Best of our wild blogs: 2 Feb 18

R.U.M. Scientific Workshop Day 1
Restore Ubin Mangroves (R.U.M.) Initiative

Busy January at the Marine Park!
Sisters' Island Marine Park

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‘Eventful month for Singapore’s weather’ is over; expect dry warm days in Feb: MSS

Today Online 1 Feb 18;

SINGAPORE – Dress lightly, but keep a compact umbrella at hand when you head out. The first half of February is expected to be warm and dry, with a few wet weather days.

Temperatures could go as high as 34°C, the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) said in a weather update on Thursday (Feb 1).

While the prevailing North-east Monsoon is expected to continue, the first half of February is forecast to be "relatively dry with some warm days", the MSS added.

Still, short-duration thundery showers are expected in the afternoon on three to five days, though the rainfall for this period of the month is expected to be "below normal".

The MSS also advises the public to expect windy conditions with passing showers and cooler temperatures across the island on a few days. These conditions are brought about by a weak monsoon surge which the MSS says could affect the South China Sea and the surrounding region in the early part of the month.

Reviewing the weather pattern for the month of January, the MSS said it was an "eventful month for Singapore's weather".

The first week of January saw moderate to heavy thundery showers from three different weather systems –localised thunderstorms, Sumatra squalls and monsoon surges.

In the last week of the month, hailstones and a waterspout were observed on Jan 30 and 31 respectively.

The flash floods that occurred in several places in Singapore on Jan 8 were caused by a Sumatra squall which brought widespread thundery showers, with the eastern part of the island receiving the heaviest rainfall. The highest total daily rainfall recorded was 131.8mm in the Paya Lebar area, said the MSS.

The agency said that the unusually cool weather in the early parts of the month were caused by monsoon surge from Jan 10 to 14, which brought five consecutive days of cool weather. Temperatures dipped to as low as 21.2°C, which was recorded on Jan 14 at Admiralty and Jurong West.

"This was the longest cool spell in Singapore in the last 10 years," said the MSS. The highest temperature recorded for the month was 34.9°C.

The last two days of January saw intense thunderstorms which brought heavy rainfall with strong winds over many areas of the island. The MSS said hailstones were observed in parts of northern Singapore, "including Seletar and Yishun" on Jan 30. The following day saw not only fierce winds, but a waterspout off the east coast of Singapore.

The MSS said Singapore received "well above normal rainfall" for January. The highest rainfall of 502.4mm (119 per cent above average) was recorded at Paya Lebar. Rainfall was lowest around the Changi area where 272.6mm (16 per cent above average) was recorded.

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Regulations to be introduced to reduce e-waste here: Masagos

LOUISA TANG Today Online 1 Feb 18;

SINGAPORE — In a bid to encourage recycling and reduce electronic waste (e-waste) here, the Government will make it mandatory for producers and importers of electronic products to collect and recycle a certain amount of e-waste from consumers.

These companies will have to meet collection targets and be subjected to an incentive or tax system, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli at a pre-Budget consultation session on Thursday (Feb 1). The e-waste targets will vary according to how much electronic goods they sell here, and they will have to recycle or dispose the waste properly.

More details on the collection targets and when the laws will be implemented will be revealed after the Budget on Feb 19, said Mr Masagos. “It will be a soft target for a start,” he added.

Companies that do not meet the target could be subject to a levy or a fine. But Mr Masagos said: “We don’t see this coming in early in the process… certainly, the experience all over the world shows that as we ratchet up the targets, many manufacturers start to also get the aggregation process right, and I’m sure this will then lead to what we aspire to.”

The move, which is known as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) approach, is in line with the practice adopted by countries such as South Korea and Sweden, where 52 per cent of e-waste gets recycled. More than 60 countries have also implemented some form of e-waste legislation.

Before this, most of Singapore’s e-waste recycling efforts centred on raising public awareness and encouraging participation in voluntary recycling programmes.

The idea was first mooted about two weeks ago, when the National Environment Agency revealed that only six per cent of an estimated 30,000 tonnes of e-waste thrown out by households is recycled. On average, each Singaporean generates 11kg of e-waste every year, the equivalent of 73 mobile phones.

Ms Janet Neo, head of corporate sustainability at document processing giant Fuji Xerox Asia Pacific, said collection targets need to be clearly laid out for producers, and they may be difficult to achieve given the logistical challenges.

