Large greenhouse gas emitters voice concerns as Government irons out details of carbon tax

Aqil Haziq Mahmud Channel NewsAsia 23 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE: Instead of being charged a flat rate, large emitters of greenhouse gases have called for the upcoming carbon tax to be based on whether their emissions meet industry-specific benchmarks.

At a consultation session on Tuesday (Jan 23), 40 companies – including those from the power generation and petrochemical industries – voiced concerns about how the carbon tax might be implemented.

Mr Yu Tat Ming, chief executive of PacificLight, a power generation company, said a benchmark system will give companies more incentive to reduce emissions.

“If it is targeted based on a certain benchmark, it can be more differentiating,” he said. “Any marginal carbon will attract heavier tax. That will encourage industries to take action, to meet the target.”

Likewise, another stakeholder said the tax should be charged based on “how far you are away” from the benchmark. “If you charge a flat tax across all carbons, there is very little incentive and margin to improve energy efficiency.”

The carbon tax, which will be implemented next year, is just one in a range of measures aimed at reducing emissions intensity in Singapore by 36 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030 under the Paris Agreement.

It will target large direct emitters, defined as those that emit 25,000 or more tonnes of greenhouse gases annually. This is expected to affect 30 to 40 emitters operating in Singapore.

The Government is also looking at charging a flat rate of between S$10 and S$20 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions.

But without the “clear visibility” of a benchmark, Mr Yu said, “we don’t know what we are trying to achieve”.

“How much should we improve in order to enable the Government to achieve the target?” he asked. “Because for any improvement, there has to be an investment made. And as a commercial entity, we need to calculate the return on investment.”

If the tax fails to reduce emissions, another stakeholder added, the Government will end up increasing rates across the board, “pushing us down the path of international un-competitiveness”. Others noted that Singapore’s neighbours do not impose carbon tax.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli acknowledged such concerns, noting that companies want the carbon tax to be implemented fairly and simply, without a “cost burden”.

While the Government has studied various systems, the carbon tax has to “finally nudge our companies to transform towards a low-carbon economy”, he said. “This is not an easy thing to design because we must not kill our competitiveness.”

Fixing the tax price is also a challenge, Mr Masagos noted, given the “inevitable” trickle-down effect on consumers.

“If it is too low, people and industries will not transform – behaviour will not change,” he said. “But if it is too high, industries will just relocate, people will suffer too much.”

Nevertheless, the Government will ensure that companies do not pass the “wrong amount of cost to consumers” by encouraging competition and giving consumers a choice, he said.

As for the companies, Mr Masagos said, the Government will make the process of determining the carbon tax price transparent to them.

“Therefore, we’ll try as much as possible to put as much certainty as we can so that we do not price ourselves out,” he said. "But we have to ensure that the right kind of technology and processes are brought to Singapore, so that it doesn’t add up to more emissions.”

Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore chairman Edwin Khew said it is ready to help the Government identify energy efficiency benchmarks for various emission systems.

“We have a good idea of what the different benchmarks are,” he said. “The thing is whether it fits in with what the Government wants.”

With next month’s Budget announcement on the final details of the carbon tax fast approaching, Mr Khew feels the Government would have had enough time to consider the feedback.

“I think they’ve already gone and done a lot of studies and investigations, so when (Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat) announces what level of carbon tax the industry will be facing, he should have enough to decide,” he added.

“It’s not going to be cast in stone, so something that you can introduce and adjust as you go along, as more information will be coming in to help them adapt to the situation in Singapore.”

Source: CNA/hz


Large Singapore emitters call for benchmarks as carbon tax looms
LOUISA TANG Today Online 24 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE — As they steel themselves to pay a carbon tax from next year, major greenhouse-gas emitters called for the Government to set emissions benchmarks for each industry at a pre-Budget consultation session on Tuesday (Jan 23).

Some of the 44 participants at the session, which included representatives of petrochemical and energy giants, said benchmarks would provide clarity on the standards that large emitters should meet.

Others felt emitters who met the benchmarks should not have to pay a carbon tax, reiterating concerns that Singapore’s push to go low-carbon could hurt its competitiveness.

The tax, first announced in Budget 2017, is expected to apply to 30 to 40 emitters such as power stations that emit 25,000 or more tonnes of greenhouse gases a year. The Government is expected to table the Carbon Pricing Bill in Parliament in the first quarter of this year, and is looking to charge between S$10 and S$20 per tonne of greenhouse gas under a credit-based system.

The carbon tax is among Singapore’s measures to meet its target of cutting emissions intensity by 36 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, under the global Paris Agreement.

Standard benchmarks will provide clear targets to different industries, which generate different amounts of greenhouse gases, said power generation company PacificLight Power’s chief executive Yu Tat Ming.

His company currently supplies electricity to industries and commercial buildings.

“At the moment, (the power industry) does not know what to do, how much we should reduce in order to achieve the 36 per cent target. We have no visibility on that. Likewise, probably the petrochemical industry want to have a benchmark so that they know how much investment they need to make, to meet the target,” said Mr Yu.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli acknowledged the feedback from companies.

“We understand that it will be a difficult transition and the Government will do as much as it can to transition companies towards the low-carbon economy,” he said. “We do need to be competitive but you have to take in the reality where the world is moving, and we better do it as fast as we can to gain competitive advantage over others.”

On whether the Government would consider only taxing companies that exceed benchmarks, Mr Masagos said the authorities have “studied many systems of carbon tax, including whether we should do a trading system or offset system”, and wanted something “simple” and “fair”.

The National Climate Change Secretariat will be announcing its mechanism, said Mr Masagos, without providing further details.

The carbon tax is likely to be passed on to consumers. It could mean a household living in a four-room flat, which pays S$72 a month in electricity bills, could see an increase of S$1.70 to S$3.30 a month. The carbon tax component should be reflected in consumers’ electricity bills, said Mr Yu.

There is a need for more awareness about climate change, Mr Masagos added.

