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May 27, 2017, 07:04 PM
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 on: Today at 06:18 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
The public flogging of two gay men and what it says about Indonesia's future

Islamism is rising across Indonesia, where a toxic mix of religion and political opportunism has been percolating for some time

by Krithika Varagur in Banda Aceh

It was the young who came first to Indonesia’s public caning of gay men. They arrived on motorbikes and on foot, from nearby boarding houses and two universities, some skipping class and the others using up their holidays. An announcement was made barring children under 18, but some stayed anyway, reluctant to break up a family outing.

By 10am on Tuesday, a 1,000-strong crowd had congealed at the Syuhada mosque plaza in Banda Aceh. As someone sang a stirring Qur’anic hymn to inaugurate the ceremony, a verse about how God created man and woman in couples, young men were perched in the trees, on trucks, and all the balconies across the street. Girls huddled between jasmine bushes.

“It’s a lesson for us, and it’s a lesson near us,” said Ratna, 20, a student at Syiah Kuala University, who was one of the first to arrive. She, like more than a dozen young people interviewed by the Guardian, doesn’t know a single gay person and believes homosexuality is a crime.

Ten people were flogged that day on a stage by a masked, gloved man in mud-brown robes with cartoonish eye-holes and a yellow-string halo. Four of them were women, lashed for adultery.
Acehnese women watch the flogging of ten people for violating Sharia law in Banda Aceh.

But the most severely punished were the two young gay men, aged 20 and 23, who were filmed, apparently naked, together in March by Islamic vigilantes. They were the ones who lured the unusually large and fierce crowd.

What transpired in Aceh this week is, on one level, the logical extension of sharia in an unruly region that has long been left to its own devices. But many believe that it is more sinister than that: that Aceh’s visible conservatism is an emblem of rising Islamism across Indonesia, where a toxic mix of religion and political opportunism has been percolating for some time.

Earlier this month, the Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaha Purnama, was jailed for blasphemy in a ruling that shocked many in the country and outside – including near neighbour and regional ally Australia.

Ahok, who is of Chinese descent, had sought to extend his tenure as governor of the capital. During the campaign, he had questioned the legitimacy of a Qur’anic verse about electing non-Muslim leaders. It triggered a vicious, racially charged fight against him that led to his sound defeat by a Muslim rival and a court appearance. He was sentenced to two years for his remarks, effective immediately.

Some believe the same fate could await another Chinese Christian governor, Cornelis of West Kalimantan, who has stoked the ire of hardliners by publicly warning radicals to leave his province.

And only this week – even as the stage was being prepared for Aceh’s public flogging – police in Jakarta arrested 141 gay men in a sauna, even though homosexuality is not against federal law.

“Sharia is contagious,” said Andreas Harsono, a researcher with Human Rights Watch Indonesia, about the timing of these events.

Dede Oetomo, a prominent gay rights activist based in East Java, doesn’t hesitate to connect the dots further. “In the grand scheme of things, yes, I think this combination of events constitutes a warm-up for the 2019 national elections,” he told the Guardian.

If current events are a sneak preview of identity politicking, the next presidential election, when the president, Joko Widodo – seen as a moderate, globalist leader – runs for re-election, will be the uncut feature. Many wonder what a Jokowi loss would mean for Indonesia’s fragile secular establishment.

“A major argument of conservative hardliners is that, ‘we will guard you from these awful people’ – gay people, non-Muslims,” said Oetomo. And frankly, he said, that’s pretty attractive to many middle-class voters.

These culture wars are unfolding locally and nationally. Modern Indonesia has been one long lesson in the latent, populist appeal of religion, identity, and tradition against the secular, globalist designs of its postcolonial nation-builders such as Sukarno. When the media and press became free in 1998, after the fall of Suharto, conservative and religious voices were finally allowed to proliferate, and they often spoke louder than the state-controlled liberal rhetoric.

At the centre of this current maelstrom is the Islamic Defenders Front, or FPI, a fringe group that now seems to set the national agenda on everything from politics to minority rights. The group – founded, not incidentally, in 1998 – has been the surprising lightning rod for Indonesia’s Islamist turn.

