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Best of our wild blogs: 1 Mar 13

Posted by Flora Sawita

Gettin reacquainted
from Life's Indulgences

Question about Lorong Halus
from Water Quality in Singapore

Pockets of wild growth: Are they worth conserving?
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Because the RIGHT environment is here: poster boy Marcus Chua on NUS banner, webpage and newspaper adverts
from Raffles Museum News

Declining populations make peaceful neighbours: Lee Kuan Yew

Posted by Flora Sawita

Lee Kuan Yew Straits Times 1 Mar 13;

WHEN a nation's population is growing it is usually accompanied by a sense of optimism, which is then followed by a desire for expansion. This was the case in both Germany and Japan when World War II broke out.

In 1931 Japan's population was 64.5 million and occupied 145,882 square miles of land. (Its total fertility rate, or TFR, reached 4.1 by the late 1930s.) Japan cast its eye on Manchuria, seeing it as a source of limitless natural resources and as a buffer between itself and Russia, and invaded in September 1931.

China's population was 492.1 million and occupied an area of 3.7 million square miles. But it was not a united land, which made it weak. Japan carried out skirmishes against China during the ensuing years, but in the middle of 1937 the conflicts escalated into full-scale war.

By the end of October 1938 China's Kuomintang government had retreated south to Chungking, and by 1941 Japan had captured all of China's coastal cities and large tracts of the neighbouring countryside, as well as northern and southern French Indochina.

In July 1941 the US government issued an ultimatum to Japan: withdraw from Indochina or the United States would impose an oil embargo on Japan. Remember that in 1941 the US had a population of more than 130 million and a far more powerful industrial base than Japan had.

Nevertheless, on Dec 7, 1941 Japan took a huge gamble and without warning launched more than 350 fighters, bombers and torpedo planes in two waves from six aircraft carriers, attacking American naval vessels at Pearl Harbour. (Fortunately for the US its aircraft carriers were out at sea and escaped the surprise attack.) Japan simultaneously invaded the whole of South-east Asia in order to gain control of the Dutch East Indies' oil.

Inevitably, the US rebuilt its navy, and during the Battle of Midway in June 1942 sank most of those six Japanese aircraft carriers and their support vessels.

However, the Japanese proved to be intrepid fighters, willing to fight to the death rather than surrender. Japan's army became the most brutal and merciless in the world. The Battle of Iwo Jima was so ferocious that afterward the Americans estimated they would lose a million men if they attempted to take the Japanese mainland. Instead they dropped two atomic bombs, one on Hiroshima and the other on Nagasaki, which put paid to Japan's ambitions of empire in Asia.

A similar situation occurred in Germany. Its TFR in 1939 was 2.6. Among other things, Germany wanted lebensraum (living space) for its people. Hitler pushed east during WWII to annihilate the Slavic peoples in Ukraine and Russia so those lands could be populated with Germans. But he and his generals underestimated the endurance and valour of the Russian people, as well as the bitterly cold winter conditions under which they would be fighting. Consequently, they suffered heavy casualties at the hands of the Russian armed forces.

What have we learnt?

BOTH Japan and Germany now have declining birth rates. Germany's TFR was 1.4 in 2012, or about eight births per thousand people; Japan's TFR has also dropped to 1.4. By 2060 it is estimated that Japan's current population of 128 million will have dropped to 87 million. Neither nation has the need nor the stomach to start another war.

One reason for the world's relative peace and stability today is that all developed countries have a TFR of less than 2.1. (Singapore's is 1.2.) Some fast-growing developing countries also have low TFRs; for instance, China's TFR for 2012 is estimated to be 1.6. Such countries no longer have a need to go searching for lebensraum.

But many developing countries have high TFRs, the largest of these being India, with its 2012 TFR estimated to be 2.6. This means more overcrowding and inadequate infrastructure, schools as well as medical and social services. Africa has even higher TFRs, with many of its countries between 4 and 7, far higher than the replacement rate of 2.1.

The world has suffered the consequences of expanding populations before. What looms on the horizon? And will we be prepared to confront it?

The writer is the former prime minister of Singapore. This article first appeared in the March edition of Forbes magazine.

Humans have to re-learn how to live in harmony with earth: Balakrishnan

Posted by Flora Sawita

Olivia Siong Channel NewsAsia 28 Feb 13;

SINGAPORE: Environment and Water Resources Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said human beings will have to re-learn how to live in harmony with the earth.

He said humans have enjoyed a "free ride" for at least two to three centuries but that is coming to an end. This includes the days of continually extracting cheap, plentiful energy from the ground.

Dr Balakrishnan said a new balance will need to be found and this will encompass finding renewable resources of energy and more efficient ways of extracting materials.

He said: "We will have to learn to live in a way that does not pollute or threaten the existence of our neighbours, and even more importantly that of our future generations.

"So in other words, we will have to rediscover this balance, and the civilisations and the nations that discover this first will have a huge head start for the future."

Dr Balakrishnan said this is not only the responsible thing to do but also the right thing to do for the economy.

He was speaking at the Green Wave Environmental Care Competition on Thursday morning.

The competition, organised by Sembcorp Marine's Sembawang Shipyard, has promoted the green cause to about 10,000 students over the last 10 years.

One of the winning entries this year came from Woodlands Secondary School where the team found a way to recycle egg shells into paint.

- CNA/fa

Singapore can be a role model as a sustainable city: Balakrishnan
Sharon See Channel NewsAsia 24 Feb 13;

SINGAPORE: Singapore does not have to sacrifice green spaces to be a beautiful and sustainable city, said Environment and Water Resources Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.

He added Singapore can become a role model for the world to achieve this.

Dr Balakrishnan was speaking to the media during his visit to the Bukit Timah Market and Food Centre on Sunday morning to unveil a new lift for the centre.

He said high density living is the most sustainable and green way of life on the planet and which Singapore can take the lead.

He said: "The most amazing thing about Singapore is that almost half of our land is covered in green. But equally, you realise that this has been achieved because we have been able to go high-rise. Because so many of us live in apartments, and that also give the fantastic landscape, cityscape of Singapore and the bright lights at night.

"So the point I'm making is we have to stop thinking in terms of zero-sum games, that I can only have this or that and not go, but to actually exercise imagination and to make it even better."

On Sunday morning, Dr Balakrishnan, who is the adviser to the Bukit Timah Grassroots Organisations and the area's MP Sim Ann unveiled a new lift for the centre, which they hope will provide easy access for customers and stall holders with heavy goods.

Ms Ann said: "We do have a number of elderly residents and it is a mature estate and I think for them to climb up and down the stairs especially after having done their shopping is not very convenient. Some of them have also told me it is quite painful to do that, so I think with the lift, it improves the situation."

Dr Balakrishnan said the government has improved this food centre over the years based on feedback from patrons and stall holders and will continue to do so.

He added that Singapore will need many more of such places with an authentic identity of its own.

Dr Balakrishnan said hawker centres can be cosy and unique places within the high density urban environment Singapore is moving towards.

His vision of the city, he said, is to make most things, including school, eating places and work, within a walking range of up to 400 or 500 metres.

On the negative reactions from some Singaporeans towards the Population White Paper, Dr Balakrishnan said the high level of emotions is a good thing as it shows Singaporeans care deeply about the country.

He said: "Well, actually part of me is actually quite glad because it shows that the people loves Singapore, people care deeply about the future, care deeply about what happens to our identity our children our livelihood and to our senior citizens. So the level of emotions to me is a good thing. I would be far more worried if people say I don't care, so let's recognise and give credit to Singaporeans for that. That we all care and care very deeply."

He added: "At the end of the day, the government has to do the right thing for the long term good of our people but has to convince our people. If we cannot convince people, then these plans will not work."

- CNA/fa

Dengue fever cases on the rise again

Posted by Flora Sawita

297 people infected last week; several strains of virus afflicting population
Salma Khalik Straits Times 1 Mar 13;

AFTER a short breathing space during the Chinese New Year, dengue fever cases are up again, with 297 people infected last week and another 162 since Sunday.

