Best of our wild blogs: 15 Jul 16

Coastal boardwalks can do more harm than good
wild shores of singapore

Fun with Food Gardening at Bollywood Veggies Farm
Fun with Nature

NSS Kids’ Fun with Butterflies at HortPark
Fun with Nature

National Library-NSS Bird Walk at Labrador Nature Reserve
Fun with Nature

Read more!

Zero-waste model 'the way forward'

Experts at CleanEnviro Summit say circular economy model viable, needs careful study
Cheryl Teh and Lin Yangchen Straits Times 15 Jul 16;

The way the economy works now is fundamentally flawed, said experts, and the world has to change it radically from a linear to a circular model to ensure long-term sustainability. In a linear economy, natural resources are exploited by humans in a one-way path that ends at the landfill. In the circular model, no waste is produced and everything is recycled or re-used.

Switching economic models was discussed by industry experts in a panel discussion organised by City Developments Limited on Wednesday at the CleanEnviro Summit at Marina Bay Sands (MBS).

Indeed, Dr Janez Potocnik, co-chair of the International Resource Panel of the United Nations Environment Programme, said: "In essence, we have no real viable alternative."

Mr Dalson Chung, managing director of the CleanEnviro Summit, said that, in Singapore, urgent action has to be taken to manage the volume of waste. More than 7.6 million tonnes of it were generated last year.

He said: "The current local pattern of consumption and production is not sustainable.

"If we cannot find a way to reduce waste, then we have to build one incineration plant every five years, and one Semakau landfill every 30 years."

He added that the circular economy was an innovative concept that needed careful study before implementation.

Meanwhile, Mr Ynse de Boer, managing director of Accenture Strategy and Sustainability, said that the circular economy, as a guiding principle, would allow Singapore's economy to grow without the excessive use of natural resources. "There are world-class examples of the concept of recovery and recycling where Singapore clearly leads the way globally," he said, referring to the myriad ways in which Singapore's limited resources are reused and recycled by local firms.

The circular economy thinking has indeed been embraced by several local establishments in their day-to-day operations, one of them being MBS.

Mr Kevin Teng, the executive director for sustainability at MBS, said: "In addition to energy, water and resource conservation projects, we have in place a waste management strategy which includes the use of five food digesters to divert food waste."

These food waste digesters harvest the by-products of food waste for further use instead of just sending food waste to landfills.

Food digestion machines - in which micro-organisms convert waste into water and fertiliser - are also being used in markets in Ang Mo Kio and Tiong Bahru as part of a National Environment Agency on-site food waste recycling pilot.

While such initiatives are on the rise here, businesses can do even more.

Ms Susan Chong, chief executive of local packaging company Greenpac, said that businesses afraid of incurring high costs in their effort to go green could actually achieve savings as a result of applying circular economic thinking to their day-to-day business practices.

She said: "For a shipping business, we use pine, a sustainable resource, to replace mixed hardwood in shipping pallets.

"As a result, we reduced the weight of the pallets from 25kg to 15kg, resulting in actual savings of US$40 (S$54) to US$50 per shipment."

She added: "There's a perception that green costs more but, during the design stage, when you look at the packaging design and use less material, you produce less waste overall."

Mr Chung said that while Singapore has been balancing economic development and environmental sustainability, implementing the circular economy as an overall guiding principle would take time.

He said: "The circular economy can be more viable than the linear economy of 'Take, Make and Dispose', but the Government has to study it in more detail.

"Corporations need to see that they can help in environmental sustainability while also helping with the bottom line."

Mr Peter Lacy, global managing director of Accenture Strategy and Sustainability, said that, in the end, the new way of thinking in business is "about delivering an economy that can thrive, but also deliver enough forever, for all."

Read more!

Malaysia: Oil palm factory in Ulu Remis caused ammonia pollution in Sungai Johor, says Johor MB

AHMAD FAIRUZ OTHMAN New Straits Times 14 Jul 16;

KOTA TINGGI: Effluents from an oil palm factory in Ulu Remis, here has been identified as the cause of ammonia pollution in Sungai Johor that led to water supply disruptions in three districts.

Johor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin said the state government would take legal action against the factory's owner, a government-linked company.

He said the Department of Environment had taken water samples from Sungai Johor and investigations have so far revealed that the factory was responsible for the incident that led to high amounts of ammonia in Sungai Johor.

This caused three water treatment plants to be closed on Tuesday, which caused water supply disruptions affecting about 600,000 consumers in three districts.

"The state government has identified the company involved and legal action will be taken on them. The pollution was caused by an oil palm factory in Ulu Remis.

"The state government will not compromise on the matter as the company's carelessness had caused pollution to the environment and hardship to the people," said Khaled after launching Rumah Mampu Milik Johor units in InnoCity, here.

Khaled: Palm oil mill responsible for ammonia pollution in Sg Johor
ZAZALI MUSA The Star 14 Jul 16;

KOTA TINGGI: Effluents discharged from a palm oil mill belonging to a government-linked company (GLC) in Ulu Remis near here have been identified as the main source of the high ammonia content in Sungai Johor.

