Best of our wild blogs: 23 Mar 18

Apr 2018 sampling events for NUS–NParks Marine Debris Monitoring Programme
News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

More Insect Prey for Malkoha Chick
Singapore Bird Group

SIBiol Research Trust Fund and Student Research Award - Grant Calls!
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

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Jurong residents may enjoy 1 month free electricity under Open Electricity Market

Today Online 22 Mar 18;

SINGAPORE — Those living in Jurong who are thinking of switching their electricity retailer may now be able to enjoy free electricity for a month.

In a media statement on Thursday (March 22), Tuas Power Supply said the first 1,000 customers who sign up for its three-month trial will get free electricity for the first month.

“There is always an inertia in a newly open market; hence in order to save the hassle for consumers who want to benefit savings from the opening, we are offering a free trial for consumers to try our services whilst enjoying the savings in their electricity bills as early as possible,” said Tuas Power Supply General Manager Michael Wong.

“There is no need to commit to a 12 or 24 months contract.”

The company added that in partnering with SP services for the billing of its services, it is able to “provide its customers with a seamless and convenient experience because customers (can) continue to pay for their electricity via the same single SP bill together with other utilities”.

Since 2001, the Energy Market Authority (EMA) has been progressively opening up the electricity market to promote greater competition by giving consumers the choice and flexibility to buy electricity from retailers.

Under the soft launch of the Open Electricity Market initiative starting April 1, about 108,000 household and 9,500 business accounts in Jurong will have the option of buying electricity from 14 retailers, or continue buying electricity from SP Group at the regulated tariff.

The rest of Singapore will have the option in the second half of 2018, the EMA announced earlier in the week.

Tuas Power supply will be at several roadshows in Jurong to explain its different electricity plans directly to consumers.

*CORRECTION: In the headline of a previous version of this story, we referred to the full liberalisation of the electricity market as Open Energy Market. This is incorrect. The term should be Open Electricity Market. We are sorry for the error.

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Taps turned off at NUS as part of water rationing exercise for students

CYNTHIA CHOO Today Online 22 Mar 18;

SINGAPORE — On Thursday morning (March 22), National University of Singapore (NUS) undergraduate Harith Hakim was greeted by buckets of water in the men’s toilet as he went to brush his teeth and shower before class.

Mr Hakim, 22, who lives in Ridge View Residential College (RVRC), was one of 670 students involved in a 10-hour water rationing exercise held at a NUS residential college for the first time. Organised in conjunction with World Water Day, the 7am to 5pm exercise saw water supply cut off at 27 toilets, 123 shower cubicles and 14 pantries at the college.

Residents were allocated 10 litres of water each to use during the exercise, with the water supplied via buckets and jerry cans.

Mr Hakim said it was a “stark” reminder of how much he had taken running water for granted.

“I was startled to see buckets placed in the toilet in the morning... having to use scoops of water to brush my teeth and shower really made me more aware of how we much take running water for granted,” said the second-year mechanical engineering student.

Minister for Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli visited RVRC on Thursday to observe the water rationing exercise.

The college was chosen to pilot the exercise due to its focus on sustainability and the environment. Under a living-learning programme, RVRC’s students are encouraged to take on a sustainability project every year.

Mr Masagos commended NUS’ efforts on pioneering a water rationing exercise among students, as he said it was one method to cultivate good water conservation habits.

He added: “We have to do that in a safe environment, and the university is one such place. We hope to see this in other institutes of higher learning where in a controlled way, we can implement a water rationing exercise, and students and also staff can participate.”

Mr Masagos also saw a demonstration of the smart shower facilities in RVRC during the tour of the college’s facilities on Thursday.

About 70 smart shower devices were installed in RVRC in August last year as part of a joint study conducted by researchers from the Institute of Water Policy under the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and the Department of Economics at NUS.

The devices provide residents with real-time information on water usage during showers via a numerical display. They can also set water conservation goals, and monitor their water usage history via a mobile application.

Over the four month study, which involved about 350 students, researchers found that each student used about five litres of water less on average during a shower.

Professor Lorenz Goeffer, who was one of the study’s researchers, said that the results were encouraging.

“Even though students don’t have a financial stake in the water they use, they cut down on water usage when they are made aware of how much they use,” he said.

Prof Goeffer said further studies are required before they decide whether to roll out smart showers at other residential colleges and hostels around the campus. He also noted a “slight constraint” as the devices had to be installed on handheld shower heads, and that many are currently fixed to the walls.

The latest Public Utilities Board study on water consumption published last year showed that showers make up the highest water usage in a household.

As part of its water conservation efforts, the water agency will install smart shower devices in about 10,000 new Build-To-Order homes by the end of 2019. The first tranche of 300 flats in Bukit Batok were fitted with smart shower devices last week.

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Early-morning inferno at Kranji recycling company put out after 8 hours

LOW YOUJIN Today Online 22 Mar 18;

SINGAPORE – An early morning fire at a multi-material recycling and waste management company in Kranji on Thursday (Mar 22) was extinguished by firefighters more than eight hours after it started, in what is the second major industrial fire this week.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) told TODAY that the fire, which broke out at a warehouse in 11 Kranji Crescent, started at around 2.16am and was brought under control at 6.15am, before it was finally put out at 10.15am.

There were no reported casualties.

According to the website of Wah & Hua, the owners of the warehouse, the firm provides service for the collection of recyclables from small business businesses to large corporations.

When TODAY was at the scene in the morning, firefighters were seen carrying out damping down operations after the fire was put out. SCDF said this prevents any potential rekindling of fire from "hot burnt surfaces".