In the week beginning Feb 10, the number of people diagnosed with dengue fell to 247, from a high of 322 the previous week.

Dr Koh Hau Tek, medical director of the Parkway Shenton chain of clinics, said a possible reason for the fall in numbers that week could be foreign workers going home for the holiday season, as well as Singaporeans taking advantage of the four-day weekend break to travel.

Another reason, he said, could be "the belief that visits to medical facilities during the Lunar New Year period do not bode well for the new year".

So people who are not very sick might prefer to self-medicate.

A worrying trend that has emerged is that seven of the 24 active clusters are caused by Den-1 and Den-3 viral strains.

There are four dengue strains. Since 2007, the dominant strain has been Den-2, so the population might have little immunity against other strains.

Furthermore, someone who has been infected before, tends to be more sick when infected by a different strain.

Three of the four clusters in Hougang, totalling 79 people, are caused by the Den-3 virus. The biggest, with more than 60 people infected, is in Street 51, Street 52 and Avenue 6.

Den-1 is responsible for three other clusters with 12 people infected.

A spokesman for the National Environment Agency said: "NEA and members of the Inter-Agency Dengue Task Force are stepping up inspections to search and destroy mosquito breeding in premises as well as outdoor areas in these estates."

While dengue is endemic in Singapore, it is unusual to have such a high number of infections at this time of the year, which is traditionally the low season.

The peak tends to be in the hotter months in the middle of the year. This year has been an exception, with the number of infections well above the epidemic level of 165 a week, for seven out of the eight weeks.

More than 2,000 people have been sick with dengue this year, compared to fewer than 600 over the same period last year.

Symptoms of dengue fever include a high fever, severe headache, joint and muscular ache and a red rash. In severe cases, the person could bleed from the nose and gums.

Anyone with such symptoms is encouraged to see a doctor as soon as possible.

Malaysia: Declare emergency to stop decline of natural resources, Government urged

Posted by Flora Sawita

Isabella Lai The Star 1 Mar 13;

SUBANG JAYA: The Government must declare a National Defo­restation and Degradation Emer­gency and put in emergency measures to reverse the decline of the country’s natural resources, said Transparency International-Malaysia (TI-M).

Its secretary-general Josie Fernandez said such action should first begin with a “time-bound action-oriented” review of state forest policies.

“We all agree that this is a situation of emergency.

“Environmen­­­tal issues must be at the forefront of the general election because our future generations will be severely affected if nothing is done,” she said at the National Conference on Envi­ronment: People, Forests, Sus­tainability here yesterday.

The seminar was organised by TI-M and 17 other coalition members.

They included the Malaysian Nature Society, Environmental Protection Society of Malaysia and Network of Orang Asli Villages in Peninsular Malaysia.

Stressing the need for greater public participation in creating sustainable development, Fernandez said national policies should be reformed with the aim of developing, conserving and managing resources.

The two-day seminar, she said, had discussed a range of environmental issues affecting communities throughout Malaysia, adding that the coalition would put forth a “manifesto” by the middle of this month to all political parties.

The environmental issues, she said, included the conversion of peat forests to oil palm plantations, widespread logging in forest reserves and forested areas and the invasion of orang asli settlements due to economic development plans.

“For those politicians who make green pledges and are elected to office, we will closely monitor them to see whether they fulfil their promises,” she said.

Fernandez said monitoring would also come in the form of a Key Performance Index system, under which “report cards” would be sent out to the constituencies where their local representatives had made promises.

The coalition, she said, had also come up with a list of recommendations, among which was to amend the National Land Code and State Forest Enactment to include mandatory public participation as well as reintroduce the National Forestry Council.

Fernandez pointed out that in 1992, Malaysia had made a commitment to maintain 50% forest cover.

Asian Development Bank Pledges $4.5 Million to Help Conserve Borneo Forest

Posted by Flora Sawita

Jakarta Globe 27 Feb 13;

The Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB) is providing nearly $4.5 million to help conserve one of the world’s most critical but threatened forest areas in the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo, the bank said in a statement on Wednesday.

“The Heart of Borneo, covering about 22 million hectares, has some of the world’s most important equatorial forests which act as ‘lungs of the earth’ but it is under threat from illegal logging and other harmful activities like poaching,” said Pavit Ramachandran, an environment specialist at ADB’s Southeast Asia Department.

An estimated 12 million local and indigenous people depend on the Heart of Borneo, the statement said, adding that each year, an estimated 1 million cubic meters of timber is smuggled out of the area, leaving destroyed forests, threatened biodiversity, lost livelihood opportunities and higher costs for forest rehabilitation. Conflicting laws and ambiguity over areas of responsibility for managing resources has left the region highly vulnerable.

The project will provide support to strengthen policies and institutions for improved sustainable forest and biodiversity management, and it will help raise the capacity of government agencies to develop sustainable livelihood opportunities, with measures such as pilot schemes for local communities to be paid for ecosystem services.

The project performance targets by 2016 include a 2 percent decrease in forest loss against a 2013 baseline, a 5 percent reduction in the incidence of wildlife poaching, and the enactment of a draft national policy and reform agenda for forest resource management.

The project will also undertake an in-depth study of supply chains related to mining, palm oil, rubber, and tourism, all of which are expanding and exacting an increasingly adverse toll on forest resources.

The project, which will be carried out by the Ministry of Forestry is expected to run from September 2013 to August 2016.

Rhino horn - time to legalise the trade say researchers

Posted by Flora Sawita

Matt McGrath BBC News 28 Feb 13;

A group of environmental researchers says that legalising the trade in rhinoceros horn is necessary to save the animals.

Writing in Science journal, they argue that a global ban has failed to stem an "insatiable international demand".

The authors say the market could be met by humanely shaving the horns of live rhinos.

At present in South Africa, poachers are on average killing around two rhinos every day.

According to the lead author of the research Dr Duan Biggs from the University of Queensland, poaching is now out of control.

"The current situation is failing, the longer we wait to put in place a legal trade the more rhinos we lose," he told BBC News.

"It is an urgent issue, we must start the process of getting a legal trade evaluated and put in place soon."

At present it is estimated that there are around 20,000 white rhinos left with the majority in South Africa and Namibia. There are also an estimated 5,000 black rhinos still alive, but the western black rhino was declared extinct in 2011.
Shaving solution

Any trade in rhino horn is prohibited under the Convention on the international trade in endangered species (Cites). Delegates from 178 countries will meet in Bangkok next week to update the 40 year old treaty.

But according to the Science paper, the ban is actually boosting illegal poaching by constricting the supply of rhino horn and driving up the price. In 1993 a kilogramme sold for around $4,700 - In 2012 it was selling for $65,000 for the equivalent weight.

Attempts to restrict the trade by persuading consumers of Chinese medicine that rhino horn has no therapeutic effect have also failed.

In their report, the researchers argue that by humanely shaving the horns of live rhinos, enough material could be generated to meet global demand. Rhinos grow about 0.9kg of horn each year and the scientists say that the risks to the animals from horn "harvesting" are minimal.

The researchers advocate the setting up of a central selling organisation that could DNA fingerprint the shavings and control the market. Rhino horn would be legal, cheaper and easier to obtain they say.

But many wildlife campaigners fundamentally disagree.

"We don't support the idea of legalised trade at this time because we just don't think it is enforceable," says Dr Colman O'Criodain, a wildlife trade policy analyst with WWF.

"The markets where the trade would be directed, particularly Vietnam, we aren't satisfied that they have the enforcement regime in place that would prevent the laundering of wild rhino through this route."

"We don't think it would stop the poaching crisis, we think the legal trade could make it worse," he added.
Crocodile leads

But Dr Biggs and colleagues point to the experience with crocodiles as an example of how a legalised trading regime can work for the benefit of a threatened species.

