Best of our wild blogs: 20 Feb 18



Poem: Heartstrings of my Island
Flying Fish Friends

Now available: "The Singaporean Seas and Shores" by Wild Drawings
Celebrating Singapore Shores!


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Budget 2018: Large emitters to be charged S$5 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions under carbon tax

Aqil Haziq Mahmud Channel NewsAsia 19 Feb 18;

SINGAPORE: In a downward revision from the previously announced range of between S$10 to S$20, large emitters in Singapore will be charged S$5 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions under the carbon tax that will be implemented next year.

This will give the industry more time to adjust and implement energy efficiency projects. Following that, the tax rate will be reviewed by 2023, with the intention of increasing it to between S$10 and S$15 per tonne by 2030.

The review will consider global climate change developments, the progress of Singapore’s emissions mitigation efforts and its economic competitiveness, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said in his Budget speech on Monday (Feb 19).

The carbon tax will affect emitters that produce 25,000 tonnes or more of greenhouse gas emissions in a year, he confirmed, adding that the Government expects to collect carbon tax revenue of nearly S$1 billion in the first five years.

The first carbon tax is expected to be paid in 2020 based on emissions in 2019.

“The carbon tax will encourage businesses to take measures to reduce carbon emissions,” Mr Heng said, noting that large emitters account for about 80 per cent of Singapore’s emissions.

“Companies that do so will be more competitive, as more countries impose tighter limits on their carbon emissions and international agreements on climate change like the Paris Agreement take effect.”

The Government is also prepared to spend more than S$1 billion in the first five years to support projects that reduce emissions. As part of this, it will set aside funds from next year to support companies in improving energy efficiency.

This will be done through schemes like the Productivity Grant (Energy Efficiency) and the Energy Efficiency Fund, Mr Heng said. In addition, more support will go to projects that achieve greater emissions reductions.

“I urge companies to do their part for a higher quality living environment for all by putting in meritorious proposals for emissions abatement and energy efficiency,” he added.

TO BENCHMARK OR NOT

The downward revision comes after large emitters voiced concerns about how the carbon tax might be implemented amid fears it could affect international competitiveness.

As opposed to a flat rate, many wanted the carbon tax to be implemented based on emissions performance benchmarks for fairness. This system allows those that perform at or better than the benchmark to get free allowances.

However, the Government has decided to implement a credits-based carbon tax uniformly across sectors with no exemptions.

“This is the economically efficient way to maintain a transparent, fair and consistent carbon price across the economy to incentivise emissions reduction,” Mr Heng said.

Channel NewsAsia understands that the decision was reached on the basis that each unit of emissions contributes equally to climate change, regardless of whether the emissions came from emitters that perform better or worse than the benchmark.

In addition, determining benchmarks for each sector and ensuring that they are equitable across sectors is a complicated and contentious process.

The development and implementation of benchmarks is also data-intensive and would impose additional reporting and verification requirements on companies, especially for sectors with specialised products.

IMPACT ON HOUSEHOLDS "SMALL"

When it comes to households, the impact of the carbon tax will be “small”, Mr Heng stated, making up about 1 per cent of total electricity and gas expenses on average.

The carbon tax is expected to translate to a rise in electricity prices of about 0.21 cents per kWh, assuming the full tax is passed on to end-users.

To help households adjust, the Government will provide additional Utilities-Save (U-Save) rebates from 2019 to 2021. During this period, each eligible Housing and Development Board (HDB) household will receive S$20 more per year.

“The increase in U-Save will cover the expected average increase in electricity and gas expenses for HDB households arising from the carbon tax,” Mr Heng said.

To that end, a 4-room flat household will get a U-save rebate of S$320 a year after the increase. The same household is expected to pay an additional S$9.70 a year on average in electricity and gas expenses due to the carbon tax.

“MEWR (Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources) will also work with the community to help households save energy, and will announce more details at a later date,” Mr Heng added.

Source: CNA/hz

Large emitters, observers welcome initial carbon tax rate of S$5 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions
Aqil Haziq Mahmud and Monica Kotwani Channel NewAsia 20 Feb 18;

SINGAPORE: Large emitters and environmental observers have welcomed the progressive implementation of the carbon tax, saying that it encourages companies to adopt energy efficiency measures while giving them the time to adapt to the changes.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced in his budget speech that large emitters in Singapore will be charged S$5 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions under the carbon tax that will be implemented next year.

The tax rate will be reviewed by 2023, with the intention of increasing it to between S$10 and S$15 per tonne by 2030. The review will consider global climate change developments, the progress of Singapore’s emissions mitigation efforts and its economic competitiveness, Mr Heng said.

Mr Yu Tat Ming, chief executive of PacificLight, a power generation company, welcomed the Government’s proposal to review the carbon tax over time.

“The initial imposition of S$5 per tonne encourages industry to implement efficiency improvements and consumers to adapt their consumption pattern,” he said. “Future changes in the carbon tax can be made by the government depending on how close Singapore is to achieving its emission targets.”

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

Likewise Mr Steven Fries, chief economist at Royal Dutch Shell, said the carbon tax represents an “important step” in meeting Singapore’s emission targets.

