in Singapore by July 2016.

On top of that, special education schools run by voluntary welfare organisations and MOE kindergartens, which are guided by haze management measures taken by mainstream schools, will also be equipped with the air purifiers. All schools will be given guidelines on the use of the air purifiers.

Mr Ng Chee Meng, Acting Minister for Education (Schools), said in Parliament today (Jan 27) that the ministry’s move is to “further enhance the well-being of our students and staff (members) during a haze situation”. This was in reply to Member of Parliament Christopher de Souza, who asked whether the ministry would consider using portable airconditioners and air purifiers in school classrooms whenever the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading — which measures air quality — reaches the unhealthy range and beyond.

This new meaure in haze management comes in anticipation of future haze seasons, expected to happen in the third quarter of this year.

Since the prolonged haze season of 2015, parents have expressed concerns and have been asking for the use of such appliances in classrooms.

In an unprecedented move last year, the MOE closed all primary and secondary schools on Sep 25 as a precaution, when the PSI went above 300 and the air quality is considered hazardous. An O-level practical examination had to be postponed due to the school closures. Then, students sitting for their Primary School Leaving Examinations last year in the midst of the hazy season did it in enclosed spaces aided by air purifiers.

The roll-out of such appliances to the schools this year comes after a period of consultation among the MOE, the National Environment Agency and the Health Ministry.

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Malaysia: Sabah still able to cope with dry spell

The Star 28 Jan 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Water officials are confident of weathering the El Nino-induced dry spell until the middle of April before they introduce water rationing.

Sabah Water Department deputy director Teo Chee Kong said the current water levels at the Bambagon and Telibong dams as well as river intake points were sufficient for the city and other areas spanning from Tuaran to Papar.

“We are monitoring on a daily basis and at present we are able to provide normal water supply. If the dry spell persists, we will have to resort to rationing,” he said, adding that the weatherman had forecast that the dry spell would end by late March or early April.

The Babagon dam, which can store up to 22 million cubic litres of water, is Sabah’s biggest dam, while the Telibong dam has a capacity of 10 million cubic litres.

Teo said there had been minimal rainfall around the catchment areas in January and records showed that it was lower than the minimum recorded rainfall in 100 years.

“If the water levels hit 111m (45% capacity), we will need to put in place some form of rationing. If it drops to the 102m level (20% capa­city), then we go into full rationing,” he said.

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Indonesia: Strong winds damage dozens of homes

The Jakarta Post 27 Jan 16;

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) and West Sumatra Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) have urged residents to brace for strong winds over the next four days, up until Friday.

Budi Iman Samiaji of the Padang BMKG said West Sumatra, especially coastal areas, was potentially at risk of strong winds over the next five days, starting Monday.

The strong winds on Monday, ranging from 30 to 40 kilometers per hour, hit parts of West Sumatra, including Padang city, for seven hours without stopping. The winds toppled dozens of trees and blew away the roofs of homes and schools in a number of areas.

Padang city and Padang Pariaman, Payakumbuh, Pesisir Selatan, West Pasaman and Agam regencies all suffered damage on account of the weather. In Padang, more then 20 trees were uprooted in a number of locations. The fallen trees blocked roads and hit a school. The roofs of homes and schools were also blown away by the winds.

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Indonesia: Govt to set new standard for environment

Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 27 Jan 16;

As the government accelerates work on infrastructure projects, the Environment and Forestry Ministry is preparing a plan to improve environmental safeguards in a bid to minimize the environmental damage brought about by the expansion of construction work across Indonesia.

Laksmi Wijayanti, the ministry’s deputy assistant on natural resource utilization and environmental policy assessment, said on Tuesday that President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo would soon issue a government regulation (PP) on the Strategic Environmental Assessment (KLHS), a document used to evaluate the environmental impact of plans and policies.

“If things go well, then the PP will be issued within the next two to three months,” she told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

Laksmi said that the PP would strengthen the implementation of the KLHS so that hidden environmental costs could be minimized.

“The PP includes guarantees of quality control, public accountability and the clear division of authority between government institutions to develop their own internal systems and clear standards [of environmental assessment],” she said.

Ultimately, the PP will bring environmental safeguards to the forefront of the environmental agenda, Laksmi said.

