A better way to assess harm to environment

Audrey Tan Straits Times 3 Nov 16;

Conservation groups used to fight for environmental impact assessments or EIAs to be carried out before big government development projects.

Today, that fight has been partly won with government agencies commissioning such assessments to scope out the environmental impact of big projects, such as the 50km Cross Island Line that may tunnel under the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, and plans to develop five wildlife parks in Mandai.

But the larger battle to protect Singapore's remaining wild spaces continues, and one battlefront is over EIA conclusions, with the Nature Society (Singapore) (NSS) openly disputing the findings on the Mandai project and calling the conclusion of the EIA commissioned by Mandai Park Holdings "highly questionable".

What underpins EIAs is the principle of looking before you leap. EIAs are done before a new development is built and include detailed studies on how going ahead would affect the environment and surrounding areas, and suggestions for measures to mitigate these effects.

EIAs are a tool used around the world to inform decisions on how to modify development activity to reduce environmental impact.

If not properly used, though, EIAs can raise more questions than answers.

In the case of Singapore, which is fairly new to their use, three key issues need to be addressed: First, when is an EIA required? Second, does the process need to be standardised? Third, how transparent should developers be with the EIA results?

Singapore lacks a law on EIAs which would, among other things, set out when such studies are mandatory.

It is also unique in that the development of each plot of land is usually done by the Government.

That is unlike other countries in South-east Asia where developments are usually done by the private sector or a public-private partnership, says ecology consultant Ong Say Lin, who works on projects in the region.

In the latter case, these projects - where funding may be from international banks - have the obligation to adhere to strict international standards that can serve as a "check and balance" on top of local government approval, he says.

In Singapore, there is no such check and the Government maintains that it is not necessary to enact stand-alone legislation for EIAs as the current planning evaluation process "has worked well".

"Under this process, all projects that could have potential impact on the environment are screened," said a spokesman from the Ministry of National Development(MND). "Projects that are likely to have significant environmental impact are subject to detailed EIA studies... (which) comprehensively assess the potential impact on areas such as biodiversity, hydrology, water quality, air and noise pollution, vibration, recreation, sediment transport, navigation and trans-boundary impacts, depending on the project's context."

Examples of projects that have been identified for detailed EIA studies include the Cross Island Line, the Tuas Port development and the Mandai project, the MND said. Yet, it remains unclear how the ministry goes about deciding when a project is likely to have significant environmental impact. The three examples cited differ from one another in that the first is inside a nature reserve, the second is at sea and the third is outside a nature reserve.

In comparison, Hong Kong's Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance sets out when EIAs are mandatory, such as when a project covers more than 20ha or involves a population of more than 100,000 people. It also requires EIAs to be done for very specific projects, such as when a transport depot is to be built less than 200m from the nearest boundary of an existing or planned residential area or place of worship; or if reclamation work of more than 1ha in size is to be done less than 500m from an existing or planned conservation area.

Standards needed

Without an EIA law, the consultant is also free to interpret the scope of such an assessment. Currently, studies here tend to be done so as to meet the requirements in the tender, says Ms Natalia Huang, principal ecologist at environmental consultancy firm Ecology Matters.

She worries that different interpretations can result in one consultant proposing a one-day walk through the site, with another suggesting intensive surveys for every animal and plant group over several months.

"Without local standards to meet, consultants with the lower quote may be chosen, whether or not their studies are appropriate to understand the environment sufficiently for an EIA," says Ms Huang.

Then there is also the issue of a lack of clarity in the terms used by EIA consultants. The high-profile cases of the Mandai and Cross Island Line projects underscore this. On the Mandai project, the NSS said in a position paper in September that some of the impact assessments in the EIA had been underplayed. An example was the EIA's assessment of the magnitude of the environmental impact of clearing 28.5ha of natural habitat in Mandai.

The EIA on Mandai was carried out by the consultancy Environmental Resources Management, which also did the Cross Island Line EIA. It determined that in the case of Mandai, the impact could be reduced from "medium" to "small" if mitigation measures, such as forest restoration and avoiding work in certain areas, were enforced.

But the NSS said the report did not provide information on what percentage of the existing habitat this amounted to, and questioned how the impact magnitude was obtained, considering the project site's strategic location just outside the nature reserve.

It recalls a time earlier this year when the Land Transport Authority (LTA) revealed the results of the first phase of the EIA for the Cross Island Line, which had looked at the impact of tests to determine the soil and rock profile under the reserve. EIA had put the impact of soil works as "moderate" if mitigating measures were strictly enforced. But members of the public were left scratching their heads as to what "moderate" meant.