“However, it is important to design this tax so that it will be an effective incentive to cut emissions and also support industry competitiveness, both of which are Government goals,” he added.

To that end, Mr Yu said he still supports the setting of industry benchmarks based on “best in class” targets to encourage efficiency improvements without compromising future economic growth.

“International experience has shown a good way to deliver on both objectives is for Governments to set an appropriate carbon ‘price’ on emissions which exceed an acceptable industry performance,” Mr Fries added.

“This allows the government to set a carbon price high enough to incentivise companies to be more efficient, while safeguarding competitiveness by keeping the average carbon tax low.”

Still, Ernst & Young tax analyst Chia Seng Chye believes the carbon tax is a “good start”.

“It's also about creating the right kind of behaviour, incentivising emitters who proactively manage their carbon emissions, rather than treating it purely as a source of additional tax revenue for the Government,” he explained.

The progressive nature of the carbon tax also lets emitters warm up to it, he added. “So after 2030, when the rate is actually increased, they would not find it so prohibitive in terms of the cost.”

Energy Studies Institute research fellow Melissa Low said the time frame of five years before the tax is reviewed is an “adjustment period” for companies to become more efficient.

“The current fleet of power generators, such as turbines they have for example, is about 15 years of age, and the technology purchased by them is ‘locked-in’ for decades,” she explained.

In addition, 2023 is also when countries - as part of the Paris Agreement - will do a global stocktake on what has been achieved so far, she pointed out.

Therefore, that will be a good time for the Government to review whether current carbon tax has worked in reducing emissions, as well as to review its suite of measures, she said.

More importantly, Ms Low pointed out that unlike the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme which provides “free allowances” to certain emitters, Singapore’s carbon tax system does not exempt anyone.

So while the carbon tax rate might be lower than the previously announced range of between S$10 and S$20, it still sends a price signal to companies, affecting their bottom lines, she added.

Member of Parliament (MP) for Nee Soon GRC Lee Bee Wah said the carbon tax sends a “very clear” signal that reducing carbon emissions is an issue that needs to be dealt with.

Dr Lee, who also sits on the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Environment and Water Resources, said the progressive nature of the tax gives companies the time and space to adapt.

“As Minister Heng mentioned just now, he's prepared to spend more than what he collects for companies to come up with innovative solutions, so it gives a balance,” she added.

HOUSEHOLDS SHOULD PLAY PART

Beyond what emitters can do, Mr Yu stated that achieving emissions targets would require a “concerted effort” from all parties.

“On the demand side, the carbon tax must achieve the intended objective of encouraging consumers to adopt efficient practices and appliances,” he said.

To that end, he noted that the carbon tax would likely impact customers, adding that it would cost his company an additional S$8.25 million a year.

“As an electricity retailer, we shall do our part to cushion the impact on consumers,” he said. “For example, we encourage our customers to consume energy during off-peak hours, when electricity prices are likely to be lower and we can operate our plant more efficiently.”

The carbon tax will make up about 1 per cent of total electricity and gas expenses on average, translating to a rise in electricity prices of about 0.21 cents per kWh, assuming the full tax is passed on to end-users.

To help households adjust, the Government will provide additional Utilities-Save (U-Save) rebates from 2019 to 2021. During this period, each eligible Housing and Development Board household will receive S$20 more per year.

MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC Liang Eng Hwa, who also sits on the Environment and Water Resources GPC, said the rebates would be “more than enough” in offsetting the increase in electricity bills.

“I think these are schemes that have to be put in place to help mitigate the impact of all these tax increases,” he said.

Source: CNA/hz


Carbon tax of $5 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions to be levied
Audrey Tan and Toh Wen Li Straits Times 19 Feb 18;

SINGAPORE - All facilities producing 25,000 tonnes or more of greenhouse gas emissions in a year will have to pay a carbon tax from 2020, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced on Monday (Feb 19).

The carbon tax will initially be $5 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions from 2019 to 2023.

However, the Government will review the carbon tax rate by 2023, with plans to increase it to between $10 and $15 per tonne of emissions by 2030.

"In doing so, we will take into account international climate change developments, the progress of our emissions mitigation efforts and our economic competitiveness," Mr Heng said.

The finance minister said the Government expects to collect a carbon tax revenue of nearly $1 billion over the first five years, and is prepared to spend more than this in the same period "to support worthwhile projects which deliver the necessary abatement in emissions".

He added that the carbon tax will apply uniformly to all sectors, calling it " the economically efficient way to maintain a transparent, fair and consistent carbon price across the economy to incentivise emissions reduction".

A carbon tax is a common tool used to control the amount of earth-warming greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere. About 67 countries and jurisidictions, including China, the European Union and Japan, have implemented or announced plans to implement such a scheme. Its aim is to incentivise emitters to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and improve energy efficiency.

Professor Euston Quah, head of the economics department at the Nanyang Technological University, said it was timely for Singapore to adopt a carbon tax.

He said: “It sends a signal to those whose activities cause damage to society, whether in the form of human health or environment, that they must be responsible for their actions.”

The carbon tax will be levied on 30 to 40 large emitters that contribute 80 per cent of Singapore’s greenhouse gas emissions.