"There has been a very successful legal trade for some time now which has more or less eradicated pressures on wild crocodile populations," he said.

"We have strong evidence that it works and the crocodile example shows it can work in low income countries and those without a strong governance structure."

The scientists say they don't like the idea of a legalised trade but believe it is the lesser of two evils. They also argue that because of the trade ban, conservation resources are being taken away from other actions and are being redirected to anti poaching.

"Essentially what is being created is a pseudo war with people some from the local communities who are involved in poaching," says Dr Biggs.

While no proposal to lift the ban is on the table at next week's Cites meeting in Bangkok, the South African government is said to be investigating the issue and says that discussions in the Thai capital will guide their position.

South Africa mulls legal rhino horn trade
(AFP) Google News 28 Feb 13;

CAPE TOWN — South Africa is exploring the legal trade of rhino horn to counter a poaching bloodbath that has surged despite tighter security controls, the environment minister said Thursday.

"We are investigating," minister Edna Molewa told AFP, saying cabinet had mandated the ministry to look into the matter.

The trade is banned internationally but it has been punted as a possible tool against the insatiable Asian demand for horn that is fuelling the slaughter.

So far this year, 128 rhinos have been lost after a record 668 animals were killed last year.

No proposal has been introduced by South Africa to lift the ban at next month's meeting of the UN wildlife trade regulator CITES in Bangkok.

But Molewa said the discussions at the meeting will help guide South Africa's position.

"The reality of the matter is rhino horn is being poached in South Africa right now," she told a media briefing.

"There's a moratorium on trade in South Africa but they still get it out of South Africa. So we are saying let's look at other mechanisms."

Rhino horn brought in about $60,000 (46,000 euro) per kilogramme, while a live animal cost just over half of that.

A study into rhino management had raised the unbanning of the trade and the commercial farming of rhinos, as a possibility.

With the world's biggest rhino population of around 20,500 animals, officials fear that the poaching kill-rate will one day outpace the number of baby rhinos being born.

"So far the mortality rate has not yet surpassed the maternity rate or the birth rate, but we are watching that," said Fundisile Mketani, a senior official in the department.

South Africa has beefed up security controls, including sending an unmanned drone and soldiers into the world famous Kruger National Park.

Saving rhinos from extinction
ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED)
Science Alert 1 Mar 13;

Four leading environmental scientists urged the international community to install a legal trade in rhino horn – in a last ditch effort to save the imperilled animals from extinction.

In an article in the international journal Science the scientists argued that a global ban on rhino products has failed, and death rates among the world’s remaining black and white rhinos are soaring due to illegal poaching to supply insatiable international demand.

“Current strategies have clearly failed to conserve these magnificent animals and the time has come for a highly regulated legal trade in horn”, says lead author Dr Duan Biggs of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) and University of Queensland.

“As committed environmentalists we don’t like the idea of a legal trade any more than does the average member of the concerned public. But we can see that we need to do something radically different to conserve Africa’s rhino.”

The researchers said the Western Black Rhino was declared extinct in 2011. There are only 5000 Black Rhinos and 20,000 White Rhinos left, the vast majority of which are in South Africa and Namibia.

“Poaching in South Africa has, on average, more than doubled each year over the past 5 years. Skyrocketing poaching levels are driven by tremendous growth in the retail price of rhino horn, from around $4,700 per kilogram in 1993 to around $65,000 per kilogram in 2012,” they say.

“Rhino horn is now worth more than gold,” the scientists note. This growth is mainly attributed to soaring demand by affluent Asian consumers for Chinese medicines.

World trade in rhino horn is banned under the CITES Treaty - and this ban, by restricting supplies of horn, has only succeeded in generating huge rewards for an illegal high-tech poaching industry, equipped with helicopters and stun-darts, which is slaughtering rhinos at alarming rates.

Attempts to educate Chinese medicine consumers to stop using rhino horn have failed to reduce the growth in demand, they said.

The scientists argue that the entire world demand for horn could be met legally by humanely shaving the horns of live rhinos, and from animals which die of natural causes. Rhinos grow about 0.9 kg of horn each year, and the risks to the animal from today’s best-practice horn harvesting techniques are minimal. The legal trade in farmed crocodile skins is an example of an industry where legalisation has saved the species from being hunted to extinction.

Furthermore, if rhinos were being ‘farmed’ legally, more land would be set aside for them and this in turn would help to conserve other endangered savannah animals, as well as generating much-needed income for impoverished rural areas in southern Africa the researchers argue.

They advocate the creation of a Central Selling Organisation to supervise the legitimate harvest and sale of rhino horn globally. Buyers would be attracted to this organisation because its products will be legal, cheaper than horn on the black market, and safer and easier to obtain, they said, adding “horn sold through a Central Selling Organisation could be DNA-fingerprinted and traceable worldwide, enabling buyers, and regulators to differentiate between legal and illicit products.”

A legal trade in rhino horn was first proposed 20 years ago, but rejected as ‘premature’.

However, the time has now come for a legal trade in horn, says Dr Biggs. “There is a great opportunity to start serious discussions about establishing a legal trade in rhino horn at the 16th CITES Conference of the Parties (COP-16), which is to be held from 3-14 March this year, in Bangkok.”

“Legitimizing the market for horn may be morally repugnant to some, but it is probably the only sensible way to prevent extinction of Africa’s remaining rhinos,” the scientists conclude.

Their paper "Legal Trade of Africa’s Rhino Horns" by Duan Biggs, Franck Courchamp, Rowan Martin and Hugh Possingham, appears in the latest edition of the journal Science (March 1).

Loss of wild pollinators serious threat to crop yields, study finds

Posted by Flora Sawita

Wild bees and other insects twice as effective as honeybees in producing seeds and fruit on crops
Damian Carrington The Guardian 28 Feb 13;

The decline of wild bees and other pollinators may be an even more alarming threat to crop yields than the loss of honeybees, a worldwide study suggests, revealing the irreplaceable contribution of wild insects to global food production.

Scientists studied the pollination of more than 40 crops in 600 fields across every populated continent and found wild pollinators were twice as effective as honeybees in producing seeds and fruit on crops including oilseed rape, coffee, onions, almonds, tomatoes and strawberries. Furthermore, trucking in managed honeybee hives did not replace wild pollination when that was lost, but only added to the pollination that took place.

"It was astonishing; the result was so consistent and clear," said Lucas Garibaldi, at the National University in Río Negro, Argentina, who led the 46-strong scientific team. "We know wild insects are declining so we need to start focusing on them. Without such changes, the ongoing loss is destined to compromise agricultural yields worldwide."

Pollination is needed for about three-quarters of global food crops. The decline of honeybee colonies due to disease and pesticides has prompted serious concern. Jason Tylianakis, at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, described them as "the species charged with protecting global food security".

The new research shows for the first time the huge contribution of wild insects and shows honeybees cannot replace the wild insects lost as their habitat is destroyed. Garibaldi said relying on honeybees was a "highly risky strategy" because disease can sweep through single species, as has been seen with the varroa mite, and single species cannot adapt to environmental changes nearly as well as a group of wild pollinators.

"The studies show conclusively that biodiversity has a direct measurable value for food production and that a few managed species cannot compensate for the biodiversity on which we depend," said Tylianakis, who was not part of the research team.

Garibaldi's team, whose work was published in the journal Science on Thursday, warn: "Global degradation of natural services can undermine the ability of agriculture to meet the demands of the growing, increasingly affluent, human population."

Garibaldi said: "Without wild pollination, you will not get the best yields and the best agricultural land already farmed, so it is very important to get the maximum yield." He added that, across the world, the yields of crops that needed pollination were rising significantly more slowly than crops that did not.

Wild pollinators perform better than honeybees because they deploy a wider range of pollinating techniques, such as "buzz" pollination. They also visit more plants, meaning much more effective cross-pollination than honeybees, which tend to carry pollen from one flower to another on the same plant.

