Best of our wild blogs: 19 Jan 18

Singapore is Shorebird Central
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

"Seas the Day!" by Joseph Lai
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

24 Jan 2018 – INSIGHT Dialogue: The Flipside of Clean Energy
Green Drinks Singapore

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Longer cool spell a sign of changing weather

Straits Times 19 Jan 18;

The cool spell that enveloped Singapore last week was the longest in at least a decade, according to records of the Meteorological Services Singapore (MSS).

Temperatures fell below 24 deg C for five days, from Wednesday to Sunday, because of a monsoon surge that typically would last two to three days.

Coupled with rain, it led many people to don winter wear.

Such extreme weather could happen more often owing to climate change, the MSS spokesman said.

Projections for 2100, made by MSS' Centre for Climate Research Singapore, show that more rain could be produced from the cold surge usually experienced during the current monsoon season.

"This indicates a possibility of more intense surges with higher risk of extreme weather," said its spokesman said.

Five-day cool spell was Singapore's longest in a decade
Audrey Tan Straits Times 18 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE - Last week's cool spell was the longest in the Republic for at least a decade, weather experts said on Thursday (Jan 18).

"In the last 10 years, there was no cold spell of five days or more with minimum temperatures between 21 deg C and 22 deg C," the Meteorological Services Singapore (MSS) told The Straits Times.

"Over this period, most monsoon surges that affect Singapore are of short duration lasting two to three days."

The five days of cool weather, which lasted from Wednesday to Sunday, delighted many locals and was a result of a monsoon surge.

Monsoon surges, which are common from December to March, are sudden increases in wind speed, which bring in cool air from the winter chill in the northern hemisphere.

As this cold air moves south, it warms and gathers moisture, resulting in rain over the equatorial region, including in Singapore.

Last week's surge led to five days of cool but rainy weather, leading some people to break out their winter wear and spurring heart-warming acts of kindness. Restaurant owner Francis Ng, 44, for example, bought blankets to distribute to seniors who sleep on the streets.

Satellite images showed that wind speeds picked up significantly last Wednesday as temperatures in Singapore fell to 22.8 deg C. The surge continued until Sunday, when temperatures in Jurong West and Admiralty dropped to a low of 21.2 deg C - the lowest temperature recorded in Singapore since 2016.

The mean daily temperature range for January is between 24 deg C and 30 deg C, according to the Met Station's long-term climate records dating from 1982.

Such cool spells could become more frequent due to climate change, the MSS spokesman said. Projections for 2100 made by MSS' Centre for Climate Research Singapore show that there could be more rain from cold surges during the north-east monsoon season.

What is a monsoon surge?

"This indicates a possibility of more intense surges with higher risk of extreme weather," the spokesman added.

Experts have warned that more extreme weather is on the cards for Singapore as the world warms. This includes heatwaves, prolonged dry spells and periods of more intense rainfall.

There are already tell-tale signs of this, apparent in MSS' report of the weather and climate in 2017 released last Thursday.

Singapore broke another temperature record last year, with a mean annual temperature of 27.7 deg C. This made 2017 the warmest year on record that was not influenced by El Nino - a weather phenomenon associated with hot and dry weather in this part of the world.

While the mean annual temperature in 2017 was lower than the 28.4 deg C in 2016, and 28.3 deg C in 2015, those two years were influenced by El Nino.

Very warm days were also experienced in Singapore last year despite it not being an El Nino year, with the normally cool months of January and December also seeing warmer than usual temperatures on some days, the MSS said.

Heavy rain from intense thunderstorms caused flash floods and fallen trees. A waterspout - associated with thunderstorm clouds - was also observed off Singapore's southern coast last June. February, usually a dry season, saw twice the amount of rain compared with the long-term average.

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Singapore Airlines among least fuel-efficient airlines flying across the Pacific

Channel NewsAsia 19 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE: Singapore Airlines performs below the industry average for the amount of carbon dioxide per passenger-kilometre it emits, according to an analysis of 20 major airlines operating nonstop passenger flights across the pacific.

