Water pricing based on household size a better system: Expert

SIAU MING EN Today Online 21 Mar 17;

SINGAPORE — To change water consumption habits, banking on high prices alone might not cut it. Instead, the pricing structure should be pegged to the number of people in the household and entail discounts for households which manage to cut back on their water usage.

This was the view of Dr Jochen Krauss, a pricing consultant who has more than nine years’ experience in consulting national and international clients.

“A fair system needs to differentiate users. And a way to differentiate users is by introducing tiers,” he said, ahead of World Water Day tomorrow.

Since the Government announced last month that water prices would go up by 30 per cent in two phases, varying opinions on how the pricing structure here should change have been floated: For instance, charging the well-to-do higher rates, and differentiating prices by household type.

In Singapore, the tiering is based on volume. Households pay S$1.17 per cubic metre of water if they use less than 40 cubic metres each month, a threshold introduced during the last price revision in 2000. Those who use more than that pay S$1.40 per cubic metre.

Dr Krauss disagreed that pricing should be tied to income levels or the size of a house, given that water is a universal resource. But it is the Government’s responsibility to ensure the lower-income can afford and have access to water, he added.

While someone living in a bigger house could use more water, he noted that this “does not constitute basic usage anymore”.

“We’re talking about water, not the number of air-conditioning units. If you have a larger house, then you have more rooms to cool down ... but still, you are the same person. If you think you want to have a pool (in a bigger house), there (should be) a cost to pay for it,” he added.

A carrot-and-stick approach would help nudge people to conserve the scarce resource, said the managing partner at Simon-Kucher & Partners. This means penalising those who use water excessively and incentivising others who make the effort to cut back on their water usage by giving a discount on their water bill.

The authorities could set a basic water-consumption threshold for an average household size before adjusting it according to more or fewer people living under one roof. This means that a two-person household will have a lower threshold than a five-person household given that two people will use less water.

“Household members are a huge driver of water consumption, not the number of toilet bowls. It’s the number of people using these bowls and the faucets ... and that is a function of variable consumption,” he added.

This has been the pricing approach taken by Barcelona, for instance, one of the European cities that has managed to reduce its per capita water consumption to less than 100 litres a day. Last year, Singapore households used 148 litres of water per capita per day.

In Europe, water prices have led to varying consumption patterns. For instance, high water prices have forced countries such as Germany and Finland to save water and reduce their consumption. Countries such as Belgium and Spain, on the other hand, have similarly low consumption rates despite their relatively lower water prices.

But Denmark continued to have a high water consumption rate despite its higher water prices.

There are limitations even with Dr Krauss’ suggested system: At some point, households will not be able to reduce their water consumption any further. Citing Germany as an example, Dr Krauss noted that the authorities “have incentivised water usage so much” that not enough water flows through its infrastructure, making it more costly to maintain.

While it is hard to determine how often water prices should be adjusted, he noted the authorities might not want to wait for another 17 years before doing so. And with changes in prices, “everyone somehow logically assumes it’s an increase”, he said, adding that water prices can go down with breakthroughs in technology.

“If you have not changed it for 17 years, chances are, it will be an increase ... But revisiting the topic of water on a more regular basis, a recalibration (of prices) could have different forms,” he said.

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Replacing lost trees

Toh Wen Li, The Straits Times AsiaOne 20 Mar 17;

Over the next 15 years, 10,000 to 13,000 trees in Singapore could be removed to make way for transport and housing projects - an ongoing trade-off between nature and development.

But the National Parks Board (NParks) is taking steps to mitigate against the possible impact, it tells The Sunday Times.

All the affected trees will be replaced at least one-for-one, it said, adding that it is likely even more trees will be planted in their place.

The 10,000 to 13,000 range is a "working figure", based on development projects in the pipeline, to help it plan how many trees it needs to replant in advance, the statutory board noted.

Singapore has about seven million trees, of which six million - along streets as well as in parks, state lands and nature reserves - are in areas managed by NParks.

The Sunday Times understands that some developments that will affect trees are the North-South Expressway, Thomson-East Coast Line and Jurong Region Line.

There are also works such as the Jurong Lake Gardens project, expansion of Changi Airport and upcoming housing estates in Bidadari, Tengah and Tampines North.

NParks' deputy chief executive Leong Chee Chiew told The Sunday Times that because Singapore is not just a city but also a country, this leads to "intense land-use demands"."We need to work a lot harder and smarter than other cities. As an agency, we work very closely, collaboratively with other agencies to anticipate what are some possible disruptions."

