Best of our wild blogs: 27 Sep 16

Sat 15 Oct 2016: Join NUS Toddycats and friends @ Sungei Mandai Kecil mangrove cleanup
News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Super September RUMbles
Restore Ubin Mangroves (R.U.M.) Initiative

Restore Ubin Mangroves (R.U.M.)
Vicky's Writings

Read more!

To truly make a big cut, go beyond recycling

To Kien Channel NewsAsia 27 Sep 16;

Our mounting waste problem lies in a buy-and-throw-away culture. In the midst of affluence, asks To Kien, can we care enough to repair, reinvent and reuse our 'old' things?

SINGAPORE: The other day I asked my son, a Primary 4 student at a local public school: “Do you learn and do reduce-reuse-recycle projects at school?” “Mostly recycling, daddy. We only do some recyclables collecting competitions,” he responded, to my surprise.

Among the three ‘R’s, much more attention is paid to recycling. It is important, but not paramount.

This year, we continue to produce more waste and at the same time, the recycling rate has dropped. If this trend persists, the Semakau landfill will be full by around 2035.

So how can the Government inform and educate people well, when some of us - such as the elderly, young children or maids - don’t usually use the computer, surf the net, watch television or read the newspapers?

Rather than recycling as a cure for this situation, we need to focus more on waste prevention and on cutting off more at the source, by practising what I call the Big Cut.

The Big Cut has 5Rs.


Let’s refuse unnecessary offers; refrain from giving in to our wants, and try to stick to our needs.

We can be considerate in even minor things, such as when we are about to change a spoon and plate during a catered meal, take an extra straw, or receive take-away foam boxes or plastic bags.

As a researcher and educator in a design university, I like observing and identifying problems around us. Sometimes, they spark various design ideas and solutions. I’ll share some of these to provide food for thought.

For instance, to help “refuse” our wants, app designers could write a simple app for shopping that reminds us what we need to buy, and warns us about what we don't need by prompting our pre-recorded inventory of all similar items stored at home.


One of the First World problems is excessive consumerism and the “abundance society”. Many of us have more shoes, bags, furniture or gadgets at home than we need and actually use.

There are growing signs, however, that such mass consumerism is slowing due to demographic aging, economic slowdown, resource scarcity and so on; and it is gradually being replaced by the rise of the sharing economy and do-it-yourself (DIY) production.

When we bring home a lot, then factor in storage space, we will realise we are actually paying a lot, especially in the expensive context of housing in Singapore.

Buy less, and interior designers can design more creative hybrid furniture - such as sofa-bed storage - for more compact homes. This helps reduce furniture purchases and, ultimately, bulky trash.

Sometimes, we end up throwing away expired food because we bought it in bulk. France recently passed a law that orders supermarkets to donate unconsumed food approaching best-before dates to charity. Singapore can learn from this.

When I was reading about the 3Rs on the National Environment Agency’s website, one suggestion to reduce waste bothered me: “Purchase items in bulk quantities”. I suggest reviewing it.

As for how to spur Singaporeans to reduce waste? A system of “pay as you throw” proposed by the NEA might work.


One man’s waste, they say, is another man’s treasure. Instead of throwing away things that are still usable, we could hold garage sales or give away items no longer wanted to others who need them.

I remember my childhood in Vietnam, when many “đồng nát” (junk-buyers, similar to Singapore’s karung guni men) frequently patrolled the city to buy or collect almost everything unused from households. You could hear them coming with their melodic sales chants and horns.

It’s not only in lower-income countries, but also in some higher-income ones, that people practise this “reuse” culture. Germany and Japan, where I studied, are examples.

One of my weekend pastimes in Germany was to visit flea markets. There I could find not only surprisingly good bargains, but also many beautiful and rare household items from around the world to satisfy my collecting hobby.

In Japan, our kind host ran a campus bazaar to support foreign students like my wife and me. When we had kids, we were heartened when she gave us some of her children’s nice old clothes that she had prudently kept - for 15 years.

Second-hand shops are popular - and as Japanese people use and keep their stuff very carefully, one can often find very good pre-loved stuff in great variety, and for a real bargain.

The shops usually have a little workshop at the back where staff buy used stuff and then clean, overhaul or beautify them on the spot. I remember one shop’s slogan: “We buy and sell literally everything, except airplanes.”

Singapore doesn’t have many second-hand flea markets. The most famous one at Sungei Road will soon close.

While some neighbourhood ones are organised now and then by grassroots groups, we could arrange for more of them on vacant pieces of lands or under-used pockets of space, and encourage families to participate.

We could give second-hand shops a chance too, like those run by the Salvation Army and the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations. Meanwhile, online listings like Gumtree and groups such as SgFreecycle or Singapore Really Really Free Market are useful. They connect like-minded people and promote a sharing and pooling culture.


Repairing discourages our throwaway culture and makes us value what we have.

Many old items, such as presents or souvenirs, carry memories. We want to make use of them until they are truly unusable.

It is mostly because getting an item repaired could cost nearly as much as buying a brand-new version, that many of us decide to take the second option. This is why in Sweden, the government is now proposing tax breaks on repairs to everything from shoes to washing machines, so that it makes economic sense to get broken things fixed.

My family cycles daily, and I usually repair our loyal “two-wheeled friends”. But I have seen many bicycles thrown away merely because of minor faults, such as an inner tube puncture.

It’s good if someone in the family can fix things. The joy we get when we succeed in creatively repairing something on our own is tremendous. But if no one in the family has the skills, it would be great if we could take the stuff to a nearby “fix hub”.

My idea is to have one in each precinct, located in a community club or centre. This network could link up with the emerging makerspace movement in Singapore, so that individuals can share their skills and resources such as space, tools and excess materials.

At a recent workshop that I convened as part of a research project in Jurong East, some residents expressed that they would like to have a DIY workshop or maker space (for repairing things) as well as weekend bazaars (to exchange items for reuse) in their neighbourhood.

Each school in Singapore could set up a “fix lab”, too.


When something just cannot be fixed despite our efforts, we can dismantle it and repurpose the parts to make something new, or even repair something else that is broken.

I do field surveys extensively for work. In many developing countries, I’m often amazed to see people repairing and remaking things so creatively and widely.

There is a term, reverse innovation, which refers to an innovation seen first (or likely to be used first) in the developing world before spreading to the industrialised world. Repairing and remaking foster such innovations.

I had a spoilt fan, and I kept its heavy base to make the base of a garden parasol (the main part, which I bought from IKEA, fit perfectly). I also had a coat stand no longer in use, and I repurposed it to hang planters on my patio.

To remake things, we may need common “banks” of re-usable parts. Let’s design and provide shelves at HDB void decks or condominium amenity hubs, with three labels: 'Fully reusable', 'Reusable but requires fixing', and 'Parts only'.

Then, encourage people to place their unwanted items on the suitable shelf for others to take freely.

I often teach my son how to repair or remake things as an essential life skill. One day, when his sister sat on his cherished soccer ball and accidentally exploded it, he was upset and his friends told him to throw it away.

He said, “No, I’ll fix it.”

In the evening, he and I examined the torn ball. Although the inner bladder could not be mended, we remade the ball by buying a S$2 Daiso rubber ball to put inside, pumped it up, sewed back the cover - and voilà! Ready for kick-off.


The journey to a low-waste future is bumpy. There are various common prejudices to overcome.

First, the thinking that “it’s the authorities’ job”.

The authorities can improve waste collection and management systems, set up new fix-hubs, improve policies and enhance public awareness. But to change people’s habits, mindsets, behaviours and actions, it’s up to all of us.

Second: “I don’t see where my trash ends up, so I don’t care”.

