Environmental News Archive

An almost weekly update of environmental news, particularly marine updates, with occasional splatters of transportation, indigenous, ideas of sustainability and sustainable development from around the world.


Clean Coal: How to Make Rock into Biofuel

Despite a Senate battle leaving out important funding for liquid coal research in the new energy bill, gasification remains an important engineering process to our green future

By Tyghe Trimble
Illustration by Dogo [link]
June 21, 2007
Popular Mechanics

Raw coal is dirty: It's a sulfur-filled, mercury laden, sooty, black rock. And before it can even be used, it must be scrubbed clean-or, with new technologies, converted to a liquid or gas. Liquid coal has been getting a lot of attention in the Senate of late, but bipartisan arguments were cut short this week when the promise of $10 billion in "clean coal" funding was cut from the new energy bill.

The big idea is to make coal into a liquid biofuel that could fill our cars. Many argue that this fuel would reduce our dependence on foreign oil, although others point to it as an unacceptable replacement for diesel due to its high output level of greenhouse gases. One thing's for sure: the rock-to-gas transformation remains in the preliminary research stages, with little funding and not much public understanding. Here's how that process, known as the Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC), converts coal into synthetic gas and energy-a 20-percent more efficient makeover of the dirty ore you may soon find only in a naughty kid's stocking:

1. The heart of gasification lies in (shocker) the gasifier, which takes coal, water and air and applies heat under high pressure to make "syngas"-a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. Minerals in the fuel (i.e., the rocks, dirt and other non-carbon-based material) separate, leaving the bottom of the gasifier either literally in ashes or as an inert, glass-like slag-materials that can be reused for materials such as concrete and road fill.

2. The crude syngas leaves the gasifier piping hot and full of contaminants (hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, mercury and nasty particulates, to name a few). A combination of heat exchangers, particulate filters and quench chambers cool the syngas to room temperature and remove most of the solids.

3. Syngas then passes through a small bed of charcoal to capture mercury, removing over 90 percent of this toxic metal (click here to learn more). Used charcoal containing captured mercury leftover is sent to a hazardous landfill for disposal.

4. The final step for cleaning in gasification is the removal of sulfur impurities in acid gas removal units, where the impurities are converted into sulfuric acid or elemental sulfur-both valuable byproducts.

5. A combustion turbine then reheats the clean syngas, dilutes it with nitrogen for control of NOx (the greenhouse gas that makes smog) and burns it, driving a generator to make electricity.

6. Leftover heat from combustion is recovered in a Heat Recovery Steam Generator (HRSG), which generates steam to power the internal turbine. Some of that air is compressed and can be channeled back to the air separation unit for oxygen, which is then reused within the gasifier.

7. The steam generated in the HRSG and the steam made in Step 1 combine to drive a steam turbine for even more power production. The steam then cools and condenses into water, which pumps back into the steam generation cycle. In an IGCC plant, two-thirds of the total electricity produced comes from the gas turbine and one-third from the steam turbine.

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New Design, Easy Access, Pioneering Tools for Gombe 'Geoblog' Users

June 18, 2007 — By the Jane Goodall Institute

ARLINGTON, VA. — The Jane Goodall Institute's (JGI) Gombe Chimpanzee Blog, launched in 2006, has delighted web users with regular reports and photographs of Gombe's famous chimpanzees, set against a lush digital representation of Gombe National Park in Tanzania - a unique blend of scientific field reporting, high-resolution satellite imagery and cutting edge web technology via JGI and Google Earth.

Now a redesigned Gombe Chimpanzee Blog has more surprises in store for users, including a unified viewing experience incorporating Google Maps, an innovative new tool allowing users to leave "geotagged" comments, and new feeds and formats.

Most exciting, the blog also features an open source content management system, Earthwatcher,TM that will be made available to other conservation organizations and officially launched in July 2007.

The blog's new layout incorporates Google Maps, making it possible to browse and read the blog entries without having to download or run Google Earth. But it also has enhanced Google Earth Content so users who prefer that interface can more seamlessly read, browse and interact with the blog and its other readers.

New geo-referenced commenting tools allow users to post comments or ask questions geographically - right in the Google Earth or Google Maps environment.

It has integrated new feed formats including Atom RSS, GeoRSS and an improved KML feed, so users can keep up to date with the blog in a variety of readers and formats.

JGI launched the Gombe Chimpanzee Blog in January 2006 with daily updates from field researcher Emily Wroblewski, who is studying paternity among the chimpanzees. Her entries give us a glimpse of the delights and rigors of chimpanzee field research and an ongoing view of the research program begun by Jane Goodall in 1960. Emily is trying to determine if paternal relatives treat each other in special ways, favoring each other, for example, through grooming or sharing of meat.

The Gombe blog serves thousands of visitors through the Institute's website, www.janegoodall.org, and through Google Earth's Global Awareness Layer. There are more than 200 million Google Earth users.

Look for more information about the innovative Earthwatchr application in July 2007, when it is set for pubic beta release. This "conservation geoblogging" software seeks to address the needs of conservation organizations, eco-travellers and earth bloggers looking to use geoblogging to make a difference in the world. It is.

Several organizations have already expressed interest in applying this technology to their work.

"It will be the first integrated system that will allow people to "geoblog" from the road or field without specialized knowledge or tools beyond a laptop," says JGI's Bryce Tugwell, who designed the first geoblog and this latest version as well.

Check out the blog: www.janegoodall.org

About JGI :

Founded in 1977, the Jane Goodall Institute continues Dr. Goodall's pioneering research into chimpanzee behavior - research that transformed scientific perceptions of the relationship between humans and animals. Today, the Institute is widely recognized for establishing innovative community-centered conservation and development programs (TACARE) in Africa and the Roots & Shoots education program, which has groups in more than 95 countries. For more information, visit: www.janegoodall.org

Contact Info:

Nona Gandelman
Tel : 703-682-9220
E-mail : ngandelman@janegoodall.org

Website : the Jane Goodall Institute

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New Atlantic Salmon Conservation Agreement

June 21, 2007 — By the Atlantic Salmon Federation

Safer Ocean Migration Ensured

ST. ANDREWS, NB — A new Greenland Conservation Agreement will suspend commercial salmon fisheries in Greenland's territorial waters for seven years, beginning with the 2007 season. The fishermen of Greenland have agreed to continue a moratorium which began in 2002 under an earlier agreement. The moratorium has already saved thousands of wild Atlantic salmon that originate in rivers of North America and Southern Europe, migrate to feeding grounds off West Greenland and then return to their home rivers to spawn.

The new agreement signed by the Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) of North America, the North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF) of Iceland, and the Organization of Fishermen and Hunters in Greenland (KNAPK), three non-governmental organizations, has been endorsed by the Greenland Home Rule Government which will help enforce it.

"This is an outstanding achievement that should ensure the return of many more wild salmon to spawn in the rivers of North America and Southern Europe," said Bill Taylor, President of the ASF, and "we are indebted to Orri Vigfusson of Reykjavik, Chairman of NASF, and Buff Bohlen of Washington DC for their leadership in negotiating this agreement." Both conservationists are members of ASF's Board of Directors.

The agreement allows the continuation of salmon fishing for recreation and local consumption, but calls for a sustained effort to reduce the number of salmon being killed thereby. "I am grateful to the leaders of KNAPK," said Mr. Bohlen, "for their commitment to keep this fishery at a minimal level and for their overall cooperation in helping us restore salmon populations in Maine and Eastern Canada."

Scientists of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) have recommended that there be no kill of wild salmon off West Greenland for at least the next four years. They estimate that the population there has declined 89 percent from 917,000 in 1975 to a predicted 113,000 in 2007. Salmon that make the long Greenland migration are particularly susceptible to mortality at sea. Fewer than 74,000 large salmon are believed to have made it back to North American rivers last year, while 152,548 salmon are needed to meet the overall basic conservation target. Unfortunately, ICES predicts no improvement in 2008 and 2009.

The new agreement is contingent upon the Greenland Government continuing to abide by the scientific recommendations of ICES and adhering to a zero commercial quota under the Convention for the Conservation of Salmon in the North Atlantic Ocean, 1982.

ASF and NASF will provide annual contributions to a "Salmon Fund" in Greenland which will be used to finance projects that redirect salmon fishermen into alternative sustainable fisheries, reduce bycatch of salmon in those fisheries, purchase and destroy salmon nets, and provide employment in coastal communities.

Visuals, including a graph of salmon numbers (pre-fishery abundance) and an Atlantic salmon migration map can be found at atlanticsalmonfederation.org

The Atlantic Salmon Federation is an international, non-profit organization that promotes the conservation and wise management of wild Atlantic salmon and their environment. ASF has a network of seven regional councils (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Maine and Western New England. The regional councils cover the freshwater range of the Atlantic salmon in Canada and the United States.

Contact Info:

Muriel Ferguson
ASF Communications
Tel : 506-529-1033
Alt : 506-529-4581

Website : the Atlantic Salmon Federation

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Multidisciplinary Teams Tackle Climate Change with Innovative Plans for Healthy, Sustainable Communities

June 22, 2007 — By Royal Institute of British Architects - USA

LOS ANGELES, CA - At a symposium at the A + D Museum (Architecture Plus Design Museum) in Los Angeles on June 8 through 10, four winning teams were selected from among twelve finalists who presented proposals as part of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) - USA California chapter's competition, Building A Sustainable World: Life in the Balance. The competition, sponsored by Autodesk, Inc. attracted 65 registrations from 18 different countries, encompassing over 200 participants, either as individuals or in multi-disciplinary teams. It challenged participants to develop concepts for healthy, vibrant communities designed to address climate change and reverse, rather than add to, environmental damage.

Each entry tackled environmental and social challenges of enormous scope and offered engaging, inspiring solutions.

