Best of our wild blogs: 23 Jan 18



Personal Observations of the Plovers at Marina East Drive
Singapore Bird Group


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NParks to extend barricade to pathway where crocodile was spotted in Sungei Buloh

Lydia Lam Straits Times 22 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE - The National Parks Board (NParks) will be extending a barricade to a pedestrian pathway where a crocodile was spotted in Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve over the weekend.

Mr How Choon Beng, director of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve at NParks, told The Straits Times that NParks monitors visitor trails daily and has been setting up barricades at sections where crocodiles were seen basking.

This is to prevent crocodiles from climbing onto the visitor trail. NParks will be extending a barricade to the affected pedestrian pathway after a viral video was posted online showing a reportedly 2m-long crocodile on the footpath at the reserve on Saturday (Jan 20),

NParks will also set up a motion-activated camera to help monitor the situation after crocodile sightings were reported on Saturday and Sunday.

Nature watchers were surprised at the sight of a crocodile right smack in the middle of the pathway and had to wait for up to half an hour before it crawled into the bushes.

One of them, Ms Judy Liew, posted a video of the encounter on Nature Society Singapore's Facebook page, creating a hubbub online.

Ms Liew, who works in customer service support, told The Straits Times on Monday that she had gone to Sungei Buloh on Saturday during high tide, at around 1.45pm.

"I didn't expect to see crocodiles around, as usually they will be feeding in the water during high tide," she said.

She had walked about 300m to 500m from the visitor centre into the reserve when she saw a crocodile lying across the footpath.

Ms Liew said the groups of people on either side of the 2m-long crocodile could not cross over, and waited for about half an hour before it darted into the bushes and into the water.

She said the crocodile had appeared in a gap in wooden planks that were put up to fence off the pathway.

"There are wooden planks put up, but there are no wooden planks after the 300m mark. Then after a distance, the planks appear again. Perhaps the National Parks Board (NParks) would like to seal off the gap," she said.

She said she has seen crocodiles before, as she is an avid nature watcher and has been doing nature photography for about two years.

"I went on Sunday again and saw another crocodile on the pathway, but I don't know whether it's the same one," said Ms Liew. "It was at a blind spot so I was worried that people coming from the other side would not see it."

She said she posted the video to raise public awareness.

"It's to let people know that when you walk into a nature reserve, you are walking into a shared space with nature (and wildlife)," she said. "We have to respect them, be careful, look out for them and watch from a distance."

According to NParks, estuarine or saltwater crocodiles occur naturally in the wild in Singapore, although they are not commonly sighted.

Saltwater crocodiles are one of the largest crocodile species in the world and can grow to more than 5m in length.

They live in brackish and freshwater areas such as coastal areas and wetlands, and are usually "found in the water or at the mudflats away from visitor routes", NParks said.

Those who encounter crocodiles should stay calm and back away, and should not approach, provoke or feed them.

Warning signs and advisory notices are posted at areas where crocodiles are most often seen. The signs advise the public to stay on visitor routes and not venture off the designated paths.

Those who need help should call the Wetland Reserve Information Counter on 6794-1401 immediately.


Barricades in Sungei Buloh to be extended to prevent crocs from climbing onto trail

Channel NewsAsia 22 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE: Barricades will be extended to a section of the visitor trail at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve after a crocodile was spotted on the path, said the National Parks Board (NParks) on Monday (Jan 22).

This comes after a video was posted on Facebook over the weekend, showing a crocodile lying across the designated trail, with a group of visitors standing close by. In the 20-second video, the reptile was seen lying very still before suddenly darting into the bushes.

Sungei Buloh said it is aware of crocodile sightings along a visitor trail on Saturday and Sunday.

"As a practice, we monitor visitor trails daily and have been erecting barricades at sections where crocodiles were seen to bask to prevent crocodiles from climbing onto the visitor trail, and will extend barricades to this section," said the director of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve How Choon Beng in an email to Channel NewsAsia.

He added that a motion-activated camera will also be set up to help monitor the situation, and that warning signs and advisory notices have been posted at areas where crocodiles are most often seen.

"Visitors should heed these signs and keep to designated paths," Mr How said. He explained that these estuarine crocodiles are usually found in the water or at the mudflats away from the visitor routes.

Should visitors encounter a crocodile on the path, they should stay calm and back away slowly, said Mr How. They should not approach, provoke, or feed the animal.

If members of the public need help, they should call the Wetland Reserve Information Counter immediately.

There were several crocodile sightings around Singapore last year, which included locations such as East Coast Park, Changi Beach and Pasir Ris Park.

Source: CNA/ad


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Coney Island to welcome student campers before new OBS campus opens there in 2020

Audrey Tan Straits Times 22 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE - Coney Island will welcome student campers well before the new Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) campus on the island is ready by 2020.

The Straits Times has learnt that a temporary campsite is currently being prepared there for student participants of a national outdoor adventure programme.

