US supports Nepalese system to detect forest fires

By Saleem Shaikh
Thomson Reuters Foundation – Thu, 16 May 2013 02:53 PM

Hira Pulami peels bark from the trunk of a pine tree burned in a forest fire that broke out in mid-April in Seti Devi village, 16 km southwest of Kathmandu. TRF/Saleem Shaikh

SETI DEVI, Kathmandu (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – For Hira Pulami, seeing the charred trunks of the precious pine trees he grew up with is a cause of lingering pain. But he is hopeful that Nepal’s new forest-fire detection system will help avoid a repeat of the recent catastrophe that struck his village.

“I myself planted with these hands many of the pine trees that burned down during the raging forest fire in Seti Devi last month,” he said sorrowfully.

Seti Devi is a scenic mountain village, 16 km southwest of Kathmandu. Popular with tourists, it is renowned for its ancient pine trees.

Pulami was asleep when the blaze erupted in his village on the night of April 14, proceeding to burn for almost 36 hours.

Army troops, backed by police and fire fighters, arrived some 21 hours after the fire began. The delay was caused by the village’s location on a steep mountain without proper road access, the 40-year-old said.

Pointing to a large area that now looks like unsightly wasteland, Pulami said that, after engulfing most of the tall pines in Seti Devi, the wildfire rapidly swept through the forests in the adjoining villages of Sheshnarayan and Chhaimale.

“Local people used every resource at hand to douse it, but in vain, for it was too fierce to be tamed by just a few of us,” he recalled.

Besides thousands of decades-old pine trees, precious medicinal herbs were also reduced to cinders in just a few hours, Pulami said, his voice choking with grief.

1,000 FIRES SINCE MARCH

Police deputy superintendent Guru Bishnu Kafle told Kantipur News TV on April 22 that, since the dry season started in the third week of March, Nepal had already witnessed forest fires in over 1,000 places, destroying both community and public forests and protected areas including the Chitwan National Park, Parsa Wildlife Reserve and Annapurna Conservation Area.

The forest fire season continues until mid-August, but official records indicate that about 60 percent of wildfires occur in March and April, Kafle said.

The major causes include mismanagement of the ‘slash and burn’ agriculture method in forests, lack of community awareness programmes, careless use of flammable substances, and the absence of plans to demarcate firebreaks.

Sundar Sharma, coordinator of the UNISDR-Regional South Asia Wildfire Network , said preparedness and response mechanisms for forest fires are weak in Nepal.

According to the Nepal forest fire management chapter of the network, around 239,000 hectares of forests were destroyed by wildfires in 2009-2010 alone.

RISING TEMPERATURES

Temperatures are rising in mountain areas close to Kathmandu, largely due to increased deforestation, as trees are cut down for fuel in the winter and land is cleared for urbanisation, which also hikes vehicle emissions and timber demand. The risk of forest fires is growing in line with these trends.

Pulami said forest fires have become more frequent as the local climate has warmed over the past decade. In the past, the winter cold would last until late April, but now warm days are occurring as early as mid-March, he explained.

“The latest forest fire incident in my village was the fourth in the most recent three years of my 40-year life,” he said.

So he was glad to learn that through a new SMS service that sends alerts to mobile phones, he can now be informed of a wildfire incident within just 20 minutes of its detection.

“(This) can really help us tackle a forest fire…before it spreads far and wide,” he said with hope. “Wildfires are easily controllable when on a smaller scale.”

U.S. SUPPORT

The “Forest Fire Detection and Monitoring System” was launched in March 2012 as a pilot programme in a few of Nepal’s forest districts by the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

Technical support has been provided by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), with funding from USAID, under the multi-million-dollar SERVIR-Himalaya initiative.

The Nepalese system uses data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument on NASA satellites, combined with geographic information system (GIS) and remote sensing (RE) technologies, to carry out automated data acquisition, processing and reporting on exact fire locations.

After the successful test phase, ICIMOD rolled out the system in late April in collaboration with the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation in all of Nepal’s 75 districts, as part of national climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts.

Sudip Pradhan, leader of the project at ICIMOD, told Thomson Reuters Foundation that the system now sends forest fire alerts via SMS and email to 200 subscribers, who include district forest officials and local members of the Federation of Community Forest Users’ Group Nepal.

“In view of the country’s large area, satellite data have proved highly useful for near real-time fire detection, monitoring and assessment of burnt areas,” he said.

The system, planted on the roof of ICIMOD headquarters, receives images directly from NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites. These are processed by ICIMOD, and if fires are detected, alerts are sent out to subscribers in just 15 to 20 minutes to help them respond quickly, Pradhan explained.