Let’s get in the face of trash throwers. Confront them with photos and graphics displayed on the sides of refuse chutes or bins, showing where their trash ends up. In public spaces, show images of the Semakau landfill filling up over time, with real-time figures updated periodically.

Third: “Other people don’t practice this. Why should I?”

Well, if one by one everybody starts practising the Big Cut, we’ll see many little changes, and eventually a big transformation will happen.

Fourth: “Second-hand? Repair? We aren’t that poor, we have our pride!”

Material status is important in newly affluent societies, and Singaporeans have been no less wrapped up in the 5Cs - cash, credit card, car, condo, country club.

Yet, as societies advance and mature, mindsets, value systems and judging indicators start to shift towards a new set of Cs - creativity, collaboration, contribution, compassion and confidence. It becomes no longer about dollars and cents, but about caring for our planet.


And as mindsets change, let every one of us start championing the Big Cut. Let’s show our families and neighbors how it’s done, and we can do it progressively.

First, begin in our home.

I taught my son by doing a little social experiment. He had a toy car in good condition that he no longer played with. He and I wanted to give it to someone but we didn’t know who would need it.

I suggested, “Let’s bring it to the playground, leave it there and see what happens.” And he did so excitedly.

When we came back on different days and at various times, we witnessed different children playing cheerfully with the toy and even scrambling for it. “Are you happy to see your neighbours’ friends happy?” I asked. My son smiled and nodded.

Next, our neighbourhood.

I propose setting up, in each neighbourhood, a small library of occasionally-used tools such as mechanical sets, drillers and plumbing equipment, with a minimal fee per use. Such a shared library can help neighbours bond, and it can be associated with fix-hubs.

For now, everyone can do as I did - create an inventory list of tools using Google Documents, for sharing among friends. This helps every member keep track of who has what tools that they can borrow.

Then, schools and universities.

They can serve as model mini-societies, championing the Big Cut among the next generation. I have co-mentored several student projects on the 3Rs, and it is inspiring to see young Singaporeans show their creativity in their sense of responsibility for the environment.

Finally, island-wide communities.

I’ve mentioned a few in this article, but there are others rallying against the throwaway culture by urging people to bring their own containers, to repair rather than throw away, and to DIY.

Our efforts to refuse, reduce, reuse, repair and remake in many small ways mean we save big at the end of the day. We will all collectively ensure a better environment for ourselves, our loved ones and future generations.

Dr To Kien is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). He is a licensed architect, researcher and educator in Urban Planning, Social Architecture and Sustainable Design. He has been a Resource Person on the Singapore Institute of Architects’ Sustainability Committee since 2013.

- CNA/yv

Read more!

Supermarkets will impose plastic bag charge if it is 'industry-wide'

Lim Jia Qi Channel NewsAsia 26 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: Local supermarket chains could impose a plastic bag charge if there is an industry-wide effort to implement one, they told Channel NewsAsia. This comes in response to a call from environmental group Zero Waste for the Government to introduce a levy on the use of plastic bags.

A spokesperson from the Dairy Farm group, which owns supermarket chains Cold Storage and Giant, said it would consider imposing a charge on plastic bags if there is a “collective industry approach”.

“With a more structured and concerted collective industry approach and without the risk of losing their competitive advantage, Dairy Farm group would seriously consider this proposal,” said the spokesperson.

The spokesperson added that efforts have been made at the group’s 700 stores – which include Guardian pharmacies and 7-Eleven outlets – in raising awareness to cut down on plastic bag usage.

“Reusable shopping bags are prominently placed near our checkout counters and our cashiers are trained to ask customers if they would like to use their own bags or encourage them to purchase the reusable bag instead of using the plastic bags,” said the spokesperson.

NTUC FairPrice is also not ruling out the possibility of having a plastic bag charge if the industry players decide to come together, said FairPrice’s CEO Seah Kian Peng.

“If the industry wants to do it, obviously I think we can. But I still think we need to consider the impact on the lower-income shoppers. It adds up,” said Mr Seah, adding that the supermarket currently prefers using an incentive scheme to reduce the use of plastic bags.


Channel NewsAsia reported on Wednesday that Zero Waste proposed that retailers impose a S$0.10 charge on big plastic bags and S$0.05 for smaller ones. Singapore goes through about 2.5 billion plastic bags every year, equivalent to about 450 per person, per year.

News of the proposal sparked discussion on Facebook, with a number of people defending their use of plastic bags.

“We need to clear garbage at home too. Can we just throw all the soaking food down the rubbish chute directly?“ said Jess Lee.

“Most dwellers use plastic bags to recycle as trash bag. Imagine them dumping trash directly into our rubbish chutes. It would be environmentally unhygienic,” Tay Yong Hong commented.

Mr Eugene Tay, executive director of Zero Waste, said the group has recommended some plastic bags used for carrying food without packaging, or frozen or chilled food, and prescription medicines to be exempt from the scheme.

“Residents can still use those plastic bags which are exempt from the charge to bag their refuse. If they need more, they can take it from the supermarket and pay for it,” he explained. “If there is a charge then people will start thinking about how can they reduce the plastic bags that they take.”

Mr Eugene Heng, chairman of the non-government organisation Waterways Watch Society, agreed. Mr Heng, who has organised clean-up sessions at Singapore's waterways for the last 19 years, said plastic bags are one of the most commonly found types of litter in Singapore waters.

“Plastic bags usually end up as litter and all these plastic bags have a detrimental impact on the environment. It damages marine life. We often have to save live fish caught in plastic bags,” he said.

“While we recognise that plastic bags are important in the Singapore context, I think there are too many going around and people just take it for granted. If we impose a cost, it's going to remind people that it's going to hurt and they will be more appreciative of plastic bags.”


While a mandatory charge could work in cutting usage, Member of Parliament Lee Bee Wah, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Environment and Water Resources, is against the idea of legislation.

“It's not just about to charge or not to charge (for) plastic bags. I would think that the big supermarkets should take the lead. And those who are passionate about the environment should come out and lead by example,” she said.

“The Government should look at education; look at bigger issues on the environment, not just plastic bags, per se.”

According to statistics from the NEA’s website, 824,600 tonnes of plastic waste were generated last year. Plastic waste made up the biggest share of waste that was disposed of at the incineration plants in Singapore.

Some might argue that other types of plastic waste also have an impact on the environment, so why the focus on plastic bags?

Professor of Environmental Economics at the Nanyang Technological University Euston Quah said: “Going by the argument that plastics create problems in degradation, then one response will be all plastics should be included. But if in the case of Singapore where plastic bags dominate a large component of all plastics used in Singapore, then naturally policies should target these plastic bags.

“But I do think the reduction in plastic bag use is very minimal if the charge is so low. Besides, stores would want to make the ease of shopping for consumers and will be very reluctant to implement a charge. If they do, they can return the cost in the form of other benefits to consumers.

"But a small charge is also good to tell all consumers that through their use of plastic bags, the environment is harmed,” he said.

- CNA/jq

Potential plastic bag charges divides Singapore netizens, proves there are 2 kinds of people
Melissa Chan, Vulcan Post AsiaOne 28 Sep 16;

What do Singaporean netizens care about?

Apparently, charges on plastic bags used during supermarket shopping trips.

According to a report on Channel NewsAsia at around 10pm last night, "local supermarket chains could impose a plastic bag charge if there is an industry-wide effort to implement one".

The statement comes as a response to environmental group Zero Waste's call for the Government to introduce charges on the use of plastic bags among Singaporeans.

Executive director of Zero Waste, Mr Eugene Tay, said: "If there is a charge [for plastic bags] then people will start thinking about how can they reduce the plastic bags that they take."

The group proposed that retailers charge their customers 10 cents and 5 cents for large and smaller plastic bags respectively, which already sparked discussions on Facebook on the feasibility of the solution.