During a visit to Coney Island earlier in January, The Straits Times saw that a trail leading to a clearing in a vegetated area near the island's east entrance had been fenced up with an orange cordon. There were also work-in-progress signboards near the site.

In response to queries, OBS said the site will be temporarily used for camping activities under the Ministry of Education-OBS Secondary 3 programme, "as part of the progressive roll-out of activities for OBS participants on Coney Island".

It was earlier announced that OBS will be made compulsory for all Secondary 3 students from 2020 and held at a new $250 million Coney Island campus.

For the sake of the students' safety, some casuarina trees were removed in view of the strong wind season, said OBS.

But efforts were taken to protect the environment.

The campsite, for example, was chosen with the help of consultants and the National Parks Board, and is some distance away from high biodiversity areas such as mangroves, as well as from vegetation of high conservation value, said OBS.

Trees which host the nests of birds known as baya weavers were also retained.

But OBS clarified that works for the OBS campus on Coney Island have not started.

The Straits Times understands that an environmental study is being done to see how the impact of the development on the surrounding nature areas can be reduced.

Coney Island is home to at least 157 animal species, including nationally threatened ones such as the spotted wood owl and the rusty-breasted cuckoo.

National University of Singapore arborist Lahiru Wijedasa, who is not involved in the project, conceded that some trees within the temporary campsite may have had to be removed for the safety of participants.

Casuarina trees have features that enable them to withstand windy coastal conditions, but he added: "Any species, even if it grows up in windy conditions or are adapted to windy conditions, could fall under conditions beyond which they grew up with."

But Mr Lahiru said it would have been better to look at the results of the environmental impact study first before deciding whether to remove the trees.

Mr Loh Chee Hwa, co-founder of environmental and outdoor education company Better Trails, said it was encouraging to see more efforts to engage more young people in outdoor programmes.

But with the expected increase in human traffic, it was also important to preserve the landscape of Coney Island, he added.

He said: "For OBS to embark on this project to build a campus and temporary campsite, I believe a proper environmental study has been conducted and I am confident that they will manage the project in an eco way, and not the ego way."


Coney Island makes room for young campers
Temporary campsite for student programme coming up ahead of new OBS campus in 2020
Audrey Tan Straits Times 23 Jan 18;

Coney Island will welcome student campers well before the new Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) campus on the island is ready by 2020.

The Straits Times has learnt that a temporary campsite is being prepared there for student participants of a national outdoor adventure programme.

During a visit to Coney Island earlier this month, ST saw that a trail leading to a clearing in a vegetated area near the island's east entrance had been fenced up with an orange cordon. There were also work-in-progress signboards near the site.

In response to queries, OBS said the site will be temporarily used for camping activities under the Ministry of Education-OBS Secondary 3 programme, "as part of the progressive roll-out of activities for OBS participants on Coney Island".

It was earlier announced that an OBS camp will be made compulsory for all Secondary 3 students from 2020 and held at a new $250 million Coney Island campus.

For the sake of the students' safety, some casuarina trees were removed in view of the strong wind season, said OBS.

But efforts were taken to protect the environment. The campsite, for example, was chosen with the help of consultants and the National Parks Board, and is some distance away from high-biodiversity areas such as mangroves, as well as from vegetation of high conservation value, said OBS.

Temporary campsite on Coney Island for student campers

For the sake of the students' safety, some casuarina trees were removed in view of the strong wind season, said OBS. But efforts were taken to protect the environment...Trees which host the nests of birds known as baya weavers were... retained.

Trees which host the nests of birds known as baya weavers were also retained.

But OBS clarified that works for the OBS campus on Coney Island have not started.

ST understands that an environmental study is being done to see how the impact of the development on the surrounding nature areas can be reduced. Coney Island is home to at least 157 animal species, including nationally threatened ones such as the spotted wood owl and the rusty-breasted cuckoo.

National University of Singapore arborist Lahiru Wijedasa, who is not involved in the project, conceded that some trees within the temporary campsite may have had to be removed for the safety of participants.

Casuarina trees have features that enable them to withstand windy coastal conditions, but he added: "Any species, even if it grows up in windy conditions or are adapted to windy conditions, could fall under conditions beyond which they grew up with."

But Mr Lahiru said it would have been better to look at the results of the environmental impact study first before deciding whether to remove the trees.

Mr Loh Chee Hwa, co-founder of environmental and outdoor education company Better Trails, said it was encouraging to see more efforts to engage more young people in outdoor programmes. But with the expected increase in human traffic, it was also important to preserve the Coney Island landscape, he added.

He said: "For OBS to embark on this project to build a campus and temporary campsite, I believe a proper environmental study has been conducted and I am confident that they will manage the project in an eco way, and not the ego way."


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NTU, BlueSG trial ultra-fast charging electric shuttle

Gwyneth Teo Channel NewsAsia 22 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE: An electric tram that requires just 20 seconds to recharge - while passengers board or alight at stations - will be trialled at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) campus for the next six months.

