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"In the News" (pdf)

By Jacqueline Weir and Sukh Mantel

Reuters News Service stories can be accessed at

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In a recent report by WWF Australia and two meteorologists, global warming due to greenhouse gas pollution has been blamed for the recent drought in Australia. Natural climate variation, including the effects of El Niño, was not enough to explain the drought. The Australian government has given financial help to affected farmers, yet joined the USA in rejecting the 1997 Kyoto treaty on pollution. (SCMP 15.1.03)

Australia has recently created two huge wildlife reserves to protect its marine and desert environments. The marine reserve is the largest in the world, situated over 4000 km southwest of Australia and 1000km north of Antarctica. The decision to create it was described by WWF as one of the most significant conservation decisions made by Australia. However the reserve faces threat from illegal fishing of the highly prized Patagonian toothfish. The other reserve covers desert areas of Western Australia where fauna and flora are rich due to little European farming in the region. Local aborigines will continue to manage the land. (SCMP 14.10.02)

Renewable energy is being slow to gain popularity in Asia. Although costs are declining, without legislation and subsidies to support it, renewable energy still costs much more than conventional fuels. However some countries are encouraging its use, with the Philippines leading the region with new power reform laws. Renewable energy is more often used in rural or remote areas, where it is costly to connect to the electricity grid. (Reuters 11.12.02)

The Russian government has ordered the Nikolai Vavilov Institute of Plant Growing and Research – which contains an important global collection of plant genetic resources – out of its current building. This may destroy some of the collection due to the difficulties of transfer. A quarter of the institute’s plant and seed samples are now thought to be extinct in the wild. The building is desired by the government to convert to government offices and accommodation. (SCMP 3.2.03)

A new bear sanctuary has been set up near Agra, India, supported by various animal welfare organisations to house bears that were previously forced to ‘dance’ for tourists. Dancing bears are traditional entertainment in India. The bears – traditionally sloth bears, which now have a wild population of around 8000 – are caught as cubs from the wild and forced to dance by tugging on ropes passing through their sensitive snouts, after their teeth and claws have been ripped out to make lucky charms. A re-training programme has been devised for owners who give up their bears. Although laws exist to prevent collection of and trade in wild animals, they are largely ignored. (SCMP 13.1.03)

Three to five thousand workers from the Taiwan Plastics Industry Association recently marched on the Presidential Office in Taipei, protesting against a new policy on plastic bags and tableware. Restaurants, supermarkets and chain stores now have to charge customers for these items, although street vendors are exempt. The policy is expected to cut waste by around 30%, however critics argue that it may result in the loss of up to 50,000 jobs. (Reuters 21.1.03)

Representatives from 40 countries around the Indian and Pacific Oceans recently met in Bangkok to discuss the plight of sea turtles. Efforts by governments are to be stepped up to protect them from egg poaching, fishing nets and tourist encroachment. The population of Leatherback turtles on eastern peninsular Malaysia was reduced from thousands of breeding females down to five, in only thirty years. (Reuters 27.1.03)

Japan has been financially assisting poorer nations such as Antigua, Granada and Dominica, in return for their support in votes at the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Japan wishes to resume large-scale commercial whaling. At the same time Japan is lobbying for reduced IWC membership fees for poorer nations and increased fees for wealthier countries (many of which are whale-friendly). Similar tactics are now being tried to influence CITES rulings, where they are seeking permission to hunt Bryde’s and minke whales. To try and hide their activities, Japan is also seeking secret balloting at CITES meetings. (Private Eye 13-26.12.02)

Observations over years of different wild orang-utan groups have shown differences in behaviour between the groups, termed ‘culture’. Examples include eating habits, sexual practices and bedtime rituals. Cultural differences have previously been observed in chimpanzees, and may also be present in the other great apes. The findings have caused debate as to the causes of such ‘cultural’ differences and the use of an anthropomorphic term such as culture. (SCMP 4.1.03)

