Best of our wild blogs: 23 May 18

Singapore Bird Report – April 2018
Singapore Bird Group

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Smart technology key to zero waste economy: Masagos

Michelle Sim Straits Times 22 May 18;

SINGAPORE - Smart technology will be the key to achieving Singapore's goal of becoming a "zero waste" society by 2030 - and create new jobs in the process, Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, said on Tuesday (May 22).

Speaking in his first Facebook Live panel discussion, which was broadcast worldwide, Mr Masagos emphasised the importance of a "circular economy", in which smart technology helps to extract value from waste.

He believes 30,000 jobs could be created from this environmental revolution.

For example, jobs in the waste management sector could move towards a system maintained by data technicians or analysts.

"It will transform the waste management industry from a cleaning industry to a clean industry," he said at the event, held at the Environment Building in Scotts Road. "Workers will contribute to innovations as technology solution providers."

The global smart waste technology collection market is expected to be worth $223.6 million in 2025, up from $57.6 million in 2016.

The technologies contributing to a circular economy also serve as an opportunity for building a new start-up culture, said Professor Seeram Ramakrishna, chair of the Circular Economy task force at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

"In nurturing a start-up culture, we need to invest in research to develop technology solutions specific to Singapore and countries in the region," he added at the event to promote this year's CleanEnviro Summit Singapore (CESS) in July.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) has so far pumped $10.8 million into the Environmental Robotics Programme, which will encourage innovation in the environmental sector, according to Mr Dalson Chung, the NEA's director of industry development and promotion.

Mr Chung added that enterprising innovators are welcome to pitch their environmental solutions to venture capitalists during this year's CESS, which will be held here from July 8 to 12.

The fourth biennial summit is being organised by the NEA and brings together international delegates to discuss new technologies that tackle global environmental issues.

About 20,000 visitors are expected for the event, which will be themed "Optimising smart technologies for novel environment solutions" and held in conjunction with the Singapore International Water Week and the World Cities Summit at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre.

"This year there will be more exhibitors showcasing their environmental solutions and conferences where experts and policymakers come together to look for solutions," Mr Masagos said.

"When you solve your pollution problems, you solve your environmental problems, and inevitably, your economic problems."

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Fighting fires on Indonesia’s peatlands

UNEP 22 May 18;

The United Nations has proclaimed May 22 the International Day for Biological Diversity to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues. As one of the world’s most valuable ecosystems, peatlands support diverse species, including orangutans. Yet until recently, peatlands were drained and set ablaze for agriculture, producing an ecological catastrophe that sparked the need for change.

It’s now been three years since massive fires ravaged Indonesia in one of the worst environmental disasters of our century.

The blazes in 2015 scorched 2.6 million hectares across the archipelago, and produced toxic haze that blanketed neighboring countries Singapore and Malaysia. Thousands fell ill, and the Indonesian government suffered $16 billion in economic losses – more than double the sum spent on rebuilding Aceh after the 2004 tsunami, according to the World Bank.

What ignited this catastrophe? More importantly, what is being done to prevent it from reoccurring?

Community champions

Beads of sweat trickled down Udeng’s face as he hauled a heavy hose across the field during a practice drill with his fellow firefighters.

The 45-year-old father of four is from Tumbang Nusa, a village located in Indonesia’s Central Kalimantan Province on Borneo that was an epicenter of the 2015 disaster.

“The fires were very bad,” he said. “I’m here to do my part to make sure they don’t happen again.” At the time, Udeng’s kids fell ill with asthma and his wife evacuated them to a neighboring village for almost a month because their home became inhospitable.

Spurred to action, Udeng joined Indonesia’s network of district-level volunteer firefighting brigades, known as “Masyarakat Peduli Api (MPA)”, which are formed by local village heads. Although Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry established a Forest Fire Brigade at the national level called the “Manggala Agni (MA)”, its capacity is frequently overextended given its vast mandate. This makes the volunteers invaluable. Yet many of them lack proper training and equipment given the informal nature of their units.

To remedy this, in May, intensive training was conducted for 66 volunteer firefighters from six of Central Kalimantan’s most fire-prone villages under the UN Environment project “Generating Anticipatory Measures for Better Utilization of Tropical Peatlands (GAMBUT)”, which is funded by USAID and operated by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS).

The training was facilitated by highly experienced South African firefighters from the Working on Fire Program who first came to Indonesia in 2015 to assist with the disaster, and have since been collaborating with the UN Environment project as a key partner to increase knowledge exchange and sharing between the two Southern Hemisphere countries.

“Teaching the technical skills is the easy part,” said Trevor Wilson, Executive Director of Working on Fire. “The biggest challenge is changing the way local people think about fire, so the course stresses 80 per cent fire prevention and only 20 per cent fire suppression, because the best fires are the ones that never happen.”