A second new study published in Science on Thursday showed more than half the wild bee species were lost in the 20th century in the US. It made use of a remarkable record made of plants and pollinators at Carlinville, Illinois between 1888 and 1891 by entomologist Charles Robertson. Scientists combined that with data from 1971-72 and new data from 2009-10 to discover the changes in pollination seen over the century as widespread forest was reduced to the fragments that remain today.

They found that half of the 109 bee species recorded by Robertson had been lost and there had been a serious degradation of the pollination provided by the remaining wild insects, with their ability to pollinate specific plants falling by more than half. There was an increasing mismatch between when plants flowered and when bees were active, a finding consistent with climate change, according to the researchers.

Laura Burkle, at Washington University in Montana, who led the work, said: "There are two sides to this coin. These pollination systems are incredibly robust to environmental change, it is almost miraculous that they continue to pollinate given the land use changes. But the system is also incredibly compromised and further degradation will have serious impacts."

Public concern about environment overshadowed by crisis

Posted by Flora Sawita

Nina Chestney PlanetArk 1 Mar 13;

Public concern about environmental issues hit a 20-year low last year, a poll showed, as worries about the aftermath of the global financial crisis overshadowed growing evidence of man-made climate change.

Canada-based research group GlobeScan surveyed 22,812 people from 22 countries, asking them to rate the seriousness of six issues - air pollution, water pollution, species loss, automobile emissions, fresh water shortages and climate change.

On average, 49 percent of people surveyed said climate change was a "very serious" concern and 50 percent said the same for biodiversity loss. The highest level of concern was about fresh water shortages, with 58 percent of people rating this as a "very serious" concern.

"Scientists report that evidence of environmental damage is stronger than ever but our data shows that economic crisis and a lack of political leadership mean that the public are starting to tune out," said Doug Miller, chairman of GlobeScan.

"Those who care about mobilizing public opinion on the environment need to find new messages in order to reinvigorate a stalled debate."

The survey was conducted in July-September 2012, before hurricane Sandy hit the United States' east coast, which experts said might have raised awareness of extreme weather events.

The poll showed public concern for all issues except climate change was lower last year than in 1992. Many of the sharpest falls in concern occurred over the past two years.

Concern about climate change was actually lower between 1998 and 2003 than last year but no exact reason was given for this.

Falling public concern over environmental issues coincides with the aftermath of the global financial crisis in 2007-8 and a series of disappointing international climate conferences since a United Nations' summit in 2009 in Copenhagen failed to clinch a strong deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Countries are still working on getting a deal signed by 2015 which would legally bind all nations to cut emissions from 2020.

Last year saw evidence mount of man-made climate change and the effects of global warming. Summer sea ice in the Arctic declined to a record low level while carbon dioxide emissions rose to record highs.

In January, a report by the World Economic Forum estimated that curbing climate change would cost the world an extra $700 billion a year. [ID:nL6N0AQDAR]

(Editing by Helen Massy-Beresford)

Sime eyes RM3.2b net profit

Posted by Flora Sawita

KUALA LUMPUR: Sime Darby's net profit for the three months ended December 2012 fell 36 per cent to RM708.5 million from RM1.1 billion, a year earlier. This was the group's third consecutive quarter of declining profits.

Despite the unencouraging performance, president and group chief executive Mohd Bakke Salleh said he is hopeful of achieving a RM3.2 billion net profit for the year ending June 2013. 

He also  assured shareholders that the group is able to go on dishing out at least half of its profit to shareholders, as palm oil prices stabilise and are starting to stage a recovery.

Yesterday, the third-month benchmark palm oil futures on Bursa Malaysia Derivatives dropped RM9 to close at RM2,410 per tonne.

When asked for a forecast, Bakke said he is optimistic that "palm oil prices will average at between RM2,700 and RM2,800" because global demand for the staple food ingredient still outstrips supply.

"In the first half of our financial year, plantations contributed almost half to our total profits. 

"The gap between palm oil and soyaoil has widened to US$320 tonne, so the current attractive prices could give an incentive for consumers in India, China and Pakistan to make the switch. 

"As prices is set to improve in the second half, we hope to do better," he said at a briefing here yesterday.

Also present were group chief operating officer Datuk Abdul Wahab Maskan and group chief financial officer Tong Poh Keow. 

"We are confident of riding out of the current challenging environment and reaping the benefits in the future when the global economy gets on the recovery path," Bakke added.

Sime Darby proposed paying a lower interim dividend of 7 sen a share from 10 sen, previously. Asked if this means lower dividends for shareholders for the full year, Bakke said: "It may seem lower but I assure you we're maintaining a dividend payout of at least half of our profits."

The group's property division suffered a 54 per cent decline in its second-quarter profit due to lower recognition from two mature townships in Klang Valley. Bakke, however, said the division's take-up rate will pick up in the coming quarters. 

"The launch of the Saffron Hills housing in Denai Alam, Selangor, has managed to garner a 92 per cent take-up rate to date, while the Battersea Power Station project in London has already sold 97 per cent of the first phase of its property offerings," he said.

The first phase of the Battersea project will start construction in June, while the second phase will be launched towards year-end.

Sime Darby's industrial division profit dipped 4.0 per cent to RM285 million, due to lower deliveries of heavy machineries to the oil and gas, marine and power generation sectors.

Profit from its motor division for the second quarter went up 7.0 per cent to RM164.6 million, thanks to overall strong sales of BMW, Peugeot and Hyundai models.

The group's search for a foreign partner to grow its healthcare business into that of a regional player is still "work in progress", said Bakke.

Best of our wild blogs: 28 Feb 13

Posted by Flora Sawita

Northern Expedition featured in Knowledge Enterprise
from Mega Marine Survey of Singapore

Job opportunity: Help us out at the Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey! from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

sunda pygmy woodpeckers @ pekan quarry, Ubin - Feb2013
from sgbeachbum

Greening the Rooftops
from mndsingapore by Minister Khaw Boon Wan

Singapore's Earth Hour to encourage lifestyle changes

Posted by Flora Sawita

Channel NewsAsia 27 Feb 13;

SINGAPORE: The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) will partner Singapore companies for this year's Earth Hour to encourage Singaporeans to make four lifestyle changes in support of the environment.

The lifestyle changes are to reduce the use of plastic bags, turn up their air-conditioning by one degree, switch to energy-efficient LED lights, and take short showers.

Corporate partners IKEA, Philips Lighting and Marina Bay Sands have issued challenges to the Singapore public through the Earth Hour "I Will If You Will" platform for three key actions.

Home furnishing retailer IKEA has pledged to have a free reusable Blue Bag Day if 20,000 people in Singapore pledge to use reusable bags instead of plastic bags.

Philips Lighting will provide LED and other sustainable lighting solutions to 1,000 lower-income families if 100,000 Singaporean families convert to LED lighting solutions.

Integrated resort Marina Bay Sands will be engaging its staff and partners in several challenges.

Among them is a challenge to its top 20 vendors to raise their air-conditioning temperatures by one degree.

If this is met, Marina Bay Sands will fulfil the promise to raise its air-conditioning by one degree in its back-of-house and various public areas for one day every month of the year, beginning from Earth Hour 2013.

The public can take up these challenges from today via the Earth Hour microsite at

Earth Hour 2013 takes place at 8.30pm on Saturday, 23 March 2013.


Three companies challenge Singapore to reduce its carbon footprint
Kelly Ng Today Online 28 Feb 13;

SINGAPORE — Three corporations have issued a challenge to Singapore to reduce its carbon footprint, ahead of Earth Hour next month.

Marina Bay Sands (MBS) has pledged to raise its air-conditioning by 1°C in the back of the house and various public areas for a day each month for a year, if its top 20 vendors do likewise. The integrated resort operator has also agreed to turn off all non-essential facade lighting on the first Tuesday of each month, if at least 20 other buildings in the Marina Bay district participate in Earth Hour.