“This PP will hand a primary role to the KLHS in decision-making, such as the power to recommend the revocation of permits,” she said.

The government was scheduled to issue the government regulation in 2014. The PP has long been mandated by Law No. 32/2009 on Environmental Protection and Management.

“The biggest challenge [to finalizing the PP] is the shifting focus [of government]. The merging [of the environment and forestry ministries] as well as last year’s raging forest fires also affected [the process]. But now the draft has been synchronized with proposals from relevant ministries,” Laksmi said.

According to the law, all major plans will have a KLHS as part of the planning process and not after the plan has been finalized.

In the KLHS, all possible impacts, including biophysical, chemical, social, economic, health and cultural issues, will be assessed in a systematic way.

The KLHS will also focus on strategic issues that cut across boundaries, population groups, regions, areas and projects.

Ideally, the externalized costs of a plan and policy should be calculated to give an idea of what hidden costs may be present.

If done well, a KLHS will act as a policy dialogue tool for planners and policy-makers to engage the public and experts in making policies that are expected to be environmentally-friendly.

However, Laksmi said that the implementation had been hindered by the lack of a PP.

“The problem came from the lateness of the PP, which should have served as a legal umbrella for each [government institution]. At the moment, it’s like a free-for-fall where everyone interprets the law by themselves,” she said.

Another problem is that local governments rarely implement a KLHS and almost never include it in their regional spatial planning (RTRW) process.

The government recently came under fire for allegedly bypassing existing regulations as it rushed to complete the permit for the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed rail project.

Critics blasted the “irregular” Environmental Impact Assessment (Amdal) approval process, arguing that some necessary steps had been skipped, including the data gathering process, cut down to one week from six months, and the impact of the project on water catchment in the Saguling and Citarum areas near Bandung, West Java.

Besides the KLHS, another commonly used environmental safeguarding tool in the country is the Amdal, which had not been fully respected.

The director of business and activities environmental impact mitigation at the Environment and Forestry Ministry, Ary Sudijanto, said that it was difficult to monitor the implementation of Amdal given that there were more than 500 regencies and municipalities in the country.

“We have to improve our capacity [to monitor the implementation of the Amdal] in more than 500 regencies/cities. That’s really difficult.”

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Australia: World heritage forests burn as global tragedy unfolds in Tasmania

‘Devastating’ long-term prognosis for ancient Gondwana ecosystem as bushfires turn trees more than 1,000 years old to tinder
Karl Mathiesen The Guardian 27 Jan 16;

A global tragedy is unfolding in Tasmania. World heritage forests are burning; 1,000-year-old trees and the hoary peat beneath are reduced to char.

Fires have already taken stands of king billy and pencil pine – the last remaining fragments of an ecosystem that once spread across the supercontinent of Gondwana. Pockets of Australia’s only winter deciduous tree, the beloved nothofagus – whose direct kin shade the sides of the South American Andes – are now just a wind change away from eternity.

Unlike Australia’s eucalyptus forests, which use fire to regenerate, these plants have not evolved to live within the natural cycle of conflagration and renewal. If burned, they die.

To avoid this fate, they grow high up on the central plateau where it is too wet for the flames to take hold. But a desiccating spring and summer has turned even the wettest rainforest dells and high-altitude bogs into tinder. Last week a huge and uncharacteristically dry electrical storm flashed its way across the state, igniting the land.

While these events have occurred in the past, says David Bowman, a professor of environmental change biology at the University of Tasmania, they were extremely rare, happening perhaps once in a millennium.

“It’s killing trees that are over 1,000 years old; it’s burning up soil that takes over 1,000 years to accumulate,” he says.

If this truly were a once-in-1,000-year event, says Bowman, then to be alive when it occurs is like “winning TattsLotto” for a fire scientist. But we no longer live in the same world.

“We are in a new place,” he says. “We just have to accept that we’ve crossed a threshold, I suspect. This is what climate change looks like.”

The fires were preceded and aggravated by the coincidence of two natural climate events – the Indian Ocean dipole and the Pacific El Niño. The cooling of the east Indian Ocean caused Tasmania’s usually drenching spring rains to fail almost completely. El Niño also tends to bring hot, dry summers. These natural phenomena happen on a timeframe of decades, not centuries. Confluences have occurred before, yet the forests did not burn.

