Best of our wild blogs: 21 Mar 18

'Massive Operation' to put out fire at Pulau Busing, 20 Mar 2018
wild shores of singapore

World Frog Day: Greninja the Malayan horned frog?

21 – 28 March: Celebrate International Day of Forests 2018
Green Drinks Singapore

Singapore Institute of Biology (SIBiol) Research Trust Fund and Student Research Award
Psychedelic Nature

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Pulau Busing oil storage tank fire extinguished after 'massive operation': SCDF

Channel NewsAsia 20 Mar 18;

SINGAPORE: A raging oil storage tank fire on Pulau Busing was extinguished by firefighters on Tuesday (Mar 20) after a massive six-hour operation involving several agencies.

In a Facebook update early on Wednesday morning, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said the blaze was extinguished by the combined efforts of SCDF Emergency Responders and CERT members.

No casualties were reported.

SCDF said it was alerted to the fire at Pulau Busing at about 5.50pm.

A total of 128 personnel and 31 firefighting and support vehicles were deployed for the "massive operation", SCDF said in an earlier update at 11.46pm, more than five hours after the fire broke out.

The SCDF-led operations were supported by the Police Coast Guard, Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, Republic of Singapore Navy and the National Environment Agency.

Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law, K Shanmugam, was on the island to meet SCDF emergency responders.

The fire involved an oil storage tank on Pulau Busing, one of the islands off the southern coast of Singapore, which is home to oil and chemical storage facilities.

"Radiant heat from the affected oil storage tank poses a major challenge to the firefighters as they move forward while maintaining a safe distance. Despite the challenge, SCDF firefighters and members of CERT (Company Emergency Response Team) are still pressing on," said SCDF in an update during the operations.

The oil storage tank belongs to Tankstore, which has a facility on Pulau Busing for storing petroleum and petrochemical products.

The fire was "quite severe", a Tankstore source told Reuters, asking not to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

Photos posted on social media show a thick plume of smoke billowing from the island.

A 29-year-old Channel NewsAsia reader, who did not want to be named, said she saw smoke rising from the island since 6pm.

Ms Nicky Ng, 48, told Channel NewsAsia she saw the smoke from the condominium she lives in near Harbourfront.

“It was about to rain and (we) heard thunder … when (we) looked at the sky, saw smoke in the sky and then saw it coming from the offshore island,” she said.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said that there has not been any increase in pollutant levels, and that it would provide updates should there be changes in the air quality situation.

"We are monitoring the air quality closely, especially in the southwestern region of Singapore," NEA said.

"The prevailing winds are currently blowing from the northeast and the air quality has remained in the good to moderate range," it said.

There have also been no spikes in the PM2.5, sulphur dioxide and other air pollutant levels, it added.

Blaze on Pulau Busing oil storage tank put out after 6 hours
Today Online 20 Mar 18;

SINGAPORE – A raging blaze involving an oil storage tank on Pulau Busing, an island off the south-western coast of Singapore, was finally extinguished early on Wednesday morning (March 21) after a six-hour firefighting operation.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) tweeted at around 1.45am that firefighting operations had ended. There were no reported casualties in the fire, which started at about 5.50pm on Tuesday.

The SCDF said 128 firefighters, 31 support equipment and several members of the Company Emergency Response Team (CERT) worked to fight the blaze, along with officers from the Police Coast Guard, Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, Republic of Singapore Navy, and National Environment Agency (NEA).

A video of the blaze, which SCDF said was taken at the "height of the operations", showed the top of the oil storage tank completely engulfed in flames that shot up several metres into the air.

Throughout the six-hour operation, firefighters took turns to recuperate after "arduous prolonged firefighting operations", before returning into the "thick of (the) action at ground zero", said the SCDF.

Two large foam monitors were used to contain the oil storage tank fire while five unmanned water monitors were cooling the adjacent tanks.

The SCDF said that radiant heat from the affected oil storage tank posed a "major challenge" to the firefighters. Despite the risks, SCDF firefighters and members of the CERT had pressed on, it said.

Mr K. Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Law, visited the island along with Permanent Secretary (Home Affairs) Pang Kin Keong for a first-hand account of the firefighting operations and to meet up with the SCDF Emergency Responders.

The NEA said in a statement on Tuesday night that it was monitoring the air quality closely, especially in the south-western region of Singapore.

"The prevailing winds are currently blowing from the north-east and the air quality has remained in the good to moderate range, with no spikes in the PM2.5, sulphur dioxide and other air pollutant levels," NEA added.

The land on Pulau Busing is leased by JTC Corp to a petroleum storage company.

CORRECTION: In an earlier version of the story, we reported that Pulau Busing is owned by JTC Corporation and leased to a petroleum storage company. That is incorrect. The land on Pulau Busing is leased by JTC to a petroleum storage company. JTC does not own or manage Pulau Busing. We are sorry for the error.

Offshore storage tank fire: NEA monitoring air quality
Lydia Lam Straits Times 21 Mar 18;

A fire involving an oil storage tank on Pulau Busing was still raging late last night, more than four hours after the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) first said it was responding to the incident.

SCDF said the firefighting operation was expected to be an extended one, with SCDF Commissioner Eric Yap briefing Permanent Secretary (Home Affairs) Pang Kin Keong about the complexity of the operations.

SCDF first flagged the fire on the island, located off the south-western coast of Singapore, in a Facebook post at 6.33pm.

Photos and videos posted on Facebook show dense plumes of smoke rising from the island, which is leased to petroleum storage company Tankstore.