The Transpacific Airline Fuel Efficiency Ranking by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) - the group that exposed the Volkswagen emissions scandal in 2014 - modelled fuel burn for the airlines using flight schedule and detailed operational data in 2016.

Singapore Airlines had an average fuel efficiency of 30 passenger-kilometres per litre of fuel (pax-km/L), below the industry average of 31 pax-km/L.

Of the 20 airlines analysed, 12 had a fuel efficiency above the industry average. Singapore Airlines' score, which was the same as four of the other airlines, was the fourth-lowest in the analysis.

The Los Angeles-Tokyo route was the most competitive of those analysed, with six airlines completing 6,604 flights between the two cities. On that route Singapore Airlines had the worst fuel efficiency "by a large margin", while United had the best.

Using the Airbus A380 on two-thirds of its flights, it had an average fuel efficiency of 26 pax-km/L, compared to United Airlines' 43 pax-km/L.

The national carrier uses Airbus A350-900, A380-800 and Boeing 777-300ER aircraft on its flights to Los Angeles and San Francisco, the ICCT noted in the report released on Tuesday (Jan 16).

The A380, configured with either 379 or 441 seats, was the least fuel-efficient aircraft in its fleet, with an average of 304 passengers per flight. If an additional 50 passengers flew on each A380 flight, then the aircraft’s fuel efficiency metric would increase from 24 to 27 pax-km/L, ICCT said.

The same fleet fuel efficiency metric of 30 pax-km/L could be achieved by loading an additional 1,000kg of freight or 10 passengers to all flights, it added.

Hainan Airlines and All Nippon Airways (ANA) were the most fuel-efficient among the 20 airlines, with both achieving an average fuel-efficiency of 36 pax-km/L.

Their strategies for being more fuel efficient were very different, according to the ICCT white paper. Hainan’s efficiency rating mostly reflected its very "advanced fleet", with most of its travel in the region aboard the Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft.

ANA, in contrast, operated aircraft with higher fuel burn but carried a heavier load on its flights, especially cargo. ANA carried about three times as much cargo in its baggage hold per passenger as Hainan, equaling 48 per cent of the flights' payload.

Australian flag carrier Qantas was the worst airline for fuel efficiency, at 22 pax-km/L. It operated the most fuel-intensive aircraft at very low load factors for both passengers and freight, according to ICCT.

Source: CNA/mz

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Biodiversity conservation should be a core value of China's 'Belt and Road Initiative'

Lindsay Brooke, University of Nottingham 18 Jan 18;

Environment and conservation experts from the University of Nottingham Malaysia (UNMC) and the University of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC) are challenging decision-makers, infrastructure planners and conservationists to work together to mitigate the negative impacts of China's "Belt and Road Initiative' (BRI) and look for opportunities for biodiversity conservation.

The correspondence—"Biodiversity conservation needs to be a core value of China's "Belt and Road Initiative"—has been published in the academic journal Nature Ecology and Evolution. It is authored by Dr. Alex Lechner and Dr. Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz from the School of Environmental and Geographical Sciences at UNMC (both are members of the Mindset Interdisciplinary Centre for Environmental Studies at UNMC) and Dr. Faith Ka Shun Chan from the School of Geographical Sciences, the co-leader ofthe Belt and Road Initiative Research Priorities Area, Institute of Asia Pacific Studies (IAPS) at UNNC.

The article highlights what the authors describe as the potentially disastrous consequences for biodiversity and calls for BRI to put biodiversity conservation at the heart of its core values—not as an after-thought. The authors suggest that BRI could, for instance, implement a network of protected areas and wildlife corridors across Eurasia.

With an estimated cost of over four trillion US dollars, BRI will connect roughly half of the world's population across over 65 countries. Although much has been discussed about its economic and geopolitical implications the research team warns that critical implications for biodiversity need to be considered, especially in Asia.

Biodiversity in the Anthropocene

The Anthropocene denotes the current geological age, which is viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment. Infrastructure and its impacts, such as disruption of ecological connectivity, are key drivers of biodiversity loss in the Anthropocene.

