Fire destroys 8,000sq.m of forest

Fire destroys 8,000sq.m of forest

Last update 12:25 | 05/12/2018

VietNamNet Bridge – Nearly 8,000sq.m of the forest was destroyed after a fire broke out in Cua Ong Ward, Cam Pha Town in northern Quang Ninh Province on Tuesday.

Local authorities mobilized hundreds of local people, firefighters and soldiers to help extinguish the blaze.

As it is the dry season, the flames spread quickly. The location of the fire on top of a hill made it difficult to bring the flames under control.

The fire started at around 9.30am and it took more than an hour to extinguish the blaze.

The investigation is underway to find out the cause of the fire.

In October, the Viet Nam Administration of Forestry (VAF) urged localities nationwide to take drastic measures to prevent and control forest fires, given the hot and dry weather in the country.

Annually, the northern and central provinces are often hit by some 12 hot spells. This year, it is forecast that fewer hot periods will occur, and they will only last for a few days. However, it is likely that a hot spell, as severe as that in 2017, will hit Vietnam, according to the National Hydro-meteorological Forecast Centre.

In the 2017 summer season, Vietnam was hit by 15 hot spells on a large scale. In some localities, the temperature was recorded upwards of 41 to 42 degrees Celsius.

Link: https://english.vietnamnet.vn/fms/society/213964/fire-destroys-8-000sq-m-of-forest.html

Indonesia is one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases, but manages to fly well below the radar.

The most important country for the global climate no one is talking about

Indonesia is one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases but manages to fly well below the radar.

World leaders are gathered this month in Katowice, Poland, for COP24, the most important global meeting on climate change since the 2015 UN Climate Conference in Paris. At the top of the agenda: getting countries to agree on rules to implement the Paris climate accords for 2020 when the pact goes into effect.

The meeting serves as a reminder of troubling facts — President Donald Trump still intends to withdraw the United States from the accord, and the most recent UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that we have just 12 years to limit average global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

But flying well below the radar in all of this is Indonesia, currently the world’s fifth biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, which come mainly from land use, land use change, and forestry. Today Indonesia stands out for how little it has done to implement policies that would enable it to meet its commitment under the Paris agreement: cutting emissions from deforestation by 29 percent below business-as-usual projections by 2030.

“To really achieve the climate targets … there is a need to come up with new policies that are more ambitious,” Hanny Chrysolite, the forest and climate program officer with the World Resources Institute Indonesia, said.

In fact, Indonesia is moving in the opposite direction. The government plans to build more than 100 coal-fired power plants, and expand the production of palm oil for local biofuel consumption, which will involve further deforestation of carbon-rich tropical forests. Add the expansion of a car-centric transportation infrastructure, a growing middle class and very little investment in renewables, and you have the recipe for a climate disaster.

If Indonesia fails to reduce emissions and build a clean energy infrastructure, there is little hope for the world to meet its global climate goals. Like the US, China, India, and Europe, Indonesia is crucially important to the success of the Paris agreement. What’s needed now, climate experts on the ground say, is a rapid mobilization from the Indonesian government, the private sector, and the global community to shift the country to a new climate-conscious paradigm.

Indonesia’s forests are crucially important carbon stocks

Worldwide, emissions from land are responsible for about a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to data from the World Bank. Indonesia is the largest global contributor to these emissions, spewing 240 to 447 million tons of CO2 annually from agriculture, the conversion of carbon-rich forests to plantations and other uses, according to data from Global Forest Watch.

Tropical rainforests and peatlands — wetland ecosystems that contain peat, a spongy, organic material formed by partially decayed plants — store huge amounts of carbon. According to a Nature Communications paper published in June, one hectare of rainforest converted into a palm oil plantation in Indonesia results in 174 lost tons of carbon.

“The quantity of carbon released when just one hectare of forest is cleared to grow oil palms is roughly equivalent to the amount of carbon produced by 530 people flying from Geneva to New York in economy class,” Thomas Guillaume, one of the authors, said in a statement.

Back in 2015, an extremely dry rainy season connected to a strong El Nino event led to massive fires across the archipelago, particularly on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan. They emitted more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than the United Kingdom does in an entire year.

Indonesia’s forests are still being cut down and fires are still burning

Unfortunately, there has been little progress towards reducing land-based emissions in Indonesia thus far. Despite the creation of a peatland restoration agency in 2016, followed by the extension of a moratorium on partial forest clearing, satellite monitoring shows that palm oil and paper plantations — the key drivers of deforestation and fires — continue to expand, with at least 10,000 square miles of primary forest and peatland disappearing since 2011, according to a civil society coalition.

“They are doing some good things, but it is not enough,” said Teguh Surya with Yayasan Madani Berkelanjutan, an Indonesian environmental NGO. “Palm oil expansion is still in planning, and on the ground, we found some peat areas still open for plantation, there are still weaknesses in law enforcement.”