SCDF repeatedly deployed resources to battle the flames, with emergency responders working with the Company Emergency Response Team to carry out boundary cooling of the adjacent tanks.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said last night it was monitoring the air quality closely, especially in the south-western region. "The prevailing winds are currently blowing from the north-east and the air quality has remained in the good to moderate range, with no spikes in the PM2.5, sulphur dioxide and other air pollutant levels," said NEA. "We will provide updates should there be changes in the air quality situation."

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350 roadside vegetation fires per year, mostly caused by cigarette butts: MHA

Channel NewsAsia 20 Mar 18;

SINGAPORE: Between 2014 and 2017, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) attended to about 350 roadside vegetation fires annually, with most of these caused by cigarette butts, said Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo on Tuesday (Mar 20).

She was responding to a question in Parliament from Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar on how many of these fires were caused by errant motorists who throw their cigarette butts onto central dividers or roadside plants and trees.

Dr Intan later added that she was “a bit surprised” by the high number of fires caused by cigarette butts on roads. She asked what enforcement action could be taken since “it’s probably a little bit difficult when motorists are on the go and litter when they drive or ride”.

Mrs Teo agreed. “When you think of vegetation fires, the fact is it would not have started immediately. Let’s say a cigarette butt is discarded. It’ll take some time.

“So hypothetically, even if someone happens to be at the right spot and right time and managed to capture on camera or through video someone throwing a cigarette butt. It’s not so easy to establish whether that particular fire started as a result of that particular littering incident.”

“SCDF leads an inter-agency task force to deal with vegetation fires,” said Mrs Teo. “Among other measures, the National Environment Agency (NEA) regularly clears roads of dry leaves which are more susceptible to catching fire.”

“But no amount of clearing will help if some members of public continue to illegally and irresponsibly discard cigarette butts.

“There are no easy ways to prevent this, except to appeal to people’s civic-mindedness; except to make it a habit of reminding people whenever you discard cigarette butts, whether at a housing estate or anywhere - that could lead to some other situation such as a fire,” she noted.

“That’s why NEA takes a very strict view of littering, especially when someone were to throw a cigarette butt,” said Mrs Teo.

“Such persons can be charged under the Environmental Public Health Act for littering at least,” she added. “And if we can prove the fact the fires also caused serious damage, such persons can be charged under the Penal Code for fire-related offences.”

“We encourage the public to report such offences via the NEA website, mobile app or hotline.”

Later, Mrs Teo also revealed that phased installation of home fire alarm devices for public rental flats will commence in June this year.

“We are starting in housing estates with a higher number of rental households with elderly residents, and expect to complete installation for all public rental flats by 2021,” she said.

The Ministry of Home Affairs announced last year that SCDF, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) and the People’s Association (PA) were working together to provide free installation of home fire alarm devices for all 60,000 public rental flats.

Source: CNA/jo

Cigarette butts the biggest cause of roadside fires from 2014 to 2017
CYNTHIA CHOO Today Online 21 Mar 18;

SINGAPORE — Cigarette butts were the biggest cause of the 350 annual cases of roadside vegetation fires which were recorded between 2014 and 2017.

Responding to a question in Parliament on Tuesday (March 20) on the number of roadside fires and their causes, Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo said the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) started tracking such data only from 2014.

She also said individuals who discard cigarette butts irresponsibly can be charged under the Environmental Public Health Act for littering.

Under the Act, which was enhanced in 2014, recalcitrant litterbugs can be fined up to S$10,000, while first-time offenders can be fined up to S$2,000.

“If we can prove the fact that the fires also caused serious damage, such persons can be charged under the Penal Code for fire-related offences,” Mrs Teo added.

While the SCDF leads an inter-agency taskforce to deal with vegetation fires, and the National Environment Agency (NEA) regularly clears the roads of dry leaves, which are more susceptible to catching fire, she also said: “No amount of clearing will help, if some members of the public continue to illegally and irresponsibly discard cigarette butts.”

Hence, in her supplementary question, Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio Group Representation Constituency) asked if the Government would consider penalising motorists who get caught littering and discarding cigarette butts irresponsibly, and imposing community action.

Acknowledging that there is “no easy way to prevent” this behaviour, except to appeal members of the public to have more civic-mindedness, Mrs Teo also explained that it can be difficult to trace blame, even with video evidence.

“Hypothetically, even if someone happened to be at the right spot at the right time and managed to capture on camera, or through a video (of) someone who threw a cigarette butt, it is not so easy to establish whether that particular fire started as a result of that particular incident,” said Ms Teo.

“That’s why NEA takes a very strict view of littering, especially when someone was to throw a cigarette butt”, she added.

Ms Teo also said that members of the public are encouraged to report such offences via NEA’s website, its mobile app, or its hotline.

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Singapore generated less waste, but also recycled less last year, says NEA

Audrey Tan Straits Times 20 Mar 18;

SINGAPORE - The Republic may envision itself as a zero-waste nation, but new statistics show the country still has some ways to go in achieving this.

Despite the slew of measures to make recycling easier, people recycled less waste last year (2017) compared to the year before.

The National Environment Agency's (NEA) website shows 4.72 million tonnes of waste was recycled last year - 50,000 tonnes fewer than the previous year's 4.77 million tonnes.

The decline took place despite national efforts to encourage people to recycle more.

For instance, every HDB block has been provided with a blue recycling bin - up from one bin for every five blocks.

This was implemented in 2014, the same year the Government announced that all new public housing projects will be fitted with recycling chutes, with throw points on every floor.

The chutes are for items such as books and newspapers, plastic and glass bottles as well as paper and plastic trays for eggs.

The NEA said the decrease in waste recycled last year was largely because lower amounts of wood waste, plastic and paper were being recycled.

This was especially worrying in the case of plastics, which harm the environment. Only 51,800 tonnes were recycled last year, down from the 57,554 tonnes in 2016.