It prompted Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera to ask in Parliament how the consultants arrived at the conclusion. In response, Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee produced a matrix showing that the nature reserve, comprising primary rainforests, was a "highly sensitive" habitat but that the magnitude of impact of the investigation works would be "small" as the Government would put in place mitigating measures. The final impact was thus judged "moderate".

Some ecologists, however, found the assessment highly subjective. They would like to see some standards established, with Ms Huang, for one, suggesting that the assessor be an experienced biologist familiar with the local environment, and that the terms be based on scientific evidence and expert judgement. In that way, they would be "reasonably robust", she says.

Public access to findings

Hong Kong and Australia require developers to be transparent with the EIA results. Singapore government agencies are, however, not bound by any such requirement.

Associate Professor Lye Lin-Heng, director of the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Asia-Pacific Centre for Environmental Law, says transparency is important "as the Government is not the sole repository of information about the habitats". Dialogue with scientists, nature groups and members of the public would help the authorities make more informed decisions about whether to proceed with a development and how to do so, she adds.

Both Mandai Park Holdings and the LTA have made their EIAs available online but the LTA did so only after members of the public complained about limited access to the 1,000-page document. The LTA first gazetted the report on Feb 5, but people could look at the report only after the Chinese New Year break on Feb 10, and then only by appointment at the LTA's Hampshire Road premises.

Developer Mandai Park Holdings did better in this aspect. It consulted nature groups and government agencies on the approach, methodology and results of the EIA several times and this consultation process was initiated in 2012, well before the EIA process began in late 2014.

Mandai Park Holdings also engaged an environmental advisory panel to provide counsel and oversight on the implementation of mitigation measures set out in the EIA.

Given that Singapore is fairly new to the EIA process, it should be no surprise that there is room for improvement.

In considering how best to move forward, it is useful to return to the intent of EIAs, which is to assess potential harm and take steps to minimise irreversible damage.

To realise that, the EIA process here needs to be made more robust.

Dr Nanthinee Jevanandam, a sustainability specialist from Earthys Sustainability Consulting, sums it up well.

She says: "It is better to avoid a problem than to create it, then try and find a fix which may or may not be effective. If you consider this question on a global level, climate change would not have been an issue if we had considered environmental impact in becoming more industrialised."

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Local farms urged to ‘embrace technology’ to increase food supply

‘S’pore can make a leap in food production levels, new innovation could be shared’
TOH EE MING Today Online 3 Nov 16;

SINGAPORE — With increasing stress on global food supply brought on by growing demand and degrading conditions for producing food, farms — including those in Singapore — should take steps such as embracing technology to increase food supply, said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong.

Embracing technology could help Singapore farms “make a quantum leap in our food production levels”, and new technologies could be shared with other countries that are urbanised like Singapore, Mr Wong said, speaking at the 27th Commonwealth Agricultural Conference yesterday.

With Singapore’s agricultural sector playing an important role in the food system here, the Government will continue to ensure “sufficient agriculture land for farms that are able to harness technologies, leverage on innovation and maximise their productivity,” said Mr Wong, addressing an audience of about 250 farmers and regional government officials.

“The Government is also supporting these farms with funding for technology adoption and R&D. So while we may be small in size, we believe that we can be a useful ‘living lab’ for urban farming solutions and new technologies,” he added.

For example, in the area of vegetable farming, Singapore now produces about 10 per cent of local demand. “But we have farmers who are starting to try out new technologies and different ways of farming.

“One of them is Sky Greens, which is the world’s first commercial vertical vegetable farm. Its hydraulic water-driven vertical farming system enables it to be resource-efficient and produce up to five times more than traditional vegetable farms,” noted Mr Wong.

Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) chief executive Tan Poh Hong, who also spoke at the conference, noted the growing support in promoting local produce.

Going forward, the farming sector could be “branded” differently to attract the next generation of young farmers.

“Someone in (the) computer (field) could decide to do fish farming, and use his knowledge to design a water-monitoring system that he can monitor from his iPhone,” she said.

Responding to questions from the audience on how Singapore deals with matters of limited land and short leases of 20 years, leaving farmers with little certainty, Ms Tan said that they are issues the authorities are still “mulling over”.

“We’ll be talking to the (Kranji Countryside Association), and to many of the farmers … (to discuss) what happens after 20 years.