On the mainland of Australia and around the world, as the climate warms the occurrence of catastrophic fires is on the rise. One telltale sign of climate change is that these fires were set by storms not people. Lightning was expected to increase under climate modelling, says David Lindenmayer, a professor of ecology and conservation biology at the Australian National University in Canberra.

Between 1993 and 2003, Tasmania’s Parks and Wildlife Service recorded 17 fires started by lightning. In the next decade that number rose to 30. In a fire risk assessment of the world heritage area, the service warned that lightning fires should no longer be viewed as “natural” because of the influence of climate change. It concluded that lightning fires were now the main threat to the survival of the world heritage area.

“Clearly the fire regime is starting to change,” Lindenmayer says.

In neighbouring Victoria, major fires that naturally occur every 75 to 120 years have occurred every 20 years, on average, for the past century.

“That’s what other people have been forecasting is going to happen,” Lindenmayer says. “We are going to see more fires, over larger areas, that are more frequent and of higher severity. What we are seeing in Tasmania would appear to be a manifestation of that.

Bowman says: “The implications of this are, of course, goodbye Gondwana. Because Gondwana can’t live in this sort of world.”

Tasmania’s wilderness is to Gondwana, which broke apart 180m years ago, what the Great Barrier Reef is to coral – the most magnificent example of a dwindling wonder. That is why Unesco put a vast swath of the island – 1.5m hectares – on its world heritage list in 1982. Once you account for its Aboriginal heritage, the property fulfils more world heritage criteria than any other site on Earth.

To cross this immensely empty landscape takes weeks. As a child, my parents would often take me on treks among the ethereal alpine forests of Tasmania’s central highlands; where ragged pencil pines sit beside bogs and tarns. I was warned never to tread on the cushion plants. Like the corals of the reef, these communities of tiny plants build upon the dead skeletons of their predecessors to create the kind of bulky, alien green globules that a 10-year-old boy just has to run and jump on. But, in doing so, I’d be destroying hundreds of years of minute architecture. So lightly, reverentially, we trod around them.

As with the world’s corals, climate change is now an immediate threat to the continuity of this geologically paced building project.

The Unesco listing is still considered one of the greatest environmental coups of all time. Victorious campaigners expected the landscape would be protected against human caprice for their great-grandchildren and beyond. Never would it have crossed their minds that the survival of the Gondwanan ecosystem would be threatened in their own lifetimes.

Like many Tasmanians, Bowman is a dedicated bushwalker.

“It’s a bit like knowing someone you love’s got cancer,” he says. “You have to get your mind around the inevitability, I suppose. You grieve. It’s a sadness. It’s going to be pretty hard for this stuff to survive, certainly in the 100-year time frame. It stretches my mind to believe that there’ll be much of this stuff left in 50 years.”

An official from Unesco confirms that there is immediate concern at the agency for the wellbeing of the site and that it has requested information from the Australian government about the fires. But Unesco will not comment on whether it has concerns about the long-term survival of the property under climate change. Unesco was warned about the potential risk that climate change-driven fires posed to the site when it sent a mission to the island in November.

At lower altitudes, outside the world heritage area in the disputed Tarkine wilderness and across the north of the state, old-growth rainforests are also burning. The Tarkine’s ancient copses, which form the biggest rainforest in Australia, are cut through with a patchwork of logged forests. They take centuries to regrow after fire. But Lindenmayer says it is “unequivocal” that logging has put them at greater risk of burning. His research has found that forests logged within the past 40 years burn hotter and more easily than if they had been undisturbed.

“You’ve got these hotspots all through the landscape and those are more likely to burn at high severity and they are more likely to join up,” he says. “That means that the unlogged bits that are near the logged bits are more likely to get fried.

“All over the globe you see this kind of thing happening where there are wet forests.”

Geoff Law, a longtime Tasmanian conservationist and former head of the Wilderness Society, describes Bowman’s long-term prognosis for the Gondwanan forests as “devastating”.

“But, in the meantime, there is a tangible crisis requiring a tangible solution – aerial water-bombing capacity,” he says. “Pressure from abroad on the Australian government could help achieve this.”