Daily temperatures in Singapore could increase by 1.4°C to 4.6°C by 2100 due to climate change. Heavy rainfall events will be more intense and frequent, while mean sea levels could increase by up to about 1m.

Asked about recent reports that three local banks – DBS Bank, OCBC Bank and United Overseas Bank – were financing coal projects in the region, Mr Masagos would only say the reports indicated a world more attuned to products and services in keeping with a low-carbon economy.

“And whether you are a bank, (generation company) or refinery, this is going to be the demand by an international market. And therefore it’s important for us to make this transition. I think most of the companies that are here recognise this. In fact, many of them have already gone (on) the journey,” he said.

Coal is a major source of greenhouse-gas emissions.

Involve consumers in conserving energy: Power firms
Upcoming carbon tax targets large emitters but green message must reach end users too
Audrey Tan Straits Times 24 Jann 18;

In 2019, a carbon tax will be implemented to spur large emitters to become greener in their operations.

But industry players say the need to conserve energy has to filter down to consumers too.

Mr Yu Tat Ming, chief executive of power generation company PacificLight Power, said: "The purpose of the carbon tax is to reduce Singapore's overall emissions. It sends a signal to large emitters that they need to become more efficient in their operations, but the green message should be reinforced among the end users too."

Citing the example of how a water conservation tax forms part of a household's water bill, he said there should be a similar tariff to promote energy conservation.

Mr Yu was speaking yesterday at a pre-Budget consultation session on the carbon tax, organised by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources ahead of the Budget on Feb 19, when details of the carbon tax are expected to be revealed.

Mr Yu was among 44 participants from 40 different organisations, including industry players, non-government groups and academics, who were at the consultation. It was also attended by Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli.

Speaking to the media on the sidelines of the event, Mr Masagos said: "Inevitably, a carbon tax imposed on power generation companies... will somewhat trickle down into the economy."

But he added that the Government will look into implementing mechanisms to ensure costs are not excessively passed on to consumers. One way to do this would be to promote competition in the industry, or encourage companies to look into cleaner alternatives such as solar power, Mr Masagos said.

Plans to impose a carbon tax of between $10 and $20 on each tonne of greenhouse gas emissions were first floated at last year's Budget.

The tax will be applied to power stations and other large direct emitters which produce more than 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent of greenhouse gases a year. There are currently 30 to 40 such large emitters, mainly from the petroleum refining, chemicals and semiconductor sectors.

During yesterday's session, industry players acknowledged that while a carbon tax is necessary to help Singapore meet its climate targets under the Paris Agreement, it should be implemented in a way that will not erode competition.

Among the suggestions given was to channel revenue raised from the carbon tax into a kitty that could be used to fund energy efficiency initiatives or research into green technologies, or used for incentives to companies that do well.

Mr Edwin Khew, chairman of the Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore, said revenue collected by the Government from the carbon tax could be from $300 million to $600 million a year. "This money can be used to incentivise those that need to improve in terms of energy efficiency, or help them invest in new equipment and new processes."

Asked if this would be fair to companies comparatively more energy-efficient, he said the focus should be at the national level, instead of individual companies: "Ultimately, this would make less energy-efficient companies more competitive and help keep jobs in Singapore."

Under the Paris Agreement, Singapore has pledged to reduce its emissions intensity by 36 per cent from the 2005 levels, come 2030.

Emissions intensity is the amount of greenhouse gases emitted to achieve each dollar of gross domestic product. Singapore has also pledged to stop any increase to its greenhouse gas emissions by around 2030.

Conserving energy is down to consumers too, say power firms
Audrey Tan Straits Times 23 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE - A carbon tax will soon be implemented to spur large emitters to become greener in their operations. But industry players say the need to conserve energy has to filter down to consumers too.

This was the view of Mr Yu Tat Ming, chief executive of power generation company PacificLight Power, who said: "The purpose of the carbon tax is to reduce Singapore's overall emissions. It sends a signal to large emitters that they need to become more efficient in their operations, but the green message should be reinforced among end users too."

Citing the example of how a water conservation tariff forms part of a household's water bill, he said there should be a similar tariff to promote energy conservation.

Mr Yu was speaking on Tuesday (Jan 23) at a pre-Budget consultation session on the carbon tax, organised by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (Mewr) ahead of the Budget on Feb 19, when details of the carbon tax are expected to be revealed.

Mr Yu was among 44 participants from 40 different organisations, including industry players, non-government groups and academics, who were at the consultation. It was also attended by Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli.

Speaking to the media on the sidelines of the event, Mr Masagos said: "Inevitably, a carbon tax imposed on power generation companies, which generate electricity, will somewhat trickle down into the economy."

But he added that the Government will look into implementing mechanisms to ensure that costs are not excessively passed on to consumers. One way to do this would be to promote competition in the industry, or encourage companies to look into cleaner alternatives such as solar power, Mr Masagos said.

Masagos Zulkifli speaking about the carbon tax

Plans to impose a carbon tax of between $10 and $20 on each tonne of greenhouse gas emission was first floated at last year's Budget. The tax will be applied on power stations and other large direct emitters which produce more than 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent of greenhouse gases a year. There are currently 30 to 40 of such large emitters, mainly from the petroleum refining, chemicals and semiconductor sectors.

During Tuesday's session, industry players acknowledged that while a carbon tax is necessary to help Singapore meet its climate targets under the Paris Agreement, it should be implemented in a way that will not erode competition.

Among the suggestions given was the channelling of revenue raised from the carbon tax into a kitty that could be used to fund energy-efficiency initiatives or research into green technologies, or given as incentives to companies that do well.

Mr Edwin Khew, chairman of the Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore, said revenue collected by the Government from the carbon tax could be in the range of $300 million to $600 million a year. "This money can be used to incentivise those that need to improve in terms of energy efficiency, or help them invest in new equipment and new processes."

Asked if this would be fair to companies that are comparatively more energy efficient, Mr Khew said the focus should be at the national level, instead of individual companies. "Ultimately, this would make companies with less efficient plans more competitive, and help keep jobs in Singapore."