“Our premise has always been if the land is meant for agriculture, and you use it for agriculture productively … it is likely you could get an extension on your own land, or on replacement land … We always premise on the fact productivity will be one of the key considerations in (ensuring) tenure of land,” she said.

Kranji Countryside Association president Kenny Eng was optimistic about the local agricultural community’s ability to innovate, but felt the Government needed to provide more certainty, such as with a ten-year masterplan, and keeping farmers in the loop.

Referring to the 62 farms in Lim Chu Kang which will have to make way for redevelopment plans, Mr Eng acknowledged the authorities had not been turning a “deaf ear” to their sentiments. For the 62 farms with leases due to expire next year, AVA has granted a reprieve by extending them to 2019.

New sites nearby would be opened for bidding, and in June, the AVA announced that all new agricultural land will be tendered on 20-year leases, instead of 10 years.

Mr Eng told reporters yesterday: “If we have a proper plan, then we won’t rush (things) as we know the next step is the right move and everyone will (follow) happily.

“But the frustration on the ground is that we are unsure, everyone is worried that we might (be told to shift again) … Careful thought has to be put into this industry.”

Agreeing, Ms Chelsea Wan, director of Jurong Frog Farm, said: “You can’t (just) tear down and rebuild agriculture. It takes time for people to build up an area, a reputation.”

Sky Greens founder Jack Ng felt there was no lack of government grants to draw on to boost the firm’s productivity, but there are too few specialists to guide farmers on issues such as disease management, for instance.

Fate of 62 Lim Chu Kang farms still remains uncertain
Carolyn Khew, The Straits Times AsiaOne 3 Nov 16;

Productivity will be one of the key considerations in deciding whether or not to extend a farm's lease, said Ms Tan Poh Hong, chief executive of the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) yesterday.

"Our premise has always been (that) if the land is meant for agricultural use, you use it productively, it is likely that you could get an extension either on your own land, or even replacement land," she said.

She was responding to a question on land security in Singapore from an audience member at the 27th Commonwealth Agriculture Conference yesterday after a presentation on national food security.

Uncertainty remains for the future of 62 farms in Lim Chu Kang, with the Government announcing in June that they would have to move out by the end of 2019 to make way for the Defence Ministry's new training grounds. To give farms more time, the AVA had pushed back the original deadline of 2017.

Affected farmers will be able to bid for new farmland early next year, but exact details of the location and new plot sizes have yet to be announced. The first tranche of land sales will be launched in 2017, AVA said yesterday.

Ms Chelsea Wan, whose Jurong Frog Farm is among those affected, said the Government's stand that farms have to be productive has never changed, but other factors should be considered, such as farming's role in Singapore's history.

Farmers have also pointed out a move could cost them millions to build new infrastructure, and move animals and farm equipment.

Farmland currently takes up about 1 per cent of Singapore's land. Close to 600ha has been allocated to over 200 farms for the production of food and non-food items.

AVA told The Straits Times yesterday that it has been engaging the farmers to better understand the challenges they are facing and gathering their thoughts and feedback. For instance, Dr Koh Poh Koon, Minister of State for National Development and Trade and Industry, visited 22 of the farms in September to hear their concerns.

"The Government is also supporting these farms with funding for technology adoption and research and development," said AVA.

"While we may be small in size, we believe that we can be a useful living lab for urban farming solutions and new technologies, and at the same time transform the local agricultural sector."

Speaking yesterday, Minister for National Development and Second Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong urged farmers to embrace technology.

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Suspended SEC executive director quizzed for two hours in inquiry

FARIS MOKHTAR Today Online 3 Nov 16;

SINGAPORE — Singapore Environment Council (SEC) executive director Edwin Seah, who was suspended from duty last month, attended an inquiry lasting nearly two hours at his office yesterday, but both sides were tight-lipped after the meeting.

An SEC spokesperson would only say they had a “good discussion ... and (they) took the opportunity to clarify certain points with him (Mr Seah)”, adding that the non-governmental organisation would discuss the next steps with its board.

Mr Seah, 46, left after the talks ended, declining to comment.

TODAY understands that Mr Seah’s suspension had to do with how he had planned proceedings at the Asian Environmental Journalism Awards, a yearly SEC affair held a day before he was pulled off duties on Oct 13.

Another issue was whether he was behind an anonymous email sent in February to local newsrooms alleging a conflict of interest involving SEC chairman Isabella Loh and projects she worked on. The SEC had dismissed the allegation after a review.

When asked, SEC would neither confirm nor deny if these had to do with Mr Seah’s suspension.