But its prominence didn’t come from nowhere; the group has been cannily opportunistic in helping vulnerable people at inflection points such as the 2004 tsunami. Then FPI members fished Acehnese bodies from the ocean, says Faisal Riza, another Acehnese gay rights activist. It brought them a steady, continuing current of goodwill. In Jakarta last year, FPI became standby heroes for thousands of poor Jakartans evicted by Ahok, creating instant grassroots support for their later rallies against the “blaspheming” governor.

The FPI has long anointed itself as Indonesia’s unofficial morality police. But it has not always been this powerful in Aceh. The province is dubbed “Mecca’s veranda” and is thought to be the point of entry for Islam in medieval Indonesia. It has posted fierce, successive independence movements against Dutch, Japanese, and Indonesian rule, the last of which abruptly ended with the calamitous tsunami.

Aceh was granted autonomy to apply sharia in 2001, and allowed to keep it under the post-tsunami national peace agreement. The question many observers ask is whether this decision was a successful containment measure or a dangerous precedent for the values that can be accommodated within an Indonesian province.

Whichever the case, FPI and Acehnese jurisprudence are now intertwined.

Although there has been sharia for more than a decade, it was FPI’s thuggish antics that made homosexuality a hot-button issue, according to Riza. Those started in earnest during a widespread “gay panic” in Indonesia last year. Before that, said Riza, who was born and raised in Aceh, there was a “don’t ask don’t tell” climate that made gay life essentially tolerable.

In Banda Aceh, a 20-something transgender man told the Guardian of his fear of the current climate.

Speaking at small shop he runs in town, he said: “I’m scared to be out in public now.

“I don’t want them to know my face. It’s not illegal, even under sharia, to be trans or anything like that,” he said. “But FPI operates outside the law.”

He speaks only a short motorcycle ride from the stage where the law of Aceh is being prosecuted.
Acehnese people attend the public caning of two young gay men who are said to have violated Sharia law.

Four women were the first up for their punishment. The convicted adulterers, dressed in mismatched skirts and tunics, shielding their faces with nylon hijabs as they entered the jeering crowd. FPI members had earlier unfurled a banner in front of the stage that proclaimed their willingness to be sacrificed to protect the Qu’ran.

When it was each one’s turn to be flogged, she was given a spotless white cotton robe and veil, turning her briefly into an icon, or a vessel. The men who caned them observed a precise technique (a 90-degree angle to the upper back) under police scrutiny.

The last two offenders were the young gay couple. Their punishment was so great that not one but three masked floggers were on call to split their burdens.

The older one, a 23-year-old with a delicate curly beard, had a still forbearance for his 83 lashes. His partner though, just 20, visibly shook as his pain was delivered. He was small, so small that the white sleeves of his tunic fully covered his hands, and his eyelids fluttered before he was struck even once. He was offered a water break halfway through and drained a little plastic cup without once opening his eyes. Both of them were let off with two fewer lashes than they were initially prescribed, to account for their two long months in detention.

“It’s not good to watch people be punished because someone will, in turn, watch us sin some day,” said Nurleili, 65, a lifelong Banda Aceh resident. “And yet, I really wanted to know. What this punishment actually looks like. I’m afraid and sad: my heart is beating out of my chest. But this will be a good lesson for our kids.”

For Aceh’s small LGBT community, there are still slivers of hope. There was, Riza pointed out, a brave transgender woman at the caning ceremony, who showed up as a form of protest and walked out, unruffled, when the sharia police pressured her to leave the premises.

After the ceremony, another gay rights activist Hartoyo worked non-stop to locate the gay victims on social media, and by Tuesday night, had arranged an emergency fund for the couple’s recovery. This despite the fact that his own profile made him a moving target for local thugs, relocating interviews from a Catholic church, to a bakery, to an undistinguished hotel.