By working with agencies like the Land Transport Authority (LTA) "very early on" in the planning stage, NParks can, say, evaluate if plans could be modified to save certain trees. For example, it could work with LTA on modifying the alignment of a road.

"We have the advantage of being able to plan way ahead of time," he said. But he noted that development projects could change over time so the projection may not reflect what will happen in the next 15 years.

To the best of his knowledge, Dr Leong said no heritage trees will be affected by the planned developments. But he was unable to offer more details on the age or range of species of the trees that will be affected, saying it is still too early to tell.

While most of the trees to be removed will be used for mulching and biofuel or be recycled, a small proportion will be salvaged - often transplanted to a holding site before being replanted elsewhere.

Whether or not a tree is salvaged depends on factors such as historical significance, size and species.

The size of a tree determines how likely it is to survive the transplantation - larger trees have a more extensive root system, which makes them more likely to suffer damage when moved. Some species are also more suited to transplantation.

In recent years, NParks has been moving towards a system of replanting where different plant species are grown in layers, mimicking a forest environment. This allows for greater biodiversity. There has also been a push to grow more native species.

The replanting will depend on the site and could involve shrubs, saplings, semi-mature trees and mature trees.

NParks has been planting 40,000 trees every year since 2015, in parks and for replacement. Trees for replanting are largely obtained from tree banks, home to more than 11,000 trees, and Pasir Panjang Nursery which has 200,000 plants.

NParks said it can nurture 700 to 800 trees that are at least 3m tall for replacement each year.

Nature Society president Shawn Lum said the loss of older trees might be "jarring" at first.

"The character of the area will change if big trees are cleared and replaced by things not as majestic."

But Dr Lum added: "It's quite a good opportunity as well, to rethink greenery from a whole landscape scale... (as) a more seamless integration of roadsides and parks with the forest." He doubts the various developments will affect any endangered tree species although the Bidadari area, a haven for migratory bird species, might suffer an ecological impact when trees are removed.

Mr William Lau, former president of the Singapore Institute of Planners, and now the International Federation for Housing and Planning's ambassador for South-east Asia, said: "Removing 10,000 to 13,000 is a small percentage compared to the total greenery (in Singapore). "As such, it has no significant impact on the current good balance between urban development and greenery."

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Indonesia steps up fight against biopiracy

Hans Nicholas Jong and Moses Ompusunggu The Jakarta Post 20 Mar 17;

Though it may sound like a conspiracy theory, the Indonesian government has taken seriously allegations that foreign researchers have used all kinds of ways — including disguising themselves as tourists — to steal the nation’s genetic resources.

Indonesia is home to some of the richest biodiversity in the world and government officials are concerned that foreign parties are developing and exploiting local genetic resources without obtaining consent from or providing fair compensation to Indonesia as stipulated in the Nagoya Protocol, which Jakarta has ratified.

The Research and Technology and Higher Education Ministry, therefore, has recently issued a regulation to prevent this suspected biopiracy.

The 2017 ministerial regulation, released in February, stipulates that the government will no longer provide recommendations for foreign researchers to conduct research in less-explored regions prone to natural resources theft such as Papua and Maluku islands. While the regulation does not impose a total ban on research in those areas, it makes it more difficult for foreign scientists to obtain a permit for research there.

“We will give the opportunities to our local researchers first to conduct research in those areas, where new species of flora and fauna have been found,” the ministry’s secretary of foreign research permits, Sri Wahyono, told

The Jakarta Post recently. Sri said the threat of biopiracy in Indonesia was real. He argued that the government’s free-visa policy for 169 countries, aimed to boost foreign tourist arrivals to Indonesia, had made it easier for foreigners to access local biodiversity resources.

“Right now, the common modus operandi includes ecotourism, where foreigners come to Indonesia with a visa on arrival to visit our protected forest areas and sanctuaries. Some of them have been caught red-handed [stealing resources].”

In February, Environment and Forestry Ministry (KLHK) investigators arrested a French national, identified as DL, in Papua for allegedly attempting to smuggle a rare butterfly species named Ornithoptera Goliath, which is widely known as Goliath birdwing and is the second-largest butterfly on the planet.

Using a tourist visa, DL arrived at Manokwari in Papua on Feb. 25 and then continued his journey to Mokwam village in Arfak Mountain where he allegedly collected the species. “The butterfly is one of the rarest species [of butterfly] and was about to be smuggled to France,” said KLHK investigator Adrianus Mosa.

It has not been confirmed yet if DL has made an attempt to commit biopiracy, but the government is treating it as such, saying DL was not the first. As an example, Sri cited a 2012 case where several teenagers from the UK were caught collecting samples without permission at the Murung Raya protected forest in Central Kalimantan.