This had forced the operations to halt at three water treatment plants in the state, causing a major water disruption.

The temporary closure of the water treatment plants since Tuesday had affected some 600,000 consumers in the southern parts of Johor.

"We will take legal action against the company for causing hardship and inconvenience to the people,” said Mentri Besar Datuk Mohamed Khaled Nordin at a press conference on Thursday.

He said that the Department of Environment had taken more water samples from the river for testing and the results were expected to be out soon.

He said the state government would not compromise in dealing with the case and would haul the company to court.

The three affected water treatment plants are Semangar, Sungai Johor and Tai Hong which supplied water to some 600,000 users.

The plants served domestic, commercial and industrial users in Skudai, Kulai, Bukit Batu, the Tanjung Bin power station near Pontian, Iskandar Puteri and Port of Tanjung Pelepas near Gelang Patah.

Earlier, Mohamed Khaled attended a groundbreaking ceremony for the Rumah Mampu Milik Johor, an affordable housing scheme, under the Innocity project near here.

‘Mill likely to face court over water disruption’
The Star 15 Jul 16;

KOTA TINGGI: An oil palm mill located in Ulu Remis between the Kluang and Kota Tinggi districts will likely face legal action for allegedly discharging effluents into Sungai Johor which resulted in high ammonia levels in the river.

The high ammonia content was detected on Tuesday by the state authorities, rendering the water unfit for human consumption. It forced three water treatment plants to stop their operations, causing supply disruptions for some 600,000 users in the southern parts of Johor.

Mentri Besar Datuk Mohamed Khaled Nordin told yesterday that the state government planned to haul the government-linked company (GLC) that owned the oil palm mill to court.

“We have taken water samples from Sungai Johor and handed them to the Department of Environment for further action,” he said.

Mohamed Khaled said the pollution had caused hardship and inconvenience to hundreds of thousands of users.

He added that the state government would not hesitate to take legal action against any GLCs, state-linked companies or private companies for polluting the environment.

The Semangar and Sungai Johor plants resumed operations in stages on Wednesday and water supply to the affected areas was likely to fully resume by today.

GLC-linked palm oil mill ordered to close over river pollution
KATHLEEN ANN KILI The Star 15 Jul 16;

KLUANG: A palm oil mill belonging to a government-linked company in Ulu Remis here has been ordered to close for 60 days pending cleaning up of effluent discharge that could have caused high ammonia content in Sungai Johor.

Deputy Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Hamim Samuri said the notice of closure was served on Thursday evening.

He said the Department of Environment (DOE) received a report from Syarikat Air Johor on Monday and an investigation was conducted before the possible source of the pollution was identified on Thursday.

"DOE officers and company personnel spotted an overflow from the drainage where effluents flow from the mill.

"This could have caused the pollution," he told reporters during a surprise site visit to the mill Friday.

The high ammonia content in the river forced the closure of three treatment plants, causing a major water disruption that affected some 600,000 consumers in the southern part of Johor.

Read more!

Malaysia: Enough water supply at Mada dams for agriculture, domestic use

EMBUN MAJID New Straits Times 14 Jul 16;

ALOR STAR: Water supply at three dams under the management of the Muda Agriculture Development Authority (Mada) is sufficient to cater for agriculture and domestic usage.

Its chairman Datuk Othman Aziz said the water level at the Pedu and Muda dams meant for agriculture usage are at 33 per cent and 30 per cent, respectively, while water level at the Ahning dam, solely for domestic usage, stands at 63 per cent.

"The water supply from Pedu and Ahning is sufficient to last for this planting season.

If the need arises, we will discuss with the possibility of cloud seeding with the Meteorological Department.

“Although the percentage of both the Pedu and Muda dams are less than 50 per cent, it is enough to last for two months," he told newsmen when met after hosting the Mada Hari Raya open house at its headquarters here today.

Othman, who is also the Deputy Finance Minister, said raw water from the Beris dam was solely for domestic use and is being channelled to treatment facilities in the state.

On another note, Othman said Mada has proposed the setting up of a small water treatment facility within the Mada area and to make use of raw water from Mada canals.

He said this would help to solve any water shortage issues for at least 20,000 to 30,000 families.

"Water at the Mada canal, if is not in use, will only flow to the sea. We should make use of it to solve the water shortage issue," he said.

Read more!

Malaysia: Man, protector of wildlife, kills 1,914 wild animals in road accidents since 2011

BERNAMA New Straits Times 14 Jul 16;

PUTRAJAYA: Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said today man, who has the responsibility of protecting wildlife, has killed 1,914 wild animals such as civets, wild boars, marbled cats and tapirs in road accidents since 2011.

Mammals among the wildlife were the most number of animals killed in these accidents, and they totalled 1,110, he said.

These protected species were killed on federal, state and municipal roads involving 61 road and highway networks in the whole country, he said in a statement here.

