DBS, OCBC financed Indonesian palm oil firms engaged in unsustainable practices: Report

Loke Kok Fai Channel NewsAsia 2 Jun 17

SINGAPORE: DBS Bank and OCBC Bank have been financing palm oil firms accused of environmentally damaging and unsustainable practices in Indonesia, according to a report released on Friday (Jun 2).

The report by non-government organisations (NGOs) Rainforest Foundation Norway, AidEnvironment and Fair Finance Guide Sweden and Norway, said the banks had provided loans to palm oil firms Sampoerna Agro, IndoAgri/Salim and Tunas Baru Lampung.

Based on satellite imagery, company annual reports, permit data from the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry and other supporting data, these companies were found to have engaged in unsustainable practices such as draining peatlands, poor fire prevention and mitigation, as well as engaged in land disputes with local communities.

“Neither OCBC nor DBS publish details of the amounts they loan to the Indonesian palm oil sector. However, several indicators – such as their lending to companies listed on the Indonesia Stock Exchange – point to the fact that these banks are among the largest lenders to the Indonesian palm oil sector,” read the report.

The report noted that both banks had stated that they would include Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) aspects into consideration before lending to oil palm operations during a regional haze episode in October 2015.

However it also mentioned that both banks have “yet to come out with any substantial information on (their) contributions to the oil palm industry transformation”.

Tunas Baru Lampung and Sampoerna Agro have consistently scored below 25 per cent in the Zoological Society of London’s Sustainable Palm Oil Transparency Toolkit, which ranks companies on their practices based on information the companies make public.

IndoAgri/Salim scored around 50 per cent. All three companies are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil – an international group committed to sustainable palm oil practices and transparency of production and procurement operations.

“WE CAN PLAY A ROLE IN PROMOTING A SUSTAINABLE PALM OIL SECTOR”

In response to queries from Channel NewsAsia, DBS Bank said it recently updated its approach to the palm oil sector. It will require palm oil companies seeking loans to demonstrate alignment with no deforestation, no peat and no exploitation policies, or other equivalents that are increasingly adopted by the palm oil sector.

“While our credit exposure to growers and processors of palm oil is not material, accounting for less than 1 per cent of total loans and advances to customers as at end-2016, we recognise that we can play a role in promoting a sustainable palm oil sector by being discerning in our lending practices to this sector,” said a DBS spokesperson. “We will not consciously finance companies that we know are violating local or national regulations or engaged in unlawful land clearance by burning, adversely affect high-conservation value forest, involved in new planting on peatland or violate rights of workers or local communities.”

OCBC said it assesses borrowers on internal ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) requirements in areas such as pollution prevention, biodiversity and legally protected areas, occupational health and safety, with reference standards and conventions from organisations such as International Finance Corporate (IFC), United Nations (UN) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

It added that the bank will engage borrowers assessed to be of higher ESG risk to understand their approaches, and will then support them towards raising their internal standards through periodic reviews and feedback sessions.

“We believe that this is an effective way to help address any ESG concerns and promote long-term sustainable development,” said Vincent Choo, OCBC’s Chief Risk Officer.
Source: CNA/ek


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Singapore reaffirms commitment to Paris climate accord after US says it plans to withdraw

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 2 Jun 17;

SINGAPORE — The Republic has reaffirmed its commitment to play its part to curb climate change in the wake of United States President Donald Trump's announcement that his country intends to pull out of the Paris Agreement involving more than 190 countries.

"As a low-lying, island city-state, Singapore is particularly vulnerable to the consequences of climate change and we have a deep interest in global efforts to address potential disruptions to natural ecosystems and human societies," said the National Climate Change Secreteriat in a statement on Friday (June 2). "As a small country, we have also staunchly supported the rules-based multilateral system, and upheld the critical role of diplomacy in solving problems on the global commons."

Singapore believes that a global approach towards dealing with climate change is the best chance the international community has at effectively addressing its effects, the secretariat said. "We remain committed to undertaking the measures needed to achieve our Paris pledge, including implementing a carbon tax from 2019. We stand ready to work with all parties and stakeholders to address this urgent challenge together."

Mr Trump's decision has drawn criticism and opposition from other countries and climate scientists. President and chief executive of the World Resources Institute Andrew Steer, for instance, said in a statement that the "deeply misguided decision" would be "bad for the world, but even worse for the United States”.

He said: “President Trump should not turn his back on more than 1,000 major companies and investors, and 70 percent of Americans who want the US to stay in the Agreement. Sadly, President Trump appears to be falling for 20th century economic thinking, when more efficient, cleaner 21st century opportunities are there for the taking. In withdrawing, he would relinquish US leadership, moving away from a group of 195 countries and join a party of just three — the US, Nicaragua and Syria."

In a Facebook post, Singapore foreign minister Vivian Balakrishnan wrote that Mr Trump's decision was "a great pity" as climate change is a "real and present danger to our collective future".