“Our activism may be underground now, but we’re not leaving,” he said. “Yet.”

 on: Today at 06:16 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
'Will I ever get justice?': Nepal accused of failing trafficking survivors

Rights groups claim no one has received compensation since law entitling survivors of human trafficking was introduced a decade ago

Pete Pattisson in Kathmandu
Friday 26 May 2017 15.19 BST

Rights groups in Nepal say they do not know of a single survivor of human trafficking who has received compensation under a law introduced a decade ago.

An act that came into force in 2007 guarantees compensation for trafficking victims (pdf), but only after the perpetrator has been convicted, a caveat that has left survivors facing years of traumatic court proceedings and threats from their traffickers.

A new report in which 125 trafficking cases were reviewed found that, while courts awarded compensation in more than half the cases, no one has so far received it.

Sabin Shrestha, executive director of the Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD), which produced the study, said: “The biggest tragedy for us is that the conviction rate is good. The perpetrators are being punished … but not a single survivor has benefited.”

Four other experts, with decades of experience in the field, also said they were unaware of any case where a survivor had received compensation.

The government initially rebutted the claims. Radhika Aryal, a senior civil servant at the women, children and social welfare ministry, said: “The government agencies provide compensation to the survivor, according to the court’s verdict. We have been doing so in many cases … without delay.”

Aryal later admitted, however, that she knew of only two cases of trafficking victims receiving compensation.

More typical are the stories of women like Shanti, who was trafficked to India at the age of 13. Shanti (not her real name) waited nine years for her case to go through the courts, but is yet to receive any payment.

“I have faced threats from the traffickers … I couldn’t spend a single day in peace as I always felt insecure before the verdict,” she said. “I couldn’t develop as a person, as I had to keep visiting my past through the courts.”

The law states that compensation should be paid out of the fine levied on the perpetrators, leaving survivors in limbo until the legal process is complete. If the trafficker cannot pay, the government must do so. Proving that the perpetrator does not have the funds is itself a lengthy and difficult process, however.

“Though the court verdict says I should be getting compensation, as far as I understand … I will have to prove that the culprit is not rich enough to pay compensation; only then will the government give me the amount,” said Shanti.

Even if Shanti eventually secures the payment, it is unlikely to reflect the ordeal she has been through. Research by the FWLD found that, in almost two-thirds of cases, courts ordered compensation of just 50,000 Nepalese rupees (£380).

The funds awarded are typically only 50% of the trafficker’s fine, with the remainder going to the government.

“How can the government keep half of any compensation given to survivors?” said Benu Gurung, executive director of the Alliance Against Trafficking in Women and Children in Nepal. “We demand all of the fine is given to the victim.”

Gurung added that some people find it is easier, and more lucrative, to accept hush money from the traffickers than go through the courts.

“From a survivor’s perspective, rather than face threats from traffickers, or risk being exposed as a victim of trafficking, it is better to accept a payoff, especially when you have no confidence that you will ever receive compensation,” said Gurung.

Rights groups are calling for immediate interim financial support for survivors, higher rates of reparations and greater efforts to make survivors aware of their right to recompense.

“We survivors demand the government compensate us first and later get the money from the culprit,” said Shanti. “How long will it take? Will I ever get justice?”

 on: Today at 06:12 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Great Barrier Reef 2050 plan no longer achievable due to climate change, experts say

Environmental lawyers say advice means reef might finally be listed as a ‘world heritage site in danger’

Michael Slezak

The central aim of the government’s plan to protect the Great Barrier Reef is no longer achievable due to the dramatic impacts of climate change, experts have told the government’s advisory committees for the plan.

Environmental lawyers said the revelation could mean the Great Barrier Reef might finally be listed as a “world heritage site in danger”, a move the federal and Queensland governments have strenuously fought.

The federal and Queensland government’s Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan was released in 2015, with it’s central vision to “ensure the Great Barrier Reef continues to improve on its outstanding universal values”. The plan was created to satisfy the Unesco World Heritage Centre, which was considering adding the Great Barrier Reef to its list of world heritage sites in danger, that its condition could be improved.
Adani may face fine over sediment released in floodwaters after Cyclone Debbie
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But in a meeting of the Reef 2050 advisory committee, whose role is to provide advice to state and federal environment ministers on implementing the plan, two experts from government science agencies said improving the natural heritage values of the reef was no longer possible.