The trial was launched on Monday (Jan 22) by NTU and BlueSG, the same company that started an electric car-sharing scheme last year.

Dubbed Singapore's first flash-charging electric shuttle, the Bluetram can travel 2km on a single charge, with backup power that provides for an additional 30km.

The 22-seater tram will run between JTC's CleanTech One and NTU's North Hill area, a distance of close to 1km.

As the vehicle stops along each station along the route, a robotic arm will emerge from the station, insert itself into the charging port and charge the super-capacitor in the vehicle.

NTU and BlueSG said the super-capacitor is 10 times more efficient than lithium-ion batteries in discharging power, but holds power for a proportionally shorter length of time.

It is thus ideal for vehicles that do short sprints with lots of starts and stops.

Dr Subodh Mhaisalkar, Executive Director of Energy Research Institute @ NTU, said: "We look at vehicles like these for first- and last-mile transportation, such as feeder bus services."

He added that the vehicles may be a game-changer in transportation here. "These can go indoors. These can go into the foyer of a building, the lobby of hospitals, into the airport. It brings up new possibilities in public transportation."

The vehicles had previously been trialled at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, where six trams ran across seven stations up and down the Champs-Élysées.

As the NTU campus has more hilly terrains compared to the relatively flatter Champs-Élysées, the trial will allow the tram's makers to test its performance on various terrains.

Additionally, the data collected will let scientists understand how the super-capacitors might react to different climate conditions, and what impact a larger roll-out of these vehicles will have on power grid infrastructure.

"For example, if there are hundreds of buses and taxis charging in a small area, we need to understand what impact it will have on the grid. The grid stability and reliability are things we cannot compromise," said Dr Subodh.

Source: CNA/ng


Ultra-fast charging electric shuttle bus service launched by NTU and BlueSG
TOH EE MING Today Online 22 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE — Singapore will soon see an ultra-fast charging electric shuttle bus service operating between Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and JTC’s CleanTech One.

With the help of a robotic arm that connects the top of the 22-seater shuttle bus to a charging station, the vehicle will require only 20 seconds to be recharged at stations while passengers board and alight.

The shuttle can travel two kilometres on a single charge, with backup power that can allow it to run for an additional 30 kilometres.

Named the NTU-Blue Solutions Flash Shuttle and using Bolloré’s Bluetram vehicle, the shuttle was launched on Monday (Jan 22) by NTU and BlueSG.

The latter is a subsidiary of Blue Solutions owned by the Bolloré Group. BlueSG is also the operator of the first large-scale electric car-sharing service here that was launched last month.

Unlike other electric vehicles that function solely on batteries and need a greater time to be charged, the Bluetram is equipped with supercapacitors and a lithium-metal-polymer (LMP) battery developed by Blue Solutions. Supercapacitors are electrical storage components that are characterised by high power density which can be charged very quickly.

This allows the Bluetram to replicate the efficiency of trams by operating continuously without the need for offline charging.

Compared to tram systems, an electric shuttle bus network does not need costly infrastructure such as rails or cabling. The operating costs are therefore five to ten times lower.

BlueSG declined to compare the operating costs for the shuttle with that of a typical electric vehicle – which would take four to eight hours to charge – but said the shuttle costs 1 to 2 million euros (S$1.6 million to S$3.2 million) per kilometer to operate.

NTU President Subra Suresh said the move towards such “cutting-edge transportation technologies” is in line with its vision of being a smart campus.

“The use of electric vehicles in public transportation is growing across the world, as it shows promise of being a more efficient transportation system and in curbing greenhouse emissions,” said Prof Suresh.

“Testing it on campus, we expect that the insights and innovations developed from this research programme will benefit Singapore eventually by enhancing the first mile-last mile transportation options for everyone.”

It took two weeks to set up the trial route, which now has two stations.

For now, the shuttle will run at about 30 to 40 kmh between the two stations at NTU’s residential halls at the North Hill cluster and JTC’s CleanTech One, which is part of the Jurong Innovation District where special charging stations have been built. Both stops are about 1km apart.

After trials by the research team, NTU students will be able to ride the shuttle from July, though the route details and operational hours are yet to be worked out.

The joint research team – which comprises scientists from NTU’s Energy Research Institute and BlueSG - will study the shuttle’s on-road performance in Singapore’s tropical climate, including users’ behaviour, as well as how energy-saving it is on NTU’s hilly terrain.

The two-year trial with BlueSG is supported by the Economic Development Board. The collaboration is also one of the key initiatives under the France-Singapore Year of Innovation, which aims to intensify cooperation on innovation between the two countries this year.

NTU said it is in talks with BlueSG to install more electric vehicle charging stations on campus.

Students, staff and faculty will be able to rent BlueSG vehicles and drive them around Singapore, before returning the vehicle to any BlueSG charging station. The public will also be allowed to drive into NTU’s campus with these vehicles.