Speaking to TODAY, a resident of a dormitory beside the burnt warehouse said he was alerted to the incident by his roommate.

"My friend was using the toilet at around 2am when he heard a sound and saw flames from the warehouse," said Mr Suresh Kumar in Tamil.

The 25-year-old admin assistant said he and the rest of residents of the dormitory, which was occupied by 20 people, evacuated to a grass patch opposite the warehouse. They were forced to move further down the street as the smoke became thicker.

A security cordon that was set up by the SCDF stretched from the warehouse to the dormitory, and it prevented Mr Suresh from reaching his nearby workplace at Leading Bio Energy Singapore.

Throughout the fire, the SCDF kept the public abreast about the developments of the fire, starting with social media posts that were first put up at 3.11am.

"Sixteen firefighting appliances and support vehicles and about 70 personnel" responded to the fire, according to a Tweet from the SCDF.

About an hour after the SCDF's first tweet, it added that three unmanned firefighting machines had been deployed at "strategic points" together with five water jets to "surround and suppress the blaze".

While it is currently unclear what caused the fire, the SCDF said it involved "piles of waste material contained within the warehouse".

"Such fires involving piles of waste material are typically deep-seated and difficult to be extinguished quickly," it explained.

Describing the challenge of fighting the fire, the SCDF said that their personnel not only had to deal with poor visibility and air quality due to the smoke-filled room, they had to be careful of the burning zinc roof and the potential for it to collapse.

This is the second time in a week that SCDF officers had to battle a major industrial fire.

On Tuesday, a raging blaze broke out at an oil storage tank on Pulau Busing, an island off the south-western coast of Singapore.

It was finally extinguished early on Wednesday morning (March 21) after a six-hour firefighting operation. ADDITIONAL REPORTING NAJEER YUSOF

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Despite Government Pledges, Ravaging of Indonesia’s Forests Continues

Seven years after Indonesian officials declared a moratorium on logging in undisturbed areas, logging and palm oil interests have not eased their assault on the world’s third-largest expanse of tropical forest, with major impacts on biodiversity and greenhouse gas emissions.
NITHIN COCA Yale Environment 360 22 Mar 18;

Driving from Medan, Indonesia’s third-largest city, to Lake Toba, the world’s largest volcanic lake in the central highlands of Sumatra, the extent of the country’s deforestation becomes numbingly clear. For hours, a visitor passes plantation after plantation — here palm oil, there paper pulp — all the way to a small, protected forest ring around the lake.

Global demand for forest commodities has devastated major portions of the world’s third-largest tropical forest, with Indonesia losing more than 100,000 square miles of woodlands and peatlands — an area larger than the United Kingdom — from 1990 to 2015, dealing a huge blow to one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. The island of Sumatra alone lost 29,000 square miles — about one-third of its forests — from 1990 to 2010.

Seven years ago, this relentless toll led Indonesia to declare a moratorium on logging new concessions in undisturbed tropical forests and peatlands — a move seen as critical in stemming forest loss and the accompanying fires, haze, and greenhouse gas emissions. That it came shortly after a $1 billion dollar pledge from the government of Norway as part of the then-nascent Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) program, led many to hope that this was an important step toward reversing decades of deforestation in Indonesia. Adding to the momentum were zero-deforestation pledges from companies like Asia Pulp & Paper and the Consumer Goods Forum, which includes major palm oil buyers such as Mars, PepsiCo, and Proctor & Gamble.

Nearly seven years after the declaration of the moratorium, however, the initiative has failed to stem the loss of forests and peatlands across the Indonesian archipelago. Satellite monitoring shows that palm oil and paper plantations continue to expand, with at least 10,000 square miles of primary forest and peatland — the equivalent of five islands the size of Bali — disappearing since the moratorium went into effect, according to one analysis. In 2015, a massive El Niño-fueled fire event — linked to burning for land-clearing — was believed to be the worst in Indonesian history, emitting an estimated 1,750 million metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere — nearly twice what Germany does in a year, according to The Global Fire Emissions Database.

Following the moratorium, says Asep Komarudin, Forest Campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, “there were no significant improvements in Indonesia’s natural resource governance, particularly in the forestry sector.”

Indeed, several years ago, Indonesia became the world leader in deforestation, overtaking Brazil. Erik Meijaard, a conservation scientist who founded the Borneo Futures initiative, says he has seen little change in Indonesian Borneo, where palm oil plantations continue to expand.

“If fact, there was a marked increase of deforestation after 2010… you get a very rapid expansion of the oil palm industry into forest areas, so if a moratorium was called in 2011, it didn’t seem to have an impact on the oil palm sector at least,” said Meijaard. Data from Global Forest Watch shows a similar pattern – little change in deforestation rates across the country since the moratorium went into effect.

The reasons for this are manifold. First, there is the weakness of the moratorium itself, which was only a so-called Presidential Instruction, not a legally binding statute, meaning it lacked strong enforcement mechanisms. Moreover, the moratorium only applied to new concessions, not existing concessions that had already been ceded to companies and smallholders, but had not yet been cut down or burned. Adding to the moratorium’s ineffectiveness are ongoing problems with corruption, and the drive — particularly after the election of Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to the presidency in 2014 — to rapidly expand the economy. Moreover, government weakness and inefficiency also have meant that Norway’s pledged funds have scarcely been used to protect forests.