Fuji Xerox, which also produces commercial and home printers, has had an e-waste recycling scheme in place since 1995. Service engineers pick up unwanted or discarded printers from the consumers free-of-charge, and they are then sent to the company’s eco-manufacturing centre to be recycled or remanufactured.

Ms Neo told TODAY: “The moment consumer products go to retailers and consumers, you can’t track them... How much we can do, we also don’t know, so we need some level of baseline to understand what is even realistic to put as a target, because it has never been done before.”

While Apple declined comment on the announcement, the technology firm stated in their Environmental Responsibility Report 2017 that they are encouraging more consumers to recycle their old devices through the Apple Renew programme. Consumers can bring their devices in to any Apple store or ship them to Apple, which will either refurbish the device for resale or recycle its materials.

Aside from regulations, concerns about consumer behaviour and the current recycling infrastructure were also raised at the consultation session, which involved 37 participants from more than 20 organisations.

Ms Ng Wai Sen from non-government group, Journey to Zero Waste Life, said that “waste is about convenience”, and that Singaporeans need to change their mindset that “new means good”.

She suggested that more people repair their electronic devices rather than discard them when they do not work anymore. To reduce consumerism, educators and the Ministry of Education could also work with primary school children to change mindsets from a young age, added Ms Ng.

Participants in the session also pointed out that infrastructure could be improved, such as installing more e-waste recycling bins and improving the security and design of the bins.

Temasek Polytechnic student Ernst Kwok, a member of the school’s Green Interest Group, said that there have been instances of people trying to break into their bins to steal the electronic goods.

“There is also an issue with accessibility. We initially only installed one bin at the engineering school, but it was in a secluded area,” he said.

“Now we have three bins and within half a month or a month, they will be full.”

Government proposes to regulate e-waste reduction
Deborah Wong Channel NewsAsia 1 Feb 18;

SINGAPORE: Manufacturers and retailers of electronic goods will soon need to take responsibility for the disposal and recycling of their products as the government intends to introduce regulations to reduce electronic waste.

During a pre-Budget consultation session with stakeholders on Thursday (Feb 1), Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said the government will adopt the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) approach.

"This means we have a target for the original producers to look at what they can do to retrieve this e-waste that is produced in the first place," said Mr Masagos.

"Put a target, either through an incentive or a tax system, to make sure this is something they can do effectively.”

Mr Masagos said this is a timely move as the improper disposal of e-waste releases toxic chemicals into the environment.

Singaporeans generate 60,000 tonnes of e-waste yearly, and this figure is expected to rise as the country moves towards a digitised future.

EPR isn't a new concept and Mr Masagos said Singapore has to catch up.

He cited an example in Denmark, where the implementation of the EPR framework in 2014 produced a collection rate of 76 per cent of e-waste.

For other countries in the European Union, recyclers are subjected to targets and 80 per cent of large household appliances and 70 per cent of communication technology (ICT) equipment must be recycled.

Manufacturers, retailers and recyclers must also submit regular e-waste reports to authorities.

But Mr Masagos acknowledges that getting stakeholders in Singapore to come on board is not an easy process.

The government will start by setting smaller e-waste collection targets.

“We will take into consideration that it is new, so we will slowly bring it up. Once the system gets better oiled, it will be more successful,” he said.


Some local telecommunication companies like Singtel and Starhub have collection points for customers to return old devices while Fuji Xerox has collected used appliances from clients as far back as 1995.

Ms Janet Neo, head of corporate sustainability at Fuji Xerox said that the company has appointed one employee to be a full-time green evangelist, to educate clients on sustainability.

“We realise that in the office, the only person who knows that the product is recyclable is the office manager. So we have appointed one colleague to be a full-time green evangelist to help customers in office management become greener, smarter."

Ms Neo said the company has achieved a recycling rate of 99.9 per cent, as the components used in the products are mostly recyclable.

She was one of the 37 stakeholders present during the consultation session.

Besides revamping corporate practices, participants also said that consumers must change their lifestyle habits, such as repairing products where possible, to minimise wastage.

"Some of the difficulties we face are when people don't want to repair broken products and when people buy new things for the sake of buying,” said Ms Sari Atiqa Ramli, project lead at Sustainable Living Lab.

The social enterprise runs Repair Kopitiam, a community initiative that teaches people how to repair broken appliances to minimise e-waste.

"The things that people throw out are actually in good condition. I would suggest that they give it to someone who needs it more, or even consider using it again till it can't be used anymore," Ms Atiqa added.