Singapore, however, fared better in the recycling of food waste - a perennial problem for the country.

Food waste, if placed with items that can be recycled, contaminates the whole lot, which the public waste collector then has to dispose of.

NEA attributes the increase to food manufacturers recycling their food waste and greater use of machines that turn food waste into compost.

Overall, Singapore produced less solid waste last year: 7.7 million tonnes or about 110,000 tonnes fewer than the 7.81 million tonnes in 2016.

But proportionally, the amount of waste recycled remained unchanged at 61 per cent, indicating Singapore did not do better.

Separately in Parliament on Tuesday (March 20), Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, said last year's domestic recycling rate was 21 per cent, the same as in 2016.

This was higher than the figure cited in recent media reports, which covered only the National Recycling Programme, she added.

The Straits Times had reported earlier this month that only 2 per cent of total waste generated by the domestic sector in 2016 came from the national recycling effort, in which blue bins are deployed in places like Housing Board estates.

The informal recycling sector, which includes rag-and-bone men, collected almost nine times more.

Ms Pamela Low, a member of the environmental group Singapore Youth for Climate Action, said the unchanged figures for 2017 and 2016 suggest the recycling programme may be failing. "Perhaps, it is time to consider rejuvenating our recycling programme."

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New carbon tax will prepare Singapore for ‘low-carbon global future’: Masagos

SIAU MING EN Today Online 20 Mar 18;

SINGAPORE — Addressing concerns that the Republic’s new carbon tax will blunt the country’s economic competitiveness, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli argued on Tuesday (March 20) that the levy will instead strengthen the competitive edge of companies here and prepare them for a “low-carbon global future”.

He also pointed out that the new tax, which will kick in from next year after Parliament passed the Carbon Pricing Bill, could help spur investments and adoption of low-carbon solutions. The World Bank, for instance, has estimated that global demand for green and “climate smart” solutions in the coming years could be worth as much as US$23 trillion.

“China has already made a strategic choice and stated its ambition to transform its economic development and shift towards a low-carbon economy ... To maintain our competitive edge, Singapore companies must also transform,” the minister added.

“Consumers all over the world will soon demand products and services that use the smallest carbon footprint. We must move early.”

In debating the Bill, Member of Parliament Henry Kwek (Nee Soon GRC) and Nominated MP K Thanaletchimi had asked how the carbon tax would affect the competitiveness of the affected industries. Mr Kwek and MP Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) also asked about the impact on households and their cost of living.

From next year to 2023, large carbon emitters – defined as those that produce 25,000 or more tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually – will be taxed S$5 for each tonne of greenhouse gases emitted. The tax will eventually be increased to between S$10 and S$15 by 2030.

The new laws also require facilities to put in place certain measurement, reporting and verification practices to track their carbon footprint.

The carbon tax will come in the form of a fixed-price credits-based mechanism, where the large emitters will have to pay their carbon tax by surrendering carbon credits. These credits can be purchased at a fixed price from the National Environment Agency throughout the year and have no expiry date.

About 30 to 40 of the largest emitters in the power generation, petroleum refining, chemicals and semiconductor sectors will be taxed, which account for about 80 per cent of Singapore’s emissions.

Mr Masagos gave the assurance that the Government was mindful of the potential economic impact, and had conducted extensive consultations with the industry in designing the framework of the carbon tax.

The initial carbon tax rate of S$5 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions in the first five years was “decided very carefully” after considering both the country’s economic competitiveness and environmental considerations, he added.

Companies will have time to adjust, such as by upgrading to more energy-efficient equipment. The Government will also review the impact of the carbon tax regularly, taking into account factors such as international developments and Singapore’s progress in meeting its commitments under the Paris Agreement to cut emissions intensity by 36 per cent from 2005 levels, by 2030.

As for the impact on consumers, Mr Masagos reiterated that the impact of the tax on households is expected to be small at about 1 per cent of the total electricity and gas expenses.

Eligible households will receive additional U-Save rebates of S$20 per year between next year and 2021, which will cover the expected increases in expenses.

“We will assess the impact of the carbon tax at a later stage and review the need to extend these rebates,” he added.

The authorities will also work closely with the Consumer Association of Singapore (Case) and the Competition Commission of Singapore to monitor the market for unfair pricing and coordinated price hikes that might be anti-competitive.

To reduce the compliance costs on businesses, Mr Masagos said there is a list of greenhouse gas emissions that are excluded from the carbon tax. These are small emissions sources but also cost more to measure and report when compared to the amount of carbon tax collected.

Six greenhouse gases are covered under the tax: Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride.

Dr Lee and Non-constituency MP Leon Perera also asked about making public the emissions data of large emitters for more transparency. But the minister disagreed with the suggestion, citing how these reports contain commercially-sensitive information.

Wrapping up the debate on Tuesday, Mr Masagos said: “The Bill is an important step forward – not only in encouraging industry to do their part for the climate, but also in readying our economy and strengthening our competitiveness as the world transitions to a low-carbon economy. Companies ignore these realities at their peril.”

Carbon tax bill passed amid concerns over its impact on competitiveness
The Carbon Pricing Bill sets out a framework for implementing the carbon tax, including the measurement, reporting and verification requirements.
Lianne Chia Channel NewsAsia 20 Mar 18;

SINGAPORE: A bill to introduce carbon tax in Singapore was passed in Parliament on Tuesday (Mar 20).

The Carbon Pricing Bill sets out a framework for implementing the carbon tax, including the measurement, reporting and verification requirements. The carbon tax will be introduced from 2019 on large direct emitters of greenhouse gases such as power stations, and is expected to affect between 30 and 40 emitters currently operating in Singapore.