Another suggestion was for industry-specific benchmarks to be set for the large emitters, which span a range of industries, including petrochemical, pharmaceutical and generation companies. This would give each company greater clarity on how much to reduce their emissions by, instead of relying on national level projections.

Under the Paris Agreement, Singapore has pledged to reduce its emissions intensity by 36 per cent from 2005 levels, come 2030. Emissions intensity is the amount of greenhouse gases emitted to achieve each dollar of gross domestic product. Singapore has also pledged to stop any increase to its greenhouse gas emissions by around 2030.

The industrial sector produces about 60 per cent of Singapore's total greenhouse gas emissions, which is why the Government has rolled out a raft of measures - including the imposition of a carbon tax - to force large emitters to go green.


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Singapore’s rising natural gas ambitions face big challenges

Singapore’s central role in global LNG markets is unquestionable but the country’s long-term prospects faces huge challenges, says one oil and gas expert.
Abache Abreu Channel NewsAsia 24 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE: About 95 per cent of Singapore’s electricity is generated using natural gas.

Before the completion of Singapore’s first liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in 2013, the city’s only option was to import natural gas via pipelines from Malaysia and Indonesia.

Singapore’s LNG industry has boomed since then, powering gas cookers and water heaters in most households and fueling industries including refineries and petrochemicals.

Its LNG ambitions are massive, involving markets further afield. Singapore’s strategic location and reputation as a global trading hub for other commodities place it at the forefront of becoming Asia’s LNG trading hub.

But the city state faces several challenges as it persists tirelessly towards this goal.

EXPANDING LNG INDUSTRY

Singapore’s central role in LNG trading is unquestionable and is supported by an expanding LNG infrastructure, business-friendly regulation, and a strong and growing pool of industry talent.

And as the global supply expansion drives LNG towards becoming a global commodity in its own right, Singapore’s position as an LNG trading centre will grow too.

Nearly 40 companies have opened offices in Singapore – from traders, buyers and sellers looking to enhance optimisation capabilities, to companies offering supporting services such as lawyers, consultants and shipping firms – according to the Singapore Department of Statistics.

The country’s move to expand its LNG capacity to 11 million metric tonnes a year (mt/year) by 2018 and give international players access to storage and reload services demonstrates its commitment to become a regional facilitator of LNG trading.

Unlike other Asian buyers, Singapore has taken bold steps to develop a competitive and liberalised gas market, has access to international pipeline connections, and already allows third-party access to its gas and LNG infrastructure.

It has the support of its regulatory authorities and first-mover advantage relative to similar efforts by Japan and Shanghai to build their own LNG hubs.

Concerted efforts to create a Singapore-based pricing point for spot cargoes have also been made, in a bid to boost regional pricing transparency, and capitalise on the LNG industry’s departure from its traditional oil-indexed pricing model.

As LNG trading becomes more liquid in the physical and financial markets, industry participants feel more comfortable with pricing and hedging LNG cargoes not against an associated commodity like crude oil, but LNG itself.

LOW LIQUIDITY AND STORAGE BIGGEST CHALLENGES

Low liquidity will continue to be the biggest challenge to Singapore’s hub ambitions, as the limited size of its domestic gas market relative to the volume of LNG traded in Asia (which accounts for three quarters of global demand), makes it difficult for the country to replicate the balancing role the bigger and interconnected European hubs play in the global LNG markets.

The prospects of its storage and reload initiative may also be limited by the inefficient nature of LNG re-exports. Unlike oil, the cost of transporting and handling LNG relative to its market price is significant.

Storage costs at the Singapore LNG terminal on Jurong Island have been estimated within a range of US$2.5 million (S$3.3 million) to US$6 million British Thermal Units per year (or US$0.21 to US$0.50/MMBtu per month) depending on the source, plus unspecified reloading costs to re-export the volumes.

This means the cost of storing an LNG cargo for a year in Singapore can be as high the price of the cargo itself – the January to October 2017 average of the S&P Global Platts JKM benchmark daily spot price for physical deliveries to northeast Asia was at US$6.54/MMBtu.

Unlike oil, arbitrage decisions have to be made knowing that LNG cannot be stored for long periods because it loses volume due to boil-off.

Meanwhile, increasing flexible supplies from North America, Middle East and Asia-Pacific are reducing regional and seasonal price differentials in the global LNG markets, leading to fewer and shorter arbitrage opportunities, and less appetite for LNG reloads.

Singapore is seizing a huge part of the global LNG pie. It has reloaded six cargoes, of slightly less than 400,000 mt of LNG, from January to November 2017, up from five cargoes in 2016, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics.

Meanwhile, the global market has reloaded just over 2 million mt of LNG this year, down from a peak of nearly 6 million mt in 2014, when the JKM averaged US$13.86/MMBtu.

Storage and reload costs on a US$/MMBtu basis are even higher for medium and small-size LNG cargoes, one of the potential growth areas for Singapore.

Meanwhile, the ability of domestic end users in the potential break-bulk markets of Indonesia and the Philippines to pay a premium is particularly uncertain given downstream gas prices in those markets are heavily regulated.

Lastly, the future of Singapore’s further plans to develop the LNG sector, including LNG bunkering plans and leveraging LNG as a marine fuel – an alternative to the currently used marine diesel oil – are dependent on several factors including the areas where the vessel operates, the life of the ship, and most importantly, its relative price to other fuels.

To boost LNG bunkering in Singapore, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore has announced in December 2017 that it has pumped another S$12 million into the industry. The funds will be used to build new LNG bunker vessels to allow ship-to-ship LNG bunkering and to build LNG-fuelled vessels.

LNG is seen as a substitute as Asian LNG spot prices have only been marginally lower than that of marine diesel oil. In fact, LNG spot prices have risen and hit its highest since 2015, with January deliveries assessed at US$9.90/MMBtu in November according to the Platts JKM benchmark price assessment.

The long-term prospects of Singapore’s LNG hub ambitions are therefore still uncertain.