  • First Prize for $10,000.00 was awarded to the team from Fiji - Toby Kyle, Chris Cole and Kamineli Vuadreu for their project Sustainable Urban Housing in Fiji - "Vakabauta Village". This proposal addresses the displaced and low income Fijians with ways to uplift their local economy with affordable sustainable housing, and engaging ideas for the local people to create higher incomes for themselves whilst respecting and maintaining their cultural values and traditions.
  • Second Prize for $5,000.00 was awarded to the Australian Team from Gall and Medek - team DES of Brisbane, presented by Jim Gall and Tony Frye called "Boonah Two Development". This proposal addresses primary elements of off the grid communities including water catchment, food production, transportation, and relationship to each other and nature.
  • Third Prize for $2,500.00 was won by the United States design team of Wallace Roberts and Todd, LLC from Philadelphia, presented by Stephen Gibson called "Urban Kidney Project" (The Forgotten Bottom). The WRT team includes George B. Bryant, Stephen M. Gibson, Kyle Gradinger, John Keene, Adam Krom, Lauren W. Leatherbarrow, Jamie R. Ober, Anthony C. Okoye, Yogesh Saoji, KaMan E. Skinner, Devinder S. Soin, and Michael J. Tweed. This proposal addresses "The Forgotten Bottom" in Philadelphia and the sustainable restoration and re-use of this brown field site.
  • Bonus Prize for $5,000.00 was awarded to the entry that demonstrated the most imaginative use of Autodesk Software. This prize was awarded to Liu Di of China for his entry called "Seasonal Flood Threatened Community". This proposal addresses solutions to protect and support communities from serious flood.
  • An Honorable Mention was also given to the U.K. team - Angela Rivera, the Sustainable Construction Team with DGP International and Scott Wilson Ltd for their highly creative thinking outside of the box called "Tankers Converted to Village". This proposal addresses our soon to be flooded coastlines and offers a solution by converting abandoned oil tankers into sustainable communities.

    RK Stewart, President of the American Institute of Architects opened the reception on Friday evening encouraging all disciplines in the building industry to work together in order to rise and meet our global challenges.

    Architects have a golden opportunity to make a tremendous difference to our future by showing leadership and demonstrating how readily available sustainable systems of building and design are, exemplified by the works here.

    An awards ceremony will be held the weekend of September 21 and 22nd 2007 in Los Angeles.

    Contact Info:

    Tim Clark
    E-mail : tc@anet.net

    Caroline Davies
    E-mail : photoartist@earthlink.net

    Website : Royal Institute of British Architects - USA

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  • Drifting Icebergs Are Hotspots of Life

    June 22, 2007 — By Randolph E. Schmid, Associated Press

    WASHINGTON -- Icebergs that break off Antarctica and drift away turn out to be hotspots of life in the cold southern ocean, researchers report. Climate warming has led to an increase in the number of icebergs breaking away from the Antarctic in recent years, and a team of researchers set out to study the impact the giant ice chunks were having on the environment.

    Turns out, the melting ice also dumps particles scraped off Antarctica into the ocean, providing a pool of nutrients that feed plankton and tiny shrimplike creatures known as krill.

    Indeed, the researchers led by Kenneth L. Smith Jr., of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing, Calif., found an increase in life forms surrounding a pair of icebergs they studied.

    The abundance extended nearly 2 1/2 miles away from the drifting ice, they report in this week's online edition of the journal Science.

    "Just as water-holes become "hotspots" in the desert, drifting icebergs are like oases in Antarctic's ocean," helping promote life, said Russell R. Hopcroft of the Institute of Marine Science at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

    It has been known that biological productivity is increased near the edge of an ice pack, Hopcroft said, but it's an aspect of floating icebergs that has not been previously considered. Hopcroft was not part of the research team.

    Smith said he was surprised at the amount of sealife surrounding the icebergs, though "there had been anecdotal observations in the past of increased seabird abundance around icebergs."

    By promoting life surrounding them, the icebergs also may have an impact on reducing the excess carbon in the atmosphere -- at least somewhat countering the greenhouse warming that helped make them break free in the first place, Smith suggested.

    "One important consequence of the increased biological productivity is that free-floating icebergs can serve as a route for carbon dioxide drawdown and sequestration of particulate carbon as it sinks into the deep sea," Smith said in a statement.

    "While the melting of Antarctic ice shelves is contributing to rising sea levels and other climate change dynamics in complex ways, this additional role of removing carbon from the atmosphere may have implications for global climate models that need to be further studied," he added.

    Kristen St. John, a professor or geology and environmental science at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., said the surprising aspect of the report is the scale at which it is happening.

    It has been known that icebergs deposit material from land into the ocean as they melt, but the amount of the impact in this case was significant, she said.

    Lack of iron is known to limit biological activity in the southern ocean, she said, and "if icebergs are transporting iron-rich minerals to offshore marine settings it is logical that the icebergs are ... helping the base of the food chain, which then can have positive effects all the way up the food chain," she said.

    However, St. John cautioned that bedrock in different source areas has different rock and mineral types so every source will not be the same.

    "This study is fascinating and should prompt others to pay greater attention to the organic content of the drifting ice," said St. John, who was not part of the research team.

    Smith said he is organizing a new study to make more detailed measurements of the amount of iron and other nutrients released.

    Walker Smith of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science of the College of William and Mary, said the study "confirms what has been known in a fragmentary sense."

    "What is novel about the study is the use of radium isotopes to establish clearly the influence of" the material in the water and estimating the area it influenced, said Smith, who was also not part of the research team.

    The researchers closely studied icebergs W-86 and A-52 in the Weddell Sea, adjacent to Antarctica and southeast of the southern tip of South America. They collected samples of the water around the ice and used a remotely operated submarine to study the undersides of the ice.

    The work was supported by the National Science Foundation and the David and Lucille Packard Foundation.


    On the Net:

    Science: http://www.sciencemag.org

    Source: Associated Press

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    Weeds, Corks and Copper Fuel Green Drinks Debate

    June 22, 2007 — By Anna Willard, Reuters

    BORDEAUX, France -- The rye used to make Juniper Green gin grows in fields full of weeds and poppies before it is distilled and flavoured with organically-grown herbs Juniper, Coriander, Summer Savory and Angelica root.

    The tipple is made by a small, family-owned company, London and Scottish International, part of a growing number of drinks manufacturers tapping into the rapidly expanding market for organic products.

    "People are interested in organic because it's better for the environment. It creates less carbon dioxide, encourages biodiversity," said Alex Parker, director of London and Scottish. "It's generally better for life on earth."

    He launched Juniper Green, along with an organic line of vodka, gin and rum, eight years ago. It now exports to Europe, the United States and Australia and has a Royal warrant from Prince Charles which means it supplies his household.

    Other companies are catching on to the trend.

    Cantine Sgarzi Luigi, an Italian wine producer, launched a new range of organic wines in April, including a Pinot Grigio, Merlot, Sangiovese and Chardonnay.

    "There was demand from northern Europe and Japan," said Stefano Sgarzi, general manager of the company, which also sells non-organic wines.

    According to the British-based Soil Association, the global market for organic food and drink totalled 16.7 billion pounds ($33.27 billion) in 2005, an increase of 1.2 billion pounds. After North America, Europe has the largest market for organic food and drink, with Germany, Italy and Britain taking top spots.


    Organic wine growers do not use pesticides or weedkillers and this makes it more expensive and labour intensive to produce because more work has to be done by hand.

    Instead they use copper to ward off mildew, a process some critics say is as harmful as chemicals.

    Nicolas Joly grows wine at his acclaimed French Coulee de Serrant vineyards biodynamically. This is a more radical form of organic farming in which harvests are dictated by the cycle of the moon, and plants and animal parts are used to enhance compost that will re-energise the soil.

    He says his methods produce a better tasting wine and encourage nature. But he too uses copper.

    "Too much copper is a drama but a little bit of copper is not a problem," he said, adding he uses about 2-3 kilogrammes of copper a year.


    Another debate in the drinks industry is over packaging.

    Trinchero Family Estates, a California-based wine producer, has been selling its Three Thieves Cabernet Sauvignon in a tall thin purple box, which it says is more environmentally friendly than the traditional bottle.

    "It's not as heavy as a bottle which means less use of fuel and you can have many more in a container. They are easier to handle for the workers and they are made of recycled paper," said Hans Klein, a salesman for Trinchero.

    But he doubts the boxes will revolutionise the industry.

    "I don't think in 6 years all the bottles will be gone."

    Environmental concerns also enter the debate about whether to use corks or screw-tops to close bottles.

    An ingredient in cork can taint the flavour of the wine so some companies are switching to plastic corks or screw tops.

    This is a concern for the World Wildlife Fund because the lack of incentive to continue producing corks is leading to the destruction of cork oak forests around the Mediterranean.

    "You don't need to cut trees to produce cork. It's a very balanced production," said Paolo Lombardi, director of WWF Mediterranean. "They are a barrier against desertification."

    Source: Reuters



    More networking on water issues in pipeline for Asia-Pac

    18 June 2007 (CNA)

    SINGAPORE: More Asians should get access to safe water and better sanitation following the signing of a partnership agreement to promote knowledge-sharing and networking.

    PUB Singapore, the Asian Development Bank and UNESCO-IHE inked the deal in Amsterdam last Friday (15 June 07).

    It will result in the setting up of a network of knowledge hubs in the region, reviewing of water capacity development experiences and the development of publications of water topics.

    The agreement comes under the Asia-Pacific Water Forum (APWF), an independent, not-for-profit, non-political network.

    Its aim is to encourage more collaborative efforts on water resources management and to accelerate the effective integration of water resources management with the socio-economic development process of the Asia Pacific region.

    The APWF was mooted by water ministers of the Asia-Pacific region during the 4th World Water Forum in Mexico in March 2006 and was formed the following September.

    Under the agreement, PUB is taking the lead in water resource management.

    It will use the WaterHub located in Toh Tuck as a knowledge hub which brings technology, learning and networking under one roof for the water industry.

    PUB Chief Executive Khoo Teng Chye says Singapore hopes to share its experience in integrated water management and the solutions which its water industry can provide to meet various water challenges.

    On its part, the Asian Development Bank says it is committed to boosting investments in the water sector to S$2 billion annually for the period 2006-2010 and deliver access to safe water and sanitation up to 200 million people. - CNA/yy

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    Singapore is 14th most expensive city to live in: survey

    By Wong Siew Ying, Channel NewsAsia
    18 June 2007

    SINGAPORE: Singapore has jumped three places to become the 14th most expensive city in the world for expatriates.