BlueSG previously said it targets to roll out 1,000 electric vehicles and 2,000 charging points by 2020.


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Australia: Barrier Reef funding boost to tackle predatory starfish

AFP Yahoo News 22 Jan 18;

Sydney (AFP) - A multimillion-dollar campaign to stop the predatory crown-of-thorns starfish devouring the Great Barrier Reef was announced by the Australian government Monday in a push to preserve the World Heritage-listed ecosystem.

The coral-eating starfish are naturally occurring but have proliferated due to pollution and agricultural run-off at the struggling reef.

Their impact has been profound -- a major study of the 2,300-kilometre (1,400-mile) long reef's health in 2012 showed coral cover has halved over the past 27 years, with 42 percent of the damage attributed to the pest.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Aud$60 million (US$48 million) would go into the new drive, with just over half to be spent on incentives for farmers to prevent agricultural pollutants from running into the reef.

Funds will also go towards increasing the number of patrol vessels and divers targeting the starfish, he said.

"It is a vibrant, resilient ecosystem and one of the best-managed coral reef ecosystems in the world," Turnbull said in a statement.

"While it is facing increasing threats, we intend to remain leaders in reef management," he said, adding the fund would support the development of new technology to help protect the reef.

The reef is also reeling from significant coral bleaching due to warming sea temperatures linked to climate change.

Canberra in 2015 narrowly avoided UNESCO putting the site on its endangered list, and has committed more than Aus$2.0 billion to preserve it over the next decade.

But it has been criticised for backing a huge US$16 billion coal project by Indian mining giant Adani near the reef, which environmentalists warned would harm the natural wonder.

Conservationists said Monday the government's latest funding announcement did not go far enough and action is needed to slash greenhouse gas emissions to prevent warming sea temperatures.

"It will be a classic case of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic unless the federal government moves quickly away from coal and other fossil fuels," Imogen Zethoven from the Australian marine conservation society said in a statement.


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Best of our wild blogs: 22 Jan 18



3 Feb (Sat): Talk by Ben Brown, pioneer of Ecological Mangrove Restoration in Asia
Restore Ubin Mangroves (R.U.M.) Initiative

Open for registration – Love MacRitchie Walk with Cicada Tree Eco-Place on 4 Feb 2018
Love our MacRitchie Forest

11 Feb (Sun) - Free guided walk at Pasir Ris Mangroves
Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Chestnut-winged & crimson-hued stars
Winging It

Orinoco Peacock Bass (Cichla orinocensis) @ Coney Island (Pulau Serangoon)
Monday Morgue


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New business district in Punggol to chart Govt's focus on digital economy, will create 28,000 jobs

Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 21 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE: The opening of a new business and education hub in Punggol from 2023 will create 28,000 jobs in fields such as cybersecurity and data analytics, creating job opportunities “close to home”.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said this at the launch of an exhibition for members of the public to view the Punggol Digital District’s masterplan on Sunday (Jan 21). He said the District will support government efforts to build a Smart Nation, where technologies can be deployed to prepare workers for the digital economy.

The Punggol Digital District, which will incorporate a business park, the Singapore Institute of Technology’s new campus as well as community facilities, will foster innovation and collaboration, said planners who shared more details on the District.

The 50-hectare development was first announced as part of the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Draft Master Plan in 2013, while more details were shared by Minister of National Development Lawrence Wong last year.

JTC’s Assistant CEO David Tan said the district’s planning marks the first time all agencies involved came together at the start to develop an integrated plan.

“All the facilities and infrastructure were planned from the start, and that also optimises the use of land, energy, water and other resources,” Mr Tan said.

“This means we can also make living and working there more sustainable.”

FIRST ENTERPRISE DISTRICT WILL PROVIDE FLEXIBILITY FOR LAND USE

The area, currently a vacant plot of land north of Punggol and west of Coney Island, will also be the first in Singapore developed as an "enterprise" district. JTC, the district’s master developer, said this will allow planners flexibility in land use mix.

“So for example, SIT's land is zoned for education, whereas JTC's business park is zoned as a business park. (But) because of this so-called 'enterprise' district, we can actually mix the uses together,” Mr Tan said.

“So some of the education space can be within JTC's facilities, and some of JTC's business park can be part of SIT's land. So for example, SIT's research labs and learning facilities can be located within JTC's buildings, and similarly, JTC's labs, startup spaces can be located there.”

He said the exchange of spaces will allow companies to collaborate with the university, and foster open innovation and the sharing of ideas.

Speaking at the launch of the masterplan, DPM Teo said that the relocation of the national Cyber Security Agency to the Punggol Digital District is being studied.

"This will help seed a new cluster of cybersecurity and technology firms in Punggol. Our residents can look forward to many exciting jobs close to home and gain new skills in these growth areas,” Mr Teo said.

JTC BUSINESS PARK TO HOUSE KEY SECTORS OF DIGITAL INDUSTRY

Mr Tan said construction of the business park buildings will begin this year, and once ready from 2023 onwards, they will be home to companies in sectors that Singapore has identified as growth areas, including cybersecurity and Internet of Things.