They are mainly from the petroleum refining, chemicals and semiconductor sectors, with each emitter producing more than 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent of greenhouse gases a year. This is equivalent to the emissions produced by the annual electricity consumption of 12,500 four-room Housing Board flats.

As for the remaining 20 per cent, Mr Heng said the Government "will study how to account for these emissions, and take action where necessary".

The first payment will be in 2020, based on emissions in 2019. The tax will be levied on each facility's total emissions.

For households, the impact of the carbon tax will be small, at "about 1 per cent of total electricity and gas expenses on average", Mr Heng said.

An additional U-Save rebate will be provided for three years to help HDB households.

Eligible HDB households will each receive $20 more per year, from 2019 to 2021.

This will cover the expected average increase in electricity and gas expenses arising from the carbon tax, Mr Heng said.

Two companies that will be affected by the new tax expressed reservations about it.

A spokesman for ExxonMobil Singapore said the petrochemical firm was committed to working with the Government to reduce the risks of climate change but added that “affordable energy” was important to support economic growth and ensure Singapore’s competitiveness.

A spokesman for oil company Shell expressed concern with the flat tax rate.

He said: “We should be incentivised to perform better and deploy best-in-class technologies – a flat carbon tax will not provide the appropriate incentives to do so.”

In a dialogue with the Government last month, companies that would be affected had asked if the carbon tax could be implemented via a differentiated approach.

But Mr Heng, noting the need for a uniform carbon tax, said on Monday: “This is the economically efficient way-to maintain a transparent, fair and consistent carbon price across the economy to incentivise emissions reduction.”

Meanwhile, petrol, diesel and compressed natural gas (CNG) already have excise duties which encourage the reduced use of such fuels, so they will not be affected by an additional carbon tax.

In 2012, Singapore's greenhouse gas emissions came up to a total of 49 million carbon dioxide-equivalent tonnes.

That year, the industry sector accounted for about 59 per cent of Singapore's total emissions, of which 41 per cent was from direct emissions and 18 per cent from electricity use.

As part of the Paris Agreement, Singapore has pledged to reduce its emissions intensity (emissions per dollar of GDP) by 36 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, the same year it aims to have emissions reach a peak.

Mr Heng said that from 2019, he will set aside funds to give companies, including small and medium-sized enterprises and power generation companies, better support to improve their energy efficiency.

These include schemes such as the Productivity Grant (Energy Efficiency) and the Energy Efficiency Fund. Projects with greater reduction in emissions will receive more support.

Executive director for Singapore Green Building Council Yvonne Soh said such schemes could help companies overcome the cost barrier for energy efficiency initiatives.

“A number of such incentive funds or assistance schemes already exist, but more support is always welcomed as energy efficiency is usually not on the top of most companies’ minds," she said.


Time to get serious about saving energy
Audrey Tan Straits Times 20 Feb 18;

A tax will never be welcome, but it can be timely. The carbon tax that Singapore will levy on large polluters from next year is one such example.

The tax - details of which were announced yesterday by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat - comes against a backdrop of rising temperatures and increasingly erratic weather.

Last year was Singapore's warmest year on record - excluding years influenced by El Nino, a weather phenomenon associated with hot and dry weather in this part of the world. The Republic is also experiencing more bouts of intense rainfall - such as the one on Jan 8 that led to flash floods in its eastern parts.

That these effects can already be felt here highlights the urgent need for action. And a carbon tax is one direct way to tackle climate change - by trying to get large polluters to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.

Singapore's introduction of a carbon tax is also in line with carbon pricing strategies adopted by other countries to reduce greenhouse gases.

As Singapore marks its Year of Climate Action this year, its move to get ready for the roll-out of the carbon tax next year shows how serious it is in tackling the global threat of climate change.

About 67 countries and jurisdictions, including China, the European Union and Japan, have implemented or announced plans to implement carbon pricing schemes, which incentivise emitters to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and improve energy efficiency.

In Singapore, the carbon tax will initially be set at $5 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions until 2023, although the plan is to increase this to between $10 and $15 per tonne of emissions by 2030.

This will be levied on the 30 to 40 companies responsible for the lion's share of emissions here, but households will experience a knock-on effect - a 1 percentage point increase in total electricity and gas expenses on average, Mr Heng said.

As the implementation of the carbon tax next year follows the full liberalisation of the retail electricity market in the second half of this year, households will be able to choose which retailer they wish to buy electricity from.

Professor Euston Quah, head of the economics department at the Nanyang Technological University, said competition will put pressure on energy retailers to keep their prices competitive by not passing on the full cost of the carbon tax to consumers.

The impact of the carbon tax will also be cushioned by the additional utilities rebates that eligible HDB households will get from next year to 2021.

This gives consumers some time to form energy-saving habits, which could include turning off power at the socket when appliances are not in use, or using more energy-efficient appliances.

The introduction of the carbon tax is a timely move which reminds both companies and individuals that it is time to get serious about saving energy.


Singapore Budget 2018: Power generation company looks for ways to be greener
Audrey Tan Straits Times 20 Feb 18;

PacificLight is one of the newest kids on the power generation block.

Its $1.2 billion plant on Jurong Island began operating four years ago and is fitted with relatively new equipment, making it more energy efficient than older plants.