For example, a netizen said, "Most dwellers use plastic bags to recycle as trash bag. Imagine them dumping trash directly into our rubbish chutes. It would be environmentally unhygienic when the waste foods start rotting inside."

On the Government side, Member of Parliament Lee Bee Wah, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Environment and Water Resources firmly stated that it should be the big supermarkets' duty to carry out this proposal, as "The Government should look at education; look at bigger issues on the environment, not just plastic bags, per se."

Spokespeople from the Dairy Farm group (which owns Cold Storage and Giant), and NTUC FairPrice have come forward to tell CNA that at the moment, they already have incentives and efforts in place to reduce the dependence on plastic bags by their shoppers.

Singaporeans are said to use a whopping 2.5 billion plastic bags each year, and according to statistics from the National Environment Agency's website, 824,600 tonnes of plastic waste were generated in 2015.

From the latest report, it does seem like these big supermarket chains have decided to respond, albeit without promising anything concrete, to the proposal.

Singaporean Netizens Debate

In response to the news, netizens seem to be somewhat divided.

One begged for others to look at the "bigger issue" as compared to potential inconveniences:

One called for the Government to take the lead, in light of other nations already taking nationwide steps to reduce plastic waste:

However, some are adamantly against the potential changes, and have spoken out strongly against it:

Online Grocery Providers Can Be Pioneers In Environmentally-Friendly Practices

What's interesting though, is the fact that a few have taken to the news as even more reason to grocery shop online.

The online grocery shopping scene is a highly competitive one, with honestbee and RedMart being among the few big players in the (pun intended) market.

An increasing number of Singaporeans, even without the plastic bag charge fiasco, have been turning to these online providers due to the convenience that comes with the services, especially in light of their busy schedules and the need for a means of transport after an intense grocery shopping session.

Perhaps then, these providers can be the pioneers in encouraging environmentally-friendly practices, and use recyclable bags for their clients' purchases.

Regardless, the issue seems to be still in pending mode, and there's no certainty on what the verdict will be.

What do you think about the potential charges? Let us know!

Read more!

Zika cases in Singapore reach 393

Today Online 23 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE — A total of six new cases of locally-transmitted Zika were identified over the weekend from after 3pm on Sept 23 to Sept 25, according to the latest update on the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) Zika webpage.

Of these, four were identified after 3pm on Friday (Sept 23) and on Saturday. Two new cases were reported on Sunday.

No new cases were reported on Monday as of 3pm.

This brings the total number of cases in Singapore to 393.

There are no new clusters identified.

There are now nine clusters: Aljunied Crescent/Sims Drive/Paya Lebar Way/Kallang Way/Circuit Road/Geylang East Central/Geylang East Avenue 1; Bedok North Avenue 2/Bedok North Avenue 3/Bedok North Street 3; Joo Seng Road; Bishan Street 12; Elite Terrace; Ubi Crescent; Jalan Raya/Circuit Road; Sengkang Central/Sengkang East Avenue and Hougang Ave 7.

Meanwhile, 16 pregnant women in Singapore have been infected with the Zika virus, the Ministry of Health (MOH) confirmed on Sept 23, in response to media queries.

The update is double that of the last publicly known figure, which was released by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Sept 13.

A month on, Zika tails off, but experts warn against complacency
TAN WEIZHEN Today Online 27 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE — While the number of Zika cases has dropped quite sharply in the last two weeks, medical experts here warned against complacency about the disease that looks set to stay.

They also stressed the need to do more research on this relatively unknown disease, especially on its link to microcephaly — where babies are born with abnormally small heads or brain defects — and in developing affordable and rapid test kits.

The number of Zika infection cases has fallen steadily over the weeks. There were 103 cases in the week of Sept 4 to 10, down from 215 cases the week before. Between Sept 11 and 17, there were 62 cases, and the number fell further to 11 for the week of Sept 18 to 24.

Two cases were reported between Sunday and 3pm yesterday. This brings the total number of cases in Singapore to 393, and no new clusters have been identified so far this week.

Dr Lim Chien Chuan from Sims Drive Medical Clinic, located in the initial outbreak cluster, said that the clinic has not seen any new cases over the past two weeks.

“I believe this significant drop in the numbers can be attributed to the effective vector control measures taken by the authorities and the personal protection measures taken by the various individuals living and working around this area.”

However, experts such as Dr Wong Sin Yew, an infectious disease physician at Gleneagles Hospital, cautioned that the Zika virus appears to be establishing itself in Singapore, and others warned that the decline in cases could be temporary — due to factors such as weather and vector control measures — and Singaporeans must continue to stop mosquitoes from breeding in their homes.

Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious diseases expert, pointed out that the cooling weather meant that Singapore is moving away from the traditional dengue peak season, which implies less Aedes mosquito activity and, therefore, less risk of getting a Zika infection, which is spread by the same mosquito.

“I think there will be a period of calm, and the storm will come again ... We should be on our toes. Clearing mosquitoes to this degree or more should be a new norm for all Singaporeans,” Dr Leong said.

Professor Duane J Gubler, founding director of a research programme in emerging infectious disease at Duke-NUS Medical School, said: “Given the potential neurological affects of infection, I would continue to categorise Zika as a high (level) threat until we learn more about the virus and its transmission dynamics.”

His view for more research is shared by Dr Chia Shi-Lu, who said it is hard to manage it in the long term “unless we know the real impact”. Dr Chia, chairperson of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, said that this is particularly needed to study the link between Zika and microcephaly.

“Although Zika has been around for decades, why has this link been seen in Brazil only fairly recently? Could there be other factors at play, such as genetic predisposition, or some other environmental factor?” he asked.

Doubts have been cast on the link between Zika and microcephaly in South American countries. Brazilian health officials admitted Zika alone might not be responsible for the birth defect, with data suggesting that socio-economic factors might be involved.

Dr Leong noted that countries have gone about managing the disease in two ways: Allow it to spread unabated and have the epidemic over in 18 months as herd immunity kicks in, or control the mosquito population and the disease will be around a longer time with smaller numbers infected.

For Singapore, the clear strategy is in managing the disease via vector control, and Dr Leong said that one key solution in the fight against Zika is to come up with a test that “allows us to accurately and quickly and cheaply diagnose it” at less than S$50. Current tests cost up to a couple of hundred dollars.

Doctors said that it is unclear how Zika should be categorised in terms of threat level, and how the public health response should be, until there is more information on the virus.

However, Dr Leong noted that Zika appears to be fast to transmit, but low in “devastation” in terms of impact.

He likened it to the H1N1 flu that spread here in 2009, similar in terms of the speed of transmission but it did not kill as many people as initially expected. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ILIYAS JUANDA

Read more!

Nearly 12,000 dengue cases reported in Singapore this year

Channel NewsAsia 27 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: Nearly 12,000 dengue cases have been reported in Singapore so far this year, according to figures published on the National Environment Agency (NEA) on Tuesday (Sep 27).

There were 176 dengue cases in the week ending Sep 24, up marginally from the 174 cases reported in the previous week. Another 25 cases were reported between Sep 25 and 3pm on Sep 26.

A total of 11,924 dengue cases have been reported in Singapore since the start of the year, compared with 11,286 cases in the whole of 2015. Seven people have died of the disease so far, with the latest fatality a 79-year-old man who lived in Eastwood Drive near Upper East Coast Road. There were four dengue fatalities last year.

There are now 35 active dengue clusters in Singapore – down from 40 the previous week – including seven classified as high-risk. The biggest cluster is in the area around Yishun Avenue 4 and Yishun Street 61, where 56 cases have been reported, including seven in the past fortnight.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) and NEA have warned that the number of dengue cases in Singapore may exceed 30,000 this year, higher than the record of 22,170 reported in 2013.