But there is room for optimism as the country is well on track to becoming a global reference for LNG trading, and a key facilitator of regional market liquidity, flexibility and transparency.

Abache Abreu is senior editor, LNG News and Analysis (Asia-Pacific and Middle East), at S&P Global Platts.


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First Zika case of 2018 reported in Singapore

Channel NewsAsia 23 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE: After nearly four months without a reported case of Zika virus infection, the first case of 2018 was confirmed last Thursday (Jan 18).

It is also the first case since Sep 29, 2017, according to the Ministry of Health.

The ministry said on Tuesday that the patient sought outpatient treatment and is recovering well.

The first case of locally transmitted Zika in Singapore was reported in August 2016 and by the end of that year, about 450 people here were confirmed to have been infected.

The virus, spread by the aedes aegypti mosquito, has been associated with neurological diseases such as microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with a smaller head due to abnormalities in the development of the brain.

The Health Ministry told Channel NewsAsia last year that of the 17 women who were diagnosed with Zika during their pregnancies in 2016, two had their pregnancies terminated while one had a miscarriage.

The reasons behind this were not linked to Zika. It added the other 14 women gave birth to babies with no signs of microcephaly.

According to the National Environment Agency website, there are currently no Zika clusters in Singapore. The Jan 18 case appears to be an isolated one and it is unclear where the patient caught the virus from.

Source: CNA/mz


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Thai seafood: are the prawns on your plate still fished by slaves?

Report finds trafficking persists on Thai fishing boats, as campaigners challenge supermarkets to guarantee products are free of rights abuses
Annie Kelly The Guardian 23 Jan 18;

Thailand’s billion-dollar seafood export industry remains infested with human rights abuses despite government pledges to stamp out slavery in its fishing industry, according to research by Human Rights Watch.

Four years after damning revelations of chattel slavery aboard Thai fishing boats linked to seafood exported and sold by major retailers around the world, a report says that rights violations in one of Thailand’s major export industries continue unabated, including forced labour and widespread human trafficking.

For the report HRW conducted interviews with 248 current and former Burmese and Cambodian fishermen as well as Thai officials, boat owners, local activists and United Nations agency staff over a two-year period in all of Thailand’s major fishing ports.

It documented how migrant fishermen from south-east Asia continue to be routinely trafficked on to fishing boats, prevented from leaving or changing employers, and are often not paid for their work or paid less than the minimum wage.

“What the report found was that although this military government has taken more positive steps forward than the last, the reforms that have been put in place are still largely cosmetic,” said Brad Adams, director of Human Rights Watch in Asia.

“Forced labour is routine. The workers we interviewed described being trafficked on to ships, trapped in jobs they couldn’t leave, physical abuse, lack of food, long hours and awful working conditions. The worst thing for many of them was not being paid – the psychological harm and final indignity was the hardest to bear.”

Steve Trent, chief executive of the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), who has been working with the Thai government on its reforms, said the focus should also be on ensuring that those selling seafood to consumers take responsibility for ensuring supply chains are free from rights abuses.

“There is no shadow of a doubt that widespread and very serious labour violations are continuing throughout the industry,” said Trent. “Buyers and retailers have failed comprehensively to play their part in finding a real solution.”

He said the creation of the Sustainable Seafood Taskforce had failed to live up to its promises: the industry body, made up of supermarkets, buyers and retailers sourcing seafood from Thailand, was set up in 2015 to bring transparency and accountability to their supply chains.

“Never in my career have I seen a process more focused on talking in hotel rooms in Bangkok rather than actually committing to using their influence to create real change,” he said.

“I challenge any of the retailers selling Thai seafood to consumers to guarantee that products from Thailand are free from human rights abuses and illegal fishing. They have arguably more power than anyone else and they are failing to use it.”

The Sustainable Seafood Taskforce did not respond to a request for comment.

A major investigation by the Guardian in 2014 exposed brutal cases of slavery aboard Thai fishing boats feeding trash fish – inedible or infant species of fish to be ground into fishmeal – into the supply chain of prawns sold by supermarkets in the UK, Europe and United States.

In 2015 the European Union imposed a “yellow card” on Thailand under its illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing framework, threatening to ban Thai fisheries imports if the government failed to clean up its fishing industry, including labour rights violations.

The Thai government responded with a broad programme of reforms including new laws to regulate and improve working conditions, documentation and wages for migrant fishermen. A “port-in, port-out” (Pipo) system was also created to require boats to report for inspections, as well as limiting time at sea to 30 days.

However, HRW said that although some progress had been made, the persistence of trafficking and forced labour on fishing boats illustrated that many of the reforms were cosmetic.

The report said that the labour inspection regime was largely a “theatrical exercise for international consumption” and that in 2015 Thailand failed to find a single case of forced labour in inspections of 474,334 fishing crew.

The group is now urging the European Union to continue using the IUU framework to keep the pressure on the Thai government to address trafficking and slavery at sea.

“Although we understand that the IUU is designed to focus on fishing stocks and environmental issues, we’re really concerned that a move to address human rights concerns outside the IUU framework means that we will lose the only real effective tool that the EU had to address trafficking and forced labour in the Thai seafood industry,” said Adams.

Luisa Ragher, deputy of the delegation of the European Union in Thailand, said that the EU is committed to working alongside the Thai government to tackle labour rights violations.

“The government of Thailand has given high priority to this and put significant effort into addressing these problems. There are still shortcomings but progress has been made and we are confident of their commitment to improving things,” she said. “We are working intensively at opening up a broader discussion on labour rights that extends past fishing into other sectors.”


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New global registry of invasive species is 'milestone' in protecting biodiversity

New catalogue expected to stand alongside red list as an international means to fight extinction, by helping to stop biological invasions
Jonathan Watts The Guardian 23 Jan 18;

A world registry of invasive species has been launched amid concerns that governments are not doing enough to tackle the rising threat of globalisation to biodiversity.

The new catalogue – unveiled in the journal Scientific Data on Tuesday – is expected to become a pillar of international efforts to fight extinction alongside the “red list” of endangered species.