    This is according to a Cost of Living Survey conducted by Mercer Human Resource Consulting.

    The survey covers 143 cities across six continents and measures the comparative costs of over 200 items.

    These include housing, transport, food, household goods and entertainment.

    The cost of living Index for Singapore rose from 92 points in March 2006 to 100.4 points this year.

    Mercer says the spike in house prices and climbing transportation prices have contributed to the higher ranking on the global list.

    Moscow remained as the world's most expensive city for the second year running while Asuncion in Paraguay ranks as the cheapest for the fifth consecutive year.

    London is second on the worldwide list, scaling three places compared to 2006.

    This is due to the stronger British pound against the US dollar and steep property rental costs.

    Mercer added that the strengthening of the Euro has resulted in some European cities moving significantly up the chart this year.

    Four of the world's top 10 costliest cities are in Asia and they are Seoul, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Osaka.

    Within Asia-Pacific, Singapore moved up one spot to be the fifth most expensive city. - CNA/yy

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    Haze in two weeks' time?

    By Nazry Bahrawi in Pangkalan Kerinci, Riau, TODAY
    20 June 2007

    Somewhere on an open airstrip in Riau, an airplane is ready to spring into action as a fire-fighting machine. The AT602 plane, used more frequently to spray fertiliser on plantations, can also carry about 2,400 litres of water — enough to help douse fires in the haze-prone region.

    But, it hasn't been busy on that front lately. Its owner, pulp and paper manufacturer Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (April), had offered to share the one-seater plane with the Riau authorities to control fires about three months ago. The firm has yet to receive a reply.

    "We proposed it in March this year but they (the Riau government) haven't signed it yet. They probably will once the fire starts," said Mr Brad Sanders, head of fire and safety at the Singapore-based April.

    And that would be soon — the haze period is slated to start in two weeks' time. Officials from five Asean countries, including Singapore, are in Jambi to hear how Indonesia plans to tackle the problem this year (see box).

    Forest fires in parts of Indonesia, such as the Riau and Jambi provinces in Sumatra, are largely the cause of the transboundary haze that had hit Asean in the past few years. Last October, Singapore's haze situation reached unhealthy PSI (Pollutant Standards Index) levels — between 101 to 200.

    With two weeks left to the dry season, farmers in Riau are preparing to clear their lands using the inexpensive slash-and-burn method — inevitably leading to forest fires — again.

    Last year, the province recorded almost 9,000 hotspots, said Mr Sanders. But only about 2 per cent of these took place within April's plantation areas, which measures more than twice the size of Singapore.

    And this is not solely because of their fire-fighting capabilities, which includes another 70 full-time fire-fighters, 20 pick-up trucks, an airboat and a helicopter, said Mr Sanders. This, he believes, is also due to April's active attempts to provide economically viable avenues for locals living in its jurisdiction to steer clear of slash and burn practices.

    He said: "We help communities develop small profitable enterprises such as haircut shops and honey production. So, people have other sources of income other than the agrarian-based one. There will be a lesser chance of them resorting to slash and burn."

    But there is only so much one company can do.

    A large part of the problem in tackling the haze situation boils down to bureaucracy and a lack of political will — at all levels. "In Indonesia, there is really no system in place to respond to all the sources of fire at one time. The problem here is that the people want the fires to burn. They are lighting them on purpose to clear the land. ... It's a conundrum," said Mr Sanders.

    He also cited the inefficient use of two fire-fighting airplanes that the Indonesian government leased from Russia late last year: "By the time they (the airplanes) arrived, the rainy season had already started. They spent US$5.2 million ($8 million) and it wasn't used effectively, unfortunately."

    Mr Fitrian Ardiansyah, programme director of climate and energy for WWF Indonesia, believes Indonesia's commitment to reduce the number of hotspots by 50 per cent this year is a "big challenge".

    He told Today: "Transforming political pledge to action on the ground requires more than just willingness. Infrastructure and coordination to prevent and fight fires need to be under one command. Nowadays, the blame game is still happening among different sectors and levels — that is, between the central and local governments." - TODAY/sh


    It has promised to reduce its hotspots by 50 per cent this year.

    And today will see Indonesia updating its immediate neighbours of its progress towards achieving this objective.

    Representatives from five Asean countries – Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia – are in Jambi to attend the third meeting of the sub-regional steering committee on the transboundary haze pollution.

    Singapore's Minister of Environment and Water Resources, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim – leading the Singapore delegation – told reporters last week that he hopes Indonesia can keep their promise.

    He also said that Singapore had submitted to Indonesia a haze masterplan that covers fire prevention and suppression, legislation and enforcement as well as regional and international collaboration.

    But Indonesian Forestry Minister M S Kaban was quoted by its national news Antara as saying that he had not received the proposal.

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    Big bang revived

    By Christie Loh, TODAY
    20 June 2007

    Within the next two years, the Government will completely loosen its grip on three of Singapore's power companies, in line with a long-delayed liberalisation of the electricity market.

    Foreigners will be allowed to hold as much as 100 per cent of the utilities assets — a prospect that has sparked uproars in other countries over national security fears. But industry analysts and insiders here see no cause for concern.

    In a statement yesterday, Temasek Holdings said it would kick off the multi-billion-dollar sale of PowerSeraya, Senoko Power and Tuas Power from September, with completion targeted for the end of next year or early 2009.

    It was not the first airing of such divestment plans. The liberalisation process for the energy market started in 1995, with the Government saying in 2000 that it was lifting foreign ownership caps to sell the trio of power generation companies (gencos) which account for about 80 per cent of electricity produced here. But weak market sentiment and disputes over gas supplies saw the divestment repeatedly postponed.

    This time, "the conditions are conducive", said Temasek's managing director of investments Wong Kim Yin. Singapore's economy is set for continued strong growth, the past year has seen much buying interest, and recent legislative changes set the stage for liberalisation, he said at a media briefing.

    Each genco is reportedly worth $2 billion to $3 billion. Mr Wong declined to name the interested parties. But the likes of United States-based Intergen, Tokyo Electric Power Company and Malaysia's YTL Corp have popped up in media reports. Possible local buyers are Keppel Corp and SembCorp Industries, which both run existing gencos, and Temasek-linked CitySpring Infrastructure Trust.

    The sale may be by a tender or via initial public offers (IPO), Mr Wong said, with the first genco likely to be offered through a tender process. Temasek's financial advisors are Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse.

    "For the first genco, we are more inclined towards a trade sale. We think that will better meet our objectives than an IPO," Mr Wong told Channel NewsAsia. "At the moment, we are not inclined to retain any residual stake in any of the gencos, so a trade sale would meet that objective better."

    But will Singapore's security of supply be compromised should a foreign player pick up the stakes?

    This was answered in 2000 by the Ministry of Trade and Industry, which said: "Energy security will not be a problem because foreign owners will not be able to walk away with their power plants. Our workers will still be here to operate them in an emergency."

    Also, the sale documents could contain provisions for intervention to resolve any supply problems, said Mr Jason Feer, vice-president of energy intelligence provider Argus Media Limited.

    "If you get a company that's politically motivated, then you could end up in a difficult situation. But if you get companies that are in the generating business, then they really have no incentive to play politics with the power supply," Mr Feer told Today.

    Other countries' experiences have shown that security fears may be exaggerated. Senoko Power chief executive officer Roy Adair noted that Germans held the bulk of Britain's electricity market. New shareholders could introduce outside expertise and knowledge, he added.

    Overall, the sale is "positive", said PowerSeraya.

    For consumers, the changes are not expected to alter prices. This is because the three gencos are already in full competition. Mr Wong sees "no reason to believe that the change in ownership itself" would have an impact on SP Services, which buys electricity on behalf of all households, or industrial consumers.

    Asked if Temasek would lay down sale conditions such as limits on retrenchments, Mr Wong said the agreements between the unions and the management would remain in place after the sale.

    "The rights of the employees will not be changed or diminished in any way. These gencos have undergone restructuring in the past few years so they're operating very efficiently," he said of the trio, which employ a combined total of 900 people.

    If they are so efficient, why divest the trio? "Sometimes it's a perception issue," said Tuas Power CEO Lim Kong Puay.

    The Union of Power and Gas Employees (Upage) said in a statement last night that the recently-concluded collective agreements signed with the three gencos will be binding on the new owners for the next three years, thus safeguarding worker interests.

    If any lay-offs result from the sale of the plants, "Upage will ensure that workers are fairly compensated, and their length of service will be preserved", said union general secretary R K S Nachiappan. - TODAY/sh

    Related Articles:
    Temasek to sell its power generation companies from September
    By Wong Siew Ying, Channel NewsAsia
    19 June 2007

    SINGAPORE: Investment company Temasek Holdings plans to sell three of its wholly-owned Singapore power generation companies (gencos), starting from September.

    These three gencos, PowerSeraya, Senoko Power and Tuas Power, will be divested over the next 12 to 18 months.

    The deals are expected to be completed by the end of next year or early 2009.

    Together, the three gencos account for 80 percent of Singapore's power generating capacity, producing about 3,000 megawatts of electricity each.

    Temasek Holdings said it has received good interest for the three gencos over the past year and would be selling the companies one by one.

    The first is likely to be offered through a tender process and Temasek will assess the bids based on commercial merit.

    It has hired banking advisors Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse to facilitate the sales process.

    Wong Kim Yin, Managing Director, Investments, Temasek Holdings, said: "In terms of the first genco, we are more inclined towards a trade sale. We think that will better meet our objectives than an IPO (initial public offering). At the moment, we are not inclined to retain any residual stake in any of the gencos, so a trade sale would meet that objective better."

    But Temasek is not ruling out other options, such as selling shares through an IPO for the other two gencos.

    Temasek has declined to give a dollar value for the gencos, but reports have estimated that each company could fetch between S$2 billion and S$3 billion.

    The long-awaited sale is in line with the government's aim to liberalise the electricity market in Singapore.

    To increase competition, there will be no restrictions on foreign ownership of the gencos.

    Temasek said this change in ownership is unlikely to have an impact on electricity prices.