Singapore also reported its first case of locally transmitted Zika late last month. It has since confirmed a total of 393 cases.

- CNA/cy

Read more!

Why the Paris Agreement’s early entry into force is crucial

MELISSA LOW Today 27 Sep 16;

The Paris Agreement on climate change adopted by nearly 200 countries last December is inching towards its entry into force, as 60 countries accounting for 47.5 per cent of the world’s emissions have deposited instruments of ratification to the United Nations (UN).

At a special “High-Level Event on Entry into Force of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change” convened by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week, 31 countries including Singapore formally joined the Paris Agreement, moving the landmark deal closer to reality.

It is likely that the deal will reach the double threshold — 55 countries representing 55 per cent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions — to enter into force this year.

The agreement received a big boost earlier in the month when United States and China — the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases — ratified the agreement on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hangzhou.

The ratification move by the global community to act on climate change is important, as it significantly catalyses climate action around the world and demonstrates support of the countries that have joined the agreement.

The rapid pace of ratification is unprecedented, despite laggards such as the European Union (EU), which accounts for 12 per cent of global emissions. So far, only three European states — France, Hungary and Austria — have passed domestic requirements for ratification but this itself does not constitute ratification.


Currently, it is understood that EU member states will not submit their instruments of ratification until there is an agreement on effort-sharing within the bloc.

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker this month expressed embarrassment at the slow progress.

A proposal for fast-track ratification was submitted in June for approval by the European Parliament and Council. Consent of the European Parliament is required prior to the adoption of the decision by the council.

Only when approved can the council designate a representative to deposit the ratification instrument to the UN Secretary-General, on behalf of the EU.

The major stumbling block here is that effort-sharing between the EU member states in order to achieve their 40 per cent emissions reduction by 2030, compared with 1990 levels target, has yet to be decided.

This process could take a couple of years. However, even an accelerated procedure would still be finished only as early as Oct 9 and late ratification would seriously put the EU’s reputation as a climate leader at risk.

Fortunately though, the remaining 7.5 per cent of emissions coverage needed to take the Paris Agreement over the threshold to entry could also come from major emitters such as the Russian Federation (which accounts for 5 per cent of global emissions), Indonesia (4.3 per cent), India (4.1 per cent), Japan (3.6 per cent), Canada (1.6 per cent), Australia (1.48 per cent) or South Korea (1.4 per cent).

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Sunday that India will ratify its agreement on Oct 2.

India is the world’s fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gas (counting the EU as a single bloc) and its move means it is almost certain the climate deal will come into force this year.

Japan has initiated its domestic process to ratify the agreement and its Parliament yesterday kicked off an extraordinary session where necessary documents may be submitted.

Canada is still in the midst of developing a national climate strategy on how the country is expected to meet its climate target before putting forward its instrument of ratification to the federal Cabinet.

Regardless of which countries make up the final tally, it will be a remarkable achievement should the Paris Agreement enter into force in 2016, given that it was adopted only 10 months ago.

In contrast, the agreement’s predecessor — the Kyoto Protocol — infamously took eight years to enter into force after being adopted in 1997.

At the time, the US had refused to ratify the protocol, saying that China and other major developing countries needed to play a role in addressing climate change as well.

If the threshold for entry for the Paris Agreement is crossed by Oct 7, then the first meeting of the parties to the agreement, known in the climate jargon as CMA, could take place during the upcoming annual United Nations climate conference (COP22), scheduled to start in Morocco on Nov 7, a day before the US Presidential Election.

Republican front-runner Mr Donald Trump has rubbished the science of climate change, resulting in uncertainty over whether America — the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases — will hold up its end of the bargain under a Trump administration.


Legal expert Daniel Bodansky from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law points to a second important feature of early entry into force of the Paris Agreement.

If the agreement enters into force before current US President Barack Obama leaves office, then the next President would not be able to withdraw until sometime in 2019, and the withdrawal would not be effective until sometime in 2020.

Once the agreement is in force, it would be politically much more difficult for Mr Trump to back out of it.

Indeed, backing out of an international agreement that the US previously entered into could be an unwise move, given the US’ leadership role in tackling global challenges, as well as from a public relations standpoint.

It will also stymie the growth of the multibillion-dollar clean tech industry in the US. For businesses, the signal to go green is now clear. Private and public entities around the world are already moving to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.

Now that the Paris Agreement is on track to enter into force, the next important step would be for countries to work towards achieving the targets they have set.

After all, when 190 countries had put forward their climate pledges for 2030 — known as nationally determined contributions — they are domestically accountable as well.

Countries will need to continually ratchet up ambition according to science and pursue a low-carbon transition.


Melissa Low is Research Associate at the Energy Studies Institute, National University of Singapore.

Read more!

Jurong Frog Farm’s future in Kranji may be uncertain but Chelsea Wan isn’t slowing down

Aza Wee Sile 22 Sep 16;

Are frog-skin chips the future of Singaporean agriculture? If Chelsea Wan has anything to do with it, the answer is yes.

Wan, a second-generation farmer and fierce advocate for Singapore's tiny agriculture industry, is on the hunt for ways to diversify her product - frogs - in ways that appeal to consumers in the sophisticated and land-scarce city-state.

Jurong Frog Farm was founded by Wan's father, Wan Bock Thiaw, in 1981 and is Singapore's first and only frog farm.

The Wan family, together with a staff of 13, rear American bullfrogs, a frog species prized for their meaty hind legs, which are cooked as a delicacy. There are usually between 10,000 and 15,000 frogs, from tadpoles to market-size adults, living at one time on the 1.1. hectare farm nestled in the Kranji countryside.

A hoppy history

The 33-year old Singaporean, who majored in sociology, joined the family business full-time in 2006, in part to help her busy father.

"I see a lot of potential for the business. Also, I saw my dad toiling so hard when I was growing up, he's literally a one-man show," Wan, who's now director of the farm, tells CNBC.

Jurong Frog Farm sells most of its antibiotic-, hormone- and steroid-free amphibians to restaurants and supermarkets in Singapore, as well as selling deboned frog meat as pet food. But Wan and her brother Jackson have branched out, opening an online store to make the farm's produce more accessible.

"I wanted to offer more value compared to what the traditional frog farming business was about, which was mostly just the meat or selling live frogs," says Wan, who's known as the "Frog Princess" in the farming community.

"Frog farming can only be profitable if you keep overheads really lean. In our case we had to diversify and create value out of our byproducts because of increased competition from frog breeders in neighboring countries," Wan explains.

She reveals that the farm has an annual turnover of 1.2 million Singapore dollars ($880,000) but declines to comment further on financial details.

Aside from frog meat, the farm manufactures its own bottled "hashima," a fragrant, collagen-rich desert popular in China and central Asia that's made from the fatty tissue near the frog's fallopian tubes. And for even more adventurous foodies, they've starting making frog skin chips seasoned with spices, which Wan says are "also very rich in collagen."

Wan also developed a structured educational tour for students or tourists who want to learn about the frog's life cycle, and is working with tertiary education institutions to learn how to better cater to her frogs' needs and discover other uses for frogs' body parts.

A fragile future

Farms are rarely associated with Singapore, a small urban city-state that imports more than 90 percent of its food.

But as well as the Jurong Frog Farm, the Kranji countryside is home to a goat dairy farm and a number of high-tech vertical farms equipped with the latest technologies to maximize output within tight spaces.

The area's farms are currently enjoying a new lease of life, after until recently fearing for their future. In late 2014, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) told 62 of the local farms, including Jurong Frog Farm, that their land leases would not be renewed when they expired in June 2017, so the land could be redeveloped.