Singapore Environment Council chairman Isabella Loh added that the US' withdrawal from the accord would be a "significant, disappointing drawback for the global fight against climate change". The US accounted for 15 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions in 2016, she noted.

Ms Loh added: "Given the overwhelming international consensus on climate action, together with the undeniable strength of the science behind it, we believe it is unlikely the US’ decision will have much influence on other nations. The key to the success of the Paris Agreement is for individual countries to implement policies that will achieve their nation’s targets. Three quarters of the world’s nations have ratified the agreement, including China and India. Together the remaining nations can continue to fight for the future of our planet, even if the US decides not to participate."

Denouncing Trump’s decision, Greenpeace International said in a statement the decision would cost the US its global leadership position and its share of the economic benefits of the clean energy transition.

Its international executive director Jennifer Morgan said: “Trump talks about what is fair for the US, but instead should also consider what is fair for all and those already living with the devastating impacts of climate change. Global climate action can deliver prosperity and security for the US and the rest of the world together.”


Singapore reaffirms commitment to Paris climate agreement after US pullout
Channel NewsAsia 2 Jun 17;

SINGAPORE: Singapore on Friday (Jun 2) reaffirmed its commitment to the Paris Agreement and its pledge to reduce emissions intensity and stabilise emissions, after US President Donald Trump announced he is pulling his country out of the global climate change agreement.

"As a low-lying, island city-state, Singapore is particularly vulnerable to the consequences of climate change and we have a deep interest in global efforts to address potential disruptions to natural ecosystems and human societies," the National Climate Change Secretariat said in a statement.

"As a small country, we have also staunchly supported the rules-based multilateral system, and upheld the critical role of diplomacy in solving problems on the global commons."

It added that Singapore will continue contributing to the global effort to address climate change.

"We believe that a global approach towards dealing with climate change is the best chance the international community has at effectively addressing its effects. We remain committed to undertaking the measures needed to achieve our Paris pledge, including implementing a carbon tax from 2019."

Singapore had previously stated in its Nationally Determined Contribution that it aims to reduce its emissions intensity by 36 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, and to stabilise its emissions with the aim of peaking around 2030.

MOVE AHEAD WITH CLEAN ENERGY PLANS: SEC

The Singapore Environment Council (SEC) said in a separate statement on Friday that the decision taken by the US to withdraw from the Paris Agreement would not stop Singapore taking action against climate change. SEC chairman Isabella Loh urged the country to move ahead with its plans to create a sustainable energy future based on more energy-efficient industries and the development of clean energy technologies.

Ms Loh pointed out that the Singapore Government had announced it would put a price on carbon to tackle emission intensity, which she said is "the most efficient and cost-effective way for Singapore to meet our obligations" under the global accord sealed in 2015.

“The key to the success of the Paris Agreement is for individual countries to implement policies that will achieve their nation’s targets. Three quarters of the world’s nations have ratified the agreement, including China and India,” she said.
Source: CNA/kk

US withdrawal from Paris Agreement 'a great pity': Vivian Balakrishnan
Channel NewsAsia 2 Jun 17;

SINGAPORE: America's withdrawal from the Paris climate deal is "a great pity", Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan said on Friday (Jun 2).

"A great pity. China and the USA worked so well to help achieve global consensus on climate change - a real and present danger for our collective future," wrote Dr Balakrishnan in a Facebook post.

Posting a photo of himself posing with Chinese envoy Xie Zhenhua and US envoy Todd Stern on the night the Paris Agreement was settled, he wrote that the participants had been "exhausted, but happy and proud" on the night.

Singapore reaffirmed its commitment to the Paris Agreement on Friday and its pledge to reduce emissions intensity and to stabilise emissions.

US President Donald Trump on Thursday announced America's withdrawal from the Paris climate deal, saying that the United States would abandon the current deal but was open to a new one.

The Paris Agreement commits signatories to efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. Signatories vowed to keep the global rise in temperatures to well below 2°C from pre-industrial times and to "pursue efforts" to hold the increase under 1.5°C.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli also expressed his disappointment at Washington's withdrawal from the pact.

"Nonetheless, I am heartened that many world leaders, as well as leaders of the business community have come out to express their continued commitment to the Paris pledge," he said in a Facebook post.

He added that Singapore also recognises it has to play a part in mitigating climate change.

"Singapore is no exception. Whilst we are a small nation, we recognise that we have a key role to play in mitigating climate change, and will continue in our efforts to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint."

Everyone can do more to make lifestyle changes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Mr Masagos said: "Small steps like using less plastic bags, reducing food waste and conserving water goes a long way".


With US out of climate pact, others have to do more with less: DPM Teo
NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 6 Jun 17;

SINGAPORE — With the United States pulling out of the global Paris climate agreement and stopping contributions to a climate change fund, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said yesterday he hopes that international cooperation on this front will continue.

On its part, the Republic will continue training overseas officials in key areas such as sustainable urban and water management because “that’s the area (in which) Singapore thinks it can make the biggest contribution”.