While its challenges are targeted at organisations, two other companies have directed theirs at households. Furniture retailer IKEA will hold a free reusable blue bag day if 20,000 people here pledge to forgo plastic bags for reusable bags, while Philips Lighting will provide sustainable lighting to 1,000 lower-income families if 100,000 Singaporean families convert to LED solutions.

These pledges are in line with efforts made by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore to garner support from individual Singaporeans, with the group’s Chief Executive Elaine Tan noting that simple actions can have a huge collective impact. “With the Government’s projection of population growth, there is an urgent need ... to change our consumption patterns now,” she said.

Earth Hour, which was first introduced to Singapore in 2009 by the WWF, will be celebrated here on March 23. Individuals can accept challenges and pledge their own at

Generate your own power by dancing at Earth Hour
Straits Times 28 Feb 13;

PARTICIPANTS at this year's Earth Hour will have to dance and generate their own electricity for a film screening at The Float @ Marina Bay.

Special dance mats, which will fill an area of about 22 sq m and can accommodate 80 people at a time, will convert kinetic energy from the dancing into electricity to power the outdoor screening.

World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore chief executive Elaine Tan said the March 23 event will show "it is possible to power a sustainable city using clean and renewable energy".

"We are trying to connect people from a symbol (of turning their lights off for one hour), to a very tangible action that they can relate to," said Ms Tan.

WWF Singapore is hoping to attract more than 2,000 participants for the event.

Earth Hour is a global movement which started in Sydney in 2007. It encourages people to switch off their lights for one hour to raise awareness about climate change.

WWF - the main organiser of Earth Hour activities - will also continue with last year's "I Will If You Will" campaign, which encourages people to keep up Earth-friendly practices beyond the annual event.

This year, WWF Singapore hopes to get buildings and households to turn up air-conditioning by 1 deg C. Marina Bay Sands, which has pledged its support for the "One Degree Up" movement, is encouraging its key suppliers to do so.

WWF Singapore also wants to promote the use of environmentally friendly LED lighting. Philips Lighting will provide LED and other sustainable lighting solutions for free to 1,000 lower-income families if 100,000 Singaporean families convert to LED lighting solutions.

WWF Singapore also hopes Singaporeans can adopt "green" habits such as taking shorter showers and using fewer plastic bags.


Malaysian Nature Society dares politicians to declare green stand

Posted by Flora Sawita

The Star 28 Feb 13;

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) has for the first time in its 73-year history challenged politicians to declare their “green stand” in the upcoming general election.

Its president Prof Dr Maketab Mohamed said the society would encourage the public to support political parties and candidates who pledged to protect the environment by addressing weaknesses in the forest management system.

He said MNS had compiled 10 requests for change, including mandatory public consultation before degazettement or conversion of any forest reserve.

Other requests include calling for all clearing and logging within permanent forest reserves and state land forests to be carried out, with the consent of the local communities, as well as with the compliance of existing plans such as the National Physical Plan and the Central Forest Spine masterplan.

“We see that the forests, whether under Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat, are still being cleared. We want an environmental policy that will halt unsustainable development,” he told the media yesterday.

MNS executive director Mohamed Shah Redza Hussein said MNS would analyse the manifestos of each political party and the candidates at the federal and state levels and make its results known to the public.

“With 4,000 members, we managed to mobilise almost 90,000 signatures for our Belum-Temengor campaign within a short time. We speak with the voice of our grassroots supporters,” he said, adding that sustainable development and environmental conservation were important issues to voters today.

MNS conservation head Balu Perumal pointed out that every state had been troubled by environmental problems for decades.

Malaysia: Rescuers save 10 pygmy elephants

Posted by Flora Sawita

The Star 28 Feb 13;

KOTA KINABALU: Quick action by wildlife rescuers saved a herd of 10 Bornean pygmy elephants that had wandered off their range and ventured as close as 10km from the east coast town of Lahad Datu.

The rescue unit from the Sabah wildlife department captured and relocated the nine female adults and the lone male, a four-year-old calf, in an operation from Jan 18 to Jan 25.

Disclosing details of the eight-day roundup here yesterday, unit senior officer Jibius Dausip said the elephants had ventured more than 45km from the Tabin wildlife reserve.

“We received a call from Sri Tungku Simpang Ladang Permai, near Lahad Datu, that the elephants were roaming near his house,” he said.

Wildlife rangers rushed to the scene and captured the elephants using tranqualiser darts.

Department veterinarian Dr Diana Ramirez said the female elephants were transported to the Tabin reserve, with two of the largest animals fitted with satellite collars provided by the Danau Girang Field Centre.

The calf was transferred to the Low Kawi wildlife park, near here. “Its trunk was severely injured, probably from a snare trap. Without captive intervention it would have little chances of survival in the wild,” she said.

Department senior veterinarian Dr Senthivel Nathan said: “We are studying the possibility of releasing future translocated herds together.”

He said they were not able to translocate and release the current herd together due to logistical reasons. “That might also cost more.”

Danau Girang Field Centre director Dr Benoit Goosens said two elephants fitted with satellite collars by the centre showed they had not ventured into plantations around Tabin.

“If they return in the vicinity of Lahad Datu, we will advise plantation owners on how to fence their land to avoid any intrusion.”

Thai premier accepts half-million signature petition from WWF to ban ivory trade

Posted by Flora Sawita

WWF 27 Feb 13;

Bangkok, Thailand – WWF today handed over a global petition calling for a ban on the trading of ivory in Thailand to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, a move that aims to spur legal reforms in the country that will help prevent the slaughter of up to 30,000 wild African elephants a year.

“We already have the existing laws to protect wildlife, and elephants are culturally important to Thailand,” Prime Minister Shinawatra said at a special handover event on Wednesday. “We will take the issues raised by WWF into consideration.”

The Thai government on Wednesday also said that Prime Minister Shinawatra will preside over the opening day of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) taking place in Bangkok this week.

As the host of this critical wildlife trade negotiation, WWF calls on Prime Minister Shinawatra to take bold action to shut down Thailand’s ivory markets. Thailand is the world’s largest unregulated ivory market.
The petition - which had over 500,000 signatures from over 200 countries and territories on 27 February - is part of a WWF and TRAFFIC campaign calling for an announcement by the Thai Prime Minister to ban all ivory sales in Thailand.

“If host-nation Thailand fails to take bold action - and that means nothing less than a ban on all ivory trade - then Thailand's wild elephants could be next,” said Janpai Ongsiriwittaya, Illegal Wildlife Trade campaign leader in WWF-Thailand.

“Perhaps as few as only 2,500 wild elephants are left in Thailand. That's as many elephants as were wiped out each month in Africa in 2012 to fuel demand for ivory trinkets,” added Ongsiriwittaya.

The sale of ivory from wild elephants is currently illegal for CITES-host Thailand, but the sale of ivory from Thai domestic elephants is legal. Determining whether ivory products are derived from wild elephants or domestic animals is extremely difficult, and enforcement agencies are currently unable to detect illegal ivory entering the Thai trade.

Crucially, the nation’s status as an international transportation and shipping hub ensures that a steady stream of black market purchasers enter the country to buy ivory products. It also facilitates smuggling of raw ivory into Thailand, since illegal shipments are easily hidden in the many thousands of containers entering Thai ports everyday.

“While the Thai government has tried several times to reform the law in recent years, nothing has changed. The reality is that the existing legal framework does not prevent Thailand from being the laundering hub for illegal ivory,” said Ongsiriwittaya.

Hollywood actor and activist Leonardo DiCaprio has also appealed to Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to ban ivory trade ahead of CITES.

"Illegal wildlife trade is the most urgent threat facing species like tigers, rhinos and elephants. These animals are being killed every day to feed an escalating demand for their body parts," DiCaprio said.