“This conflict between man and wildlife can be averted if operators of development and utility projects have a high level of concern about the importance of wildlife and their conservation and protection.

“We have to understand that wildlife depend totally on us to protect them and that they too have a right to live on this earth,” he said.

Wan Junaidi said the department had taken several proactive measures to address the issue, among them installing 236 wildlife crossing road signs at 133 hotspots in peninsular Malaysia.

"These road signs remind motorists to slow down their vehicles at these spots," he said. He also said that 37 transverse bar sets and 24 units of solar amber light had been installed at eight locations along the Central Forest Spine.

"The department has also build viaducts for wildlife crossing at three wildlife corridor locations, in Sungai Deka, Terengganu; Sungai Yu, Pahang and Gerik, Perak, to address the 'roadkill' problem," he said. -- BERNAMA

Read more!

Malaysia: Wildlife Dept relocates wild bull elephant to Kenyir National Park

BERNAMA New Straits Times 14 Jul 16;

JELI: The Kelantan Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) has relocated a wild bull elephant today after it destroyed crops belonging to villagers at Kampung Dendong, Batu Melintang here.

Its director, Mohammad Khairi Ahmad said the relocation operation on the three-tonne elephant to Kenyir National Park in Terengganu was conducted with assistance from the Kuala Gandah National Elephant Conservation Centre, Pahang.

“We used two female elephants, known as Rambai and Amboi, to entice the wild elephant before being relocated to the National Park,” he told reporters after the relocation operation here today.

Mohammad Khairi said a total of 16 personnel from the department and the conservation centre were involved in the four-hour operation which began at 9am.

“We have received complaints from the villagers here about the wild elephant destroying crops such as bananas and rubber seedlings on July 7 and investigated two days later before setting a trap to catch the animal,” he said.

He said the bull elephant was caught on July 10 in a forest near the village.

The department has identified three to five other wild elephants roaming the forest area and into the village,” he said.

He said the department had caught a wild bull elephant in Kampung Salor near Kampung Dendong three months ago.

“We will continue to monitor and catch the remaining elephants to prevent them from ravaging the villagers’ crops,” he said. --BERNAMA

Read More :

Read more!

Indonesia: 23 hotspots detected on Sumatra Island

Antara 14 Jul 16;

Pekanbaru, Riau, July 14 (Antara)- As many as 23 hotspots, with 50 percent indicating forest and plantation fires, were detected in five provinces across Sumatra Island on Thursday.

The number dropped from 67 hotspots detected in Sumatras nine provinces earlier this week, Head of the Pekanbaru meteorology office Sugarin said here, Thursday.

According to data obtained from the Terra and Aqua Satellites, six hotspots each were found in Jambi and South Sumatra, five in Bangka Belitung, four in Riau, and two in Bengkulu.

In Riau Province, three hotspots were detected in Rokan Hilir and one in Dumai.

Of the three hotspots in Rokan Hilir, one is suspected to have arisen from a wildfire in a peatland area located in Bangko Sub-district.

During the period between January and June 2016, a total of 1.4 thousand hectares of forest, peatland, and plantation areas were ravaged by fires, Edward Sanger, head of the Riau disaster mitigation office, noted.

The Riau provincial administration has extended the provinces forest fire emergency status period, which had begun in June, to November 30.

"In accordance with the results of the evaluation conducted last week, we have agreed to extend the emergency status period," Commander of the Forest Fire Task Force in Riau Brigadier General Nurendi said.

By declaring the emergency status, the authorities are expected to be able to optimize their efforts to fight the fires that have affected Riau since the past 18 years.

In the meantime, Environmental Affairs and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya expressed relief that the public could celebrate the post-fasting Eid al-Fitr Islamic Holiday on July 6 without haze.

"We remain vigilant and have implemented various measures to anticipate forest fires," Nurbaya noted in a statement recently.

Based on data of the NOAA satellites, a total of 1,043 hotspots were detected during the January 1-July 9 period, a drop of 67.03 percent from 2,121 hotspots recorded during the same period in 2015.

The Terra and Aqua satellites, however, recorded a total of 1,868 hotspots in 2016, a decrease of 329 hotspots, or 14.97 percent, compared to that recorded in the corresponding period in the previous year.

However, the minister stated on July 11 that she did not want to rely on the data of hotspots obtained from satellites, particularly since they were operated by a foreign country.

"The most effective way is by conducting on-field checks through an integrated patrolling system," Nurbaya stated.(*)

Read more!

Palm Oil's Bear Market Won't Help Relieve Singapore's Haze

Bruce Einhorn Bloomberg News 15 Jul 16;

Nearly a year after haze from Indonesian forest fires created some of the worst air pollution ever in Singapore, fire season is starting again. The Indonesian government agency in charge of disaster mitigation said via a Twitter post on July 13 that an alert was in effect until Oct. 8 for land and forest fires in Central Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo. On July 14, the same agency said over 1,300 hectares (3,212 acres) were already burning in Riau, on the island of Sumatra.