The Republic benefited most from the knowledge of other countries when it became independent from Britain and, later, Malaysia, said Mr Teo, who was speaking at Temasek Holdings’ annual sustainability conference.

In support of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Singapore has trained more than 112,000 officials from over 170 developing countries, and will continue to do so, Mr Teo added.

During a question-and-answer session after his speech outlining Singapore’s efforts in sustainability, Mr Teo was asked by the moderator, Professor Chan Heng Chee, what he thought would be the consequences of the US pulling out of the Paris Agreement.

In response, Mr Teo noted that the accord — ratified by 147 countries so far — is operative even without the US, which contributes about 18 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The US was a significant contributor to the Green Climate Fund, which is used by developing nations to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

“It remains to be seen how the books will be balanced in terms of contributions”, he said. “I think in the end, we may have to do more with less, and that’s part of being sustainable too.” The “big story” however, is how the economics of generating electricity is driving towards natural gas and renewables, he added. The cost of generating electricity from renewable energy or shale gas in the US is now lower than coal, he noted.

Singapore remains committed to the Paris Agreement but it is not a contributor to the Green Climate Fund.

Mr Teo was also asked by Professor David King — the United Kingdom’s former permanent Special Representative for Climate Change — if Singapore would chip in for the fund, which was established under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Governments of 43 countries, including Sweden, Norway, the United Kingdom and Japan, have pledged US$10.3 billion (S$14.2 billion) to the fund. The US has contributed US$1 billion out of a US$3 billion pledge.

Mr Teo said there was a wider debate — on common but differentiated responsibilities of developed and developing countries — going on, than “whose pockets and which pockets seem to have coins jingling in them and can be drawn upon”.

He noted that newly developed and developing economies “quite correctly” say that global warming is because of the carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere, and they argue that developed countries thus have a greater responsibility to deal with the problem.

“And one of the reasons why there’s this Green Climate Fund ... because that’s a way to bring on board developing countries, allow them to develop in a way which the developed countries did not, in a much greener way, without putting out so much carbon-dioxide into the atmosphere,” Mr Teo said.

“The developed countries would, in a sense, make up for the current stock of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by making contributions to the Green Climate Fund. And that was part of the balance and part of the equation in arriving at the Paris agreement to bring everyone on board.”


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The ST Guide To... Singapore's rarest plants and animals

Audrey Tan Straits Times 2 Jun 17;

What is your first reaction when you hear of a "wild" Singapore?

Many may find it hard to believe that this built-up city teems with all sorts of plants and animals - but it does.

Even the mythical god of the sea has given his stamp of approval to this little red dot. The Neptune's cup sponge, a sea creature shaped like a large goblet, was first re-discovered in Singapore waters in 2011, after it was thought to be globally extinct.

There are plenty of other creatures worth celebrating, as the recent two-day Festival of Biodiversity organised by the National Parks Board (NParks) proved.

Now, some of these creatures may be shy and it is not always easy to spot them even when on trips to the Republic's nature reserves - the last bastions of wilderness in Singapore, where rare wildlife thrive.

Learn more about Singapore's natural gems with this guide to some of the most elusive denizens of the Republic's nature areas.

NEW DISCOVERIES

The rare Tyrannomyrmex rex ant, named after the carnivorous dinosaur Tyrannosaurus rex. PHOTO: GORDON YONG
The extinct, fearsome dinosaur, Tyrannosaurus rex, lives on in Singapore's forests, but in the most unlikely of forms.

An extremely rare ant called the Tyrannomyrmex rex was observed alive for the first time in the forests of Mandai, by entomologists Mark Wong and Gordon Yong.

It was named for its resemblance to the dinosaur, as the mandibles near its mouth reminded the scientist who first discovered it of the stubby arms of Tyrannosaurus rex and other carnivorous dinosaurs.

However, no one had ever observed a T. rex ant alive for an extended period of time - until Mr Wong and Mr Yong's discovery.

The duo found that the ants did not live up to the reputation of their namesake. In fact, the insects often froze up and ran away when other organisms came close, the National Geographic reported.

Singapore's forests are so rich and dense, that it is not just tiny creatures that slip under the radar.

Within the last decade, five critically endangered Hopea sangal trees, all believed to be more than a century old, were found in the Bukit Timah and Central Catchment Nature Reserves.
This is good news, considering that the last Hopea sangal tree in Singapore in Changi was believed to have been illegally felled in 2002.

NParks has been working over the years to help repopulate Singapore with this species, by nurturing seeds salvaged from the Hopea sangal in Changi into saplings in their nurseries. But the discovery of the five mature trees in the wild show there is plenty more to discover in Singapore's forests.

AN UNLIKELY HAVEN

Some animals that are threatened with extinction elsewhere in the world have also found a haven in Singapore.

The straw-headed bulbul, for example, is widely hunted in the region for its melodious song. It is listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List.