Since then, the firm has spent another $5 million to further reduce its carbon footprint, said its chief executive Yu Tat Ming.

This is done, for instance, by redesigning the fuel-supply system in its plant to bypass two energy-intensive compressors.

These efforts have led to a 1.5 per cent reduction in the plant's carbon emissions - equivalent to taking 15,000 cars off the road.

But despite this, PacificLight's annual operating cost is set to go up by $8.25 million in 2020, when the first carbon tax payment is due. The payment will be based on emissions next year.

The carbon tax will initially be set at $5 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions until 2023, with plans to increase it to between $10 and $15 per tonne by 2030, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced yesterday.

A carbon tax is commonly used around the world to control the amount of earth-warming greenhouse gases that is released into the atmosphere.

But Mr Yu said that it would be a challenge for his plant to become "greener", considering that it is relatively new and already fitted with energy-efficient fixtures. The life cycle of an industrial plant is about 25 years, and it is usually retrofitted only at the midway mark.

Mr Yu said a differentiated carbon tax system - in which companies that are more energy efficient pay less or even no tax while those that are less efficient pay more - would be fairer.

But he acknowledged that there is always room for improvement. "We will continue to look for ways to improve energy efficiency at our power plant, however modest they may be," he said.

One way is to install energy-saving devices, such as solar-powered lighting, throughout the facility.

PacificLight will also look into increasing the use of solar energy within its premises and those of its customers.

Mr Yu said the company will find ways to continue to supply its customers with energy "in as green a way as possible".

Audrey Tan


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Emissions of new Jurong Island coal gasification plant will be ‘closely monitored’

Today Online 20 Feb 18;

SINGAPORE – The new coal gasification plant on Jurong Island will be subject to the carbon tax that kicks in next year, and its emissions will be “closely monitored to minimise the impact on the environment”, said Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang on Monday (Feb 19).

Mr Lim was replying to Nee Soon Member of Parliament Louis Ng, who questioned how the new plant – which will feed the refining and chemicals industries – would align with Singapore’s climate commitments.

Coal is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to global warming.

The Government has designated 2018 the Year of Climate Action, but the coal gasification plant will increase Singapore’s carbon footprint. Mr Ng questioned how the different messages sent out to the public could be reconciled.

Keppel Infrastructure, a division of Keppel Corporation, was selected last year by the Economic Development Board (EDB) to develop and operate the facility.

The plant will produce hydrogen and carbon monoxide – or feedstock – from coal for the energy and chemicals sector.

The Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources has worked with the EDB and Keppel Infrastructure to put in place strict regulations and standards on emissions of carbon-dioxide and air pollutants, said Mr Lim.

The plant will deploy best-in-class mitigation technologies and will recycle potentially hazardous fly ash that will be generated.

The authorities had explored different ways of producing the feedstock, and gasification appears to be the “most sensible approach”, said Mr Lim.

The Government tries to achieve a “delicate balance” between business opportunities and its environmental commitments, he said.

“On the one hand, we have a fairly thriving chemicals and energy sector, contributing to 1.8 per cent of our gross domestic product, employing more than 25,000 workers, all very good jobs,” he said. “At the same time, we’ve made very strong commitments on the Paris Agreement and the Singapore Government intends to meet those commitments.”

Singapore has pledged to cut its emissions intensity by 36 per cent from 2005 levels, by 2030.

Mr Lim said the coal gasification plant is needed because Singapore’s refining capacity of 1.3 million barrels per day has “not changed for many decades”.

“So we need the additional feedstock and therefore we’ve looked towards gasification of coal,” he said.

The plant is not for power generation, he added. “We want to assure members that in terms of energy generation, we’re still depending on gas, which is the least pollutive of all, supplemented by solar energy in a limited way.”

Meanwhile, Nominated MP Mahdev Mohan asked if Singapore banks would be required to restrict lending for coal power projects, in the wake of reports that DBS, OCBC and UOB have provided loans totalling more than US$2 billion over the last five years for 21 such projects in countries like Indonesia and Vietnam.

Local banks recognise the environmental, social and governance risks of coal power projects, said Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills), on behalf of Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, the Minister-in-charge of the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

The region’s energy needs are growing rapidly and consumption of all fuels – including coal and renewables – will grow.

Singapore banks have been taking steps towards more environmentally responsible financing practices, added Mr Ong, who is also Second Minister for Defence.

With guidelines issued in 2015 by the Association of Banks in Singapore, the banks are reviewing their clients’ sustainability profiles and working with the clients to improve practices. By the end of this year, the banks are expected to complete a review of their entire customer portfolios, said Mr Ong.

The authorities are also taking steps to enhance the green-finance ecosystem in Singapore, such as expanding the breadth and depth of green-finance products, he said.


Singapore Budget 2018: S$250m set aside for sustainability projects
JAMIE LEE Business Times 19 Feb 18;

THE government will launch an Energy Grid 2.0 to develop next-generation energy grid architectures that can respond quickly and reliably to changes in energy demand and supply, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Monday.

Singapore has also begun work on a "Closing the Waste Loop" project, using technology to minimise the environmental impact of the waste generated.

Meanwhile, the Cities of Tomorrow R&D programme was launched last year to drive innovation in urban development.

