Best of our wild blogs: 1 Dec 15

To Be a Butterfly
Saving MacRitchie

Birdwatching in Dairy Farm Nature Park (November 29, 2015)
Rojak Librarian

Singapore’s fight against climate change – 10 ways
The Middle Ground

Paris climate meeting begins in optimism; REDD+ part of solution?
Mongabay Environmental News

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Volunteers "IsLand-A-Hand" to Pulau Ubin, Coney Island as part of OBS exercise

In "Project IsLand-A-Hand", more than 400 volunteers head to Pulau Ubin and Coney Island to engage in various activities, including reforestation and constructing fences to prevent trash from washing ashore.
Nadia Jansen Hassan Channel NewsAsia 30 Nov 15;

SINGAPORE: In a bid to encourage the public to foster a better sense of appreciation for the environment, Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) on Monday (Nov 30) organised its largest conservation exercise to date.

More than 400 volunteers aged 15 to 50 were sent to Pulau Ubin and Coney Island for the exercise, known as "Project IsLand-A-Hand". They engaged in various activities, such as constructing fences to prevent trash from washing ashore, as well as planting 40 saplings in the area on Pulau Ubin where a fire broke out in March last year.

More than 50 per cent of the volunteers were assigned to coastal clean ups, and they picked up 2.4 tonnes of trash from a 400-metre stretch along the southern shore of Pulau Ubin and the northern shore of Coney Island. The trash was then shipped to the main collection points in Punggol, Ubin Village and Jelutong, where they will be disposed.

The event, which lasted for about seven hours, started at 7.45am.

"If our trash is left floating on the beaches, the waters, it affects the environment and the liveability of these animals," said Mr Ng Thian Choon, deputy director of programmes and partnerships at OBS. "By rallying our youth to partake in this effort, our hope is that it continues to be enriching and inviting to the flora and fauna around us."

Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee was guest-of-honour at the event. He emphasised that the Government will continue to provide platforms to assist with environmental conservation, but added that the choice to join is ultimately with Singaporeans.

He said: "The Government will initiate and run things. We've always done so, and we'll continue to do so. But I think it's so much more valuable if people answer the call to action and lead the charge themselves."

- CNA/av

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ESM Goh encounters interesting marine life at Semakau

AsiaOne 30 Nov 15;

It was life in the fast lane for Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong after he was sworn in as Prime Minister 25 years ago.

Last Saturday, which was the silver anniversary of his inauguration as Singapore's second premier, Mr Goh enjoyed "life in the slow lane" when he visited Semakau island's inter-tidal reef flat, which hosts a vibrant marine habitat.

Writing on his Facebook page on his leisurely experience and encounters, the MP for Marine Parade GRC saw interesting species of marine life, from a red egg crab and an octopus to blue finger-like corals to a gigantic sandfish sea cucumber.

"I saw a knobby sea star, a common sea star which has lost one leg, a pair of sea stars in pseudo mating embrace, a red egg crab, a metre long black sea cucumber, a gigantic sand fish sea cucumber, an octopus, and sponges," he wrote in his post.

Semakau, which is about 8km south of Singapore, became a bigger island after it was joined with Pulau Seking.

The elder statesman also gave advice on visiting the island, which is used as a landfill. Visits to the reef flat are by appointment only with the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

Visitors also need to obtain the services of professional guides, not just for your own safety, but also for the safety of the animals "living placidly and unhurriedly there", said Mr Goh.

"They can be trampled upon. Life in the slow lane has its stresses too," he quipped.

From MParader facebook post

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Singapore to shift to even greener footing

Andrea Soh, Business Times AsiaOne 30 Nov 15;

It has committed to reduce carbon emissions intensity by 36 per cent in 2030, from 2005 levels, for the UN climate change talks in Paris

Starting on Monday, world leaders from 190 countries will gather in Paris over the next two weeks to finalise a new global climate accord aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

If successful, the agreement - a historic first - will have wide-ranging implications for sectors ranging from energy and transport to building and construction.

Regardless of the outcome, Singapore is intent on continuing its path towards a greener economy: not only in reducing carbon emissions across industries and households, but also in seizing the economic opportunities that come along as cities prepare themselves for climate change.

The Paris summit kicks off amid a cautious optimism that has grown over the past few months - in sharp contrast to the acrimonious talks during the Copenhagen conference in 2009 due to a deep mistrust between developed and developing nations - as countries including China and the US committed to cutting emissions.

Over 170 countries, representing more than 90 per cent of the world's emissions, have already submitted commitments, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), to reduce emissions ahead of the Paris summit. Some of the world's largest multinational firms, ranging from Ikea to Pepsi and Siemens, have also rallied behind the goal.

Singapore has pledged to reduce emissions intensity - measured by emissions per GDP dollar - by 36 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, and to stabilise emissions with the goal of peaking then.

This follows a pledge in 2009 to cut emissions by 16 per cent from 2020 business-as-usual standards, if a legally binding global agreement comes into place. Ahead of that, the country has already put in place policies and measures that will reduce emissions by 7-11 per cent from 2020 business-as-usual levels.

The city-state currently ranks 113th out of 140 countries in terms of carbon intensity, and contributes about 0.11 per cent of global emissions.

The new commitment is a "stretch target", the government has sought to emphasise, with efforts needed across both businesses and households.

"For a very small country with limited alternative energy options, the stabilisation of our emissions with the aim of peaking around 2030 requires serious efforts by everyone," Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said in July when Singapore announced its submission for the Paris climate change talks.

Earlier action to develop in a sustainable manner means Singapore is reducing emissions from an already small base, the government says.

About 95.5 per cent of electricity in Singapore is currently generated using natural gas - the cleanest form of fossil fuel - up from 19 per cent in 2000. Fuel oil was the main energy source until the country switched to natural gas piped in from Malaysia and Indonesia and, since 2013, liquefied natural gas (LNG), after the opening of the LNG terminal.

The country has limited options in terms of alternative energy such as geothermal resources, wind and tidal power; it is banking on solar as the only technically feasible renewable energy.