To be fair, it's too early to break out the facemasks and air purifiers: the Sumatra fires are still small. Moreover, it's unclear whether this year's fires will cause haze as bad as the pollution that darkened Singapore's skies in 2015, when the smog led to school closures and disruptions of air and sea traffic. On Sept. 24, Singapore's air pollution index soared to 316, just shy of the record 321 hit in 2013. The pollution from 2015's fires led to S$700 million ($521 million) in losses, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said in March. The damage in Indonesia was far worse, with the World Bank estimating the country suffered losses of $16.1 billion.

The fires this time could exacerbate tensions between Singapore and Indonesia, where many farmers illegally use slash-and-burn methods to clear land for palm oil plantations. Last month, Indonesian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said the country's ambassador in Singapore had submitted a “strong protest” against the city-state's attempts to use a 2014 law against polluters to investigate Indonesian companies.

“We emphasize that laws implemented in Singapore shouldn't harm the beneficial trade cooperation we have in place or harm our businesses,” he said. “The government has communicated our objection to the law.”

Singapore has the right to look into alleged polluters, the country's top environment official told Bloomberg Television in an interview on July 12. “I am sure from the signals that we are getting they are worried,” Masagos said, adding that Singapore would not pursue alleged Indonesian-based polluters without the cooperation of the government there. “We respect the sovereignty of Indonesia,” he said.

With the fires now starting in Indonesia, the environment minister is hoping for the best. “We believe, cautiously, that there will be less haze this year,” Masagos said, “but that will be either because [Indonesian officials] have done a good job or because the weather is on our side.”

This year's fire season comes at a time when palm oil growers are facing tougher times. Prices have plunged 20 percent since March as good weather has contributed to a bumper global crop that will add about 6 million tons to supply, more than twice the usual yearly increase, according to edible oils trader Dorab E. Mistry, director of Godrej International Ltd. in Singapore. Demand isn't likely to grow by more than 4 million tons, he added. “We are bracing for a huge oversupply,” he said. “The market is in a bit of a tailspin.”

Still, the bear market isn't likely to provide any relief for Singaporeans or Indonesians hoping for clear air in the months ahead. Even with the fall in prices, Indonesian palm plantation owners can still make money: their cost of production is about $400 a ton, according to Kelvin Chow, an analyst with Rabobank in Singapore. That's $100 below current market prices. “The farmers will still clear the land and still plant,” he said. “I don't see any decrease in so-called land-clearing.”

Read more!

Indonesia: Provident Agro to divest oil palm units ahead of moratorium

Jakarta Post 14 Jul 16;

In the wake of the government’s plan to impose a moratorium on new oil palm plantation licenses, publicly listed plantation firm Provident Agro has announced a plan to sell millions of shares in four subsidiaries for up to Rp 2.7 trillion (US$206.1 million) in an effort to provide more capital to finance its operations and future expansion.

The company, jointly owned by investment firms Saratoga Sentra Business and Provident Capital Indonesia, will sell its shares in West Kalimantan-based firms, namely Global Kalimantan Makmur (2.2 million shares), Semai Lestari (100,000 shares), Nusaraya Permai (40,000 shares) and Saban Sawit Subur (200,000 shares).

The company claimed that Central Java-based plantation firm Galanggang Maju Bersama (GMB) was ready to buy the offered shares of Global Kalimantan Makmur and Semai Lestari, worth a total of Rp 2.125 trillion based on the calculation of the indicative enterprise value. Meanwhile, another West Kalimantan-based plantation firm, Mandhala Cipta Purnama, will purchase shares of Nusaraya Permai and Saban Sawit Subur for a total of Rp 575 billion.

“The transaction plan will make the company able to provide additional operational funds, including for working capital and investment,” the company said Tuesday in its official prospectus, which also notified shareholders to attend its extraordinary general shareholders meeting in Jakarta on Aug. 18.

Provident Agro currently possesses 12 plantations in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi and seven mills with a total capacity of 285 tons fresh fruit bunches (FFB) per hour. This year, the company aims to produce 500,000 tons of FFB and 200,000 tons of crude palm oil (CPO), an increase of 11 and 63 percent compared to last year, respectively.

In the first quarter of this year, Provident Agro recorded a 4.5 percent and 39.6 percent yoy increase in FFB and CPO production, respectively. Hence, it was followed with a 6.67 percent increase in revenues to Rp 255.27 billion compared to the same period last year. The company, however, still booked Rp 19.8 billion in net losses, down from the Rp 61.6 billion net loss it saw in the corresponding period last year.

The shares sale will reduce the company’s assets from Rp 5.5 trillion as of April to Rp 4.6 trillion. However, Provident Agro also expects to see its long-term debt decrease from Rp 2.2 trillion to Rp 1.5 trillion and its short-term debt from Rp 1 trillion to Rp 595 billion.

Provident Agro was among the major plantation companies that were allegedly responsible for the destruction of 2.61 million hectares of forest and peatlands in Sumatra and Kalimantan last year.