Moreover, the zero-deforestation pledges made by corporations have not yet had a major impact. A study published earlier this year in Nature Climate Change analyzed pledges from 450 companies and found that the majority were insufficient in their scope to meaningfully reduce deforestation on their own. The report’s authors argued that companies also need to push governments at all levels to crack down on deforestation globally.

Some experts say that while Indonesia’s progress is disappointing, fixing decades of forestry mismanagement in a few years was always an impossible task. They also note that deforestation rates have come down from their peak in the 1990s and early 2000s.

“The very important steps in the right direction that Indonesia has taken are unfairly characterized as failures because the whole big ship has not turned around yet,” said Jonah Busch, an environmental economist and a visiting fellow at the Center for Global Development. “If there hadn’t been a moratorium, deforestation might have been even higher.”

The problem, conservationists say, is that the necessary changes are not happening fast enough to protect Indonesia’s landscapes and biodiversity. The country has 350,000 square miles of tropical forests, the third-largest area in the world after Brazil and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. According to ProFauna, an Indonesian wildlife protection nonprofit, Indonesia is first in the world in endemic birds and mammals. A country with just 1.3 percent of the world’s land has 17 percent of its wildlife species.

A study published in February in Current Biology found that nearly 150,000 orangutans had been lost in Borneo from 1999 to 2015, chiefly due to habitat loss. The Sumatran rhino, the smallest of all living rhinoceroses and the only Asian rhino with two horns, is critically endangered; Save The Rhino, a wildlife conservation group, estimates that fewer than 100 of the animals remain in the wild. They now are found only in a few slivers of Sumatra’s remaining rainforests, the largest of which, the Leuser Ecosystem, is facing a major threat from agribusiness.

While the loss of tropical landscapes is devastating on its own, the destruction is amplified when you factor in the key tool used by companies, smallholders, and villagers to clear land: fire. Large-scale fires and haze events began only after the timber boom of the 1970’s, and were exacerbated by expansion of palm oil and pulpwood plantations. Fires now occur nearly yearly and are why Indonesia is regularly one of the top five countries in the world for greenhouse gas emissions.

This is because much of Sumatra and Kalimantan, the two islands where the bulk of deforestation has taken place, are composed primarily of peatlands. Peatland soils can contain several times more carbon than the trees themselves, and evidence is growing that current global stocks of carbon in peat are massively underestimated. Peatlands are naturally wet and swampy, but palm, acacia, and eucalyptus all require dry land to grow, so plantation owners drain the land, creating a tinderbox for fires.

Worldwide, emissions related to forest and land disturbance are responsible for about a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to data from the World Bank. Indonesia is the largest global contributor to these emissions, spewing 240 to 447 million tons of CO2 annually from land disturbance alone, according to data from Global Forest Watch. Gaining control over these emissions by reducing deforestation would make an important contribution to helping meet global CO2 emissions-reduction targets, scientists say.

“There are a lot of potential emissions reductions from conserving forests in Indonesia,” said Busch, “and there are a lot of reasons to think that those are relatively cheap ways to reduce emissions relative to industrial reductions. The world has good reasons to take advantage of this low-cost climate solution… but it has not been happening to the extent it should be.”

Such imperatives drove Norway’s pledge to Indonesia. According to the Norwegian Ministry of Environment and Climate, only 12 percent of the $1 billion that Norway pledged has been disbursed so far, and that portion has been designated specifically for helping the Indonesian government properly monitor, evaluate, and disseminate payments for reducing deforestation. Some of the money already disbursed has been used to improve firefighting and resolve social conflicts between communities and companies in forest areas, Ola Elvestuen, Minister of Climate and Environment for Norway, told Yale Environment 360.

One of the core problems is a lack of incentives for developing countries to protect forests, especially when faced with the need to expand their economies. While Norway’s $1 billion pledge sounds like a lot of money, it pales compared to the size of the industries responsible for deforestation. In 2015, Indonesia’s pulp exports were $1.8 billion and palm oil $15 billion; coal exports in 2016 were $12.9 billion.

Norway’s pledge was meant to be just the start, with other countries following suit. But additional climate financing has not been forthcoming. While developed countries agreed to put $100 billion into the Green Climate Fund as part of the Paris Agreement to fight climate change, only about $10 billion has been committed. Factor in lower revenues from carbon credit money linked to cap-and-trade programs in places like Europe and Canada, and you have a major funding gap in investments in programs like REDD+.

“The amount of money that’s on the table for conserving forests is not nearly enough to compete with the amount of money that is changing hands every day for clearing forests for palm oil and paper pulp,” said Busch.

Still, there are some signs of hope. The Norwegian government is optimistic that direct payments for emissions reductions can begin soon, meaning that Indonesia can tap into more than $800 million to protect and restore forests.

“Any change in how land and forests are used take time, especially in such a large and diverse country as Indonesia,” said Elvestuen. “We are appreciating that Indonesia is making important governance reforms in the forest and land use sectors and we are looking forward to quickly seeing results in terms of reduced deforestation and forest degradation.”

According to Shintia Arwida, a scientist at the Indonesia-based Center for International Forestry Research, the government has finally established a unit that will serve as the primary funding mechanism, a key step toward receiving and dispersing REDD+ payments. So far, however, forest conservation in Indonesia has taken a back seat to economic development, which depends on expanding the very industries responsible for deforestation and fires. A case in point: Plans are going forward to build 3 million acres of sugar and oil palm plantations in Indonesian Papua, one of the few regions of the country that has yet to see massive deforestation.