Visa abuse aside, Indonesia has seen an increase in the number of foreign researchers visiting the country to conduct cutting-edge science projects, including those that have huge economic potential. “In the past, Indonesia only issued around 200 research permits per year. Since 2010, we issued around 500 permits. The interest is growing, especially in biodiversity, such as zoology, botany and marine biology,” Sri said.

The regulation thus also aims to fight a subtler and more controversial form of biopiracy: unfair research cooperation agreements between local and foreign scientists.

Rosichon Ubaidillah, the head of zoology at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) biology research department, claimed to have evidence showing that many agreements signed by Indonesian universities and their foreign counterparts tend to benefit the latter. “Foreign researchers may have collected research materials legally, but what they have been doing is not always ethical,” Rosichon said.

LIPI, he said, had to cancel scientific cooperation with a German institution last year because the latter refused to change a material transfer agreement (MTA) LIPI deemed as disadvantaging Indonesia.

Dominique Roubert, press officer for the French Embassy in Jakarta, said they could not give any comment regarding this issue and would let Indonesian authorities continue the investigation process.

“We will fully abide by Indonesian law,” Dominique said. (hol)

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Indonesia: Government to improve protection of four endangered animals

Antara 21 Mar 17;

Manado (ANTARA News) - The conservation agency of North Sulawesi and Gorontalo Provinces will improve the protection of four endangered animals, including the Anoa, hogdeer, Yaki, and Maleo, head of the body, Agustinus Rante Lembang, said here on Monday.

The agency has committed to oversee these species in the wildlife, as the number of the endemic animals keeps declining due to the illegal hunting for trading or consumption, Lembang added.

The agency had previously been regularly conducting a patrol to safeguard the animals.

"We have cooperated with other institutions, including the police, to oversee some vulnerable spots," he noted.

Concerning the endemic status of the animals, we hope the poachers could reduce their hunting activities to prevent them from being extinct, he remarked.

Anoa (Bubalus quarlesi), Maleo (Macrocephalon maleo), and the hogdeer or "babirusa" are the countrys native animals that have inhabited the Sulawesi Island, the nearby Buton Island, and Togean Island.

Meanwhile, the Yaki, or the Sulawesi crested macaque, has been thriving only in the Tangkoko Reserve in the islands northeast.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has labeled Anoa as an endangered animal since 1986 until 2008.

The species has been included in the Red List of endangered animals, because the estimated population only reaches less than 2.5 thousand mature individuals, the union stated in its official website.

The union predicts that the rate of decline could be greater than 20 percent over the next two generations of 14 to 18 years.

Hunting for food as well as land conversion, from forest to agriculture lands or gold mining areas, have been considered as major threats to the animals existence in the wildlife, the union reiterated.(*)

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Indonesia: Yellow-crested cockatoo on brink of extinction in West Nusa Tenggara

Panca Nugraha The Jakarta Post 20 Mar 17;

Habitat loss has pushed the critically endangered yellow-crested cockatoo (Cacatua Sulphurea), a native bird of Sulawesi and East Nusa Tenggara, toward the brink of extinction, as the number currently living in the wild continues to decline.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed the bird among 20 bird species that are on the brink of extinction, said Tri Endang, head of the Forest Ecosystem Control unit at the West Nusa Tenggara Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA).

“The IUCN has listed the Yellow-Crested cockatoo as critically endangered. It is only a step away from being extinct,” she said in Mataram, the capital city of West Nusa Tenggara, on Monday.

The population of the bird in the province was only 145, based on the BKSDA’s monitoring in 2016. In West Nusa Tenggara, the birds could only be found only in Sumbawa, with 115 found on Moyo Island in Sumbawa regency and the remaining 30 in the Jereweh conservation area in West Sumbawa.

The number of yellow-crested cockatoos in the neighboring province of East Nusa Tenggara is believed to be 200.

Endang explained that the bird population started to decline in the 1980s following rampant illegal wildlife trading.

“Now the population has been disrupted by habitat loss,” she said, adding that cockatoo populations do not recover rapidly as they lay only two eggs in a year.

Deer sanctuary to be built in West Nusa Tenggara
Panca Nugraha The Jakarta Post 20 Mar 17;

West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) plans to build a deer sanctuary this year to reverse the decline in the deer population.

NTB Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) head Widada said on Monday that the planned 1.5-hectare sanctuary for the animal, which is the mascot of West Nusa Tenggara, will be located in Gunung Tunak Nature Park in Central Lombok.