WWF and TRAFFIC recently called on governments CITES to consider formal trade restrictions against some of the worst offenders in the illegal ivory trade, including Thailand, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

RTRS - INTERVIEW-Brazil soy quality rises but logistical headaches worsen

Posted by Flora Sawita Labels:

BRASILIA, Feb 26 (Reuters) - The quality of Brazilian soybeans is improving as rains that disrupted early harvest let up, the head of the national soy producer association said on Tuesday, but concerns are growing over long delays in getting beans through crowded ports.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects Brazil's production of soybeans to surpass that of the United States for the first time this season with 83.5 million tonnes versus 82 million, straining transport infrastructure to the limit.

Rains from early in the harvest in January slowed the flow of product from top soy-growing state Mato Grosso and many early-harvested beans are being sold at a discount due to moisture damage, Aprosoja's Glauber Silveira said.

"Mato Grosso is already starting to harvest better-quality grains now. Rains are easing," Silveira said during a guest appearance on Reuters Global Ags Forum, an online chat room for grain traders.

Brazilian weather forecaster Somar expects rains to continue this week in the key center-west region where Mato Grosso is situated, but then to shift to the south by early March.

Soy futures in Chicago for March delivery SH3 settled down 3-1/2 cents at $14.47-3/4 a bushel on Tuesday, pressured by prospects for a good South American harvest between Brazil and world No. 3 producer Argentina.

Though the weather has improved for harvesting, getting the crop to port would be a major hurdle, Silveira said. A truck shortage and clogged ports have led to queues of more than one month for ships to load even before peak harvest.

"The queues will get worse ... Costs for transport will without doubt keep rising," Silveira said, adding this burden would largely fall on trading houses. He estimated producers had forward-sold 70 percent of the crop, locking in their price.

"Producers who haven't sold yet may take a hit, though," he said, since traders facing higher costs would likely make lower offers to reduce the impact on their margins, which are being squeezed by spiking transport costs.

The soy sector says it is unable to speed this year's export flow, which is likely to be the most chaotic ever as record production is funneled through ports that have failed to expand in tandem with grains output.
New regulations this season have also restricted the hours truckers can spend behind the wheel each day, slashing road haulage capacity.

The opening of a river port in the north of the country, likely by next year, will provide some relief for next season. Critical rail and road projects costing tens of billions of dollars, however, will take several years to build.

Exacerbating the risks this year, unions representing the country's dock workers could resume strikes after mid-March unless the government modifies plans to reform port regulations, which they say could cost jobs and cut wages.

Silveira said logistics woes were eroding Brazil's edge over the United States in terms of production costs. He expected the two countries' output to be "neck and neck" and it was not yet certain Brazil would claim the rank of top producer this year.

"But I hope so!," he said.

Trader's highlight

Posted by Flora Sawita Labels:

DJI - NEW YORK, Feb 27 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks rose on Wednesday, with major indexes posting their best daily gains since early January, as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke remained steadfast in supporting the Fed's stimulus policy and data pointed to economic improvement.

In a second day before a congressional committee, Bernanke defended the Fed's buying of bonds to keep interest rates low to boost growth. The market's jump of more than 1 percent also came on better-than-expected data on business spending plans and the housing market.

Bernanke's remarks helped the market rebound from its worst decline since November and put the S&P 500 index back above 1,500, a closely watched level that has been technical support until recently. The Dow Jones industrial average closed at a level not seen since 2007 as it again pulled within striking distance of an all-time high.

Speaking before the House Financial Services Committee, Bernanke downplayed signs of internal divisions at the Fed, saying the policy of quantitative easing, or QE, has the support of a “significant majority” of top central bank officials.

Bernanke removed a headwind from markets arising from concerns the Fed's quantitative easing might end earlier than anticipated. Doubts about the Fed's intentions had broken a seven-week streak of gains by stocks.

"The Fed continues to encourage risk-taking in markets, which is a powerful tool that makes the danger not being long stocks, not in being too long," said Tom Mangan, a money manager at James Investment Research Inc in Xenia, Ohio.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 176.32 points, or 1.27 percent, at 14,076.45. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up 19.07 points, or 1.27 percent, at 1,516.01. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 32.61 points, or 1.04 percent, at 3,162.26.

The S&P turned very slightly higher on the week, recovering from the index's biggest daily drop since November on Monday. That drop came on concerns over Italy's election, as well as over sequestration - U.S. government budget cuts that will take effect starting on Friday if lawmakers fail to reach an agreement on spending and taxes.

The index had climbed 6.3 percent for the year before pulling back on concerns about Fed policy and inconclusive elections in Italy, which rekindled fears of a new euro zone debt crisis.

"While the rally remains intact and there are reasons to be long-term bullish here, there are also reasons to not be surprised if we get a correction," said Mangan, who helps oversee $3.7 billion.

Brent Crude Oil - Feb 27 (Reuters) - Brent crude oil futures for April delivery fell 84 cents to settle at $111.87 a barrel, as investors weighed expectations that the Federal Reserve's stimulus program will be maintained against the sixth straight weekly rise in U.S. crude oil stockpiles.

NYMEX - SINGAPORE, Feb 27 (Reuters) - U.S. crude futures edged towards $93 a barrel on Wednesday after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke eased fears of an early retreat by the Fed from its economic stimulus, although worries about Italy's inconclusive election should cap gains.

CBOT Soybean - Soybean futures on the Chicago Board of Trade rose, halting a three-day slide, lifted by export demand for dwindling supplies of U.S. soybeans and worries about Brazilian harvest delays, traders said.

* USDA said private exporters reported sales of 120,000 tonnes of U.S. soybeans to unknown destinations for delivery in the current marketing year and another 120,000 tonnes to China for delivery in 2013/14. 

·         Concerns are growing over long delays in getting newly   harvested Brazilian soybeans through crowded ports, the head of the national soy producer association said on Tuesday.

·         Further support from strong cash markets and expectations   of no deliveries of soybeans, soymeal or corn on first noticeday for CBOT March futures on Thursday. Soyoil deliveries were   estimated at 1,000 to 4,000 contracts. 
·         Basis bids for soybeans shipped by barge to the U.S. Gulf Coast were steady to slightly lower early on Wednesday, but persistent export demand gave the market underlying support.

·         United Grain Corp locked out union workers at its Port of Vancouver grain export terminal in the U.S. Pacific Northwest after an investigation unearthed evidence that a union leader  sabotaged equipment there, a spokesman for the grain company said.

·         Soyoil ends higher despite spillover weakness from  Malaysian palm oil futures, which fell to a near six-week low.
·         Wall Street rallied for a second day as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke reaffirmed his strong support for the Fed's stimulus efforts.

BMD CPO - KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Malaysian palm oil futures inched down on Wednesday to a near six-week low, stretching losses into a sixth straight session with investors remaining cautious that uncertain overseas markets could weigh on demand for the tropical oil.

Prices had crept up 0.7 percent by the midday break as traders retraced from liquidations earlier in the week, but dropped later to as low as 2,395 ringgit per tonne.

Market players are now watching Italy's 6.5 billion euro auction of new 5- and 10-year bonds which kicked off at 1000 GMT for further trading cues.

"There was some retracement in the market earlier but it could not sustain itself because there was no fresh news at those levels, so prices have come under more selling pressure," said a trader with a local commodities brokerage in Malaysia.

The benchmark May contract  on the Bursa Malaysia Derivatives Exchange fell 0.4 percent to 2,410 ringgit ($777) per tonne by the day's close. Prices traded in a tight range between 2,395 and 2,443 ringgit.

Total traded volume stood at 34,090 lots of 25 tonnes each, higher than the usual 25,000 lots.

Palm oil production in Malaysia, the world's No.2 producer, has slowed from its seasonal peak in September. At the same time stronger-then-expected exports of Malaysian palm oil products -- the cheapest in the world -- are widely expected to help ease inventory levels that are still high.

"With a rising export trend and falling production rate, we see a good chance the stockpile levels in February could come down," said Phillip Futures analyst Ker Chung Yang in Singapore. He expects end-stocks in February to fall to 2.2 million tonnes from 2.58 million now.