These large emitters will be charged S$5 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions from 2019. The tax rate will be reviewed by 2023, with the intention of increasing it to between S$10 and S$15 per tonne by 2030.

Moving the second reading of the bill, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli pointed out that companies in Singapore reported an energy efficiency improvement rate of 0.8 in 2016, up from 0.4 in 2014 and 0.6 in 2015. But he added that Singapore still has some way to go, as leading jurisdictions like Belgium or the Netherlands achieve annual improvement rates of one to two per cent.

“The carbon tax will incentivise companies to improve energy and carbon efficiency, while giving them the flexibility to take action where it makes business sense,” he said. He added that in a recent consultation session with industry and non-government organisations, many agreed on the need for climate action and supported pricing carbon.

The carbon tax will take the form of a “fixed-price credits based mechanism”, Mr Masagos added. This means that the affected facilities will pay the carbon tax by buying and surrendering carbon credits corresponding to their greenhouse gas emissions, rather than through direct payment. These carbon credits can only be bought from the National Environment Agency (NEA) at a fixed price.


Eight parliamentarians spoke on the bill, raising points ranging from the impact of the carbon tax on households, supporting businesses in the change and the impact of the tax on Singapore’s international competitiveness.

MP for Nee Soon GRC Lee Bee Wah noted that with the carbon tax rate of S$5 per tonne, the impact is expected to be small. But she added that there are still concerns about the impact on households.

“This may not seem significant, but with the increase in the price of water and other items, it will all add up,” she said. “One major public concern is how it will affect our cost of living. How can we ensure that businesses are not going to profiteer?”

On support for businesses, MP for Jurong GRC Rahayu Mahzam pointed out that the implementation of the act will “clearly change” the way businesses are run.

Describing it as a “bold and new initiative”, she commended the Government for choosing a “soft start and incremental approach” by imposing a lower tax per tonne of emission at the beginning, and increasing it over time.

But she pointed out that there will be administrative work to be done, mechanisms to be put in place to track emissions, and auditing to be carried out to ensure compliance.

“Given that this is a completely new regime that the businesses are facing, would the Government be providing support, perhaps in the form of business consultancy, to help the affected businesses manage the change?”

Meanwhile, Nominated MP K Thanaletchimi raised concerns that the carbon tax would incur costs that affect industry competitiveness.

“As a small nation that relies heavily on trade and foreign investment, how is the Government going to ensure that the economy remains competitive with the introduction on the carbon tax?” she asked.


In response to MPs, Mr Masagos noted that the impact of the carbon tax on households is expected to be small, at about 1 per cent of total electricity and gas expenses on average. He added that eligible HDB households will receive additional U-Save rebates of S$20 per year, from 2019 to 2021.

On average, these additional rebates will cover the expected increase in electricity and gas expenses arising from the carbon tax. “We will assess the impact of the carbon tax at a later stage and review the need to extend these rebates,” he said.

He added that the Government will also work closely with the Consumers Association of Singapore and Competition Commission of Singapore to monitor the market for unfair pricing and coordinated price hikes.

On supporting companies, Mr Masagos said the Government is prepared to spend more than the estimated S$1 billion in carbon tax revenue that is expected be collected in the first five years on worthwhile carbon abatement projects. Existing energy efficiency incentive schemes will also be enhanced, he said.

He assured Parliament that in introducing the tax, the Government has been mindful of Singapore’s international competitiveness, given that Singapore is an export-oriented economy.

Concluding, he stressed that the carbon tax has been deliberated carefully and extensively within the Government. It has also made a “concerted effort” to consult and engage the industry.

“The bill is an important step forward, not only in encouraging industry to do their part for the climate but also in readying our economy and strengthening our competitiveness as the world transitions to a low-carbon economy,” he said.

“Companies ignore these realities at their peril.”

Source: CNA/lc

Carbon tax Bill passed amid competitiveness concerns
MPs support Bill but wonder if Republic would lose out to those countries with no such tax
Audrey Tan Straits Times 21 Mar 18;

As the first country in South-east Asia to put a price on carbon emissions, Singapore could run the risk of becoming less competitive than countries with no such tax, said some MPs as they asked for more details about the impending carbon tax.

Yet, all eight who spoke up in Parliament yesterday supported the Carbon Pricing Bill, saying it was a crucial step in ensuring that future generations are shielded from the worst effects of climate change.

Climate change is caused by greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, which trap heat.

But from next year, all facilities producing 25,000 tonnes or more of greenhouse gas emissions in a year will have to pay a carbon tax, as Parliament passed the Bill to give Singapore the legal muscle to effect this.

The tax is aimed at curbing large emitters from polluting the environment and spurring them to use cleaner sources of energy.

Mr Henry Kwek (Nee Soon GRC) asked if the tax could impact the competitiveness of Singapore's export-oriented petrochemicals industry. But Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli stressed that the pursuit of environmental sustainability and economic growth is not a zero-sum game.

"It is a strategy to stay competitive. They can do good and do well at the same time," said Mr Masagos, citing two firms that have done both.


The Bill is an important step forward - not only in encouraging industry to do its part for the climate, but also in readying our economy and strengthening our competitiveness as the world transitions to a low-carbon future. Companies ignore these realities at their peril.

MR MASAGOS ZULKIFLI, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources.

Fuel company Chevron Oronite, for example, netted annual energy savings of $1.8 million and cut carbon emissions by 4,800 tonnes by installing new equipment.

GlobalFoundries, a semiconductor company, redesigned equipment and reduced its fuel consumption, resulting in annual cost savings of $260,000 while producing 640 tonnes less carbon.