Stemming deforestation in Indonesia is hardly the responsibility of Indonesia alone, said Busch, as companies with zero-deforestation pledges and countries vowing to support REDD+ programs must intensify their efforts. “Indonesia is too big to fail when it comes to climate,” he said.

Yet as is often the case in Indonesia, defining progress is not easy. Earlier this year, the Ministry of Forestry released what seemed to be good news for the country’s remaining forests. According to their data, deforestation had decreased in the past two years. However, dig deeper into the data and a different reality emerges: Pulpwood plantations were counted as “forests.” Only by defining deforestation as forests could Indonesia show it was making progress.

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Indonesia: Palm oil environmental issues stressed amid negative campaign fears

Moses Ompusunggu The Jakarta Post 22 Mar 18;

Joining the wave of what the industry has described as a “negative campaign” against palm oil, three documentaries on oil palm plantations have been released and two of them have garnered international recognition.

One documentary, Austrian filmmaker Werner Boote's The Green Lie, was screened at the 68th Berlin International Film Festival, the Berlinale, last month. Part of the film was shot in Muarojambi regency, Jambi, during the forest fires in 2015.

Another one, American-Indonesian Ashram Shahrivar's Sigek Cokelat (Chocolate Bar), was screened at the Colorado Environmental Film Festival in the US and at the London International World Cinema event.

The most recent is the work of renowned documentary filmmaker, Dandhy Laksono's Watchdoc, titled Asimetris. The film was launched this month and has circulated in the country. The three share one thing in common: they set out to explain the palm oil industry’s detrimental effect on the environment.

Their international and nationwide reception appears to be just in time as the world puts the sustainability of the palm oil industry under greater scrutiny. The industry helps in the production of everyday items in our life like soap, cooking oil, cosmetics and chocolate bars, but has long been linked to deforestation in rainforest countries, including Indonesia.

Ashram said he wanted Sigek Cokelat to be an “eye-opening” experience on what was really happening in West Kalimantan palm plantations, referring to the decades-long deforestation that has reduced the habitat of orangutans, while people enjoyed chocolate, the production of which uses palm oil.

The Green Lie address the same issue. "The fact is that [the palm oil industry] has taken over ancestral lands, damaged the environment and has even violated human rights," said Feri Irawan, an environmentalist in Jambi, who appears in The Green Lie, which was nominated for best documentary award in the Berlinale in February.

That kind of criticism has been strongly voiced also by international NGOs, leading to what palm oil producers -- notably Indonesia and Malaysia – have called discriminatory and protectionist policies, such as the European Parliament's approval in January of a bill that will limit the use of palm oil as transportation fuel starting from 2022 and Norway's ban in 2017 on the public procurement and use of palm oil-based biofuel.

The policies could hurt Indonesia's exports, the country's authorities and business players warn. As the world's largest palm oil producer, Indonesia exported 31 million tons of palm oil last year, or 75 percent of Indonesia’s total output, bringing US$22.9 billion in foreign exchange revenue.

"Palm oil is one of primary elements of Indonesia's national interest, notably because it is related to the prosperity of 17 million Indonesian citizens, including smallholder farmers, who directly and indirectly depend on the palm oil industry," the Indonesian Embassy in Brussels said in a statement after the European Parliament's move.

International communities have singled out Indonesian oil palm plantations in the chorus of criticism of environmental aspects of the biofuel industry, Indonesian Palm Oil Producers Association (Gapki) board member Fadhil Hasan said on Thursday.

Fadhil gave an instance of the European Union's stance on Argentina, the world's leading soy exporter and biggest provider of biodiesel made from its derivatives.

"For Argentina, it was the trade aspect that was highlighted. The environmental aspect was not highlighted," said Fadhil.

The EU set duties in November 2013 of 8.8 percent to 20.5 percent for Indonesian biodiesel producers and between 22 percent and 25.7 percent for Argentine biodiesel producers, in both cases to apply for five years.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) upheld Argentina's complaint on the bloc's decision in an appeal ruling in October 2016 and ruled in favor of Indonesia, which also challenged the decision, in January this year.

But there was no punitive action proposed by the European Parliament on Argentina like was announced for Indonesia, Fadhil said, referring to the calls for the banning of palm oil in biofuels in 2021, which was based on environmental concerns.

According to a rating created by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Argentina is among the top 10 countries that destroy their forests the most, and the FAO calculates the loss has amounted in more than 7.5 million hectares since 1990, environmental news organization Mongabay reported in 2016.

Greenpeace’s forest campaign in Argentina, Hernán Giardini, told Mongabay that “the advance of genetically modified soy production since the mid-1990s until now, and the intensive cattle raising in the north” are the main causes of forest loss in the country.

Gapki has stated on its website that when talking about global deforestation, the accusations against palm oil are “over the top”, especially if compared with deforestation resulting from soy plantations and cattle ranching.

Jon Afrizal contributed to this article from Jambi

Indonesia Unfair: Documentary Filmmaker Dandhy Laksono Strives for Impact
Dames Alexander Sinaga Jakarta Globe 22 Mar 18;

Jakarta. Production house WatchdoC released the ninth documentary film in its The Blue Indonesia Expedition project, titled "Asimetris,” on March 13.

The Bekasi-based company is owned and run by journalist-cum-film producer Dandhy Laksono, who said the film is an exposé of the palm oil industry in Indonesia and its impact on the environment.

In 2015, Sumatra and Kalimantan experienced devastating fires, with more than a million hectares of forest destroyed and dozens of people killed.

A prolonged dry season caused by an especially strong El Niño effect had been blamed for the fires, but Dandhy believes clearing lands for monoculture plantations – like palm oil plantation – using fire was the real cause.