    Mr Wong said: "Changing ownership by itself is not expected to have any impact on consumers because they will continue to be served by SP services, which will continue to buy from the wholesale market and enjoy the benefit of competition among these gencos."

    Temasek said it is an optimal time to sell because of favourable market conditions and the huge demand for electricity.

    Moreover, there is also a gas regulation framework in place to ensure there is a steady and orderly supply of gas and power.

    - CNA/so

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    Google Aims to Go Carbon-Neutral by End 2007

    US: June 20, 2007
    Story by Timothy Gardner

    NEW YORK - Google Inc. aims to cut or offset all of its greenhouse emissions by the end of the year, the Web search leader said on Tuesday .

    Google is one of a number of companies, including News Corp., that are attempting to cut all of their emissions of gases scientists link to global warming.
    To boost energy efficiency, Google is investing in renewable energy like solar, and will purchase carbon offsets for emissions it cannot reduce directly, the company said on its Web site.

    "On their own, carbon offsets are not capable of creating the kinds of fundamental changes to our energy infrastructure that will be necessary to stabilize global greenhouse gas emissions to safe levels," Google said on its Web site. "But we believe that offsets can offer real, measurable, and additional emissions reductions that allow us to take full responsibility for our footprint today."

    European companies invest in carbon offsets through the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism. The United States did not ratify Kyoto, but some US companies have begun to offset emissions on a voluntary, unregulated basis.

    The company said it would invest in projects like capturing methane, a greenhouse gas with about 20 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide, from animal waste at Mexican and Brazilian farms.

    "Our funding makes it possible for anaerobic digesters to be installed, which capture and flare the biogas produced while simultaneously improving local air quality and reducing land and water contamination," Google said.

    Nonprofit emissions advisors The Climate Group said they will partner with Google to support its offset plans.

    "This is just a start," Google Chairman and Chief Executive Eric Schmidt said in a release issued by The Climate Group. "We are actively looking for more opportunities to help tackle climate change."

    Google last week launched a program with semiconductor maker Intel Corp. to introduce more energy-efficient personal computers and server systems.

    News Corp. pledged in May to become carbon-neutral by 2010.

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    Canon Tops List of Climate-Friendly Companies

    US: June 20, 2007
    Story by Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent

    WASHINGTON - Canon Electronics Inc., athletic gear leader Nike Inc. and food and consumer goods giant Unilever Plc topped a list rating climate-friendly companies released on Tuesday.

    There was a cluster at the bottom of the list of 56 companies. Six tied for last, with a score of zero on a 100-point scale -- Jones Apparel Group Inc., CBS Corp., Burger King Holdings Inc., Darden Restaurants Inc., Wendy's International Inc. and Amazon.com.
    Even for those at the top, there was room for improvement on the Climate Counts scorecard, put together by a nonprofit group organized by the New England-based environmental entity Clean Air-Cool Planet and Stonyfield Farm, a US organic yogurt maker that placed sixth on the list, with 63.

    "It's not enough to recycle paper and change lightbulbs," said Gary Hirshberg, Stonyfield Farm's chief and chair of Climate Counts. "We need to significantly reduce our carbon footprint ... Nobody deserves, or for that matter is getting, an A."

    Stonyfield offsets 100 percent of its carbon emissions from manufacturing, Hirshberg said, but it needs to do more with renewable energy to cut the greenhouse gases that spur global warming.

    The survey ranked the 56 companies chosen for their popular household use among mainstream consumers in North America and Britain, and for leading their respective sectors, from electronics to fast food.


    Companies in the electronics/computer sector did well in addressing climate change compared with media and Internet companies, the survey found, with six of the 12 studied scoring above 50.

    Besides Canon, these were International Business Machines Corp., Toshiba Corp., Motorola Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sony Corp. Dell Inc., Hitachi Ltd., Siemens, Samsung Corp. and Nokia were all in double digits and Apple Inc. scored only 2.

    Food services as a sector was worst in terms of climate change impact, with none of the six scoring above 50 and three with a zero rating. Starbucks Corp. ranked highest in this group, with 46, followed by McDonald's Corp., at 22. Yum Brands Inc. -- which includes Kentucky Fried Chicken and Taco Bell -- scored a 1.

    The rankings were based on 22 criteria that roughly broke down into four categories: how well a company had reviewed its global warming impact, how much it had reduced that impact, how much it supported public policies that encourage this reduction and whether the company made this information available. The amount of carbon reduction was weighted most heavily, worth a possible 56 out of 100 points.

    Hirshberg and others on a telephone news conference announcing the scorecard stressed that this was seen as a "snapshot" of companies' progress. But it was also supposed to work for consumers who want to make an environmentally sound choice.

    To do so, they can check the group's Web site, climatecounts.org for individual company rankings and the complete scorecard.

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    "Green" Helpline to Cut Consumers' Carbon Footprint

    UK: June 20, 2007
    Story by Jennifer Hill

    LONDON - A new service designed to help consumers reduce their carbon footprint aims to boost the number of "green" homes in Britain by half a million within a year.

    Greenhelpline.com, which went live on Tuesday, allows people to search environmentally friendly energy tariffs and source local food producers.
    The site -- developed by environmentalist Alex Lambie and energy price comparison service energyhelpline.com -- hopes to convert 500,000 homes to electricity from renewable resources within the next 12 months.

    Currently, just 150,000 households are on green energy tariffs, of which there are around 17 at present.

    Switching to green electricity can cut the average household's annual carbon footprint from energy consumption to four tonnes from six, and save them up to 145 pounds per year, the Web site says.

    However, green energy is often more expensive than electricity from non-renewable resources and Lambie concedes that such cost savings will generally only be available to those who have never switched provider.

    There are some 25 million householders in the UK -- half of whom have never switched energy supplier.

    People already on competitive tariffs will pay an average 10 percent more for "green" energy, while those on the cheapest deals -- such as British Gas' online "Click" tariff -- could pay up to 14 percent more.

    "For a slight (cost) increase -- as a worst case scenario -- you can go green and have an immediate positive effect on the environment," Lambie told Reuters.

    Users are able to rank green electricity deals by the potential CO2 reduction, price, service rating or fuel mix.

    They can also search for local food producers -- such as farm shops, markets, delis, box schemes, "pick your own" sites and bakeries -- within a 50 mile radius of their home.

    Once the site is fully developed, consumers will be able to buy local produce through the site, with a proportion of revenues being invested in schemes to help local farmers.

    "There's so much confused messaging about what 'going green' is: there's an overload of information, and it's often contradictory," said Lambie.

    "These days, there's also so much noise about the 'nanny state' and the way the country is run.

    "But here are two really simple things you can do -- ones that will have real measurable effect."

    A number of big companies are also being offered the tool to help their customers and staff become more environmentally friendly.

    Greenhelpline.com -- which will make a flat rate of commission of 40 pounds per energy switch, from which around two pounds will be profit -- will split revenues 50/50 with the companies who sign up.

    This money will then go into a scheme run by greenhelpline.com to give cash-back, vouchers and discounts to those who switch to a greener way of life.

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    China Tiger Trade Ban Won't Last - Official

    CHINA: June 20, 2007

    BEIJING - China will inevitably lift its ban on the trade of tiger bones and body parts, a wildlife official told state media, saying groups seeking to profit from the government's captive-bred tigers were too strong to resist.

    China was rebuked last week at a UN wildlife conference after it said it planned to lift a domestic ban that has been in place since 1993 if a scientific review proved it would reduce poaching and help stocks of wild tigers worldwide.
    "The ban is in place," Wang Wei, wildlife deputy director at the State Forestry Administration told Tuesday's China Daily.

    "But it is open for review ... The ban won't be there forever, given the strong voices from tiger farmers, experts and society," Wang said.

    "It will be a waste if the resources of dead tigers are not used in traditional medicine," he added.

    Beijing has come under intense pressure from companies seeking to cash in on local demand for tiger bones and parts in traditional Chinese medicine. Tiger bones are used to treat everything from skin disease and convulsions to laziness, malaria and rheumatism.

    The country only has about 30 tigers left in the wild but keeps about 5,000 in several commercial breeding farms around the country.

    At a meeting in the Hague last week, John Sellar, senior enforcement officer at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), criticised China's intensive breeding programmes as having "limited" potential for conservation.

    A farm in the country's south also had openly flouted the tiger trade ban by serving tiger meat in its on-site restaurant, Sellar said.

    Wang said Chinese research suggested the trade in captive-bred tigers, growing at about 1,000 every year, would not affect conservation efforts.

    "Authorised breeding and trade might, in fact, benefit the survival of the tiger", Wang said, given that people "would not risk penalties to hunt in the wild".

    But conservationists warn that any relaxation in the ban would result in a massive surge in demand for tiger parts and increased poaching of wild tigers.

    There are believed to be only 5,000 to 7,000 tigers remaining in the wild.

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    EU to Debate Authorisation of GMO Maize on Monday

    BELGIUM: June 20, 2007
    Story by Jeremy Smith

    BRUSSELS - EU food safety experts will debate next week whether to allow imports of a genetically modified (GMO) maize, bringing forward a vote on the biotech product by two weeks, industry and EU sources said on Tuesday. The maize, known commercially as Herculex RW and also by the code number 59122, is jointly made by Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a subsidiary of DuPont Co. and Dow AgroSciences unit Mycogen Seeds.

    Herculex RW is designed to protect against larval stages of corn rootworm, which eats through plant roots and so reduces yield and nutrients. It also resists the active herbicide ingredient glusofinate ammonium.
    If approved at Monday's meeting, the maize would be imported for use in food, animal feed and also in industrial processing.

    Officials said they had expected the Herculex dossier to be voted on by national EU biotech experts at a meeting provisionally scheduled for July 6 or July 9.

    For many years, EU countries have not been able to gain the majority needed to vote through a new GMO approval under the EU's weighted voting system. But that may be slowly changing.

    Analysis of recent GMO voting patterns shows that the consistent blocking minority of EU governments may be eroding as some smaller countries are opting to abstain than reject an application outright -- so weakening the anti-GMO camp.

