Best of our wild blogs: 21 Sep 17



Would love to hear YOUR views – Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (Amendment) Bill (Oct 17)
Your Voices in Parliament

32nd Annual Bird Census 2017
Singapore Bird Group

Pangolins reduced to small, isolated populations in Bangladesh: new study
mongabay.com


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Most Singapore consumer brands do not source for sustainable palm oil, survey finds

Annabeth Leow Straits Times 21 Sep 17;

SINGAPORE - Most Singapore companies do not source for sustainable palm oil, according to a survey on Thursday (Sept 21).

It also found that businesses believe that customers are not clamouring for sustainable palm oil, reducing the incentive to change the way they operate.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) study polled 47 firms with headquarters here and in Malaysia - the first region-specific study.

It rated businesses on a 12-point scale that measured the proportion of certified sustainable palm oil used in their supply chains.

The judging criteria also looked for membership in the international Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) bloc and a commitment to buying only certified sustainable palm oil.

Singapore-based Denis Asia Pacific, which is behind Ayam Brand canned food, rated 10 points to top the leaderboard.

Its products use only certified sustainable palm oil, said Ayam Brand country managing director Roy Teo.

"While our total consumption of palm oil is limited, it is possible to make sustainable choices even when manufacturing in smaller volumes," he added.

"We see this business decision paying off through increased employee satisfaction, higher brand value and new business opportunities in Europe, the United States and Australia, where sustainable palm oil has become a market entry criteria."

Another company that fared well was Wildlife Reserves Singapore, which runs attractions such as the Singapore Zoo and Jurong Bird Park.

At least 75 per cent of the palm oil used in its eateries is sustainably sourced.

"We encourage businesses to take this step and consumers to voice their support," said its conservation and research director, Dr Sonja Luz.

But, in general, regional firms did not seem fazed by how customers would perceive the use of non-sustainable palm oil.

Eight companies of the 16 respondents were given scores of zero, meaning that they were upfront about their use of palm oil but had not yet made any progress on sustainability. The four Singapore companies in this category are Sheng Siong, Tong Seng Produce, Viz Branz Holdings and Yeo Hiap Seng.

Eight firms felt there was a lack of consumer awareness and demand for certified sustainable palm oil, so there was no rush to make changes in the supply chain.

Also, nine of the companies that spoke to the WWF said that cost was an obstacle, especially with profit margins at the top of their minds amid tight economic conditions.

The WWF study put consumer brands under the microscope, even as big commodity companies have recently been pushed to step up their sustainability efforts.

Singapore-listed palm oil supplier Golden Agri-Resources - the target of a Greenpeace campaign against illegal deforestation in 2010 - said on Monday that it had made it to the Dow Jones Sustainability Asia Pacific Index for large listed companies with sustainable business practices.

Another home-grown commodities company, Wilmar International, was a founding member of the Fire Free Alliance in 2016. This body comprises non-governmental organisations as well as forestry and agriculture firms.

The regional WWF study had a response rate of just 34 per cent, and only three companies told the environmental group that they are committing to sustainable sourcing, the report said.

In comparison, the organisation's 2016 ranking exercise of 137 companies across Europe, North America, Australia, India and Japan had an 80 per cent response rate.

That survey also found that 70 per cent had thrown their weight behind the use of certified sustainable palm oil.

Still, some Singapore companies that were marked as having given nil returns on the WWF report said that they do make an effort to ensure that the palm oil they use is sustainable.

TungLok Restaurants (2000) executive chairman Andrew Tjioe, whose restaurant group was listed as a non-respondent, told The Straits Times in an e-mail: "We are all for sustainability, therefore we use only RSPO-certified cooking oil, even though it costs us more."

More than 85 per cent of the world's palm oil is produced in South-east Asia, mostly in Indonesia and Malaysia, with the oil going into a wide range of consumer products, from food items like chocolate to soaps and cosmetics.

But cultivation of oil palm has been linked to ecologically harmful practices such as slash-and-burn deforestation, which can cause problems such as habitat loss, water pollution, transboundary haze and climate change.


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Even teachers are in on Anderson Secondary student's green movement

Clarissa Song is the youngest winner of the NEA's EcoFriend Award. PHOTO: THE STRAITS TIMES
SAMANTHA BOH, THE STRAITS TIMES The New Paper 21 Sep 17;

At most canteens, vendors use plastic disposables for takeaway orders.