Recently, however, Nature Society (Singapore) bird group member Yong Ding Li found that the bird's numbers on Pulau Ubin have nearly doubled in 10 years. The Straits Times reported last December that Singapore is thought to have at least 200 straw-headed bulbuls - and counting.

Non-governmental organisation Traffic, which monitors the wildlife trade, said then that Singapore was "one of the few remaining strongholds for the species".

Pangolins too are hunted around the world for their scales, which are used in traditional medicine.

But the scaly mammals do not face as big a poaching threat in Singapore. Research is also ongoing here to help scientists learn more about these animals, so they can be better conserved.

There are eight species of pangolins found worldwide, and one of them, the Sunda pangolin, can be found in the wilderness here. It is estimated that there are more than 100 pangolins in Singapore.

NParks is working with the Wildlife Reserves Singapore, wildlife rescue group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society, as well as the National University of Singapore, on a project to track the dispersal movement, home ranges, and habitat selection of rescued and translocated Sunda pangolins in Singapore.

Such data will help with conservation strategies for this critically endangered animal, which people know very little about.

UNDERWATER TREASURE

The murky waters in Singapore also hide rich bounty, such as the Neptune's cup sponge.

Since the first sponge was rediscovered in 2011, more individuals have been uncovered. There are now five known Neptune's cup sponges in Singapore - not bad, for an animal that was a few years ago thought to be globally extinct.

And just earlier this week, a new species of bannerfish was found at the Sisters' Islands Marine Park - it is the first record of the yellow-and-black masked bannerfish in Singapore waters.

The crystal freshwater streams of Singapore's nature reserves are also full of life - some of which can be found only in Singapore.

The Johora singaporensis, one of three freshwater crab species found only in Singapore, in its natural habitat in a clear flowing forest stream. PHOTO: NATIONAL PARKS BOARD/DANIEL NG
The Johora singaporensis, the Singapore freshwater crab, is uniquely Singaporean and is not found anywhere else in the world. It is critically endangered, and has its very own national action plan of protection.

So even as we celebrate all things weird and wonderful, remember: they did not come easy. As Mr Desmond Lee, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Home Affairs and National Development, said during last week's Festival of Biodiversity: "While we marvel at our rich biodiversity, we cannot take it for granted. Conservation requires a long-term effort."


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Singapore team sheds light on tapping solar power

A 'wonder material' known as perovskite could help sunny Singapore tap more sunlight than it ever could before. Audrey Tan looks at ongoing research at the Nanyang Technological University on how this material could revolutionise the local solar industry.
Audrey Tan Straits Times 2 Jun 17;

Scientists are finding out that tandem solar cells, which combine conventional silicon with other material, may have improved efficiency over the conventional silicon cell.

Researchers at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the Singapore-Berkeley Research Initiative for Sustainable Energy are looking into tandem cells made by layering perovskite - a man-made substance - over silicon. They have shown that such cells have efficiencies of over 20 per cent.

In comparison, most silicon solar cells have efficiencies of between 17 per cent and 18 per cent, although more expensive models have recorded efficiencies of up to 25 per cent, said Professor Subodh Mhaisalkar, executive director of NTU's Energy Research Institute.

The efficiency of a solar cell is the proportion of energy from the sun that it turns into electricity.

But Professor Subodh said tandem cells, if used in combination with conventional silicon cells, for example, could achieve efficiencies exceeding 25 per cent in a solar module, or solar panel, which is made up of many connected cells.

The NTU-made tandem cell works by layering translucent perovskite over opaque silicon. Each layer captures a different "type", or colour, of light.

Light is electromagnetic radiation, some of which can be seen and some of which is invisible to the human eye. Infrared and ultraviolet radiation, for example, cannot be seen. They lie at either end of the visible spectrum of light.

Silicon solar cells are able to convert near-infrared light into electricity. But they are less efficient for visible and ultraviolet light.

Perovskite, on the other hand, is better at converting visible and ultra-violet light into electricity.

"So when light enters through the perovskite cell, the visible part of the solar spectrum is absorbed.

"The near-infrared light is then transmitted to the silicon cell where it is absorbed," said NTU Assistant Professor Nripan Mathews, one of the scientists doing perovskite research.

Over at the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (Smart), scientists are working on gallium arsenide-silicon tandem cells, which have recorded efficiencies of up to 25 per cent.

Gallium arsenide tandem cells are more expensive to make than perovskite ones, but the former also have higher efficiencies and are more stable for use on rooftops, said Professor Armin Aberle, chief executive of the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore. The institute is working with both NTU and Smart on tandem cell research.

Prof Aberle said tandem cells could provide more solar power per rooftop, helping land-scarce Singapore harvest more solar energy than with standard silicon panels.

He added: "The question is when inexpensive high-efficiency tandem solar panels will be commercially available... This technology still needs a lot of research and development in the laboratory until it can be commercialised."