From yellow crazy ants on Christmas Island to little fire worms in the Galapagos, the deliberate or accidental introduction of non-native species is the biggest driver of biodiversity loss on islands and world heritage sites, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

It can also cause huge economic and health impacts, as has been the case with the arrival in Europe of tropical mosquitos, which are vectors for malaria, or the spread of Latin American water hyacinths in Africa, which started off as cheap ornamental plants but now cause billions of dollars of losses because they clog up rivers, block ships, prevent fishing and create breeding grounds for mosquitos.

The Global Registry of Introduced and Invasive Species catalogues these and thousands of other cases in a key step towards identifying and tackling the biggest risks.

Based on an international collaboration by hundreds of scientists over eight years, the registry is seen as a tool – like the red list – that will allow countries to set up early warning and rapid response systems to prevent “door-knocking” species from entering in destructively large numbers.

This week’s data release, which covers 20 countries, reveals that 25% of the 6,400 identified invasive species have a negative impact on biodiversity and ecosystems. Information for the remaining 180 nations will be available by the middle of the year.

“This is a milestone,” said Piero Genovesi, the chair of the Rome-based Invasive Species Special Group, which led the compilation of the registry. “With this paper we want to show the rigour of our approach because this information will affect trade relations and other government policies.”

He said biological invasions are increasing in all regions and taxonomic groups and are likely to accelerate as a result of climate change, which is altering the ranges of habitats.


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Best of our wild blogs: 23 Jan 18



Personal Observations of the Plovers at Marina East Drive
Singapore Bird Group


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NParks to extend barricade to pathway where crocodile was spotted in Sungei Buloh

Lydia Lam Straits Times 22 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE - The National Parks Board (NParks) will be extending a barricade to a pedestrian pathway where a crocodile was spotted in Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve over the weekend.

Mr How Choon Beng, director of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve at NParks, told The Straits Times that NParks monitors visitor trails daily and has been setting up barricades at sections where crocodiles were seen basking.

This is to prevent crocodiles from climbing onto the visitor trail. NParks will be extending a barricade to the affected pedestrian pathway after a viral video was posted online showing a reportedly 2m-long crocodile on the footpath at the reserve on Saturday (Jan 20),

NParks will also set up a motion-activated camera to help monitor the situation after crocodile sightings were reported on Saturday and Sunday.

Nature watchers were surprised at the sight of a crocodile right smack in the middle of the pathway and had to wait for up to half an hour before it crawled into the bushes.

One of them, Ms Judy Liew, posted a video of the encounter on Nature Society Singapore's Facebook page, creating a hubbub online.

Ms Liew, who works in customer service support, told The Straits Times on Monday that she had gone to Sungei Buloh on Saturday during high tide, at around 1.45pm.

"I didn't expect to see crocodiles around, as usually they will be feeding in the water during high tide," she said.

She had walked about 300m to 500m from the visitor centre into the reserve when she saw a crocodile lying across the footpath.

Ms Liew said the groups of people on either side of the 2m-long crocodile could not cross over, and waited for about half an hour before it darted into the bushes and into the water.

She said the crocodile had appeared in a gap in wooden planks that were put up to fence off the pathway.

"There are wooden planks put up, but there are no wooden planks after the 300m mark. Then after a distance, the planks appear again. Perhaps the National Parks Board (NParks) would like to seal off the gap," she said.

She said she has seen crocodiles before, as she is an avid nature watcher and has been doing nature photography for about two years.

"I went on Sunday again and saw another crocodile on the pathway, but I don't know whether it's the same one," said Ms Liew. "It was at a blind spot so I was worried that people coming from the other side would not see it."

She said she posted the video to raise public awareness.

"It's to let people know that when you walk into a nature reserve, you are walking into a shared space with nature (and wildlife)," she said. "We have to respect them, be careful, look out for them and watch from a distance."

According to NParks, estuarine or saltwater crocodiles occur naturally in the wild in Singapore, although they are not commonly sighted.

Saltwater crocodiles are one of the largest crocodile species in the world and can grow to more than 5m in length.

They live in brackish and freshwater areas such as coastal areas and wetlands, and are usually "found in the water or at the mudflats away from visitor routes", NParks said.

Those who encounter crocodiles should stay calm and back away, and should not approach, provoke or feed them.

Warning signs and advisory notices are posted at areas where crocodiles are most often seen. The signs advise the public to stay on visitor routes and not venture off the designated paths.

Those who need help should call the Wetland Reserve Information Counter on 6794-1401 immediately.


Barricades in Sungei Buloh to be extended to prevent crocs from climbing onto trail

Channel NewsAsia 22 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE: Barricades will be extended to a section of the visitor trail at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve after a crocodile was spotted on the path, said the National Parks Board (NParks) on Monday (Jan 22).

This comes after a video was posted on Facebook over the weekend, showing a crocodile lying across the designated trail, with a group of visitors standing close by. In the 20-second video, the reptile was seen lying very still before suddenly darting into the bushes.

Sungei Buloh said it is aware of crocodile sightings along a visitor trail on Saturday and Sunday.

"As a practice, we monitor visitor trails daily and have been erecting barricades at sections where crocodiles were seen to bask to prevent crocodiles from climbing onto the visitor trail, and will extend barricades to this section," said the director of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve How Choon Beng in an email to Channel NewsAsia.

He added that a motion-activated camera will also be set up to help monitor the situation, and that warning signs and advisory notices have been posted at areas where crocodiles are most often seen.

"Visitors should heed these signs and keep to designated paths," Mr How said. He explained that these estuarine crocodiles are usually found in the water or at the mudflats away from the visitor routes.

Should visitors encounter a crocodile on the path, they should stay calm and back away slowly, said Mr How. They should not approach, provoke, or feed the animal.

If members of the public need help, they should call the Wetland Reserve Information Counter immediately.

There were several crocodile sightings around Singapore last year, which included locations such as East Coast Park, Changi Beach and Pasir Ris Park.