With climate change causing unprecedented back-to-back mass bleaching events in 2016 and 2017, killing almost half of the coral, and with the risk of those events set to increase in the coming years, loss of coral cover and biodiversity was virtually assured.

The experts told the meeting the plan should be revised to aim for something more achievable, suggesting it could aim to “maintain the ecological function” of the reef, while accepting that its overall health would inevitably decline.

The Great Barrier Reef serves many “ecological functions”. For example, the coral provides shelter and food for fish, it provides fish for humans, the various ecosystems provide experiences for tourists, and the reef structure itself provides protection to the coast from waves.

A spokeswoman for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, where one of the presenters was based, said: “The concept of ‘maintaining ecological function’ refers to the balance of ecological processes necessary for the reef ecosystem as a whole to persist, but perhaps in a different form, noting the composition and structure may differ from what is currently seen today.”

Members of the advisory committee would only speak on the condition of anonymity, but several told the Guardian about the details of the discussion.

The view presented reflects that previously expressed by a group of scientists who called themselves the Great Barrier Reef Independent Review Group, some of whom sit on Reef 2050 advisory committees. In their review of the plan’s implementation, published in February, they said improving the heritage values of the reef, as it aimed to, was “no longer attainable for at least the next two decades”. That assessment was made before the latest mass bleaching.

The language was echoed in a communique from the Independent Expert Panel – another body advising on the implementation of the Reef 2050 plan – dated 5 May. The communique said: “There is great concern about the future of the reef, and the communities and businesses that depend on it, but hope still remains for maintaining ecological function over the coming decades.”

It continued: “Members agreed that in our lifetime and on our watch, substantial areas of the Great Barrier Reef and the surrounding ecosystems are experiencing major long-term damage which may be irreversible unless action is taken now.”

Both advisory bodies have recommended that the Reef 2050 plan must address climate change, the biggest threat to the reef, which it does not.

Brendan Sydes, a lawyer and CEO at Environmental Justice Australia, said the news should be a wake-up call, and could result in the reef being considered again by Unesco for inclusion on the in-danger list.

“There’s a real risk that this new information will cause a renewed scrutiny for what Australia is or is not doing to protect the reef – particularly around climate change,” Sydes said, adding that if the outstanding universal values continued to degrade, the very listing of the reef as a world heritage site at all could come into question. “That would be a tragic situation.”

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, who sits on the Independent Expert Panel, declined to comment on discussions in the meetings. But he said the shock of what had happened in the past two years had made people reassess what was possible.

“We’re managing reefs in a rapidly changing world,” Hoegh-Guldberg said. “So managing to restore the reefs of the past – the way they were prior to the big insults of the 80s, 90s and 2000s ... maybe we need to be looking at this in a different sense. What are the key ecological functions? Essentially, what roles do they play that are important to humans?”

He said that idea had a similar “cold hard light of day” feel to his own “50 reefs” project, which aims to identify 50 reefs around the world that have the best chance of being saved – and which could one day potentially help repopulate other reefs.

Despite the advice, the federal environment minister, Josh Frydenberg, and the Queensland environment minister, Steven Miles, told the Guardian they remained committed to the aims of the Reef 2050 plan.

Frydenberg said: “The Turnbull government is firmly committed to protecting the Great Barrier Reef for future generations and delivering the Reef 2050 plan.

“The government has been clear from the outset that the Paris Climate Agreement is the place to deal with climate change.”

Miles said the purpose of the Reef 2050 plan was to “boost the health and resilience of the Great Barrier Reef, including in the face of climate change”.

Miles said the plan was intended to be reviewed, and the opportunity to do that would come in 2018.

But he also criticised the lack of action from the federal action on climate change. “Australia doesn’t currently have a policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and we need one,” he said. “For the sake of our reef, it’s time Malcolm Turnbull took his commitments from Paris seriously and introduced a real plan that will cap and reduce carbon pollution.”