    Some countries, like Britain, Finland and the Netherlands, almost always vote in favour of approving new GMOs. They are offset by a group of GMO-sceptic states like Austria, Greece and Luxembourg, which vote against and force a stalemate.

    Even so, diplomats said the panel of EU national experts was still unlikely to reach the required consensus needed either to approve or reject the new GMOs.

    If this happens at next week's meeting, the paperwork will be escalated to EU agriculture ministers for debate at a future meeting. Normally, this has to happen within three months.

    Then, if the ministers cannot agree -- again a likely scenario -- the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, usually issues its own approval under a legal default process.

    "Pioneer hopes that member states will recognise the safety of the product, the value of the independent scientific assessment ... which said it's as safe as conventional (maize)," said Mike Hall, Pioneer's communications manager for Europe.

    "And for reasons to avoid trade disruption, we need to move forward and approve this product," he said.

    European consumers are well known for their wariness towards biotech foods, many of which have not been approved for sale in the EU. In April, Dutch authorities detected corn gluten feed derived from Herculex RW that was delivered to several animal feed companies in the Netherlands, and partially consumed.

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    China to Keep Grains Goals Despite Climate Change

    CHINA: June 20, 2007
    Story by Lucy Hornby

    BEIJING - Pressure from global warming is unlikely to change China's policy of maximising domestic grain production, a prominent climate scientist said, but the country is starting to look at ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from farming.

    Water scarcity and extreme weather related to global warming could cut the country's agricultural production capacity by 5 to 10 percent by 2030 if adaptive steps are not taken, according to estimates included in China's Climate Change Assessment.
    But Lin Erda, a climate expert at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences who advises the government, said officials were confident their grain goals would not be badly dented.

    "The Ministry of Agriculture believes it can find ways to offset that and maintain output levels," Lin told Reuters.

    "China can't afford to give up its grains sufficiency goals. We're such a big country -- where can we buy from?

    Even if overall output levels are maintained, China's patterns of grain production could change along with shifting water availability and temperatures.

    "What we will see, for example with corn, is the center of production shifting to areas that were previously more on the edges," Lin said.

    Corn growing could move south and west from its traditional center in China's Northeast, to areas nearer the Yellow River, he said.

    China targets growing 95 percent of the grains it consumes, but the task is complicated by a shrinking supply of arable land, a lack of clean water and rapidly growing domestic consumption.

    The country has had bumper grain harvests since 2004. This summer's grain harvest could rise for the fourth year in a row, the Agricultural Ministry said on Monday while sounding a note of caution for full-year output.

    Efforts to slow the encroachment of cities and industrial development to surrounding farmland are starting to take effect, Lin said.


    Climate change can also create an opportunity for China's agricultural sector, since China is one of the largest destinations for financing of greenhouse gas reduction projects.

    The Ministry of Agriculture is investigating ways to reduce rural emissions, while raising farmers' incomes by attracting international investment for agriculture emissions reduction projects.

    Manure, fertilizer, burning of agricultural waste and tilling can all release gases that contribute to global warming.

    Promising areas include growing forests to absorb carbon, developing biogas from manure and agricultural waste for use in villages, and improving fertilizing and irrigation methods.

    Many local officials are eager to develop revenue-generating emissions reduction projects, although local projects have often been too small and procedures too complicated for them to be certified under the carbon development mechanism, or CDM, scheme, officials involved in vetting projects say.

    A pilot project in Xinjiang, between international NGO Environmental Defense and the Xinjiang Environmental Protection Agency, is aggregating some such projects to sell into an alternative market for voluntary emission reductions.

    "I was surprised by the enthusiasm of provincial and county officials and their willingness to make the investment and take the risk. They don't need to be convinced of the potential," said Zach Willey, senior economist of Environmental Defense and a co-author of a manual on land use and farming practices that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    Related Story:
    China's Northeast Corn Area Hit By Drought - Xinhua
    CHINA: June 20, 2007
    Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard

    BEIJING - China's northeast Liaoning province, a leading corn-producing area, is suffering its worst drought in 30 years, limiting drinking water for more than one million people, the official Xinhua news agency said on Tuesday.

    The local government has dispatched more than 500,000 people to dig wells and transport water to the worst hit areas in the northwest and south, Xinhua said.
    High temperatures and inadequate rainfall this month have caused a water shortage affecting 1.27 million people and 473,800 animals, the report said, citing officials in the provincial flood prevention and drought control headquarters.

    Some 1.4 million hectares of crops, mainly corn and rice paddy, have also been damaged, it said.

    "The worst-hit areas are not the areas for grains, which are in the central and northern parts of the province," said one analyst with the China National Grain and Oils Information Centre (CNGOIC).

    The centre earlier this month estimated the country's corn output was likely to hit a record 147 million this year because of larger planting areas. China produced about 146 million tonnes in 2006.

    In March, the province suffered its heaviest snowstorm in half a century, but persistent high temperatures in late spring and early summer have reduced soil moisture, it said.

    Heilongjiang, another major corn area north of Liaoning, was also hit by dry weather, and officials were concerned the situation could worsen, according to the report.

    Agriculture Minister Sun Zhengcai warned on Monday that poor weather conditions could reduce the country's overall grain output for the full year despite a bigger wheat harvest.

    He mentioned drought in corn-growing areas in the north, and flooding in rice areas in the south.

    Flash floods and landslides triggered by heavy rain since the weekend in the southwestern province of Sichuan had killed 15 people -- 10 in Dazhou alone -- and left two missing, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said.

    Another five were killed in the neighbouring Chongqing municipality and one in the central province of Hubei, the ministry said on its Web site (www.mca.gov.cn)

    Roads were blocked and power and telecommunication lines were down, it said, adding "agricultural losses" in the three areas, where rains were forecast through the coming weekend, had totalled more than 300 million yuan.

    Torrential rains have wrought havoc across South China in the past two weeks, killing at least 76 people, damaging houses and destroying hundreds of thousands of hectares of rice crops.

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    Climate change brings early spring in the Arctic

    By Steve Connor, Science Editor
    Published: 19 June 2007
    The Independent

    The Arctic spring is coming two weeks ahead of time compared to a decade ago, with birds, butterflies, flowers and small animals all appearing earlier in the year as a result of climate change.

    A study of a range of animals and plants living in the high Arctic has revealed that many of them are responding to the earlier spring by flowering or laying their eggs significantly ahead of their normal times of the year.

    On average, the breeding and flowering seasons in the Arctic have shifted by 14.5 days but some species of mosquitoes have begun laying their eggs 30 days earlier than in the mid 1990s, Toke Hoye, of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, said.

    "Our study confirms what many people already think, that the seasons are changing and it is not just one or two warm years but a trend seen over a decade," Dr Hoye said. "This is the most extensive study of its kind in the Arctic in terms of the number and variety of species and the replication of the observations."

    The findings, published in the journal Current Biology, show the shift in the spring season has been greater in the Arctic than elsewhere in the world. Previous studies have shown that plants in Europe are flowering 2.5 days earlier than a decade ago, whereas globally animal and plants are appearing 5.1 days earlier each decade.

    The study investigated the time of year when insects, butterflies, spiders and birds began laying eggs or emerging from their winter hibernation. They also looked at the time of first flowering of Arctic plants.

    Dr Hoye said the movements in the season of six species of plants, 12 species of arthropods and three bird species must be tied to the earlier times of the year when the snow melts in the Zackenberg region of north-east Greenland, where the study was carried out.

    "It's an indication that for the plants, arthropods and birds there's a change in their shared physical environment that results in a change in their behaviour," he said. "That must be when the snow melts.

    "We know that the snow is melting about two weeks earlier than it did a decade ago in this part of the Arctic. Given the wide selection of species we studied in each group, we can see no other explanation for the shift in their behaviour," he said.

    "We were particularly surprised to see that the trends were so strong considering that the entire summer is very short in the high Arctic - with just three to four months from snowmelt to freeze up at our study site."

    Records of global temperatures show that the polar regions, and especially the Arctic, are experiencing some of the largest increase in average temperatures.

    Dr Hoye warned that the change in timing of emergence, egg-laying and flowering could disturb local food webs with some animals appearing ahead or behind of others on which they rely for food.

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    The Earth today stands in imminent peril

    and nothing short of a planetary rescue will save it from the environmental cataclysm of dangerous climate change. Those are not the words of eco-warriors but the considered opinion of a group of eminent scientists writing in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

    By Steve Connor, Science Editor
    19 June 2007
    The Independent

    Six scientists from some of the leading scientific institutions in the United States have issued what amounts to an unambiguous warning to the world: civilisation itself is threatened by global warming.

    They also implicitly criticise the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for underestimating the scale of sea-level rises this century as a result of melting glaciers and polar ice sheets.

    Instead of sea levels rising by about 40 centimetres, as the IPCC predicts in one of its computer forecasts, the true rise might be as great as several metres by 2100. That is why, they say, planet Earth today is in "imminent peril".

    In a densely referenced scientific paper published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A some of the world's leading climate researchers describe in detail why they believe that humanity can no longer afford to ignore the "gravest threat" of climate change.

    "Recent greenhouse gas emissions place the Earth perilously close to dramatic climate change that could run out of control, with great dangers for humans and other creatures," the scientists say. Only intense efforts to curb man-made emissions of carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases can keep the climate within or near the range of the past one million years, they add.

    The researchers were led by James Hansen, the director of Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who was the first scientist to warn the US Congress about global warming.

    The other scientists were Makiko Sato, Pushker Kharecha and Gary Russell, also of the Goddard Institute, David Lea of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Mark Siddall of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York.

    In their 29-page paper, "Climate Change and trace gases", the scientists frequently stray from the non-emotional language of science to emphasise the scale of the problems and dangers posed by climate change.

    In an email to The Independent, Dr Hansen said: "In my opinion, among our papers this one probably does the best job of making clear that the Earth is getting perilously close to climate changes that could run out of our control."

    The unnatural "forcing" of the climate as a result of man-made emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases threatens to generate a "flip" in the climate that could "spark a cataclysm" in the massive ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland, the scientists write.