Essentially, efforts to reduce fires after the 2015 event have had too little an impact thus far, and current plans could make things a lot worse. More than 10 percent of the Indonesian population lives below the poverty line, and the country wants to build 3 million hectares of oil palm and sugar plantation in Papua. If these go forward, advocates worry that they could bring fire problems to the only part of the country with native forests intact and increase the country’s agricultural greenhouse gas emissions even more.

Indonesia’s growing economy and energy demands could make things much, much worse

Here’s where things get even more concerning. Even if all the plans to reduce deforestation succeed, fires are eliminated, and palm oil production is shifted towards sustainable practices, it might not be enough. Indonesia’s fast-growing middle class has an increasing demand for energy. In fact, WRI projects that by 2026 or 2027, energy, not land, will be the largest contributor of Indonesian emissions.

There are two facets to this challenge. One is electricity generation. Indonesia has vast coal reserves, mostly in Borneo, where coal mining is also a cause of deforestation. However, the global coal market has a glut, and Indonesian imports to places like China, South Korea, and India are falling. In response, the Indonesian government had a simple plan; replace this foreign demand with local consumption, through the construction of over 100 new coal-fired power plants throughout the country, 10,000MW of power generation capacity, on top of the existing current 42, making Indonesia one of the last places in the world pushing forward on coal energy.

Then there’s transportation. Indonesia is building new highways and car ownership is growing. Oil imports tripled between 2004-2012, and that’s despite the country’s fairly large oil and gas production capacity.

The real tragedy is that Indonesia has the immense renewable capacity, with ample wind, solar, hydro and geothermal resources across its many islands. Yet, currently, it is only utilizing a paltry 2 percent of that capacity, and even that is mostly from large-scale hydro — a poor choice for a number of reasons.

Some small signs of hope

One bright spot: the Indonesian government is finally ready to begin accepting payments as part of the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) program. REDD+ provides direct payments for preserving intact forests, and Norway has already pledged $1 billion specifically to protect Indonesian forests.

If climate finance can get scaled up, this could be a tool to provide substantial funds into forest protection. Jonah Busch, an environmental economist with the Earth Innovation Institute, thinks that Brazil, which dramatically pared its own deforestation between 1996 and 2010 (though the trend has been worrying since then), could be a model for Indonesia to reduce its own deforestation.

“Five, ten, or twenty billion [dollars] for protecting forests would have a much bigger impact,” said Busch. “That would happen when rich countries get much more serious about addressing climate change than they currently are.”

There is potential for clean energy too. A new parliamentary Green Economy Caucus has been created, and there are calls for a renewable energy law, which could level the playing field with fossil fuels. It may not take much support to allow alternatives like solar, wind, and geothermal to compete. In nearby China, India, and Thailand, clean energy is already competing with and beating fossil fuel, years ahead of projections. Indonesia could follow.

“Indonesia recently said that they won’t be contracting for more coal-fired power plants, already too many in the pipeline, and will focus on renewable energy targets and revising air emissions standards,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, an Asian coal and air pollution expert for Greenpeace. “A lot of positive things are happening.”

“The US not taking climate seriously gives a big excuse for the Indonesian government to not take it seriously either”

The question: Can these changes happen fast enough for Indonesia to hit the global targets? Right now, Indonesia’s policies are allowing for deforestation, and are far too fossil-fuel centric. Globally, climate investments and global funds like the maligned Green Climate Fund, which could further incentivize forest protection alongside REDD+, have yet to materialize, with disbursements far behind what was promised at Paris.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s abdication of responsibility for climate change means that countries like Indonesia will be less inclined to make the hard decisions essential to radically drawing down emissions.

“The US not taking climate seriously gives a big excuse for the Indonesian government to not take it seriously either,” said Busch. “They have lots of other domestic concerns.”

One thing that could help is stronger requirements from countries that import commodities responsible for deforestation and fires, such as palm oil. Europe — after years of grandstanding — is finally going to revise its biofuels policy to reduce imports of climate-intensive alternative fuels like palm oil. If more countries follow, this could force Indonesia to make the palm oil industry more sustainable.

Financial institutions can also play a greater role. Right now, many foreign banks, particularly those from Japan, are the chief funders of coal-fired power plants. Shifting those investments away from coal and towards clean energy projects could help hasten Indonesia’s move towards clean energy alternatives.

Indonesia can’t solve climate change on its own. But the world can’t stop climate change without Indonesia. Global financial institutions, including banks, funders, and foreign governments, need to do more to reduce deforestation, restore degraded land, and ensure the country does not get locked into decades of burning fossil fuels.

Nithin Coca is an Asia-focused freelance journalist covering environment, human rights, and political issues across the region.

Link: https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2018/12/5/18126145/indonesia-climate-change-deforestation

Scientists determine cause behind huge Asian smoke cloud

Scientists determine the cause behind huge Asian smoke cloud

NOV 28, 2018 10:43 AM PST | WRITTEN BY Kathryn DeMuth Sullivan

New research published recently in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences presents surprising findings concerning the origins of the smoke cloud that hung over Southeast Asia for several months in 2015. The smoke, which came from wildfires that spread throughout Indonesia in 2016 due to a severe El Nino-driven drought, stayed clouding the region throughout the summer and fall of 2015. Scientists have now determined that the smoke contained carbon from plants that were alive during the Middle Ages, as a result of the burning of ancient peat.