A pod of 150 pilot whales were beached on Stewart Island of New Zealand. They may have been stranded for around 18 hours before being seen, and at least half died. (SCMP 9.1.03)

A genetically modified (GM) potato containing one third more protein than ordinary potatoes is undergoing final testing in India before being submitted to the government there for approval. The ‘protato’ would be used to improve diets in poor communities and help reduce malnutrition. However Greenpeace argued that GM crops have shown fast interbreeding with non-GM plants in UK trials, and that the best way to tackle malnutrition is to improve distribution of existing food. (SCMP 4.1.03)

An Australian team recently published research on an enzyme found in the saliva of vampire bats, that may improve survival chances of stroke victims. The enzyme desmoteplase or DSPA, is an anti-coagulant that may increase the time window allowed after a stroke in which the victim must reach hospital. (SCMP 11.1.03)

The claim that bananas might go extinct was denied by UN’S FAO, although it asked banana farmers to increase the diversity of bananas grown. (SCMP 31.1.03)

The population of Indonesia might double in the next 50 years from 215 million to 400 million due to poverty and the government’s financial constraints for contraceptive programs, Indonesia’s family planning board warned. (SCMP 31.1.03)

An article in Science states that evidence from rocks in Antarctica suggests the ice melting has been occurring naturally for thousands of years, although it is unsure whether the melting is being accelerated by humans. The consequences of rapid melting might be catastrophic to coastal areas. (SCMP 28.1.03)

According to the World Water Council, half the world’s population will not have enough water by 2025 if governments do not take action. Thirty percent of the world is currently living under water stress, with population growth highest in impoverished areas and where water is already scarce, while industrialised countries consume several times more water than developing nations. A reassessment of food production methods is required as some countries already depend on imports from countries with more water. The third World Water Forum was held in Japan in March. (SCMP 11.3.03)

Kenyan wildlife authorities have seized their biggest haul of illegal ivory since 2000, weighing 361kg. A vote by CITES which allowed three southern African nations one-off sales of their ivory stockpiles had been opposed by Kenya on the grounds that even regulated sales would encourage poaching. Although the decision could not be directly blamed for this haul, Kenya is adamant that a ban on all ivory trade should remain in place, with stockpiles going to museums on a non-commercial basis. (Reuters 26.2.03)

Singapore has begun adding recycled sewage water – known as "NEWater" – to its reservoirs in order to be less dependent on Malaysia for water supplies. Current arrangements are based on agreements made before the countries separated in 1965, one of which will expire in 2061, and Malaysia is hoping to raise water prices drastically. Singapore will also use desalinated sea water, and is expanding water catchment areas to cover two-thirds of the island by 2012. (Reuters 24.2.03)

Hong Kong Triads are infiltrating the Great Barrier Reef’s commercial fishing industry by illegally obtaining fishing licenses, in order to obtain live coral trout. The fish can fetch extremely high prices, especially around Chinese New Year. This comes as illegal fishing in ‘green zones’ or marine sanctuaries has dramatically increased and threatens to affect coral trout stocks. In addition it is believed that fishing boats are being used to distribute illicit drugs and possibly as a base for manufacturing them. (The Australian 17.2.03)

Fish farming – which has approximately doubled production in the last ten years – is threatening wild fish stocks by using them as fish-feed. A report by WWF based in Switzerland states that 4kg of wild fish are needed to produce one kg of farmed fish. This is threatening feed species such as blue whiting and pilchards, and could have devastating effects on marine food chains. WWF urged that alternative fish feeds be used, such as vegetable protein or unwanted fish by-products. A deadline of 2015 was set in last year’s UN Earth Summit for reversing the current worldwide decline in fish stocks. (Reuters 19.2.03)