But Mr Masagos acknowledged that the 30 to 40 companies affected by the carbon tax needed time to make adjustments.

To help companies move towards a low-carbon future, the Government has set the carbon tax at an initial $5 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions from 2019 to 2023. This rate will be reviewed by 2023, with plans to raise it to between $10 and $15 per tonne of emissions by 2030.

Workers' Party Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera said it was prudent to set the carbon tax at a low level initially, but asked if there were other schemes to nudge Singapore towards a smaller carbon footprint in the longer term.

Mr Masagos said the Economic Development Board has been piloting a financing programme in which companies that are not able to afford the upfront costs of energy efficiency projects can apply for loans through a third-party financier. He also said revenue from the carbon tax will be used to fund green initiatives of large emitters as well as small and medium-sized enterprises.

As for the tax effect on households, Mr Masagos said, in response to queries from MPs like Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC), that it is likely to be small, in the range of 1 per cent of total electricity and gas expenses on average.

Still, an additional U-Save rebate will be given for three years to help Housing Board households. Eligible households will each receive $20 more a year, from next year to 2021.

This will tide them over when their electricity and gas expenses are expected to rise, and give them time to reduce their consumption, he added.

Beyond the rebates, it is also important to encourage energy-saving habits in households, he said.

A lamp replacement programme is one way of doing so, with the Government helping families living in one-and two-room HDB homes by replacing their bulbs with more energy-efficient LED lights.

He added: "The Bill is an important step forward - not only in encouraging industry to do its part for the climate, but also in readying our economy and strengthening our competitiveness as the world transitions to a low-carbon future.

"Companies ignore these realities at their peril."

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Malaysia: Good news for Malaysian palm oil

The Star 20 Mar 18;

PUTRAJAYA: There should be no issue about Malaysian palm oil entering the European Union market when all plantations and mills are certified for sustainability by the end of 2019, says Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong.

The Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister said making it mandatory for all to have the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification saw the number of smallholders and corporations submitting applications shoot up by 210% over the past seven months.

“By the end of next year, we would have fully complied with the EU ruling to certify our palm oil industry for sustainability and good practices.

“We hope there will be no more issues or excuses made against our commodity once we meet this requirement,” he said at the MSPO Appreciation Day event here yesterday.

The EU also proposed to ban palm oil biofuels by 2020, a move that could threaten the livelihood of thousands of smallholders and industry workers.

The MSPO certification scheme aims to certify oil palm plantations, independent and organised smallholdings and palm oil processing facilities based on seven principles, which includes addressing management commitment and responsibility; transparency; compliance with legal requirements; and social responsibility, health, safety and employment conditions.

It also addresses good agricultural practices which are essential for sustainable agriculture, producing a high-quality product and enhancing productivity through yield optimisation.

Mah said that by the end of 2018, the ministry had targeted 1.8 million hectares of oil palm land be certified for good practices, adding the Government had allocated RM150mil to assist 650,000 smallholders in the exercise.

“Between now and next year, we will have to work hard to ensure 100% compliance.

“Our focus will be to help the smallholders because it is important that they are not left behind in this process,” he said.

Close to 40% of the total of 5.8 million hectares of oil palm plantations in Malaysia are managed by smallholders.

On reports quoting China’s industry officials that there might be a drop in palm oil imports due to ample supply of soya oil, Mah said while this depended on market demand, Malaysia was heartened by China’s assurance that there would be no restrictions.

“The fact that China’s authorities do not impose conditions on palm oil and palm oil-based products shows that they recognise our good agriculture practices,” Mah told reporters at the event.

At the event, the minister also presented the certification to eight plantation companies – Sime Darby Plantation Bhd, JC Chang (Pte) Limited, TDM Bhd, KLK Bhd, Hap Seng Plantations Holding Bhd, Keresa Plantations Sdn Bhd, Sabah Softwoods Bhd and Achi Jaya Plantations Sdn Bhd.

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Indonesia: Freeport has cost $13 billion losses in environmental damage, says BPK

The Jakarta Post 20 Mar 18;

The Supreme Audit Agency (BPK) has said that ecological damage resulting from PT Freeport Indonesia's (PTFI) mining operations in Papua had caused Rp 185 trillion (US$12.95 billion) in state losses.

“Based on the calculations of experts at IPB [the Bogor Institute of Agriculture], the environmental damage caused by Freeport’s mining waste reached Rp 185 trillion,” BPK commissioner Rizal Djalil said in Jakarta on Monday, as quoted by

He added that the mining company dumped its waste into forests, rivers and estuaries.

Rizal said the BPK had received data on the scale of the damage from the National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (Lapan). He added that Freeport Indonesia also utilized 4,536 hectares of protected forest for their operations in direct violation of Law No. 19/2004 on Forestry.

“It has been 333 days since we issued the report, but it has not been followed up,” said Rizal, adding that the BPK had recommended sanctions for the company to the Environment and Forestry Ministry and the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry.

Meanwhile, Freeport Indonesia spokesman Riza Pratama said the company had followed up on two BPK reports on violating the license on the use of protected forests and its environmental impact.

Riza said the ministry had imposed administrative sanctions on Freeport in October 2017 for violating the terms of the environment permit. (bbn)

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Can climate litigation save the world?

Courts are a new front line of climate action with cases against governments and oil firms spiralling, and while victories have so far been rare the pressure for change is growing
Damian Carrington The Guardian 20 Mar 18;

Global moves to tackle climate change through lawsuits are poised to break new ground this week, as groups and individuals seek to hold governments and companies accountable for the damage they are causing.

On Tuesday, action by 12 UK citizens reaches the high court for the first time, while on Wednesday in San Francisco, the science of climate change will effectively be on trial at a key moment in a lawsuit.