Not at Anderson Secondary School.

This is the result of campaigning led by 14-year-old Clarissa Song, the youngest-ever winner of the EcoFriend Awards given by the National Environment Agency (NEA).

Clarissa knew she had to do something after learning about how marine animals were choking to death on plastic objects that had found their way into the ocean.

The Sec 2 student had observed that plastic items were used in her school canteen for takeaway orders.

"I noticed the stall vendors gave out plastic bags, cutlery and straws, which I found to be unnecessary," she said.

With the help of her fellow Green Club members, she approached the canteen vendors in March to get them to stop using plastic disposables.

While initially reluctant as they feared fewer students would buy from their stalls, the vendors eventually agreed to stop using disposables for packing, in line with Clarissa's Refuse Plastic Project.

Plastic disposables are no longer used in the canteen. Those who want to pack their food orders have to bring their own lunchboxes.

"Even teachers have joined in by bringing their own lunchboxes when they pack food from the canteen," Clarissa said.

Yesterday, she received her EcoFriend Award along with nine others at a ceremony at the Mandarin Orchard hotel

The other winners include Ms Kia Jiehui, who co-founded a movement in 2010, which has given some 10,000 old pens a new lease of life.

These awards are given out annually by NEA to individuals in Singapore who have contributed significantly to environmental sustainability.


14-year-old helps cut school canteen's use of plastic
Samantha Boh Straits Times 20 Sep 17;

SINGAPORE - At most canteens, vendors use plastic disposables for take-away orders. Not at Anderson Secondary School.

This is the result of campaigning led by 14-year-old Clarissa Song, the youngest ever winner of the EcoFriend Awards given by the National Environment Agency (NEA).

Clarissa knew she had to do something after learning about how marine animals were choking to death on plastic objects that had found their way into the ocean.

The Sec 2 student of Anderson Secondary had observed that plastic items were used in her school canteen for take-away orders.

"I noticed the stall vendors gave out plastic bags, cutlery and straws, which I found to be unnecessary," she said.

With the help of her fellow Green Club members, she approached the canteen vendors in March to try to get them to stop using plastic disposables.

While initially reluctant as they fear that fewer students would buy from their stalls, the vendors eventually agreed to stop using disposables for packing, in line with Clarissa's Refuse Plastic Project.

Today, plastic disposables are hardly used in the school canteen. Those who want to pack their food orders are encouraged to bring their own lunch boxes.

"Even teachers have joined in by bringing their own lunch boxes when they pack food from the canteen," Clarissa said.

On Wednesday (Sept 20), she received her award at the EcoFriend Awards Ceremony at the Mandarin Orchard hotel. These awards are given out annually by NEA to individuals in Singapore who have contributed significantly to environmental sustainability.

Nine other individuals received the award, including Ms Kia Jiehui, who co-founded the Save That Pen movement in 2010, which has given some 10,000 old pens a new lease of life.

Ms Kia noted that used pens are difficult to recycle as they are made of many different materials and too much labour is needed to take them apart to be recycled.

She decided to encourage people to refurbish pens, including turning them into art pieces.

"Our message is really to ask people to question if we should be designing our products in this way (with many different materials), which makes them very difficult to recycle," said Ms Kia, 28, a senior strategist at Forum for the Future, a green group.

Another winner was teacher Heng Chong Yong, 42, who leads several green initiatives at Bukit View Secondary. These include an eco-garden which has a self-cleaning pond - the pond has plants like pandan, water lily and lotus which act as natural filters to absorb decomposing leaves and fish faeces.

"As an educator, I see environmental education as a platform to educate the whole child, to teach academic subjects as well as citizenship and character education values, like respect and responsibility, and leadership," said Mr Heng.

At the ceremony, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said: "I hope that the stories of our award recipients and partners will inspire others to continue to protect our fragile environment and precious resources, as well as increase ownership and collective action in the community."

Correction note: An earlier version of this story said that plastic disposables are no longer used in the canteen. The school has clarified that they may be still be used in certain circumstances. Lunch boxes are also not required, but encouraged for takeaways.