Experts backed by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) are developing a Global Conservation Trust to raise US$260 million to maintain the world’s seed banks. Around 1 470 such gene banks exist, and failure of one can have global impacts in terms of genetic loss. Over time around 10 000 plant species have been used in human food and farming but currently around 120 species supply 90% of these needs, with some wild varieties lost. War in Iraq may threaten seed banks in the region, which is the centre of origin for a number of crop plants. Afghanistan’s main gene bank was looted last year. (Reuters 6.3.03)

Thailand has been called on by an international coalition of non-governmental organisations (Basal Action Network or BAN) and Greenpeace to ratify a global agreement prohibiting export of toxic waste from industrialised countries to developing ones. At the same time the United Kingdom was condemned for poor enforcement of its laws against toxic waste exports. Thailand and the Asian region have become targets for international toxic waste traders. Some waste exported to Thailand has been traced to the UK and is being returned, however much can not be traced. Thailand has already ratified the Basel Convention on the Control of the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal – but has not yet ratified the Basal Ban Amendment. Doing so and passing an import ban would place the onus on exporting nations to prosecute for illegal shipments as a criminal offence. (Basel Action Network 17.2.03)


Customs officers at the airport confiscated three stuffed crocodiles, each 1.2m long, from a passenger from Thailand. Eight crocodiles were confiscated last year at the airport. (SCMP 23.1.03)

Plans to make a "green" public estate at Shui Chuen O (Sha Tin) were dropped by the Housing Authority due to claims of high cost and because the government’s Home Ownership Scheme has now been scrapped. Seventy million dollars has already been spent on the project. (SCMP 25.1.03)

At the end of January, Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food Yeoh Eng-kiong stated that chicken was safe to eat and the better hygiene at chicken farms meant it was unlikely that there would be an outbreak of chicken flu. However, in the first week of February, 8300 chickens were killed after testing positive for H5 avian influenza virus, although it was not confirmed that it was of the H5N1 strain. (SCMP 25.1.03, Reuters 3.2.03)

A consultancy firm has recommended to the government that 68,000 light trucks should not be converted to liquified petroleum gas because of lack of LPG storage and re-fuelling facilities. Legislators criticized the government for dropping its policy of cleaner fuel. Thomas Chow Tat-ming, deputy permanent secretary for Environment, Transport and Works, said this was not true and cleaner fuel policy will be promoted whenever possible. (SCMP 7.2.03)

A government study has proposed that only 1% of Hong Kong’s energy be renewably generated (including through waste incineration) by 2012. The reasons listed for such a low target include constraints of conventional power prices, operation regulations for power companies and accessibility to the electricity grid. Greenpeace is concerned about considering incineration as renewable, since it may be harmful through release of toxic gases and chemicals. (SCMP 7.2.03)

Kadoorie Farm has launched a campaign to save Asian turtles from extinction. Of the 90 Asian species 46 are endangered, critically endangered or extinct, and 21 are vulnerable at present. The demand for turtle products is increasing due to rising economic status of people in China and other Asian countries. Although Hong Kong is primarily a transit place for illegal turtle trade, local turtle soup shops and pet shops might have turtles that are not farm raised and therefore consumers are recommended to confirm the origin of the turtles from the vendors. Last year 10,000 wild turtles on the way to mainland China were confiscated by Customs and rescued by Kadoorie Farm. (SCMP 22.1.03)

A $44.2 million pipeline is being built through Plover Cove Country Park by the Water Supplies Department to supply water to only 300 people in Wu Kau Tang, Lai Chi Wo and the islands of Kat O Chau and Ap Chau. Trenches that are being dug in Wu Kau Tang are near a wooded stream where migratory birds nest. A Water Supplies Department spokesman said that EPD and the Country and Marine Parks Authority had been consulted, however Financial Secretary, Town Planning Board, AFCD, Lands Department and Planning Department did not reply to inquiries. (SCMP 10.1.03)