Assistant Chief Executive of the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) Angeline Poh said the companies that set up shop in the business park could be those that are not just technology-driven, but those that have technology elements at the heart of its service.

The park will not just house multinational companies (MNCs) from these growth sectors, but also small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups, allowing for opportunities for collaboration among them.

SIT’S PRESENCE A UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY FOR COLLABORATION BETWEEN INDUSTRY AND ACADEMIA

DPM Teo said the digital district will provide more learning opportunities with the new centralised campus for the Singapore Institute of Technology. SIT will support skills upgrading and continuing education with its suite of applied courses.

"There will be many opportunities for students and teaching staff from SIT and industry practitioners in the Digital District to interact and exchange ideas, and use the Digital District and Punggol as a test-bed for new technologies,” he said.

"For instance, incorporating video analytics and facial recognition to enhance security, and developing smart energy management systems for buildings and homes to conserve energy. With closer collaboration between academia and industry, we can develop many new products and services for the Digital Economy.”

SIT President Prof Tan Thiam Soon said the university can be a living lab for companies.

As an example, Prof Tan said SIT signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with grid operator SP Group in October last year to build a micro-grid at the Punggol campus.

It will operate independently from the national grid, but excess energy can also be pushed into the main grid to support the district “in times of need”, Prof Tan said. In turn, it also allows SP Group to test the micro-grid in a “real operating environment”.

“(In the same way), I think the whole idea is we open up, and it doesn't even need to be all local companies,” Prof Tan said.

“I think some of the companies from overseas, if they need a place to test, we will be saying, come and test. Use our students, use our professors, we will be the place for you to test this new technology.”

CUTTING-EDGE INFRASTRUCTURE, NEW AMENITIES WITHIN THE DISTRICT

Planning agencies said a key feature of the district will be the incorporation of artificial intelligence and Internet-of-Things in the facilities within the district. For example, they said all the systems within the district will be centrally and remotely monitored, analysed and controlled at its integrated facilities management location.

It will also have an automated waste collection centre, a district cooling system that supplies chilled water to the various buildings for their air-conditioning, as well as a large underground car-park.

Another interesting feature being explored is a centralised logistics hub. Mr Tan said this will be the first stop for all goods delivered to the district.

“From here, they will be taken to the various tenants’ properties either by automated guided vehicles or drones,” he said.

The District will have amenities such as a hawker centre, childcare centres and a community club. It will be connected to residential estates in the area.

"The Digital District will also fit in well with the natural environment that our residents love. Our residents can enjoy the green surroundings, and a new park, Campus Heart. A new pedestrian street along the Campus Boulevard will link various parts of the Digital District to the waterfront area,” DPM Teo said.

The existing Punggol Road will be retained and transformed into a 1.3km heritage trail that will connect Punggol District with Punggol Waterway and an upcoming residential district at Punggol Point.

(Additional reporting by Rachel Phua.)

Source: CNA/rw


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Singapore banks big funders of region's coal projects: Study

Green groups voice concern, as global banks shun pollution source
David Fogarty Straits Times 21 Jan 18;

Singapore's three top banks DBS, OCBC and UOB are significant funders of coal projects in the region, an analysis of their investments shows, putting them at odds with a growing number of global banks shunning financing of polluting coal-fired power stations and mines.

Coal is a major source of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas blamed for heating up the planet.

All three banks have adopted sustainable financing guidelines and told The Sunday Times they carefully consider each investment with regard to environmental impact versus the need to bring electricity to millions of people.

Yet Market Forces, the Australian financial green group that conducted the study, says coal lending is at odds with the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions and the rapid growth of affordable renewable energy.

Market Forces says DBS Bank, OCBC Bank and United Overseas Bank have financed 21 coal project deals since 2012 worth US$2.29 billion, over half of which were for coal-fired power stations, mainly in Indonesia and Vietnam.

Market Forces analysed data from IJGlobal, a leading online energy and infrastructure finance data service, relating to the deals.

OCBC was the top lender, participating in coal deals worth US$1.14 billion since 2012. This included US$195 million for the 2,000MW Tanjung Jati B coal-fired power plant in Indonesia last year.

What the banks say
In response to questions from The Straits Times, a DBS spokesman said: "According to the International Energy Agency, while South-east Asia is taking steps towards adopting low-carbon energy, by 2040, coal will still account for 40 per cent of the generation mix.

"Many of our neighbouring developing countries are dependent on coal as part of their energy mix to deliver economic growth, and the financial system has a responsibility to ensure that the transition to renewables happens in a sustainable manner."

OCBC Bank chief risk officer Vincent Choo said: "The financing of energy sector projects, where environmental impact is mitigated in compliance with national and local laws and regulation, enables local communities to gain access to electricity and opens up employment opportunities.