Source: CNA/ad


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Coney Island to welcome student campers before new OBS campus opens there in 2020

Audrey Tan Straits Times 22 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE - Coney Island will welcome student campers well before the new Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) campus on the island is ready by 2020.

The Straits Times has learnt that a temporary campsite is currently being prepared there for student participants of a national outdoor adventure programme.

During a visit to Coney Island earlier in January, The Straits Times saw that a trail leading to a clearing in a vegetated area near the island's east entrance had been fenced up with an orange cordon. There were also work-in-progress signboards near the site.

In response to queries, OBS said the site will be temporarily used for camping activities under the Ministry of Education-OBS Secondary 3 programme, "as part of the progressive roll-out of activities for OBS participants on Coney Island".

It was earlier announced that OBS will be made compulsory for all Secondary 3 students from 2020 and held at a new $250 million Coney Island campus.

For the sake of the students' safety, some casuarina trees were removed in view of the strong wind season, said OBS.

But efforts were taken to protect the environment.

The campsite, for example, was chosen with the help of consultants and the National Parks Board, and is some distance away from high biodiversity areas such as mangroves, as well as from vegetation of high conservation value, said OBS.

Trees which host the nests of birds known as baya weavers were also retained.

But OBS clarified that works for the OBS campus on Coney Island have not started.

The Straits Times understands that an environmental study is being done to see how the impact of the development on the surrounding nature areas can be reduced.

Coney Island is home to at least 157 animal species, including nationally threatened ones such as the spotted wood owl and the rusty-breasted cuckoo.

National University of Singapore arborist Lahiru Wijedasa, who is not involved in the project, conceded that some trees within the temporary campsite may have had to be removed for the safety of participants.

Casuarina trees have features that enable them to withstand windy coastal conditions, but he added: "Any species, even if it grows up in windy conditions or are adapted to windy conditions, could fall under conditions beyond which they grew up with."

But Mr Lahiru said it would have been better to look at the results of the environmental impact study first before deciding whether to remove the trees.

Mr Loh Chee Hwa, co-founder of environmental and outdoor education company Better Trails, said it was encouraging to see more efforts to engage more young people in outdoor programmes.

But with the expected increase in human traffic, it was also important to preserve the landscape of Coney Island, he added.

He said: "For OBS to embark on this project to build a campus and temporary campsite, I believe a proper environmental study has been conducted and I am confident that they will manage the project in an eco way, and not the ego way."


Coney Island makes room for young campers
Temporary campsite for student programme coming up ahead of new OBS campus in 2020
Audrey Tan Straits Times 23 Jan 18;

Coney Island will welcome student campers well before the new Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) campus on the island is ready by 2020.

The Straits Times has learnt that a temporary campsite is being prepared there for student participants of a national outdoor adventure programme.

During a visit to Coney Island earlier this month, ST saw that a trail leading to a clearing in a vegetated area near the island's east entrance had been fenced up with an orange cordon. There were also work-in-progress signboards near the site.

In response to queries, OBS said the site will be temporarily used for camping activities under the Ministry of Education-OBS Secondary 3 programme, "as part of the progressive roll-out of activities for OBS participants on Coney Island".

It was earlier announced that an OBS camp will be made compulsory for all Secondary 3 students from 2020 and held at a new $250 million Coney Island campus.

For the sake of the students' safety, some casuarina trees were removed in view of the strong wind season, said OBS.

But efforts were taken to protect the environment. The campsite, for example, was chosen with the help of consultants and the National Parks Board, and is some distance away from high-biodiversity areas such as mangroves, as well as from vegetation of high conservation value, said OBS.

Temporary campsite on Coney Island for student campers

For the sake of the students' safety, some casuarina trees were removed in view of the strong wind season, said OBS. But efforts were taken to protect the environment...Trees which host the nests of birds known as baya weavers were... retained.

Trees which host the nests of birds known as baya weavers were also retained.

But OBS clarified that works for the OBS campus on Coney Island have not started.

ST understands that an environmental study is being done to see how the impact of the development on the surrounding nature areas can be reduced. Coney Island is home to at least 157 animal species, including nationally threatened ones such as the spotted wood owl and the rusty-breasted cuckoo.

National University of Singapore arborist Lahiru Wijedasa, who is not involved in the project, conceded that some trees within the temporary campsite may have had to be removed for the safety of participants.

Casuarina trees have features that enable them to withstand windy coastal conditions, but he added: "Any species, even if it grows up in windy conditions or are adapted to windy conditions, could fall under conditions beyond which they grew up with."

But Mr Lahiru said it would have been better to look at the results of the environmental impact study first before deciding whether to remove the trees.

Mr Loh Chee Hwa, co-founder of environmental and outdoor education company Better Trails, said it was encouraging to see more efforts to engage more young people in outdoor programmes. But with the expected increase in human traffic, it was also important to preserve the Coney Island landscape, he added.

He said: "For OBS to embark on this project to build a campus and temporary campsite, I believe a proper environmental study has been conducted and I am confident that they will manage the project in an eco way, and not the ego way."


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NTU, BlueSG trial ultra-fast charging electric shuttle

Gwyneth Teo Channel NewsAsia 22 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE: An electric tram that requires just 20 seconds to recharge - while passengers board or alight at stations - will be trialled at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) campus for the next six months.

The trial was launched on Monday (Jan 22) by NTU and BlueSG, the same company that started an electric car-sharing scheme last year.

Dubbed Singapore's first flash-charging electric shuttle, the Bluetram can travel 2km on a single charge, with backup power that provides for an additional 30km.

The 22-seater tram will run between JTC's CleanTech One and NTU's North Hill area, a distance of close to 1km.

As the vehicle stops along each station along the route, a robotic arm will emerge from the station, insert itself into the charging port and charge the super-capacitor in the vehicle.

NTU and BlueSG said the super-capacitor is 10 times more efficient than lithium-ion batteries in discharging power, but holds power for a proportionally shorter length of time.

It is thus ideal for vehicles that do short sprints with lots of starts and stops.