Hong Kong is planning to set up desalination plants and recycle water in order to supplement the supply of 810 million m3 of Dongjiang water from Guangdong. The demand for fresh water this year is expected to be 910 million m3. Two small desalination plants at the cost of $5 million will be set up in Tuen Mun and Sai Kung by the Water Supplies Department and recycling of water will initially be started on Lantau Island by 2005, however these are not expected to replace water coming from Dongjiang in the future. The cost of desalinating water is approximately $7-8 per m3 in comparison to $3.08 for Dongjiang water. (SCMP 3.2.03)

A Siberian Tiger on the cruise ship SuperStar Leo has been the center of attention by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) for the animal’s poor living conditions. Alex Yau of WWF said that there might only be 437-506 Siberian tigers in the wild. One of these wild tigers was photographed for the first time in northeastern China at the Hunchun nature reserve in Jilin province by a "camera trap" placed by the Wildlife Conservation Society. Most of the tigers in this area have been poached for Chinese medicine to cure everything from rheumatism to improving sexual performance. (SCMP 30.1.03, 8.2.03)

Stonecutters Island sewage treatment plant has resulted in increased E. coli counts instead of decreasing bacteria levels in western Victoria Harbour, during the past 14 months of its operation. The plant is discharging partially-treated sewage into the sea until other stages of the Harbour Area Treatment Scheme are operational. Sewage treatment reduces E.coli levels by half, however the large volume of the sewage has led to increased bacterial levels. As a result four Tsuen Wan area beaches have been closed for the summer bathing season. (SCMP 4.3.03)

This year 30 attacks on people were made by wild Rhesus Macaques in Sha Tin, in comparison to only five in the same period last year. The monkey colonies in Tai Wai have spread to Mei Foo and possibly further. The district councilors believe the policy of banning people to feed the monkeys is resulting in them being hungrier and more aggressive towards people. The AFCD is responding by increasing its sterilization program to control the primate population. (SCMP 7.3.03)

Jill Robinson, founder of Animals Asia Foundation, recently took food to four endangered brown bears in Yulin Zoo in Guangxi province, after reading a Los Angeles Times story about the starving bears. The private zoo was supposed to receive a subsidy from the local government for zoo maintenance, which didn’t come through. There are 200 private animal parks in China which are proliferating since keeping wild animals is considered prestigious and the situation is made worse by the fact that legislation on preventing cruelty to animals, including endangered species, is lacking. (SCMP 11.2.03)


Fishing on the Yangtze, China’s longest river, has been banned to coincide with egg laying season from 1 February to 30 April on the upper reaches and from 1 April to 30 June on the lower reaches, due to problems of over-fishing and pollution. (SCMP 3.2.03)

A study sponsored by WWF Hong Kong is trying to identify wetlands of Pearl River Delta that need protection from encroaching development. Twenty-one wetlands are at present designated to be of international importance in Guangdong, Shenzhen, Panyu, Macau and Zhuhai and it is hoped that this number will increase to 80 by 2010. (SCMP 3.2.03)

Starting 1 January, goat herders in Yanqing (75 km northwest of Beijing) have been banned from grazing their goats in open fields to curb the problem of desertification in northern China. Instead they have to raise them on their farms and they are encouraged to switch to sheep for possible lamb and mutton exports. (SCMP 3.2.03)

The Conservancy Association has asked the Hong Kong government to ban a Lunar New Year fungus, called Fat Choi meaning "becoming rich" whose over-harvesting is resulting in deforestation in northwestern China. The fungus is collected by raking, which destroys grasslands leading to desertification. At present, 2.7 million km2 of China is already desert and it is increasing at a rate of 10,000 km2 each year. The sale of this fungus is already banned in China since 2000. (SCMP 30.1.03)

According to a recent report China will face shortage of oil and gas in 20-30 years and might have to increase import of crude oil and gas. To prevent this, China will need to rely to a greater extent on its relatively more abundant coal reserves. (SCMP 7.1.03)