This article tracks the path BRI will take across a number of the world's terrestrial and marine biodiversity hotspots, wilderness areas and other key conservation areas—such as Southeast Asia's Coral Triangle, often described as the Amazon of the ocean.

Potential threats to biodiversity

The authors list the potential threats to biodiversity. Roads, they say, create habitat loss and fragmentation and encourage invasive species and illegal activities such as poaching and logging.

Increased sea traffic exacerbates the movement of invasive species and pollution.

Poorly planned infrastructure risks locking in undesirable environmental practices for decades to come.

Potential opportunity for biodiversity

There is, the authors say, a potential opportunity for biodiversity. BRI could learn from, support and expand existing national initiatives in the region such as Bhutan For Life or Malaysia's Central Forest Spine, and promote transboundary conservation parks and transboundary conservation activities as an integral element of transboundary infrastructure projects.

The authors want BRI to follow best practice environmental planning to ensure no net loss of biodiversity and achieve a net gain in biodiversity that yield benefits to conservation which would not have otherwise occurred.

The vision, they say, proposed in this paper should be led by Chinese authorities and diplomacy but will require clear buy-in and involvement from other countries' governments and different sectors and stakeholders, including intergovernmental organizations such as UNDP, financiers, developers, and civil society. The research team has already submitted a joint grant to the Chinese Social Science Foundation (CSSF) with partners at University of Beijing to further look at the implications and crossboundary effects on natural environment by BRI.

Explore further: Conservation hindered by geographical mismatches between capacity and need

More information: Alex Mark Lechner et al. Biodiversity conservation should be a core value of China's Belt and Road Initiative, Nature Ecology & Evolution (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41559-017-0452-8

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2017 was the hottest year on record without El Niño boost

Data shows the year was also one of the hottest three ever recorded, with scientists warning that the ‘climate tide is rising fast’
Damian Carrington The Guardian 18 Jan 18;

2017 was the hottest year since global records began that was not given an additional boost by the natural climate cycle El Niño, according to new data. Even without an El Niño, the year was still exceptionally hot, being one of the top three ever recorded.

The three main global temperature records show the global surface temperature in 2017 was 1C above levels seen in pre-industrial times, with scientists certain that humanity’s fossil fuel-burning is to blame.

The data, published on Thursday, means the last three years have been the hottest trio ever seen, with 2017 ranking second or third depending on the small differences between the temperature records. Furthermore, 17 of the 18 hottest years recorded since 1850 have occurred since 2000.

2017 also saw extreme weather events strike across the world, from hurricanes in the US and Caribbean to heatwaves in Australia and devastating floods in Asia. Many of these events have been shown to have been made much more likely by the heat resulting from global warming.

Scientists from across the globe warned that the limit of 1.5C of warming, set as a goal by the international Paris climate change treaty, was being approached very rapidly and that it was more urgent than ever to slash emissions to avoid the worst impacts.

The three global temperature records are compiled by the UK’s Met Office and Nasa and Noaa in the United States. The Met Office said the average temperature in 2017 was 0.99C above that seen from 1850-1900, despite the Pacific Ocean moving into its cooler La Niña phase.

“While climate change deniers continue to bury their heads in the sand, global warming continues unabated,” said Prof Michael Mann, at Pennsylvania State University in the US. “And the impacts of that warming – unprecedented wildfires, superstorms and floods – are now plain for all to see. There has never been greater urgency.”

In December, the US president, Donald Trump, suggested cold weather in the eastern US undermined the evidence of climate change, a statement called “phenomenally dumb“ by climate scientist Dr Sarah Myhre.

Scientists said that the slight drop in global temperature in 2017 was unsurprising and that huge levels of carbon emissions are still being pumped out. “Global temperatures will continue to bob up and down from year to year, but the climate tide beneath them is rising fast,” said Prof David Reay, at the University of Edinburgh in the UK.

“Despite our best efforts so far, global warming continues apace,” said Prof Martin Siegert, at Imperial College London. “This is yet another wake-up call to develop a zero carbon economy before it’s too late.”