To this end, the government - in efforts led by the Economic Development Board (EDB) and Housing and Development Board (HDB) - has started the SolarNova programme to aggregate solar demand across various agencies, so as to generate economies of scale and accelerate solar deployment. Singapore currently has about 33 megawatt-peak (MWp) of photovoltaic capacity installed - around 8 per cent of the national target of 350 MWp by 2020.

Nevertheless, Singapore's use of solar energy is limited by its small size and dense urban landscape, though recent developments such as a study by PUB (Singapore's national water agency) to install solar panels at reservoirs could open up new possibilities.

The government has therefore identified energy efficiency as the key to reducing emissions and, in turn, pushed out levies, rebates, training programmes and stricter standards across sectors from transport to building and construction.

In particular, in the refining and chemicals industry - which is expected to contribute about half of Singapore's 2020 business-as-usual emissions - it has put in place various schemes to facilitate the adoption of energy-efficient technologies and processes such as co-generation plants.

"To date, the government has supported S$1.6 billion worth of fixed-asset investments to improve energy efficiency in the energy and chemicals sector, and to work towards being more carbon-efficient than other such sectors in the region and globally," said EDB energy and chemicals director Damian Chan, adding that Big Data will play a key role going forward in helping petrochemical firms to become more resource-efficient.

The energy and chemicals sector contributed the most to Singapore's manufacturing output last year, accounting for 34 per cent of its total manufacturing output.

Even as Singapore works to reduce carbon emissions, it is also adopting various measures to protect against the future impact of climate change.

Changes in average temperatures, rainfall and sea levels are expected to affect public health, biodiversity and greenery, and reliability of water supplies, as well as lead to erosion and flooding of coastal areas, among others.

Still, it is not all doom and gloom - there is a silver lining in the form of a clean-technology sector that is growing globally. It is also one that the Singapore government has identified as a growth sector and actively courted since 2007.

"The climate challenge also means greater global demand for clean technology and growth in green jobs," Mr Teo noted in July.

It was a view echoed by Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S Iswaran in late October, when he said the sector is one with "significant potential" for Singapore - there is demand for it in Asia, not just in terms of technology but also in financing models and business structures that Singapore can develop.

"Regardless of the outcome (of the Paris talks)," he told delegates at the Asia Clean Energy Summit, "many countries and cities are already planning their economic growth within an increasingly carbon-constrained operating environment."

It is in Asia that the tension between growth and energy requirements versus carbon constraints will be the sharpest, and this will contribute to demand for sustainable forms of growth, he added. A study released by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) last week revealed that Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, in particular, are at high risk of climate-related disasters.

EDB, which had earlier set a goal of having the sector create 18,000 jobs by the end of this year and contribute US$3.4 billion in value-add to Singapore's GDP, told BT that it is confident of reaching the target.

The general awareness and global commitment towards reducing carbon emissions work in the cleantech sector's favour, Mr Iswaran said.

"The prospects are there because of government priorities and the need in the market . . . Industry players see significant potential - in Asia, in particular."

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Smog chokes Chinese, Indian capitals as climate talks begin

The capitals of the world's two most populous nations, China and India, were blanketed in hazardous, choking smog on Monday as climate change talks began in Paris, where leaders of both countries are among the participants.
Channel NewsAsia 30 Nov 15;

BEIJING/NEW DELHI: The capitals of the world's two most populous nations, China and India, were blanketed in hazardous, choking smog on Monday as climate change talks began in Paris, where leaders of both countries are among the participants.

China's capital Beijing maintained an "orange" pollution alert, the second-highest level, on Monday, closing highways, halting or suspending construction and prompting a warning to residents to stay indoors.

The choking pollution was caused by the "unfavourable" weather, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said on Sunday. Emissions in northern China soar over winter as urban heating systems are switched on and low wind speeds have meant that polluted air has not been dispersed.

In New Delhi, the U.S. embassy's monitoring station recorded an air quality index of 372, which puts air pollution levels well into "hazardous" territory. A thick smog blanketed the city and visibility was down to about 200 yards (metres).

Air quality in the city of 16 million is usually bad in winter, when coal fires are lit by the poor to ward off the cold. Traffic fumes, too, are trapped over the city by a temperature inversion and the lack of wind.

However, the government has not raised any alarm over the current air quality and no advisories have been issued to the public. Thirty thousand runners took part in a half marathon at the weekend, when pollution levels were just as high.

In Beijing, a city of 22.5 million, the air quality index in some parts of the city soared to 500, its highest possible level. At levels higher than 300, residents are encouraged to remain indoors, according to government guidelines.

The hazardous air underscores the challenge facing the government as it battles pollution caused by the coal-burning power industry and will raise questions about its ability to clean up its economy at the talks in Paris.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are both in Paris and both were scheduled to meet U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday to give momentum to the two-week negotiations.


Modi sought to highlight India's green credentials in an article for the Financial Times on Monday, writing: "The instinct of our culture is to take a sustainable path to development. When a child is born, we plant a tree."

But at Connaught Place, a city centre landmark in New Delhi, people chided the government for failing to minimise the risks to their health from air pollution.

"The pollution level is so high it's just unbelievable," said Aisha, a 19-year-old student.

For Beijing's residents, the poor air makes breathing hard.

"This sort of weather, you can see that all of Beijing has been completely enveloped in smog... and for every breath, getting up every morning, your throat will feel particularly uncomfortable," said Zhang Heng, a 26-year-old architect.

The Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau said on Sunday that it had requested factories to limit or suspend output and had also stopped construction work throughout the city.

The ministry said the number of cities affected by heavy pollution had reached 23, stretching across 530,000 square km, an area the size of Spain, but a cold front beginning on Wednesday would see the situation improve.

State-run Xinhua news agency said more than 200 expressway toll gates in east China's Shandong province were closed on Monday due to smog. The province issued a yellow alert.

China launched a "war on pollution" last year following a spate of smog outbreaks in Beijing and surrounding regions.

China has vowed to slash coal consumption and close down polluting industrial capacity, but environmental officials admit that the country is unlikely to meet state air quality standards until at least 2030.