Previously, Mr Seah said he had not been told of the reasons for the suspension, which he described had “come out of the blue”.

Yesterday’s inquiry was presided over by a panel of three SEC board members, including Member of Parliament and Mayor of North West District Teo Ho Pin, National Environment Agency director Dalson Chung, and SEC executive committee chairman Lam Joon Khoi.

Mr Seah received applause and cheers from SEC staff when he was the first to arrive for the meeting, which was postponed from Oct 19.

Mr Seah joined the SEC in October 2014 as director of communications, and was appointed executive director in April last year.

He previously told TODAY that the number of projects SEC undertook has grown over the years. During the haze last year, SEC suspended the use of its Green Label on Asian Pulp and Paper Group’s products, while some supermarket chains also stopped selling paper products sourced from the group.

Mr Seah also said that under his lead, the SEC enhanced its financial position and lowered employee turnover rate. The father-of-two has 19 years of experience in the public and private sector, including the Energy Market Authority and the Singapore Tourism Board. FARIS MOKHTAR

Special panel convened to look into suspension of Singapore Environment Council head Edwin Seah
Audrey Tan, The Straits Times AsiaOne 3 Nov 16;

SINGAPORE - A special panel was convened on Wednesday (Nov 2) to look into the reasons why Mr Edwin Seah, the executive director of the Singapore Environment Council (SEC), was suspended from his role in the charity last month.

Mr Seah was at the SEC office when The Straits Times visited on Wednesday afternoon. Also in attendance was council chairman Lam Joon Khoi, National Environment Agency director Dalson Chung, and Teo Ho Pin, mayor of the North West CDC.

The Straits Times understands the panel was supposed to be convened at 3.45pm. It finally started at about 4pm.

Mr Seah, 46, had said he was not given any reasons when he was first told via a phone call from Mr Lam on Oct 13.

The committee of inquiry by the SEC to look into the reasons for his suspension was supposed to be held on Oct 19, but was postponed till today (Nov 2).

The Straits Times understands that Mr Seah was suspended for not following standard operating procedure during an SEC event, and that he was under suspicion for being the person who had in February anonymously emailed the newsrooms of Singapore, claiming there was a conflict of interest between SEC chairman Isabella Loh and the projects she undertook.

Mr Seah's suspension is the latest in a string of personnel changes in the charity. In April, Mr Kavickumar, 27, left to join Asia Pulp and Paper (APP). Former chief executive Jose Raymond, 44, also joined APP in January but left last month and has since set up his own public relations firm.

SEC is a non-governmental organisation that spreads environmental awareness through training programmes, awards and its Singapore Green Labelling Scheme. It was started in 1995 and has 28 full-time staff.

Mr Seah, who was previously at the Singapore Tourism Board and Energy Market Authority, was nominated along with SEC former eco-certification head Kavickumar Muruganathan for The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year award last year. They were recognised for raising awareness about the link between the haze and unsustainable paper products.

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Malaysia: On the brink of extinction, only 100 dugongs left in Malaysia

Tan Su Lin Astro Awani 2 Nov 16;

PETALING JAYA: Time is running out for dugongs in Malaysia with its population continuing to decline since they were first seen in Malaysian shores during the late 1960s.

Believe it or not, there are only 100 of them left in the whole country, pushing them to the verge of extinction.

The dugong population in Malaysia is mostly found in the states of Johor, Sabah and Sarawak.

It is estimated that there are only 40 to 50 dugongs left in Johor, around the east coast of Kota Tinggi, Mersing, Pulau Sibu and Pulau Tinggi.

Meanwhile, an estimated 20 to 30 dugongs were recorded in Lawas and Brunei Bay in Sarawak, and a few spots in the east coast of Sabah.

To make matters worse, an average of three to five cases of dugong deaths are recorded each year.

According to Programme Manager responsible for the implementation of the Dugong Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the Conservation and Management of Dugongs and their Habitats, Dr Donna Kwan, among threats faced by dugongs are gill fishing nets, pollution and diminishing food sources.

"Sometimes the nets are set very low. When it hits the dugongs, they will panic and roll into the nets, causing them to be entangled in the nets and drowned because they have to breathe every five to seven minutes. That is the biggest mortality for dugongs," she told a press conference on dugong and seagrass conservation project, here today.

Also known as sea cows, dugongs rely on seagrass meadows for food and habitat.

An adult dugong can eat up to 40kg of seagrass a day.