Imogen Zethoven from the Australian Marine Conservation Society said: “Two years after the World Heritage Committee endorsed the Reef 2050 plan, the federal government appears to have conceded that the plan’s vision is unachievable.

“Climate change is the single biggest threat to our reef. Yet the government is aggressively backing the reef-wrecking Adani coalmine and its climate policies are shameful.”

Richard Leck, a campaigner at WWF, said the recent bleaching events, as well as Cyclone Debbie, showed that “the Great Barrier Reef is a system in crisis”.

“And the elephant in the room, that is not included in the plan, and Australia is not performing well on, is climate change,” Leck said. “Until Australia gets serious about playing its part in limiting emissions to 1.5C temperature rise, we are not taking saving the reef seriously.”

 on: Today at 06:10 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Firm behind Dakota Access pipeline faces intense scrutiny for series of leaks

Documents suggest that a major spill from the Rover pipeline in Ohio described as 2m gallons of ‘drilling fluids’ might now be more than twice as large

Sam Levin in San Francisco
Thursday 25 May 2017 13.00 BST

The oil company behind the Dakota Access pipeline is facing intense scrutiny from regulators and activists over a series of recent leaks across the country, including a major spill now believed to be significantly bigger than initially reported.

Documents obtained by the Guardian suggest that a spill from the Rover pipeline that Ohio regulators originally described as 2m gallons might now be more than twice as large. The revelation was included in a legal challenge activists filed on Wednesday to block the natural gas pipeline run by Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the corporation that operates the controversial Dakota Access pipeline and is now facing numerous government fines and violations.

The complaint against the Rover pipeline – which has been cited for more than a dozen environmental incidents, including a spill into a wetland that Ohio regulators described as a “tragedy” – comes on the heels of reports that Dakota Access had three recent leaks before it was even fully operational.

The growing number of problems with the two pipelines raises serious questions about the safety record of ETP and the effectiveness of the regulatory processes designed to protect the environment, according to activists fighting the projects.

“Put together how the company has conducted itself, the environmental damage and the rejection of the authority of the state, we fear the impact to our water resources,” said Clifford Rowley, a Michigan resident who is part of a group challenging the Rover pipeline.

ETP made international headlines last year when indigenous activists from across the globe fought against the Dakota Access pipeline, which the Standing Rock Sioux tribe said threatened its sacred sites and water supply in North Dakota. Shortly after his inauguration, Donald Trump, who, records show, has close financial ties to ETP, ordered the expedited completion of the pipeline. While preparing for the formal launch over the last two months, small leaks were reported in South Dakota and North Dakota, according to government records.

The $4.2bn Rover pipeline – proposed to transport 3.25bn cubic feet per day of natural gas in Ohio, West Virginia, Michigan and Canada – received federal approvals for construction in February.

In April, there was a reported release of roughly 2m gallons of “drilling fluids” within a 500,000 sq ft wetland area, according to violation records from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Another report cited the release of 50,000 gallons into a different wetland. There have been a total of 18 incidents across 11 counties, according to the complaint.

The state EPA director Craig Butler recently described the problem to the Washington Post as a “pattern” of spills, saying the company’s response was “dismissive” and “exceptionally disappointing”.

The rebuke from Butler is significant given that he is an appointee of Republican governor John Kasich, a former presidential candidate who supports increased drilling and a rollback of Obama-era restrictions.
The growing number of problems with the two pipelines raises serious questions about the safety record of ETP and the effectiveness of the regulatory processes designed to protect the environment.

Emails from an ETP official to Ohio regulators, obtained from a public records request, show that the 2m gallon figure was likely a low initial estimate. The company official summarized the total “gallons lost” at roughly 5m.

State EPA spokesman James Lee told the Guardian that the latest figures suggest the spill was “more than 2m. It is a tragedy in that the affected wetland will likely not recover to its previous condition for decades. Had Rover more closely monitored their drilling equipment, and been better prepared for an immediate emergency response, this incident would likely not have occurred on the scale that we’re dealing with now.”