"The impact of those fires is far more costly than what the palm oil itself brings back," said Dandhy, who is one of the producers in the new film.

He said the 68 minute-documentary, which was shot by 13 videographers, is trying to tell farmers they should not use their land for monoculture farming, including growing oil palm trees.

"The film also sends a message to governments, policymakers, the military and journalists to look at things from a broader perspective before making policies. They should consider more aspects than just economic growth, foreign exchange and so on. The environmental impact [of monoculture plantations] has cost the country more than it's getting back," Dandhy said.

Documentaries a Game Changer

Dandhy claimed documentary films have already changed the course of journalism in Indonesia.

"Most in the media are too busy covering high-level politics, big narratives about economic growth and infrastructure development and what the president likes to do in his spare time," the 42-year-old told the Jakarta Globe.

He said land conflicts, threats to indigenous societies, natural disasters and other humanitarian issues are often ignored by the nation's press.

Dandhy has produced more than a hundred documentaries and more than 500 TV features on social and environmental issues in Indonesia since 2009.

WatchdoC was founded by Dandhy and his friend Andhy Kurniawan, another ex-journalist.

Dandhy – who has also written two books, "Indonesia for Sale" and "Investigative Journalism" – said the WatchdoC team collects money from their own savings to produce the documentaries.

In 2015, Dandhy partnered with journalist Suparta "Ucok" Arz in The Blue Indonesia Expedition Team, traveling around Indonesia on a motorcycle and making documentaries on environmental and social issues for a full year.

Their adventure caught the attention of the media and went viral on social media.

In 2016, WatchdoC released a documentary called "Jakarta Unfair" about forced evictions carried out by the Jakarta administration in the name of infrastructure development.

Urban activists criticized the evictions, ordered by Jakarta's then governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama's, saying it discriminates against the urban poor.

2016 was an intense year in the capital, as the gubernatorial election turned into one of the most divisive in history. The documentary Jakarta Unfair created controversies, with some saying it was anti-Ahok or anti-Jokowi propaganda and a screening of it was canceled.

"We're not aligned to anyone politically. We did not start from political alliances. We've been here long before Jokowi," Dandhy said, referring to Indonesian President Joko Widodo by his nickname.

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Indonesia: Walhi Reveals 82 Percent of Land Controlled by Corporations

Tempo 23 Mar 18;

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Environmental group Wahana Lingkungan Hidup (Walhi) revealed that 82 percent of Indonesia’s land spaces are controlled by big corporations.

“The current domination by corporations is 82 percent, which is acquired by concessions and permits in the sector of forestry, plantations, and mining,” said Walhi Executive Director Yaya Nur Hidayati on Thursday, March 22.

According to Walhi’s records, the land spaces acquired by corporations in the sector of forestry amounts to 31.7 million hectares and 11.1 million hectares of land space for business use. Meanwhile, 32.7 million hectares are controlled by mining corporations and 83.5 million hectares used for mining in the oil and gas industry.

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The Philippine seas and climate change: Unlocking Blue Carbon Solutions for a cooler planet

VAL BUGNOT GMA Network 22 Mar 18;

It was 2014 when I first set foot in an island community called Nasingin in Bohol province. Nestled just below Banacon island, Nasingin is home to at least 2,400 people. The whole community stretches 1.7km long and I was able to walk around in less than 15 minutes. The ground, made from dirt and coral, disappears twice a day when the high tide comes in.

I visited Nasingin on a research mission to get the locals’ notions on climate change. Constantly battered by fierce typhoons, sea surges, and strong winds, the community knows that nature’s course has changed drastically in the last few years.

Artemio Vergara, chief of the peoples’ organization, eagerly showed me around. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the community lives in poverty—freshwater supply is scarce, livelihood options are limited to fishing, and household heads usually go to neighboring towns in search for jobs and better opportunities.

But despite these conditions, Nasingin has something that they consider a treasure: the 300-ha mangrove forest cover that frames their island, protecting it from harsh winds and the unfriendly sea.

According to Mr. Vergara, the mangrove forest is a result of collective community action.

“I was twelve years old when we started planting mangroves. Local chieftains here consider this as a priority and as years passed by, we were able to grow this mangrove forest,” he narrated.

Touring the forest cover aboard a motorize banca, the community members proudly show the massive mangrove trees that expands well beyond the island’s horizon. These forests have always been there for them, the community members shared.

Nasingin often faces destructive typhoons along with sea surges and strong winds. When disaster strikes, nobody could go fishing. Economic activities are disrupted and most families are forced to go hungry. During these trying times, they turn to their mangroves.

“It has always protected us. The mangroves act as a barrier between us and strong waves. That’s why we’re still here. When we couldn’t go out to fish, we usually find shellfish in the mangroves and that’s enough to help us survive,” Maria Luz Sagarino, a community member and a mother of four shared.

The 300-ha mangrove that cradles the community does not only provide valuable protection against the forces of nature, it is also a lifeline for residents of Nasingin. The forest cover served as a breeding ground and nursery for various species of fish, shellfish, and marine animals—most of which can be viable sources of livelihood and sustenance.

And with climate change increasing the likelihood of extreme weather disturbances, Nasingin’s mangrove forest will prove to be a valuable resource not only to the community but to its neighboring towns as well.

Nasingin is just one of the communities in the Philippines that greatly benefits from its mangrove ecosystem. Across the country, these marine reserves present viable blue carbon solutions to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.