Dr Dann Mitchell, at the University of Bristol, said: “We are getting ever closer to the Paris agreement target of 1.5C which we are so desperately trying to avoid.”

Prof Stefan Rahmstorf said there had been a very significant increase in global temperature since the major El Niño seen in 1998: “In just 18 years, our greenhouse gas emissions have pushed up global temperature by a full 0.4C. At this rate the Paris goal of 1.5C will already be crossed in under two decades.”

In Australia, the Climate Council chief executive, Amanda McKenzie, said: “The fingerprints of climate change were seen with extreme weather events across Australia in 2017. This data is yet another warning to the government to urgently slash Australia’s rising greenhouse gas levels in a bid to protect Australians from escalating extreme weather events.”

The temperature data is all compiled using many thousands of measurements from all continents and all oceans. Small differences between them largely result from how temperatures for the fast-warming but data-sparse polar regions are calculated.

The El Niño event in 2015-16 raised the annual average temperature for 2016 by 0.2C, but most scientists agree that both 2016 and 2015 would have been record hot years even without the El Niño. The 2017 global temperature was accurately predicted by the Met Office a year before, adding to confidence that scientists have a good understanding of the climate system.

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U.K.: Supermarkets under pressure to reveal amount of plastic they create

Leading UK retailers say information is too ‘commercially sensitive’ to reveal, following Guardian report they make almost 1m tonnes a year
Matthew Taylor and Sandra Laville The Guardian 18 Jan 18;

Supermarkets are coming under growing pressure from politicians and campaigners to reveal the amount of plastic they create, and pay more towards its safe disposal, following a Guardian investigation.

Amid mounting concern about the devastating environmental impact of plastic pollution around the globe, the Guardian revealed on Wednesday that the UK’s leading supermarkets create almost 1m tonnes of plastic packaging waste every year.

However, the system is shrouded in secrecy. When the Guardian asked leading retailers to reveal the exact amount of waste they are responsible for, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Waitrose, Asda and Lidl all refused, saying the information was “commercially sensitive”.

Mary Creagh, MP, the chair of the environmental audit committee, warned “a plastic tide is engulfing our streets, beaches and oceans” and called on the government to act.

“Government should change the rules to encourage the use of packaging that is easy to recycle and raise charges on plastics that are difficult to recycle, to reduce the amount and type of plastic we use.”

Caroline Lucas, Green party MP and co-leader, said that although the “government talks a good game on plastics” they need to be taking much firmer action.

“For a start that must mean forcing supermarkets to come clean about how much plastic they use – but they should also ask those who use the most to pay more of the cost of dealing with it too.”
Labour’s shadow environment secretary, Sue Hayman, said: “Labour supports the calls being made for the government to change the rules so that supermarkets have to let the public know how much plastic they are producing.”

Supermarkets have to declare the amount of plastic they put on the market annually under an EU directive. But the information is kept secret.

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it has plans to reform the producer responsibility system to “in order to incentivise producers to take greater responsibility for the environmental impacts of their products.

“We will be publishing more detail in our upcoming resources and waste strategy.”
The spokesman said it was not possible to release details of how much plastic packaging is produced by each supermarket because that was “commercially sensitive”.

Although several major supermarkets refused to share their figures with the Guardian, two – Aldi and the Co-op – were open about the amount of plastic they put on to the market each year.

Using their data, and other publicly available market share information, environmental consultants Eunomia estimated that the top supermarkets are creating a plastic waste problem of more than 800,000 tonnes each year – well over half of all annual UK household plastic waste of 1.5m tonnes.

Louise Edge, senior oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said more transparency would spur positive competition among supermarkets to cut their plastic output, rewarding the companies who make an effort.

“They should include measures such as phasing out non-recyclable and single-use plastics from own brand products, installing free water fountains and re-fill stations for soft drinks, backing deposit return schemes and trialling reusable packaging for home deliveries.”