“Our research shows that almost all of the smoke emissions originated from the burning of Holocene-aged peat,” said first author Elizabeth Wiggins, a postdoctoral research fellow at NASA’s Langley Research Center. “Although this peat has functioned as a massive terrestrial carbon storage reservoir over the last several thousand years, it is now a significant source of carbon to the atmosphere.”

The researchers were able to determine the origin of the smoke through isotope dating of smoke particles’ carbon atoms. After determining that the average particle was as old as 800 years, the scientists cross-analyzed the data with models of the wind-driven movement of smoke plumes and were able to pinpoint that the smoke came from burning peat on Borneo and Sumatra of Indonesia.

“These are the first direct measurements showing the smoke originated from the combustion of peat layers that are hundreds to thousands of years old,” said study co-author James Randerson. “Farmers drain the peats because waterlogged soils are bad for growing oil palms and other crops, and they seek to burn off surface layers to get to the mineral soil below.”

Peatlands are some of the most effective carbon sinks, holding more carbon all of the living biomass of the Amazon rainforest. The release of this huge amount of carbon into the atmosphere has grim consequences for the world as a whole, not just the orangutans and Sumatran tigers that lost their habitat.

The authors want to drive home one specific point from their findings: “This was all human-driven,” Randerson said. “Such fires help a small part of the population, but the costs for people far away in other cities in the region are enormous.” In order to preserve peatlands and thus keep huge quantities of carbon out of the atmosphere, we must find another way to pursue agriculture. Burning is no longer an option. “We need to identify more sustainable agricultural solutions in which we preserve tropical forests and peatlands to maintain all of these benefits while at the same time enhancing food security,” co-author Claudia Czimczik said.

Link: https://www.labroots.com/trending/earth-and-the-environment/13392/scientists-determine-cause-huge-asian-smoke-cloud

Sparking debate over fire use on agricultural land in Indonesia

Sparking debate over fire use on agricultural land in Indonesia

ANGGRITA CAHYANINGTYAS | Monday, 26 Nov 2018

New peatlands research center aims to reshape conservation efforts

Indonesia “I can keep my land fertile and I’m able to work regardless of the season, but my neighbor who uses the burning method has difficulties during the rains because their land becomes a swamp,” said Akhmad (Taman) Tamanuruddin, addressing delegates at the launch of a new peatland research center in Indonesia.

Taman is a farmer in Palangka Raya, the capital of Indonesia’s province of Central Kalimantan on the island of Borneo. He rejects the traditional local practice of using fire to clear residue from the fertile peatlands before planting his crops.

Instead, he applies herbicides and lets the old vegetation die off and decompose, allowing it to become a natural fertilizer.

Traditional burning practices are under scrutiny by scientists and policymakers because peatlands are effective carbon sinks. They are made up of layers of decomposed organic material built up over thousands of years. When they burn, warming gases are released into the atmosphere exacerbating climate change. Fires often burn out of control, damaging vast areas and drying out the land, rendering it useless for farming.

In 2015, the impact of wildfires was far-reaching. Fire destroyed more than 2.6 million hectares of land — an area 4.5 times the size of the Indonesian island of Bali, according to the World Bank. The price tag for the damage was more than $16 billion, the bank said.

Indonesia has since boosted efforts to ban the use of fire to clear forested peatlands to plant oil palms, maize or rice by establishing the Peatland Restoration Agency in 2016.

Legislation banning fire use to clear land was introduced in 2009 and 2014.

Research compiled in Riau province by Indonesia’s Forestry and Environment Research, Development and Innovation Agency (FOERDIA) of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MOEF) shows that land prepared by burning vegetation before planting is more productive. They examined peatlands cultivated for oil palm, rubber, corn, rice, and other food crops.

Oil palm yield in burned peatlands was found to be almost 30 percent greater than in those that were not, producing yields of about 13.3 tons per hectare a year. In peatlands that were not burned, yield was only 9.4 tons per hectare a year. Rubber tree yields were found to decrease on average by 46 percent if the land was not burned. Corn yield disparities were even more extreme.

Burning resulted in higher soil fertility in the peatlands. It also reduced acidity, contributing to the higher yields.

Aware of the yield benefits, many farmers involved in the study disregarded prohibitive legislation and burned off their fields. Of the study participants, only 49.3 percent stopped the practice, while 45.2 percent of respondents continued and 5.5 percent said they would give up on farming as they did not see any alternative to burning.

“Some farmers are unwilling to cultivate corn without burning since the yield will drop sharply and produce only a third or a quarter,” said Murniati, a scientist with FOERDIA.

“They were afraid to use the burning techniques but they don’t have enough money to finance the no-burning techniques,” Murniati added, explaining that farmers are scared of incurring penalties for violating anti-burning laws but feel they have no choice but to face the risk.

