We are all responsible for our planet

Arnoud De Meyer For The Straits Times 28 Nov 17;

Singapore can improve on its approach to use of plastic bags, recycling waste and sustainability.
Two rather alarming reports were published earlier this month about the state of our planet.

The United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that the average temperature on earth is rising faster than expected, and that the consequences are unpredictable, given the non-linear nature of the effects of warming. Separately, a group of United States agencies released a report saying that global warming is real and the consequence of human activities.

The concerned citizen and scientist in me wondered what we can do about it. The first reaction is, of course, to look at the government and wait for its actions. But the point I want to make today is that we all can take action.

I was reminded of a conversation I had a few months ago with a group of European exchange students at the Singapore Management University (SMU). I asked them about their experiences at the university and here in Singapore.

As usual, I received quite a few positive comments about the country. I thus challenged them to name one thing that Singapore could do better in. I was surprised when one of them blurted: "This country still lives in the 20th century when it comes to selective waste collection and sustainability". To prove his point, he added: "You know, they still use styrofoam here; and you get plastic bags in the supermarkets!"

It is true that in most European countries, styrofoam packaging is being phased out and plastic bags are hardly available in supermarkets. If you want to get such bags, you have to pay a rather hefty sum. Most of his friends voiced support for his observation.

I was heartened to some extent when they said that at least at SMU, there was a possibility for selective waste collection and composting of food waste for use in SMU's garden.

I countered their assertion by pointing out that the National Environment Agency organises quite a number of campaigns, such as Keep Singapore Clean, Clean and Green Singapore, and Energy Efficient Singapore.

However, the exchange students felt that although the government agencies are taking action, citizens here are not very engaged when it comes to sustainability.

I do agree with them that we cannot leave the responsibility for sustainability to governments alone.

The issue is so overwhelming that all of us need to work together. Citizens and businesses need to take on more responsibility and be more proactive. We cannot have a short-term egocentric view, but have to take it upon ourselves to ensure the long-term viability of our planet for the coming generations.

We all need to decide together how we want to live together tomorrow, and that will require action today. We cannot keep kicking the can forward when it comes to actions to preserve our environment!

It sounds like an impossible task, but well-known development economist Jeffrey Sachs, who recently delivered a lecture at SMU, pointed out that it is still possible to reverse the global warming trend.

He argued that we have to make a few very challenging transitions: a demographic transition to limit the growth of the world population, an energy transition away from carbon-based fuels, an ecological transition so that we grow our food without exhausting our natural environment, and a governance transition so that long-term objectives take priority over short-term purely financial objectives. He also pointed out the key word is collaboration: between governments, but also between the government, business and civic society.

In September, we had also welcomed the former prime minister of the Netherlands, Mr Jan Balkenende, as a speaker at SMU. He was here in his role as chairman of the Dutch Sustainable Growth Coalition. This is a group comprising well-known Dutch companies such as AkzoNobel, DSM, Heineken, KLM, Philips, Shell and Unilever.

These multinationals share the conviction that long-term financial and economic value and success are inextricably linked to minimised environmental impact, social progress and inclusiveness. They go beyond this conviction and carry out studies, report on their actions and initiatives, and take the lead to provide governments with advice on how to push the sustainability agenda.


They realise that they cannot act alone, because doing so would put them in a very unfavourable competitive position; but by acting together, they can engage in pre-competitive collaboration and undertake effective dialogue with stakeholders.

Why should companies take such a proactive role? Perhaps because sustainability is a good business driver: It helps them to build their reputation and it may create new profitable business models. But there is more.

Governments have a limited geographical reach. We may work hard on preserving our environment here in Singapore, but that will have little effect if similar actions are not taken by our neighbouring countries. Multilateral governmental initiatives are of course the solution, but agreeing on these initiatives takes much time and effort, and the implementation is always a big challenge.

Companies, on the other hand, are in a very different position. Their supply chains stretch over many countries, and they often have a deep understanding of all the externalities that our consumption here in Singapore creates.

The products in our supermarkets may look sustainable, but how much water had to be used to raise the shrimp or fish in Vietnam or Indonesia? How much carbon dioxide was produced to transport the fruits and vegetables from South Africa or New Zealand to Singapore?

Companies have much better insights into how much the real cost of producing such goods has been shifted to others or to future generations. They are certainly well-placed to take action to reduce the unwanted externalities.

But will they do so? The evidence suggests that it is not impossible. Under public pressure and scrutiny, they have for example, limited child labour in the textile industry and reduced slash-and-burn practices to create oil palm plantations.

Companies such as Heineken that produce a lot of beer in Africa have invested in ensuring that more than 60 per cent of the agricultural materials that go into their beer are locally sourced.