Flexible solar panels could cover every surface here: Researchers
Audrey Tan Straits Times 2 Jun 17;

Singapore receives plenty of sunlight, but less than 2 per cent of its power supply comes from the sun.

A team of scientists at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) wants to increase this.

How? One way is to cover every available surface in Singapore with solar panels, from the roofs of bus stops, to sloping building facades, and perhaps even the billboards along Orchard Road.

Last week, the researchers showed The Straits Times a prototype of what a flexible solar panel could look like - a 30cm by 30cm plastic sheet with a material called perovskite printed on it.

Conventional silicon-made solar panels are brittle and inflexible. But it is a different story if they are made of this "wonder material", which the scientists believe could revolutionise the solar industry here.

Perovskite used in making solar cells are synthesised in laboratories from elements such as carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, lead and iodine. Like silicon, perovskite can convert sunlight into electricity.

But while silicon exists mainly as a breakable solid, perovskite can be printed onto plastic sheets - making flexible solar panels a possibility.

Various liquid chemicals, including the perovskite, are mixed together. The solution is then poured into a screen printer, such as those used in the T-shirt printing business, and printed onto sheets of plastic or glass.

Professor Subodh Mhaisalkar, executive director of NTU's Energy Research Institute, said glass-printed perovskite solar panels could become commercially available within the next three years.

As perovskite is translucent, and its colour can also be adjusted through chemical processes, such solar panels could be integrated into building facades.

This is not possible with current silicon-made solar panels, which are opaque and would block out light.

Prof Subodh is confident that new solar cell technologies, such as perovskite solar cells, could help the Republic tap more sunlight than ever before.

Perovskite panels allow sunlight to be harvested in places where solar energy cannot be tapped with silicon panels, such as on building facades and windows.

These perovskite panels would also be cheaper to produce, costing about three times less than conventional silicon cells, he said.

This is because perovskite can be printed onto large sheets of glass or plastic using printers similar to those used in the T-shirt printing business - doing away with the need for expensive materials and equipment required for manufacturing silicon solar cells.

The team also discovered that other than absorbing energy for conversion into electricity, perovskite nanoparticles can also emit light.

This allows for the potential application where a perovskite screen could function as both a display screen and solar panel, said the scientists.

The NTU team is working with scientists from the Singapore-Berkeley Research Initiative for Sustainable Energy on the perovskite research.

It also received funding from the National Research Foundation's Competitive Research Programme, which disburses funding of up to $10 million.

The National Research Foundation said: "Through the collaboration, we hope to achieve research and development breakthroughs that drive competitiveness of photovoltaic, which can in turn spur greater (solar) adoption in Singapore.

"This is key to achieving longer-term energy sustainability and security for Singapore."


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Three students recognised for environmental efforts

Camillia Deborah Dass Straits Times 2 Jun 17;

SINGAPORE - When she was just 17, Ms Kelsie Tan Kai Xian wrote a book that was put in national libraries islandwide and distributed as educational materials in schools.

The book, titled A Tale Of Two Cats, aimed at correcting the misconceptions people have about civet cats.

It was a project that was undertaken by Ms Tan, now 18, and two friends during their time in Raffles Institution and was fuelled by her passion to correct the misconceptions surrounding wildlife in Singapore.

On June 2 (Friday), the part time junior keeper at the Singapore Zoo was one of seven winners of the 2017 HSBC/National Youth Achievement Award (NYAA) Youth Environmental Award. There were three winners, while the remaining four were given merit awards.

The three winners will be joining a seven-day research expedition to Costa Rica to investigate how threats to bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds will affect the critical pollination services they provide. They will also be recieving $500 worth of book vouchers.

"This award has just boosted my confidence in myself so much. I'm from ITE and because of that, I've just always felt inadequate. I've never recived an award like this in my life and I'm so proud," said Ms Rachael Lum, 19.

Ms Lum, who grew up planting vegetables and flowers with her parents in little pots, wants to be an eco-architect in the future. She is currently pursuing a diploma in sustainable architecture design in Nanyang Polytechnic.

The HSBC/NYAA Environmental Award was established in 1998. Students are nominated by their schools and tertiary institutions. They will then have to undergo an interview before they are either selected or rejected. This year, there were 60 nominations.

Last year, the six winners of the award were taken on a nine-day research trip to Andorra Pyrenees. The students spent time monitoring insects and mice as well as identifying plant species.

"It is important for all the parties to come together and to lend their weight towards a sustainable environment," said Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources.

Mr Zulkifli was there to hand out citation plaques and book vouchers alongside Mr Tony Cripps, chief executive officer of HSBC Singapore.

Tthe students are excited about the July trip to Costa Rica. Ms Tan said: "I'm really looking forward it. I've heard so much about it on nature channels and I can't wait to see it myself."


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Malaysia, Johor: Retention ponds to be maintained to mitigate floods

NELSON BENJAMIN The Star 2 Jun 17;

JOHOR BARU: The Johor Baru City Council (MBJB) plans to carry out maintenance work in more than 100 retention ponds under its care, to help mitigate flash floods during downpours.