SEEKING ALTERNATIVES

Since he got involved in sustainable agriculture, Taman has trained hundreds of farmers.  He adds fertile soil, dolomite, and manure to his land and plants a variety of crops, including corn, chili, and vegetables.

Initially, the cost of farming in this manner may seem more expensive, but over the long term it saves him money, Taman said, explaining the environmental benefits.

Although burning more resistant vegetation is a less expensive and easier solution, it can strip nutrient levels in the soil and spoil the peatlands in the long run.

As farmers, we need more support for infrastructure to lower costs, Taman said.

“We at least need proper roads and bridges in our village to cut distribution expenses,” he added. “It can help us big time.”

Currently, poor infrastructure causes high costs for herbicides and harvested crops. Farmers are forced to rent cars to cover a short 250-meter distance because trucks cannot fit into narrow roadways.

Finding other livelihood options might be key for helping local communities thrive while conserving peatlands, according to Dede Rohadi and Herry Purnomo, scientists with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) currently working with MOEF and several partners.

The Haze Free Sustainable Livelihoods project led by CIFOR, MOEF and the University of Lancang in Riau aims to find alternatives for farmers who cultivate crops in the province.

“We try to empower communities so they can maximize the existing livelihood potentials in their village,” said Rohadi, who leads the project.

Some villages already cultivate honey, develop fisheries and grow food crops such as chili peppers and pineapples.

In addition to the Haze-free Sustainable Livelihood project, CIFOR is currently coordinating the Community-based Fire Prevention and Peatland Restoration project with Riau University, local government, communities, and the private sector.

The latest commitment from the governments of Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Republic of the Congo, to establish the International Tropical Peatland Center (ITPC) promise for peatland preservation efforts. ITPC is currently based at CIFOR in Bogor, near Indonesia’s capital Jakarta.

It provides valuable opportunities for cooperation in the global south to ensure policymakers, practitioners, and communities have access to trustworthy information, analyses, and the tools needed to conserve and sustainably manage tropical peatlands.

Although peatlands extend over only 3 percent of the world’s land mass, they contain as much carbon as all terrestrial biomass and twice as much as all forest biomass.

About 15 percent of known peatlands have already been destroyed or degraded.

‘Transboundary Haze’: The Seasonal Pollution Plaguing Southeast Asia

‘Transboundary Haze’: The Seasonal Pollution Plaguing Southeast Asia

2018/11/08, Environment | By Helena Varkkey

Transboundary haze is a form of seasonal air pollution affecting up to six Southeast Asian countries on an almost annual basis.

The first reports of this phenomenon emerged in the 1980s, and the most recent serious episode took place in 2016. The most affected countries are Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia. The particulate and aerosol matter that makes up the haze originates from forest and peat fires occurring during the dry season, mostly in Indonesia. When this permeates the troposphere and travels across national borders, it is known as transboundary haze.

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People take photos near the Singapore Flyer observatory wheel shrouded by haze, Aug 26, 2016.

The countries and people within reach of this smoky shroud suffer serious health, economic, and environmental consequences during each episode. The fine particles in the haze permeate deep into the lungs, which can cause serious respiratory problems, especially among young children and the elderly, sometimes resulting in death. Ophthalmological, dermatological, and psychological issues are also commonplace.

Sick days taken and school closures (during which parents often stay home to care for their children) cause significant losses in workforce productivity. These countries’ tourism industries suffer as well, as visitors have no interest in hazy skylines. Agricultural productivity and the general state of the environment also decline as the haze blocks out the sun and slows down photosynthesis.

Whither the weather solution?

With the countries affected all situated within the Southeast Asian region, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was quickly looked upon to be the driver of a workable regional solution to the haze. ASEAN began to formally identify transboundary haze as part of its remit in 1985. However, despite various ASEAN agreements, initiatives, and task forces since then, the haze persists. The haze’s effect on member countries is dire, and its causes are seemingly well understood, so ASEAN’s continued inability to effectively mitigate it is puzzling.

Scholars have laid the blame for ASEAN’s “failure” to solve the haze on weak regional governance; specifically, the limitations of its model of regional engagement through consensus, non-interference, non-confrontation, sensitivity, and politeness, as well as non-legalistic procedures – the so-called “ASEAN Way.” Describing this model as a “doctrine” to be adhered to at all costs, scholars such as Vinod Aggarwal and Jonathan Chow argue that member states’ desire to eliminate the haze has been unable to compete against the stronger desire to comply with the ASEAN Way.

However, other ASEAN observers, such as Tobias Nischalke and Shaun Narine, have argued that member states do not blindly follow the ASEAN Way. Nischalke’s research uncovered many examples where the ASEAN Way was only moderately adhered to at best. This contention was the entry point of my research: has ASEAN been failing on the haze because states are duty-bound to adhere to norms that do not encourage effective regional environmental governance? Or have the states been choosingto adhere to these norms because it is in their interests to do so? If so, what are these interests, who has been shaping them, and why are they not in line with a haze-free ASEAN?

It’s the peat, stupid!