Tasmanian fire crews are monitoring roughly 100 fires around the state, rightly prioritising the protection of property and life. The former Australian Greens leaders Bob Brown and Christine Milne have written to Malcolm Turnbull’s government calling for remote firefighting assistance from the mainland. (Law, Milne and Brown were all among those who fought the original campaign on the Franklin dam that led to the creation of the world heritage area.)

Brown told the ABC’s Radio National: “Tasmania has just experienced the driest spring in recorded history, then the hottest December. They’ve had almost no rain in January. Everything is hotter and drier, so we are facing unprecedented conditions in human history ... due to the human-caused climate change.”

Bowman says he hopes rains will arrive to relieve the fire crews. But, “in a way, it’s a bit immaterial whether the rain comes and puts it out or doesn’t put it out. If what I’m saying is correct, then we’ve got to get through next summer and we’ve got to get through all these summers in a world that’s getting hotter.”

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UN urges business leaders to double investment in green energy by 2020

Rapid transition from fossil fuels to wind and solar is needed to ensure the success of the Paris climate agreement, says secretary general, Ban Ki-moon
Suzanne Goldenberg The Guardian 27 Jan 16;

The United Nations urged global business leaders on Wednesday to double investment in wind and solar energy to $600bn (£400bn) a year by 2020.

One month after the Paris climate agreement, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, told business leaders they needed to act decisively to hasten the transition away from the fossil fuel economy – or they would put the historic accord in jeopardy.

“I call on the investor community to build on the strong momentum from Paris and seize the opportunities for clean energy growth,” Ban told a UN investors’ meeting in prepared remarks. “I challenge investors to double – at a minimum – their clean energy investments by 2020.”

Global clean energy investment attracted a record $329bn last year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

But Ban told the New York meeting that was still not fast enough to build the new green infrastructure that would enable countries to meet the Paris goal of limiting warming to below 2C. He said it was time for investors and fund managers to move from “aspiration to action”.

The gathering today of about 500 investors, organised by the Ceres sustainable business network, was the third stop for Ban and other UN officials this month on an itinerary designed to get business leaders firmly behind the Paris climate agreement, after meetings in Abu Dhabi and Davos.

Under the agreement, 196 governments agreed on the 2C goal, an aspirational goal of 1.5C, and to build a net-zero carbon economy in the second half of the century. Rich countries committed to providing climate finance, and all countries committed to revisiting and strengthening their national climate goals, starting as early as 2018.

But the commitments made at Paris would at best cap warming to 2.7C.

Christiana Figueres, the UN climate chief, who will also address investors on Wednesday, and other leaders, have acknowledged that governments cannot finance the economic transformation, and that mobilising support from business leaders was a critical component of the Paris agreement.

The message to those business leaders underlined at the Davos and Abu Dhabi gatherings and again in New York on Wednesday was that, left unchecked, climate change posed a dangerous risk, and that there were business opportunities in the transition to a clean energy economy.

In Davos, some 750 experts gathering for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum declared a climate catastrophe to be the single biggest threat to the global economy in 2016.

A few days earlier, the annual meeting of the International Renewable Energy Agency in Abu Dhabi was told that doubling renewable energy to 36% of the global energy mix by 2030 would take countries halfway to the Paris goal of limiting warming to 2C, and increase global GDP by up to $1.3tn.

“We had this extraordinary agreement in Paris, we have got points on the horizon,” Rachel Kyte, the UN special envoy for sustainable energy, who will also address investors, said on the sidelines of the Abu Dhabi meetings. “Now we have got to get down to the nitty gritty of long term development of the low carbon economy and that is a lot less sexy in some respects than things negotiated last year.”

The International Energy Agency estimated it will cost the global energy industry $16.5tn by 2030 to make the switch from high-polluting power plants to wind and solar electricity generation, required by governments’ commitments at Paris.

But a number of experts, including those of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, say the prices on new wind and solar projects are coming down - and could come down even further if there is a dramatic increase in investment.

Ceres said business leaders needed to start moving now to take advantage of those new greener markets.

“Ultimately, global investment portfolios need to shift far more capital to low-carbon business activity and away from risky high-carbon sectors that may perform poorly in the years ahead,” Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, said in prepared remarks.

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