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Man charged over release of deadly stingrays in reservoir

Motoro stingrays, which are native to South American rivers, can deliver venomous stings that cause extreme pain and even death.
Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib Straits Times 21 Sep 17;

A man was charged yesterday with releasing three venomous Motoro stingrays into the Lower Seletar Reservoir .

Larry Tan Chin Guan, who was unrepresented, told the court he intended to plead guilty to abandoning his pets without reasonable cause or excuse.

The 48-year-old Singaporean, whose occupation was not stated, allegedly committed the offence between 3pm and 4pm on June 2.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) told The Straits Times that it was the first time anyone had been prosecuted for abandoning a ray.

Its prosecutor, Mr Yap Teck Chuan, told the court yesterday that Tan will also be charged next week with a related offence involving Singapore's national water agency, PUB.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, AVA said Motoro rays are allowed to be sold in aquariums as pets.

According to a 2010 report in The Straits Times, the freshwater rays are native to South American rivers and can grow to the size of dinner plates. They had been found previously in Upper Seletar Reservoir and were likely to have been released by hobbyists.

The rays can deliver venomous stings that cause extreme pain and even death. Introducing a non- native species can also upset the delicate ecological balance.

Tan will be back in court next Tuesday.

First-time offenders convicted of abandoning animals can be jailed for up to a year and fined up to $10,000. Repeat offenders can be jailed for up to two years and fined up to $20,000.

Man charged with abandoning pet stingrays at reservoir
Kamini Devadass Channel NewsAsia 20 Sep 17;

SINGAPORE: A 48-year-old man was charged in court on Wednesday (Sep 20) with allegedly abandoning his pet stingrays at Lower Seletar Reservoir.

Larry Tan Chin Guan was charged with releasing three Motoro stingrays on Jun 2 between 3pm and 4pm.

According to the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA), the offence is punishable under the Animals and Birds Act. The stingrays were released without reasonable cause or excuse, AVA said.

Motoro or peacock-eye stingrays are freshwater tropical fish from South America. They can grow up to 50cm in disc width, 1m in total length and 35kg in weight.

They are allowed to be sold as pets in pet aquariums and this is the first reported case of stingray abandonment, AVA said. Tan is also expected to face a separate charge by PUB in relation to the case.

The case will be heard again on Sep 26.


Man charged with releasing pet stingrays into reservoir
SIAU MING EN Today Online 20 Sep 17;

SINGAPORE — In the first court case involving stingray abandonment here, a 48-year-old man was charged Wednesday (Sept 20) with letting three of the creatures loose at Lower Seletar Reservoir in June.

Larry Tan Chin Guan allegedly released three Motoro stingrays at about 3pm to 4pm on June 2 without reasonable cause or excuse, according to court documents.

The stingrays are freshwater species with venomous stings and are native to South America.

Motoro stingrays, which can be legally sold and are popular as pets in the aquarium trade, are already found in reservoirs here.

They are likely to have been released or abandoned by hobbyists, but the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) confirmed no one has been charged with the offence until now.

In 2010, Motoro stingrays were reported to be breeding in Upper Seletar Reservoir after researchers published their findings — it was the first alien record of a South American freshwater stingray outside the tropical region of Central and South America — the previous year.

Non-native or alien species should not be released into the wild because they may out-compete native species for food and upset the balance of the eco-system.

Tan, who was unrepresented, told the court he intends to plead guilty and will return to court for further mention of his case on Sept 26.

It was not mentioned yesterday how he was caught or what happened to the stingrays.

The AVA prosecutor told the court Tan would also be charged with a related offence, but it would be handled by prosecutors from the national water agency PUB.

PUB declined to comment further on the case yesterday as Tan is expected to be charged with the other offence on Sept 26.

First-time offenders convicted of abandoning an animal without reasonable cause or excuse can be fined up to S$10,000 and jailed up to 12 months.


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Animal acoustic activity decline shows forest fire pollution wreaks havoc on wildlife

University of Kent Science Daily 20 Sep 17;

Forest fires in Southeast Asia during the El Niño droughts of 2015 caused considerable disruption to the biodiversity of the region due to the smoke-induced 'haze' they created, according to new research.

Forest fires in Southeast Asia during the El Niño droughts of 2015 caused considerable disruption to the biodiversity of the region due to the smoke-induced 'haze' they created, according to new research led by Benjamin Lee at the University of Kent and the National Parks Board in Singapore.