MBJB engineering department director Sulaiman Mohamad Taib said the ponds were usually covered with silt, rubbish and sand, which hampered their effectiveness during heavy rain.

He said Wednesday’s downpour caused flash floods in five areas including Jalan Maldrun, Jalan Rosmerah Utama, Jalan Bakawali in Taman Johor Jaya, Jalan Serampang in Taman Pelangi and Mount Austin.

“Flood waters rose to between 0.5m and 1m. However, it lasted for only 30 minutes but caused damage to vehicles,” he said during a visit to view two retention ponds in Taman Desa Tebrau, yesterday.

He added that MBJB allocated RM15mil annually to improve and maintain drainage within its jurisdiction.

Each retention pond is between 929 sq m to 40,000 sq m.

Meanwhile, Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin’s special aide for Chinese community affairs Tan Cher Puk said that Wednesday’s downpour caused huge losses for shops located along Jalan Rosmerah Utama.

“Losses are estimated to be more than RM100,000 in the flash floods that took place between 6.45pm and 7.10pm,” he said, adding that the Pasir Gudang MCA office was also affected with losses of more than RM10,000.

Tan was thankful there were no deaths or injuries as two people were trapped in their cars due to the rising flood waters, and strong currents that tossed vehicles around.

He added that the flood problem in Johor Jaya had been mitigated by building larger culverts under the Pasir Gudang highway in 2012.

“However, these culverts have become clogged with rubbish that need to be cleared,” he said.

Tan added that another reason for the Johor Jaya flash floods was due to problems with the two retention ponds in Taman Desa Tebrau, which were not functioning due to siltation, plants and sand.

“I thank MBJB for its prompt action and I am told it will spend RM50,000 for mitigation works,” said Tan.

Also present was MBJB councillor Tan Tuan Peng and other government officials.


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Best of our wild blogs: 2 Jun 17



Singapore got wild dolphins and dugongs too: May 2017 sightings
wild shores of singapore

Marvellous May at the Sisters Islands Marine Park
Sisters' Island Marine Park


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Paris climate deal: Trump pulls US out of 2015 accord

BBC 2 Jun 17;

President Donald Trump has announced that the US is withdrawing from the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

He said moves to negotiate a new "fair" deal that would not disadvantage US businesses and workers would begin.

Mr Trump said during last year's presidential election campaign that he would take the step to help his country's oil and coal industries.

Opponents say withdrawing from the accord is an abdication of US leadership on a key global challenge.

The Paris agreement commits the US and 187 other countries to keeping global temperatures rises "well below" 2C (3.6F) and "endeavour to limit" them even more, to 1.5C. Only Syria and Nicaragua did not sign up to the deal.

What did Trump say?

Speaking in the White House Rose Garden, Mr Trump characterised the Paris agreement as a deal that aimed to hobble, disadvantage and impoverish the US.

He claimed the agreement would cost the US $3tn in lost GDP and 6.5 million jobs - while rival economies like China and India were treated more favourably.

"In order to fulfil my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord... but begin negotiations to re-enter either the Paris accord or a really entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States," he said.

The speech contained several rhetorical flourishes reminiscent of his campaign speeches.

"We don't want other leaders and other countries laughing at us any more - and they won't be," he said.

"I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris. I promised I would exit or re-negotiate any deal which fails to serve America's interests. Many trade deals will soon be under re-negotiation."

The BBC's Rajini Vaidyanathan in Washington says the move will be welcomed by many Trump supporters, as for them this is less about science - and more about sending a signal to so-called global elites.

Analysts say the US withdrawal from the Paris agreement will make it more difficult for the world to reach the goals that it set for itself in the Paris agreement.

The US contributes about 15% of global emissions of carbon, but it is also a significant source of finance and technology for developing countries in their efforts to fight rising temperatures.

Mr Trump did not give a timescale for US withdrawal, but White House sources had earlier suggested it could take up to four years.

Former US President Barack Obama, who agreed to the Paris deal, immediately criticised the move, accusing the Trump administration of "rejecting the future".

Republican congressional leaders and the US coal industry backed the move, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell supporting Mr Trump "for dealing yet another significant blow to the Obama administration's assault on domestic energy production and jobs".

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called the decision "one of the worst policy moves made in the 21st Century because of the huge damage to our economy, our environment and our geopolitical standing".

The leaders of France, Germany and Italy issued a joint statement rejecting a renegotiation of the agreement.

"We deem the momentum generated in Paris in December 2015 irreversible and we firmly believe that the Paris agreement cannot be renegotiated, since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economies," it said.

Canada was "deeply disappointed" by President Trump's decision, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna told reporters.

This was echoed by UK Prime Minister Theresa May, who expressed her disappointment and told Mr Trump in a phone call that the deal protects the "prosperity and security of future generations".