RESPONSE KEY

Forest Management Officer Pashupati Koirala said the system would help his colleagues across the country, as well as the wardens of protected areas.

“Once the forest officers get fire alerts, they pass on the information to forest range posts and coordinate with the community forest user groups,” Koirala said. “This is really helping us overcome forest fires very soon after they break out, to stave off loss of life, as well as damage to forest resources and public properties.”

The fire notifications are particularly useful as they provide geographical details such as longitude, latitude, district and village names, and even ward numbers, he added.

Pramod Kumar Aggarwal, South Asia programme leader for the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), warned that the success of the new system will depend on how forest officials on the ground react to the alerts.

“Certainly such an information system is a key to efficient protection of forest resources, and further progress can be achieved through timely and efficient response to the forest fire detection and monitoring,” he said.

ICIMOD’s Pradhan said the centre has chalked out a plan to share the system with other South Asian countries. Collaboration is underway with Bhutan and Bangladesh, and the technology will be soon transferred to them, he said.

Staff in forest departments and others concerned will also receive hands-on training to be able to run the fire detection systems effectively, he added.

Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio are climate change and development reporters based in Islamabad.

Eating insects can help tackle hunger, global warming, says UN study

ISLAMABAD: The latest armament in the UN’s fight against hunger, global warming and surging pollution may soon fly by you.

Edible insects are being promoted as a low-fat, high-protein food for people, pets and livestock. According to the UN, they come with appetizing side benefits: Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and livestock pollution, creating jobs in developing countries and feeding the millions of hungry people in the world.

Who eats insects now?

Two billion people do, largely in Asia, Africa and Latin America, the Rome-based UN Food and Agriculture Organization said yesterday as it issued a report exploring edible insect potential.

Some insects may already be in your food (and this is no fly-in-my-soup joke). Demand for natural food coloring as opposed to artificial dyes is increasing, the agency’s experts say. A red coloring produced from the cochineal, a scaled insect often exported from Peru, already puts the hue in a trendy Italian aperitif and an internationally popular brand of strawberry yogurt. Many pharmaceutical companies also use colorings from insects in their pills.

Protein-rich, full of fiber

Scientists who have studied the nutritional value of edible insects have found that red ants, small grasshoppers and some water beetles pack (gram-per-gram or ounce-per-ounce) enough protein to rank with lean ground beef while having less fat per gram.

Bored with bran as a source of fiber in your diet? Edible insects can oblige, and they also contain useful minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphorous, selenium and zinc.

Which to choose?

Beetles and caterpillars are the most common meals among the more than 1,900 edible insect species that people eat. Other popular insect foods are bees, wasps, ants, grasshoppers, locusts and crickets. Less popular are termites and flies, according to UN data.

Eco-friendly

Insects on average can convert 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of feed into 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of edible meat. In comparison, cattle require 8 kilograms (17.6 pounds) of feed to produce a kilogram of meat. Most insects raised for food are likely to produce fewer environmentally harmful greenhouse gases than livestock, the UN agency says.

Don’t swat the income

Edible insects are a money-maker. In Africa, four big water bottles filled with grasshoppers can fetch a gatherer 15 euros ($20). Some caterpillars in southern Africa and weaver ant eggs in Southeast Asia are considered delicacies and command high prices.

Insect-farms tend to be small, serving niche markets like fish bait businesses. But since insects thrive across a wide range of locations — from deserts to mountains — and are highly adaptable, experts see big potential for the insect farming industry, especially those farming insects for animal feed. Most edible insects are now gathered in forests.

Let a bug do your recycling

A 3 million euro ($4 million) European Union-funded research project is studying the common housefly to see if a lot of flies can help recycle animal waste by essentially eating it while helping to produce feed for animals such as chickens. Right now farmers can only use so much manure as fertilizer and many often pay handsome sums for someone to cart away animal waste and burn it.

A South African fly factory that rears the insects en masse to transform blood, guts, manure and discarded food into animal feed has won a $100,000 UN-backed innovation prize.

The story published first in Lahore Times on May 15, 2013. 
Weblink: http://www.lhrtimes.com/2013/05/14/eating-insects-can-help-tackle-hunger-global-warming-says-un-study/

Tech Transfer can help mitigate heat-trapping emissions: UNEP study

NAIROBI/ISLAMABAD: Less than one per cent of all patent applications relating to Clean Energy Technology (CET) have been filed in Africa, highlighting an opportunity for the continent to leapfrog existing fossil-fuel energy sources and; thus, cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions and bring major health benefits, according to a recent study.