"We believe that sustainability is a journey. We continue to strengthen our responsible financing practices over time and seek to positively influence our customers' behaviours by engaging them in adopting appropriate sustainable practices."

A UOB spokesman said the bank was committed to supporting sustainable development and mitigating environmental, social and governance risks in its lending.

The spokesman said it was bank policy to conduct enhanced due diligence for companies in potentially high-impact industries, including the energy sector, for which the bank advocates using appropriate technologies, such as carbon capture and storage, to mitigate potential environmental impacts.

"Across our network, we also finance and support renewable energy projects, in areas such as solar power and hydropower, that comply with local environmental requirements," the spokesman added.

DBS was involved in deals worth US$885 million, five of which also involved OCBC. This included a US$160 million loan to a consortium to buy Australia's Port of Newcastle, a major coal shipment hub, and a US$140 million loan to partially fund building of a 1,900MW power plant in Central Java.

UOB participated in deals worth US$262 million. Its largest loan totalled US$92 million for the 2014 refinancing of the Newcastle Coal export terminal expansion.

DBS has also been named as part of a loan syndicate funding the construction of four 1,200MW coal-fired power plants in Vietnam, the report says, and is a financial adviser for a number of large power plants planned for Indonesia.

Singapore has declared 2018 the year of climate action and was an important player in the reaching of a deal for the 2015 Paris climate agreement, in which nearly 200 nations agreed to limit global warming to less than 2 deg C.

To achieve this, nations need to rapidly cut greenhouse gas emissions by shifting to cleaner sources of energy for industry, power generation and transport.

Green groups, including Greenpeace, say major investment plans in South-east Asia to build dozens of coal-fired power stations could send global carbon dioxide emissions soaring, risking the Paris "below 2 deg C" goal and increasing local air pollution.

Says the Market Forces report: "Banks justify coal investments by rightly pointing out that communities need energy.

"However, with a rapidly improving economic outlook for wind and solar, including renewable energy already being cheaper than coal in many countries, investments in coal power serve little more than the companies seeking to build their old, dirty technology."

Other banks have cut back on coal investments. HSBC last year announced that it would no longer finance coal mines or new coal power plants in rich nations. Australia's four big banks have also sharply curbed lending to coal projects since 2015.


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'Picky' waste collector incident raises questions about whether Singapore's push to promote recycling is working

Audrey Tan Straits Times 21 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE - When Punggol resident Eloise Huang sent her husband to the blue recycling bin at the foot of her block with a big bag of recyclables, she had assumed that all of it - paper, plastic, glass and metal - would escape the landfill.

Yet, according to a recent Facebook post by Ms Huang, the collector who came to pick it up removed all paper and cardboard from the bag before dumping the rest of the contents into the green bins meant for trash.

"Save your plastics, metals elsewhere for recycling, since they will end up in the normal bin," she wrote.

SembWaste, which collects recyclables in the area, and the National Environment Agency said they are looking into the case.

"At no point would we condone staff wilfully discarding materials meant to be recycled," said SembWaste.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said its officers conduct random site inspections of collection from the blue bins and sorting activities at materials recovery facilities.

"In this case, if the allegation is substantiated after our investigations, a financial penalty will be imposed on the public waste collector and demerit points awarded... which is taken into consideration during evaluation of future public waste collection tenders," said an NEA spokesman.

The incident of the picky collector is not the only case of recycling efforts mishandled by public waste collectors, and has raised questions from environmental groups about the effectiveness of recent programmes meant to encourage recycling.

In 2015, waste company Veolia was found to have mixed items to be recycled with rubbish for incineration during collection, even though NEA requires recyclables and waste to be collected separately and in separate trucks.

Recyclables from households and premises such as schools, army camps, petrol kiosks, places of worship and shophouses are collected by public waste collectors under the National Recycling Programme, as well as the informal recycling sector, such as rag-and-bone men.

In 2016, only 21 per cent of waste produced by households was recycled. The hope is to bump this up to 30 per cent by 2030.

Singapore's domestic recycling sector has remained lacklustre, despite national efforts to encourage people to recycle more.

For example, every HDB block has been provided with a blue recycling bin since 2014 - up from one bin for every five blocks. The Government also announced in 2014 that all new public housing projects will be fitted with recycling chutes with throw points on each floor.

But it is not clear if these efforts have borne fruit.

Asked to give the tonnage of recyclables collected under the National Recycling Programme in 2016, NEA would say only that it "does not have a breakdown of the quantity of recyclables". Instead, it uses surveys to track the proportion of residents who recycle and how they do so.

For example, in a 2015/2016 survey involving face-to-face interviews with 5,700 residents, the proportion of residents who recycle was more than 70 per cent, up from 15 per cent in 2001, said NEA. "Out of those who recycle, more than 80 per cent indicated that they made use of the blue bins to recycle," its spokesman said.

Ms Pamela Low, from the environmental group Singapore Youth for Climate Action, noted that both Taiwan and Hong Kong measure their recycling rate by tracking the tonnage of recyclables collected.