Reducing coal use and promoting cleaner forms of energy are set to play a crucial role in China's pledges to bring its climate warming greenhouse gas emissions to a peak by around 2030.

(Reporting by David Stanway, Kathy Chen and Adam Rose in Beijing, and; Douglas Busvine and Alex Richardson in New Delhi; Editing by Josephine Mason and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

- Reuters

China raises alarm over rising seas amid climate talks
A new Chinese government report raises alarm over rising sea levels caused by climate change which could potentially threaten the country's developed eastern coast, according to state media and the New York Times.
Channel NewsAsia 30 Nov 15;

SHANGHAI: A new Chinese government report raises alarm over rising sea levels caused by climate change which could potentially threaten the country's developed eastern coast, according to state media and the New York Times.

The release of the official report, now in its third edition, came shortly before the UN Conference of Parties (COP21) summit, which began on Monday (Nov 30) with the aim of striking a global deal limiting dangerous climate change.

China is the world's second biggest economy but also its largest polluter, estimated to have released between nine and 10 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2013.

Beijing pledged last year to peak carbon dioxide output by "around 2030" - suggesting at least another decade of growing emissions.

The government report said the sea levels off China's coast have risen 2.9 millimetres annually from 1980 to 2012, according to an article posted on a government-backed website, while glaciers shrank just over 10 percent since the 1970s.

Temperatures are rising at the rate of 1.5 degrees Celsius every 100 years and could jump a further 1.3 to 5.0 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, said the China Climate Change website, which operates under the state planner.

The New York Times said the report, which was compiled under the authority of the Ministry of Science and Technology, spells out "sombre scenarios" including threats to infrastructure from increased rainfall and melting permafrost, among the possible fallout from climate change.

"Climate change will make the urban conurbations along the coast the regions most affected by climate change nationwide," it cited the report as saying. "Some cities may even face risks of massive disasters that are hard to forecast."

The report, called "The Third National Climate Change Assessment Report", cites projections that the sea off eastern China could rise between 40 to 60 centimetres by the end of the century compared to 20th century averages, the newspaper said.

A separate study by US-based research group Climate Central predicted that China would be the country hit hardest by rising sea levels if global temperatures rose by four degrees Celsius.

It estimated some 145 million people live in Chinese cities and coastal areas that would eventually become ocean were warming to be that high.

- AFP/ec

What the Paris climate meeting must achieve

In 1992, more than 150 nations agreed at a meeting in Rio de Janeiro to take steps to stabilise greenhouse gases at a level that would “prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” — United Nations-speak for global warming.

Many follow-up meetings have been held since then, with little to show for them. Emissions of greenhouse gases have steadily risen, as have atmospheric temperatures, while the consequences of unchecked warming — persistent droughts, melting glaciers and ice caps, dying corals, a slow but inexorable sea level rise — have become ever more pronounced.

Starting yesterday, in Paris, the signatories to the Rio treaty (now 196), will try once again to fashion an international climate change agreement that might actually slow, then reduce, emissions and prevent the world from tipping over into full-scale catastrophe late in this century. As with other climate meetings, notably Kyoto in 1997 and Copenhagen in 2009, Paris is being advertised as a watershed event — “our last hope”, in the words of Mr Fatih Birol, the new director of the International Energy Agency. As President Francois Hollande of France put it recently: “We are duty-bound to succeed.”

Paris will almost certainly not produce an ironclad, planet-saving agreement in two weeks. But it can succeed in an important way that earlier meetings have not — by fostering collective responsibility, a strong sense among countries large and small, rich and poor, that all must play a role in finding a global solution to a global problem.

Kyoto failed because it imposed emissions reduction targets only on developed countries, giving developing nations such as China, India and Brazil a free pass. Copenhagen attracted wider participation, but it broke up in disarray, in part because of continuing friction between the industrialised nations and the developing countries.

The organisers of the Paris conference have learnt a lot from past mistakes. Instead of pursuing a top-down agreement with mandated targets, they have asked each country to submit a national plan that lays out how and by how much they plan to reduce emissions in the years ahead. So far, more than 170 countries, accounting for more than 90 per cent of global emissions, have submitted pledges, and more may emerge in Paris.

Will these pledges be enough to ward off the worst consequences of global warming? No. Scientists generally agree that global warming must not exceed 2°C from preindustrial levels. Various studies say that even if countries that have made pledges were to follow through on them, the world will heat up by 3.5°C by the end of this century. That would still be much too high, and it would be guaranteed to make life miserable for future generations, especially in poor, low-lying countries. But it would at least put the world on a safer trajectory; under most business-as-usual models, temperature increases could reach 4.5°C or higher.

Eventually, of course, all nations will have to improve on their pledges, especially big emitters such as China, India and the US. If the Paris meeting is to be a genuine turning point, negotiators must make sure that the national pledges are the floor, not the ceiling, of ambition, by establishing a framework requiring stronger climate commitments at regular intervals — say, every five years. This should be accompanied by a plan for monitoring and reporting each country’s performance. Earlier meetings have done poorly on this score.

Other important items dot the agenda. One is how rich nations can help poorer ones achieve their targets. Another is stopping the destruction of tropical forests, which play a huge role in storing carbon and absorbing emissions. The meeting also seeks to enlist investors, corporations, states and cities in the cause. Mr Michael Bloomberg, who made reducing emissions a priority as mayor of New York, will join the mayor of Paris in co-hosting a gathering of local officials from around the world.

The test of success for this much-anticipated summit meeting is whether it produces not only stronger commitments but also a shared sense of urgency at all levels to meet them.

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Short Answers to Hard Questions About Climate Change

JUSTIN GILLIS New York Times 28 Nov 15;

The issue can be overwhelming. The science is complicated. Predictions about the fate of the planet carry endless caveats and asterisks.

We get it.

And so, as the Paris climate talks get underway, we’ve provided quick answers to often-asked questions about climate change. You can submit your own questions here.