To answer these questions, I spent six months in Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia conducting semi-structured interviews with over 100 individuals with experience in haze governance, including government and ASEAN officials, journalists, plantation company representatives, non-governmental organization workers, and academics.

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Fires on palm oil plantations, such as this one in Jebus village on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, are responsible for a great deal of transboundary haze.

During these conversations, several points became clear.

Firstly, the type of fire matters. While regular forest fires are most common, they usually burn tree canopies. This produces little smoke and often results only in short-term, localized haze. Peat fires, on the other hand, can spread below the surface, reaching soil. Carbon-rich soil produces especially thick and sooty smoke when burnt, and this smoke can travel great distances. These fires are also harder to put out. Hence, a small amount of fires (on peatlands) are responsible for a large portion of transboundary haze.

Secondly, peat is not naturally fire-prone. In their natural state, peatlands are flooded year-round – fires only occur when peatlands are drained in preparation for planting. This dries out the peat and makes it flammable.

Thirdly, due to the importance of peatlands as carbon sinks, Indonesian law generally does not allow these areas to be developed. Despite this, and due to the decreasing availability of mineral soil, an increasing amount of peatlands have been opened for agriculture, especially for palm oil. A trend emerged, where the increasing severity of the haze matched the region’s palm oil boom in recent decades.

Hazy networks

Further interviews revealed that large plantation companies, both local and from Malaysia or Singapore, have managed to obtain licenses to access peatlands to plant crops like oil palm. Some of these companies deliberately use fire as the cheapest and quickest way to clear the land for planting. Even if these companies do not deliberately burn, the act of draining these lands makes them prone to accidental fires.

I found that strong patronage networks in this sector have enabled this to happen. Patronage is defined as a situation where an individual of higher socioeconomic position (patron) uses his influence and resources to provide protection or benefits for a person of lower status (client), who reciprocates by offering support and assistance to the patron. In this case, government patrons have provided the benefit of licenses to their clients, the business elites who own or are affiliated with these plantation companies. Furthermore, clients have also enjoyed their patrons’ protection from prosecution for haze-producing fires.

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A woman looks towards the Prime Minister’s office, which is shrouded in haze, in Putrajaya, Malaysia on Oct 6, 2015.

These networks are at work even at the ASEAN level. When they represent Indonesia at ASEAN, the patrons are still compelled to protect their clients. An effective ASEAN haze mitigation strategy would mean that their clients would lose access to lucrative income, and risk being prosecuted. Hence, these patrons choose to use the ASEAN Way, especially the principles of non-interference and non-legalistic procedures, to block any meaningful strategies. Malaysian and Singaporean patrons follow suit, as they also act to protect their own complicit companies. I argue that these patronage networks better explain the decisions made at the ASEAN level that have led to the failure of the bloc to solve the haze problem.

Blue skies ahead?

Since my field research, there have been some positive developments. The government of Singapore has shown a shift in its national interests, away from protecting its clients and toward the well being of its people. After several public displays of frustration with ASEAN’s lackadaisical efforts, Singapore ultimately passed its landmark Transboundary Haze Pollution Act in 2014, which empowered its courts to prosecute any party (even non-Singaporean) found to have caused haze in Singapore.

Singapore, however, has not yet been able to use this act in court, largely due to the non-cooperation of Indonesia. While ASEAN member states still meet regularly to strategize on haze matters, the strategic use of the ASEAN Way continues to limit any meaningful progress. However, as Singapore has shown, change is not impossible. I remain hopeful that other member states will eventually follow in Singapore’s footsteps to act in the common interest of the people of the region.

Helena Varkkey is a senior lecturer in the Department of International and Strategic Studies at the University of Malaya. She received her PhD in international relations from the University of Sydney in 2012 and her first book, “The Haze Problem in Southeast Asia: Palm Oil and Patronage,” was published by Routledge based on the above research in 2016.

Read Next: INDONESIA: Palm Oil Linked to Deforestation Remains on Store Shelves

This article was originally published in AsiaGlobal Online, a Hong Kong-based source of Asian perspectives on global issues. The News Lens has been authorized to republish this article.

TNL Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@Nick1Aspinwall)

Source Link: https://international.thenewslens.com/article/107781

Is there a market-based solution to Southeast Asia’s haze problem?

Is there a market-based solution to Southeast Asia’s haze problem?

A cap-and-trade system helped to eradicate acid rain in the 1990s. Could Southeast Asia’s haze problem be beaten in the same way? American Financial Exchange chief Richard Sandor thinks so.

Trees made bare by acid rain in Smokey Mountain National Park, USA
Trees made bare by acid rain in Smokey Mountain National Park, which straddles the states of North Carolina and Tennessee in the United States. Acid rain was successfully dealt with and is no longer part of political memory, said Sandor. Image: The Shared Experience, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Acid rain was a major environmental problem in the 1970s and 1980s. The phenomenon was caused by the reaction of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide from power factories with moisture in the atmosphere to generate acid, which fell onto earth as rain, poisoning lakes and destroying forests.