These three programmes will cost S$250 million.


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Malaysia: Three mutilated green turtles found near Pulau Mabul

NASRAWATI SYARIFUDDIN New Straits Times 19 Feb 18;

SEMPORNA: Three mutilated green turtles were found floating near the renowned Pulau Mabul diving spot near here, this morning.

This came after shocking reports of pictures taken by tourists yesterday of landings of 15 giant rays, including a vulnerable ray species - the oceanic manta (Manta birostris), as well as a shark, at the popular island.

The 9.20am discovery was made by a part-time photographer, who was bringing a group of Chinese tourists to a nearby island.

The turtles with their stomach ripped apart were floating about two kilometres away from Mabul.

The photographer, who wished to be known only as Joe, could not remove the turtle carcasses from the location because he was worried the tourists would get uncomfortable seeing marine life killed.

"This can damage the image of Semporna, which is known for its rich marine life and ecosystem in the tourism sector," he said.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga confirmed receiving information about the mutilated turtles.

"We have sent our officers to investigate the matter. I have thought with several individuals being sentenced to jail (for turtle poaching), this problem would not reccur.

“But, it looks like there are still (turtle) poachers in the (Semporna) district," he said.

In Sept last year, hundreds of bones from dead sea turtle carcasses were found scattered in some bushes on Pulau Bum Bum off Semporna.

The discovery was made by a team from the Wildlife Department investigating a report about dead sea turtles being spotted on a beach on the island.

The bones were found near Kampung Pantau-Pantau, Kampung Amboh-Amboh and Kampung Sampolan on the island.

The following month, another seven turtle carcasses, with their stomach exposed, were found floating in waters near Mabul.

A group of islanders, who made the discovery at night, pulled the carcasses to a secluded area away from a resort to avoid drawing attention.

In mid-October last year, two Filipino men were sentenced to a four-year imprisonment and fined RM150,000 after they pleaded guilty to possessing turtle shells an plastrons without permit.

Last month, another Filipino man was sent to three years in prison and fined RM60,000 for possessing turtle shells.


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Indonesia: Sabah – last haven of the orang utan

Muguntan Vanar The Star 20 Feb 18;

KOTA KINABALU: A new study in the scientific journal Current Biology has found that 100,000 orang utan have died in the past 16 years, with Sabah likely to be the last haven for the critically endangered species.

Two Sabah-based co-authors of the study, Dr Marc Ancrenaz and Dr Benoit Goossens believe that steps taken by the Sabah government would see the survival of the orang ­utan in the wild.

“We sincerely believe that the major orang utan populations in Sabah are secure thanks to the commitment from the Sabah government to protect 30% of the state’s land mass.

“Moreover, hunting is not a big issue here, compared to some other parts of Borneo island.

“There is definitely hope for wildlife in the state.

“Sabah might, in the future, be the last place where it would be possible to find wild orang utan,” the two scientists said in a statement yesterday.

Dr Ancrenaz, who is co-director of the NGO Hutan, said the study found that the rate of decline in orang utan on the island of Borneo was more rapid than they had initially thought.

“If we cannot stop this decline, many more are going to disappear in the next few decades.

“It also means that there were more orang utan in the past than we thought, and this illustrates how difficult it is to know exactly how many wild orang utan survive in Borneo,” he said.

The major reason for the decline, said Dr Ancrenaz, is the killing that happens in unprotected and protected areas.

Forest conversion for agriculture explains less than 50% of the decline.

“This also means that it is urgent to change our approach to conserve orang utan,” Dr Ancrenaz said.

For Sabah, Dr Goossens who is director of Danau Girang Field Centre said most large orang utan populations have been relatively stable for the past 20 years due to the state government’s efforts to create new fully protected forests and also set aside 30% of its forests as totally protected areas.

“The efforts by the Sabah government increases the chance of survival of orang utan in Sabah,” he added.

Dr Goosens said that there were still ways to improve the long-term survival of the iconic species in Sabah.

They include creating more forest corridors that will allow the orang utan to move across the landscape and find new areas where they can set up their own territories.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Datuk Augustine Tuuga had earlier refuted the findings of the study led by Maria Voigt from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany.

Tuuga had said that the study had misguided the world community into believing that 6,100 orang utan were killed between 1999 and 2016 and failed to show the efforts by Sabah to protect its biodiversity.


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Indonesia: Riau declares emergency standby status over land and forest fires

Antara 20 Feb 18;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - The Riau provincial government has declared a three-month emergency standby status over land and forest fires, following the escalation of peat land fires.

The acting governor of Riau province, Wan Thamrin Hasyim, announced the emergency standby status during a coordination meeting attended by representatives of the police, military, local legislative council, State Intelligence Agency (BIN) of the Riau chapter, the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) office and companies.

The emergency alert status will take effect from Feb 19 to May 31, 2018, he stated here Monday.

He ordered the immediate activation of land and forest fire control task force (Satgas Karhutla) to be led by commander of the Wira Bima district military command 031.

"The step to set the emergency standby status, followed by the creation of land and forest fire control task force, is aimed at ensuring that the forest fire control could be conducted effectively, integratedly, and efficiently," he remarked.