“We will place 20 to 30 deer within the sanctuary,” Widada said, adding that the deer population in the province was no more than 2,000, scattered around Mount Rinjani, Mount Tambora, Moyo Island, the protected forests in Lombok and Sumbawa, and in breeding centers.

In 2005, the deer population reached 6,000 in Lombok and Sumbawa, he added.

Illegal hunting, climate change and habitat destruction were the reasons behind the decreasing number, said Widada.

The BKSDA coordinator for forest ecosystem control, Tri Endang, said the ecosystem of the deer sanctuary would be made similar to that of their natural habitat.

“Hopefully they will breed well within the sanctuary,” said Tri, adding that the deer reproduction cycle was one year.

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Indonesia: Govt to reactivate reforestation campaign -- Vice President

Antara 21 Mar 17;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Vice President Jusuf Kalla has stressed the need to reactivate national reforestation campaign to rehabilitate the damaged environment.

"In the past, we have Gerhan campaign, the national campaign of land reforestation, now we need to reactivate this campaign," Kalla said here, Monday.

In its initial stage, the campaign would be conducted in West Java, starting from June.

"We have already started the rehabilitation in some forests, reforestation, air seedling. Including the rehabilitation program in Bima. We will restore the damaged river basin using reforestation fund," he added.

The government has allocated some Rp4 trillion for reforestation fund, and the program would be conducted under the coordination of the Environment and Forestry Ministry and the Public Works Ministry.

"I have set the target, within the next two years we can reduce the risk of flood in Bandung by rehabilitating its environment," the Vice President said.

Previously, chairman of the National Agency for Disaster Management (BNPB) Willem Rampangilei said, the government has allocated Rp320 billion (US$23.9 million) from disaster management fund, for reforestation program and rehabilitation of river basin in West Java and West Nusa Tenggara.

Of the total funds, some Rp62.9 billion would be allocated for river basin reforestation in West Nusa Tenggara and the remaining would be used for a similar program in West Java.

The program is scheduled to begin in April.

The program would include changing the cultivation pattern in the slopes area, development of supporting facilities such as water, and land conservation facility.(*)

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Indonesia: Floods claim four lives in Jambi

Antara 21 Mar 17;

Jambi (ANTARA News) - Floods caused by an overflowing river in Jambi Province from Feb 27 to March 20, 2017, have claimed at least four lives and forced thousands to evacuate.

The Head of Preparedness Sector for Jambi Regional Disaster Mitigation Agency Dalmanto stated here on Monday that the casualties were from four areas in the province such as Bungo, Merangin, Muarojambi, and Jambi City.

The floods that occurred in nine districts inundated 38,286 houses.

According to Dalmanto, the disaster forced 134,041 people to evacuate to safe areas nearby.

The agency noted that some public facilities in Jambi were also submerged, including 22 healthcare centers, 86 educational buildings, 33 worship houses, and two administration offices, as well as 10 bridges and 17 streets.

"The floods occurred due to the intensity of the rain since Feb 28. It caused the rivers to overflow," Dalmanto noted.

The local administration has deployed a quick response team to assist people in evacuating their residences and moving to safer areas.

The joint team, including police, Indonesian Military personnel, health service personnel, and social service personnel, were also deployed in the flood-hit areas.

The local administration keeps monitoring the condition of each district due to the high precipitation.

Some parts of Sumatra Island are also experiencing high level of precipitation in recent weeks.

The North Sumatra administration has also urged people to be wary of the high precipitation that may cause rivers to overflow and lead to floods.

The Head of South Labuhanbatu Regional Disaster Mitigation Agency Khairil remarked that the area was prone to flood disaster due to the overflowing of River Barumun.

He urged residents living near the river to be alert of the overflowing river and flashfloods.

The administration has also prepared some emergency facilities, including evacuation tents, electricity generators, and inflatable boats. (*)

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Australia: Decade-long recovery for bleached Western Australia reefs

Rebecca Gredley, Australian Associated Press News.com.au 20 Mar 17;

It will take at least a decade for coral reefs in Western Australia's Kimberley region to recover from recent global bleaching, scientists say.

Inshore Kimberley reefs suffered from bleaching for the first time last year, with local indigenous elders telling The University of Western Australia researchers they had never seen anything like it.

The research team analysed the effects of the 2016 global bleaching, and found that despite coral in the Kimberley being hardier than in other areas, they were not immune to bleaching.

Coral bleaching happens as a stress response, most commonly when coral is exposed to water that is too warm for long enough.

Kimberley reefs experience the world's largest tropical tides, resulting in extreme swings in temperature, which means that about once a month, coral is exposed to air for several hours each day over a few consecutive days, Verena Schoepf told AAP.