Realising the importance of conserving dugongs and seagrass ecosystem, the government through the Department of Fisheries has established the National Plan of Action for Protecting and Conserving Dugong and Their Habitats.

Fisheries Department Director-General Datuk Ismail Abu Hassan said a research will also be conducted soon to identify location of seagrass meadows in Malaysia.

"Dugongs are usually found in shallow waters, near the seagrass beds. If there are no more seagrass left, there will be no more dugongs."

"Therefore, we need to conserve our seagrass meadows to ensure the dugongs remain in this country. Because in this world, Malaysia is among the few countries with dugongs."

"If we do not conserve them, one day there will be no more dugongs left in this country and our future generations will not know what they are," he said in the press conference.

Dugongs are protected under the Fisheries Act 1985 and the Fisheries Regulations 1999 (Control of Endangered Species of Fish) for Peninsular Malaysia and Federal Territories of Labuan, Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1998 and the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997 for Sarawak and Sabah.
While their numbers continue to shrink, sadly, not much in-depth research has been done on dugong, in Malaysia.

Through the Dugong and Seagrass Conservation Project, Global Environment Facility, the world's largest environmental funding body has allocated USD190,000 for Malaysia to conduct studies on dugongs for the span of three years.

The global collaboration involves eight countries including Malaysia, Indonesia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Vauatu, Solomon Island, Timor Leste and Sri Lanka.

The government is also expected to sign an MoU with the Dugong Convention on Migratory Species under the United Nations Environment Programme, by March next year to help preserve the conservation of dugongs in the country.

Fisheries department calls for MoU on dugong conservation
The Sun Daily 2 Nov 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: The Fisheries Department hopes the government would sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Dugong Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) by March next year to help preserve the conservation of dugongs in the country.

Its director-general Datuk Ismail Abu Hassan said the signing of the MoU was vital to enable Malaysia to be part of an international platform for protecting and conserving the dugong species as it has been involved in dugong conservation since 1998.

"At present, 26 countries have already signed the MoU with CMS. Not many countries have dugong in their waters and in Malaysia, more than 100 dugongs have been discovered with the majority in Johor.

"We even have a rescue centre for injured dugongs in Johor," Ismail told a press conference on "Global Dugong and Seagrass Conservation Project" here today.

The Dugong MoU aims to promote internationally coordinated action to ensure the long-term survival of dugongs and their seagrass habitats throughout their extensive range.

Ismail said that the distribution of dugongs in Malaysia primarily lies in Johor, Sarawak and Sabah where in Johor alone, at least 26 dugongs have been observed by the Fisheries Department alongside the Marine Park Department.

"Dugongs have been observed based on aerial surveys in the east coast of Kota Tinggi, Mersing, Pulau Sibu and Pulau Tinggi.

"In Sabah, dugongs were recorded in the Sandakan Bay and Labuk Bay areas, Pulau Tambisan, Kota Kinabalu harbour, Kuala Penyu, Labuan Island, Pulau Manukan, Pulau Banggi and in Sarawak dugongs were spotted in the Brunei Bay and Lawas," he added.

Meanwhile, the Programme Manager responsible for the implementation of the Dugong MoU under the United Nations Environment Programme, Dr Donna Kwan said dugongs required 40kg of seagrass a day to survive.

"Therefore, we hope that Malaysia would sign the MoU, in order for us to carry out various projects to help in conservation, one of which is through providing sufficient amounts of seagrass to the dugong species," she said during the press conference.

She said dugongs faced a high risk of being drowned in the midst of seeking seagrass for food by getting entangled in fish gear as dugongs need to breathe every seven to five minutes.

In collaboration with various agencies, the Fisheries Department had in 2015 introduced the Turtle Excluder Device (TED) to shrimp trawl fishermen in the east coast that have not only saved turtles but juvenile dugongs entangled in shrimp trawl nets.

Dugongs are protected under the Fisheries Act 1985 and the Fisheries Regulations 1999 (Control of Endangered Species of Fish) for Peninsular Malaysia and Federal Territories of Labuan, Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1998 and the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997 for Sarawak and Sabah. — Bernama

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Malaysia: Three illegal immigrants jailed for smuggling 19,000 green turtle eggs

MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 2 Nov 16;

SANDAKAN: Three illegal immigrants were slapped with jail terms and hefty fines by the Sessions Court here Wednesday with possessing 19,000 endangered green turtle eggs.

The three Filipinos - Pikong Ismail, 23, Totoh Susuk, 35, and Impang Utuk, 45, - pleaded guilty to the possession of turtle eggs under Section 41(1) of the Wildlife Conservation Ordinance 1997 before Sessions Court judge Ummu Kalthom Abdul Samad.