If products cannot be repaired, the government is considering involving rag-and-bone men in the e-waste collection process by teaching them proper disposal and recycling methods.

Source: CNA/ad

Regulations will be introduced to ensure e-waste is recycled: Masagos
Samantha Boh Straits Times 1 Feb 18;

SINGAPORE - The Government will introduce regulations to ensure that electrical and electronics items are reused and recycled properly, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli on Thursday (Feb 1).

The Republic will adopt the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) approach, where producers and importers of electronic goods will be required to collect the electronic goods they sell in Singapore and recycle them properly. If the goods cannot be recycled, they will have to be disposed of safely.

Producers will have to meet collection targets and tax incentives could be introduced to encourage them in their green efforts.

The implementation date and requirements of the recycling regime will be announced later.

The Extended Producer Responsibility approach has been adopted in countries such as Sweden, which recycles 52 per cent of its e-waste, and Denmark, which has a recycling rate of 43 per cent.

There, large producers have to provide collection points at their stores and provide one-for-one take back services. They are required to meet collection targets set by the government.

"We will start with a soft target," said Mr Masagos.

Singapore produces 60,000 tonnes of e-waste a year. According to a National Environment Agency's recent survey of 1,600 consumers, only a tiny portion of household e-waste - just 6 per cent - is sent for recycling.

Mr Masagos added that the ministry plans to involve the informal waste sector in recycling efforts. This could include teaching scrap dealers and rag-and-bone men how to recycle e-waste properly or involving them in the collection process.

While legislation will provide a more structured system for e-waste to be collected and recycled, there is a need to improve the physical collection infrastructure and to change consumer behaviour.

At a pre-Budget consultation session on e-waste on Thursday, organised by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources ahead of the Budget on Feb 19, participants said more e-waste collection bins should be placed in neighbourhoods.

"It needs to be almost as easy as getting rid of general waste," said Mr Ashley Tan, 32, a consultant at Deloitte.

He was among 37 participants from more than 20 organisations, including non-governmental organisations and academics, who were at the consultation, which was also attended by Mr Masagos.

Ms Ng Wai Sen, 44, from NGO Journey to Zero Waste Life, said: "We need to change the mindset that new means good."

She said more people can also do their part by trying to repair their electronic devices when the devices break down instead of buying new ones.

Mr Juergen Militz, secretary of the Waste Management and Recycling Association of Singapore, suggested that Singapore takes a leaf out of other countries' book and get manufacturers and importers pay a small fee that will go into a recycling fund.

While recycling companies can profit from recycling laptops and mobile phone as they can extract and then sell the precious metals found in the devices, refrigerators command a negative value as it is costly to dispose of the chemicals in refrigerants.

"If done properly, a balance can be achieved," he said.

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Once touted as the next big green thing, CNG vehicles have had a bumpy ride in Singapore

FARIS MOKHTAR Today Online 1 Feb 18;

SINGAPORE — Back in 2001, the authorities embarked on a push for compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles to ply Singapore’s roads. But less than two decades later, such vehicles are a rare sight on the island despite some promising signs initially.

A lack of infrastructural support as well as the cost ineffectiveness of CNG vehicles following the removal of government rebates are key factors for the dwindling numbers, said industry players and experts.

Explaining the removal of the Green Vehicle Rebate scheme in 2013, a National Environment Agency (NEA) spokesperson told TODAY that its replacement, the Carbon Emissions-based Vehicle Scheme (CEVS), “encourages the take-up of fuel-efficient cars based on carbon dioxide emissions rather than prescribed vehicle technologies”. The CEVS was in turn replaced at the start of this year by the Vehicular Emissions Scheme (VES), which takes into account four more pollutants apart from carbon dioxide — nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons.

“The change further encourages buyers to choose models that have lower emissions across all five pollutants to improve ambient air quality as well,” said the NEA spokesperson.

As of last December, the CNG private car population has gone down by close to two-thirds to about 1,000, compared to the peak of 2,706 in 2010, based on figures from the Land Transport Authority (LTA). Over the same period, the number of CNG buses has also dropped by more than half from 44 to 12.

When it comes to CNG taxis, the decline was even more drastic: From 2,836 in 2011 to zero this year. Earlier this week, The Straits Times reported that the last CNG taxi – owned by Trans-Cab – has been scrapped.