A new study by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the European Patent Office (EPO)—Patents and Clean Energy Technologies in Africa—found that Africa has a huge untapped potential for generating clean energy, including enough hydroelectric power from its seven major river systems to serve the whole of the continent’s needs, as well as enormous potential for solar energy, wind energy, geothermal energy etc.

For example, hydropower, the most commonly used renewable energy source, is estimated to be utilized at just 4.3 per cent of the continent’s total capacity—although recent years have seen efforts to ramp up clean energy, with North African nations leading in solar and wind, Kenya in Geothermal, Ethiopia in hydro and Mauritius in bioenergy.

However, intellectual property and patenting in particular have been highlighted as a significant factor limiting the transfer of new clean technologies to developing countries, and identified as a barrier to these countries meeting new emission limits for CO2 and other Greenhouse Gases.

While the lack of patents filed means CETs can be freely exploited in Africa, the lack of these patents to protect their products means source companies may be reluctant to offer up their know-how to promote technology transfer.

“The development and transfer of technologies are key pillars in both mitigating the causes of climate change and adapting to its effects; patents are a crucial part of this process,” said Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson.

“In addition to an accelerated response to climate change, boosting clean energy technologies have multiple green economy benefits including on public health—for example, in sub-Saharan Africa more than half of all deaths from pneumonia in children under the age of five, and chronic lung disease and lung cancer in adults over 30, can be attributed to solid fuel use,” he added.

“The joint EPO-UNEP study is the first-ever representative stock taking of clean energy technology patents in African countries,” said EPO chief economist Nikolaus Thumm. “Its main purpose is to facilitate an evidence-based informed debate on the role of patents in the dissemination of clean energy technologies in Africa, and to promote identification of existing technology solutions in the field for technology transfer to the continent.”

The report found that of the one per cent of identified CET-related patents filed in Africa, the majority came in South Africa, meaning there has been very little activity in the remaining African states.

Also, only 10 per cent of African inventors apply for patent protection in Africa; the majority tend to seek protection in four other regions: the United States (27 per cent), the EPO (24 per cent), Germany (13 per cent) and Canada (10 per cent).

However, there are signs that the situation is changing. Despite low patent application numbers, the overall inventive activity in African countries grew by 5 per cent between 1980 and 2009, compared to 4 per cent at the global level. With a 59 per cent increase, mitigation technologies grew most significantly in that period.

Most African nations are fairly well integrated into the international patent system and an increasing number are putting in place specific patenting policies and strategies, which place significant importance on technology transfer, as part of their development framework.

As a consequence, African inventors – individuals and domestic companies active in the field of CETs – are also putting greater emphasis on patents as part of their business strategies, using the international, regional and national filing systems for patent applications in Africa and elsewhere.

The story published first in Lahore Times on May 14, 2013.
Weblink: http://www.lhrtimes.com/2013/05/14/tech-transfer-can-help-mitigate-heat-trapping-emissions-unep-study/

Call for climate-smart brick kiln technology

KATHMANDU/ISLAMABAD: During extensive discussion among experts from 11 countries, it was concluded that negative impact of traditional brick klins on health, agriculture and climate can be tackled with replacing these with climate-smart brick klins.

Participants at the “South-South Exchange Workshop on Brick Technology and Policy” identified viable solutions to achieve this goal.

The two-day event, which concluded here today was held in Kathamndu and organized by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

Climate experts said modern brickmaking technologies that cause far less pollution than traditional brick kiln technologies are need of the our. But it is not possible to achieve without increased political recognition of the problem, particularly in the major brick making countries of Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

Participants also shed light on the importance of inter-ministerial coordination among ministries of housing, industry, health, agriculture and environment to achieve large-scale reductions at the national level as well as at regional scales.

Bricks are a primary construction material used in many regions, and brick production is known to be a highly polluting activity, resulting in emissions of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), such as black carbon, along with a range of other pollutants.

The workshop was convened by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC) and jointly hosted by the National Institute of Ecology in Mexico and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Kathmandu.

In his opening address, Secretary Krishna Gyawali of the Ministry of Industry in Nepal highlighted the urgency of the problem and noted the brick sector consumes more than 50 percent of the total coal in Nepal. He also noted the importance of continued research on black carbon by ICIMOD and others in relation to the melting of the Himalayas and glaciers around the world.

“It is high time to accelerate mitigation of black carbon and other pollutants from key sources, such as brick kilns,” he said.

The majority of brick kilns in operation are traditional kilns, also referred to as artisanal kilns. The primary fuels used to fire the bricks are coal, wood, local biomass and any available low-cost fuel or scavenged fuel, such as bunker fuel, waste oil, used tires, sawdust, plastics, battery cases and dung.