Sabah Wildlife Department prosecutor Abdul Karim Dakog told the court that the three were arrested by marine police separately while attempting to smuggle in the turtle eggs in a pump boat via Sungai Batu 2 here between July 16 and July 17.

Pikong, who had 3,000 turtle eggs, was sentenced to two years jail and fined RM10,000 in default six months jail.

Totoh, who was caught with 11,000 turtle eggs, was slapped with four years jail and fined RM25,000 in default 12 months jail.

Impang, who was in possession of 5,000 turtle eggs, was sentenced to three years jail and fined RM15,000 or six months jail.

The judge ordered that the eggs be destroyed and the three boats to be forfeited.

All three are currently serving a six-month jail term after a magistrate’s court on July 24 found them guilty for illegally entering Sabah.

Jailed and fined for having 19,000 green turtle eggs
The Star 3 Nov 16;

SANDAKAN: Three Filipinos were jailed between two and four years and given hefty fines by a Sessions Court here for possessing 19,000 eggs of the endangered green turtle.

The three – Pikong Ismail, 23, Totoh Susuk, 35, and Impang Utuk, 45 – pleaded guilty to the offences before Sessions Court judge Ummu Kalthom Abdul Samad here yesterday.

Totoh, who was caught with 11,000 eggs, was sentenced to four years in jail and fined RM25,000 in default 12 months’ jail while Impang got three years in jail and a RM15,000 fine in default six months’ jail for having 5,000 eggs.

Pikong, who had 3,000 eggs, was given two years in jail and fined RM10,000 in default six months’ jail.

The men had intended to smuggle the eggs into Sandakan.

Sabah Wildlife Department prosecutor Abdul Karim Dakog told the court that the three were arrested by marine police separately while they were trying to smuggle in the eggs in pump boats via Sungai Batu 2 here between July 16 and 17.

The judge then ordered the eggs to be destroyed as well as for their boats to be forfeited.

On July 24, a magistrate’s court had already sentenced Totoh, Pikong and Impang to six months’ jail and two strokes of the rotan on the charge of illegally entering Sabah.

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Malaysia: Drones aid in illegal logging monitoring

New Straits Times 2 Nov 16;

DUNGUN: The Forestry Department’s quick action has prevented the removal of an excavator from an illegal logging site in the Bukit Bauk Forest Reserve near Kampung Serdang here.

Two men allegedly trying to remove the evidence of illegal logging were also detained.

Operating using drones, the enforcement unit had monitored illegal logging activities for nearly a week and decided to lay an ambush near the site on Monday to prevent workers from escaping and removing the logs and equipment. “We received a tip-off on the illegal logging in the Bukit Bauk Forest Reserve, which is rich with camphor, keriung and meranti trees.

“My men surveyed the site with drones and succeeded in locating the area,” state Forestry Department director Datuk Ahmad Fadzil Abdul Majid told the New Straits Times yesterday.

He said drones were used to identify possible escape routes and the extent of damage done in the forest reserve.

“My men, who were backed up by police, entered the area at 3am and detained two workers in their mid-20s, who were about to remove an excavator from the area.

“They also seized a lorry, a four-wheel-drive vehicle and 400 tonnes of logs.

“The suspects will be charged under Section 15 of the National Forestry Act 1984, which carries a fine of not more than RM500,000 or 20 years’ jail, or both.

We are processing the investigation papers.” Fadzil said the department had used drones to collect information before laying an ambush to ensure workers entering the forest reserve could not be warned by tontos (thugs or informants hired by lawbreakers).

“This method has been proven to be the most effective. “We can use drones to capture images of the areas that have been encroached on, and conduct a general audit on the number of trees that have been felled and estimate the tonnage.

“We will continue with our operation to check illegal logging in other districts during the monsoon season.

“This is the time when illegal loggers may take advantage of the rain and floods to remove trees felled in forest reserves.”

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Malaysia: Negri Sembilan hopes cloud seeding a success

The Star 3 Nov 16;

SEREMBAN: The Negri Sembilan government hopes that the cloud seeding exercise, to be carried out in parts of the state from today, would bring rain in upstream areas.

Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan said the state direly needed to fill up its damns and rivers, and to avoid water rationing in the affected areas next week.

“We have been releasing 100 million litres of raw water a day from the Talang dam into Sg Ulu Muar for three weeks now so that the five water treatment plants along the river can process it for consumers.