According to the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), the incident resulted in the deaths of 21 people, while another 500,000 suffered from respiratory problems as a consequence of a five-month-long choking haze.

As a result, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo recently instructed the Environment and Forestry Ministry to end the entire process for the issuance of new palm oil permits. A presidential regulation has been prepared to form the legal basis for the moratorium, which will also proscribe the existing idle concessions to be cultivated once the regulation is in place.

As the largest producer of palm oil, Indonesia has more than 11 million hectares of oil palm plantations nationwide. However, the dry weather caused by El NiƱo in Southeast Asia in 2015 and early this year has led to a drop in output, while the price of palm oil has declined from $1,275 per ton in 2011 to $580 per ton last June.

The anticipated moratorium will also pave the way for the government to restore up to 2 million hectares of damaged peatland as it plans to move the country away from a dependency on palm oil to other crops that are more suitable to the characteristics of peatland.

According to calculations from the Office of the Coordinating Economic Minister, the country can meet its target of producing 40 million tons of crude palm oil (CPO) by 2020 sustainably without expanding existing oil palm plantations. Indonesia’s CPO production in 2015 was estimated to be 31 million tons, up from 27 million tons in 2013. (vps)

Read more!

Indonesia: WWF Indonesia Calls for More Intensive Conservation Efforts to Save Borneo's Orangutans

Ratri M. Siniwi Jakarta Globe 14 Jul 16;

Jakarta. The International Union for Conservation of Nature recently updated the status of Borneo's orangutans to "critically endangered." Now the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indonesia has called on the government to strengthen its orangutan conservation efforts.

“This is a reminder for us that the protection and conservation of the Bornean orangutans are necessary to ensure the sustainability of the environment,” said WWF Indonesia conservation director, Arnold Sitompul, in a statement on Thursday (14/07).

According to Arnold, orangutan conservation programs in Indonesian and Malaysia indicate that the population of the species in logging areas can be safeguarded using sustainable methods.

By adopting this approach in larger areas, orangutans will stand a better chance of escaping extinction. Strong partnerships between local governments, conservationists, researchers and business sector players are paramount to make sure the methods work.

Significant progress in conservation efforts has been seen in many protected areas in Indonesia and Malaysia, including Danau Sentarum, Betung Kerihun and Sebangau National Parks in Kalimantan; Danum Valley, Imbak Canyon, Maliau Basin Conservation Areas and Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Sabah, Malaysia; and Sedilu, Batang Ai, Mount Lesung, Ulu Sebuyau National Parks and Lanjak Entimau Wildlife Reserve in Sarawak, Malaysia.

WWF Malaysia Executive Director and CEO Dionysius Sharma believes orangutan conservation strategies must include population monitoring and advocacy so more of their habitats can be developed into protected areas like the ones in Sabah.

“We are currently working with the Sabah Forestry Department to restore degraded orangutan habitats such as the one in the Bukit Piton Conservation Area,” Sharma said.

Since 2008, WWF Malaysia has restored over 2,000 hectares of orangutan habitats in Bukit Piton and said that orangutans started to see real benefits from the restoration only three years after new trees were planted at the area.

Orangutans play a key role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem as they spread plant seeds in the wild and allow sunlight to enter dense tropical forests by making nests.

Nevertheless, deforestation, illegal logging and hunting continue to threaten the survival of orangutans in Borneo and Sumatra.

Read more!

Indonesia: Two Irrawaddy dolphins die in East Kalimantan

N.Adri Jakarta Post 14 Jul 16;

Conservation activists are calling for a more concerted effort to protect the habitat of Irrawaddy dolphins, or pesut, in Mahakam River in East Kalimantan after two of the protected species were found dead, thought to be as a result of widespread environmental problems.

Save Mahakam Pesut Community activist Innal Rahman said the Mahakam pesut was a protected species as it was critically endangered. The population of Mahakam pesut now numbers only 87 individual animals, down from 96 recorded last year.

The first dolphin was found dead in Kutai Kartanegara regency on July 3. It was suspected that the female dolphin died four days before it was found by local residents traveling on the river.

“We saw it stranded near a coal stockpile of coal company PT Morris,” said Rahman, who spotted the dolphin at the location. At 233 centimeters in length and a body circumference of 128 cm, it is believed the dolphin was fully mature.

On July 7 a pregnant dolphin was found dead on nearby Mangempang Beach. Muara Badak resident, Saidah, reported the beached dolphin to the Navy.

“We later removed it to our post for a further examination,” said the post’s commander Second Lieut. Karel Setiawan. Several old wounds, possibly caused by the propellers of boats using the Pangempang River, one of the Mahakam River's tributaries, were found on the dolphin’s body.

There are human settlements, coal stockpiles and oil palm plantations built along the Mahakam River and its tributaries. “Dolphins are a sensitive species. Noise caused by boat engines cause them to lose direction, disrupting their efforts in foraging for food,” said Danielle Kreb, a researcher at the Rare Aquatic Species Indonesia Conservation Foundation in Samarinda. (ebf)

Read more!