Yet, limited access to electricity makes it a challenge to modernise and mechanise the sector, experts grumbled at the workshop.

The CCAC will carry on the discussion and consider priorities for reducing SLCPs from brick production at its next meeting in July 2013.

The story published first in Lahore Times on May 11, 2013.
The weblink: http://www.lhrtimes.com/2013/05/11/call-for-climate-smart-brick-kiln-technology/ 

Greening Trade Imperative for green Development: UNEP Report

GENEVA/ISLAMABAD: Greening global trade is an important step towards achieving sustainable development, and developing countries are well positioned to help catalyse this transition, according to a new report released today by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

“In today’s increasingly interconnected world, where trillions of dollars worth of goods and services are traded annually, greening global trade still presents challenges but also holds significant opportunities,” said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director.

“If we are to roll back the global decline in biodiversity, mitigate the release of greenhouse gases (GHG), halt the degradation of lands and protect our oceans, then it is an imperative that international trade becomes more sustainable and contributes to protecting that ‘natural capital’ of economies in the developing world.”

He said that in the last two decades, trade has continued to expand, creating economic growth and progress towards eradicating poverty in developing countries.  At the same time, however, the increasing volume of trade has put additional stress on natural resources, led to increases in GHG emissions, and contributed to social inequalities.

World trade patterns show that developing countries, and particularly least developed countries, still depend heavily on natural resource based products and raw materials for their exports. To achieve long-term and sustainable economic development, however, there are significant and real opportunities for developing nations to diversify their economies and position themselves to benefit from the growing global demand for more green goods and services, Achim Steiner said.

While still representing only a small percentage of the global market, trade in certified products and in environmental goods and services is on the rise in absolute terms.  For example, the global market in low-carbon and energy efficient technologies, which include renewable energy supply products, is projected to nearly triple to US$ 2.2 trillion by 2020.

The report, Green Economy and Trade – Trends, Challenges and Opportunities, finds that developing countries with abundant renewable resources are well-positioned to capitalize on the opportunities to increase their share in international markets for sustainable goods and services.

The report analyzes six economic sectors – agriculture, fisheries, forests, manufacturing, renewable energy and tourism – where trade opportunities exist, and identifies measures, such as policy reforms and certification, that can help developing countries benefit from these markets.

Some of the trends highlighted in the report illustrate this potential.  For example:

· Agriculture: The global market for organic food and beverages is projected to grow to US$105 billion by 2015, compared to US$62.9 billion in 2011. For instance, the production of tea in line with sustainability standards has increased by 2000 per cent between 2005 and 2009.

· Fisheries and aquaculture: Wild-capture fisheries already certified or in full assessment record annual catches of around 18 million metric tonnes of seafood. This represents about 17 per cent of the annual global harvest of wild capture fisheries, and demand far outstrips supply. Furthermore, the total value of seafood that has been farmed according to certified sustainability standards is forecast to increase to US$1.25 billion by 2015, up from US$300 million in 2008.

· Forestry: As of early 2013, the total area of certified forest worldwide stands at close to 400 million hectares, amounting to approximately 10 per cent of global forest resources. Sales of certified wood products are worth over US$20 billion per annum.

· Manufacturing: Many suppliers are greening their practices in order to secure their positions within international supply chains. This is illustrated, for example, by the 1,500 per cent increase in global ISO 14001 certifications on environmental management between 1999 and 2009.

· Renewable energy: Since 1990, annual global growth in solar photovoltaic, wind and biofuel supply capacity has averaged 42, 25 and 15 per cent respectively. In 2010, the investments in renewable energy supply reached US$211 billion, a five-fold increase from 2004, and more than half of these investments were in developing countries. Developing countries have significantly increased their exports of renewable energy equipment such as solar panels, wind turbines and solar water heaters, and expanded their potential to export electricity from renewable sources.

· Tourism: In developing countries, this industry’s market share has increased from 30 per cent in 1980 to 47 per cent in 2011, and is expected to reach 57 per cent by 2030. In 2012, for the first time, international tourism arrivals reached one billion per year. The fastest growing sub-sector in sustainable tourism is ecotourism, which focuses on nature-based activities. Many developing countries have a comparative advantage in ecotourism due to their natural environments, cultural heritage and possibilities for adventure holidays.

“Transitioning to a green economy can facilitate new trade opportunities, which in turn will help to make global trade more sustainable,” said Mr Steiner.  “At the same time, trade in environmental goods and services is clearly an area where many developing countries have a competitive advantage. With the right policies and price regimes in place, developing countries are well-positioned to help drive the global transition to a more sustainable economy.”