“The rain must come or else we are going to face an even more serious problem,” he said after chairing the state exco meeting.

Mohamad said the Meteorological Services Department gave his administration the green light to cloud-seed following a drastic fall in dam and river levels.

“We will do it six times, depending on the presence of cumulo-nimbus clouds which are often associated with thunderstorms and heavy precipitation,” he said.

He said cloud seeding would be carried out in the most affected districts of Jelebu, Kuala Pilah and Jempol.

Asked about the contamination of Sg Buah, Mohamad said critics should stop accusing him of treating the matter lightly.

“Several agencies in Negri Sembilan have been working tirelessly to trace the source of the odour in the river since they were informed of it.”

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Natural measures must be key to UK flood protection, UK MPs urge

Report also criticises government’s plans and funding and calls for Environment Agency to be stripped of responsibility for flooding
Damian Carrington The Guardian 2 Nov 16;

Natural ways of stopping floods, such as tree planting and putting logs in rivers to slow water flow must be a key part of protecting the nation as climate change intensifies rain storms, according to a report from MPs.

The cross-party committee criticised the government for its limited plans and insufficient funding, and called for the Environment Agency to be stripped of its responsibility for flooding and replaced by a dedicated floods authority and a national flood commissioner, as is the case in the Netherlands.

Other measures proposed include paying farmers to store water in fields and forcing housebuilders to make new homes resilient to flooding.

More than 5 million people in England are at risk of flooding and recent winters have seen devastating deluges, with storm Desmond alone causing £5bn in damages in the northern UK. The coalition government cut flood defence spending sharply, and increases in finds only followed the recent floods.

The government’s National Flood Resilience Review (NFRR), published in September, increased the projections for extreme rainfall and moved to protect critical infrastructure, but it was criticised for lacking a long-term strategy and ignoring flash flooding, which alone threatens 3m homes.

“We propose a radical alternative to the NFFR’s limited solutions to the current fragmented, inefficient and ineffective flood risk management arrangements,” said Neil Parish, the Conservative MP who chairs the environment, food and rural affairs (Efra) select committee.

“Our proposals will deliver a far more holistic approach to flooding and water supply management, looking at catchments as a whole.”

The dominant approach to previous flood management was to get the water from hills to the sea as quickly as possible, via drainage and straightened rivers. But this means the flows in rivers can peak dramatically, threatening villages, towns and cities. Poor farming practices, the loss of woods and urban development have all further accelerated the runoff of water. “The likelihood of flooding is now at an all-time high and will continue to increase,” the MPs said.

Pilot schemes at Pickering in Yorkshire, Holnicote in Somerset and elsewhere have shown that flood risk can be lowered by slowing the flow of water off the land by planting trees, managing soils better, putting logs in streams to form leaky dams and by using fields to temporarily store water. A large-scale trial across a whole catchment is urgently needed, the MPs said.

“If you can hold back the water, even for 12 hours, you can hold back the peak,” said Parish. He opposed Brexit, but said it would give the opportunity to implement new subsidies for farmers who help prevent floods.

The Environment Agency’s responsibilities include national flood risk management and defence-building, as well as pollution and waste control. Parish said it has done a good job on the large-scale issues but was seen as too remote by communities affected by flooding. An overhaul of all the various local, regional and national bodies involved would streamline roles and pool expertise, he said.

The committee said it was impossible to prevent all future floods and so the resilience of people’s homes and businesses had to be improved, such as by protecting doorways and placing electrical sockets at higher levels.

“The trouble with developers is they don’t want to put these resilience measures into a house because as soon as anyone walks in, they say ‘oh, is this area prone to flooding’?” said Parish. The MPs said new building regulations should be imposed if the industry failed to agree a voluntary code by the end of 2016.

The committee also said insurance companies should do much better in incentivising people who have been flooded to improve the protection of their homes during the repairs, rather than just replace what was damaged.

Daniel Johns, head of adaptation at the government’s official advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, welcomed the report: “Climate change is likely to increase the risk of flooding for many communities in England [but] there is no long-term strategy in place from the government to address it. Like the Efra committee, we’ve also called repeatedly for the government to take further steps to ensure new development isn’t adding to the long-term problem.”

The landowners’ association, the CLA, welcomed the suggestion that a post-Brexit farm subsidy regime could include payments for flood prevention, but said it would be a “backward step” to remove flood responsibilities from the Environment Agency.

“It would risk a confused and disjointed approach at a time when people and businesses affected by flooding desperately need more investment,” said Ross Murray, CLA president.