But following an outpouring of public support for the farmers, AVA said in June it would extend the farmers' tenure until the end of 2019.

"It was really a consolidated effort by the farmers, we banded together through the Kranji Countryside Association, and through that association we made our voices heard," Wan says, adding that she was greatly encouraged by support from the public. "We really still see a future for farming in Singapore."

Singapore's local farms produce 8 percent of all vegetables sold in the city-state, 8 percent of the fish and 26 percent of the eggs, according to AVA data. But the Kranji farmers don't know what will happen to them once their lease extensions run out.

"It is important to keep this industry alive and thriving, for young Singaporeans to know that there are farms in Singapore, and for consumers to support their local farms instead of always looking at imported products just because it's cheaper," Wan says.

Wan recognizes that the future of her farm remains tentative but says she's focused on the present.

"You can't feed yourself with worries, you just have to move along with the times," she says.

"With the three years of lease extension that we've been given, I'll make sure we do enough so that even without the land we can still have a stake in the same business, we'll look for other avenues," Wan says. "But we will definitely stick to frogs. It's frogs or nothing."

Read more!

Malaysia: Water in Labong dam won’t last much longer -- Minister

The Star 27 Sep 16;

MERSING: The water level at the Labong dam in Felda Endau here is low and can last for another five months.

Deputy Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Hamim Samuri said the dam, which supplies water to about 40,000 domestic users in Endau, had dropped to 6.08m.

“There is only 8% of water left in the dam. The shortage was due to the dry spell.

“It is the worst situation since the dam was built in 1949,” he said during a visit to Felda Endau, adding that the dam also supplies water to farmers.

“From April, the supply to the farmers was stopped after the water level dropped to below seven metres.”

The dam was supposed to supply water to some 1,000 farmers with a total farmland of 404.68ha.

Hamim urged the state government to carry out cloud seeding in the area.

Read more!

Indonesia: Government prepares economic package for peat restoration

Antara 27 Sep 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian government is preparing a special economic policy containing investment packages specially aimed at supporting peat land restoration currently underway int he country.

"We would invite the ministry of finance, the Capital Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM)and the President for the discussion of the economic packages," head of Peat Restoration Agency (BRG) , Nazir Foead, said when explaining the results of the meeting on Building Investment Partnership for Peatland Conservation, Restoration and Development at the Indonesia High Level Dialog New York at the BRG office here on Monday.

He said the economic package could be put in the form of green investment to maintain existing forests and peat land through culture technical method that fits with conservation protection principles.

Based on BRG calculation there are four million hectares of cultured peat land that have been damaged and so need different treatment and supervision to improve their hydrological resilience.

"We will invite philanthropists to help restore the land," he said.

Based on the results of a meeting in New York, he said, many parties have expressed interest to invest on peat land restoration although their main reason is carbon trading.

"I believe some will also be interested in developing coconut or sago plantations or other plants that fit with peat land," he said.

He said it was found during the meeting that they had no worries over the political risk for investing in peat land in view of the governments commitment to restoration and the presence of BRG as well as Government Regulation Number 71 of 2014 on pear land ecosystem management and protection whose revision will be signed by the President in the next week.

BRGs deputy for planning and cooperation Budi Wardhana said the economic package would be produced immediately and now preparations have been made with regard to investment in the form of selecting plants that would be fit for development in peat land.

It is hoped in the 22nd Conference of Parties in Marakesh, Morroco, early in November, the investment packages will have been able to be introduced, he said.(*)

Peatland Restoration Agency in Search of Foreign Investors
Riva Dessthania Suastha Jakarta Globe 27 Sep 16;

Jakarta. Indonesia will need the help of foreign investors to restore its peatlands, the Peatland Restoration Agency says as it calls for the recovery of over 2 million hectares of peatlands in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Papua.

"Some foreign organizations have expressed interests in aiding us with peatland restoration. We will never meet our target if we only rely on [palm oil] corporations," Peatland Restoration Agency chief Nazir Foead told CNN Indonesia on Monday (26/09).

According to Nazir, peatland restoration requires a close cooperation between the government, investors and farmers, as its sustainability relies on following existing programs on preservation, rehabilitation and land use.

Nazir said the agency has identified a host of potential donors including Tom Steyer, the Packard Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, Goldman Sachs, the GoodEnergies Foundation and the Climate and Land Use Alliance.

The Packard Foundation and the Climate and Land Use Alliance have already declared they will donate $15 million.

"International investors want to help with restoring Indonesia's peatlands to reduce carbon emissions," Nazir said.

The World Bank estimates the initial cost for rehabilitating the 2 million hectares will be around Rp 27 trillion ($2 billion). The government plans to get the full amount in five years.

Read more!

Indonesia green development strategy should be implemented

Antara 26 Sep 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesias Ministry of Environment and Forestry hopes that the Green Growth Compact (GGC) implemented by the East Kalimantan province will also be emulated by other provincial governments.

"We hope that other sub-districts and provinces can also follow the path of environment-friendly development as has been done in East Kalimantan," said the Ministrys Economy and Natural Resources staff member, Agus Justianto, at a press conference in Jakarta on Monday.

His Ministry believes that the CGC sets a new paradigm that targets efficient use of natural resources while taking into account various surrounding aspects.

Adequate utilization of natural resources, he continued, was needed to ensure the safety of the environment, creating jobs and encouraging various activities based on environmental knowledge.

"The East Kalimantan province is the first area in Indonesia to launch a future green development strategy," Justianto revealed.

Additionally, he also explained that the Green Growth Compact is a strategy adopted by a number of countries in a bid to preserve the environment in the context of the threat of climate change.

"East Kalimantan has implemented the Green Growth Compact and the ministry is fully supporting it," he stated.

Responding positively to the measures taken by East Kalimantan, the Environmental and Forestry Ministry believes that the province could be a good example for the global community to emulate.

The idea was floated by East Kalimantan Governor Awang Farouk, along with Brazils Para province Governor and Mexicos Yucatan province Governor at the Nature Conservancy Forum in 2015 in Paris, France.

Head of East Kalimantan Climate Change Board Daddy Ruhiyat said the declaration targets an 80 percent decrease in deforestation by 2020, as stated in the real action plan document.

"The real actions include following a path of development that allows for low carbon emission levels and also go in for provincial glass house action plans," he reminded.

The parties involved in the Green Growth Compact declaration signing included the East Kalimantan Provincial Government, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, six sub-districts and towns, four universities, four human-resources empowerment corporations, an indigenous village leader and two international Non-Government Organizations (NGOs).

(Reported by Roy Rosa Bachtiar/Uu.KR-ARC/INE/KR-BSR/A014)

Read more!

Indonesia: Greenpeace to hold festival to address shark fin, plastic issues

The Jakarta Post 26 Sep 16;

Greenpeace Indonesia is set to hold the Festival Laut (Sea Festival) on Oct. 8 in Krida Loka Park, Senayan, to highlight shark fin, plastic garbage and overfishing issues.

On its website,, Greenpeace said Indonesia was among the largest shark-hunting countries with 13 percent of the shark catch globally. “More than 100 million sharks caught in the world every year,” it said. The high figure stems from the strong international demand for shark fin soup.

The international environmental organization is also set to bring up the issue of plastic garbage.

“Indonesia is in second place after China as the contributor of the most plastic garbage polluting the sea every year. If reducing and managing plastic garbage is not taken seriously globally, sea pollution will be much greater and in 2050 it is estimated that plastic garbage will exceed the mass of fish in the sea,” Greenpeace said.

The third issue Greenpeace plans to address at the festival is overfishing.

“The fishing industry in the world, like Thai Union, a canned tuna company, is closely related to overfishing and implicated in human rights violations,” Greenpeace said on the website.

The festival will also feature a meme-making contest to raise awareness about the three issues. (evi)

Read more!