In the first study of its kind Benjamin, who completed his PhD at the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) at Kent, monitored wildlife acoustic activity in Singapore before, during and after the major forest fires that hit the region in 2015.

The data showed there was a dramatic drop in acoustic activity by as much as 37.5% during the haze as animals were affected by the pollution. It took a further 16 weeks after the haze had dissipated before acoustic levels showed even a partial recovery.

Furthermore, the researchers said it is highly likely the damage to wildlife was even greater in locations closer to the fires, where air pollution levels were 15-times higher than those in Singapore.

Tropical Asia experiences fires and haze annually, which cause significant human health problems and economic damage across the region. The 2015 event was one of the worst on record.

The findings indicate that large-scale air pollution events, such as those caused by forest or peatland fires, have a far greater impact on biodiversity that previously thought and that preventing such events occurring is paramount.

Benjamin was assisted in his research by Dr Matthew Struebig and Dr Zoe Davies from DICE.

Journal Reference:

Benjamin P Y-H Lee, Zoe G Davies, Matthew J Struebig. Smoke pollution disrupted biodiversity during the 2015 El Niño fires in Southeast Asia. Environmental Research Letters, 2017; 12 (9): 094022 DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/aa87ed


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Malaysia: High tide phenomenon: Fishermen, residents, authorities move into alert mode

DAWN CHAN and FALIQ LAJIM New Straits Times 20 Sep 17;

SHAH ALAM: Fishermen have been told to put on life jackets when they head out to sea during the high tide phenomenon, which is expected to being anytime now and last till December this year.

Fisheries Development Authority of Malaysia (LKIM) chairman Datuk Seri Irmohizam Ibrahim said the phenomenon is expected to hit the Selangor coastlines as well as several areas in Perak.

"I would like to advise fishermen to wear life jackets while they are out at sea during the high tide phenomenon. Apart from that, I ask that fishermen be alert of the instructions given by the authorities and to have the K3M app (Maritime Community Security and Safety Awareness) if they meet with any accidents at sea.

"I have also instructed LKIM's Fishermen Safety Group (Kumpulan Keselamatan Nelayan) to be prepared to render any assistance to the authorities if needed. LKIM has also set up a disaster committee to assist fishermen who may be affected by the phenomenon," said Irmohizam.

Over in Klang, Kalmi Yusuf, 59, a resident at Kampung Tok Muda is shaking with fear when she heard that there will be another episode of the high tide phenomenon.

"I lost RM5,000 during the flood last year, " she said.

The high tide phenomenon, which will go on until December, this year is expected to cause flooding at five districts in Selangor, including Kampung Tok Muda in Klang.

This has forced residents, apart from the fisherman community in the area, to be on alert and take precautionary measures to face the possibility of flooding.

Kalmi said she has rearranged her belongings and stored important items and documents high up. She is fully prepared to evacuate if the water level rises.

"I have also asked two of my children to rearrange and pack their stuff. We have packed our clothes and personal belongings.

"We lost many of our household items, including a washing machine, refrigerator, two motorbikes and a Proton Iswara vehicle in the flood, last year.

"I could no longer use my car due to its rusty condition and I would have to fork out a huge sum to repair it," said the single mother.

Kalmi said the family stayed at one of the relief centres in Klang, the Dewan Orang Ramai Kampung Tok Muda, for a week during the flood, last year.

Checks at the Jeti Pengkalan Kampung Tok Muda, showed fishermen and residents preparing for the worse.

One resident, Baharin Ibrahim, 49, said he had also taken necessary steps.

"Water levels were knee high during a flood episode two years ago. I do not want to go through that again. Hence, this time around, I have placed my belongings and valuables at a higher place."

Fisherman, Mohd Rahim Mahani, 59, said he and his friends would always ensure their boats were properly secured.

"This is to ensure our boats stay in place and not be swept away by tides. We will take turns to monitor our boats during this time," he added.

Selangor told to prepare for big waves due to high tides over next three months
wani muthiah The Star 20 Sep 17;

SHAH ALAM: Residents in coastal areas here have been cautioned to be prepared for possible flooding due to a rise in sea levels caused by big waves due to high tides.

Selangor Disaster Management Unit head Ahmad Fairuz Mohd Yusof (pic) said the large waves were expected to occur between Sept 21 and Dec 5.