South China Sea dispute is not driven by oil: Chinese energy expert

Rather than oil being at the centre of the dispute, an energy policy professor tells Conversation With that fishing rights may be the real issue.
Krystal Chia and Lin Xueling Channel NewsAsia 14 Jul 16;

BEIJING: China’s far-reaching claims on the South China Sea are not driven by the potentially large oil and gas resources that may exist in disputed area, says Zha Daojiong, a professor at Peking University.

Prof Zha, who specialises in energy policy and food and water security in Asia, argues that the amount of oil in the contested sea is largely unknown and that it would probably be cheaper for China to buy the oil on the open market than engage in costly drilling in the deep waters of the sea.

“Oil is one element of it, but it’s certainly not the most tangible element. I don’t see oil as the single most compelling argument that’s behind the South China Sea matter,” said Prof Zha in an interview with Channel NewsAsia in Beijing.

His comments come against a backdrop of heightened tensions in the region, with the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruling Tuesday in favour of the Philippines in a closely watched case against China. The United Nations-backed court found that China, which claims 80 per cent of the South China Sea, had violated the Philippines’ petroleum and fishing rights.

Predictions about how much oil and other resources might be found in the South China Sea vary greatly. A Chinese government department estimates that the sea might contain 23 to 30 billion tonnes of oil and 16 trillion cubic metres of natural gas, which would be equivalent to a third of China’s total oil and gas resources. China is currently the world’s second-largest consumer of oil after the United States.

But rather than oil, fishing rights may be the real issue in South China Sea, says Prof Zha, who has also been a consultant with various Chinese government agencies, including on the board of counsellors of the Chinese Association for International Understanding under the administration of Department of International Affairs of the Chinese Communist Party.

China’s run-ins with its neighbours have not been limited to Manila bringing the case to the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Last month, a Chinese fishing boat was detained by the Indonesian navy in waters near the Natuna Islands. While Jakarta has said the boat was in its exclusive economic zone, the Chinese government argued the vessel was in “China’s traditional fishing grounds”.

To resolve such disputes, countries should focus on an equitable division of fish stocks rather than go back to territorial line drawing, said Prof Zha.

“Countries (should) begin with saying: ‘Let’s figure out what is the species, how they migrate … let’s try to restrain ourselves from exploitation and preserve the stocks.' The sad reality is that for the South China Sea, nobody is even talking about it,” said Prof Zha.


Prof Zha was also adamant that China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) can maintain good relations despite the increasingly fractious South China Sea claims.

Tensions between China and the Southeast Asian bloc came to the fore just a few weeks when a meeting of China-ASEAN Foreign Ministers failed to reach a joint statement, apparently due to a disagreement over the wording of a section on maritime issues.

“ASEAN is like a house which rests on many pillars. The South China Sea issue may be one of the pillars, so why not have a separate track? Let’s not let one pillar that’s a little shaky to turn out and, somehow, miraculously break down the other pillars of the community.”

“ASEAN should not belittle itself. It’s very powerful, but it must now move,” Prof Zha added.

Looking further ahead, Prof Zha warned that China may need to be more sensitive to its Southeast Asian neighbours and the perceived threat of a “return of Chineseness” in their societies.

“The last thing China should do … is become another Soviet Union, and to become expansionist, to try to line up a group of countries under some sort of ideology and to actively rally a group of countries to do battle with another so-called bloc.”

Watch the full interview on “Conversation With” on Thursday (Jul 14) on Channel NewsAsia at 8.30pm SG/HK.

- CNA/kc

Read more!

Biodiversity is below safe levels across more than half of world's land – study

Habitat destruction has reduced the variety of plants and animals to the point that ecological systems could become unable to function properly, with risks for agriculture and human health, say scientists
Adam Vaughan The Guardian 14 Jul 16;

The variety of animals and plants has fallen to dangerous levels across more than half of the world’s landmass due to humanity destroying habitats to use as farmland, scientists have estimated.

The unchecked loss of biodiversity is akin to playing ecological roulette and will set back efforts to bring people out of poverty in the long term, they warned.

Analysing 1.8m records from 39,123 sites across Earth, the international study found that a measure of the intactness of biodiversity at sites has fallen below a safety limit across 58.1% of the world’s land.

Under a proposal put forward by experts last year, a site losing more than 10% of its biodiversity is considered to have passed a precautionary threshold, beyond which the ecosystem’s ability to function could be compromised.

“It’s worrying that land use has already pushed biodiversity below the level proposed as a safe limit,” said Prof Andy Purvis, of the Natural History Museum, and one of the authors. “Until and unless we can bring biodiversity back up, we’re playing ecological roulette.”

Researchers said the study, published in the journal Science on Thursday, was the most comprehensive examination yet of biodiversity loss. The decline is not just bad news for the species but in the long term could spell problems for human health and economies.