Companies could also create a circular economy where materials are re-used as much as possible. This stands in contrast to the linear production and consumption model that is about "take resources, make products and dispose the used product".

We in Singapore can be rightly satisfied that we recycle more than 50 per cent of our waste, but we mainly burn it for energy production and dump the non-incinerable waste and incineration ash into the Semakau Landfill. It is a good step in the right direction, but we could do so much more, by re-using products and components.

This can be achieved only through long-lasting design for reuse, maintenance, repair, remanufacturing, refurbishing and recycling. These are tasks which companies need to assume leadership in, and they excel in that role.


Can we leave it all to the Government and companies? I am convinced individuals can also make a real contribution as citizens and consumers. There are at least three areas where each of us can make a difference: education for awareness, consumption choices and waste handling.

Let me return to my interaction with SMU's exchange students mentioned earlier. When they expressed their surprise about the continued use of styrofoam packaging and plastic bags in the supermarkets, one should not assume that they have a natural inclination for sustainability. It is just that they are used to it. They were raised in an environment where selective waste collection is widely practised.

In northern European cities, families often have up to 11 containers for different types of waste. These students know they have to bring bags to the supermarket or have to pay for them. And they have been made aware of the impact of plastic on the environment.

Many of them know the mantra: It takes one second to produce a plastic bag, about 20 minutes to use it, and perhaps decades if not centuries to get it out of the environment. It is all about education. Not the type of education in universities or schools, but the one at home, in the family where they can see and emulate role models of sustainability in action.

As consumers, we also have a very important role to play. Through our choices, we provide a signal to the suppliers of what we want. Do we really need that fruit or vegetable that has travelled thousands of kilometres, when similar food is available from our neighbours? Do we make careful use of all that we buy? Sometimes we don't have all the information but there are certain kinds of certification by independent organisations that can help. Let's be open to such information.

Finally, what do we do with products when they have been used? Do we simply throw them away, or do we ask ourselves whether they can be recycled or be used by others?

The selective collection of waste in Europe has resulted in a reduction of the total amount of waste per family per year. Many families have used food waste to produce compost, either individually per house, but often collectively with neighbours in the building. Clothes or small electronic products are now far more often sold through second-hand shops.

Let's not rely on governments alone to take action. We should all take charge of our planet, and to paraphrase President Emmanuel Macron of France, let's all work together to make this planet great again. All of us can contribute to that goal!

The writer is president of Singapore Management University.

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Wilmar becomes first palm oil company to link bank loan to sustainability performance

TAN WEIZHEN Today Online 27 Nov 17;

SINGAPORE — Wilmar International has become the first company in Asia as well as in the palm oil industry to take a loan with interest rate pegged to its sustainability efforts.

If the performance milestones are met, ING bank will reduce its interest rate for part of the loan in the following year, a joint press statement by Wilmar and ING said on Monday (Nov 27). When contacted, a Wilmar spokesman declined to disclose how much this amounts to.

The statement said that Wilmar has partnered with ING to convert a portion of its revolving credit facility of US$150 million into the “sustainability performance-linked loan”.

Wilmar’s performance will be tracked by Sustainalytics - a company that does sustainability and governance rankings and research - based on environmental, social and governance indicators.

Mr Ho Kiam Kong, Chief Financial Officer at Wilmar, said: “We believe that incorporating sustainability metrics into every aspect of our business, from daily operations to corporate financing, is key to creating value for our stakeholders.”

The statement said “the concept for this sustainability loan heralds a new approach for the green loans industry by encompassing not just environmental, but also social and governance aspects”.

Since March, ING has offered eight clients such loans. These include businesses in health technology, food and beverage, as well as the gas and electricity industries.

While loans linked to sustainability performance are relatively new, other forms of sustainability-related financing have been around for a while. For example, banks have issued green bonds which finance eligible businesses that contribute to a low-carbon and sustainable economy. According to the International Chamber of Commerce, green bond issuance nearly doubled to US$95.6 billion last year

Earlier this year, the Singapore Institute of International Affairs said it was looking at developing a set of recommendations for banks and financial institutions to adopt sustainable financing. This includes getting lenders to conduct more thorough screening of firms and their sustainable practices before issuing loans. Some of the recommendations could include better financing companies which are engaged in sustainable practices through green bonds or other incentives.

The Association of Banks in Singapore has also begun reaching out to banks to help them understand the issue, such as how they can screen companies before issuing loans.

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Malaysia: AG report - Land encroachment polluted dams

The Star 28 Nov 17;

MELAKA: Raw water supply in Melaka dams, especially in the Durian Tunggal Dam in Alor Gajah and Jus Dam in Jasin, were found to have been polluted as a result of land encroachment activities.

The Auditor-General’s Report 2016 (Series 2) said there were 721 violations of raw water quality regulations reported at nine water treatment plants between 2014 and 2016.