Singapore’s earlier push for CNG vehicles could be traced back to 2001, when then-Acting Environment Minister Lim Swee Say said his ministry placed such vehicles “high on our priority list” because they emit almost no particulate matter, very little carbon monoxide, and 20 to 30 per cent less carbon dioxide, compared to petrol or diesel vehicles. “In other words, a natural gas vehicle is cleaner than a hybrid vehicle. It is more implementable, compared to the electric vehicle. At the same time, it is safer than an LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) vehicle,” Mr Lim had said.

The following year, test drives for CNG public buses and taxis commenced, and these later took to the roads officially, followed by private CNG cars.

But CNG vehicles come with a higher price tag, pointed out assistant professor Lynette Cheah from the Singapore University of Technology and Design’s engineering systems and design faculty. This is mainly due to the additional cost of installing the fuel tank system, she added.

To incentivise the switch to green vehicles, the Green Vehicle Rebate scheme was enhanced in 2005, four years after it was first introduced. Under the enhanced scheme, cuts in the Additional Registration Fee for CNG vehicles were doubled from the original 20 per cent to 40 per cent, lowering the overall price of such vehicles.

The scheme was in place till 2012, before it was replaced by the CEVS. As a result, prices of CNG cars cost between S$3,000 and S$7,000 more than petrol cars, said sales manager of Jack Cars Enterprise Michael Tan. The higher prices caused the popularity of CNG vehicles to nosedive, said asst prof Cheah. “In general, rebates and subsidies can support the transition to alternative vehicle technologies and fuels. However, it is not sustainable for any government to offer them in the long run,” she added.


In Singapore, CNG is taxed at S$0.20 per kg while there is a S$0.41 per litre levy on petrol. The pump price of CNG is about S$2.15 per kg currently. In comparison, diesel costs about S$1.66 per litre while motorists pay about S$2.25 per litre for 95-octane petrol.

Adding to the woes of CNG vehicle owners are the higher maintenance costs. Such vehicles often experience wear and tear quicker as they run at a very high temperature, said deputy general manager of Prime Taxi Neo Chee Yong.

“It just does not make sense to own a CNG vehicle anymore. There’s no incentive to do so if the prices are higher than petrol cars,” said Mr Neo.

Prime Taxi used to own some 100 CNG taxis, which it first introduced in August 2007. The taxis, which are bi-fuel, stopped using CNG and ran on petrol in 2012.

Yong Lee Seng Motor director Raymond Tang reiterated that the government’s removal of its rebates exacerbated the demise of CNG vehicles here, which failed to catch on among motorists because of the lack of refuelling stations.

Since the first CNG pump station was established in Jurong Island in 2002, the figure grew to five in 2009. But there are currently only three remaining — in Mandai, Serangoon North and Toh Tuck Road.

A Trans-Cab taxi driver, who wanted to be known only as Mr Kamal, said that back when he was driving a CNG cab in 2010, pumping gas was a hassle as he could only go to a few places. In addition, there would also be a long queue of other taxis waiting to refuel. “If I’m in Tampines for example, it’s a long journey to go to Serangoon to pump gas. And sometimes I have to wait for about an hour at the station for my turn. I could have earned money from at least two rides during that waiting time,” said Mr Kamal, who now drives a Chevrolet Trans-Cab vehicle.

Similarly, startup founder Felix Ng, who bought his CNG-run Chevrolet Optra Magnum in 2013, lamented the hassle of driving to the refuelling stations scattered across the island. His car will be scrapped in April, and he is swearing off CNG cars. Compared to driving a car which runs on petrol, Mr Ng said that he saves about S$30 to S$40 each time he refuels but the hassle outweighs the savings. “Plus, I think CNG vehicles are a waste of time because they have a shorter driving range and you have to top up the gas every now and then,” he added.

On whether the government could have provided more infrastructural support, the NEA spokesperson noted that it co-funded the establishment of three CNG stations, which “facilitated the initial development of CNG refuelling infrastructure by the private sector”.

Around the world, the CNG vehicle market is still thriving in countries such as China, India and Pakistan. This is due to the “favourable local government incentives or policies, and availability of refuelling stations”, said Dr Cheah.

While the plight of CNG vehicles in Singapore could be attributed to a confluence of factors, Prem Roy Motoring director Roy Lim felt that the government should provide more incentives if it wants green vehicles to take off.