    Dramatic flips in the climate have occurred in the past but none has happened since the development of complex human societies and civilisation, which are unlikely to survive the same sort of environmental changes if they occurred now.

    "Civilisation developed, and constructed extensive infrastructure, during a period of unusual climate stability, the Holocene, now almost 12,000 years in duration. That period is about to end," the scientists warn. Humanity cannot afford to burn the Earth's remaining underground reserves of fossil fuel. "To do so would guarantee dramatic climate change, yielding a different planet from the one on which civilisation developed and for which extensive physical infrastructure has been built," they say.

    Dr Hansen said we have about 10 years to put into effect the draconian measures needed to curb CO2 emissions quickly enough to avert a dangerous rise in global temperature. Otherwise, the extra heat could trigger the rapid melting of polar ice sheets, made far worse by the "albedo flip" - when the sunlight reflected by white ice is suddenly absorbed as ice melts to become the dark surface of open water.

    The glaciers and ice sheets of Greenland in the northern hemisphere, and the western Antarctic ice sheet in the south, both show signs of the rapid changes predicted with rising temperatures. "

    The albedo flip property of ice/water provides a trigger mechanism. If the trigger mechanism is engaged long enough, multiple dynamical feedbacks will cause ice sheet collapse," the scientists say. "We argue that the required persistence for this trigger mechanism is at most a century, probably less."

    The latest assessment of the IPCC published earlier this year predicts little or no contribution to 21st century sea level from Greenland or Antarctica, but the six scientists dispute this interpretation. "The IPCC analyses and projections do not well account for the nonlinear physics of wet ice sheet disintegration, ice streams and eroding ice shelves, nor are they consistent with the palaeoclimate evidence we have presented for the absence of discernible lag between ice sheet forcing and sea-level rise," the scientists say.

    Their study looked back over more than 400,000 years of climate records from deep ice cores and found evidence to suggest that rapid climate change over a period of centuries, or even decades, have in the past occurred once the world began to heat up and ice sheets started melting. It is not possible to assess the dangerous level of man-made greenhouse gases.

    "However, it is much lower than has commonly been assumed. If we have not already passed the dangerous level, the energy infrastructure in place ensures that we will pass it within several decades," the scientists say in their findings.

    "We conclude that a feasible strategy for planetary rescue almost surely requires a means of extracting [greenhouse gases] from the air."

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    Re-Engineering America's Beaches, One Tax Dollar at a Time

    Pumping sediment onto the nation's beaches is an expensive fix for the erosion caused by coastal development — and often a bad fix at that. Click here for a podcast on taming the coast.

    By Chris Dixon
    Published in the July 2007 issue of Popular Mechanics

    On a chilly day in late January, Darren Buscemi took his 10-year-old daughter, Ali, and 8-year-old son, David, to the beach at Surf City, N.J., to try out a new metal detector. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had just begun to pump 33,000 dumptruck loads' worth of sediment onto the shore, and Buscemi, a real estate developer, suspected he might find something interesting. When telltale beeping led him to a rusty cylinder 412 in. long, Buscemi thought it was a pin from the wooden beam of an old sailing ship. "I was jumping for joy," he says, "like, 'Look what I found.'"

    To remove barnacles and rust, David banged on the pin with a butter knife and scrubbed it with a Brillo pad; Buscemi planned to mount the object on a wall. But two months later, when a beachcomber made a similar find, Buscemi learned that his son had been handling unexploded ordnance. The cylinder was a World War II-era bomb fuse.

    In the following weeks, more than 200 fuses, many still potentially explosive, were excavated in Surf City. Beaches remained closed while contractors ran powerful magnetometers across the sand. The closures scared off buyers for a pair of half-million-dollar beach condos Buscemi had renovated, but what angers him most is simply thinking about what might have happened: "That thing could have blown my son's arm off."

    Depositing sediment onto a beach and bulldozing it into place — a practice called beach nourishment — has become one of the more controversial functions of the Corps' Civil Works Directorate. Besides building levees, dredging harbors and running hydropower plants, the agency is tasked with restoring the nation's coastlines.

    Nourishment projects are supposed to replace lost sand. Unfortunately, sediment is not the same thing. Even the stuff that doesn't carry ordnance is often the wrong size and color — and it rarely stays put. But most of all, critics say, these projects are a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars. Fifty to 100 percent of the funding is drawn from the directorate's roughly $5 billion budget; the rest of the money comes from state or local coffers.

    At the northern end of Folly Island, S.C., Duke University coastal scientist Orrin Pilkey points at a pair of houses rising from the surf. A wall of boulders stretches between them. "This should be illegal," Pilkey says. "The seawall is causing erosion and taxpayers will have to fix this."

    Despite forecasts of rising sea levels and stronger storms, federally insured coastal development is booming. About 453,000 single-family homes and 303,000 multifamily units are built in coastal areas each year; along the East Coast, 654 people are packed into every square mile. But while development doesn't move, beach sand is in a constant state of flux — shifting inland and out, and up and down the shore. "Erosion becomes a problem when we're foolish enough to put a house in its way," Pilkey says. Home­owners or communities may erect seawalls or groins to trap sand, but on the other side of the barrier sand continues to erode. "You'll get a wider beach in front of your house," he says, "but your neighbor will get a narrow beach." This pattern prompts calls for yet more intervention.

    Where Pilkey stands, there is scant evidence of a $12.5 million, 2 million cubic-yard beach nourishment project completed two years ago. Waves have swept the sediment to the island's southern half. There, the beaches are wide, but an unsettling gray — a color common to sediment from the seafloor. This fine material erodes from two to 10 times faster than natural golden or white beach sand, which consists of tiny grains of quartz that are able to withstand the waves' motion.

    When high in clay and silt, dredge material can smother near-shore creatures such as sand fleas, damaging the food chain. It can also cause plumes of turbidity, or suspended sediment, that settle onto coral reefs, smothering them, too. In Palm Beach, Fla., in 2006, lifeguards closed the beaches because 11 miles of plumes made swimmers nearly invisible to schooling sharks.

    Poor sediment can come from inshore, as well. In Port St. Lucie, Fla., a contractor dumped inland fill onto denuded sand dunes in 2004. The material concretized when dry, trapping turtle hatchlings beneath the surface. The contractor hauled it back off the beach in 2006. "The stuff was so bad that when they tried to transfer it to a landfill no one would take it," says Ericka D'Avanzo, Florida regional manager for Surfrider Foundation, an ocean conservation group. "The water wouldn't percolate through it."

    Charles Chesnutt is a coastal engineer with the U.S. Army Engineer Institute for Water Resources, which aids the Corps in long-range planning. He admits that there have been problems with ill-matched sediment. But, he says, "It is important to remember that many miles of American shoreline have been nourished without incident.

    "Many of the recent projects aren't systemically bad, but can be traced back to insufficient geological sampling," he says. "That shouldn't be considered a condemnation of the program as a whole. But it does shine a big bright light on problems we should focus on."

    According to the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University (WCU), at least $1.1 billion worth of dredge material — 127 million cubic yards, or enough to fill the Superdome 27 times — has been pumped onto the nation's beaches since 2000. An estimated 48 projects were put in motion in 2006.

    Howard Marlowe, president of Marlowe & Company, says the steep price tag is worth it. His firm charges more than 40 clients an average of $40,000 a year to lobby for coastal projects. If you add up property taxes, tourism revenue and recreational benefits, he says, beach nourishment can generate far more money than it costs — sometimes on the order of more than 4:1.

    It can also buffer property on the front line of storms. "During Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne, part of a $44 million project in Florida's Brevard County was lost," says Harry Simmons, the mayor of Caswell Beach, N.C., and president of the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association. "This project, however, protected $2 billion worth of property. People in the stock market would love to see that kind of return on an investment."

    But the return on nourishment projects goes mainly to owners of expensive seasonal homes. According to a WCU study, fewer than 4 percent of all oceanfront properties in Dare County, N.C., are someone's primary residence. Of the 2087 properties with a single-family home, the average total oceanfront tax value for 2006 was $1.2 million (the market value would be higher). Because 72 percent of owners are not from North Carolina, the Corps can say that multiple states benefit from these projects, says Andy Coburn, associate director of WCU's developed shorelines program. "But the primary beneficiaries are a tiny fraction of all the people in any state."

    Many coastal residents are not willing to pay the price. In 2001, the Corps authorized a proposal for a 14-mile-long, $94 million project in Nags Head, N.C., but it didn't receive federal funding. County commissioners passed a 1 percent sales tax instead; voters rejected it. Nags Head officials proposed a cheaper, locally funded plan. Again, voters rejected it. "Why," asks WCU program director Rob Young, "should federal taxpayers bail out a beachfront when local residents won't?"

    Nourishment projects could be avoided by investing in new breakwater technologies and in pumps to bypass sand around jetties, or could be made smarter by sampling sediment extensively or by using artificial sand made from crushed glass.

    But the least expensive, most effective solution, Coburn says, would be to move homes from threatened beachfronts. "You would improve aesthetics, have a healthier ecosystem and make it easier to maintain a dune line by reinforcing it with vegetation. That would mitigate property damage. It would be a benign approach and basically free. You're letting the shoreline do what it wants, rather than using brute force to make it do what you want."

    John Wilson, the mayor of Manteo, N.C., owns a generations-old Nags Head beach house that has been moved inland three times. "In the long run," he says, "retreat is the only viable option."

    See more examples of sediment pumping gone wrong


    Inaugural Ecofriend award goes to 15 Singaporeans

    By Teresa Tang, Channel NewsAsia
    14 June 2007

    SINGAPORE: Fifteen Singaporeans have been recognised for their varied efforts to protect the environment.

    They are the first group to receive the Ecofriend award from the National Environment Agency (NEA).

    A garden at Alexandra Hospital, carefully designed by landscape artist Rosalind Tan, helps patients to de-stress and speed up their healing process.

    And for her green efforts, Ms Tan has been chosen as an Ecofriend.

    She said: "This award is very timely because Singapore is facing a lot of problems with global warming and if each of us put in our effort to help the environment, I think Singapore will be a better place to live."

    That is the same message that Tan Li Jian wants to share with his peers.