Chemical fertiliser, sand mining, catfish farming and rubber and oil palm plantation activities were identified as the main contributors of the pollution.

“If those activities were left uncontrolled, the functions of raw water in catchment areas will be jeopardised, causing deterioration in the environment,” said the report, which was released yesterday.

The report proposed that the state Water Regulatory Body does a detailed study on the quantity, quality and alternative sources of raw water to ensure optimum and sufficient supply, and also carries out monitoring and enforcement activities in dam areas to prevent further pollution. — Bernama

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Malaysia: Floods force almost 1,000 people in Terengganu from their homes

Bernama New Straits Times 28 Nov 17;

KUALA TERENGGANU: Floods which hit Terengganu following three days of heavy rain have sent 936 people from 308 families to 32 evacuation centres in five districts.

According to the State Disaster Management Committee secretariat, the Hulu Terengganu district is the worst-affected, with 515 people at 20 relief centres.

Setiu has 185 people at five relief centres; Dungun has 138 people at four centres; Marang has 59 people at two centres; and Besut has 39 people at one centre, it said.

The publicinfobanjir.water.gov.my website stated that as of 8am, several rivers in the state have breached their danger levels.

Sungai Telemong in Kuala Ping, Hulu Terengganu is at 20 metres; Sungai Nerus in Langkap, Setiu is at 22.12 metres; and Sungai Marang at the Pengkalan Berangan Bridge, Marang is at 3 metres.

The situation is expected to worsen as downpours are forecasted in several areas today. -- Bernama

Kelantan floods worsen; 1,563 people evacuated to relief shelters
Sharifah Mahsinah Abdullah New Straits Times 28 Nov 17;

KOTA BARU: The flooding situation in Kelantan which began on Saturday has worsened, with evacuees recorded at 1,563 as of this morning.

According to the state’s flood portal, the victims, from 436 families, are taking shelter at 28 relief centres in the districts of Pasir Mas, Pasir Putih, Bachok, Tanah Merah, Machang, Kuala Krai and Kota Baru.

Meanwhile, four rivers in the state have risen to their warning level, while another has breached its danger mark as of 7am.

Sungai Golok in Rantau Panjang is continuing to rise, having breached its danger level following non-stop rain since Saturday.

It was recorded at 10.06m as of 7am, which is 1.06m above its danger level.

Other rivers which are above their warning marks are Sungai Galas in Dabong, which is at 35.05m (its warning level is 35m); Sungai Lebir in Tualang at 32.36m (warning level: 31m); Krai Steps at 23.05m (warning level: 22.50m) and Jenob at 22.57m (warning level: 22.50m).

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Greenpeace slams Indonesia palm oil industry on deforestation

AFP 27 Nov 17;

`Greenpeace slammed Indonesia's palm oil industry Monday for failing to live up to a pledge to halt deforestation, as the lucrative sector faces possible restrictions in Europe over environmental concerns.

Palm oil is used in everything from soap to frozen pizza, but a consumer backlash has forced dozens of the world’s largest food and drink manufacturers to address its ecological impact.

Vast swathes of rainforest are destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations, threatening endangered species and pushing indigenous people off their lands.

International corporations, including Unilever, Kellogg and Mondelez, have pledged to adopt environmentally friendly supply chains by 2020.

But Greenpeace said in a report published on Monday that large palm oil traders are failing on that commitment.

The environmental group found that most of the 11 major traders operating in Indonesia did not have strict systems to monitor the origin of their goods and were not calling out non-compliant producers.

"Broadly, the palm oil industry has agreed to end deforestation. The issue -- and it is a critical one -- is only two of the 11 (traders) we looked at was actually able to say when they are going to end deforestation," Richard George, a UK-based forest campaigner at Greenpeace, told AFP.

None of the firms contacted by AFP replied to requests for comment on the report.

The Greenpeace report comes against the backdrop of mounting concerns about palm oil's environmental impact.

The European Union, the world's second largest consumer after India, passed a resolution in April calling for tougher environmental standards for palm oil linked to deforestation.

Indonesia and Malaysia -- the world’s two largest producers -- have been lobbying against the resolution.

Both countries have slammed possible EU import restrictions as unfair, and a move that would harm millions of mostly small-scale farmers.

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Indonesia: Government initiates rejuvenation program for North Sumatra's palm oil plantations

Antara 27 Nov 17;

Serdang Bedagai, N Sumatra (ANTARA News) - The government has initiated a program to rejuvenate palm oil plantations in North Sumatra spread across 9,109.29 hectares in 12 districts.

Serdang Bedagai, Langkat, South Labuhan Batu, Labuhan Batu, Asahan, Batubara, Simalungun, North Labuhan Batu, North Padan Lawas, Padang Lawas, Deli Serdang, and Central Tapanuli are the districts outlined for the implementation of the program.