The litigation represents a new front of climate action, with citizens aiming to force stronger moves to cut carbon emissions, and win damages to pay the costs of dealing with the impacts of warming.

They are inspired by momentous cases from the past, from the defeat of big tobacco to the racial desegregation of schools in the US. Big oil is fighting back hard, but though victories have been rare to date wins are more likely in future, as legal experts say the attitudes of judges often shift with the times.

A flurry of billion-dollar cases against fossil fuel companies brought by New York city and communities in California over the rising seas has pushed climate litigation into the limelight. But cases are being brought across the globe, with more than 1,000 suits now logged by the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia law school in New York.

The UK government is now facing its first major climate change lawsuit, brought by 12 citizens through a legal group called Plan B and which already has the support of the government’s former chief scientific adviser, Prof Sir David King.

“The UK carbon target for 2050 does not match the Paris agreement goal and the government knows that,” says Tim Crosland, a barrister at Plan B. He says the purpose of the case is to make the government live up to its responsibilities: “It is about closing the accountability deficit which is one of the biggest problems with climate change – if everybody is responsible, nobody is responsible.”

The UK has had climate laws in place for a decade and is seen by some as a leading nation, but Crosland argues the great dangers of global warming make this irrelevant. “Either we don’t want to fall off the climate cliff edge or we do. Who is doing better than others is the wrong question.”

On Wednesday meanwhile, a landmark case in California, in which the cities of San Francisco and Oakland are suing major oil companies for damages, reaches an unprecedented moment with a day-long hearing on the science of climate change itself.

Further cases are under way from India to Uganda, and across Europe including the UK, Ireland, Belgium, Portugal and Norway, where campaigners are seeking to block oil drilling in the Arctic. In Colombia, 25 young plaintiffs are taking to the courts to halt deforestation.

Lawyers won a rare victory – now under appeal – in the 2015 Urgenda case in the Netherlands, with the court ruling the Dutch state must increase its cuts to emissions. A Pakistani farmer has also won a ruling that the “lethargy of the state in implementing [climate policies] offends the fundamental rights of the citizens”. And a Peruvian farmer is suing German energy company RWE over its alleged contribution to the melting glaciers near his Andean hometown.

But it is in the US, the world’s most litigious nation, that the greatest number of cases have been brought. The most high-profile suit against the government is the Juliana case, filed by 21 teenagers in Oregon, which saw off a Trump administration attempt to halt it earlier in March.

The basis of the case, says Julia Olson, lead counsel for Our Children’s Trust which is fighting the case, is failure of US administrations to protect its citizens by tackling global warming. “The US government has put these plaintiffs and other young people in a dangerous situation. First and foremost it is about personal security and the danger that exists presently. Beyond that, it is about protecting other fundamental rights under the US constitution – basic liberties such as to be able to decide where to live and to raise a family safely.

“I can’t convey how egregious and incredible this story is across every presidential administration of our government going back 60 years,” Olsen says. “This is not a Republican versus Democrat issue. Every president made those choices.”

While lawsuits against governments seek stronger action, those against the fossil fuel industry seek a simpler remedy – money. The argument is that these companies knowingly sold products that caused damage and a financial settlement is required, drawing parallels with the titanic legal battle fought and won against the tobacco industry.

Michael Burger, at the Sabin Center, says there is a similarity in that these growing cases threaten a level of legal and reputational risk to the companies that might eventually force them to settle or face financial oblivion.

“The other obvious similarity with tobacco is you have a long history of corporate obfuscation and attempts to blur the science and public understanding,” he says. Some of the characters involved are even the same – on both sides – with the same scientists defending both tobacco and oil companies and the same lawyers prosecuting them.

“But there is also a key difference,” says Burger. “Tobacco is a product individual people inhale and it gives them cancer. Fossil fuel production is the beginning of a long chain of causation that includes numerous corporate actors and individual consumers, as well as government licensing and permitting schemes. The causal chain is much longer.”

Scientists are now confident they can quantify the emissions resulting from each big company’s fossil fuels – just 90 firms are responsible for two-thirds of all emissions. But lawyers for the fossil fuel companies are robust in their response, saying a causal link to damages is “unprovable”.

The oil giants are also fighting back, with ExxonMobil in January seeking court permission to “investigate potential claims of abuse of process, civil conspiracy, and constitutional violations” by the Californian officials suing them. One of these, Serge Dedina mayor of Imperial Beach, says: “This appears to be the same kind of bullying tactic that the industry uses again and again to avoid accountability.”

Industry lobby groups are also mobilising against climate litigation in the US, with the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) launching a campaign against “politically motivated legal attacks” in November. “It has become clear that these activist plaintiffs’ attorneys, sympathetic academics and agenda-driven media outlets are distorting the use of tort litigation to advance their narratives with the ultimate objective of undermining manufacturers and the engine of the American economy,” said Linda Kelly, NAM general counsel.

However, an international panel of senior judges concluded in January that many companies around the world may well already be in breach of existing laws in relation to their impact on climate change. “Very, very few enterprises currently meet their obligations – if they did [climate change] would mostly be solved,” said Jaap Spier, who was advocate general in the Dutch supreme court until 2016 and part of the panel that published the assessment.

Spier says judges are influenced by growing concerns in society, such as worries over climate change, and are increasingly likely to look favourably on climate litigation in coming years. “If you assume companies don’t [change] at some stage, I have not the slightest doubt that courts will understand that they must step in.”

More and more climate cases are being filed, with lawyers suggesting a range of factors, from the election of Donald Trump to more extreme weather events, to revelations about what fossil fuel companies knew about climate change dangers, and a growing awareness of the urgent need to act.