But the uncertainty in Europe has hampered any sustained rally in palm, as investors fret over political gridlock in Italy which they fear could reignite the euro zone financial crisis and weaken global markets.

"The inconclusive Italy scenario is worrying for the market, not only for palm oil but the commodities and equities markets as well. It's a timely reminder for global investors that the European crisis is not over yet," added Ker.

In other markets, oil traded near $113 a barrel, edging up from a one-month low, as world powers ended two days of talks with Iran over its nuclear work with no sign of a breakthrough.

In competing vegetable oil markets, U.S. soyoil for May delivery rose 0.1 percent in early Asian trade. The most-active September soybean oil contract on the Dalian Commodity Exchange inched down 0.9 percent.

Regional Equties - BANGKOK, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Indonesia's benchmark stock index rallied to a record closing high on Wednesday thanks to solid gains in large market caps such as PT Telekomunikasi Indonesia  and as upbeat Standard & Poor's report lifted appetite for banking shares.

Jakarta's Composite Index  rose 1.14 percent, the biggest gain in more than five weeks, to 4,716.42, above Monday's record close of 4,696.11. Shares in Telkom Indonesia, the most actively traded by turnover, jumped 3.1 percent.

Banking shares were in favour, led by a 2.9 percent gain in Bank Rakyat Indonesia, with Standard & Poor's expecting Indonesian banks to maintain strong profitability, high loan growth, and sound capitalisation this year.

Others in the region came off day's highs, with late selling sending Thai stocks to two-week lows. The Philippines  edged down 0.22 percent to 6,616.27, extending its loss for a second session after Monday's record close of 6,721.33.

The region saw mixed foreign flows on the day. According to traders, Indonesia saw inflows of 813 billion rupiah ($83.75 million) on the day while the Malaysian bourse reported foreign buying of 125 million ringgit ($40.30 million).

The Thai stock market saw foreign selling of 204 million baht ($6.84 million), stock exchange data showed.
Chang Chiou Yi, a regional strategist at CIMB-GK Research, has an 'overweight' rating on Indonesia and Thailand.

"Both markets have embarked on an investment upcycle. Stable politics have helped business decision and there remain structural positives such as the rising income base, property demand and upcountry spending demand," Chang said.

Local warming: U.S. cities in front line as sea levels rise

Posted by Flora Sawita

Deborah Zabarenko PlanetArk 27 Feb 13;

The signs of rising water are everywhere in this seaport city: yellow "Streets May Flood" notices are common at highway underpasses, in low-lying neighborhoods and along the sprawling waterfront.

Built at sea level on reclaimed wetland, Norfolk has faced floods throughout its 400-year history. But as the Atlantic Ocean warms and expands, and parts of the city subside, higher tides and fiercer storms seem to hit harder than they used to.

Dealing with this increased threat has put Norfolk at the forefront of American cities taking the lead on coping with intense weather, from floods to droughts to killer heat, without waiting for the federal government to take the lead.

In Norfolk, home to the largest U.S. Naval base and the second biggest commercial port on the U.S. Atlantic coast, floods are a perennial problem that has worsened in recent decades, Assistant City Manager Ron Williams Jr told Reuters.

The relative sea level around Norfolk has risen 14.5 inches (.37 meter) since 1930, when the low-lying downtown area routinely flooded. The floods are worse now, because the water doesn't have to rise as high to send the river above its banks and into the streets, Williams said.

At the same time, severe storms are more frequent.

"We've had more major storms in the past decade than we've had in the previous four decades," he said.

Extreme rainfall events have increased too.

Williams does not call what's happening in Norfolk a symptom of climate change.

"The debate about causality we're not going to get into," he said.

Still, many scientists see the frequent flooding as consistent with projected consequences of rising global temperatures, spurred by increased emissions of greenhouse gases.


No matter what city leaders call it, some of their actions speak louder than words.

Williams said Norfolk, a city of 243,000, needs a total investment of $1 billion in the coming decades, including $600 million to replace current infrastructure, to keep the water in its place and help make homes and businesses more resilient.

Paying for it will be a burden, Williams said. The city is working with the state legislature and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and hoping federal block grants will help too.

One proposed project, a flood wall to protect the historic Ghent neighborhood and others, would cost an estimated $20 million to $40 million.

Williams said a similar barrier completed in 1970 banished perennial floods from what is now the high-rise downtown. That provided a great return on a $5 million investment, Williams said, with $500 million in assessed real estate value in the area that used to flood but now doesn't.

These measures have made Norfolk a leader for other coastal cities on how to adapt to climate change, said Cynthia Rosensweig, a NASA climate scientist who advises New York City on its response. Rosensweig, Williams and others note that building resilience into infrastructure before disasters hit is far less expensive than rebuilding afterwards.

Henry Conde, a retired U.S. Navy captain who lives in Ghent, said he and his neighbors feel the flood threat viscerally: "There's a low-grade fever, so to speak, or an awareness throughout the year. People are always on edge."

Armpit-high waders, stand-alone generators and sump pumps are standard equipment for when the floods come and the power goes out, Conde said in an interview at his 115-year-old home. Winter nor'easters can be just as bad as summer hurricanes and preparing for the worst beforehand instead of mopping up later is simply an economic reality, he said.

Superstorm Sandy's strike on New Jersey and New York in late October heightened awareness of the need to prepare for incoming water. Sea levels are rising along almost every part of the U.S. coastline, except in Alaska, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ( here ).

Nearly three-quarters of U.S. cities see environmental shifts that can be linked to climate change, but they lag behind the rest of the world when it comes to planning how to adapt to these changes and assessing how vulnerable they are, according to a survey by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the non-profit International Council on Local Environmental Initiatives, or ICLEI.

U.S. cities have traditionally focused more on mitigating climate change than adapting to it, the opposite of most cities in the developing world, where vulnerability to climate-fueled natural disasters is already high, said ICLEI's U.S. program director Brian Holland.

More than 1,000 city leaders have signed the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement (here), in which they promise to try to beat global targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions in their communities and urge Congress to pass carbon-cutting laws.

But labeling it global warming can be dicey, given that there is still controversy, particularly among politicians, over whether human activity is contributing markedly to increasing temperatures.

"Given the politicized view of climate change in this country, it seems that some cities are emphasizing risk management - that way they can get on with the important tasks of reducing risk and safeguarding local residents and municipal assets," said MIT's JoAnn Carmin, author of the 2012 survey of 468 cities worldwide, including 298 in the United States.

Still, city leaders can often reach consensus and act more easily than some members of Congress can, said Jim Brainard, the Republican mayor of Carmel, Indiana, and head of the Energy Independence Task Force for the U.S. Conference of Mayors. One reason for this is that lobbyists opposed to climate measures rarely target mayors or other community leaders, he added.

(Reporting By Deborah Zabarenko.; Editing by Ros Krasny and Andre Grenon)

RTRS - Palm oil demand to rise on competitive price- Oil World

Posted by Flora Sawita Labels:

HAMBURG, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Palm oil’s competitive price against other vegetable oils means palm is likely to win more sales in coming months in markets including India, Europe, China and even the United States, Oil World said on Tuesday.

“The preconditions for the demand of palm oil and its sister product palmkernel oil are unusually favourable for the remainder of this season, given waning competition from other vegetable oils,” Hamburg-based oilseeds analysts Oil World said.

Malaysian fob export prices for refined, bleached and deodorised palm oil were around $270 a tonne cheaper than Argentine soyoil export prices in the past week, Oil World said.

This is down from $330 in December but still makes palm oil attractive compared with seed-based edible oils such as soyoil, rapeseed oil and sunflower oil, it said.

Global October 2012/September 2013 palm oil imports are likely to rise to 42.7 million tonnes from 40.2 million tonnes in the same period a year previously, Oil World estimates.

Among major buyers is likely to be India, which may raise palm and palmkernel oil demand this season by 0.7 million tonnes, Oil World said.