Peat as tinderboxes

For decades, Indonesia's smallholder farmers have been using fire to clear land for crops to produce commodities like palm oil, of which Indonesia is now the world’s biggest producer. But intentional fires often spiral out of control, particularly during the annual dry season.

Particularly problematic is when these fires ignite on peatland. Peat is comprised of 90 per cent water and 10 per cent organic matter (decaying plants underwater). Peat fires can thus smolder underground for weeks. They are nearly impossible to put out without heavy rains.

“Peatlands need to remain underwater. If you drain them, you are left with a pile of organic materials like leaves and branches, which are extremely flammable,” said Johan Kieft, Lead Technical Advisor for the UN-REDD Programme in Indonesia, an initiative by UN Environment, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) to support developing countries in their efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

Of the 2.6 million hectares that burned between June-October 2015, 33 per cent occurred on peatlands. When the wildfires broke out, they were exacerbated by an El NiƱo year that caused an unusually severe dry spell. In normal circumstances, the wildfires would have abated after a few weeks, but in 2015, they raged for months.

Peat and climate change

After the 2015 crisis put a global spotlight on peatlands, Indonesia responded by banning the use of fire in clearing peatlands, establishing a national Peatlands Restoration Agency (BRG), as well as pledging to restore 2 million hectares of peatlands by 2020.

The UN-REDD Programme is working closely with Indonesia to raise awareness about peatlands, given that the country is home to half of the world’s tropical peatlands.

Peat is one of nature's most effective ways of taking carbon out of the atmosphere and stocking it underground, making it crucial to the fight against climate change. On the flip side, when drained and set ablaze, they can release 10 times more carbon than forest fires.

“By preserving peat, we preserve precious carbon because peat is the largest terrestrial carbon stock in the world,” said Kieft.

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Rangers find 109,217 snares in a single park in Cambodia

Snares – either metal or rope – are indiscriminately killing wildlife across Southeast Asia, from elephants to mouse deer. The problem has become so bad that scientists are referring to protected areas in the region as “empty forests.”
Jeremy Hance The Guardian 22 May 18;

A simple brake cable for motorbikes can kill a tiger, a bear, even a young elephant in Southeast Asia. Local hunters use these ubiquitous wires to create snares – indiscriminate forest bombs – that are crippling and killing Southeast Asia’s most charismatic species and many lesser-known animals as well. A fact from a new paper in Biodiversity Conservation highlights the scale of this epidemic: in Cambodia’s Southern Cardamom National Park rangers with the Wildlife Alliance removed 109,217 snares over just six years.

“Some forests in Vietnam don’t have any mammals left larger than squirrels,” Thomas Gray, the lead author of the new paper and the Science Director for Wildlife Alliance, said. “Given how diverse these forests formally were this must be having substantial impacts on ecosystem services and the [forest’s] entire biodiversity.”

According to Gray, the snaring crisis is worst in Vietnam and Laos, but is increasing in Cambodia – where he works – as well as Myanmar, Indonesia and Thailand. In some places – even protected areas – it is so bad that scientists talk of “empty forests” where hunters have literally stripped the ecosystem of all medium-to-large animals.

“In Vietnam and Laos drift-fences are constructed to funnel animals into areas which are snared,” Gray said.

Killed animals aren’t necessarily going to feed local families, either, but are usually headed to large markets in cities to feed Asia’s growing middle and upper classes.

And snares are ruthless mutilators and killers: rangers routinely find animals dead in them, often rotted before the hunters return.Gray says that while snares are usually set to catch “ungulates” – hoofed animals like deer and wild pigs – they, in fact, hit any animal large enough to be caught.

“Because snares are cheap and easy to make they are set in phenomenal numbers,” Gray said.

His paper cites that rangers have removed 75,295 snares over five years from two adjacent parks in Vietnam – Hue and Quang Nam Saola Reserves – set up to keep the saola from extinction.

Only discovered in 1992, the saola is one of the rarest large mammals on Earth – and out-of-control snaring could very well lead to its extinction.

Other parks – such as adjacent Srepok and Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuaries in Cambodia, Seima Wildlife Sanctuary also in Cambodia, and Nam Et–Phou Louey National Protected Area in Laos – have seen far fewer snares removed, less than 10,000 each. But, according to Gray, this isn’t because these parks have fewer snares hiding under bushes and trees – far from it – but that rangers in Southern Cardamom National Park as well as Hue and Quang Nam Saola Reserves are far better trained at finding the cable bombs.

“If other similarly sized protected areas had as much law enforcement effort they would remove similar levels of snares,” he said.

Still, he adds, research shows that even the best ranger teams are probably only capable of finding about a third of the snares that are actually set, meaning potentially hundreds of thousands of animals are at risk in every park in the region.