"We should measure our recycling rate using international standards of measurement," said Ms Low. "Also, if NEA surveys show that we have a 70 per cent recycling participation rate... why then are we only targeting a 30 per cent household recycling rate by 2030? We can be more ambitious in our target household recycling rate."


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Best of our wild blogs: 21 Jan 18



Wild ideas for mangrove restoration at Pulau Ubin
Restore Ubin Mangroves (R.U.M.) Initiative

Aberrations in Butterflies
Butterflies of Singapore


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Decaying Angsana tree beside SOTA cut down

Gaya Chandramohan Channel NewsAsia 21 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE: The prominent Angsana tree that stood sentinel at the junction of Bras Basah Road and Prinsep Street for around 40 years was cut down on Sunday (Jan 21).

Known affectionately as the Tree of Knowledge to The School of the Arts (SOTA) - whose grounds the tree occupied - it was recently found to have a cavity at its base and significant decay that had worsened over the years.

SOTA vice-principal Pauline Ann Tan, who was on site to oversee the removal of the tree, said she was sad to see the iconic tree go but agreed it was a matter of safety.

"It came to a point where every heavy downpour worried us, in case the tree fell in strong winds. Even yesterday's downpour had us worried," she said.

Henry Tan who attends church in the vicinity was taking videos of workers cutting down the tree when Channel NewsAsia approached him.

"I pass by this tree every week after church. It's sad that it has to be removed because it provided shade for those waiting at the traffic light," the 53-year-old accountant said.

Housewife Melanie Woo who frequently jogs in the vicinity was also sad to see the towering Angsana tree go.

"It's a very majestic tree, but that also means if it falls, it could be a disaster because the area sees a lot of foot traffic," she said.

But new beginnings will soon take root when sapling is planted in place of the SOTA Tree.

"We're in talks with NEA to select a suitable tree to be planted to replace the tree," said Tan.


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Digging up the past: Searching for treasures to unlock more of Singapore's history

With many potential archaeological sites in Singapore that have not been investigated yet, the hope is that undiscovered artefacts can reveal even more about the country's rich heritage.
Wendy Wong Channel NewsAsia 21 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE: While Pulau Ubin is best known for its rustic charm, bike trails and seafood restaurants, archaeologists think it may have hidden historical secrets.

A casual walk around the island provides some clues to its history, with storied shrines and temples, abandoned historical sites dating back to the 1800s, as well as two World War II gun emplacements nestled in a corner of the National Police Cadet Corps campsite.

Little is known about these emplacements, apart from the fact that they are estimated to have been constructed between 1936 and 1939. But wind back the clock to World War II, and they would have been playing a key part in Singapore's defences as Japan turned its attention to Southeast Asia.

Today, time has taken its toll on the battery, which betrays little of its colourful past. Not much remains apart from the basic concrete infrastructure, some of which has been transformed into a rock climbing wall.

However, attempts are now underway to assess whether there are more historical artefacts to be discovered, with the first in-depth archaeological surveys on the island.

HALF A MILLION ARTEFACTS UNEARTHED FROM DIGS

A key focus for National Parks Board (NParks) and ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute (ISEAS) is to try to unlock more information about Ubin's - and Singapore's - past, beginning with the battery.

The first phase of the surveys, which involved fieldwork and basic sampling of the site, recently wrapped up earlier this month.

Depending on what is found, more surveys might be conducted in the western part of the island.

"It's virgin territory for us, because the western side remains largely unexplored till today," said Lim Chen Sian, ISEAS associate fellow and archaeologist, who is involved in the survey.

Depending on what’s found in Ubin’s first phase of surveys, more might be conducted in the western part of the island, which has been labeled as “virgin territory”.

And the same could be said about the rest of Singapore.

So far, all of the sites that have been excavated for hidden clues into Singapore's past are clustered in the downtown area, where the British colonial settlement existed, starting with the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819.

But the Republic's rich history stretches much further back, with more secrets to be uncovered. Archaeologists believe there may be several possible excavation sites dotting the coast of Singapore, where the hypothetical ancient coastline existed.

"When Raffles was poking around looking for a place to start a new port, he settled on Singapore without ever being here," said Dr John Miksic, professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore.

"Because he read in the Malay Annals that said Singapore was the first great Malay trading port, which used to be called Temasek before they changed the name to Singapura.

"That’s why he came here and immediately found a number of archaeological remains which confirmed his suspicions that Singapore was old … So there probably are 4,000-year-old objects still (to be) unearthed in Singapore," said Dr Miksic.

Excavations conducted over the last three decades have revealed a treasure trove of artefacts, with over half a million objects recovered from the 14th to 17th centuries, such as ceramic pieces, ancient coins and beads.

Bit by bit, archaeologists have been able to piece together Singapore's rich heritage with the help of these long-forgotten objects, to show a fuller picture of pre-colonial - and even prehistoric - Singapore.