The Philippines as a Frontrunner for Blue Carbon Solutions

The Philippines, as an archipelagic country, hosts a significant portion of the world’s mangrove stocks. According to this report by PEMSEA, the East Asian region alone accounts for four million ha of mangroves—roughly 30 percent of the global total. The country has the third largest mangrove ecosystem at 0.26Mha, after Indonesia’s 2.71Mha and Malaysia’s 0.56MHa.

These mangrove cover are extremely important in addressing climate change. In a research conducted by the Nature Conservancy and IHCantabria for the WAVES program of World Bank, it was found out that mangroves helped reduced flooding for 613,000 people annually, 23 percent of whom are living below the poverty line. Mangroves are also responsible for saving as much as US $1 billion in residential and industrial property damages. If mangrove forest cover can be reverted back to their 1950s level, added benefits will be felt by 267,000 people, 61,000 of which are living in extreme poverty condition.

On top of these, mangroves are efficient in sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere. The PEMSEA report underscored that East Asia’s mangrove stocks hold 8.8 billion tons of CO2 and collectively, these mangrove ecosystems sequester 22.4 MMt CO2 from the atmosphere.

In terms of adaptation, mangroves protect coastlines and its communities by absorbing wave energy, providing protection from storm surge, and preventing coastal soil erosion. In some cases, mangroves can also double as seawalls, protecting communities from sea level rise.

Mangroves are part of coastal blue carbon ecosystems—an umbrella term used to describe mangroves, tidal marshes, and seagrass meadows that can sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store these for hundreds of years. These ecosystems, aside from sequestering carbon, provide rich breeding grounds for fish stocks, contribute to the filtration of sediment, and ensure the protection of coral reefs from erosion and flooding.

It is essential to unlock blue carbon solutions to help cool down the planet. Experts agree that for humanity to survive, global temperature levels should not increase by more than 2°C. As such, a 1.5-degree increase in global temperature still brings in catastrophic events: more frequent extreme weather disturbances, sea level rise, stronger and longer spells of drought and El Niño, and the extinction of flora and fauna. Mangrove ecosystems, with its proven capacity for carbon sequestration, can be leveraged in a way that strongly supports a country’s achievement of its NDC towards meeting this global goal.

The Philippines, as one of the countries that ratified the Paris Agreement in 2016, has identified the potential of blue carbon solutions in climate change adaptation and mitigation. In fact, the country is one of the five countries that explicitly used this term in its Nationally Intended Contribution (NDC).

In its NDC, the Philippines agreed to “about 70 percent of emission reductions by 2030 relative the business-as-usual (BAU) scenario.” To achieve this, the country highlighted the role that marine ecosystems play, citing blue carbon potentials.

The Threat to Blue Carbon Solutions

Despite their valuable contribution to climate change mitigation, coastal ecosystems around the world are threatened by anthropogenic activities, with over 800,000 hectares destroyed per year. When these ecosystems are destroyed, they release enormous amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere, further contributing to the rise of Earth’s temperature.

According to this policy brief by Nature Conservancy, if half of the annual loss in coastal ecosystems are addressed, it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 0.23 GT per year—an amount equivalent to the 2013 emissions of Spain. Further, if wetlands are to be restored to their 1990 cover, potential carbon sequestration can amount to 160Mt CO2 per year—enough to offset 77.4 million tonnes of coal burned. In terms of protecting communities against climate-related disasters, the paper posits that 100 meters of mangroves are enough to reduce wave height by as much as 66 percent.

Local Communities, Blue Carbon Solutions towards a Cooler Planet

The 2020 deadline for limiting global temperature increase to 1.5°C is fast approaching and there is a need to act now. The Philippines is strategically endowed with massive assets towards blue carbon solutions.

Measures should be in place to ensure that local communities take the center stage in managing and protecting their resources. In the case of Nasingin, the community is awarded a certificate of stewardship from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and granting them the authority to plant, manage, and protect their mangrove forest. The agency and the community also entered into a Community-Based Forestry Management (CBFM) contract to ensure that the community will always have the agency and power over their resources.

Aside from safeguarding the rights of local communities, it is also imperative to establish an incentive mechanism for those who are heavily dependent on mangrove ecosystems. In Banacon Island, a larger neighboring island of Nasingin, experts estimated that the 40-year mangrove plantation can store as much as 370.7 tons of carbon per hectare. This capacity can pave the way for incentive programs to further stimulate the community’s buy in and provide an economic benefit for their resource management efforts.

Communities should always be in the spotlight in scaling up blue carbon solutions. Technical assistance through capacity building and livelihood programs should be made available to them. As such, the government, together with the academe, should identify and value indigenous approaches to blue carbon solutions and develop these for replication.

Collaboration amongst local government play a key part in scaling up blue carbon solutions as well. A good example for this is the enforcement of the Verde Island Passage Marine Protected Area Network; a 1.14-million hectare marine ecosystem formed by the waters of Romblon, Occidental Mindoro, Oriental Mindoro, and Batangas. The network aims to strengthen enforcement of marine protection laws to ensure the protection of the “center of the center of marine biodiversity.”

Lying in the Pacific Ring of Fire, the Philippines is constantly battered by nature’s forces. Climate change continues to threaten the country’s vulnerability and proves to be a multiplier in the social pressures that it is currently experiencing. However, the Philippines has a lot of solutions under its belt—blue carbon solutions being one of these. Addressing climate change lies on ensuring the wellbeing of our people and making sure that they have the capacity to survive and thrive in these trying times. — LA, GMA News

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'Great Pacific garbage patch' sprawling with far more debris than thought

The patch of detritus is more than twice the size of France and is up to 16 times larger than previously estimated
Oliver Milman The Guardian 22 Mar 18;

An enormous area of rubbish floating in the Pacific Ocean is teeming with far more debris than previously thought, heightening alarm that the world’s oceans are being increasingly choked by trillions of pieces of plastic.