“This is a rather astonishing situation,” said Terry Lodge, an attorney representing citizens’ groups in Ohio and Michigan, which filed the complaint urging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Ferc) to revoke the construction permit and reopen an environmental analysis. “Our governor is a rightwing Republican who is extremely pro-fracking and extremely pro-pipeline.”

Despite the Trump administration’s support of pipelines and affiliations with ETP – energy secretary Rick Perry previously sat on the company’s board – Ferc recently ordered the Rover pipeline to partially halt drilling due to concerns about the spill.

“Staff has serious concerns regarding the magnitude of the incident,” the federal agency wrote.

In addition to leaks, the Ohio EPA cited Rover for an “open burning violation”, Lee said, explaining that the company was burning trees too close to a home, violating its permit.

In the complaint, residents have also raised concerns about a “last-minute, unannounced route change” that puts the project near private homes, a children’s camp and a state recreation area by Silver Lake in Michigan. Some people would be “entrapped by the Rover pipeline in the event of a catastrophic pipeline leakage, explosion and fire,” the complaint said.

“The fear right now is combined with disbelief and anger,” said Wendy Zielen, a local resident. “I feel profoundly, profoundly taken advantage of.”

As more mistakes pile up, she added, it’s difficult to have confidence in ETP and the process: “We trusted what they told us – that we would be safe, we would be informed. I have zero faith.”

Laura Mebert, an anthropologist at Kettering University in Michigan, who has been opposing Rover, said it should not have taken a records request for the public to learn about the full size of the spill, adding: “The rules in place are still allowing companies too much free reign to trample over the rights and interest of the public.”

ETP spokeswoman Alexis Daniel said the Rover pipeline has been working with the government on permitting for more than three years and has “followed all of the proper procedures” and “been appropriately vetted”. ETP is also following “remediation” plans for the spills, she said, adding, “We have increased the manpower and the equipment along the route to facilitate a thorough clean-up effort.”

Daniel further wrote: “The fact remains that pipelines are the safest and most environmentally friendly way to transport the energy that American’s use every day.”

Some experts said the Dakota Access leaks appeared to be relatively small and not out of the ordinary given the size of the project.

But Standing Rock tribal chairman Dave Archambault II said the spills were a sign of bigger problems to come: “The fact that the Dakota Access pipeline has already suffered from multiple leaks prior to even being fully operational perfectly highlights what the tribe has said all along: pipelines are not safe. Allegedly no water has been contaminated yet, but at this rate of failure it is only a matter of time.”

 on: Today at 06:07 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
The week in wildlife – in pictures

Herons in flight, an inquisitive marmot and a blue whale are among this week’s pick of images from the natural world

Compiled by Eric Hilaire
Friday 26 May 2017 14.00 BST

Click to see all: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2017/may/26/the-week-in-wildlife-in-pictures

 on: Today at 06:05 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
G7 summit: Leaders pressure Shitstain Trump on climate change pact - but President makes no promises

Climate change has been a topic of discussion throughout the president's first foreign trip

Andrew Buncombe, Mythili Sampathkumar New York
World leaders have pushed Donald Trump to join the rest of the world in combating climate change - but the President has made no promises despite the White House insisting his views are “evolving”.

G7 nations had hoped the US leader, who has previously described climate change as a "hoax", would publicly back the Paris Agreement and the commitment  to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Rather, according to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the leaders had a “controversial debate” on the subject.   

​Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, told The Independent that the mood at the meeting was “tense” around climate and migration discussions in particular.

Despite that, and despite repeated criticism that Mr Trump has turned his back on science, the US insisted that the President had gone to listen and learn to the other world leaders.

The meeting in Taormina, Italy, of the heads of the world’s seven major industrialised economies, did secure widespread agreement on other issues, including Syria, Libya, and fighting terrorism.