‘Lucky’ animals may escape a snare, but are often left crippled for life: having chewed through or yanked off one of their feet. Camera traps in the region capture various animals – bears, otters and wild dogs known as dholes – somehow making do with a missing foot. Several Sumatran rhinos – one of the most endangered mammals in the world – have been found with snare wounds over recent decades, including wounds so bad that they have stumps instead of hooves.

“Here in Cambodia we have evidence…of elephants with snare injuries on their trunks,” said Gray. “Often such individuals are very thin suggesting they have difficulties feeding.”

Rescued animals are sometime brought to various wildlife rehabilitation centres where they may survive – but can remain a heavy financial burden for local NGOs.

If the world’s current mass extinction crisis had a head it would be Southeast Asia: the region has “more threatened species than any other comparable continental area,” according to Gray’s paper.

Rampant deforestation – Indonesia has the highest forest loss rate in the world – combined with a wildlife trade targeting everything from top predators to tiny turtles has left Southeast Asia’s wildernesses staggered. Compared even to Africa – which is facing a militarized poaching network – Southeast Asia’s big animals are battered, beleaguered and in nearly all cases hanging by a thread. The snaring epidemic, though not as openly discussed, is a major player in this ongoing destruction, which ecologists have come to term “defaunation.”

While having well-trained teams to remove snares is essential, it’s still not tackling the root of the problem, according to Gray.

“There is a need to strengthen legislation making it illegal to carry materials which could be used to make snares in protected areas. Given these material include rope this is tricky. But in Cambodia we are getting traction with this,” he said, adding that many people who set snares are actually in the forest to collect mushrooms or rattan and don’t even intend to return to the site.

“Some are set because people are simply bored.”

While it’s illegal to set snares in protected areas, it’s difficult to police. It’s easier for rangers to catch people carrying guns or traveling with hunting dogs than to know if people simply walking the forest may have easily–hidden snares in their packs or pockets.

In the longer term, however, what’s most required is what Gray calls “behavior change.” If wildlife – including not just mammals, but birds and reptiles too – is to have a real chance in Southeast Asia, the trade in animal parts for luxury meat and traditional medicine has to stop.

Gray believes changing society here is very possible, pointing to campaigns in the region to convince people to wear helmets, use condoms, and set up mosquito nets.

“But conservation has been late to employ this tactic,” he said. “I am convinced that such an approach is required for changing attitudes and culture in Asia regarding wildlife.”

If more isn’t done, all of the region’s forests could one day be “empty.”

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Shell investors revolt over pay and maintain pressure over climate change

Oil firm grilled over carbon emissions, but defeats motion calling for tougher targets
Adam Vaughan The Guardian 22 May 18;

Shell investors have rebelled over the company’s executive pay, as the Anglo-Dutch oil company came under pressure to take stronger action on climate change.

While chief executive Ben van Beurden’s €8.9m (£7.79m) pay package for 2017 was approved, more than a quarter of shareholders voted against the firm’s remuneration report at its annual general meeting on Tuesday.

Gerard Kleisterlee, the chair of the remuneration committee, blamed the result on proxy advisers.

Influential shareholder adviser ISS had urged investors to reject the pay award because of the company’s performance on sustainable development targets and an accident in Pakistan which led to the deaths of 221 people.

The rebellion is the latest in a series of revolts against corporate pay, including 37% of shareholders voting against or abstaining on AstroZenca’s remuneration report last week. Melrose, Inmarsat and Unilever have been hit this year with significant votes against pay packages, though Shell’s fellow oil major BP avoided one on Monday.

Shell also faced a grilling from investors over how sincere its action is on reducing carbon emissions, with about half the questions related to climate change during the four-hour AGM.

However, the company defeated a resolution calling for it to set tougher emissions targets in line with the Paris climate deal.

The resolution was backed by 5.54% of shareholders; a similar resolution in 2017 was backed by 6.3%.

“Investors are sending a clear signal to Shell and all oil and gas companies, that they will not accept a goal of halving net carbon emissions by 2050 [set by Shell],” said Mark van Baal of Follow This, the group which brought the proposal.

He noted that seven of the Netherland’s 10 biggest asset owners had supported the resolution.

Van Beurden repeatedly defended the company’s record on climate change, referring to its target to halve the carbon footprint of its products by 2050 and company scenarios showing how the world could keep temperatures below 2C.

“This ambition is truly industry-leading, nobody else comes close. It is seriously ambitious,” he told the AGM, adding that the resolution would tie the firm’s hands.

“Your company wants to lead, so let us. So follow us,” he quipped in reference to the activist shareholder group’s name.

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Van Baal accused the chief executive of misleading investors that Shell’s carbon targets were aligned with a sub-2C world. “I’m not misleading shareholders,” van Beurden retorted.

The chief executive said that at some point the firm would have to grapple with how to tie its carbon targets to executive pay, without giving a timeframe for action.

The company also faced questions over the impact of its operations in Argentina, Nigeria and the Netherlands, conditions and terms for workers, and an ongoing corruption trial in Italy.

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