    The Raffles Junior College student has been organising Earth Day programmes and initiating paper recycling for lower secondary students.

    He said: "I feel that youths can play a bigger role in environmental work in Singapore and I think all of us have different strengths which we can contribute... what we can do is to offer whatever we have."

    Another Ecofriend award recipient, Ong Lye Huat, has helped to keep 500 tonnes of tetra packaging by forging a partnership with four public waste collectors.

    Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Environment and Water Resources Minister, said: "The Ecofriend award seeks to recognise individuals for their commitment and efforts towards making our living environment a sustainable one.

    "We hope to inspire others to take on the challenge of promoting and adopting environmentally sustainable lifestyles."

    And this will be the focus of a new Climate Change Exhibition at the Singapore Science Centre next year.

    Dr Yaacob announced that the project is a partnership between the Science Centre and NEA.

    - CNA/so

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    NTU researchers use canvas strips to fortify buildings against quakes

    By Ng Baoying, Channel NewsAsia
    14 June 2007

    SINGAPORE : Just two extra seconds could make a difference between life and death, especially during an earthquake.

    Researchers at the Nanyang Technological University have come up with an invention that can buy that time - by strengthening the way walls are erected in buildings.

    When the earth shakes, buildings collapse, especially if they are poorly constructed.

    And that is where these engineers believe they can make a difference.

    The best part about their invention is that it doesn't require any high-tech equipment.

    All that's needed are a few strips of canvas and glue.

    Associate Professor Ting Seng Kiong, who is also director of LIEN Institute for the Environment at Nanyang Technological University, explained: "We put the canvas on the edges, and in a cross.

    "During an earthquake, the building will shake and sway. When it sways in one direction, one of the crosses will act in tension, and pull it towards the other direction. It's a simple design. What we did is use canvas and glue, and stick it onto the brick wall."

    Researchers find that the wall reinforced with canvas and glue can withstand twice as much shaking compared to other walls.

    That translates to more time to escape as well as less danger of injuries from falling bricks in the event of an earthquake.

    And the added cost? It's just an additional 10 percent to current building costs.

    This fits in with LIEN Institute's philosophy of creating sustainable research without extravagant prices.

    "What's important is that it has to be a case appropriate to the community where we are going to apply it to, in terms of materials available and cost," said Pan Tso-Chien, Dean of College of Engineering at Nanyang Technological University.

    The institute is already working with two aid groups in Indonesia to reinforce homes and schools using canvas and glue.

    They also plan to collaborate with local groups to send their students overseas to help erect more buildings using this method. - CNA /ls

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    Singapore submits haze masterplan to Indonesia

    By Foo Siew Shyan, Channel NewsAsia
    14 June 2007

    SINGAPORE: Singapore has submitted to Indonesia its masterplan on how to help the country fight its haze problem.

    Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Yaacob Ibrahim said Indonesia has been briefed and he would be going there next week to attend the third Ministerial Committee Meeting on haze.

    Various initiatives covered under the masterplan include helping the Jambi province tackle and prevent forest fires.

    Dr Yaacob said he hopes Indonesia can implement the masterplan soon.

    To get this working, various partners like non-governmental organisations need to come on board.

    Also on the agenda is to persuade Indonesia to deliver on its proposed initiatives.

    Dr Yaacob said: "For example, in their plan that was announced this year, they will try to cut back on 50 percent of haze site. I hope they can keep to their promise. I think I will also impress upon other ministers to work together with our Indonesian colleagues to make sure that the masterplan gets implemented."

    - CNA/so

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    Organic waste treatment plant needs better trash sorting

    By Jeana Wong, Channel NewsAsia
    12 June 2007 1941 hrs

    SINGAPORE: Singapore's first organic waste treatment plant is set to be up and running by the end of this year.

    The plant - the first and largest of its kind in Asia - will turn food waste into power.

    But the plant owner, IUT Global, says thus far its power generation capacity has not been the most efficient.

    That is because it has been having trouble collecting the right kind of food waste.

    Singapore-based IUT Global had hoped that it would make some headway with getting its food waste suppliers to sort out their trash properly since it broke ground at its facility in Tuas nearly two years ago by building an organic waste treatment plant.

    "The big challenge is to actually collect what we want. Having a number of people, and even malls like Century Square signing up was not a problem because many of these people want to be seen to be green.

    "We've quite a number of hotels as well, including the big hotels like Raffles (Hotel) and Shangri-La. But the current system has food waste all mixed in," says Edwin Khew, CEO, IUT Global.

    IUT Global says it needs to collect the purest food or organic waste in order to be effective and profitable.

    And it remains hopeful that its S$60 million plant can deliver the promise of transforming a quarter of Singapore's food waste into electricity and compost materials.

    "We've just started doing the testing and commissioning. Food waste will be coming in and we'll be ramping up, and this will take time. So we're hopeful that we can get the full 300 tonnes to move forward. But more hopeful that we can get the 300 tonnes that we want and not 300 tonnes that's mixed in with other things," says Mr Khew.

    Singapore throws away some 1,500 tonnes of food waste on a daily basis.

    That makes up nearly one-tenth of Singapore's trash, which last year amounted to more than five million tonnes.

    If successful, IUT Global's new plant will be able to turn food waste into enough electricity for itself and over 10,000 other industrial facilities. - CNA/yy

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    Five youth leaders awarded Youth Environmental Awards

    By Hoe Yeen Nie, Channel NewsAsia
    12 June 2007 1941 hrs

    SINGAPORE: More young people are taking part in green activities, but it will take time before environmentalism becomes widespread.

    This is according to youth environmental leaders presented with the Youth Environmental Awards on Tuesday by HSBC bank and the National Youth Achievement Award Council.

    The whale shark was certainly no small fry for six young environmentalists from Singapore, who spent three weeks last June at Australia's Ningaloo Reef helping scientists with their research.

    "I was experiencing real life scientific research coupled with conservation work. Besides that it was an example of how eco-tourism could work very well," said Choo Peiling, a participant, HSBC/NYAA Earthwatch Project 06.

    "It doesn't have to be experienced overseas. For instance there's seagrass monitoring at Chek Jawa, and that is very hands-on."

    Other youth environmentalists agree.

    They say there are now more green activities in Singapore that cater to all interests whether it is cleaning up riverways, or simply enjoying what Mother Nature has to offer.

    The response has been encouraging.

    Ramanathan Thurairajoo, HSBC/NYAA Youth Environmental Award winner, said: "During my days in Ngee Ann with the environmental youth society, we had to conduct the outreach... bringing in membership, and bringing youth to be involved in environmental activities. But these days, youth themselves volunteer."

    But some youth environmentalists feel Singapore has some way to go with its green push, especially with older Singaporeans.

    So it is important to relate broad ideas such as global warming to everyday actions, like using environmentally-friendly lightbulbs.

    For their efforts, two youth leaders won a trip to Australia's Queensland state to study climate change in rainforests.

    The HSBC/NYAA Study Trip will take place between 13 and 27 June.

    "Rainforests [are] really my thing, so I'm really looking forward to it. And when we come back, we're going to do projects with NParks and we're going to deal with reptiles, like monitor lizards, which are actually my favourite animal. They're more sensitive to climate change, so we can see how the changes in temperature affect them," said Chan Boon Wah, HSBC/NYAA Youth Environmental Award winner.

    The two youth environmentalists and three others were presented with the Youth Environmental Award, by HCBS bank and the NYAA.

    The other awardees were: Goh Hong Yi, 17, from National Junior College (winner); Chen Yann-Qi, 15, from Anderson Junior Secondary School (merit award); and Tang Yiu Sum, 16, from Raffles Girls' Secondary School (merit). - CNA/yy

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    Resorts World at Sentosa launches tree conservation programme

    By Wong Siew Ying, Channel NewsAsia
    13 June 2007 1658 hrs

    SINGAPORE: When the S$5.2 billion (US$3.2b) integrated resort at Sentosa opens in three years' time, not everything will be brand new.

    Its operator, Genting International, is launching a massive conservation exercise to protect hundreds of trees that are currently on its 49-hectare site.

    Of the 3,000 trees on the site, one third are earmarked for conservation.

    The trees that make the cut will be pruned and packed off to a temporary nursery - about 1.5 times the size of a football field – located nearby.

    So far one hundred trees have been transplanted and over the next few weeks Resorts World at Sentosa will transplant 200 more.

    The trees will be replanted at the resort when construction is complete.

    It will cost about S$400,000 (US$259,000) to maintain the trees over three years.

    This is three times the price of buying new nursery stock.

    But the operator says the mature trees will add to the tropical ambience of the attraction, and provide "instant" shade, lowering the temperature by up to 8 degrees Celsius.

    Henry Steed, Landscape Architect, said: "Not only does the shade cool the air, it cools the ground so you don't have the heat coming off the ground.

    "... the other thing about trees is that they suck up moisture and pump that moisture out at the top, which means there's an air current flowing up the top of the tree.

    "... that means air will be drawn in underneath the tree and pass [upwards], which is why when you sit under a tree you'll find there's a slight breeze."

    Most of the protected trees are about three to five metres high and between 20 and 25 years old.

    They comprise 15 species, including Banyan trees, Rain trees, Palms and Khaya trees.

    It takes two days to transplant a large Banyan tree, while smaller ones can be processed in half a day.

    Experts say only mid-sized trees are transplanted. Those that are too big are unsafe to be moved and have a low survival rate.

    Some trees that cannot be transplanted will be re-used.

    The timber from some 300 trees of 10 different species will get a new lease of life as furniture, souvenirs, and even sign posts at the new resort.

    This recycling project is expected to cost about S$300,000.

    Said Patrick Too, Deputy Director of Projects, Resorts World at Sentosa, "Doing the souvenirs, this is another cost for us. We've not cost it [yet], but it's probably another chunk of money.

    "It actually involves a lot of cost for Resorts World, not only just to put them in the mills or in the nursery... [but also] the cost of putting them back. Each of these trees... involves a few tonnes, so the machinery to bring them around... is a big task."

    Separately, a 2.9 hectare forested area will also be conserved and protected from heavy engineering works.

    The operator is currently studying various minimal-impact construction measures such as light-weight structures and suspension systems.