The situation began to improve in 1990 when the United States government and economists introduced a cap-and-trade system for power producers, which put in place a cap on permitted emissions and enabled companies to trade leftover allowances, said Richard Sandor, chairman and chief executive officer of the American Financial Exchange, an electronic exchange for financial institutions.

Sandor, who played a key role in orchestrating the cap-and-trade scheme to tackle acid rain, was speaking at a lecture organized by the National University of Singapore in the Southeast Asian city-state.

“The idea was to put a cap on the number of emissions nationally, and then lower the cap over a period of time,” he said. There was the outcry that electricity prices would skyrocket, America’s competitiveness would be hurt, and power-producing states such as Ohio or Illinois would go bankrupt.

Instead, a decade after the first cap-and-trade programme was implemented, emissions were down to around 4 million tonnes from a high of 18 million in the 1980s.

“Electricity prices went down. The cost to the US economy was $1.2 billion, but there was an annual reduction of $123 billion in medical expenses associated with lung diseases,” said Sandor, who is also known as the “father of carbon trading” for his work on carbon markets around the world. “That does not include 37,000 lives a year saved nor the restoration of rivers.”

But could market-based solutions solve the persistent problem of transboundary air pollution in Southeast Asia, asked moderator Tommy Koh, ambassador-at-large for Singapore’s foreign ministry.

Also known as the haze, it is caused by forests fires in Indonesia as land is cleared for palm oil plantations, said Koh.

Sandor offered two pieces of advice: to create a regional solution and to put a price on pollution.

Drawing from the example of acid rain, he said that the creation of local laws to regulate emissions from coal-fired plants resulted in utility companies building taller smokestacks so that emissions would blow into another state where the regulations didn’t apply.

“We thought of sulfur dioxide as a local problem, but it was as regional as [the haze] in Southeast Asia. It requires a regional agreement because local command and control, where there are externalities involved, just doesn’t work,” Sandor said.

When told that Asean—a political bloc of 10 Southeast Asian countries—already has an agreement to combat the haze, Sandor said pricing could be another solution.

Cap-and-trade markets work because companies find that it pays to pollute. “The question is, how do people get paid not to pollute?” he said. If polluters realize they could make money from cutting emissions—by selling leftover emission quotas, in the example of acid rain—they would do it.

Blockchain for the masses

Sandor was optimistic about the future of blockchain-based market trading, which could also empower small producers to access bigger markets. There has been a lot of hype and speculation around cryptocurrencies, which are digital tokens whose transactions are recorded on the digital open ledger that is blockchain technology, he said.

But the underlying blockchain technology is much more impactful as it can be used to facilitate trade in clean energy, as seen in South Africa’s Sun Exchange platform WePower from Lithuania, Sandor explained.

Recalling his work in Kerala state in Southern India in 2007, Sandor said he and the Chicago Climate Exchange partnered a non-governmental organization to encourage farmers to collect manure and process it using biodigesters. The methane produced was used for household cooking, and the carbon credits produced sold on the Exchange to provide additional income.

But a key obstacle was the need to travel to these remote villages to verify the carbon offsets were indeed being made, noted Sandor.

“If we had the blockchain and remote sensing … we could’ve reached 20 million rural poor [versus 150,000] because all they would’ve needed were cell phones and remote sensors and I could’ve built a blockchain registry,” he said.

Farmers who have mobile phones can record information about their crops and sustainability certification credentials on the blockchain, and take advantage of that transparency to connect with larger, international markets, said Sandor. “This is a way for an Indian farmer with a small plot of land to—because the information is recorded—be a supplier to Walmart that could never be without this technology.”

He added: “The message is: embrace change, don’t be bothered by blockchain, it’s no different to the cellphone or CNN. It’s information.”

Source Link: https://www.eco-business.com/news/is-there-a-market-based-solution-to-southeast-asias-haze-problem/

2018 in Environmental Review for Southeast Asia

As 2018 comes to a close it is worth taking a look at the environmental trends throughout the year, with a special emphasis on those within the last six months or so, in order to gain an understanding of what has been happening to this region’s natural heritage and so that we might know what to look for in 2019—and how to address the upcoming challenges.

While we can say that a lot has been happening everywhere, and this is especially true for Malaysia. The country produces durian that Chinese consumers covet. This means rainforests that are currently home to tigers are being converted into plantations so that more and more of the spiky, pungent fruit can be sold to China. That means bad environmental news, with China the driver. Furthermore, clearing forests will drastically reduce the number of pollinators such as bats and other wild animals, which will, in turn, lower the durian’s quality.

Another fruit—palm oil—is almost always the whipping boy for conservation problems in Malaysia (and beyond), however, the country is making headway in its own sustainable certification program, which attempts to incorporate Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs) into development blueprints across Malaysian Borneo. Nonetheless, huge development projects in Peninsular Malaysia are pushing the environment to the breaking point, with gargantuan Chinese-funded residential projects such as Forest City across the strait from Singapore serving as a striking case in point.

However, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad recently shut down several Chinese Belt and Road projects.  Malaysia also wants to ban importing plastic waste, as well as single-use plastic straws. Nonetheless, serious problems remain. Even without the durians-to-China issue, tiger numbers are tumbling fast, scenic Langkawi island is coming under so much stress that it may lose its Unesco status, while in Sarawak the forest-dwelling Penan indigenous group continue to block bulldozers and fight for their traditional lands. However, a rehabilitated Bornean orangutan was successfully rewilded in Sabah’s Tabin Wildlife Sanctuary, the first orangutan to fully return to the forest after such a long spell in captivity and rehabilitation, and a clouded leopard was sighted within the vicinity of a local hospital.

Across the Strait, in Indonesia, ecological issues are festering as well. While a new species of songbird has been identified on Rote Island, five other bird species have lost their protected status. The endemic Sumatran laughing thrush is fast disappearing, while the Helmeted Hornbill is relentlessly persecuted in Indonesia. The caged bird trade is bringing many species to the brink of extinction in the archipelago, and biologists say many forests where they work are becoming increasingly “quiet.”

Forest fires raged in South Sumatra and Riau provinces in 2018, and Chinese developers are stubbornly pushing ahead with a hydroelectric dam in the Batang Toru forest, home to the rarest species of the orangutan in the world. The Critically Endangered Sumatra rhinoceros is still in big trouble but there is a movement on to save it, while a pregnant Sumatran tigress was caught and died in a pig trap in Riau.

Like Malaysia, Indonesia has a major palm oil problem, but the country’s anti-graft department says it’s ready to take action against transgressors who are felling natural forest and breaking other laws. Sadly, the Bali government wants to build an elevated highway right on top of some of its last undeveloped sandy beaches. The small volcanic island of Krakatoa in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra has spewed lava and ash this year.   Widespread deforestation, poaching, overfishing, and plastic pollution has been taking over this island nation. Indonesian Presidential contender Prabowo has said that if he is elected to office he will review China’s Belt and Road plans, which could include a cancellation of the Batang Toru dam, and a court in Aceh recently threw down its stiffest penalty to date for two men caught trying to sell a tiger pelt.

Asia Sentinel recently reported on the surprising amount of wildlife to be found in Singapore today. Thailand also received high environmental marks in a recent Asia Sentinel critique, however, Thai-language media recently uncovered a story about a Vietnamese national caught with tiger bones in the kingdom— particularly worrying report as Vietnamese poachers are among the most tenacious in Asia.

Making matters worse, a new and improved road through Kaeng Krachan National Park will likely lead to greater disturbance to the forest’s wildlife, while a few provinces to the north a Burmese national gunned down a binturong. There is rising sentiment to build a Kra Isthmus Canal in Thailand. A large crocodile was caught off the Krabi coast, a whale shark was recently spotted of Koh Racha, and local conservationists have thus far succeeded in fending off a new marina development project in Phuket. However, the deluge of Chinese tourists into the kingdom is pushing Thailand to its breaking point, and it was largely Chinese tourists who are responsible for the closing of Maya Bay in Koh Phi Phi, which remains closed indefinitely so that it can recover.

In Laos, the Nam Theun 2 Dam has been such a disaster that its main financier, the World Bank, has thrown in the towel and walked away.  In Dead in the Water: Global Lessons from the World Bank’s Hydropower Project in Laos contributing author Glenn Hunt remarks: “For one of the pillars that were supposed to be the primary source of income, it’s been an unmitigated disaster.” With about 140 dams either under construction or on the drawing board in its quest to be the “battery of Asia,” Laos faces the potential for most disasters and large-scale environmental and social degradation in a country that has already lost its wild tigers, leopards, and many other species.

Despite the tragedy that unfolded in Attapeu province when a large dam collapsed, Laos remains bullish about constructing more dams. And the dam-building frenzy is harming the environment and wildlife all around the country. And while a recent Guardian write-up describing the fantastic-look am Et-Phou Luey ecotourism program up in the north of the country describes a healthy tiger population in this region, perhaps the author was given old data.

Wild elephants are reportedly being skinned alive in Myanmar to satisfy a new Chinese demand—for “blood beads,” which are blood-filled chunks of elephant fat. The previous link provides a window into some twisted tastes: “The online trader wants his customers to know the elephant was skinned quickly, with blood still fresh in its veins.” Chinese demand for elephant skin used in bags in jewelry was already shocking, but things can always get worse when it comes to wildlife.

But in more uplifting news from the country, Irrawaddy dolphins are being given greater protections, and the government is also cracking down on illegal wildlife trade in the city of Yangon.

Taking note of how poorly elephants working in tourism are treated across Asia, Vietnam has launched the region’s first “ethical elephant experience.” The country has also taken an interest in seeing that its shrimp farming industry become more sustainable, while the government also recently signed a deal with the EU that promises a reduction in illegal logging (though some in neighboring Cambodia have serious doubts about this). We reported earlier this year that Vietnam’s wildlife is in rough shape, and things haven’t taken much of a turn for the better since.