Indonesia: Bird migration used to show importance of conservation

Syamsul Huda M.Suhari The Jakarta Post 26 Sep 16;

From places as far as Alaska in the US, they fly more than 10,000 kilometers to the southwest to reach Lake Limboto in Gorontalo, northern Sulawesi.

Many others fly to the same destination from places in Europe, Africa and Asia.

The migrating birds stop over at Lake Limboto annually between September and October.

To celebrate the natural phenomenon, local environmentalist group Gorontalo Biodiversity Forum organized an event called the Migratory Bird Festival at the biggest freshwater lake in the province.

Rosyid Azhar, a leader of the forum, said the festival — the first event to celebrate the migratory birds — was aimed at raising public awareness about the importance of maintaining the lake, its ecosystem and wildlife.

He said he and fellow environmentalists had been observing the arrival of migratory birds for the past four years at the lake, which is shrinking.

“The poaching of migratory birds at Lake Limboto remains rife, as almost every day you can see people carrying air rifles and the birds they kill,” he said.

The festival includes activities to observe and identify the types of birds stopping over at the lake. There are also film screenings and a media campaign to educate people and students about the lake and its importance to wildlife.

Based on the group’s observation, the water bird species visiting Lake Limboto in August consisted of sandpipers from northern Europe and northern Asia that migrate to South Asia and Australia.

They also include large flower snipes from Africa and Pakistan and Madagascar snipes that fly to the East to China, southeast Russia and Japan, the Philippines, Southeast Asia, the Greater Sunda islands, the Lesser Sunda islands and Australia.

They also include the glossy ibis, which is widely spread and also found in South Kalimantan.

In 2015, Rosyid, who is also a photographer, found a curlew sandpiper with a foot tag bearing the image of the flag of Victoria, Australia, in Lake Limboto.

The curlew sandpiper has been taken as evidence that Lake Limboto is the path of migratory birds from one hemisphere to the other.

Iwan Hunowu, from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), reported the finding to the Australian Wader Study (AWS) Group, to get information about the birds’ migration route.

“Roger Standen of the Australasian Wader Study Group confirmed the bird species observed in Lake Limboto originated from Victoria,” he said.

The AWS estimated that the migratory bird traveled 4,795 km from the initial tagging location in Victoria.

“They were very grateful for the report of the finding from Gorontalo Biodiversity Forum, because it is considered significant for scientific and conservation objectives,” said Iwan.

Read more!

Vietnam court swamped by fishermen seeking to sue Taiwan firm's steel unit

Channel NewsAsia 26 Sep 16;

HANOI: Hundreds of Vietnamese fishermen travelled to a small provincial court on Monday to sue one of the country's biggest investors for compensation over an accident at its US$10.6-billion steel plant, activists and a court official said.

Tens of millions of fish died in April, in one of Vietnam's biggest environmental disasters, which the government blamed on a discharge of toxic waste into the sea by Formosa Ha Tinh Steel, a subsidiary of Taiwan's Formosa Plastics.

Formosa Ha Tinh Steel has promised US$500 million in compensation and admitted its steel plant caused massive fish deaths along a 200-km (120-mile) stretch of coastline.

A total of 545 people are suing the company, Dang Huu Nam, a priest leading the group that journeyed 200 km (120 miles) by bus to a town in the central province of Ha Tinh told Reuters in a text message.

"The court is receiving their files," an official at the Ky Anh People's Court said by telephone. "It is very crowded here."

In a video posted on social media site Facebook, Nam said fishermen still feared the sea was polluted and were suffering hardship.

"They cannot go to sea and cannot catch fish while they face the prospect of hunger because of bank debts," he added.

The disaster unleashed a public outcry on social media and on the streets of big cities. Demonstrators vented their fury at both the government and Formosa, accusing them of a cover-up.

Such protests have been a headache for the authorities, who have accused anti-government groups of trying to exploit the disaster and stir up anger, with the aim of overthrowing the ruling Communist Party.

Monday's mass lawsuit captured attention on Facebook but was not covered by state-run media.

Activists said Monday's convoy of more than 10 buses was closely monitored by police, with military also deployed around Formosa's project in Ha Tinh.

Several thousand Christians gathered around the court and sang songs in support of the fishermen, the priest said, adding that the court was only able to process half the lawsuits filed but would receive more on Tuesday.

Formosa is one of Taiwan's biggest conglomerates. Its listed units include Formosa Plastics Corp and Formosa Chemicals & Fiber Corp.

(Reporting by Hanoi Newsroom; Editing by Martin Petty and Clarence Fernandez)

- Reuters

Read more!

African elephants 'suffer worst decline in 25 years'

Johannesburg (AFP) - The number of African elephants has dropped by around 111,000 in the past decade, a new report released Sunday at the Johannesburg conference on the wildlife trade said, blaming the plummeting figures on poaching.

The revelation, the worst drop in 25 years, came amid disagreement on the second day of the global meet over the best way to improve the plight of Africa's elephants, targeted for their tusks.

With Namibia and Zimbabwe, wanting to be allowed to sell ivory stockpiles accrued from natural deaths to fund community elephant conservation initiatives, Zimbabwe's Environment Minister Oppah Muchinguri rejected the "imperialistic policies" of opposing countries, branding them a "clear infringement on the sovereign rights of nations".

Both Namibia and Zimbabwe boast healthy elephant populations and their desire to sell the stockpiles is supported by South Africa.

"We need to be considerate as we make these decisions," Muchinguri told a news conference.

"CITES should be there to facilitate us to succeed in our conservation programmes rather than these imperialistic policies," she added, saying she was speaking on behalf of the southern African region that is home to three-quarters of the savannah jumbo population.

A booming illegal wildlife trade has put huge pressure on an existing treaty signed by more than 180 countries -- the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Thousands of conservationists and government officials are in Johannesburg for the 12-day gathering, seeking to hammer out new international trade regulations to protect a vast array of different species, with several proposals on whether to tighten or ease controls on the ivory trade on the agenda.

"We have been keeping this ivory for nine years and we're hoping this moratorium will be lifted so that we are able to sell this ivory or to produce jewellery, artefacts for the benefit of our people," Muchinguri said.

"We have our sovereign right and we know best what to do, how to utilise our natural resources... we should not be punished, we should be rewarded (for good conservation practices)," she added.

Based on 275 estimates from across the continent, the report released on Sunday by the IUCN conservation group put Africa's total elephant population at around 415,000, a decline of around 111,000 over the past decade.

- 'Neo-colonialism' -

It is the first time in 25 years that the group's African Elephant Status Report has reported a continental decline in numbers, with the IUCN attributing the losses in large part to a sharp rise in poaching.

"The surge in poaching for ivory that began approximately a decade ago –- the worst that Africa has experienced since the 1970s and 1980s –- has been the main driver of the decline," said IUCN.

IUCN chief Inger Andersen said the numbers showed "the truly alarming plight of the majestic elephant".

"It is shocking but not surprising that poaching has taken such a dramatic toll on this iconic species," she said.

Sue Lieberman, vice president of the Wildlife Conservation Society, said the IUCN report was "yet another set of data clearly indicating that governments must take all necessary actions to address the crisis, including closing their domestic elephant ivory markets".

"It is now up to the CITES parties to carry that momentum forward (and) support the majority of African elephant range countries who are calling for closure of domestic markets," she said.

"Closing domestic markets will close off opportunities to launder illegal ivory."

Stephen Mwansa, permanent secretary in Zambia's Tourism Ministry, however, earlier castigated the proposal to ban domestic trade in ivory.

"How do you come and start regulating the domestic market? That will be extra-territorial," said Mwansa.

"That's arrogance of the highest order. It's tantamount to neo-colonialism and that we can't accept it," he told reporters on Saturday.