Guy Shrubsole, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth, also criticised the idea: “It would waste vital expertise and could cause more delays in planning better ways to avoid flooding. But the government should heed the MPs’ welcome proposals to tackle flooding at root – working with nature across entire river catchments and dealing with climate change.”

A spokesman for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “We take a long-term, strategic approach to protecting the nation from floods. We are spending £2.5bn on building flood defence schemes across the country to better protect an additional 300,000 homes by 2021.

“We are already implementing many of the suggestions this report makes, such as managing watercourses across entire catchment areas, but see no need for structural changes.”

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Geo-engineering unlikely to work, conservation group says

Attempts to limit climate change by using the novel technologies known as geo-engineering are very unlikely to work, leading biologists say.
Alex Kirby Climate News Network 1 Nov 16;

LONDON, 1 November, 2016 – The global watchdog responsible for protecting the world’s wealth of species, the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), has looked at the hopes for reining in climate change through geo-engineering. Its bleak conclusion, echoing that reached by many independent scientists, is that the chances are “highly uncertain”.

“Novel means”, in this context, describes trying to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by removing them from the atmosphere, and altering the amount of heat from the Sun that reaches the Earth.

Some scientists and policymakers say geo-engineering, as these strategies are collectively known, is essential if the world is to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. This is because current attempts to reduce emissions cannot make big enough cuts fast enough to keep global average temperatures from rising more than 2°C above their pre-industrial levels, the Agreement’s basic goal.

But the CBD says in a report that geo-engineering, while it could possibly help to prevent the world overheating, might endanger global biodiversity and have other unpredictable effects.

Many independent analysts have raised similar concerns.Attempts to increase the amount of carbon in the oceans, in order to remove GHGs, have so far shown disappointing results. One report doubted that geo-engineering could slow sea-level rise. Another said it could not arrest the melting of Arctic ice. A third study found that geo-engineering would make things little better and might even make global warming worse.

Transboundary impacts

The lead author of the CBD geo-engineering report is a British scientist, Dr Phillip Williamson, of the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council. He is an associate fellow in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia, UK.

The CBD originally became involved in climate geo-engineering in 2008, because member governments were concerned that experiments to fertilise the oceans could pose unknown risks to the environment (they were then unregulated when carried out in international waters).

The CBD’s concern expanded to include other geo-engineering techniques, especially atmospheric methods which could have uncertain transboundary impacts. Some scientists argue that “geo-engineering” is a hazily-defined term and prefer to speak instead simply of “greenhouse gas removal”.

Dr Williamson and his colleagues say assessment of the impacts of geo-engineering on biodiversity “is not straightforward and is subject to many uncertainties”.

On greenhouse gas removal they warn that removing a given quantity of a greenhouse gas would not fully compensate for an earlier ‘overshoot’ of emissions.

New risks

In some cases, they say, the cure may be worse than the disease: “The large-scale deployment of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) seems likely to have significant negative impacts on biodiversity through land use change.”

When it comes to attempts to reflect sunlight back out into space or to manage solar radiation, a familiar theme recurs: “There are high levels of uncertainty about the impacts of SRM [solar radiation management] techniques, which could present significant new risks to biodiversity.”

Time and again, it seems, a potential advance is liable to be cancelled by an equally likely reverse: if SRM benefits coral reefs by decreasing temperature-induced bleaching (as it may), in certain conditions “it may also increase, indirectly, the impacts of ocean acidification.” There could even be a risk in some circumstances of loss to the Earth’s protective ozone layer.

Dr Williamson and his colleagues believe that geo-engineering is essential – if it can be made to work – because of the diminishing chances that anything else will.

They write: “It may still be possible that deep and very rapid decarbonisation by all countries might allow climate change to be kept within a 2°C limit by emission reduction alone. However, any such window of opportunity is rapidly closing.”

Repeatedly, those two words recur: a suggested technique or development will be “highly uncertain”. Most of the report amounts to a very cautious call for more research, coupled with an implicit acceptance that in the end geo-engineering is unlikely to prove capable of contributing much to climate mitigation.

Dr Williamson told the Climate News Network: “I’m sceptical. That’s not to say bio-energy with carbon capture and storage is impossible, but it seems extremely unlikely to be feasible (for all sorts of reasons)” at the scale needed.

When the CBD member governments meet in December they are expected to call for more research: a safe option in most circumstances, but far from a ringing endorsement of a technology once seen as very promising. – Climate News Network

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