The Guardian’s revelations about supermarket plastic have added to mounting public concern about the damage that plastic does to the natural world. The Guardian has already revealed the vertiginous growth in plastic production, and the heavy environmental toll it exacts.

Many believe the existing system to make producers pay towards the waste they create in the UK is not tough enough.

The Environment Agency polices the UK packaging compliance system. Under the scheme retailers who dodge their duties to pay towards the recycling of their packaging most often receive civil sanctions. They are rarely prosecuted in the criminal courts.

In the last six years 240 retailers have been sanctioned and agreed to pay a total of almost £5m to charities, including Wrap, the Woodland Trust, Keep Britain Tidy and various local rivers and wildlife trusts.

The sanctions are known as Enforcement Undertakings, and are a voluntary arrangement between the Environment Agency and the offending retailer.

Hundreds of MPs call on supermarkets to scrap plastic packaging
MPs write to major supermarkets, as pressure grows over the huge amounts of plastic waste they generate
Sandra Laville The Guardian 19 Jan 18;

Two hundred cross-party MPs are calling on heads of the major supermarkets to eliminate plastic packaging from their products by 2023.

The MPs, who are from seven political parties, have written to Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Asda, Waitrose, Aldi, Lidl, Budgens and Marks & Spencer urging them to scrap plastic packaging.

They wrote after the Guardian revealed this week the major supermarkets in the UK create more than 800,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste – well over half the household plastic waste – each year.

Six of the major supermarkets refused to reveal the amount of plastic packaging they put on to the market, saying the information was commercially sensitive. Analysis by Eunomia environmental consultants used figures provided by Aldi and the Co-op – the only chains to release public figures on their plastic tonnage – and the market share of each supermarket to estimate how much plastic packaging the chains produce each year.

This week, Iceland announced it would stop plastic packaging on its own brand products by 2023. Catherine West, Labour MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, who is behind the letter, said: “Vast amounts of plastic are ‘used’ for merely a few seconds before being discarded.

“We have a moral duty to tackle this disposable culture. As such, I welcome the recent announcement from Iceland supermarkets … and I’m delighted that MPs from all parties are supporting my call for other retailers to follow suit.”

Waitrose announced on Friday it would no longer use black plastic for its meat, fish, fruit and vegetables by the end of this year, and that all Waitrose products would be free of black plastic by the end of 2019. Black plastic cannot be recycled under current UK systems.

Each year it is estimated that more than 300m tonnes of plastic are produced globally. The Guardian revealed recently that plastic production is set to soar over the next 10 years.

On Friday Coca-Cola announced a new goal to collect and recycle the equivalent of 100% of the packaging it sells globally by 2030.

Coca-Cola said: “Given the size and scope of this challenge, we expect to invest in new packaging innovations and local collection and recycling systems, as well as consumer education and awareness programs.”

Damian Gammell, CEO of Coca-Cola European Partners, said: “At the heart of this is our commitment to collect 100% of our packaging and ensure that 50% of the PET plastic we use will be rPET by 2025. We are also exploring how we can inspire more consumers to recycle by using the power of our brands, advertising and message on packaging.”

But Greenpeace, which is campaigning for the introduction of a plastic bottle deposit scheme in the UK, said Coca-Cola’s plan failed to include any reduction of the company’s rapidly increasing use of single-use plastic bottles globally, which now stands at well over 110bn annually.

“It contrasts starkly with pledges to reduce the use of disposable plastic made by many retailers in recent weeks,” a Greenpeace spokesman said.

Greenpeace estimates that Coca-Cola has increased its number of single-use plastic bottles by nearly a third (31%) since 2008 and that they now account for almost 70% of Coke’s packaging globally.

Last week, prime minister Theresa May said supermarkets should set up plastic-free aisles, and pledged to eliminate unnecessary plastic waste by 2042 – but received a lukewarm response from environmental groups.

Sue Hayman, shadow environment secretary, said: “Labour is calling on all supermarkets to follow the lead shown by Iceland. We know that the government can act on Britain’s plastics crisis a lot sooner than before 2042.”

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