For example, archaeological evidence points towards the existence of prehistoric people who lived along the coasts of Singapore and its surrounding islands during the Stone Age.

At the dawn of the 14th century, a rapid expansion of urban settlements around the Singapore River indicated an economic boom due to international trade.

However, after Melaka was established, Singapore's prominence as a thriving port began to shrank from the 15th century onwards. And the island remained relatively uninhabited for two centuries until a new population began growing around 1811 - which was what Raffles encountered when he stopped onto Singapore's shores eight years later.

"LARGEST RESCUE EXCAVATION"

Singapore's largest ever excavation took place around the Empress Place area three years ago, yielding more than three tonnes of artefacts over a 100-day period.

Leading the dig was Mr Lim, along with a troupe of volunteers.

"It was a major marathon excavation, and we worked non-stop for 12 to 14 hours a day, rain or shine," the archaeologist recalled.

"We were working on an extremely tight schedule, because we were sharing the site with the developer," Mr Lim said, referring to the deadline to develop the area into an integrated arts, culture and lifestyle precinct.

"We were just literally inches just digging from them … it’s amazing how we managed to work side by side."

But he also stressed that archaeology is not against development.

"Most of our work in Singapore is to remove objects - or to preserve things on record. So based on that there's no reason to oppose development. Development goes hand in hand with archaeology because it gives us opportunity to investigate the site."

Objects unearthed during the Empress Place excavation included pottery shards, bronze coins and Buddhist figurines, some of which stretch as far back as 700 years, providing further testimony to Singapore's deep historical roots.

Still, it’s not just about finding archaeological gold in the ground. The behind-the-scenes post-excavation process forms a huge part of the work - from data collection, to cleaning and cataloguing the artefacts.

It's a time-consuming and delicate process, described Michael Ng, research officer at Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre's Archaeology Unit at ISEAS, as he held up a porcelain shard.

"The first thing is to wash and clean them - and even to clean and to wash there will be certain things where the glaze will be fragile. (They're) susceptible to damage so we have to be very careful with them."

"(After washing, they) will start to reveal a lot of details previously covered with soil. And subsequently we will sort these artefacts based on various categories, based on the materials used to make it. So for example ceramics, there's also subcategories like porcelain, stoneware, earthenware," said Mr Ng.

"After this step we’ll go into labelling, because what we're trying to do is to create a database where we can retrieve information so researchers can have access to it."

Currently, the majority of local artefacts are stored at the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre's Archaeology Unit at ISEAS, as well as the Archaeology Laboratory for the Department of Southeast Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, where hundreds boxes of artefacts from various digs conducted over the years have yet to be processed.

The Archaeology Laboratory alone currently houses half a million local artefacts from digs as far back as the 1980s, along with a few thousand artefacts excavated from other sites in the region.

The two-storey facility keeps shelves stacked with boxes containing all sorts of artefacts, some neatly packaged and labeled with precise facts and details, others with just a brief description of where they were found.

"There’s this connection between human beings and past objects. And it’s hard to explain but it's obvious there’s a strong relationship – that’s why people collect various kinds of antiquities," Dr Miksic said.

"For many people just touching a 14th century object already puts them in direct contact with people who made it, who used it and who were their ancestors who lived here 700 years ago. And they feel touched by that."

ARCHAEOLOGY TO FEATURE IN FIRST NATIONAL HERITAGE PLAN

For this reason, Singapore's first national heritage plan is placing a spotlight on archaeology. So far, more than 700 people have been consulted on the upcoming masterplan, with feedback highlighted in a travelling exhibition launched on Jan 9, and the masterplan to be officially launched this April.

"We’ve been holding focus group discussions with different archaeology experts, researchers (and) volunteers who have experience in volunteering in past archaeology research and excavations, and they’ve given us a lot of feedback," said Yeo Kirk Siang, Director of the Heritage Research and Assessment Division at the National Heritage Board.

This includes doing more in the areas of research and promotion of archaeology, attracting more Singaporeans to join the field, and "a more robust and systemic way of looking at where the archaeology sites are in Singapore", Mr Yeo said.

Archaeologists say they welcome the spotlight on the field.

Stressing its significance was Mr Lim, who said that archaeology is a crucial part of unlocking Singapore's history.

"History is usually linked to printed records - but what about unwritten stuff? We have very little historical record because manuscripts in tropical climates tend to deteriorate, like those written on palm leaves. So studying the past through objects and how things change is a huge part of it," said Mr Lim.

"Archaeology plays a very important role in not just telling you about beautiful objects. Of course it’s nice to look at beautiful stuff – it’s like finding treasure. But I believe (that) archaeology can tell us a lot about ourselves.

"I may not be related to anyone from Temasek 700 years ago, but I’m connected to the people from Temasek because I stand on the same ground. I have a history, link, connection with them. And archaeology can speak to all of us in terms of a sense of belonging and identity."


Source: CNA/ad


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