The report identifies several areas where public and private actions can support developing countries’ efforts to access greener international markets.  These include:

· Public investments in key economic infrastructure, technical assistance, targeted education and training programmes, and access to sustainable resources, such as electricity from renewable energy sources.

· Market-based instruments, such as the elimination of subsidies that encourage unsustainable production, consumption and trade, and pricing policies that take account of the true environmental and social costs of production and consumption.

· Regulatory frameworks that support green industries and incorporate   sustainable development considerations in national development plans and export promotion strategies.

· Resource and energy-efficient production methods, so as to ensure long-term competitiveness in international markets.

· Regional and multilateral fora that can help to liberalize trade in environmental goods and services, remove environmentally harmful subsidies, and provide opportunities for collective action to address global environmental and social challenges.

Realizing sustainable trade opportunities can imply that suppliers have to comply with an increasing number of environmental and social requirements.  In the lead-up to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), several countries expressed concerns about such difficulties to access export markets due to complex regulatory regimes. Furthermore, achieving compliance can be expensive, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises.

For these reasons, public and private support is necessary to help businesses green their production and supply chains. In addition, regulatory cooperation, technical and financial assistance and capacity building, will be critical if developing countries are to harness new green trade opportunities.

UNEP, under the Green Economy and Trade Opportunities Project (GE-TOP), seeks to identify policies and measures to help developing countries overcome challenges and respond to export demand for sustainable goods and services.

Following this report, which is the first key output under GE-TOP, UNEP is moving to the second phase of GE-TOP. In response to the calls made at Rio+20 for more action by the international community, UNEP will provide sector-specific assistance to developing countries through inclusive stakeholder processes to seize opportunities arising from the transition to a green economy.

The story published first in Lahore Times on May 8, 2013
Weblink: http://www.lhrtimes.com/2013/05/08/greening-trade-imperative-for-green-development-unep-repor/ 

Effort to end global illegal ivory trade urged

NAIROBI/ISLAMABAD: On a fact-finding mission to Kenya, film actress Li Bingbing–one of China’s most popular celebrities and a rising Hollywood star–has urged greater effort by governments and consumers to combat illegal wildlife trade.

Li Bingbing said citizens and the business community in Asia can play a crucial role in preventing the illegal killing of elephants in Africa by saying no to ivory products.  The major recent spike in elephant killings–now at their highest levels in around a decade–is threatening the future of some elephant populations and the livelihoods of millions of people linked to tourism.

The visit marks the first overseas engagement for Li Bingbing, recently named ‘Asian Star of the Year’ by Variety magazine, in her role as Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). A dedicated environmental campaigner, Li Bingbing founded the L.O.V.E Green Movement in 2009 which encourages Chinese citizens to adopt resource-efficient, low-carbon lifestyles. She has extensively promoted the Think.Eat.Save: Reduce Your Foodprint campaign by UNEP and partners across social media networks in China. The campaign aims to reduce food waste and food loss worldwide. 

Earlier today, Li Bingbing visited the renowned David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust near Nairobi, where young elephants, many of whom have been orphaned due to poaching, are cared for and often returned to the wild.

“The current poaching crisis raises major concerns about the survival of elephants and rhinos here in Kenya,” said Li Bingbing during a press conference at UNEP headquarters in Nairobi.

“But there are also other, far-reaching impacts. Illegal killings of elephants are being linked to organized crime and the funding of armed militia groups. Many consumers in Asia do not realize that by buying ivory, they are playing a role in the illegal wildlife trade and its serious consequences. As global citizens, we need to take responsibility by learning more about the potential impacts of our lifestyle choices,” she added.

A regular on red carpets from Hollywood to Cannes, Li Bingbing is among the most recognized faces in China and counts over 20 million followers on Chinese social media networks among her many fans. She has starred in a number of high-profile English-language films, including the most recent installment of the hit ‘Resident Evil’ series and ‘The Forbidden Kingdom’ with Jackie Chan and Jet Li.

Rise in Illegal Killing of Elephants 

In the past decade, the number of elephants illegally killed in Africa has doubled, while the ivory trade has tripled, according to a recent study by UNEP and partners, Elephants in the Dust.

Data from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) monitoring programme ‘Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants’ (MIKE), shows that 17,000 elephants were illegally killed in 2011. MIKE covers areas home to around 40 per cent of African elephants, meaning the true figures may well be even higher. Indications are that the number of elephants killed in 2012 ran into the tens of thousands.

In Cameroon, up to 450 elephants were killed early last year. Profits from poached ivory are believed by some experts to be supporting armed conflict in the region.