The European Union is likely to cut seed oil consumption by 0.3-0.4 million tonnes this season and raise consumption of palm oil and palmkernel oil by roughly 0.5 million tonnes, it said.

“In China, the consumption of palm oil and palmkernel oil may show a relatively moderate increase of 0.3-0.4 million tonnes this season given the country’s strong focus on oilseed imports and crushings to satisfy its (animal feed) protein requirements,” it said.

The United States may also raise palm oil imports by 0.1 million tonnes, especially for biodiesel, but this may depend on U.S. rules about sustainable palm oil production, it said.

Trader's highlight

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DJI - NEW YORK, Feb 26 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks rebounded from their worst decline since November on Tuesday after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke defended the Fed's bond-buying stimulus and sales of new homes hit a 4 1/2-year high.

The S&P 500 had climbed 6 percent for the year and came within reach of all-time highs before the minutes from the Fed's January meeting were released last Wednesday. Since then, the benchmark S&P 500 has fallen 1 percent.

Bernanke, in testimony on Tuesday before the Senate Banking Committee, strongly defended the Fed's bond-buying stimulus program and quieted rumblings that the central bank may pull back from its stimulative policy measures, which were sparked by the release of the Fed minutes last week.

Bernanke's comments helped ease investors' concerns about a stalemate in Italy after a general election failed to give any party a parliamentary majority, posing the threat of prolonged instability and financial crisis in Europe, and sending the S&P 500 to its worst decline since Nov. 7 in Monday's session.

Bernanke "certainly said everything the market needed to feel in order to get comfortable again," said Peter Kenny, managing director at Knight Capital in Jersey City, New Jersey.

"The fear is we were going to see a rollover, and the first shot over the bow was what we saw out of Italy yesterday with the elections," Kenny said. "When it came to U.S. markets, we saw some of that bleeding stop because our focus shifted from the Italian political circus to Ben Bernanke."

Economic reports that showed strength in housing and consumer confidence also supported stocks. U.S. home prices rose more than expected in December, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller index. Consumer confidence rebounded in February, jumping more than expected, and new-home sales rose to their highest in 4-1/2 years in January.

However, the central bank chairman also urged lawmakers to avoid sharp spending cuts set to go into effect on Friday, which he warned could combine with earlier tax increases to create a "significant headwind" for the economic recovery.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 115.96 points, or 0.84 percent, to 13,900.13 at the close. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index rose 9.09 points, or 0.61 percent, to 1,496.94. The Nasdaq Composite Index  advanced 13.40 points, or 0.43 percent, to close at 3,129.65.

Despite the bounce, the S&P 500 was unable to move back above 1,500, a closely watched level that was technical support until recently, but could now serve as a resistance point.

The CBOE Volatility Index  or the VIX, a barometer of investor anxiety, dropped 11.2 percent, a day after surging 34 percent, its biggest percentage jump since Aug. 18, 2011.

The uncertainty caused by the Italian elections continued to weigh on stocks in Europe. The FTSEurofirst-300 index of top European shares closed down 1.4 percent. The benchmark Italian index tumbled 4.9 percent.

Brent Crude Oil - NEW YORK, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Brent crude oil futures fell $1.73, or 1.51 percent, to settle at $112.71 a barrel on Tuesday as inconclusive Italian election results revived investor concerns about instability in the euro zone and threatened the outlook for fuel demand.

CBOT Soybean Soybean futures on the Chicago Board of Trade fell for a third day on pressure from the expanding Brazilian soybean harvest and market participants exiting long soybean/short corn spreads, traders said.

* Unconfirmed talk that China may sell 1 million to 2.5 million tonnes soybeans out of reserves to ease supplies until Brazilian shipments arrive.
·         Soymeal futures closed higher while soyoil sank for a  fifth day, with March soyoil briefly dropping below 49  cents per lb, its lowest level since Dec. 31.

·         The European Union is likely to raise soymeal imports in  coming months as supplies from large harvests in Argentina and  Brazil come on to the global market - analysts Oil World.
·         Palm oil’s competitive price against other vegetable oils   means palm is likely to win more sales in coming months in  markets including India, Europe, China and even the United  States - Oil World. 
·         Germany’s 2013 rapeseed crop is likely to rise to 5.3   million tonnes from 5.0 million tonnes in 2012, the German Farm Cooperatives Association said.

BMD CPO - KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Malaysian palm oil futures slipped on Tuesday to their lowest in more than five weeks, as weak overseas vegetable oil markets kept investors on edge, although upbeat export data and slowing production helped limit losses.

China and U.S. soy markets, which are tracked by palm, remained weak after suffering steep falls on Monday and as better weather in the U.S. Midwest and South America improved the prospects for supply.

But stronger-than-expected exports in the first 25 days of February, buoyed by increased shipments of Malaysian palm oil products to Europe and India, kept prices from tumbling further.

"The market is a little oversold at the current juncture after a slew of negative news from pundits and analysts," said a trader with a local commodities brokerage in Malaysia.

"The external market 'grains' are a major contributor to the current low prices. We anticipate demand to pick up very soon, and prices to recover once the selling pressure subside."

The USDA outlook numbers, with projections of a record soybean crop at 3.4 billion bushels, are bearish, he added. "This certainly spells trouble for palm oil in the second quarter of 2013."

The benchmark May contract on the Bursa Malaysia Derivatives Exchange had dipped to 2,411 ringgit per tonne, the lowest since Jan. 21, before closing at 2,417 ringgit ($779), a fall of 2.2 percent.

Total traded volume stood at 35,620 lots of 25 tonnes each, higher than the average 25,000 lots.

Investors are pinning hopes on healthy exports alongside seasonally slowing production to ease the current stockpile of 2.58 million tonnes in Malaysia, the world's No.2 producer.

"At the end of the month we might see an 18 percent drop in production. And with this kind of exports, we will definitely see a drawdown in the stocks," said a trader who deals with a foreign commodities brokerage.

Oil fell below $114 a barrel on Tuesday, hit by doubts over demand growth as a potential political vacuum in Italy revived concern over instability in the debt-plagued euro zone. 

In competing vegetable oil markets, the U.S. soyoil for May delivery fell 1.3 percent in late Asian trade. The most-active September soybean oil contract on the Dalian Commodity Exchange slipped 1.5 percent.

Regional Equities - BANGKOK, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Southeast Asian stock markets fell on Tuesday on profit-booking in recent gainers such as PT Bank Mandiri Persero Tbk  and Ayala Land Inc after Italy's inconclusive election fuelled concerns of a resurgent euro zone debt crisis.

Jakarta's Composite Index  lost 0.7 percent to 4,663.03 with Bank Mandiri fell 0.5 percent after Monday's 2.1 percent gain on strong results.

The Philippines  slid 1.4 percent to 6,630.67 as large cap Ayala Land declined 3.5 percent.

Indonesia and the Philippines both hit record closes on Monday, making them among overbought markets, with the 14-day relative strength index ending at 72.4 and 70.2, respectively, on Tuesday. The level of 70 or above indicates a market is overbought.

Singapore's Straits Times Index fell 1.1 percent to a one-month low of 3,254.26 on heavy volume of 3.3 times a monthly average, led by a 6.6 percent drop in shares of Global Logistic Properties Ltd .

The Ho Chi Minh Stock Exchange's VN Index dropped 3.9 percent, its biggest one day loss since August.

Malaysia's main index eased 0.2 percent to 1,624.18, with retail and domestic institution selling shares worth $14.8 million and $26.7 million, respectively, countering foreign buying on the day, stock exchange data showed.

Thai SET index  finished down 0.6 percent at 1,530.32. Top energy firm PTT Pcl  fell 1.4 percent after it reported a weaker-than-expected net profit for the fourth quarter.

More than 70 stocks were trading at high valuations, about 40 times price to earnings multiple, Thai stock exchange president Charamporn Jotikasthira said.


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