"The occurrence in the coastal areas in Selangor such as the Klang district, Kuala Langat, Sepang, Kuala Selangor and Sabak Bernam are expected to be affected," Ahmad Fairuz told a press conference at the state secretariat on Wednesday.

He said the waves are expected to be the highest in October and November with a forecast reading of between 5.5m to 5.6m.

Ahmad Fairuz said the situation can worsen if there was rain and strong winds during the waves.

"If the wave is accompanied by rain and heavy winds, there is a possibility of sea water overflowing the coastal banks.

"This will erode the banks, causing them to break and if this happens the increased level of sea water flowing into land will flood high risk areas such as fishing villages and jetties," he added.

He said, as opposed to rain water flooding, sea water flooding will cause more damage due to the salt content.

He said evacuation centres will also start operations a day before the wave dates.

According to Ahmad Fairuz, all the necessary satellite information has already been given to the state's district authorities.

"So it is now the responsibility of the district disaster committees to prepare for what could happen based on the past records,'' said Ahmad Fairuz, adding that the Selangor government had spent RM4.3mil in 2016 and RM8mil this year to repair and strengthen river and coastal banks.

The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry's Minerals and Geoscience Department also presented slope hazard and risk maps to Hulu Selangor District Council, Selayang Municipal Council, Ampang Jaya Municipal Council, Kajang Municipal Council, Sepang Municipal Council and the Selangor Town and Country Planning Department.

The maps will provide information on landslide-prone areas to companies undertaking construction and infrastructure projects in high-risk areas.

Coastal residents urged to be wary of high-tide phenomenon
The Star 21 Sep 17;

SHAH ALAM: Residents in coastal areas have been cautioned to be prepared for possible flooding due to a rise in sea levels due to the high-tide phenomenon.

Selangor Disaster Management Unit head Ahmad Fairuz Mohd Yusof said the tidal waves were expected to occur from now until December.

“Coastal areas in Selangor such as the Klang district, Kuala Langat, Sepang, Kuala Selangor and Sabak Bernam are expected to be affected,” Ahmad Fairuz told the media at the state secretariat yesterday.

He said the waves were expected to be the highest in October and November with a forecast reading of between 5.5m and 5.6m.

“When the wave is at its maximum height and if there is rain and heavy winds at the same time, there is a possibility of water from the sea overflowing coastal banks.

“This will erode the banks causing them to break and if this happens, the increased level of sea water flowing inland will flood high-risk areas such as fishing villages and jetties,” he said.

He added that compared to rain water flooding, seawater flooding would cause more damage due to the salt content.

He said evacuation centres would also start operations a day before the high tide dates.

According to Ahmad Fairuz all the necessary satellite information has already been given to the state’s district authorities.

He added that the Selangor government spent RM4.3mil in 2016 and RM8mil this year to mend and strengthen river and coastal banks to prevent flooding.


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Indonesia: New 'ghost' orchid species discovered on Java

Aman Rochman The Jakarta Post 20 Sep 17;

The Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) office at the Plant Conservation Agency (BKT) of the Bogor Botanical Gardens in Pasuruan, East Java, revealed on Monday the discovery of a new orchid species endemic to Java, the Gastrodia bamboo, in Phytotaxa, an international scientific journal.

The publication was jointly written by LIPI-BKT scientist Destario Metusala and University of Indonesia (UI) conservation biology scientist Jatna Supriatna.

“The discovery of this new orchid species was an invaluable gift for LIPI’s 50th anniversary, which fell on Aug. 23,” LIPI-BKT dissemination and partnership supervisor Lia Hapsari said on Wednesday.

Destario said the Gastrodia bamboo was part of the holomikotropic orchid group, the orchids of which were often called “ghost orchids” by the world’s scientists. He said he and other researchers named the new orchid species Gastrodia bamboo to refer to bamboo as its specific habitat.

Destario further said the Gastrodia bamboo was an endemic orchid found only on Java Island, especially in West Java and Mount Merapi in Yogyakarta. The population of the ghost orchid was declining due to habitat destruction, he added.

Destario further explained that the Gastrodia bamboo grew in a dark and moist habitat, always close to thick and old bamboo clusters. Like other holomikotropic orchids, the Gastrodia bamboo has no chlorophyll, so it does not carry out the photosynthesis process. The orchid species is also not parasitic.