Demand for illegal ivory remains highest in the rapidly growing economies of Asia, particularly China. Large-scale seizures of ivory destined for Asia have doubled since 2009. Weak governance in source, transit and destination countries is also contributing to the problem.

“Rising wildlife crime in Kenya and other parts of Africa is an issue of global concern, impacting many regions of the world. Profits from the high price of elephant ivory and rhino horn are being linked to criminal networks involved in the illegal drugs trade, illegal logging, and human trafficking according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

“UNEP, CITES and partners are working together to improve collaboration between customs, police forces and national governments to tackle this black market.  But illegal wildlife trade can only be eradicated if the demand for products disappears. Li Bingbing’s work to highlight the multiple costs of illegal trade can reach millions of consumers, and encourage sustainable choices    that can support the survival of Africa’s elephants,” added Mr. Steiner.

UNEP recently signed an agreement with the city of Shanghai–home to 23 million people–to display a series of photographs in the underground rail network highlighting illegal wildlife trade. The images by seven leading international wildlife photographers will draw attention to the black market in elephant ivory, rhino horn, skins, fins and flowers, which is threatening the survival of many endangered species.

A film, Elephant in the Room, produced in partnership with CITES, will be displayed in Shanghai’s main city square. The film traces the origins of an ornament made from illegally-sourced ivory and ends with the tagline, ‘when we stop buying, they stop dying’.

In a joint effort by UNEP and the NGO Save the Elephants, Li Bingbing will travel to the Samburu National Reserve in northern Kenya this week, where she will meet with wildlife experts and visit sites where elephants have recently been killed by poachers.

“An excessive demand for ivory is at the root of the rise in the illegal killing of elephants, and attempts to save them will fail unless this is tackled,” said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Founder and CEO of Save the Elephants.

“Appetite for ivory can be changed, as it was in the US, Europe and Japan. The reality of what is happening to elephants in Africa must be communicated–such as through the work of Li Bingbing and other celebrities–in ivory consumer countries. If it is not, the outlook for elephants looks very bleak,” he added.

“With the current trend of elephant poaching for ivory across its range, there is a risk of sending elephants to extinction,” said Patrick Omondi, Head of Species Conservation and Management at the Kenya Wildlife Service.

“Global citizens need to come together to fight this internationally organized wildlife crime. A clear strategy on demand reduction in consumer states will go along way in saving the African elephants,” he added.
Besides illegal killings, elephants are also threatened by the increasing loss of habitat in around 29 per cent of their range areas – primarily as a result of human population growth and agricultural expansion. According to the Elephants in the Dustreport, this figure could rise to 63 per cent by 2050, posing a major additional threat to the long-term survival of the species.

Global Illegal Wildlife Crime

The World Wildlife Fund estimates the global illicit trade in wildlife to be worth at least US$19 billion per year, making it the fourth largest illegal trade in the world after narcotics, counterfeiting and human trafficking.

Reptiles, sharks, great apes, and certain timber species are among the flora and fauna most affected by illegal wildlife trade.

A recent UNEP study showed that almost 3,000 live great apes are being taken from the forests of Africa and Southeast Asia each year. The main markets for the illegal trade in chimpanzees, gorillas and organutans include the tourist entertainment industry, disreputable zoos, and individuals who wish to buy great apes as exotic pets.

Research by UNEP and INTERPOL estimates that between 50 to 90 per cent of logging in key tropical countries of the Amazon basin, Central Africa and South East Asia is being carried out by organized crime. This is threatening attempts to reduce deforestation as well as efforts to combat climate change under initiatives such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD or REDD+).

Despite ongoing challenges, positive steps are being taken to tackle environmental crime and ensure sustainable trade.

During the recent Conference of the Parties to CITES held in March 2013, some 170 government backed moves to afford increased protection status to hundreds of timber species, certain tortoises and turtles, and other plant and animal species. Five shark species and manta rays were also brought under CITES controls.

Other actions include the establishment of Project Leaf (Law Enforcement Assistance for Forests) – a recent consortium of forests and climate initiatives that aims to combat illegal logging and organized forest crime. The project is led by the INTERPOL Environmental Crime Programme and the UNEP’s collaborative centre in Norway (GRID-Arendal), with support from the Government of Norway.

The story published first in Lahore Times on May 6, 2013

Weblink: http://www.lhrtimes.com/2013/05/06/effort-to-end-global-illegal-ivory-trade-urged/

Year 2012 among top ten warmest years: WMO

GENEVA/ISLAMABAD: The World Meteorological Organization’s Statement on the Status of the Global Climate says that 2012 joined the ten previous years as one of the warmest — at ninth place — on record despite the cooling influence of a La Niña episode early in the year, according to a WMO report released last weekend.