He cited the example of the tax surcharge imposed on those who want to bring in the Tesla electric car. “We’re the only country taxing its people for using green vehicles instead of giving rebates,” said Mr Lim. “I think the current system is just confusing and it sends a confusing message to Singaporeans.”

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) had explained in 2016 that electric cars are not “carbon emissions-free”. Then, Mr Joe Nguyen, who bought a second-hand Tesla Model S, was hit with a S$15,000 emissions surcharge. LTA had also pointed out that had the car been brand new, it would have earned a rebate.

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Malaysia: Male tapir killed after being hit by vehicle

T N ALAGESH New Straits Times 1 Feb 18;

RAUB: A male tapir was killed after being hit by a vehicle along Jalan Budu-Dong near Kampung Tualang Padang here yesterday.

The endangered Malayan tapir (Tapirus indicus) was believed to be attempting to cross the single-stretch when a vehicle crashed into the animal.

Passing motorist who spotted the carcass on the road shoulder about 1.50pm informed the State Wildlife and National Parks department (Perhilitan).

Seven Perhilitan staff attached to the Raub and Lipis office were deployed to the scene which was located far from human settlements as the road was in a rural area.

State Perhilitan director Ahmad Azhar Mohammed said the tapir weighing about 250kg could have been hit late on Tuesday night or in the early hours of Wednesday.

He said the animal had injuries on the snout, head and body and might have been attempting to cross the road to look for food when the incident occurred.

"Checks revealed the animal was a fully grown adult between 15 and 18 years old. All the body parts were still intact.

"Since not many vehicles use the stretch, villagers only spotted the carcass some time after the incident. The carcass was buried by Perhilitan officers after investigations was completed," he said when contacted today.

Meanwhile, a Perhilitan staff said the animal might have been occupying the forest nearby and could have crossed the road to get to the other side.

"Checks revealed there are no areas in the vicinity cleared for development. Sadly, the motorist who crashed into the animal did not make any attempt to inform the authorities but instead drove away.

"Previously, there have been cases when certain body parts including the tail, ears and tongue of the tapir being removed by irresponsible individuals when the animal is killed in an accident. In this case, the road was quite remote and not many vehicles pass the stretch except for the villagers," he said.

It is estimated that only between 1,100 and 1,500 tapirs remain in the wild in Peninsular Malaysia, and concentrated in protected areas, such as Taman Negara and wildlife reserves.

They are classified as a totally protected species under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010.

Last year, a pair of tapir - a male and a female aged between eight and 10 years old - were killed after a car hit them while crossing the Gebeng bypass dual-carriageway about 10pm.

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Indonesia’s Bold Plan: Rewetting the Swamp

A controversial project to restore 2.5 million hectares of tropical peatland hinges on sustainable farming
Virginia Gewin Scientific American 31 Jan 18;

In the fall of 2015 an incredible 100,000 smoldering peatland fires turned Indonesia into a hazy hellscape, air thick with smoke and chemicals. More than 500,000 people were hospitalized with respiratory, eye and skin ailments. In addition to the $16-billion price tag the country catapulted from the sixth- to fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases worldwide.

Sweeping changes in land use over 20 years fueled the fires. In the 1990s authorities built thousands of kilometers of canals to drain saturated peat swamps and cut down 30-meter-tall tropical tree stands, primarily to generate land to greatly expand oil palm and pulpwood plantations. Previously deemed worthless, the acidic wetlands had evolved over millennia as vaults that could store vast amounts of carbon. But when peatlands dry, microbes churn out gobs of carbon dioxide as they readily consume the drying organic soil matter; the landscape also becomes very combustible, with fires emitting carbon into the air. Drained peatlands are responsible for 5 to 8 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions as well as 25 percent of those generated from land use.

The solution? Make the regions wet again. Alarmed by the vast changes, the Indonesian government in 2015 released an unprecedented—some say unrealistic—plan (pdf) to restore roughly 2.5 million hectares of dry peatlands by 2020. “The fires and haze were horrible, especially for children and elders. Nobody wants to have that again,” says Nazir Foead, head of the Peatlands Restoration Agency (BRG). The two-year-old entity was created to block off 250,000 kilometers of canals, so water levels below the surface can rise back up again to rewet the peat—and, intriguingly, to find alternative crops able to keep these lands productive.