1. How much is the planet heating up?
1.7 degrees is actually a significant amount.

As of this October, the Earth had warmed by about 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880, when tracking began at a global scale. That figure includes the surface of the ocean. The warming is greater over land, and greater still in the Arctic and parts of Antarctica.

The number may sound low, but as an average over the surface of an entire planet, it is actually high, which explains why much of the land ice on the planet is starting to melt and the oceans are rising at an accelerating pace. The heat accumulating in the Earth because of human emissions is roughly equal to the heat that would be released by 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs exploding across the planet every day.

Scientists believe most and probably all of the warming since 1950 was caused by the human release of greenhouse gases. If emissions continue unchecked, they say the global warming could ultimately exceed 8 degrees Fahrenheit, which would transform the planet and undermine its capacity to support a large human population.

2. How much trouble are we in?
For future generations, big trouble.

The risks are much greater over the long run than over the next few decades, but the emissions that create those risks are happening now. Over the coming 25 or 30 years, scientists say, the climate is likely to resemble that of today, although gradually getting warmer. Rainfall will be heavier in many parts of the world, but the periods between rains will most likely grow hotter and therefore drier. The number of hurricanes and typhoons may actually fall, but the ones that do occur will draw energy from a hotter ocean surface, and therefore may be more intense, on average, than those of the past. Coastal flooding will grow more frequent and damaging.

Longer term, if emissions continue to rise unchecked, the risks are profound. Scientists fear climate effects so severe that they might destabilize governments, produce waves of refugees, precipitate the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals in Earth’s history, and melt the polar ice caps, causing the seas to rise high enough to flood most of the world’s coastal cities.

All of this could take hundreds or even thousands of years to play out, conceivably providing a cushion of time for civilization to adjust, but experts cannot rule out abrupt changes, such as a collapse of agriculture, that would throw society into chaos much sooner. Bolder efforts to limit emissions would reduce these risks, or at least slow the effects, but it is already too late to eliminate the risks entirely.

3. Is there anything I can do?
Fly less, drive less, waste less.

There are lots of simple ways to reduce your own carbon footprint, and most of them will save you money. You can plug leaks in your home insulation to save power, install a smart thermostat, switch to more efficient light bulbs, turn off the lights in any room where you are not using them, drive fewer miles by consolidating trips or taking public transit, waste less food, and eat less meat.

Perhaps the biggest single thing individuals can do on their own is to take fewer airplane trips; just one or two fewer plane rides per year can save as much in emissions as all the other actions combined. If you want to be at the cutting edge, you can look at buying an electric or hybrid car, putting solar panels on your roof, or both.

If you want to offset your emissions, you can buy certificates, with the money going to projects that protect forests, capture greenhouse gases and so forth. Some airlines sell these to offset emissions from their flights, and after some scandals in the early days, they started to scrutinize the projects closely, so the offsets can now be bought in good conscience. You can also buy offset certificates in a private marketplace, from companies such as TerraPass in San Francisco that follow strict rules set up by the state of California; some people even give these as holiday gifts. Yet another way: In states that allow you to choose your own electricity supplier, you can often elect to buy green electricity; you pay slightly more, with the money going into a fund that helps finance projects like wind farms.

In the end, though, experts do not believe the needed transformation in the energy system can happen without strong state and national policies. So speaking up and exercising your rights as a citizen matters as much as anything else you can do.

4. What’s the optimistic scenario?
Several things have to break our way.

In the best case that scientists can imagine, several things happen: Earth turns out to be less sensitive to greenhouse gases than currently believed; plants and animals manage to adapt to the changes that have already become inevitable; human society develops much greater political will to bring emissions under control; and major technological breakthroughs occur that help society both to limit emissions and to adjust to climate change.

The two human-influenced variables are not entirely independent, of course: Technological breakthroughs that make clean energy cheaper than fossil fuels would also make it easier to develop the political will for rapid action.

Scientists say the odds of all these things breaking our way are not very high, unfortunately. The Earth could just as easily turn out to be more sensitive to greenhouse gases than less. Global warming seems to be causing chaos in parts of the natural world already, and that seems likely to get worse, not better. So in the view of the experts, simply banking on a rosy scenario without any real plan would be dangerous. They believe the only way to limit the risks is to limit emissions.

5. What’s the worst-case scenario?
There are many.

That is actually hard to say, which is one reason scientists are urging that emissions be cut; they want to limit the possibility of any worst-case scenario coming to pass. Perhaps the greatest fear is a collapse of food production, accompanied by escalating prices and mass starvation. Even with runaway emissions growth, it is unclear how likely this would be, as farmers are able to adjust their crops and farming techniques, to a degree, to adapt to climatic changes. Another possibility would be a disintegration of the polar ice sheets, leading to fast-rising seas that would force people to abandon many of the world’s great cities and would lead to the loss of trillions of dollars worth of property and other assets. Scientists also worry about other wild-card scenarios like the predictable cycles of Asian monsoons’ becoming less reliable. Billions of people depend on monsoons to provide water for crops, so any disruptions would be catastrophic.

6. ​Will a tech breakthrough help us?
Even Bill Gates says don’t count on it, unless we commit the cash.

As more companies, governments and researchers devote themselves to the problem, the chances of big technological advances are improving. But even many experts who are optimistic about technological solutions warn that current efforts are not enough. For instance, spending on basic energy research is only a quarter to a third of the level that several in-depth reports have recommended. And public spending on agricultural research has stagnated even though climate change poses growing risks to the food supply. People like Bill Gates have argued that crossing our fingers and hoping for technological miracles is not a strategy — we have to spend the money that would make these things more likely to happen.

7. How much will the seas rise?
The real question is not how high, but how fast.

The ocean is rising at a rate of about a foot per century. That causes severe effects on coastlines, forcing governments and property owners to spend tens of billions of dollars fighting erosion. But if that rate continued, it would probably be manageable, experts say.

The risk is that the rate will accelerate markedly. If emissions continue unchecked, then the temperature at the earth’s surface could soon resemble a past epoch called the Pliocene, when a great deal of ice melted and the ocean rose something like 80 feet compared to today. A recent study found that burning all the fossil fuels in the ground would fully melt the polar ice sheets, raising the sea level by more than 160 feet over an unknown period.