In 1989 CITES banned international trade in ivory by listing all African elephant populations in its appendix 1.

In 1997 and 2000, however, elephant populations in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe were downgraded to a less endangered species status -- to allow two sales of ivory stockpiles to Japan and China in 1999 and 2008.

Read more!

The criminals making millions from illegal wildlife trafficking

Exclusive: Investigation uncovers the ringleaders profiting from $23bn annual trade in illicit animals after more than a decade of undercover surveillance
Oliver Holmes in Bangkok and Nick Davies The Guardian 26 Sep 16;

A major investigation into global wildlife crime today names for the first time key traffickers and links their illegal trade to corrupt officials at the highest levels of one Asian country.

The investigation, published by the Guardian, exposes the central role of international organised crime groups in mutilating and killing tens of thousands of animals and threatening to eliminate endangered species including tigers, elephants and rhinos.

The in-depth reporting identifies suspected traders across several continents, from South Africa to Thailand and in the markets of China, where animal parts are used in traditional medicines.

For the past year, the Guardian has worked with independent investigators at Freeland, an anti-trafficking organisation that has been providing information and analytical support to a Thai government surveillance team.

In the absence of effective international attempts to block the business, Freeland has agreed to give exclusive access to intelligence it has accumulated over 14 years that identifies primary traffickers.

It points to two Vietnamese siblings, the Bach brothers, as key suspects who control a primary smuggling route for endangered animals.

Separately, the Guardian will on Tuesday report on evidence it has that suggests the industry has political support across several countries, and that one state even collects a 2% cut from the gross value of illegal wildlife imports.

The series is published during a crucial conference in Johannesburg, which opened on Saturday. The 182 nations who have signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) are debating the future of animals that are being wiped out by a criminal industry.

The global body is tasked with regulating international wildlife trade, but has no enforcement powers, meaning the slaughter of endangered species and their sale for profit continues unabated.

Worth $23bn (£17.5bn) a year, animal trafficking is the fourth most lucrative black market industry after drugs, people and arms smuggling. But in contrast to those industries, international law enforcement has proven inadequate.

Many iconic animals are heading toward extinction: only 30,000 rhinos are alive today, 5% of the number four decades ago. About 1,000 are killed by poachers annually – and that figure has risen each year in the last six.

Elephants are being killed in even greater numbers: 20,000 for their tusks last year alone. Tigers, currently numbering 3,500 in the wild, are also in imminent danger.

But smaller animals, too, are facing extinction. Scaly anteaters, called pangolins, are shipped live in fishnet bags across borders for their scales, which are believed by some to help mothers breastfeed. Several vulnerable sub-species of turtles, pythons, antelopes and birds are also in sharp decline.

Freeland’s findings, together with police documents and interviews as well as surveillance footage and bank transfer statements, show the Bach brothers have dramatically scaled up their operations in smuggling these animals during the past three years.

Until today, international attention had been focused almost solely on a Lao man called Vixay Keosavang, who was assumed to be the kingpin of the trade and known as the Pablo Escobar of wildlife trafficking.

But this week’s investigation reveals how Keosavang appears to have removed himself from the trade in 2014 after the US government put up a $1m reward to end his operations, the only monetary reward ever offered for a wildlife trader.

Meanwhile, the role of the Bach brothers has, until now, remained unexposed. And while running their operations discreetly from a Thai town on the border with Laos, they are gathering huge profits from the deadly trade.

Well-known locally for their criminal activities, which also include vehicle smuggling, the Bachs run legitimate businesses in wholesale agriculture and forest products, construction materials, electrical equipment, hotels, and food services.

The siblings base their operations in Nakhon Phanom, a rural region on the Thai side of the Mekong river that marks the border with Laos. They own multiple properties, including warehouses, apartment buildings, and a fleet of expensive vehicles. Their suspected headquarters is built like a fort, covered almost entirely in a cage of metal bars.

Their cars, which have their licence plates routinely changed, are moved across the border. One vehicle was filmed with a bespoke deep-set trunk that investigators believe provides hidden storage.

Revealed: how senior Laos officials cut deals with animal traffickers
Evidence obtained by the Guardian shows how treasury coffers swelled with 2% tax on trades worth up to $45m including tigers, rhinos and elephants
Nick Davies and Oliver Holmes The Guardian 27 Sep 16;

Officials at the highest level of an Asian government have been helping wildlife criminals smuggle millions of dollars worth of endangered species through their territory, the Guardian can reveal.

In an apparent breach of current national and international law, for more than a decade the office of the prime minister of Laos has cut deals with three leading traffickers to move hundreds of tonnes of wildlife through selected border crossings.

In 2014 alone, these deals covered $45m (£35m) worth of animal body parts and included agreed quotas requiring the disabling or killing of 165 tigers, more than 650 rhinos and more than 16,000 elephants.

Trading in all three of those species is prohibited by Lao law and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species(Cites) which came into force in Laos in 2004. The Lao government has publicly paraded its commitment to the convention.

The Guardian’s evidence indicates that the agreements have yielded a profit of hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Lao government treasury. The extent of the knowledge of the prime ministers is not known.

The Guardian contacted the Lao government three times last week detailing the findings and attempted to obtain comment for the story. A member of the foreign ministry’s media team confirmed the request, sent in English and Lao, had been received. However, no response to the allegations was provided.

Separately, Lao agriculture inspectors have submitted official reports about farms run by two of the traffickers, clearly stating that their own government has given approval for the farms to illegally kill captive tigers to be sold for their bones, skin and claws.

The Lao government failed to act on these reports until last week, when it announced it was planning to shut down all commercial tiger farms in its territory. Its announcement did not acknowledge its own historic role in approving them.

The involvement of a national leader’s office is one particularly big link in a global chain of exploitation that binds the supply lines of illegal wildlife trafficking.

Steve Galster, executive director of the anti-trafficking campaign group Freeland, said: “This is a public-private partnership with law enforcement agencies acting as partners to crime syndicates.”

‘Nobody can arrest him in Laos’

Laos is a key country in the global wildlife trade. Its wild areas and farms are home to animals that are supposed to be protected from commerce. And it is a crucial transit country for animal goods travelling illegally along well-trodden smuggling routes from Africa and other parts of Asia.

The Guardian has already exposed the role of the Bach crime family in running a gateway for the smuggling of animal products from Thailand through Laos into the lucrative markets of Vietnam and China. Three Lao companies who were also named yesterday by the Guardian have been deeply involved in the traffic, both legal and illegal. Our evidence shows that each of them has been supported by deals with the Lao government.

The earliest deal that we have seen involved the Xaysavang Trading Company, which was established in October 2002 by a Lao businessman, Vixay Keosavang. He is “so well protected that nobody can arrest him in Laos”, according to a source who has worked closely with Keosavang.

A report by Thai intelligence, seen by the Guardian, shows Keosavang signed formal agreements with the finance department of the Lao government that allowed his company during 2003, its first year of business, to traffic more than $11m worth of animals through the country into Vietnam and China to be eaten in restaurants, displayed as decoration or blended into supposedly medicinal tonics.

These agreements granted Keosavang permission to trade twelve different species including crocodiles, monkeys and pangolin anteaters; the skins of 100,000 pythons; 250 tonnes of soft-shelled turtles (which would mean killing about 45,000 of them); 100 tonnes of dogs, which are commonly cooked in Vietnamese restaurants; 1,000 magpies; and 20 tonnes of animal bones, which are used in supposedly medicinal wine.

The agreements called for Keosavang to pay a tax of 2% of the value of the transactions – 4% in the case of the python skins – yielding $246,550 for the Lao treasury. These 2003 agreements appear not to have broken Lao or international law, which came into effect soon afterwards. However, they set a precedent for future animal trades.