Chief of the Riau Provincial Natural Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD), Edwar Sanger, noted that the number of hotspots and land and forest fires increased significantly early in 2018.

Since January, an estimated 549 hectares of land, with 59 hotspots, have caught fire. Nearly 211.5 hectares of the land were found in Meranti district and 121.5 hectares were found in Indragiri Hulu district.

"Compared to the same month last year, the area of burned land increased 25 percent, and the number of hotspots rose 90 percent," he revealed.

Reported by FB Anggoro
(T.S012/A/KR-BSR/S012)
Editor: Heru Purwanto


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Indonesia's Mount Sinabung spews massive smoke-and-ash column

Channel NewsAsia 19 Feb 18;

KARO, Indonesia: An Indonesian volcano erupted on Monday (Feb 19), sending a massive column of ash and smoke some 5,000m into the air, leaving local villages coated in debris and officials scrambling to hand out face masks to residents.

Mount Sinabung on Sumatra island, which has been rumbling since 2010 and saw a deadly eruption in 2016, spewed the thick plume after activity picked up recent days.

"This was the biggest eruption for Sinabung this year," said volcanology agency chief Kasbani, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

There were no reports of injuries or deaths.

No one lives inside a previously announced no-go zone around the volcano.

But hundreds of houses outside the seven-kilometre danger zone were covered in volcanic ash.

Officials have distributed face masks and urged local residents to stay indoors to avoid respiratory problems, said local disaster mitigation agency official Nata Nail Perangin-angin.

"In some villages the visibility was barely five metres after the eruption - it was pitch black," Perangin-angin added.

Pressure inside the crater was threatening to spark collapses in its dome, the official said.

Sinabung roared back to life in 2010 for the first time in 400 years. After another period of inactivity it erupted once more in 2013, and has remained highly active since.

In 2016, seven people died in one of Sinabung's eruptions, while a 2014 eruption left 16 people dead.

Indonesia is home to around 130 volcanoes due to its position on the "Ring of Fire", a belt of tectonic plate boundaries circling the Pacific Ocean where frequent seismic activity occurs.

Source: AFP/ng


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Ocean plastic tide 'violates the law'

Roger Harrabin BBC 20 Feb 18;

The global tide of ocean plastic pollution is a clear violation of international law, campaigners say.

They have been urging for a new global treaty to tackle the problem.

But a new report - to be presented to a Royal Geographical Society conference on Tuesday - says littering the sea with plastics is already prohibited under existing agreements.

The report urges those governments that are trying to tackle the issue to put legal pressure on those that are not.

The paper has been written by the veteran environment journalist Oliver Tickell.

His conclusions are backed by ClientEarth, the legal group that successfully sued the UK over failures to meet air pollution laws.

Tickell says legal action against big polluters such as China, India and Indonesia can be taken only by a nation state.

So he calls for governments and green groups to support small island nations suffering most from plastic pollution.

Tickell maintains that marine plastic litter can already be controlled through the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS); the London Convention; the MARPOL Convention; the Basel Convention; Customary Law, and many other regional agreements.

Article 194 of UNCLOS, for instance, requires states to "prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment from any source.

"Measures shall include, inter alia, those designed to minimize to the fullest possible extent... the release of toxic, harmful or noxious substances, especially those which are persistent, from land-based sources… [and] shall include those necessary to protect and preserve rare or fragile ecosystems as well as the habitat of depleted, threatened or endangered species and other forms of marine life."

Tickell adds: "Amid all the hand-wringing over ocean plastic, the fact that it's actually illegal has scarcely been mentioned.

"Sadly, very few states are in compliance with those obligations they have committed to."

He says offenders could be taken to the International Court of Justice and ordered to pay compensation.

But Tickell warns that enforcement is not easy as only nation states are able to bring a case.

He believes small islands suffering the worst impacts of marine plastic pollution may be fearful of confronting the generally larger, more powerful countries responsible for the problem.

China, India and Indonesia are among the worst culprits.

A spokesman for ClientEarth told BBC News: "Under current international law, states already have the obligation to prevent, control and reduce marine plastic pollution.

"A new convention might impose more specific action, but the political energy needed for a new international agreement could be put to better use.

"Negotiating a new international agreement is not a pre-requisite for action at the national level."

Tuesday's conference is organised by a campaign group called Artists Project Earth. It is proposing the Ocean Plastic Legal Initiative.


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Best of our wild blogs: 19 Feb 18



Now available: "The Singaporean Seas and Shores" by Wild Drawings
Celebrating Singapore Shores

Rain, rain go away…..Dec 31 – Jan 1 2018
Winging It

Frog Snail (Bufonaria sp.) @ Chek Jawa
Monday Morgue


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For new breed of local farmers, the sky’s the limit

WONG PEI TING Today Online 18 Feb 18;

SINGAPORE — In less than two years, green shoots sprouting from swathes of flat land may no longer be the image that best represents local vegetable farming.

If the proposals picked by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) in a recent tender are any indication, the future of farming will consist of mid-rise “apartment blocks” for vegetables, as well as towering rows of leafy greens in next-generation greenhouses.

The winning companies said they are raring to place Singapore on the map for urban farming.