    The woodland will also be incorporated into its building plan.

    Genting will have another nursery, likely to be in Johor, where it will cultivate some 1,500 trees for its Sentosa resort.

    The contract for the project will be up for tender in about a month.

    The conservation plan is one of the largest tree transplanting exercises carried out for a commercial development in Singapore. - CNA/yy

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    Caribbean Turtles Said To Be Threatend by Catches, Trade

    June 13, 2007 — By Reuters

    THE HAGUE -- Turtles in the Caribbean are under threat from over-fishing and illegal trade, with almost all eggs laid in Guatemala taken by humans, a wildlife trade monitoring network said on Tuesday.

    Traffic, comprising the WWF conservation group and the World Conservation Union, urged governments in the region to set tighter limits on catches to help safeguard the region's six species of turtles.

    "Turtles may be adequately protected in some waters, but then travel into areas where they are at risk from unmanaged or illegal take," said Steven Broad, Traffic's Executive Director.

    "Caribbean nations need to improve their cooperation to manage and conserve the region's turtles," he said in a statement issued on the sidelines of a U.N. Conference on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in The Hague.

    Traffic said overexploitation was a threat to the survival of the region's turtles, targeted for their shells, meat and eggs that are laid on beaches. All six species in the region are classified as endangered or critically endangered. "In Guatemala, virtually every turtle egg laid is collected for human consumption," Traffic said. By contrast, in Costa Rica, most eggs in trade were from a well-managed programme operated at Ostional on the Pacific coast.

    It also said once vast breeding colonies of green turtles in the Cayman Islands had all but vanished.

    And it quoted estimates that populations of hawksbill turtles in the Caribbean were at most 10 percent of estimated totals around the time Columbus sailed the Atlantic in 1492.

    Traffic said that more than half of the 26 nations surveyed -- in Central America, island states in the Caribbean and Venezuela and Colombia -- had weak regulations on turtle catches.

    Source: Reuters

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    Chinese Demand Drives Global Deforestation Crisis

    June 13, 2007 — By Tansa Musa, Reuters

    NGAMBE-TIKAR, Cameroon -- From outside, Cameroon's Ngambe-Tikar forest looks like a compact, tangled mass of healthy emerald green foliage.

    But tracks between the towering tropical hardwood trees open up into car park-sized clearings littered with logs as long as buses.

    Forestry officers say the reserve is under attack from unscrupulous commercial loggers who work outside authorised zones and do not respect size limits in their quest for maximum financial returns.

    "I lack words to describe what is going on here," says Richard Greine, head of the local forestry post, 350 km (220 miles) north of Cameroon's capital Yaounde.

    "Both illegal and authorised exploiters have staged a hold-up on the forest."

    From central Africa to the Amazon basin and Indonesia's islands, the world's great forests are being lost at an annual rate of at least 13 million hectares (32 million acres) -- an area the size of Greece or Nicaragua.

    The timber business is worth billions of dollars annually, and experts say few industries that size are as murky as the black market in wood.

    Evidence of rampant deforestation around the globe points in one direction: booming demand in China, where economic growth is fuelling a timber feeding frenzy.

    In just the past decade, China has grown from importing wood products for domestic use to become the world's leading exporter of furniture, plywood and flooring.

    Chinese firms might not be chopping down the trees themselves, but their insatiable appetite is driving up prices, spurring loggers to open more tracks like those torn through Ngambe-Tikar and drawing huge global investment to the companies.


    In Mande village on the fringe of the Cameroon jungle, Pierre, a hunter dressed in tattered shorts and T-shirt, does not know that more than half his country's original forest cover has been cut down in his lifetime.

    But he knows the local eco-system has been ravaged.

    Once upon a time, wild animals would sometimes stroll right into his compound. "These days you don't see any. They don't fall into our traps anymore. You need to go very far, deep in the forest to see or catch one," he tells Reuters.

    As usual, it is the poorest who pay.

    In nearby Democratic Republic of Congo, the lure of timber wealth has seen loggers accused of cheating villagers with deals activists say are a "shameful relic of colonial times".

    A two-year investigation by Greenpeace accused companies, mostly from Germany, Portugal, Belgium, Singapore and the United States, of illegally acquiring titles to about 15 million hectares (37 million acres) of Congolese rainforest after a 2002 moratorium.

    In return for small gifts such as farm tools, bags of salt and cases of beer, the firms won logging rights worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, the probe found.

    The biggest target of the loggers is Afromosia, or African teak, which can sell for hundreds of dollars a cubic metre.

    Locals in one village, Lamoko, Greenpeace says, gave away thousands of hectares for presents worth only about $20,000.

    Depressingly similar accusations mar the logging industry in Brazil, home to most of the Amazon basin -- the planet's largest remaining tropical rainforest.


    About a fifth of Brazil's Amazon has already been destroyed, and Chinese demand for commodities such as iron ore, bauxite and especially soy, has been a big factor in pushing the country's agricultural frontier further north.

    Most illegal logging is done by Brazilians, either poor migrants from the dry northeast or cattle ranchers and soy farmers coming in from the south.

    The government has long been criticised for deforestation and has a very public policy of stopping illegal clearing and slowing clearing rates overall. But the frontier area is very remote, and police are underfunded, disorganised and often corrupt.

    Spinning the globe further west, the problem is perhaps even more acute in Indonesia.

    Without drastic action, the United Nations says, 98 percent of its remaining forests will be gone by 2022, with dire consequences for local people and wildlife, including endangered rhinos, tigers and orangutans.

    In parts of Borneo and Sumatra, for instance, scientists are still finding new species of animals and plants but fear these could be lost to science before being studied fully.

    Jakarta says illegal tree felling is ravaging 37 of its 41 national parks, and now accounts for about three-quarters of all logging in Indonesia.

    Like the United Nations, it blames a well-organised, shadowy network of multinational firms it says are increasingly targeting its parks as one of the few remaining sources of commercial timber supplies.

    The government has deployed soldiers at least three times in recent years to confiscate wood and chase out loggers, and is training quick response ranger teams to police protected areas.

    But experts say the new units are crippled by lack of funds, vehicles, weapons and equipment, and face a huge threat from loggers who are often guarded by heavily armed militia led by foreign mercenaries.

    "At this rate, by 2012 the forests in Sumatra, Borneo and Sulawesi will be gone, only the forests in Papua will be left," local environmental campaigner Rully Sumada tells Reuters. "And if cutting of trees continues, no forest will be left by 2022."


    The plight of forests is a focus of a June 3-15 United Nations meeting in The Hague that gathers signatories of a global pact to save threatened species.

    The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) already includes Latin America's bigleaf mahogany and Southeast Asia's ramin and agarwood trees in Appendix II, which requires strict trade controls to protect them.

    Ramin, for instance, is sought after to make picture frames, pool cues, parquet flooring and decorative mouldings.

    But Brazilwood, used to produce violin bows, was the only tree species to win tighter protection at the U.N. meeting in the Hague. Bids to curb logging of South and Central American cedar and rosewood trees, the source of some of the world's most valuable timber, failed after objections by several countries.

    Many poor nations want the rich world to extend the Kyoto Protocol, the main U.N. plan for fighting global warming, to give farmers credits for letting forests stand rather than sell trees to loggers or clear land for crops.

    Trees soak up carbon dioxide as they grow and release it when they rot or are burnt.

    The United States and the European Union -- the second and third biggest markets for Indonesian timber after China -- have both agreed in principle to ensure Indonesian forest product imports are verified as legal.

    But experts say the amount of investment in the logging companies from the industrialised world vastly outstrips donor efforts to help Jakarta.

    Trying to cut into the loggers' vast illicit profits, activists are fighting back with campaigns to persuade Western consumers to ask questions about where their wood comes from.

    The Geneva-based Tropical Forest Trust (TFT), a charity set up in 1999, has launched a programme in Indonesia under which a tree destined for felling is given a unique barcode.

    The idea is to let buyers identify verified legal wood from sustainable sources, TFT executive director Scott Poynton says.

    "The international wood business is so full of traders and middlemen operating in a world of bribes, corruption and illegal practices that, unfortunately, we encourage buyers to assume everyone is guilty until proven otherwise," Poynton says.

    He sees China as a major problem, sucking up illegal timber from all over the world and re-exporting it.

    TFT also works in central Africa, where it has issued the latest computer technology to illiterate pygmy communities desperate to save their forest homes in the Republic of Congo, across the jungle border from Cameroon's Ngambe-Tikar.

    Using touch screens on specially designed handheld global positioning system (GPS) units, the villagers mark the location of everything from sacred trees to crucial water sources and ancestral graveyards. The data is compiled and the timber companies are supposed to work around the important areas.


    And TFT is working in China helping factories eliminate illegal supplies by identifying where their wood comes from.

    While much of the world's illegal logging is driven by China's hunger for wood, few of the teak floorboards and ebony tables rolling out of its sawmills and factories end up in its own booming, smog-shrouded cities.

    Despite rising incomes, few people can afford them. Instead, most of the valuable logs are exported as solid wood furniture, boards, or just veneer on cheaper products.

    Centuries of domestic demand have slashed China's own forests, and demand for foreign supplies soared after Beijing tried to halt logging in remaining pockets in the 1990s after massive runoff from denuded slopes contributed to deadly floods along the Yangtze River.

    But China's leaders appear to have little concern about exporting those problems to immediate neighbours or countries further away.

    Under the glare of the international spotlight, they say they have clamped down on illegal imports from poor neighbour Myanmar.

    But in the Nu river valley which runs along much of that frontier, piles of trunks over a metre thick are stacked by the valley mouth of most cross-border roads and loaded trunks trundle south.

    In the regional hub of Mangshi, a trader surrounded by stacks of cheaper Chinese wood says he has no teak to hand but can order anything from across the border "at a price".

    "If you know what you want, I have contacts in Myanmar who can get it within a couple of days," he tells a customer.

    (Additional reporting by Daniel Wallis in Nairobi, Emma Graham-Harrison in Beijing, Mita Valina Liem in Jakarta and Andrea Welsh in Sau Paulo)

    Source: Reuters

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