“If ecosystem functions don’t continue, then yes it affects the ability of agriculture to sustain human populations and we simply don’t know at which point that will be reached,” said Dr Tim Newbold, lead author of the work and a research associate at University College London. “We are entering the zone of uncertainty.”

He added that while to an extent people could use technological solutions to replicate the functions of nature, such as pollinators, there were limits to how much humans could compensate for the loss of species.

“Such widespread transgression of safe limits suggests that biodiversity loss, if unchecked, will undermine efforts toward long-term sustainable development,” the paper said.

Dr Tom Oliver, who was not involved in the study, wrote in a separate commentary in Science that: “It is a tricky problem to say how much biodiversity loss is too much. However, we can be certain that inaction commits us to a future with substantial costs to human wellbeing.”

The study found that different types of habitat had lost more biodiversity where they were biomes that humans lived in, such as grasslands. Tundra and boreal forests, by contrast, were the least affected. The biggest cause of natural habitats being changed was due to agriculture, rather than urbanisation.

The study does come with some caveats. Foremost is that scientists cannot say exactly what a dangerous degree of biodiversity loss would be – it could be the 10% threshold agreed on, but the authors admit that as much as a 70% loss in variety could count as the safe limit.

The team looked at 1sq km-sized sites around the world, using the latest records that would give a geographically comprehensive picture, including species data from 2005 and human population numbers from 2000, when there were 6 billion people worldwide.

Since then, the global population has grown to 7 billion and governments have been lambasted for failing to stem biodiversity loss, suggesting the real world percentage of sites passing the safety threshold today is even higher.

Newbold said that while losses in the interim would not be uniformly true, because of conservation efforts in certain parts of the world, “on average, we would predict in intervening period, there has been further loss.”

Biodiversity plunges below 'safe' levels: study
AFP Yahoo News 15 Jul 16;

Miami (AFP) - Having a range of different plant and animal species helps guarantee the health of the Earth, but a study Thursday suggested that biodiversity may be declining beyond safe levels.

On 58 percent of the world's land surface, which is home to 71 percent of the global population, "the level of biodiversity loss is substantial enough to question the ability of ecosystems to support human societies," said the report in the US journal Science.

Researchers at University College London based their study on data from hundreds of international scientists, crunching 2.38 million records for more than 39,000 species at more than 18,000 sites in the world.

They sought to estimate how biodiversity has changed over time, particularly since humans arrived and built on land.

Areas most affected included grasslands, savannas and shrublands, followed by many of the world's forests and woodlands, said the report.

Using a reference known as the Biodiversity Intactness Index (BII), which captures changes in species abundance, researchers said a safe limit of change is generally considered about a 10 percent reduction in BII.

In other words, "species abundance within a given habitat is 90 percent of its original value in the absence of human land use," said the report.

The study showed that global biodiversity has fallen below that threshold, to 84.6 percent.

"This is the first time we've quantified the effect of habitat loss on biodiversity globally in such detail and we've found that across most of the world biodiversity loss is no longer within the safe limit suggested by ecologists," said lead researcher Tim Newbold of UCL.

"In many parts of the world, we are approaching a situation where human intervention might be needed to sustain ecosystem function."

The biggest changes have been happening in the most heavily populated areas, raising concern about the potential impact on human health as well.

"It's worrying that land use has already pushed biodiversity below the level proposed as a safe limit," said co-author Andy Purvis of the Natural History Museum, London.

"Decision-makers worry a lot about economic recessions, but an ecological recession could have even worse consequences -- and the biodiversity damage we've had means we're at risk of that happening," he added.

"Until and unless we can bring biodiversity back up, we're playing ecological roulette."

Why You Should Fear an “Ecological Recession”
Justin WorlandTime 15 Jul 16;

More than half of the world may be experiencing a dangerous loss in biodiversity

Human efforts to slow biodiversity loss are falling short across the globe, which could in turn harm future human development and wellbeing, according to new research.

Researchers behind study, published in the journal Science, found that human-caused pressures like land use change—the destruction of natural habitats often for timber, agriculture or residential developments—have cause biodiversity to fall to unsustainable levels more than half of the world’s surface. On average, human activity has driven away 15% of species that would have been present otherwise in locations across the globe, according to the study.

“Decision-makers worry a lot about economic recessions,” said author Andy Purvis, a professor at the Natural History Museum in London in a press release. “But an ecological recession could have even worse consequences—and the biodiversity damage we’ve had means we’re at risk of that happening.”

Determining exactly what level of biodiversity loss can be sustained without damaging human wellbeing is a difficult challenge. Previous research has suggested that a decline of more than 10% in the number of species in a certain area could be a dangerous threshold, but even that study notes that the figure is far from certain.

Healthy biodiversity plays a crucial role in a number of functions that support human life, including pollination and pest control, both of which support agriculture. Other vulnerable species—like some types of trees and plants—suck up carbon dioxide that would otherwise contribute to climate change.

“It is a tricky problem to say how much biodiversity loss is too much,” says Tom Oliver, an associate professor in landscape ecology, in an opinion piece accompanying the study. “However, we can be certain that inaction commits us to a future with substantial costs to human well-being.”