The 2012 global land and ocean surface temperature during January–December 2012 is estimated to be 0.45°C (±0.11°C) above the 1961–1990 average of 14.0°C. This is the ninth warmest year since records began in 1850 and the 27th consecutive year that the global land and ocean temperatures were above the 1961–1990 average, according to the statement. The years 2001–2012 were all among the top 13 warmest years on record.

“Although the rate of warming varies from year to year due to natural variability caused by the El Niño cycle, volcanic eruptions and other phenomena, the sustained warming of the lower atmosphere is a worrisome sign,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. “The continued upward trend in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and the consequent increased radiative forcing of the Earth’s atmosphere confirm that the warming will continue,” he said.

“The record loss of Arctic sea ice in August-September — 18% less than the previous record low of 2007 of 4.17 million km2 — was also a disturbing sign of climate change,” said Mr Jarraud. “The year 2012 saw many other extremes as well, such as droughts and tropical cyclones. Natural climate variability has always resulted in such extremes, but the physical characteristics of extreme weather and climate events are being increasingly shaped by climate change,” he said.

“For example, because global sea levels are now about 20 cm higher than they were in 1880, storms such as Hurricane Sandy are bringing more coastal flooding than they would have otherwise,” said Mr Jarraud.

WMO’s annual statements gather the key climate events of each year. The series stands today as an internationally rec­ognized authoritative source of information about temperatures, precipitation, extreme events, tropical cyclones, and sea ice extent. The newly released statement provided in-depth analysis of regional trends as part of a WMO drive to provide more information at regional and national levels to support adaptation to climate variability and change.

The 2012 climate assessment, the most detailed to date, will inform discussion at WMO’s Executive Council meeting (15-23 May 2013).

Above-average temperatures were observed during 2012 across most of the globe’s land surface areas, most notably North America, southern Europe, western Russia, parts of northern Africa and southern South America. Nonetheless, cooler-than-average conditions were observed across Alaska, parts of northern and eastern Australia, and central Asia.

Precipitation across the globe was slightly above the 1961-1990 long-term average.  There were drier-than-average conditions across much of the central United States, northern Mexico, northeastern Brazil, central Russia, and south-central Australia. Wetter-than-average conditions were present across northern Europe, western Africa, north-central Argentina, western Alaska, and most of northern China.

Snow cover extent in North America during the 2011/2012 winter was below average, resulting in the fourth smallest winter snow cover extent on record, according to data from the Global Snow Laboratory. This was in marked contrast to the previous two winters (2009/2010 and 2010/2011), which had the largest and third largest snow cover extent, respectively, since records began in 1966.

Meanwhile, the Eurasian continent snow cover extent during the winter was above average, resulting in the fourth largest snow cover extent on record. Overall, the northern hemisphere snow cover extent was above average – 590000 km2 above the average of 45.2 million km2 – and was the fourteenth largest snow cover extent on record.

Greenland ice sheet: In early July, Greenland’s surface ice cover melted dramatically, with an estimated 97 per cent of the ice sheet surface having thawed in mid-July. This was the largest melt extent since satellite records began 34 years ago. During the summer it is typical to observe nearly half of the surface of Greenland’s ice sheet melt naturally, particularly across the lower elevations. However, in 2012 a high-pressure system brought warmer-than-average conditions to Greenland, which are associated with the rapid melting.

Arctic sea ice extent reached its record lowest level in its annual cycle on 16 September at 3.41 million km2. This value broke the previous record low set on 18 September 2007 by 18 per cent. It was 49 per cent or nearly 3.3 million km2 below the 1979–2000 average minimum. The difference between the maximum Arctic sea-ice extent on 20 March and the lowest minimum extent on 16 September was 11.83 million km2 – the largest seasonal sea-ice extent loss in the 34-year satellite record.

Antarctic sea-ice extent in March was the fourth largest on record at 5.0 million km2 or 16.0 per cent above the 1979–2000 average. During its growth season, the Antarctic sea-ice extent reached its maximum extent since records began in 1979 on 26 September, at 19.4 million km2. This value surpassed the previous maximum sea-ice extent record of 19.36 million km2 set on 21 September 2006.

Extreme Events: Hurricane Sandy killed close to 100 people and caused major destruction in the Caribbean and tens of billions of US dollars in damage and around 130 deaths in the eastern United States of America. Typhoon Bopha, the deadliest tropical cyclone of the year, hit the Philippines – twice – in December. During the year, the United States and south-eastern Europe experienced extreme drought conditions, while West Africa was severely hit by extreme flooding. The populations of Europe, northern Africa and Asia were acutely affected by extreme cold and snow conditions. Severe flooding occurred in Pakistan or a third consecutive year.