Backed by public-listed company Edition, a four-year-old firm called Meod snapped up the biggest number of plots – three – last week in the AVA’s first tender that featured a fixed price upfront, for companies to compete solely on concept.

The seven other successful tenderers each secured one plot in Lim Chu Kang.

With each plot spanning about two hectares, Meod’s three plots, which cost S$836,000, will significantly boost its existing operations, which started in January last year.

It currently farms on a one-hectare plot at the D’Kranji Farm Resort with an aim to produce about 500 to 550kg a day.

Fruiting vegetables like tomatoes and melons are planted there using trellis lines that allow farmers to string up crops and grow them to a maximum height of 4.5m. The method was inspired by practices in Israel and gleaned from Dutch consultants the firm engaged, said Meod director Jeremy Chua, 38.

In the new plots, Meod plans to grow only leafy greens using its proprietary hydroponics system, which features modular plant beds that can be stacked to heights of three to four metres.

Meod will also be making use of the data they have collected in its current farm – where they planted a mix of lettuce, Asian greens, herbs and Swiss chards – in a big way. Besides the temperature, humidity and light within the greenhouses, the company tracked the growth of seedlings and crops using various methods, as well as the time needed for each plant to reach a certain weight and stage of growth.

Such a science-based approach provided “a solid base to work with our consultants for the six hectares, to design and build the greenhouse and growing structures that can cater specifically to our local and regional tropical climate”, said Mr Chua.

He expects the newly secured plots to be operational in 12 to 18 months’ time.

Asked about its relative lack of large-scale farming experience, Mr Chua said: “We do have a team of consultants, both local and abroad to help with the size and scale. Two of our partners had also been heavily involved in the urban farming movement in Singapore since 2011 and 2012.”

Mr Chua said Meod hopes to write the chapter in Singapore’s farming story and “scale (the technology) beyond Singapore, specifically into South-east Asia”.

“We have to look at how to implement large and tangible improvements in harvest and yield with the help of technology, while still keeping costs realistic in the regional context,” he said.

NO SUN, NO PROBLEM

At least two of the successful tenderers are taking their farming indoors, growing crops on tiered racks with light emitting diodes (LEDs) replacing sunlight.

Sunpower Grand Holdings was set up by Taiwanese academic Wu Yu-Chien.

Dr Wu holds a patent in LED technology that allows brightness to be adjusted with a computer, without the use of bulky magnetic components like transformers and inductors.

Partnering Ms Jean Ee, a Johor-based former banker, Dr Wu will be rolling out his invention for growing hydroponics fruits and vegetables in a real farm setting for the first time.

The technology will enable vegetables like kailan and xiao bai cai, which typically require 45 days to grow, to be harvested in 15 days, said Ms Ee, 45.

The yield from their three planned buildings is expected to be 900 tonnes a year. One building will hold up to 15 tiers of plants.

“If you leave it to nature, sometimes the weather varies,” said Ms Ee, whose mother is a traditional caixin and herb farmer in Johor.

She and Dr Wu also intend to build an education centre on their premises.

Another company, Farm deLight, will use its two-hectare plot to expand its 600sqm operation in Boon Lay.

It currently farms herbs and microgreens using red and blue LED lights, while smart controls regulate air-conditioning and the amount of carbon dioxide.

It intends to farm “common leafy greens” like xiao bai cai and kale going forward.

Meanwhile, Cameron Highlands farm operator Vegeasia has joined hands with beansprout farmer Tan Teck Tiang, 51, to set up an outdoor hydroponics system that uses PVC panels, as well as pumps and pipes to supply the crops with nutrients and water.

Vegeasia currently uses the technology in Malaysia, where it has more than 100 hectares of farmland that yields 40 to 50 tonnes of vegetables such as lettuce, caixin, kailan, and tomatoes a day.

Mr Tan said the S$1 million partnership aims to bring Vegeasia’s “tried, tested and proven” technology to the Republic.

“We (will) save a lot on trial and error,” said Mr Tan, who has about 15 years’ experience at his uncle’s company, Chiam Joo Seng Towgay Growers. The latter supplies about four tonnes of beansprouts a day to supermarkets here.

The AVA has high hopes for the eight companies. “We look forward to the contributions of these companies in transforming the local farming sector into one that is productive, innovative and sustainable,” Mr Melvin Chow, its group director of food supply resilience, said last week.

Its tender launched last August attracted 28 parties.

Among the unsuccessful tenderers was veteran farmer Wong Kok Fah, 56, who wanted to secure more land for high-tech farming “for my next generation” – his nephew Dave Huang, 33.

Mr Wong’s Kok Fah Technology Farm currently operates seven plots spanning nine hectares in Sungei Tengah.

The plots’ leases are renewed on a three-year basis and he produces about 100 tonnes of leafy vegetables like bayam (a variety of spinach), kailan and xiao bai cai monthly through a mix of soil cultivation and hydroponics.

Mr Huang, who joined the business straight out of university, said the unsuccessful attempt is not the end of the road.

It will give him “more time to perfect the system” before the next tender, he declared.


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Malaysia: Tourists appalled by slaughter of shark and manta rays

muguntan vanar The Star 19 Feb 18;

KOTA KINABALU: It was a heart-­wrenching Chinese New Year celebration for Sabah’s shark conservationist Adderick Chong as pictures of the slaughter of oceanic manta ray emerged after a lull from the diving havens of Pulau Mabul.