In 2017 BRG rewet an unprecedented 200,000 hectares of land. “What Indonesia is doing is amazing,” says Hans Joosten, a peatland expert at the University of Greifswald in Germany. In the last year, he says, Indonesia has rewet more land “than has been achieved in Europe in its entire history.” Still, that is only 8 percent of the country’s larger goal.

Furthermore, the true linchpin of the plan is restoring livelihoods. Thousands of land-dependent communities live on the edges of peat systems, many having moved there only after areas were dried to expand plantations that grew oil palm, or acacia trees for pulpwood. As the fields are soaked to keep fires and carbon-releasing microbial activityat bay, the country must figure out how to farm these swamps—a novel form of cultivation called “paludiculture”—to give local communities income.

Unfortunately, it is not clear what sustainable paludiculture might look like. Compared with 10,000 years of traditional agriculture, paludiculture is quite new, Joosten says. Research conducted so far has occurred on temperate peatlands in northern Europe. Tropical bogs are a different ball game. For agriculture, they are the most complicated ecosystem on the planet, says Lahiru Wijedasa, a peatland ecologist at the National University of Singapore. “Everything—from the water table to pH to nutrient levels—is in flux compared to mineral soils,” he adds.

Indonesia, home to roughly 36percent of the world’s tropical peatlands, is taking on a Herculean task: identify viable crops, develop new farming practices and establish novel markets—possibly for carbon itself. And it is in a race against time. Without alternative forms of cultivation these lands will continue to lose carbon, so much that they will sink. “As long as the carbon going out of the system is greater than that being accumulated, peatlands will continue to subside to sea level or river level,” Wijedasa says. “When this point is reached, no peatland agriculture will be possible.”

Indonesia cannot do it alone. In 2017 the government allocated about $35 million for peatland restoration, combined with roughly the same amount from international sources, Foead says, but he notes the nation will need double that amount, annually. Global investment and expertise as well as a vested interest in the fate of Indonesia’s peatlands are needed.

Developers have already drained more than halfof the country’s peat swamps in lowland regions of Sumatra and Kalimantan and converted them to industrial oil palm plantations or pulpwood plantations. To grow these monocultures, engineers lowered the water levels to at least 50 or 60 centimeters below the soil surface for oil palm and up to a meter underground for pulp species, notably acacia.

The dramatic conversion increased runoff and prevented groundwater recharge. Newly exposed streams contained up to 550 times the sediment and were 4 degrees Celsius warmer compared with those winding through intact peat swamps. Local communities reported greater water scarcity in the dry seasons and more frequent flooding in the wet seasons.

Although rewetting peatlands will prevent fires and reduce the loss of carbon, the country must overturn the belief that the main use of the lands is for plantations of oil palm and paper pulp trees, says Jack Rieley, a University of Nottingham ecologist who has studied tropical peatlands in Southeast Asia for 25 years.

More than a dozen disparate field trials are underway to identify economically viable crops that will grow in wet peat. Of the 1,376 plant species recorded in Southeast Asian peat swamps, 81have been identified as promising crops by Wim Giesen, a Dutch wetland ecologist working for the U.K.–based development consultancy Mott MacDonald. At a field site in Jambi Province, Giesen’s team has just installed 60,000 seedlings, including Jelutung (Dyera polyphylla), which produces the latex used in chewing gum and has a higher return on labor than oil palm, and gelam (Melaleuca cajuputi), a species that can generate a range of diverse products, including medicinal oils, honey, biochar and, notably, pulpwood.

The Asia Pulp and Paper Co. is also researching gelam, among other species. No single wild gelam specimen harbors all the desirable characteristics, however. Just as there are different crop varieties bred to express specific traits, there is quite a bit of diversity within wild “varieties.” For example, even the most productive undomesticated species that can grow in fully wet swamps will likely offer, at most, 30 to 40 percent of what pulp acacia provides, a crop whose yields have been bolstered by decades of breeding, Giesen says. The hurdle, he says, is getting companies to move from something that is totally unsustainable in the long-term to something that produces less, initially, on the short term.

To that end, researchers are eager to find high-value crops that could help pay for the cost of restoration. Biofuel crops, the focus of field research conducted by the Bogor, Indonesia–based Center for International Forestry Research, are one option. Species such as an evergreen laurel (Calophyllum inophyllum) or the legume tree (Pongamia pinnataare promising for biofuels, the latter even as aviation fuel, says Himlal Baral, a scientist at the center.