Dr Subodh Mhaisalkar, Executive Director of Energy Research Institute @ NTU, said: "We look at vehicles like these for first- and last-mile transportation, such as feeder bus services."

He added that the vehicles may be a game-changer in transportation here. "These can go indoors. These can go into the foyer of a building, the lobby of hospitals, into the airport. It brings up new possibilities in public transportation."

The vehicles had previously been trialled at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, where six trams ran across seven stations up and down the Champs-Élysées.

As the NTU campus has more hilly terrains compared to the relatively flatter Champs-Élysées, the trial will allow the tram's makers to test its performance on various terrains.

Additionally, the data collected will let scientists understand how the super-capacitors might react to different climate conditions, and what impact a larger roll-out of these vehicles will have on power grid infrastructure.

"For example, if there are hundreds of buses and taxis charging in a small area, we need to understand what impact it will have on the grid. The grid stability and reliability are things we cannot compromise," said Dr Subodh.

Source: CNA/ng


Ultra-fast charging electric shuttle bus service launched by NTU and BlueSG
TOH EE MING Today Online 22 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE — Singapore will soon see an ultra-fast charging electric shuttle bus service operating between Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and JTC’s CleanTech One.

With the help of a robotic arm that connects the top of the 22-seater shuttle bus to a charging station, the vehicle will require only 20 seconds to be recharged at stations while passengers board and alight.

The shuttle can travel two kilometres on a single charge, with backup power that can allow it to run for an additional 30 kilometres.

Named the NTU-Blue Solutions Flash Shuttle and using Bolloré’s Bluetram vehicle, the shuttle was launched on Monday (Jan 22) by NTU and BlueSG.

The latter is a subsidiary of Blue Solutions owned by the Bolloré Group. BlueSG is also the operator of the first large-scale electric car-sharing service here that was launched last month.

Unlike other electric vehicles that function solely on batteries and need a greater time to be charged, the Bluetram is equipped with supercapacitors and a lithium-metal-polymer (LMP) battery developed by Blue Solutions. Supercapacitors are electrical storage components that are characterised by high power density which can be charged very quickly.

This allows the Bluetram to replicate the efficiency of trams by operating continuously without the need for offline charging.

Compared to tram systems, an electric shuttle bus network does not need costly infrastructure such as rails or cabling. The operating costs are therefore five to ten times lower.

BlueSG declined to compare the operating costs for the shuttle with that of a typical electric vehicle – which would take four to eight hours to charge – but said the shuttle costs 1 to 2 million euros (S$1.6 million to S$3.2 million) per kilometer to operate.

NTU President Subra Suresh said the move towards such “cutting-edge transportation technologies” is in line with its vision of being a smart campus.

“The use of electric vehicles in public transportation is growing across the world, as it shows promise of being a more efficient transportation system and in curbing greenhouse emissions,” said Prof Suresh.

“Testing it on campus, we expect that the insights and innovations developed from this research programme will benefit Singapore eventually by enhancing the first mile-last mile transportation options for everyone.”

It took two weeks to set up the trial route, which now has two stations.

For now, the shuttle will run at about 30 to 40 kmh between the two stations at NTU’s residential halls at the North Hill cluster and JTC’s CleanTech One, which is part of the Jurong Innovation District where special charging stations have been built. Both stops are about 1km apart.

After trials by the research team, NTU students will be able to ride the shuttle from July, though the route details and operational hours are yet to be worked out.

The joint research team – which comprises scientists from NTU’s Energy Research Institute and BlueSG - will study the shuttle’s on-road performance in Singapore’s tropical climate, including users’ behaviour, as well as how energy-saving it is on NTU’s hilly terrain.

The two-year trial with BlueSG is supported by the Economic Development Board. The collaboration is also one of the key initiatives under the France-Singapore Year of Innovation, which aims to intensify cooperation on innovation between the two countries this year.

NTU said it is in talks with BlueSG to install more electric vehicle charging stations on campus.

Students, staff and faculty will be able to rent BlueSG vehicles and drive them around Singapore, before returning the vehicle to any BlueSG charging station. The public will also be allowed to drive into NTU’s campus with these vehicles.

BlueSG previously said it targets to roll out 1,000 electric vehicles and 2,000 charging points by 2020.


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Australia: Barrier Reef funding boost to tackle predatory starfish

AFP Yahoo News 22 Jan 18;

Sydney (AFP) - A multimillion-dollar campaign to stop the predatory crown-of-thorns starfish devouring the Great Barrier Reef was announced by the Australian government Monday in a push to preserve the World Heritage-listed ecosystem.

The coral-eating starfish are naturally occurring but have proliferated due to pollution and agricultural run-off at the struggling reef.

Their impact has been profound -- a major study of the 2,300-kilometre (1,400-mile) long reef's health in 2012 showed coral cover has halved over the past 27 years, with 42 percent of the damage attributed to the pest.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Aud$60 million (US$48 million) would go into the new drive, with just over half to be spent on incentives for farmers to prevent agricultural pollutants from running into the reef.

Funds will also go towards increasing the number of patrol vessels and divers targeting the starfish, he said.

"It is a vibrant, resilient ecosystem and one of the best-managed coral reef ecosystems in the world," Turnbull said in a statement.

"While it is facing increasing threats, we intend to remain leaders in reef management," he said, adding the fund would support the development of new technology to help protect the reef.

The reef is also reeling from significant coral bleaching due to warming sea temperatures linked to climate change.

Canberra in 2015 narrowly avoided UNESCO putting the site on its endangered list, and has committed more than Aus$2.0 billion to preserve it over the next decade.

But it has been criticised for backing a huge US$16 billion coal project by Indian mining giant Adani near the reef, which environmentalists warned would harm the natural wonder.

Conservationists said Monday the government's latest funding announcement did not go far enough and action is needed to slash greenhouse gas emissions to prevent warming sea temperatures.

"It will be a classic case of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic unless the federal government moves quickly away from coal and other fossil fuels," Imogen Zethoven from the Australian marine conservation society said in a statement.