Despite this, major victories at a supreme court level still appear years off. But Burger says even wins along the way to the highest court add to the pressure for change: “There is a victory here which is just surviving the initial motions to dismiss. Having courts advance these cases towards a trial could itself move fossil fuel companies to want to start to seek some other solution.”

Nick Butler, who spent 29 years at BP and is now at King’s College London, says the companies do not believe the point has been reached where they are likely to lose cases but the pressure is real nonetheless: “The legal actions add a further dimension to the pressure for change in an industry that has begun to accept the need to reinvent itself.”

Olson argues that the courts are starting to recognise the urgency and highlights that the district judge in the Juliana case, Ann Aiken, said climate change needs to be addressed with “all deliberate speed”. That is a potent phrase in the US, taken from the 1955 supreme court judgment on the Brown v Board of Education case that ordered the end of racial segregation of schools.

“We need a decision that says you cannot discriminate against young people and deprive them of a climate system that will sustain their lives,” she says.

“[Aiken] very much understands that constitutional rights are at stake and that speed is the critical factor here. I think we will be on a very fast track.”

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Last male northern white rhino's death highlights 'huge extinction crisis'

The tragic death of Sudan the rhino should act as a warning of the need to act to prevent mass extinctions around the world, say conservationists
Matthew Taylor and Hannah Ellis-Petersen The Guardian 20 Mar 18;

Conservationists have warned that the death of the last male northern white rhinoceros in Kenya is a sign that unsustainable human activity is driving a new era of mass extinctions around the globe.

Sudan, the “gentle giant” who lived in the Ol Pejeta conservancy in Kenya, was put down on Monday after the pain from a degenerative illness became too great.

It leaves only two females - his daughter and granddaughter - through which conservationists hope they might save the species from dying out altogether using IVF.

Colin Butfield, campaigns director at WWF, said the death of a such an emblematic creature was a profound tragedy - and highlighted a wider crisis.

“There is undoubtedly a huge extinction crisis going on of which this death is just a small part,” he said.

Since 1970 average populations of vertebrate animals have more than halved, according to Butfield, and an estimated 10,000 “less celebrated” species are becoming extinct every year.

“It is absolutely huge,” he added.

In Kenya Paula Kahumbu, director of the Wildlife Direct charity, said the news of Sudan’s death had hit people hard.

“The outpouring of grief from Kenyans, especially the younger generation, who woke up to hear that Sudan was dead this morning is a powerful reminder that we must never allow this to happen again.”

Kahumbu said people were “very angry”.”

“We did not do enough to save this majestic species. Now we must stand up and demand action – take action – to prevent the same thing happening to cheetah, elephants, black rhinos, giraffes – we must take ownership of this as Africans and educate people.”

About half a million rhinos roamed in Africa and Asia in 1900. But due to poaching – driven by the trade in Rhino horn – and habitat loss, that figure had fallen to 70,000 by 1970.

Since then the northern white rhino was one of several sub species that has been pushed to the brink of extinction. However Sudan, who was 45, had survived. He had been moved to Dvůr Králové zoo in the Czech Republic in the 1970s before being returning to Africa, where according to those who worked in the Ol Pejeta conservancy, “he stole the heart of many with his dignity and strength”.

“He was a gentle giant, his personality was just amazing and given his size, a lot of people were afraid of him. But there was nothing mean about him,” said Elodie Sampere, a representative for Ol Pejeta.

The veterinary team said they had decided to put Sudan to sleep after his condition worsened over the weekend, leaving him with bad skin wounds. The rhino was unable to stand and was visibly suffering.

“We on Ol Pejeta are all saddened by Sudan’s death,” said Richard Vigne, Ol Pejeta’s chief executive. “He was a great ambassador for his species and will be remembered for the work he did to raise awareness globally of the plight facing not only rhinos, but also the many thousands of other species facing extinction as a result of unsustainable human activity.

“One day, his demise will hopefully be seen as a seminal moment for conservationists worldwide.”

Last night that hope was echoed by Prof Ted Benton from the University of Essex, an environmental social scientist and member of the Red-Green study group.

“The fact that this is in the news suggests there is a wider cultural feeling of regret and care about this from so many people who have never seen – and probably never expect to see – a white rhino, and that is heartening in that it shows that people care.

But he said the death was part of a “much wider and deeper issue” – the huge loss of other species.

“Through the current economic system and globalisation we are taking up more of the earth’s resources and living space than it can accommodate. This is not just a threat to other species this is a threat directly to our survival as humans too.”

Butfield said the growing recognition that we are living through an extinction crisis did offer some hope.

“We are aware of it, we know what causes it and to some extent we know what the solutions are. Now it is a matter of acting on that knowledge before it is too late.”

In Kenya Kahumbu said people were ready to fight.

“For too long conservation has been seen here a something white people do but now the young generation feel very strongly that this is for us to deal with. We need to take ownership of this issue as Africans and to make sure we act before it is too late.”

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Bird populations in rural France 'collapsing'

Marlowe HOOD AFP Yahoo News 21 Mar 18;

Paris (AFP) - Bird populations across an eerily quiet French countryside have collapsed, on average, by a third over the last decade-and-a-half, alarmed researchers reported on Tuesday.

Dozens of species have seen their numbers decline, in some cases by two-thirds, the scientists detailed in a pair of studies, one national in scope and the other covering a large agricultural region in central France.

"The situation is catastrophic," said Benoit Fontaine, a conservation biologist at France's National Museum of Natural History and co-author of one of the studies.

"Our countryside is in the process of becoming a veritable desert," he said in a communique released by the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), which also contributed to the findings.