There are additional concerns. It is unclear what kind of machinerycould be used to plant and harvest crops on a large scale; the heavy equipment used in traditional agriculture will simply get stuck in the muck. Researchers are exploring how to reduce machine weight as well as the number of trips necessary to harvest soggy ground.

Nyoman Suryadiputra, director of Wetlands International–Indonesia, also worries many drained peatlands are already too degraded to farm. He says around 20freshwater fish species may offer a more profitable, viable plan. Low spots that are already permanently flooded could serve as man-made lakes for aquaculture. Fish prices are higher than oil palm and do not require years to harvest, he notes.


Water levels, not surprisingly, may be the biggest trick of restoration efforts, given peat’s unique hydrology. Peatlands consist of numerous domes—carbon-rich mounds that are meters thick, which rise between streams. The conservation priority is to keep the domes forested and saturated. One “peatland hydrologic unit,” however, consists of a dome as well as the associated shallow peat that extends to the bordering water bodies. The shallow peat is where paludiculture would be most appropriate. But an agricultural ditch in one part of a peatland hydrologic unit can have an impact even kilometers away, so the water level must be managed systemically.

BRG has prioritized restoration in 84of almost 500 peatland hydrological units in Papua and six other provinces throughout Sumatra and Kalimantan affecting almost 1,000 villages, according to Foead. Current regulations maintain water levels at a minimum of 40 centimeters below the surface rather than the 50 or 60 favored by oil palm growers and 100 or more required by acacia producers. At best, that will reduce emissions by up to 50 percent and slow subsidence—worthwhile progress. But the top layer of peat, still dry, will continue to oxidize and emit carbon, Giesen says.

This kind of stepwise approach is the only way forward, however, Foead says. BRG must keep the water to a level that still allows pulp or palm oil to grow but decreases greenhouse gas emissions and subsidence. At 40 centimeters, BRG is walking a fine line between the conditions necessary to build more sustainable, budding economies and harming old ones.

Giesen agrees that a sudden, mandatory switch to fully rewetted systems growing only swamp-adapted crops would be doomed to fail in the face of expected pushback from agencies and plantation companies. “People have to have time to move away from business as usual,” he says. The current strategy, he cautions, should be seen as a transition step toward full rewetting. “[BRG’s] Nazir Foead has the hardest job on the planet,” Wijedasa says.

As water tables rise, the agency risks backlash from powerful oil palm and pulp plantations who fear lost productivity. Already, Indonesia’s parliament has listed a bill that offers tax breaks and protections to oil palm companies operating on peatlands as a priority for 2018. A much-criticized study from the University of Indonesia’s Institute for Economic and Social Research estimates the country’s peat-protection policies will result in $5.32 billion in losses, mainly from pulp and palm oil industries, over the next five years—much lower, however, than the 2015 tab for losses from fires: $15 billion.

Complicating matters, Indonesia’s past attempts to restore peatlands or convert them to agriculture have failed. In 1996 a plan to convert one million hectares of peatland in southern Kalimantan into a rice mega-operation dried the land just as a powerful El NiƱo event enhanced drought, ending in massive fires similar to those in 2015. A subsequent $37.7 million endeavor launched in 2007 by the Indonesia–Australia Forest Carbon Partnership to flood, restore and replant 25,000 hectares was abandoneddue to slow progress amid continued deforestation.

Large-scale endeavors, however, are needed to attract sizable investments, says Anna van Paddenburg, head of sustainable landscapes for the Global Green Growth Institute, which is advising the Indonesian government. The current levels of research, investment and market development are “not enough,” according to Joosten and van Paddenburg. Joosten says Western countries have a role to play. And Rieley says Indonesians do not have the peatland ecology or management expertise that has developed in Europe and North America over almost a century.

This past November the International Peat Society released the “Jakarta Declaration,” an agreement in which experts will offer advice, propose model pilot projects and, importantly, help establish carbon monitoring. “There has to be scientific monitoring in place, especially of greenhouse gas emissions, to prove that rewetting is, in fact, reducing them and by how much,” Rieley says. “The way to make a major step forward is through a carbon market—one that local people have ownership of,” he adds.

Placing a monetary value on carbon would be a game changer, says Dharsono Hartono, a former consultant and banker for PricewaterhouseCoopers and J.P. Morgan, who is now CEO of PT Rimba Makmur Utama, an Indonesia-based company that is developing the Katingan Project to protect one of the last intact peat swamp forests in central Kalimantan. Within Katingan’s 157,000 hectares, only 12,000 hectares are degraded this far. The project touches 34 villages, home to approximately 43,000 people. Over the last decade Hartono has learned how fragile the peat ecosystem is and how costly it will be to restore degraded lands.