Leaders of the Nordic nations - Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland - also condemned the move.

A United Nations spokeswoman said it was a "major disappointment for global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote global security".

Small island nations whose existence is threatened by rising sea levels were critical of the move. The President of the Marshall Islands, Hilda Heine, said it was "highly concerning for those of us that live on the frontline of climate change".

Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk confirmed that he was leaving his role as an adviser to the Trump administration in protest.

"Am departing presidential councils. Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world," he tweeted.

'Worse than expected'
By BBC environment correspondent Matt McGrath

President Trump's statement is a very clear repudiation of the Paris agreement and international efforts to fund climate mitigation and adaptation in poorer countries.

In many ways it is far worse than many had expected. He sees it as a clear job killer, as an economy strangler and a desperately unfair stitch-up by other countries wanting to take economic advantage of the US.

He spoke of being open to re-negotiating the deal or trying to build a new agreement - but the idea of "re-negotiation" is an unlikely scenario.

The scale of his opposition, seeing the deal as "a massive redistribution of US wealth to other countries" is a clear indication that he has fully bought into an economic nationalist and climate denier perspective.

The question of unfairness cropped up again and again, how the world's worst polluters, China and India, had "no meaningful obligations" placed on them by the deal.

The overall tone and content of his speech clearly plays to his base but is also a clear disavowal of multilateralism, especially on climate change, and will definitely push other countries more closely together on this issue.

What was agreed in Paris?

Climate change, or global warming, refers to the damaging effect of gases, or emissions, released from industry and agriculture on the atmosphere.

The Paris accord is meant to limit the global rise in temperature attributed to emissions.

Countries agreed to:

Keep global temperatures "well below" the level of 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrial times and "endeavour to limit" them even more, to 1.5C

Limit the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the same levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally, beginning at some point between 2050 and 2100

Review each country's contribution to cutting emissions every five years so they scale up to the challenge

Enable rich countries to help poorer nations by providing "climate finance" to adapt to climate change and switch to renewable energy


Climate: The Paris Agreement at a glance
Mariƫtte Le Roux AFP Yahoo News 2 Jun 17;

The 2015 Paris Agreement was the first pact to commit all nations to limiting global warming caused by emissions from burning coal, oil and gas

Paris (AFP) - The 2015 Paris Agreement, which the United States will quit according to President Donald Trump's announcement on Thursday, is the first pact to commit all nations to limiting global warming caused by emissions from burning coal, oil and gas.

Key facts about the pact:

- The climate club -

A total of 196 nations, including the Palestinian authorities, have endorsed the agreement and 147 have officially ratified it.

The accord entered into force in record time on November 4, 2016, when it crossed the threshold of 55 ratifying parties representing 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

China, the world's number one greenhouse gas polluter and Europe, number three after the US in second place, recommitted to the Paris Agreement Thursday.

The biggest polluter not to have ratified the deal is Russia (number five after India).

- Rules of engagement -

The agreement makes provision for parties to quit, but notice can be given only three years after its entry into force.

Withdrawal would take effect a year after that. But on Thursday, Trump said the US would "cease all implementation" of the accord "as of today."

A country can also withdraw from the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) under whose auspices the deal was negotiated. Withdrawal would take effect a year after notification, which can be given at any moment.

- The goal -

Nations agreed to hold global warming to "well below" two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-Industrial Revolution levels, and to strive for a lower limit of 1.5 degrees.

Experts say even the two-degree ceiling is a tall order, requiring an immediate and deep reduction in planet-warming emissions from fossil fuels -- an industry with major influence in Washington.

Signatories to the deal will aim for emissions to peak "as soon as possible". The UN's climate science panel recommends a 40-70-percent cut by 2050 from 2010 levels.

Based on voluntary pledges by countries so far, the planet is on track for warming of about three degrees, many scientists say -- a recipe for catastrophic floods, storms, drought and sea-level rise.

- Tracking progress -

In 2018, and every five years thereafter, countries will take stock of the overall impact of their efforts to rein in global warming.

Some nations, including the United States, set emissions-curbing targets for 2025, others for 2030. Both categories must be updated every five years starting 2020.

- Financing -

Rich countries are expected to provide funding to help developing countries make the costly shift to cleaner energy sources and to shore up defences against the impacts of climate change.

They have committed $100 billion (89 billion euros) per year by 2020.

But Trump on Thursday said that the United States, which pledged $3 billion towards the Green Climate Fund of which it delivered $1 billion under Obama, would not implement financial commitments or national emissions-curbing measures pledged under the pact.


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Sri Lanka deploys more troops as flood toll climbs to 180

The military said a lull in torrential monsoon rains allowed it to deploy aircraft, boats and ground troops to evacuate people from flooded areas, deliver essentials and recover bodies.
Channel NewsAsia 30 May 17;

KALUTARA, Sri Lanka: Thousands of Sri Lankan troops battled on Monday (May 29) to get relief supplies to over half a million people displaced by the island's worst flooding for 14 years, which has killed at least 180 people.