And finally, Cambodia.  A recent camera-trap check-in Virachey National Park so delighted the Ministry of Environment that he shared some of the photos on their Facebook page; even the Thai media took notice of the results. Asia Sentinel reported earlier this year that Cambodia is probably the last hope for Indochina’s wildlife, and this still holds true, despite the fact that nearly 110,000 snares were found in a single national park. A man was recently killed by a wild boar near the Cardamom Mountains, while Kratie province is cracking down on illegal mining, and at the same time, the central government is demanding that villagers who grabbed national park land return it.

In other news from the region, the Maubere tribe of Timor-Leste is bringing back ancient customary laws to help protect its forests, seas, and coastline. Chinese demand for logs is wiping out the forests of the Solomon Islands. India is losing tigers and elephants, while two elephants were struck by a train and killed in Sri Lanka.

As always, China casts a menacing shadow over Southeast Asia and nowhere is this more clear than on the Mekong River and in the South China Sea. The region, with the help of the US and Japan, must find a way to manage Chinese aggression in the South China Sea and beyond, and then some of the numerous dams that it has planned for the region have to be canceled or scaled down.

Beyond that, Chinese citizens have to be educated about wildlife product consumption, including shark fins, tiger parts, bear gallbladder, elephant skin and blood, and much more, which have no known scientific value. And in a shocking and disturbing announcement,  China has said that it will lift its decades-old ban on the trading of tiger parts and rhino horn, a move that will almost certainly put these species in greater danger.  Or else one of the most biologically rich regions of the world loses everything that made it so special.

Gregory McCann is the Project Coordinator of Habitat ID, and the author of Called Away by a Mountain Spirit: Journeys to the Green Corridor. You can support his conservation projects in Cambodia and Sumatra here.

Source Link: https://www.asiasentinel.com/society/2018-environmental-review-southeast-asia/

Joint Meetings UNISDR Wildland Fire Advisory Group (WFAG) International Liaison Committee (ILC) and the Brazilian Conference Organizing Committee for the 7 th International Wildland Fire Conference

Joint Meetings
UNISDR Wildland Fire Advisory Group (WFAG)
International Liaison Committee (ILC) and the Brazilian Conference Organizing Committee for
the 7th International Wildland Fire Conference

Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC), Freiburg, Germany
12-14 October 2018

Meeting of the UNISDR Wildland Fire Advisory Group (WFAG) in conjunction with the meeting of the International Liaison Committee (ILC) and the Brazilian Conference Organizing Committee for the 7th International Wildland Fire Conference; GFMC, Freiburg, Germany.

Meeting of the Eurasia Team of Specialists on Landscape Fire Management, GFMC, Freiburg, Germany

Meeting of the Eurasia Team of Specialists on Landscape Fire Management

GFMC, Freiburg, Germany

12 October 2018

 

First meeting of the Eurasia Team of Specialists on Landscape Fire Management and the Regional Fire Management Resource Centers / Regional Fire Monitoring Centers from Southeast Europe / Caucasus, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Central Eurasia and Southeast Asia. Photo: J. Karns (GFMC).

Link: http://gfmc.online/programmes/europe-org/eu_multi_org.html

 

Cambodian PM Vows to Shoot Loggers From Helicopters, Again

Cambodian PM Vows to Shoot Loggers From Helicopters, Again

Published: Tuesday, 02 October 2018 16:33

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen promised on Sunday that he would fix his country’s problems with rampant deforestation by shooting those who illegally chop down timber from helicopters.

mondulkiri deforestation
Deforestation in Mondolkiri, Cambodia (CC 4.0)

“It’s correct that we are losing our forests, many are being replaced by rubber plantations,” he said, speaking to members of the Cambodian diaspora in New York.

“I acknowledge that thieves have illegally cut down timber and I am ordering them to be shot from helicopters in the sky.”

Hun Sen made a similar promise two and a half years earlier when he announced that General Sao Sokha, newly appointed as head of a task force to stop illegal logging and timber smuggling, was authorized to fire rockets at loggers from helicopters.

That order came a year after a Global Witness report showed that Hun Sen’s own personal advisor, Try Pheap, headed an illegal logging network that saw millions of dollars of rosewood smuggled to China each year.

Not a shot has been fired from helicopters since that order and the task force did not succeed in halting the flow of luxury timber across Cambodia’s borders to Vietnam.

Hun Sen’s relatives have also long been linked with the country’s illegal timber business.

With hectares of forest falling to loggers and economic land concessions dished out by Cambodia’s ruling party, the country has one of the world’s highest rates of deforestation.

Global Witness meanwhile estimates that evictions that have resulted from logging and the government giving land to agribusinesses have displaced 830,000 people, forcing some into squatting in state forests or cutting down timber themselves.

Speaking Sunday, however, Hun Sen emphasized that it was the country’s now-defunct opposition–whose leader is in exile and whose deputy leader is just out of prison–that should be blamed for illegal logging.

“In many cases [the thieves] went to cut down millions of hectares to cultivate farmlands, including groups [affiliated] with the former opposition,” he said.

Source Link: https://www.occrp.org/en/daily/8677-cambodian-pm-vows-to-shoot-loggers-from-helicopters-again