Climate change is aggravating naturally occurring climate variability and has become a source of uncertainty for climate-sensitive economic sectors like agriculture and energy.

“It is vital that we continue to invest in the observations and research that will improve our knowledge about climate variability and climate change,” said Mr Jarraud.

“We need to understand how much of the extra heat captured by greenhouse gases is being stored in the oceans and the consequences this brings in terms of ocean acidification and other impacts. We need to know more about the temporary cooling effects of pollution and other aerosols emitted into the atmosphere. We also need a better understanding of the changing behaviour of extreme weather and climate events as a consequence of global warming, as well as the need to assist countries in the most affected areas to better manage climate-related risks with improved climate early warning and climate watch systems,” said Mr Jarraud.

The Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS), adopted by the Extraordinary World Meteorological Congress in 2012, now provides the necessary global platform to inform decision-making for climate adaptation through enhanced climate information.

The story published first in Lahore Times on May 6, 2013

Weblink: http://www.lhrtimes.com/2013/05/06/year-2012-among-top-ten-warmest-years-wmo/

ICIMOD, MoFSC launch near real-time forest fire alert system

Kathmandu/ISLAMABAD: An operational remote sensing-based forest fire detection and monitoring system for Nepal was officially launched today by the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation (MoFSC) and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) during a regional policy workshop at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) headquarters in Kathmandu.

The system, which was piloted in Nepal over the last year, uses active fire data generated by ICIMOD’s MODIS receiving station for near real-time detection of forest fires.

The system is also equipped with an automated alert system, which sends email and SMS notifications to subscribers, including District Forest Officers and focal persons of the Federation of Community Forestry Users in all 75 districts.

The system is the first of its kind in the region, and ICIMOD is planning to implement similar systems in other countries of the Hindu Kush Himalayan region.

Over the three-day workshop, 30 senior officials from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan joined experts from the United States Forest Service, NASA, and SERVIR-Himalaya – an initiative at ICIMOD supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and NASA – to receive a two-day technical training on operational forest fire detection and monitoring systems equipped with SMS and email alerts.

The training was followed by a day-long discussion on policy, which helped identify gaps in technology, capacity and policy in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region and foster regional cooperation for improving forest fire management. The workshop was organized by ICIMOD under the SERVIR-Himalaya Initiative in close collaboration with United States Forest Service (USFS). It was supported by USAID and the US Department of State.

Dr. KC Poudel, Secretary of MoFSC, emphasized the importance of the workshop, and the need to develop forest adaptation strategies under changing climate scenarios that evaluate available mitigation and adaptation options and identify policies and instruments to support adaptation.

“Changing climate scenarios call for different approaches to forest resource management. The technology and know-how on geospatial support systems that ICIMOD and its partners have shared with the Ministry and other relevant departments will play a major role in improving the management of Nepal’s valuable forest resources,” Poudel said.

“The US Forest Service is pleased to participate in the workshop and share geospatial technology experiences with the countries of the HKH region. Despite differences in geography and culture we share many of the same needs for robust geospatial solutions. The result is responsive and sound forest fire management’ said Brian Schwind, Director USFS Remote Sensing Application Center.

“This workshop is an important step in strengthening the capability of countries in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region to better manage forest fires. ICIMOD is excited to be involved in developing and sharing innovative geospatial systems to provide timely reporting of forest fire incidence in the region along with the support and technical collaboration of USAID, NASA the US Forest Service, and the US Department of State,” said Dr. Eklabya Sharma, Director of Programme Operations at ICIMOD.

In addition, ICIMOD announced that the 2010 Nepal Land Cover Database will be made available to the public for validation through a crowd-sourcing application on the Centre’s online Mountain GeoPortal. Basanta Shrestha, Regional Programme Manager of the Mountain Environment Regional Information System (MENRIS) programme at ICIMOD, said.

“As part of regional land cover mapping at ICIMOD, the 2010 Nepal land cover database will provide the basis for natural resources accounting at the national level”. ICIMOD has completed land cover mapping and change assessments in Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Pakistan as well.

Dr. MSR Murthy, Geospatial Solutions Theme Leader at ICIMOD, said, “With validation from its end users, the interactive mapping system will serve as an important information asset in the natural resource sector”.

The story first published in Lahore Times on April 12, 2013.

Weblink: http://www.lhrtimes.com/2013/04/12/icimod-mofsc-launch-near-real-time-forest-fire-alert-system/