The common white throat, the ortolan bunting, the Eurasian skylark and other once-ubiquitous species have all fallen off by at least a third, according a detailed, annual census initiated at the start of the century.

A migratory song bird, the meadow pipit, has declined by nearly 70 percent.

The museum described the pace and extent of the wipe-out as "a level approaching an ecological catastrophe."

The primary culprit, researchers speculate, is the intensive use of pesticides on vast tracts of monoculture crops, especially wheat and corn.

The problem is not that birds are being poisoned, but that the insects on which they depend for food have disappeared.

- Deteriorating eco-systems -

"There are hardly any insects left, that's the number one problem," said Vincent Bretagnolle, a CNRS ecologist at the Centre for Biological Studies in Chize.

Recent research, he noted, has uncovered similar trends across Europe, estimating that flying insects have declined by 80 percent, and bird populations has dropped by more than 400 million in 30 years.

Despite a government plan to cut pesticide use in half by 2020, sales in France have climbed steadily, reaching more than 75,000 tonnes of active ingredient in 2014, according to European Union figures.

"What is really alarming, is that all the birds in an agricultural setting are declining at the same speed, even 'generalist' birds," which also thrive in other settings such as wooded areas, said Bretagnolle.

"That shows that the overall quality of the agricultural eco-system is deteriorating."

Figures from the national survey -- which relies on a network of hundreds of volunteer ornithologists -- indicate the die-off gathered pace in 2016 and 2017.

Drivers of the drop in bird populations extend beyond the depletion of their main food source, the scientists said.

Shrinking woodlands, the absence of the once common practice of letting fields lie fallow and especially rapidly expanding expanses of mono-crops have each played a role.

"If the situation is not yet irreversible, all the actors in the agriculture sector must work together to change their practices," Fontaine said.

Europe faces 'biodiversity oblivion' after collapse in French birds, experts warn
Authors of report on bird declines say intensive farming and pesticides could turn Europe’s farmland into a desert that ultimately imperils all humans
Patrick Barkham The Guardian 21 Mar 18;

The “catastrophic” decline in French farmland birds signals a wider biodiversity crisis in Europe which ultimately imperils all humans, leading scientists have told the Guardian.

A dramatic fall in farmland birds such as skylarks, whitethroats and ortolan bunting in France was revealed by two studies this week, with the spread of neonicotinoid pesticides – and decimation of insect life – coming under particular scrutiny.

With intensive crop production encouraged by the EU’s common agricultural policy apparently driving the bird declines, conservationists are warning that many European countries are facing a second “silent spring” – a term coined by the ecologist Rachel Carson to describe the slump in bird populations in the 1960s caused by pesticides.

“We’ve lost a quarter of skylarks in 15 years. It’s huge, it’s really, really huge. If this was the human population, it would be a major thing,” said Dr Benoit Fontaine of France’s National Museum of Natural History and co-author of one of the new studies, a national survey of France’s common birds. “We are turning our farmland into a desert. We are losing everything and we need that nature, that biodiversity – the agriculture needs pollinators and the soil fauna. Without that, ultimately, we will die.”

Farmland makes up 45% of the EU’s land area, but farmland bird populations in France have fallen by an average of a third over the past 15 years. In some cases, the declines are worse: seven out of 10 meadow pipits have disappeared from French fields over that period, while eight in 10 partridges have vanished over 23 years, according to a second French study which examined 160 areas of typical arable plains in central France.

According to the survey, the disappearance of farmland species intensified in the last decade, and again over the last two summers.

Thriving generalist species such as wood pigeons, blackbirds and chaffinches – which also breed in urban areas and woodlands – are increasing nationally but even they are decreasing on farmland, which has led researchers to identify changing farming practices as the cause of big declines.

Scientists point to the correlation between bird declines and the drastic reduction in insect life – such as the 76% fall in abundance of flying insects on German nature reserves over 27 years– which are linked to increasing pesticides and neonicotinoids in particular.

Despite the French government aspiring to halve pesticide use by 2020, sales have climbed, reaching more than 75,000 tonnes of active ingredient in 2014, according to EU figures.

“All birds are dependant on insects in one way or another,” said Fontaine. “Even granivorous birds feed their chicks insects and birds of prey eat birds that eat insects. If you lose 80% of what you eat you cannot sustain a stable population.”

Fontaine said that EU agri-environment were “obviously not” reversing bird declines but he said farmers were not to blame and it was possible to farm to produce food and preserve wildlife.

“Farmers are really willing to do that,” said Fontaine. “They live with a system which is based on large firms that make pesticides and they have to cope with that. They are not the bad guys. The problem is not agriculture, but the solution is really the farmers.”

The declines in France mirror falls across Europe: the abundance of farmland birds in 28 European countries has fallen by 55% in the past three decades, according to figures collated by the European Bird Census Council.

Among 39 species commonly found on European farmland, 24 have declined and only six have increased. The white stork is one of the few success stories, with its revival linked to an increase in artificial nesting sites being provided in towns.

Iván Ramírez, head of conservation for BirdLife Europe & Central Asia, warned that Europe is facing “biodiversity oblivion” on its farmland, with scientific studies attributing the loss of birds to EU farming subsidies. According to Ramírez, countries which have recently joined the EU show declines in farmland birds, while populations have fared better in non-EU states in eastern Europe, where agricultural practices became less intensive after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Martin Harper, director of conservation for the RSPB in the UK, said: “In the UK the situation is just as concerning. Our beleaguered farmland birds have declined by 56% between 1970 and 2015 along with declines in other wildlife linked to changes in agricultural practices, including the use of pesticides. We urgently need action on both sides of the Channel, and this is something we hope to see from the governments of the UK as we prepare to leave the EU.”

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