The Katingan Project has yet to turn a profit. The project started, he says, as a very long bet on the eventuality of a carbon market. His team has so far trained communities to stop burning to clear farm fields, use cover crops that help maintain the soil and adopt agroforestry practices. He has sold some carbon credits on the global voluntary carbon markets. “More and more, companies are willing to look into our project and buy an offset, even though it’s not part of any compliance scheme,” Hartono says. “Ten years ago [this endeavor] was about new business opportunities and carbon credits. Now, it’s about people.”

For Indonesians, the choice is stark: value peatlands or lose them.

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Polar bears could become extinct faster than was feared, study says

The animals facing an increasing struggle to find enough food to survive as climate change steadily transforms their environment
Oliver Milman The Guardian 1 Feb 18;

Polar bears could be sliding towards extinction faster than previously feared, with the animals facing an increasing struggle to find enough food to survive as climate change steadily transforms their environment.

New research has unearthed fresh insights into polar bear habits, revealing that the Arctic predators have far higher metabolisms than previously thought. This means they need more prey, primarily seals, to meet their energy demands at a time when receding sea ice is making hunting increasingly difficult for the animals.

A study of nine polar bears over a three-year period by the US Geological Survey and UC Santa Cruz found that the animals require at least one adult, or three juvenile, ringed seals every 10 days to sustain them. Five of the nine bears were unable to achieve this during the research, resulting in plummeting body weight – as much as 20kg during a 10-day study period.

“We found a feast and famine lifestyle – if they missed out on seals it had a pretty dramatic effect on them,” said Anthony Pagano, a USGS biologist who led the research, published in Science.

“We were surprised to see such big changes in body masses, at a time when they should be putting on bulk to sustain them during the year. This and other studies suggest that polar bears aren’t able to meet their bodily demands like they once were.”

Pagano’s team studied the bears in a period during April over the course of three years, from 2014 to 2016, in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska. They fitted the bears with GPS collars with video cameras to measure activity levels. Blood chemistry was also taken from the bears.

Previously, polar bears were thought to expend relatively little energy during days where they often wait for hours beside holes in the ice, which seals emerge from in order to breathe. But the researchers found that they actually have an average metabolism 50% higher than prior estimates.

With previous studies showing recent drops in polar bear numbers, survival rates and body condition, scientists said the new research suggests the species is facing an even worse predicament than was feared.

The Arctic is warming twice as rapidly as the global average, diminishing the sea ice that polar bears rely upon for food and forcing many to embark from water on to land where they desperately forage for goose eggs or rubbish from bins in far-flung towns.

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Footage of starving polar bear exposes climate change impact – video
A recent widely-shared video of an emaciated polar bear is a “horrible scene that we will see more of in the future and more quickly than we thought,” according to Dr Steven Amstrup, who led polar bear research for 30 years in Alaska.


“This is an excellent paper that fills in a lot of missing information about polar bears,” said Amstrup, who was not involved in the USGS research. “Every piece of evidence shows that polar bears are dependent on sea ice and if we don’t change the trajectory of sea ice decline, polar bears will ultimately disappear.

“They face the choice of coming on to land or floating off with the ice as it recedes, out to the deep ocean where there is little food. We will see more bears starving and more of them on land, where they will get into trouble by interacting with humans.”

Polar bears are listed by the US government as a threatened species but the Trump administration has reversed measures that tackle climate change, with the president himself seemingly unaware of the situation in the Arctic.

During an interview on Sunday, Donald Trump said that “the ice caps were going to melt, they were going to be gone by now, but now they’re setting records. They’re at a record levels.”

In fact, when measured at its September minimum, Arctic sea ice has declined by around 13% per decade since 1979. Last year was the eighth lowest minimum extent in the 38-year satellite record.

The huge glacial ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are reacting more slowly to the warming atmosphere and oceans but scientists are watching them closely as they will heavily influence sea level rise if there’s significant melting. In just the past decade, Greenland has lost two trillion tons of its ice mass.

“I hope we will have an awakening, but we haven’t really done much to save polar bears over the past decade,” said Amstrup. “With this administration, I’m not exactly confident we’ll see a major switch in that.”

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