“Its life cycle depends on organic nutritional supply through a symbiosis with mycorrhiza fungus,” he said.

“It is hoped the discovery strengthens biodiversity conservation in the future,” said Lia. (ebf)


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Huge sea turtles slowly coming back from brink of extinction

SETH BORENSTEIN Associated Press Yahoo News 21 Sep 17;

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sea turtles are lumbering back from the brink of extinction, a new study says.

Scientists found more populations of the large turtles improving than declining when they looked at nearly 60 regions across the globe. That's a big change from a decade or two ago, experts said.

Long-living sea turtles have been pushed to endangered levels by hunting, accidentally being caught in fishing nets, habitat loss, plastics pollution and climate change, experts say.

But massive efforts to save the egg-laying turtles by changing fishing nets and creating protected and darkened beaches are working, said study lead author Antonios Mazaris, an ecology professor at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece.

"There's a positive sign at the end of the story," Mazaris said. "We should be more optimistic about our efforts in society."

The research was published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

There are seven different species of sea turtles, all but one endangered. The slow creatures live for several decades with some species weighing about 100 pounds and others well over 1,000 pounds.

Mazaris pointed to Hawaiian green sea turtles, once in trouble 40 years ago, as story of success. Maybe too much success.

"They have more turtles than they know what to do with," said Roderic Mast, a sea turtle advisory group co-chairman at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which determines the global list of endangered species.

Tourists seeking sea turtles create traffic problems and fishermen complain the creatures get in the way, said Mast, who wasn't part of the study and is president of the Oceanic Society advocacy group. He added: "It's a good problem to have."

Mazaris and colleagues looked at 299 sets of turtle populations over different lengths of time around the globe, finding 95 of them increased, while 35 went down. The rest didn't change or there wasn't enough data.

There were increases in North and South America on the Atlantic coast but setbacks in the Asia Pacific region.

"The evidence is widespread and convincing," said Selina Heppell, head of Oregon State University's department of fisheries and wildlife, who wasn't part of the study.

Mast pointed to Kemp's ridley sea turtles as a good example of what's happening, especially in the United States. In the 1940s, there about 40,000 of them, mostly in the southern U.S. and Mexico. By the 70s, there were only 1,200 left.

The U.S. and Mexican governments changed laws, fishing practices and set aside dark, quiet areas for turtles to nest. That population is increasing by about 10 to 15 percent annually, Mast said. That's good, but he said they remain critically endangered.

"Sea turtles are bellwethers. They're flagships that we use to tell the story of what's going on in the oceans," Mast said. "And that's why people should care about turtles."


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San Francisco, Oakland sue major oil companies over rising seas

Kurtis Alexander SF Gate 20 Sep 17;

Rising seas are expected to test San Francisco’s infrastructure along the bay. Already parts of the Embarcadero experience flooding during high tides.

The cities of San Francisco and Oakland are suing some of the world’s largest oil companies over climate change, joining an emerging legal effort to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for the damages wrought by rising seas.

The suits, filed separately in Superior Court in San Francisco and Alameda County and announced Wednesday, claim that a slate of oil, gas and coal producers not only caused the heat-trapping gases that drove sea level rise but knowingly did so, a challenge akin to litigation against big tobacco companies in the 1990s.

Both cities are asking the companies, which include Bay Area-based Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Shell and BP, to pay billions in compensation for past and future flooding, coastal erosion and property damage resulting from climate change.

“The bill has come due,” said San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera. “It’s time for these companies to take responsibility.”

The lawsuits, filed Tuesday, come two months after the counties of Marin and San Mateo, as well as the San Diego County city of Imperial Beach, filed similar challenges amid a growing push to use the courts to go after individual corporations for their contribution to global warming.

Earlier legal attempts to tie specific companies to the problem have been scant and largely ineffective. But as scientific advancements make it increasingly possible to pinpoint the causes of climate change, and with the Trump administration sidelining the issue, law experts say both the number of suits against the fossil fuel industry and their chances of success are bound to grow.

“With the federal administration pulling back, it doesn’t surprise me that more people are turning to the courts,” said Sean Hecht, co-executive director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the UCLA School of Law. “It’s possible that the courts will be more sympathetic to claims when there isn’t concurrent federal regulatory action moving forward.”