With all of that said, the crucial issue is probably not how much the oceans are going to rise, but how fast. And on that point, scientists are pretty much flying blind. Their best information comes from studying Earth’s history, and it suggests that the rate can on occasion hit a foot per decade, which can probably be thought of as the worst-case scenario. A rate even half that would force rapid retreat from the coasts and, some experts think, throw human society into crisis. Even if the rise is much slower, many of the world’s great cities will flood eventually. Studies suggest that big cuts in emissions could slow the rise, buying crucial time for society to adapt to an altered coastline.

8. Are the predictions reliable?
They’re not perfect, but they’re grounded in solid science.

The idea that Earth is sensitive to greenhouse gases is confirmed by many lines of scientific evidence. For instance, the basic physics suggesting that an increase of carbon dioxide traps more heat was discovered in the 19th century, and has been verified in thousands of laboratory experiments.

Climate science does contain uncertainties, of course. The biggest is the degree to which global warming sets off feedback loops, such as a melting of sea ice that will darken the surface and cause more heat to be absorbed, melting more ice, and so forth. It is not clear exactly how much the feedbacks will intensify the warming; some of them could even partially offset it. This uncertainty means that computer forecasts can give only a range of future climate possibilities, not absolute predictions.

But even if those computer forecasts did not exist, a huge amount of evidence suggests that scientists have the basic story right. The most important evidence comes from the study of past climate conditions, a field known as paleoclimate research. The amount of carbon dioxide in the air has fluctuated naturally in the past, and every time it rises, the Earth warms up, ice melts, and the ocean rises. A hundred miles inland from today’s East Coast, seashells can be dug from ancient beaches that are three million years old. These past conditions are not a perfect guide to the future, either, because humans are pumping carbon dioxide into the air far faster than nature has ever done.

9. Why do people question climate change?
Hint: ideology.

Most of the attacks on climate science are coming from libertarians and other political conservatives who do not like the policies that have been proposed to fight global warming. Instead of negotiating over those policies and trying to make them more subject to free-market principles, they have taken the approach of blocking them by trying to undermine the science.

This ideological position has been propped up by money from fossil-fuel interests, which have paid to create organizations, fund conferences and the like. The scientific arguments made by these groups usually involve cherry-picking data, such as focusing on short-term blips in the temperature record or in sea ice, while ignoring the long-term trends.

The most extreme version of climate denialism is to claim that scientists are engaged in a worldwide hoax to fool the public so that the government can gain greater control over people’s lives. As the arguments have become more strained, many oil and coal companies have begun to distance themselves publicly from climate denialism, but some are still helping to finance the campaigns of politicians who espouse such views.

10. Is crazy weather tied to climate change?
In some cases, yes.

Scientists have published strong evidence that the warming climate is making heat waves more frequent and intense. It is also causing heavier rainstorms, and coastal flooding is getting worse as the oceans rise because of human emissions. Global warming has intensified droughts in regions like the Middle East, and it may have strengthened the drought in California.

In many other cases, though, the linkage to global warming for particular trends is uncertain or disputed. That is partly from a lack of good historical weather data, but it is also scientifically unclear how certain types of events may be influenced by the changing climate.

Another factor: While the climate is changing, people’s perceptions may be changing faster. The Internet has made us all more aware of weather disasters in distant places. On social media, people have a tendency to attribute virtually any disaster to climate change, but in many cases there is no scientific support for doing so.

11. Will anyone benefit from global warming?
In certain ways, yes.

Countries with huge, frozen hinterlands, including Canada and Russia, could see some economic benefits as global warming makes agriculture, mining and the like more possible in those places. It is perhaps no accident that the Russians have always been reluctant to make ambitious climate commitments, and President Vladimir V. Putin has publicly questioned the science of climate change.

However, both of those countries could suffer enormous damage to their natural resources; escalating fires in Russia are already killing millions of acres of forests per year. Moreover, some experts believe countries that view themselves as likely winners from global warming will come to see the matter differently once they are swamped by millions of refugees from less fortunate lands.

12. Is there any reason for hope?
If you share this with 50 friends, maybe.

Scientists have been warning since the 1980s that strong policies were needed to limit emissions. Those warnings were ignored, and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have since built up to potentially dangerous levels. So the hour is late.

But after 20 years of largely fruitless diplomacy, the governments of the world are finally starting to take the problem seriously. A deal that is likely to be reached in Paris in December will commit nearly every country to some kind of action. Religious leaders like Pope Francis are speaking out. Low-emission technologies, such as electric cars, are improving. Leading corporations are making bold promises to switch to renewable power and stop forest destruction. Around the world, many states and cities are pledging to go far beyond the goals set by their national governments.

What is still largely missing in all this are the voices of ordinary citizens. Because politicians have a hard time thinking beyond the next election, they tend to tackle hard problems only when the public rises up and demands it.

Still have a question about climate change? You can submit one here.

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10 Things To Know About The U.N. Climate Talks In Paris


Leaders from around the world will converge on Paris beginning Nov. 30 for the 2015 U.N. Climate Change Conference. The two-week event is designed to allow countries the chance to come to an agreement on stifling climate change.

Below are 10 questions and answers that should better prepare you for the conference and what to expect during and after its completion.

1. What's at stake and why should I care?

It's no exaggeration to say that what happens in Paris will affect the future of the planet. Greenhouse gas emissions keep going up, and scientists say that continuing with business as usual will produce rapid and devastating warming. This won't just be bad news for polar bears and beachfront homeowners. Unchecked warming means that dependable food and water supplies could be disrupted, dangerous pathogens could spread to new areas, and rising seas could remake maps. What's more, extreme weather, plus worse droughts and more fierce wildfires, could become increasingly common. Security experts even worry that scarce and shifting resources could lead to violence.