Researchers looked at nearly 2.2 million records on 39,000 species around the globe, making the study the most detailed work evaluating how land change affects biodiversity. Locations inhabited by humans tend to be the most vulnerable to declines in biodiversity, according to the study.

A number of initiatives are underway to address biodiversity loss, including the 1993 Convention on Biological Diversity, an international treaty that establishes a framework for dealing with the issue. But, with biodiversity showing no signs of slowing—and other phenomena like climate change worsening the problem—change may not come soon enough.

Read more!

Scientists call for better plastics design to protect marine life

Improved materials would encourage recycling and prevent single-use containers from entering the oceans and breaking into small pieces
Fiona Harvey The Guardian 14 Jul 16;

Plastics should be better designed to encourage recycling and prevent wasteful single-use containers finding their way into our oceans, where they break up into small pieces and are swallowed by marine animals, scientists said on Thursday.

This could be as effective as a ban on microbeads, proposed by green campaigners as a way of dealing with the rising levels of microplastic waste - tiny pieces of near-indestructible plastic materials - that are harming marine life.

Richard Thompson, professor of marine biology at Plymouth University, told an experts’ briefing in London that better design was a key element in combating the rapidly growing problem: “The irony is that if most of these materials were better designed, they could be better recycled, and we could capture them. That would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We need to change the way we do this.”

As an example, he pointed to plastic bottles - clear bottles have a recycling value five times higher than those that have been dyed, as the pigment is hard to remove. But the pigments serve no useful purpose other than perceived aesthetics. “They are there because of marketing.”

Thompson added: “You can’t ban microplastics [because they are made up of many different sources of plastics, which are broken down in oceans]. You can ban microbeads, but this should not be seen as the end of action [to tackle the problem].”

Microbeads, which are used in cosmetics and hygiene products such as toothpaste, have been found to affect the growth of fish larvae and persist in the guts of creatures, from mussels to fish, that swallow them.

“It’s not clear why we need microbeads,” said Thompson. “It’s not clear what the societal benefits are. They go straight down the plughole.”

While microbeads are a recent phenomenon, microplastics, from larger sources of litter including plastic bags and bottles, have been accumulating in the oceans for decades.

“[It comes from] 60 years of being a throwaway society,” Thompson said. Most of the plastic litter comes from single-use items, which have been inadequately disposed of and not recycled. “They have a very short lifetime in use and last a very long time in the environment.” The consequences of that accumulation “are now becoming clear”.

Alice Horton, an expert in ecotoxicology at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, said people should be made more aware of the effects of their consumption on our rivers and oceans, with a view to cutting down on their use and recycling more. “Small steps are important - don’t use as many plastic bags, for example,” she said.

Alastair Grant, professor of ecology at the University of East Anglia, said much more could be done to cut off the problem at its source. Once they are in waterways, some can be gathered up by mechanical means - such as the debris-catchers employed on the Thames - but this is less efficient than preventing their disposal in the first place. “It’s a question of identifying the main sources,” he said. “The most important thing is to focus on larger items, than worrying first about things like microplastics.”

Calls for governments to take action on microbeads and microplastics have intensified in recent years, as new evidence has piled up of their harmful effects. The beads have become popular in cosmetics as abrasives in skin products, such as gels, body scrubs and creams, and toothpastes.

The US has banned microbeads, and the EU is considering such a measure. The new UK government’s position is not yet clear, though a previous minister supported a ban and MPs on parliament’s environmental audit committee are holding evidence sessions with a view to policy recommendations.

However, microplastics are a longer standing problem and have received less attention, as they are more diffuse in their sources and harder to subject to a single ban. While microbeads are relatively easy to phase out, and serve little purpose, it would be impossible to ban all plastics, some of which have important uses, such as food containers.

Evidence of the harm they do once broken down in the oceans is building up from new research. One study published in June in the peer-review journal Science found that fish larvae were changing their behaviour in response to quantities of microplastics in their environment. The larvae hoovered up the microscopic particles “like teenagers eating junk food”, the researchers said, and some in the study effectively died of starvation because they ignored real food. They also showed less response to predators, and many were eaten by larger fish.

Other research has shown the persistence of microplastics, with mussels introduced to the substances shown to swallow them and still show evidence of their persistence in their bodies even after several changes of fresh water.

Using biodegradable plastics is one way in which producers have tried to solve the problem. However, many of these only break down in certain conditions, and some of them - when mixed in with other household plastic waste, as they inevitably are - can prevent the recycling of conventional plastics. The UN’s top environment scientist told the Guardian they were “a false solution”.

The scientists called for more research on the sources of plastics, their concentrations across the world, their effects on marine life, the potential of chemicals leaching from them, and the differences among varieties of plastics that might make some more deadly than others.

“This is an emerging science,” said Thompson. “But a lack of knowledge is no reason to delay. We should be taking action on what we already know about.”

Read more!