Representatives from the oil industry, including Chevron officials, said the legal action was not productive.

“Chevron welcomes serious attempts to address the issue of climate change, but these suits do not do that,” said company spokeswoman Melissa Ritchie in an email. “Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a global issue that requires global engagement and action.”

Eric Wohlschlegel, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute trade group, said the oil and natural gas industry had already made climate change a priority and will “play a leading role in driving down U.S. greenhouse gas and other emissions.”

Like the challenges in Marin and San Mateo counties, the lawsuits in San Francisco and Oakland argue that the oil producers constitute a public nuisance.

The suits claim the extraction and development of fossil fuels prompted a significant increase in global warming, which melted ice sheets and heated sea water so that it expanded, raising ocean levels nearly eight inches in California over the past century. As much as 10 additional feet of sea level rise may occur by 2100, according to the suit.

“As a city surrounded by water on three sides, San Francisco would be devastated,” Herrera said.

In the short term, San Francisco officials expect to pay $500 million to fortify the 3-mile seawall along the Embarcadero to prevent roads, homes and businesses from being submerged. Long-term upgrades are projected to cost $5 billion.

City officials also anticipate paying $350 million to safeguard the city’s sprawling sewer and storm-water system, much of which is housed near Ocean Beach, where shoreline erosion and lapping ocean water threaten to undermine underground treatment and pumping facilities. If the pipes and plants need to be moved, the costs will be even greater.

All told, about $10 billion of public property and as much as $39 billion of private property are at risk, according to the city.

In Oakland, officials are worried about high water at several points along the city’s bay shore, including Jack London Square and Oakland International Airport. Already, the city is planning major floodwall and dike projects to the tune of $56 million. A disproportionate number of people living in these low-lying areas, officials say, are lower-income, minority residents.

“The harm to our cities has commenced and will only get worse,” said Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker.

Both the San Francisco and Oakland lawsuits argue that the oil companies have known since at least the early 1980s that their business was causing this type of damage, yet sought to convince the public it wasn’t.

“Defendants stole a page from the Big Tobacco playbook and sponsored public relations campaigns, either directly or through the American Petroleum Institute or other groups, to deny and discredit the mainstream scientific consensus on global warming, downplay the risks of global warming and even to launch unfounded attacks on the integrity of leading climate scientists,” the San Francisco suit reads.

A similar case was filed by the Alaskan village of Kivalina in 2008. It targeted about two dozen energy companies for their purported role in causing flooding through greenhouse gas emissions, while claiming they conspired to distance themselves from the problem. A federal judge ruled that the public nuisance argument didn’t apply because government regulations, in this case the federal Clean Air Act, already existed and took precedent.

The cases in California, however, are proceeding in state court, where legal experts say judges are less inclined to dismiss lawsuits because of other laws on the books. At the state level, public nuisance cases have been more common and successful.

“I don’t think there’s any question that these state law claims are going to be valid,” said Hecht at UCLA. “The question is whether the courts will conclude that there is causation, and that the harm outweighed the benefits provided to the public.”
Kurtis Alexander is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.


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Melting Arctic ice cap falls to well below average

* This summer’s minimum is the eighth lowest on record
* Shrinking ice cap increasingly linked to extreme weather events around the world, say scientists
Damian Carrington and agencies The Guardian 20 Sep 17;

The Arctic ice cap melted to hundreds of thousands of square miles below average this summer, according to data released late on Tuesday.

Climate change is pushing temperatures up most rapidly in the polar regions and left the extent of Arctic sea ice at 1.79m sq miles at the end of the summer melt season.

This is the time when it reaches its lowest area for the year, before starting to grow again as winter approaches. The 2017 minimum was 610,000 sqmiles below the 1981-2010 average and the eighth lowest year in the 38-year satellite record.

Scientists from the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) said the rate of ice loss this summer had been slowed by cool mid-summer weather over the central Arctic Ocean. The record minimum came in 2012, when the ice area fell to 483,000 square miles below the 2017 extent.

Ted Scambos at NSIDC said the Arctic sea ice had set a record for the smallest winter extent earlier in 2017 and was on track to be close to the 2012 record minimum until July. But a cloudy and cooler than normal August slowed the melting.