The sprawling patch of detritus – spanning 1.6m sq km, (617,763 sq miles) more than twice the size of France – contains at least 79,000 tons of plastic, new research published in Nature has found. This mass of waste is up to 16 times larger than previous estimates and provides a sobering challenge to a team that will start an ambitious attempt to clean up the vast swath of the Pacific this summer.

The analysis, conducted by boat and air surveys taken over two years, found that pollution in the so-called Great Pacific garbage patch is almost exclusively plastic and is “increasing exponentially”. Microplastics, measuring less than 0.5cm (0.2in), make up the bulk of the estimated 1.8tn pieces floating in the garbage patch, which is kept in rough formation by a swirling ocean gyre.

While tiny fragments of plastic are the most numerous, nearly half of the weight of rubbish is composed of discarded fishing nets. Other items spotted in the stew of plastic include bottles, plates, buoys, ropes and even a toilet seat.

“I’ve been doing this research for a while, but it was depressing to see,” said Laurent Lebreton, an oceanographer and lead author of the study. Lebreton works for the Ocean Cleanup, a Dutch-based non-profit that is aiming to tackle the garbage patch.

“There were things you just wondered how they made it into the ocean. There’s clearly an increasing influx of plastic into the garbage patch.

“We need a coordinated international effort to rethink and redesign the way we use plastics. The numbers speak for themselves. Things are getting worse and we need to act now.”

Plastic has proven a usefully durable and versatile product but has become a major environmental blight, tainting drinking water and rivers. Around 8m tons of plastic ends up in the oceans every year, where it washes up on beaches or drifts out to sea where the pieces very slowly break down over hundreds of years.

Larger pieces of plastic pollution can entangle and kill marine creatures, while tiny fragments are eaten by small fish and find their way up the food chain. Plastic often attracts toxic pollutants that are then ingested and spread by marine life. It’s estimated there will be more waste plastic in the sea than fish by the year 2050.

Much of the plastic waste accumulates in five circular ocean currents – known as gyres – found around the globe. The Ocean Cleanup has pledged a “moonshot” effort to clean up half of the Great Pacific garbage patch within five years and mop up the other rubbish-strewn gyres by 2040.

The organization is developing a system of large floating barriers with underwater screens that capture and concentrate plastics into one area ready to be scooped out of the ocean. A prototype, to be launched from San Francisco this summer with the aim of spawning a clutch of devices each of which can collect five tons of waste a month, will, if successful, be followed by dozens of other boom-like systems measuring up to 2km (1.2 miles) long.

The project comes with caveats, however – its system will not catch the proliferation of microplastics measuring under 10 millimeters (0.39in) and the whole operation will require further funding from next year. Any successful clean-up may also be overwhelmed by a global surge in plastic production – a recent UK government report warned the amount of plastic in the ocean could treble within the next decade.

“There is a big mine of microplastics there coming from larger stuff that’s crumbling down, so we need to get in there quickly to clean it up,” said Joost Dubois, a spokesman for the Ocean Cleanup.

“But we also need to prevent plastic getting into the ocean in the first place. If we don’t manage the influx of plastics we will be the garbagemen of the ocean forever, which isn’t our ambition.”

The problem of plastic pollution is gaining traction in diplomatic circles, with nearly 200 countries signing on to a UN resolution last year that aims to stem the flood of plastic into the oceans. However, the agreement has no timetable and is not legally binding.

Dr Clare Steele, a California-based marine ecologist who was not involved in the research, said the study provided “great progress” in understanding the composition of the Great Pacific garbage patch.

But she regretted that while removing larger items, such as ghost fishing nets, would help wildlife, the clean-up would not deal with the colossal amount of microplastic.

“Those plankton-sized pieces of plastic are pretty difficult to clean up,” she said. “The only way is to address the source and that will require a radical shift on how we use materials, particularly single-use plastic such as cutlery, straws and bottles that are so durable.

“We need to reduce waste and come up with new, biodegradable alternatives to plastic. But one of the easiest steps is changing the way we use and discard the more ephemeral plastic products.”

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State of Climate in 2017 – Extreme weather and high impacts

World Meteorological Organization ReliefWeb 22 Mar 18;

The very active North Atlantic hurricane season, major monsoon floods in the Indian subcontinent, and continuing severe drought in parts of east Africa contributed to 2017 being the most expensive year on record for severe weather and climate events.

The high impact of extreme weather on economic development, food security, health and migration was highlighted in the WMO Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2017. Compiled by the World Meteorological Organization with input from national meteorological services and United Nations partners, the report provides detailed information to support the international agenda on disaster risk reduction, sustainable development and climate change.

The Statement, now in its 25th year, was published for World Meteorological Day on 23 March. It confirmed that 2017 was one of the three warmest years on record and the warmest not influenced by an El Niño event. It also examined other long-term indicators of climate change such as increasing carbon dioxide concentrations, sea level rise, shrinking sea ice, ocean heat and ocean acidification.

Global mean temperatures in 2017 were about 1.1 °C above pre-industrial temperatures. The five-year average 2013–2017 global temperature is the highest five-year average on record. The world’s nine warmest years have all occurred since 2005, and the five warmest since 2010.