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Best of our wild blogs: 22 Jan 18



3 Feb (Sat): Talk by Ben Brown, pioneer of Ecological Mangrove Restoration in Asia
Restore Ubin Mangroves (R.U.M.) Initiative

Open for registration – Love MacRitchie Walk with Cicada Tree Eco-Place on 4 Feb 2018
Love our MacRitchie Forest

11 Feb (Sun) - Free guided walk at Pasir Ris Mangroves
Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Chestnut-winged & crimson-hued stars
Winging It

Orinoco Peacock Bass (Cichla orinocensis) @ Coney Island (Pulau Serangoon)
Monday Morgue


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New business district in Punggol to chart Govt's focus on digital economy, will create 28,000 jobs

Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 21 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE: The opening of a new business and education hub in Punggol from 2023 will create 28,000 jobs in fields such as cybersecurity and data analytics, creating job opportunities “close to home”.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said this at the launch of an exhibition for members of the public to view the Punggol Digital District’s masterplan on Sunday (Jan 21). He said the District will support government efforts to build a Smart Nation, where technologies can be deployed to prepare workers for the digital economy.

The Punggol Digital District, which will incorporate a business park, the Singapore Institute of Technology’s new campus as well as community facilities, will foster innovation and collaboration, said planners who shared more details on the District.

The 50-hectare development was first announced as part of the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Draft Master Plan in 2013, while more details were shared by Minister of National Development Lawrence Wong last year.

JTC’s Assistant CEO David Tan said the district’s planning marks the first time all agencies involved came together at the start to develop an integrated plan.

“All the facilities and infrastructure were planned from the start, and that also optimises the use of land, energy, water and other resources,” Mr Tan said.

“This means we can also make living and working there more sustainable.”

FIRST ENTERPRISE DISTRICT WILL PROVIDE FLEXIBILITY FOR LAND USE

The area, currently a vacant plot of land north of Punggol and west of Coney Island, will also be the first in Singapore developed as an "enterprise" district. JTC, the district’s master developer, said this will allow planners flexibility in land use mix.

“So for example, SIT's land is zoned for education, whereas JTC's business park is zoned as a business park. (But) because of this so-called 'enterprise' district, we can actually mix the uses together,” Mr Tan said.

“So some of the education space can be within JTC's facilities, and some of JTC's business park can be part of SIT's land. So for example, SIT's research labs and learning facilities can be located within JTC's buildings, and similarly, JTC's labs, startup spaces can be located there.”

He said the exchange of spaces will allow companies to collaborate with the university, and foster open innovation and the sharing of ideas.

Speaking at the launch of the masterplan, DPM Teo said that the relocation of the national Cyber Security Agency to the Punggol Digital District is being studied.

"This will help seed a new cluster of cybersecurity and technology firms in Punggol. Our residents can look forward to many exciting jobs close to home and gain new skills in these growth areas,” Mr Teo said.

JTC BUSINESS PARK TO HOUSE KEY SECTORS OF DIGITAL INDUSTRY

Mr Tan said construction of the business park buildings will begin this year, and once ready from 2023 onwards, they will be home to companies in sectors that Singapore has identified as growth areas, including cybersecurity and Internet of Things.

Assistant Chief Executive of the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) Angeline Poh said the companies that set up shop in the business park could be those that are not just technology-driven, but those that have technology elements at the heart of its service.

The park will not just house multinational companies (MNCs) from these growth sectors, but also small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups, allowing for opportunities for collaboration among them.

SIT’S PRESENCE A UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY FOR COLLABORATION BETWEEN INDUSTRY AND ACADEMIA

DPM Teo said the digital district will provide more learning opportunities with the new centralised campus for the Singapore Institute of Technology. SIT will support skills upgrading and continuing education with its suite of applied courses.

"There will be many opportunities for students and teaching staff from SIT and industry practitioners in the Digital District to interact and exchange ideas, and use the Digital District and Punggol as a test-bed for new technologies,” he said.

"For instance, incorporating video analytics and facial recognition to enhance security, and developing smart energy management systems for buildings and homes to conserve energy. With closer collaboration between academia and industry, we can develop many new products and services for the Digital Economy.”

SIT President Prof Tan Thiam Soon said the university can be a living lab for companies.

As an example, Prof Tan said SIT signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with grid operator SP Group in October last year to build a micro-grid at the Punggol campus.

It will operate independently from the national grid, but excess energy can also be pushed into the main grid to support the district “in times of need”, Prof Tan said. In turn, it also allows SP Group to test the micro-grid in a “real operating environment”.

“(In the same way), I think the whole idea is we open up, and it doesn't even need to be all local companies,” Prof Tan said.

“I think some of the companies from overseas, if they need a place to test, we will be saying, come and test. Use our students, use our professors, we will be the place for you to test this new technology.”

CUTTING-EDGE INFRASTRUCTURE, NEW AMENITIES WITHIN THE DISTRICT

Planning agencies said a key feature of the district will be the incorporation of artificial intelligence and Internet-of-Things in the facilities within the district. For example, they said all the systems within the district will be centrally and remotely monitored, analysed and controlled at its integrated facilities management location.

It will also have an automated waste collection centre, a district cooling system that supplies chilled water to the various buildings for their air-conditioning, as well as a large underground car-park.

Another interesting feature being explored is a centralised logistics hub. Mr Tan said this will be the first stop for all goods delivered to the district.

“From here, they will be taken to the various tenants’ properties either by automated guided vehicles or drones,” he said.

The District will have amenities such as a hawker centre, childcare centres and a community club. It will be connected to residential estates in the area.

"The Digital District will also fit in well with the natural environment that our residents love. Our residents can enjoy the green surroundings, and a new park, Campus Heart. A new pedestrian street along the Campus Boulevard will link various parts of the Digital District to the waterfront area,” DPM Teo said.

The existing Punggol Road will be retained and transformed into a 1.3km heritage trail that will connect Punggol District with Punggol Waterway and an upcoming residential district at Punggol Point.

(Additional reporting by Rachel Phua.)

Source: CNA/rw


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