“Weather patterns in August saved the day,” Scambos said. The fast shrinking Arctic ice cap is increasingly thought to have major impacts on extreme weather patterns much further south, due to its influence on the jet stream. Floods, heatwaves and severe winters in Europe, Asia and North America have all been linked to the Arctic meltdown. “It’s bound to have an impact on global climate,” Scambos said.

The 2017 sea ice level fits with an overall steady decline over the decades, but one that varies from year to year, Scambos said. “It’s not going to be a staircase heading down to zero every year,” he said. “[But] the Arctic will continue to evolve towards less ice. There’s no dodging that.”

Rod Downie, head of polar programmes at WWF, said: “From space, the loss of Arctic sea ice is the clearest and most visible sign of climate change, and human beings are responsible for most of it. We are engineering our planet and its climate.”

“That’s not good for the people of the Arctic who depend upon sea ice for their traditional way of life and for people across the world who depend on a stable climate,” he said. The Arctic could be virtually free of ice in summer within people’s lifetimes, he warned, and called for more action on climate change by reducing carbon emissions.


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Climate Change Is Already Making People Sicker

Alexandra Sifferlin, Time Yahoo News 21 Sep 17;

Climate change is a central issue at this year’s United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), with multiple high-level meetings on the issue happening amid several devastating natural disasters. Hurricane Irma recently swept through the Caribbean and into Florida, only to be quickly followed by Hurricane Maria.

“Climate change casts a long shadow over the development efforts of our country,” said Darren Henfield, the minster of foreign affairs of the Bahamas, during a UNGA meeting on Hurricane Irma. “The implications of rising sea levels and atmospheric temperatures signal dire consequences for low-lying island states like the Bahamas.” Henfield said that the costs of rebuilding after Irma will be “exorbitant, in the tens of millions,” and he estimates similar damage related to Hurricane Maria.

The impact of climate change on global health is also becoming increasingly clear. At the end of last week, the United Nations released a report showing that global hunger is on the rise; 38 million more people were affected in 2016 than in 2015. Climate change and the spread of violent conflicts are responsible, the report says. Other research has linked climate change to increased respiratory problems, poor nutrition, the spread of infectious disease and even anxiety.

Leaders at the UN say that while more countries are explicitly calling out these risks to health now than in the past, there’s still more work to do. “I think it’s clear quite a few countries, particularly in the developing world where air pollution is high, see that there is an opportunity to reduce climate change and improve health,” said Nick Nuttall, spokesperson for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) during an interview Wednesday. “But the issue still has a ways to go.”

The recent tragic weather events have provided an opening for those conversations. “These hurricane or flooding events have huge implications for water quality,” says Nuttall, citing the risk for things like sewage and other chemicals to get into floodwater and spread. The risk for mosquito-borne diseases ranging from dengue fever to Zika can increase as floods recede, leaving breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other insects.

“Major health benefits come from acting on climate change, both direct and indirect,” says Nuttall. Preventing deforestation limits flooding, which cuts back on the number of pests like mosquitoes that can accumulate and spread diseases, he says.

The issue affects the oceans, as well. “If we lose our coral reefs, we lose revenue for countries, but also fish, which is an important source of protein,” says Nuttall.

Climate change has been a popular subject at this year’s UNGA, and many leaders have publicly reaffirmed their commitment to tackling the problem. But the U.S.’s position on the issue has changed from last year. In June, President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Other U.S. leaders, including California governor Jerry Brown and former vice president Al Gore, took part in UNGA meetings about climate change and assured attendees that other leaders are still addressing the issue.

“We are a country of diverse power centers, and mobilizing those power centers that are not controlled by the President is still a very worthwhile goal and very powerful,” said Brown during a high-level stakeholder meeting on climate change on Monday. “Mayors, governors, presidents and CEOs of companies: they have real power.”

“It would be great if the President would join in the movement,” Brown said, but “he’s not there yet. He believes this whole thing we’re talking about, all the scientists publishing thousands of papers, is all a hoax.”

There are signs that UN leaders are open to engaging with other leaders beyond the U.S. federal government. “The decision [by the U.S.] to withdraw was disappointing for many, including people in the United States,” says Nuttall. “But so many people are moving on this.”

“Now, time is the constraining factor,” he adds. “We need to move very, very fast.”


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