2. What needs to happen to stop climate change?

Many nations want a Paris agreement that will signal a long-term goal of net zero emissions in the second half of this century. That doesn't mean actually producing zero greenhouse gas emissions. But it does mean producing no more than the planet can absorb without raising temperatures. Doing this would mean a dramatic transformation of the world's entire energy system, turning away from fossil fuels to other options like wind, solar and nuclear power. The task is absolutely staggering — but scientists say it can be done, if the political will is there.

3. Well, is there really the political will to do all this?

U.N. watchers say the stars are aligned like never before. Before the summit, all countries — rich and poor — were asked to come forward with their own voluntary pledges for how they would aid the global fight against climate change. Over 150 countries have submitted national plans to the U.N., and that in and of itself is a huge deal. Some nations say how they'll cut emissions, while others pledge to do things like preserve forest cover or use more clean energy. Independent experts have calculated that if the world is currently on track for warming of about 4.5 degrees Celsius, these pledges would reduce that to about 2.7 to 3.7 degrees — which is real progress, before the Paris summit even starts.

4. What does the Paris agreement really need to have in it?

The goal of Paris is to produce a short, simple agreement — maybe a dozen pages — that will satisfy nearly 200 nations. Here's what some observers think are key elements for a credible, ambitious plan forward:

Countries need to agree to come back every few years to increase their pledges and keep doing more and more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
The U.N. must have a rigorous system of accountability and transparency to make sure nations will actually keep their promises
The poorest countries of the world need support to both adapt to a warming world and to adopt new, low-carbon energy technologies
5. There's talk of a 2 degree Celsius warming limit. Will this agreement hit that target?

That target comes from an international consensus five years ago, when nations agreed to limit warming to just about 2 degrees Celsius (about 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial times. The thinking was that this would avert the worst effects of climate change. But no one thinks Paris will get the world that far. Instead, the aim of Paris is to come up with an agreement that requires countries to make increasingly ambitious efforts to combat global warming over time, to put the world on track to meet that target in the future.

6. Rich and poor countries are all part of this thing, but will rich countries have to do more?

There's a lot of tension between the developed world and the developing world when it comes to climate change. Some developing countries such as India say they're in no position to commit to an absolute reduction in greenhouse gases when they're trying to bring economic advancement to millions of people who currently live in poverty. They need a supply of energy, and lots of it. What's more, poorer nations want financial compensation if they're going to agree to do things like preserve rain forests that will suck up carbon dioxide. They note that developed nations chopped down their own trees long ago and have burned enormous amounts of fossil fuels, but now they're being told they can't do the same — so they think the developed world should pay up. So-called "financing" issues will be a major hurdle that negotiators will have to clear in Paris.

7. How is the U.N. trying to make this deal happen?

Basically, for two weeks, they're going to sequester a bunch of diplomats in a conference center outside Paris. There's been years of preparation leading up to this conference, and organizers expect tens of thousands of people to gather. Besides the delegates and diplomats there to do the actual wrangling, tons of businesses, activist organizations and scientists will be there as well. While some outside events may be curtailed because of the recent terrorist attacks, the negotiations should go on as scheduled.

8. But, hey, hasn't the U.N. been trying to rein in greenhouse gas emissions for two decades?

It's certainly true that past efforts have had serious shortcomings. Top emitters like the United States refused to join the landmark 1997 Kyoto Protocol, and it didn't include any developing countries, like China. Then the 2009 Copenhagen summit ended in a shambles, with a weak agreement thrown together at the last minute by politicians who didn't want to leave the talks with nothing. But things are different this time. The fact that almost all countries have submitted voluntary pledges shows that governments feel pressure to participate. Both the United States and China have taken a leadership role. And major public figures like Pope Francis have been urging action, saying there's a moral duty.

9. What are the big fights going on in the negotiations?

Besides arguing over how much rich nations should pay the poor, there are some nations that simply are not excited about a zero carbon future. Oil- and gas-producing countries, for example, aren't so keen to leave their valuable assets in the ground. Another hot-button issue is "loss and damage." That's the idea that there should be some mechanism to compensate the citizens of places that simply cannot adapt to climate change — for example, small island states that could disappear under rising seas.

10. What if Paris ends with a whimper?

Scientists say that delaying action is just going to make changes harder and more expensive in the future, and that really the world should have started this transformation decades ago. If reliance on fossil fuels continues and produces unrestrained climate change, experts predict dramatic shifts in our familiar maps and weather patterns. Computer simulations show that New York would have the climate of Miami, and melting ice would flood major cities around the world. Poor countries would be the hardest hit by a changing world, as they have the fewest resources to adapt.

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Climate change talks: five reasons to be cheerful or fearful

John Vidal The Guardian 30 Nov 15;

Reasons to be cheerful

1 The world really wants a strong deal and this time will get it

There is a universal will to limit emissions. Governments understand the science and know that doing nothing is no longer a political or moral option. Evidence of climate change has grown since the Copenhagen meeting in 2009, and 2015 has already been declared the hottest year ever. Climate change is also much better understood by the public to be a grave threat and this gives politicians the legitimacy to be bold in their actions. Non-governmental groups have created a sense of destiny about the Paris meeting, pressing the idea that this is the world’s last chance to act to avoid catastrophic change, and that a deal is certain: “Now is our time,” says Obama’s special climate envoy, Todd Stern, urging all countries to compromise this week.

2 A green economy makes financial sense

A bold new international deal committing all countries to reducing emissions is in everyone’s long-term economic interests. It will signal to business that governments are legally committed to reducing emissions and this in turn will give the private sector and banks the long-term confidence they need to invest in renewable energies and conservation, and should steer financiers, technologists and others away from extracting oil, gas and coal and toward clean energy development. If large carbon markets also emerge, as big business and the UN want, and if rich countries make good on their pledge to mobilise $100bn a year for poor countries to adapt to climate change by 2020, then the long-promised global “green economy” should grow fast, benefiting everyone.

Renewable energy technologies are moving ahead much faster than imagined. The cost of wind power and solar in many countries today is roughly the same as coal or gas, making the switch to green energy and lower emissions much easier for treasuries and ministers to justify to electorates. Within 20 years, it is expected that renewable energy prices will fall further, while fossil fuel energy will grow comparatively more expensive.