A total of two oceanic manta rays, 13 devil rays and one shark were slaughtered by people along the village at Pulau Mabul this weekend as shocked Chinese and western tourists took pictures and questioned their guides on why the killings were taking place.

He said the tourist guides said the tourists were appalled by the sight of the killings.

One of the tourists had told them that they came to Sipadan to dive and see the mantas and sharks under the sea. But, they only saw them on land being butchered, said Chong, who is Sabah Sharks Pro­tection Association president.

He said the manta ray was supposed to be gazetted as protected species under the federal Fisheries Act for Sabah last year but they still do not know what the status of the protection was.

Apart from the oceanic and reef manta rays, the federal Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry had agreed to ban the hunting and finning of hammerhead shark, smooth hammerhead shark, winghead shark, and oceanic wingtip shark on the recommendation of the Sabah Fisheries Department.

Chong, however, said there has been no official word on whether the ban had been gazetted and had passed through the various legal requirements of the law.

“We want to know what has happened to the ban. This latest killing is really sad, we need the law to be enforced if the ban was in place,” he said.

Sabah has also proposed to ban shark fishing and finning at all six of its marine parks by the end of 2017 through an amendment to the Sabah Parks Enactment.

Last year, State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun said that the ban within marine parks, which covers about 8% of Sabah waters, would help in taking action against those caught shark hunting within the states marine parks.

State authorities had been pushing for amendments to be made to national fisheries law that will ban shark hunting altogether amid reports of a dwindling shark population.

Masidi, who supports the ban on shark hunting, said that there must be efforts to protect sharks in Sabah waters as it brought in more tourism dollars being alive and in the wild than being sold as seafood.


List shark and manta ray as protected species, Fisheries Dept urged
muguntan vanar The Star 20 Feb 18;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah wants answers from the federal Fisheries Department on their promise to include six shark species and the manta ray in the protected species list.

Amid the latest slaughter of the rare oceanic manta ray at the tourist resort island of Mabul in Semporna, state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said they were still waiting for an update on the ban.

“I have also asked the same question and am still waiting for answers,” said Masidi.

The federal Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Ministry had said that they would include the hammerhead shark, smooth hammerhead shark, winghead shark and oceanic wingtip shark and the oceanic manta ray as totally protected by the end of last year.

Masidi said the federal ministry should give an update on the matter, echoing a similar call by the Sabah Sharks Protection Association president Adderick Chong.

Pictures of unknown individuals cutting up a 2m-long manta ray at a village in Pulau Mabul had shocked both Chinese and western tourists.

A total of two oceanic manta rays, 13 devil rays and one shark were slaughtered, according to witnesses.

Sabah authorities find their hands tied as there is no law against those hunting and finning sharks.

Sabah Parks director Jamili Nais said Pulau Mabul did not come under the Tun Sakaran Marine Park jurisdiction.

In another unrelated probe, Sabah Wildlife Department director Datuk Augustine Tuuga said they were investigating mutilated green turtles found floating near Pulau Mabul over the weekend.


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Malaysia: Villagers learn to keep Borneo pygmy elephants away using PVC 'cannons'

POLIANA RONNIE SIDOM New Straits Times 18 Feb 18;

TELUPID: Some young villagers here have been consulting with Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU) and resorting to google online to find ways to keep the Borneo pygmy elephants away effectively.

As human-elephant conflict grows in this area where the huge mammal has been trespassing into village settlements, they took the initiative to make ‘cannons’ from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe, locally known as 'ladum', which is believed to scare the herd and prevent them from destroying crops and properties.

The step was taken following a shortage of staff in the department as well as WRU staff to fully manage the situation at six locations which have this problem.

Syaiful Anthony Stephen, 32, from Kampung Gambaron, said the villagers involved normally moved in groups of three to eight every night on patrol duty since a herd of elephants trespassed their village early this year.

The home-made ‘sound bomb’ made from PVC pipe, plastic bottle and gas lighter, uses spirit as explosive and a safety cone instead of a loud speaker to chase the wildlife back into the forest.

“Besides learning from WRU, we used the search engine ‘Google’ to see how ‘ladum’ is made by Indonesian community to scare elephants away.

“Previously, the herd would stay a week or two but now they stay longer - even over a month.

“So the number of elephants entering our village has grown and the situation if out of control. They not only damage crops but also property like cars,” he said when met here.

Besides his village, the other five areas facing the increasing human-elephant conflict were Kg Liningkung, Kg Bauto, Kg Telupid, Telupid town and Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan (SMK) Telupid.

Previously the department director Augustine Tuuga said 20 elephants from two herds, believed to be from Deramakot and Segaliud forest reserves, were spotted at the village and were suspected to be the same herd of elephants which trespassed the place last year.

At the same time, Syaiful was hopeful that the district here could be promoted as a tourist attraction following more elephants being spotted.

“Since the elephants return every three or four months even after they are chased back into the forest, we hoped Telupid could gain prominence like Sukau amongst international tourists," he said.

"The presence of the elephants here can provide various opportunities, including economically.”


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