Keosavang’s business survived and thrived for 12 years in spite of a torrent of evidence that should have led to his arrest. Nobody in Laos lifted a finger when Kenyan police, in July 2009, seized 280kg of ivory from Mozambique that was clearly labelled with his company’s name as its destination; nor when other illegal consignments were intercepted in Bangkok on their way to him in November 2010 and February 2011; nor when his right-hand man in Africa, Chumlong Lemongthai, was arrested in June 2011 and later sentenced to 40 years in prison, despite a welter of evidence that Keosavang was his biggest customer.

Freeland, an anti-trafficking campaign group, passed detailed information about Keosavang to authorities in Thailand, Vietnam and Laos variously in 2003, 2006, 2009, 2011 and 2012, and also to Interpol and the CITES secretariat in Geneva.

Finally, in March 2013, they passed it to the New York Times, which exposed him on their front page, quoting Freeland’s executive director Steve Galster as saying Keosavang was “the Pablo Escobar of wildlife trafficking”. That finally provoked the Thai police into denouncing him as “the big boss” and, a few months later in November 2013, the US government offered a $1m reward for information that led to the dismantling of his syndicate.

Yet still the Lao authorities did not arrest Keosavang, who continued to bring in animal parts from southern Africa. Finally, in January 2014, the Lao government revoked his licence to trade wildlife. By that time, however, the Lao prime minister’s office had silently snubbed the international community by signing off on more agreements to help two other companies replace him.

The Guardian has had access to compelling evidence that in December 2013 the then Lao prime minister’s office ordered four government ministries and two provincial governors to help these companies traffic wildlife with huge annual quotas. The agreements were worth a fortune – up to $30m in a single month for one company – with the government once again taking its 2%. Unlike the original deal with Keosavang, these agreements specifically sanctioned the sale of the three iconic species that are closest to extinction as a result of this trade: tigers, rhinos and elephants. And in vast quantities.

One company, Vinasakhone Trading, was authorised for the calendar year 2014 to traffic $16.9m of animal products through Laos. This included 20 tonnes of ivory, valued at $5m – a straightforward breach of international law. The Environmental Investigation Agency in London estimates that one elephant yields an average of 6.7kg of ivory, meaning that the Lao government that year was allowing Vinasakhone to trade on the criminal death of 2,985 dead elephants. The quotas also included 10 tonnes of lion bone, which is used in tonic wine; and 1,300 tonnes of live turtles, snakes, lizards and pangolin ant-eaters whose scales are used in traditional medicine – all of it potentially illegal by breaching CITES quotas.

The other company, Vannaseng Trading, was authorised to traffic even more. In ivory alone, according to our evidence, the government agreed that during 2014 they could traffic 90 tonnes of ivory with an estimated value of $22.5m. That equates to 13,432 elephants lying dead in the African bush; also 4 tonnes of rhino horn that was valued at only $240,000; and 20 tonnes of tiger skin and bone and claws worth $1.2m. All of that trade in all three of those species is illegal.

Also agreed was potentially illegal trade in live turtles, water monitors, pangolins and exotic birds; 6 tonnes of python skin and 120 tonnes of dead and frozen pangolin. The total package agreed with Vannaseng for 2014 was worth $28.2m – all to be officially taxed at 2% for the government’s treasury.

Both Vinaskhone and Vannaseng have a track record of wildlife crime. Until last week, the Lao government had failed to take action against them even though some of this crime has been recorded in internal government reports.

When inspectors from the Ministry of Agriculture checked the companies’ farm records in October 2014, they found that so far that year, they had traded a combined total of 7.7 tonnes of lion and tiger bone. At least some of that trade must have been illegal. All international trade in tiger bone is illegal under Cites; trade in lion bone is allowed only if it is covered by Cites permits. Even if the entire 7.7 tonnes was lion bone, at an average weight of 10kg per skeleton that would represent 770 dead lions. But Cites records show that during the whole calendar year of 2014, Laos had permits to import the skeletons of only 360 lions.

If there was any doubt, the inspector’s report explicitly accused both farms of breaching Cites by importing and exporting endangered species without having any paperwork to show that it was within legal limits. Crucially, the inspectors added that the law could not be enforced against them “because they have got approval from government”.

In March this year, inspectors from the Ministry of Natural Resources went to the farm run by Vinasakhone since 2002 near the town of Thakek in central Laos. According to the report, seen by the Guardian, the farm, which houses about 400 tigers in pens, is involved in speed-breeding – using females as young as two years old to produce cubs twice each year. The inspectors note that this is regarded as bad practice. But their report goes on to make a much more serious allegation: that Vinasakhone has been killing its tigers to order for sale to Vietnam and China – a brazen breach of the law.

The report says: “Traders usually come to the farm to select the animal they want, take pictures and record an identity. The selection is whether that animal is pretty, pretty teeth, paws and tail, basically no scar on its body. The animal is killed at the farm by injection, all intestines are removed so they keep only the body with skin, bones and meat, covered with plastic sheet for shipment.”

The report adds that Vinasakhone managers admitted selling a hundred tigers to the notorious Golden Triangle on Laos’s borders with Myanmar and Thailand. A 2015 investigation by the Environmental Investigation Agency described this area as “a playground catering to the desires of visiting Chinese” where “a combination of weak laws, poor enforcement and official complicity allows the illegal wildlife trade to flourish”. The EIA found traders openly selling tiger skins and stuffed tigers while restaurants sold bottles of tiger bone wine and ”sauteed tiger meat”. All are illegal.

The inspectors noted that Vinasakhone’s farm had originally been given a permit to breed tigers for scientific research but that it was “exactly not” being used for that purpose; and that the commercial sale of tigers, including those bred in captivity, is “illegal according to international law (CITES) and also to the law of Laos”. And yet in a further act of criminal collusion, it also recorded that the Lao government had granted the farm permission to sell up to 100 tigers a year.

By contrast, in its public pose, the Lao government in 2010 solemnly reported to Cites that “the potential threat to wild tigers caused by tiger farms is very high” and warned that they must not legalise any trade in the products of tiger farms because this might “allow smugglers to exploit loopholes and take opportunities to sell wild tiger products”. Last week, at the international Cites meeting in Johannesburg, the Lao delegation announced a significant change of approach, saying that its government would close down any facility that kept and bred tigers for any commercial purpose.

Vannaseng Trading has run its tiger farm since 2002, outside the town of Thaphabat, 80km (50 miles) east of the capital, Vientiane, where it is believed to keep about 200 tigers, as well as turtles and bears. In March this year the company successfully refused to allow the inspectors to visit to check on their compliance with the law.

However, Vannaseng did give the inspectors access to a second farm where they found some 6,000 macaque monkeys waiting to be sold to China or the US for medical experiments. In their report, the inspectors said they suspected the farm had been involved in the illegal purchase of monkeys captured in the wild. This echoed a 2010 report by the the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, which published emails in which the manager of the farm said that the business had been started with monkeys caught in the wild in Cambodia and smuggled into Laos, adding that he was planning to apparently break the law again by bringing in more wild monkeys in the near future.

Laos remains a full member of Cites, although it was briefly suspended early in 2015 for failing to to deliver a national plan to deal with the ivory trade. It then delivered the report and was re-instated only to be suspended again in January this year for failing to submit a second report on implementing the ivory plan. A special CITES mission, led by their chief of compliance, visited the country in June. At that time, a source who has been closely involved with the two companies told us: “The government has told them to lie low, to start work again in a few months.”

The Guardian’s evidence does not establish the extent to which any individual prime minister may have known about the actions taken in his name by some of his officials. The office of the Lao prime minister failed to respond to a request for comment.

Read more!