3 Nations are ready to commit to real change

Countries have already stated their intentions. Ahead of the Paris talks, more than 180 countries representing 90% of global emissions, have submitted their national plans to cut emissions. This is the first time since climate negotiations started 20 years ago that virtually all the world’s nations have committed to being part of the solution. By comparison, the 1997 Kyoto protocol included pledges for reductions by 37 rich countries which together comprised well under half of global emissions. Kyoto did not include the US, which refused to sign up, or China, the world’s two largest carbon dioxide emitters. With the key players aboard, victory is certain.


4 What can go wrong?

The chances of diplomatic success are much higher than in Copenhagen in 2009, which was billed as the finale of years of talks, but ended in diplomatic chaos. The text that negotiators and politicians from 195 countries will haggle over in Paris is shorter and more focused, and many difficult decisions have already been made. The positions of the major emitting countries – like the US and China – are closer to each other than in the past, so it should be easier for negotiators and politicians to compromise. France, as the host country, is very experienced at international negotiations and has ensured that many of the potentially tough decisions, such as finance and the final target, can be put back to later meetings. This will allow, at the very least, a weak deal to be signed, with a stated guarantee that it can be improved later.

5 We’re all in it together

The recent terrorist atrocities in Paris will galvanise the 143-plus world leaders due to arrive in the city to make a global statement of solidarity and provide the political impetus to secure a strong deal. No country will want to be identified as the one that stopped a deal. “Paris will soon be known as the place where world leaders stood together on the right side of history,” says the president of the World Bank Group, Jim Yong Kim.

Reasons to be fearful

1 Countries may not make the necessary compromises

Prince Charles and more than 140 presidents, prime ministers and heads of state will make short, bland statements on Monday about the need to act, after which negotiators and politicians have just a few working days to reach diplomatic agreement. Considering that it has taken 20 years of fruitless negotiations to reach this point, there is no chance that the wide gaps between countries can be closed in just a few days. So the only way any deal can be reached in Paris is if the UN and France, as the hosts, bludgeon through a least-worst agreement over the heads of the many. All countries will come under intense pressure to compromise but some will not want to be dictated to.

2 It’s failed already

The cuts that 180 countries have said they are prepared to make up to 2030 will only hold temperatures to a 2.7C rise, whereas the absolute minimum needed to prevent catastrophic warming by the end of the century is thought to be 2C. More than 100 countries have said they want the UN to set the more ambitious global target of 1.5C, and for them anything that does not guarantee this will be seen as a failure of negotiations. Aviation and shipping are also unlikely to be in the deal because it will be too difficult to get agreement. Poor countries want legal certainty that the rich will do as they promise, but rich countries only want voluntary targets. The reality gap between what countries want and what they may get is just too wide.

3 Who will bear the biggest burden?

Countries are still fatally split on key issues like reducing emissions, finance and technology. With so many major differences, it will take a heroic effort by politicians to reach any deal at all. The most important hurdle could be over whether industrialised countries like the US, UK and Japan, which have contributed the most to the historical build-up of emissions, should be obliged to cut more more than developing countries. India, on behalf of many poor countries, will argue that there must be “differentiation” between rich and poor; but the US wants targets that are applicable to all. A collision is inevitable.

4 Where’s the money?

Many of the ambitious plans to cut emissions submitted to the UN depend on up to $1trn being made available to invest in renewable energy, farming and forestry. This money is not available and will depend on flows from new carbon markets and other uncertain financial sources. In addition, only $57bn of the $100bn pledged to be “mobilised” by rich countries to help poor countries adapt their economies to a warming world has been identified. Because developing countries have had long experience of failed promises and pledges they are not going to roll over without financial guarantees. They fear double counting and the diversion of aid flows, and although they will fight hard for money they will meet rock-hard resistance from the rich, who are determined to commit as little as possible.

5 We want a deal but not at any price

There is a genuine will to tackle climate change but not at any cost, and many rich countries delude themselves if they think that climate change and reducing emissions is a high priority for everyone. These talks have been going for many years and there is still a deep distrust of the way that the US and others have avoided having to change their lifestyles but have bullied poor countries to shoulder the burden of cuts. Many countries resent this injustice and want to determine their own development path. They fear that the rich will not have to do much to reduce emissions but they will have to slow down their growth. For them, poverty eradication and economic development are still the most important elements of any deal so they will seek guaranteed financial and techno­logical support if they are to agree to anything. Many oil-producing countries led by Saudi Arabia will also want a weak deal that will not devalue their natural assets. Some Latin American countries like Venezuela and Bolivia will hold out in the name of climate justice for a deal that forces the rich to cut more than the poor. Negotiations are conducted by blocs of countries, consensus is necessary and it is easy to tactically derail the talks or to delay discussions to a point where no strong deal can be negotiated in the limited time available.

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Malaysia: Water levels reach worrying heights


PETALING JAYA: Water levels in several rivers nationwide have reached worrying points with alerts being issued in six states.

The Drainage and Irrigation Department’s online flood information website, which provides up to date data on river water levels, indicated that warnings have been issued to relevant authorities in Perak, Penang, Selangor, Johor, Kelantan and Sabah.

The website also noted that the water level in Sungai Golok in Rantau Panjang, Kelantan, was 9.58m, exceeding the dangerous level of 9m as of 4pm yesterday.

The normal water level for Sungai Golok is 5m. Anything above 9m constitutes “danger”.

The National Flood Monitoring Centre’s Water Resources Management and Hydrology Division assistant director Mohd Hazri Moh Khambali said the water level in Kelantan is rising due to the heavy rain.

“We alerted authorities on Sunday evening even before the reading at Sungai Golok reached the dangerous level,” he said.

At the Sg Juru station in Penang, the water level stood at 1.02m as of 4pm, almost double the reading of its normal level of 0.5m.

Mohd Hazri said the rise in water level in Sg Juru was due to the two- hour downpour on Sunday evening.