"The province has a total of 470 thousand hectares of palm oil plantations, of which at least 350 thousand hectares need to be rejuvenated. Despite the wide area, we should rejuvenate the trees to increase their productivity," President Joko Widodo noted in his speech in Dolok Masihul Sub-district of Serdang Bedagai District, North Sumatra, on Monday.

Widodo said the trees aged between 25 and 30 years were not productive and should be rejuvenated.

The government, through the People`s Palm Oil Replanting Program, is providing funds to farmers to conduct replanting activities in their palm oil plantations.

"Palm oil is the green gold of our country, as Indonesia is one of the biggest producers of palm oil not only in Asia or South Asia but also globally," the president noted.

He said Indonesia also produces raw materials needed to manufacture soaps, cosmetics, margarine, cooking oil, and pharmaceuticals.

Palm oil is also one of the raw materials for producing biodiesel fuel used in vehicles.

Widodo remarked that Indonesia is aiming to become the producer of palm oil derivative products.

"The industrial management of palm oil should be improved. We should boost ways to manage, preserve, and replant the fields," Widodo noted.

Besides this, the government had rejuvenated palm oil fields in South Sumatra Province that are located in Musi Banyuasin District, spanning 4,100 hectares, in last October.

The total area of palm oil plantations in Indonesia reaches 11.9 million hectares, of which at least 4.6 million hectares belong to the private sector.

Palm oil trees to be rejuvenated are aged over 25 years and produce less than 10 tons of palm oil fruits per year.

Reported by Desca Lidya N
Editor: Heru Purwanto

President plants palm tree for North Sumatra`s rejuvenation program
Antara 27 Nov 17;

Serdang Bedagai, N Sumatra (ANTARA News) - President Joko Widodo symbolically planted a palm oil tree in Kota Tengah Village, North Sumatra, Monday, to launch a government program to rejuvenate palm oil plantations of smallholders in the province.

Palm oil is the green gold of Indonesia, as it offers several benefits to improve the living standards of the Indonesian people, particularly those engaged in palm oil plantations, the president told palm oil growers attending the function.

Indonesia is the world`s largest palm oil producer, he said, adding that palm oil can be used as a raw material to produce soaps, cooking oil, and various products that will have a positive impact on the country`s foreign exchange earnings.

"Until now, palm oil has also been used as a raw material to produce biodiesel," he said.

To participate in the palm oil replanting program, farmers are required to hold land certificates. This means the farmers on whose lands palm oil trees will be planted must hold a certificate, he explained.

To this end, the government has helped palm oil growers secure land certificates without wasting time, he said.

By holding land certificates, palm oil growers will be able to cultivate their land, he said.

Indonesia is now listed as the world`s largest producer of crude palm oil (CPO) and along with Malaysia contributes some 85 percent of the global CPO production. In 2015, Indonesia and Malaysia had each produced 31.28 million tons and 21 million tons of CPO.

Based on the 2010 roadmap for the development of the downstream palm oil industry, Indonesia`s CPO output is projected to reach 40 million tons in 2020. In line with the roadmap, the country`s CPO production is expected to increase by an average of 6.8 percent per year.

To maintain its status as the world`s largest CPO producer, Indonesia needs to expand its palm oil plantations, and above all, rejuvenate its old palm plantations.

Editor: Heru Purwanto

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India: 53 students selected for dugong scholarship

The Hindu 27 Nov 17;

The Wildlife Institute of India (WII), which has launched ‘Dugong recovery project’ in coordination with the State Fisheries department and introduced ‘dugong scholarship’ programme to elicit the support of the fisherfolk, has selected 53 students – wards of fishermen for a monthly scholarship of Rs. 500 each.

The WII, which was making collective efforts for the implementation of the project and the conservation of dugongs in Gulf of Mannar, has shortlisted the students after conducting written examinations in Ramanatahpuram, Pudukottai and Thanjavur districts in June – July, K. Sivakumar, Scientist, WII, and project inspector, said.

The scholarship programme was aimed at getting the support of the fishing community, which was one of the main objectives of this project, he said. The selected students would be given the scholarship for two years with effect from June this year, he said. In all, 779 students had appeared for the examination — 316 from class XI and 463 from class IX from 20 different schools from the three coastal districts, PVR Prem Jothi, Marine Biologist, WII, said.

The top 14 students were felicitated by P.C. Tyagi, Principal, Chief Conservator of Forest.

The toppers were facilitated at the International Consultative Workshop conducted by WII and UNESCO on “Pilot Testing of Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE) Framework for Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) including Coastal and Marine World Heritage Sites of India”, held at Thoothukudi recently.

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