An animal park called "Sanya Love World", opening next year in Hainan, will allow the visitors to not only view but also taste some of the animals on display. One hundred Bengal tigers and 2000 Siam alligators have been imported from Thailand for the park. (Reuters 27.12.02)

The newly formed Cycling Alliance is asking the government to consider a cycling route as part of the new Wan Chai waterfront development; however, the Transport Department turned it down saying cycling is primarily a recreational sport. In contrast to Beijing, London and New York, Hong Kong Island has no cycle routes or parking facilities for bicycles although cycling is considered to be clean, quiet and healthy. (SCMP 3.2.03)

Ten panda cubs were born last year in China, of which eight survived, to add to the declining Giant Panda population. Four of these are on display at a breeding centre in Chengdu. Artificial insemination has been used extensively at breeding centers in Sichuan province to breed 50 pandas during the past 5 years as there are only 1000 pandas left in the wild. (SCMP 6.1.03, SCMP 3.2.03)

Guangdong is planning on spending $44.5 billion on wastewater treatment of discharge into the Pearl River to improve the quality of drinking and seawater. However, Rudolf Wu Siu-sang, director of the Centre for Coastal Pollution and Conservation at City University said unless something is done about the nutrients released into the river which lead to red tide blooms, the quality of water in Hong Kong seas will not be significantly changed. (SCMP 14.10.02)

Clean-up operations in the Three Gorges region of the Yangtze River are facing problems. Industrial waste-water treatment projects are failing to meet targets and other forms of pollution control are moving slowly. Agricultural run-off is a further problem. The area is one of the most heavily polluted regions in China due to high population density and many factories. Critics expect a concentration of pollution due to the dam as water flow in the river will drop. Despite a 39.2 billion yuan clean-up plan the situation remains serious. Some factories illegally pump out polluted water and many waste-water treatment plants do not operate due to high costs. (SCMP 6.3.03)

Over the next 5 years 2.4 billion yuan will be spent on reinforcing dykes along the Han River, a tributary of the Yangtze. The area is prone to disastrous flooding. (SCMP 6.3.03)

Environmental groups are applauding China’s approach to GM foods. Despite concern for food security and a loose approach to other genetic research, China has no known GM food crops - although it does produce large amounts of modified cotton. Laws were passed in 2001 to limit and label GM food imports, although enforcement lags behind due to pressure from the US – a major GM exporter. The mainland population seems more concerned about its food origins than does that of Hong Kong. Around 20% of fruit and vegetables in China are now organically grown, and campaigns for healthy eating have been deemed effective. Hong Kong is comparatively slow to produce measures concerning food labeling, probably due to commercial interests. (SCMP 16.3.03)

China’s membership of the World Trade Organisation has required tighter regulation of the fur trade. However illegal fur trade is still going on. (SCMP 11.3.03)

China’s largest waste recycling project is being built in Guangdong. The National Demonstration Eco-Industrial Park and South China Environmental Protection Industry Park should open in three to four years in Nanhai near Guangzhou. More than 56 companies, including some well-known international environmental firms, have agreed to invest in the project. It will be a centre for environmental protection consultancies, green manufacturers and waste recyclers. However there are fears it may out-compete a similar project planned for the Tuen Mun area of Hong Kong due to cheaper labour and land. The Hong Kong site may therefore have to become a more advanced recycling centre. However Hong Kong could still benefit by supplying material for recycling to the Nanhai project. (SCMP 10.3.03)

The Chinese government has released a white paper outlining its environmental protection record in Tibet. The paper states that environmental quality in Tibet is good, with forest cover there increasing 5-fold since the 1950s and 368 million yuan spent on environmental protection measures since 1996. Another 22 yuan billion are planned to be spent by 2050. However the report does admit to poor water and soil conservation. Critics of the government claim they have wreaked ecological and cultural havoc in the region, and are particularly opposed to the Qinghai-Tibet railway project which will be completed in 2007. (SCMP 12.3.03)





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