“The start of 2018 has continued where 2017 left off – with extreme weather claiming lives and destroying livelihoods. The Arctic experienced unusually high temperatures, whilst densely populated areas in the northern hemisphere were gripped by bitter cold and damaging winter storms. Australia and Argentina suffered extreme heatwaves, whilst drought continued in Kenya and Somalia, and the South African city of Cape Town struggled with acute water shortages,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

“Since the inaugural Statement on the State of the Global Climate, in 1993, scientific understanding of our complex climate system has progressed rapidly. This includes our ability to document the occurrence of extreme weather and climate events, the degree to which they can be attributed to human influences, and the correlation of climate change with epidemics and vector-borne diseases,” said Mr Taalas.

“In the past quarter of a century, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have risen from 360 parts per million to more than 400 ppm. They will remain above that level for generations to come, committing our planet to a warmer future, with more weather, climate and water extremes,” said Mr Taalas.

Direct measurements of atmospheric CO2 over the past 800 000 years showed natural variations between 180 and 280 ppm. “This demonstrates that today’s CO2 concentration of 400 ppm exceeds the natural variability seen over hundreds of thousands of years, “ said the Statement.

Socio-economic impacts

2017 was a particularly severe year for disasters with high economic impacts. Munich Re assessed total disaster losses from weather and climate-related events in 2017 at US$ 320 billion, the largest annual total on record (after adjustment for inflation).

Fuelled by warm sea surface temperatures, the North Atlantic hurricane season was the costliest ever for the United States and eradicated decades of developments gains in small islands in the Caribbean such as Dominica. The National Centers for Environmental Information estimated total U.S. losses from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria at US$ 265 billion. The World Bank estimates Dominica’s total damages and losses from the hurricane at US$ 1.3 billion or 224% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Climate impacts hit vulnerable nations especially hard, as evidenced in a recent study by the International Monetary Fund, which warned that a 1 °C increase in temperature would cut significantly economic growth rates in many low-income countries.

The overall risk of heat-related illness or death has climbed steadily since 1980, with around 30% of the world’s population now living in climatic conditions that deliver potentially deadly temperatures at least 20 days a year, according to information from the World Health Organization quoted in the Statement. It also included a section on the relationship between climate and the Zika epidemic in the Americas in 2014–2016.

In 2016, weather-related disasters displaced 23.5 million people. Consistent with previous years, the majority of these internal displacements were associated with floods or storms and occurred in the Asia-Pacific region.

Massive internal displacement in the context of drought and food insecurity continues across Somalia. From November 2016 to December 2017, 892 000 drought-related displacements were recorded by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In the Horn of Africa, the failure of the 2016 rainy season was followed by a harsh January–February 2017 dry season, and a poor March-to-May rainy season. In Somalia, as of June 2017, more than half of the cropland was affected by drought, and herds had reduced by 40–60% since December 2016 due to increased mortality and distress sales, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Programme.

Floods affected the agricultural sector, especially in Asian countries. Heavy rains in May 2017 triggered severe flooding and landslides in south-western areas of Sri Lanka. The negative impact of floods on crop production further aggravated the food security conditions in the country already stricken by drought, according to FAO and WFP.

The oceans

Global sea surface temperatures in 2017 were somewhat below the levels of 2015 and 2016, but still ranked as the third warmest on record. Ocean heat content, a measure of the heat in the oceans through their upper layers down to 2 000 meters, reached new record highs in 2017.

The Statement said that the magnitude of almost all of individual components of sea level rise has increased in recent years, in particular melting of the polar ice sheets, mostly in Greenland and to a lesser extent Antarctica.

For the second successive year, above-average sea surface temperatures off the east coast of Australia resulted in significant coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef.

The Climate Statement contained a special section on ocean acidification from the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO. Over the past 10 years, various studies have confirmed that ocean acidification is directly influencing the health or coral reefs, the success, quality and taste of aquaculture raised fish and seafood, and the survival and calcification of several key organisms. These alterations have cascading effects within the food web, which are expected to result in increasing impacts on coastal economies.


Sea ice extent was well below the 1981–2010 average throughout 2017 in both the Arctic and Antarctic. The winter maximum of Arctic sea ice was the lowest winter maximum in the satellite record. The summer minimum was the 8th lowest on record, but a slow freeze-up saw sea ice extent once again near record lows for December.

Antarctic sea ice extent was at or near record low levels throughout the year

The Greenland ice sheet mass balance change from September to December 2017 was close to average. Despite the gain in overall ice mass this year, it is only a small departure from the trend over the past two decades, with the Greenland ice sheet having lost approximately 3 600 billion tons of ice mass since 2002.

Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent was near or slightly above the 1981–2010 average for most of the year.

Notes for Editors

Information used in this report is sourced from a large number of National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) and associated institutions, as well as Regional Climate Centres, the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), the Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW) and Global Cryosphere Watch. Information has also been supplied by a number of other United Nations agencies, including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP), the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO).

WMO uses datasets (based on monthly climatological data from observing sites) from the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and the United Kingdom’s Met Office Hadley Centre and the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit in the United Kingdom.

It also uses reanalysis datasets from the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts and its Copernicus Climate Change Service, and the Japan Meteorological Agency. This method combines millions of meteorological and marine observations, including from satellites, with models to produce a complete reanalysis of the atmosphere. The combination of observations with models makes it possible to estimate temperatures at any time and in any place across the globe, even in data-sparse areas such as the polar regions.

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