In Perak, the water level at the Kuala Kenderong station as of 4pm stood at 112.17m, well above the normal level of 111.50m for that area.

In Selangor, the Sungai Kuyoh station in Seri Kembangan and Sungai Kelang in Kampung Jawa were also above normal levels as of 5pm yesterday.

The Sungai Kuyoh station reading was 38.8m (normal level 36.5m) while the Sungai Kelang reading was 4.21m, above the normal level of 3m.

It was also the same in Kg Murni Jaya station in Johor, and the Stapang B and Selangau B stations in Sabah.

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Malaysia: Terengganu first to issue fatwa against wildlife poaching

ADRIAN DAVID New Straits Times 30 Nov 15;

KUALA BERANG: Terengganu became the first state in Malaysia to issue a fatwa against wildlife poaching, signifying its recognition that illegal hunting is ‘haram’ (forbidden).

The fatwa was announced to over 500 local people at a fatwa and falak seminar organised by Terengganu’s Mufti Department.

The fatwa highlighted the tenets in Islam which called on Muslims to protect Allah’s creations.

Speaking on behalf of the organisers, Universiti Malaysia Terengganus’s Associate Prof Dr Reuben Clements said that the Terengganu Fatwa Council, thus, recognized that hunting was ‘haram’ if it posed a threat to Malaysia’s endangered biodiversity, as acknowledged by the relevant authorities.

Another UMT expert, Prof Datuk Dr Mohd Tajuddin Abdullah said: “We hope that this fatwa can be replicated in other Malaysian states.

“We need to improve awareness among Muslim communities on the impacts of illegal hunting on their own survival.”

At the seminar, Terengganu mufti Datuk Zulkifly Muda gave an impassioned plea on the importance of wildlife conservation in Islam. “I call on you, especially teachers and religious leaders, to continue educating the public about this fatwa.

“I urge Muslims to stop all forms of hunting in general to prevent species extinction and to safeguard our environment,” said Zulkifly.

To report activities on illegal hunting, trading and possession of endangered wildlife, you can contact MYCAT Wildlife Crime Hotline (+60 19 356 4194 / or call the Perhilitan Care Line (1800 88 5151).

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Malaysia eyes nuclear power use by 2030

The Star 1 Dec 15;

MALAYSIA will start relying on nuclear power by 2030 if the green light is given for construction of two nuclear plants here.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Mah Siew Keong said no decision had been made yet as feasibility studies were still being carried out.

“The decision will be based on findings of the Malaysian Nuclear Power Corporation and include the views of the rakyat,” Mah said in a written reply to a question raised by Nga Kor Ming (DAP-Taiping).

He said a detailed timeframe for the actual construction of the nuclear power plants had not been finalised.

“The earliest (date) for the nuclear power plants to be operational is by 2030,” he said, adding that the plans for nuclear power were under the 11th Malaysia Plan to generate public awareness on the nation’s future energy needs.

He said the estimated cost for developing two nuclear plants was RM23.1bil based on current global costs.

“The plans are part of the Economic Transformation Prog­ramme and the plants will be able to generate 1,000 megawatts,” he said.

Mah said the estimate cost was merely the “overnight” cost to develop the plants, which did not include financing for the project.

The Dewan Rakyat was also told that a study would be done by the Human Resources Ministry to determine the actual number of foreign workers needed in the country.

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Indonesia: Add Illegal Fishing to List of Transnational Organized Crimes -- Minister

Jakarta Globe 30 Nov 15;

Jakarta. Indonesia's Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti is calling on the United Nations to list illegal fishing as transnational organized crime, arguing that perpetrators often work in international waters and involve a multitude of parties in various countries.

“If the UN lists [illegal fishing] as a transnational organized crime, eradication will be easier, because countries can help each other by exchanging data, which helps enforcement,” the minister said on Monday as quoted by

She was speaking at a workshop in Jakarta, on fisheries-related human rights issues.

Susi stressed that listing illegal fishing as a transnational crime would help law enforcers across the world stop the exploitation of workers, abuse and human trafficking.

Since she became minister more than a year ago, Susi has been taking a tough stance against foreign vessels encroaching into Indonesian waters to catch fish, causing income losses of trillions of rupiah for the government and local fishing communities.

Susi has also been involved in helping end human trafficking and slavery practices at a foreign-owned fisheries company in Benjina, Maluku, where hundreds of people, mainly from Myanmar, had been working for years in captivity without pay and often subjected to torture.

The minister also cited similar cases of abuse involving at least 61,000 Indonesians working as crew members on foreign fishing vessels. In these instances, crew members have been reportedly subjected to inhumane treatment including being held captive and forced to work long hours for little or sometimes no pay by foreign employers.

Consider illegal fishing a transnational crime, says fishery minister
Antara 1 Dec 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesian Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti has urged that illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUUF) activities be regarded as transnational crimes.

"We want every country to classify this crime as a transnational crime because it is an organized international crime," Minister Pudjiastuti told an international workshop on human rights protection in fishery business in Indonesia, here on Monday.

Classifying these as a transnational crime will encourage countries to share data on IUUF cases that will help deal with the problem, she said.

It will also encourage fishery companies to protect human rights in line with the international standards in the fishery field.

Laborers and crew members will also be protected in line with the international human rights protection standard.

"We want business practices in the fishery field and its processing business to implement the international human rights standard," she stated.

Chairman of the Task Force for IUUF Prevention and Eradication Mas Achmad Santosa also shared the ministers view, saying that fishery-related crimes are all pervasive, and should therefore be seen as transnational crimes.

"The fishery crime activities include boat forgery, double flags, boat size mark down, transmitter being turned off, fish catch forgery, fishing in other countrys water territory, using prohibited fishing devices, or failure to establish a partnership with a fishery processing unit," Mas Achmad Santosa said.

The IUUF activities also include illegal fuel business transactions in the sea, money laundering, corruption, human trafficking, drug smuggling and underpaid labor.

The ministry is currently drafting a regulation on human rights protection in the fishery business in Indonesia to demonstrate the governments commitment to eradicating fishery crimes at national and international levels.(*)

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