The military said a lull in torrential monsoon rains allowed it to deploy aircraft, boats and ground troops to evacuate people from flooded areas, deliver essentials and recover bodies.

Just over 550,000 people have had to abandon their homes due to the heavy rains, which have brought flooding and landslides to large parts of the island's southwest.

Sri Lanka is regularly hit by flooding at the start of the annual monsoon. But carpenter J. H. Siripala, who lives in one of the areas worst hit, said he had never seen it this bad.

"I have lived in this area for 27 years and we have gone through floods, but never experienced this much water," the 62-year told AFP in Kalutara district on the southwest coast as a navy boat carried him to safety.

"I thought it was my end," he said as he recalled how the water level suddenly rose on Sunday, covering his head, before he was pulled to safety.

Dhanushka Fernando said his house was under eight feet (2.5 metres) of water on Sunday. "We had floods in 2003 but not this much water," the 28-year-old told AFP.

In May 2003, 250 people were killed and 10,000 homes destroyed after a similarly powerful monsoon.

The official death toll rose to 180 on Monday after soldiers dug out the bodies of a woman and a child from under tonnes of mud following a landslide in Ratnapura, the island's gem capital.

The Disaster Management Centre said another 110 people were missing.

Just over 5,500 houses have suffered structural damage or been completely destroyed, according to official figures.

A Mi-17 transport helicopter crash landed Monday while trying to deliver food and other essentials to a marooned village in the southern area of Baddegama. But air force spokesman Gihan Seneviratne said there were no casualties.

INTERNATIONAL AID

Military spokesman Roshan Seneviratne said a let-up in the rains had allowed troops to access cut-off villages.

Sri Lanka has deployed 1,800 soldiers and 1,100 naval personnel to evacuate people and ferry food and other essentials to affected areas.

The paramilitary Civil Defence Force said it was deploying about 2,000 personnel while the police have sent their elite commandos to help.

The government said floodwaters were beginning to recede on Monday but some low-lying areas remained heavily inundated.

All schools in flood-hit areas, including the capital Colombo, will be closed for a week, it said.

As the rains eased in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and parts of India issued warnings over Cyclone Mora, which is expected to make landfall on Tuesday.

Bangladeshi authorities ordered all fishing crews to return to shore and advised people living in the southeastern area of Cox's Bazar to move to higher ground.

Sri Lanka has sought international assistance, with India sending two naval ships laden with supplies over the weekend. A third ship was expected this week, officials said.

The United Nations said it would donate water containers, water purification tablets and tarpaulins while the World Health Organization will support medical teams in affected areas.

Japan had promised portable generators and a team of experts to help with relief work.

Source: AFP/de

Sri Lanka tightens building laws as monsoon rain toll tops 200
Channel NewsAsia 31 May 17;

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka pledged on Wednesday (May 31) to tighten construction laws as the toll from heavy rains rose to 203, saying many landslide victims would have survived had their homes not been built on slopes.

The government will also prosecute anyone violating existing rules by building on landslide-prone slopes, said Disaster Management Minister Anura Yapa.

"If we don't stop this madness, we are going to end up with a bigger disaster very soon," he said, pledging to demolish all illegal structures including 10,000 in the capital alone.

"About 30 to 40 per cent of this disaster is due to illegal constructions," Yapa said. "The local councils should never have allowed homes to be built on (landslide-prone) mountain slopes."

More than 1,500 homes were destroyed and another 7,600 suffered structural damage in landslides triggered by heavy rain on Friday, according to the Disaster Management Centre (DMC).

As the official death toll rose to 203 with another 96 still missing, Yapa said residents in the worst-hit Ratnapura and Kalutara districts had ignored persistent warnings to evacuate.

"We have a cultural issue where people don't accept that they are at risk," Yapa said. "We are also considering laws to force people to leave when evacuation warnings are issued by the DMC."

The minister said decades of illegal construction had worsened the flooding by blocking drains and eliminating natural rainwater stores, including marshland.

More than 600,000 people remain temporarily homeless after the landslides and floods, the worst to hit the island in 14 years.

As the waters recede, hundreds of volunteers have begun work on cleaning wells to bring fresh water to survivors, officials said.

Government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said additional medical teams were also being deployed to prevent the spread of waterborne diseases.

Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake said 16 countries had rushed relief supplies and medicine to assist those driven from their homes following Friday's monsoon deluge.

"We also have a lot of enquiries from other countries and organisations wanting to know our immediate needs. We are moved by the spontaneous response," Karunanayake told reporters.

India and Pakistan also deployed medical teams on the ground in some of the worst-hit areas, he said.

The flooding is the worst since May 2003 when 250 people were killed and 10,000 homes destroyed after a similarly powerful monsoon, officials said.

Monsoon rains last year also caused flooding and landslides, killing more than 100 people.

Source: AFP/ec


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