"Although this makes Kimberley coral stress-tolerant, it does not make them immune to climate change and extreme heat," Dr Schoepf said.

The team conducted aerial and underwater surveys across the state last year in areas including inshore Kimberley reefs, the Ningaloo Reef, Rottnest Island reefs and reefs along the southern coast.

"Among the reefs surveyed, the Kimberley reefs were most severely affected," Dr Schoepf said.

The research found that more coral died in deeper water than shallow areas, and inshore reefs had about 50 per cent bleaching, whereas 90 per cent of offshore reefs were bleached.

"The mortality is so high that it will take about 10 to 15 years to come back," she said.

"The positive is that the Kimberley is so remote that there are not many other stresses like overfishing."

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Record-breaking climate change pushes world into ‘uncharted territory’

Earth is a planet in upheaval, say scientists, as the World Meteorological Organisation publishes analysis of recent heat highs and ice lows
Damian Carrington The Guardian 21 Mar 17;

The record-breaking heat that made 2016 the hottest year ever recorded has continued into 2017, pushing the world into “truly uncharted territory”, according to the World Meteorological Organisation.

The WMO’s assessment of the climate in 2016, published on Tuesday, reports unprecedented heat across the globe, exceptionally low ice at both poles and surging sea-level rise.

Global warming is largely being driven by emissions from human activities, but a strong El Niño – a natural climate cycle – added to the heat in 2016. The El Niño is now waning, but the extremes continue to be seen, with temperature records tumbling in the US in February and polar heatwaves pushing ice cover to new lows.

“Even without a strong El Niño in 2017, we are seeing other remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system. We are now in truly uncharted territory,” said David Carlson, director of the WMO’s world climate research programme.

“Earth is a planet in upheaval due to human-caused changes in the atmosphere,” said Jeffrey Kargel, a glaciologist at the University of Arizona in the US. “In general, drastically changing conditions do not help civilisation, which thrives on stability.”

The WMO report was “startling”, said Prof David Reay, an emissions expert at the University of Edinburgh: “The need for concerted action on climate change has never been so stark nor the stakes so high.”

The new WMO assessment also prompted some scientists to criticise Donald Trump. “While the data show an ever increasing impact of human activities on the climate system, the Trump administration and senior Republicans in Congress continue to bury their heads in the sand,” said Prof Sir Robert Watson, a distinguished climate scientist at the UK’s University of East Anglia and a former head of the UN’s climate science panel.

“Our children and grandchildren will look back on the climate deniers and ask how they could have sacrificed the planet for the sake of cheap fossil fuel energy, when the cost of inaction exceeds the cost of a transition to a low-carbon economy,” Watson said.

Trump is aiming to cut climate change research. But the WMO’s secretary-general Petteri Taalas said: “Continued investment in climate research and observations is vital if our scientific knowledge is to keep pace with the rapid rate of climate change.”

2016 saw the hottest global average among thermometer measurements stretching back to 1880. But scientific research indicates the world was last this warm about 115,000 years ago and that the planet has not experienced such high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for 4m years.

2017 has seen temperature records continue to tumble, in the US where February was exceptionally warm, and in Australia, where prolonged and extreme heat struck many states. The consequences have been particularly stark at the poles.

“Arctic ice conditions have been tracking at record low conditions since October, persisting for six consecutive months, something not seen before in the [four-decade] satellite data record,” said Prof Julienne Stroeve, at University College London in the UK. “Over in the southern hemisphere, the sea ice also broke new record lows in the seasonal maximum and minimum extents, leading to the least amount of global sea ice ever recorded.”

Emily Shuckburgh, at the British Antarctic Survey, said: “The Arctic may be remote, but changes that occur there directly affect us. The melting of the Greenland ice sheet is already contributing significantly to sea level rise, and new research is highlighting that the melting of Arctic sea ice can alter weather conditions across Europe, Asia and North America.”

Global sea level rise surged between November 2014 and February 2016, with the El Niño event helping the oceans rise by by 15mm. That jump would have take five years under the steady rise seen in recent decades, as ice caps melt and oceans get warmer and expand in volume. Final data for 2016 sea level rise have yet to be published.

Climate change harms people most directly by increasing the risk of extreme weather events and the WMO report states that these raised risks can increasingly be calculated. For example, the Arctic heatwaves are made tens of times more likely and the soaring temperatures seen in Australia in February were made twice as likely.

“With levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere consistently breaking new records, the influence of human activities on the climate system has become more and more evident,” said Taalas.

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