The group ramped up pressure on internet service providers and social media to increase efforts to purge extremist content, four days after the terror attack in Manchester that killed 22 people, by toughening a final statement to fight terrorism, honing in on the role of companies like Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon, sometimes referred to generally in Europe using the acronym Gafa.

“We will combat the misuse of the Internet by terrorists. While being one of the most important technological achievements in the last decades, the Internet has also proven to be a powerful tool for terrorist purposes,” said the joint statement signed by the leaders meeting in Sicily.

However that co-operation did not stretch entirely to the issue of Global warming. “There is one open question, which is the US position on the Paris climate accords. All others have confirmed their total agreement on the accord,” Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said.

“We are sure that after an internal reflection, the United States will also want to commit to it,” he added.

The White House’s decision to go slow on making a decision about his commitment to the 2015 climate change agreement - something Mr Trump said he would withdraw from when he was campaigning - led the other leaders to mount their campaign of persuasion.

During the opening months of this presidency, he has shown he can change his position, especially when confronted by strong and unified global opinion.

For instance, he backed away from tough campaign talk about trade with China after a summit with President Xi Jinping and abandoned his criticism of Saudi Arabia.

The White House said as much in briefings to reporters after the meeting, the final stage on the president’s nine-day foreign visit.

“He feels much more knowledgeable on the topic today,” said Gary Cohn, the Mr Trump’s top White House economic advisor. “He came here to learn, he came here to get smarter.”

However, White House National Security Adviser HR McMaster said that Mr Trump would make his decisions based “on what's best for the American people” - bringing things back to 'America First' policy that energised the president's supporters during last year's presidential election campaign.

One specific issue Mr Trump has been consistent on is job creation.

He ran his 2016 campaign on a platform of job creation in rural areas of the US and EU leaders may be discussing how they have “decoupled” economic growth, job creation, and carbon emissions, said Mr Meyer.

According to senior White House officials, the president is particularly worried that the US will fall behind India and China in manufacturing and job creation. China has also become a leader in renewable energy investment, particular solar panels.

New investments in renewable energy outpaced new money in the oil and gas sector for the first time ever in 2015 to the tune of $350bn (£273bn).

A recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that the world’s economies could boost economic growth by nearly three per cent by 2021 if they institute policies that would lower greenhouse gas emissions. By 2050 that growth could reach up to five per cent.

Mr Meyer said “it's clear [Mr Trump] is not up on markets and trends,” however there are people around him who are more knowledgeable about electricity and renewable energy markets like Mr Cohn.

Several business leaders, including the directors of multi-billion dollar pension funds in the US, have urged Mr Trump to stay in the Paris Agreement.

Ben Van Beurden of Royal Dutch Shell told NPR that he wants the US to commit so that there is “predictability, consistency, and a level playing field” from which companies in his sector can operate going forward.

“It would be a mistake to sideline itself” from trends in energy markets, said Mr Meyer because it would make the US less competitive.

Practically all of Mr Trump's first foreign trip has been spent of discussing the US stance on climate change. French President Emmanuel Macron had discussed the matter when the two had a somewhat strained meeting in Brussels ahead of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) meeting.

Prior to that, Pope Francis presented the president with a gift during his visit to the Vatican: a 2015 papal letter of nearly 200 pages on the need for people to address climate change.

Whether these messages will resonate with Mr Trump remains to be seen.

Mr Trump is due to return to the US on Saturday.

 on: Today at 06:02 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Solar energy prices in India tumbles to new record low making it cheaper than fossil-fuel generated power

The price of solar energy is 18 per cent lower than the average price for electricity generated by coal-fired plants

Chloe Farand
25 May 2017 16:28 BST

The price of solar energy in India has tumbled to a new record low, making it cheaper than fossil-fuel generated power.

The latest solar power tariffs show the price of solar energy is 18 per cent lower than the average price for electricity generated by coal-fired plants.

At an auction in Rajasthan earlier this week, Phelan Energy and Aaada Power offered to charge 2.62 rupees per kilowatt-hour (kWH) of solar-generated electricity, according to The Economic Times of India.

A previous record for the lowest bid was set last month with a price 3.15 rupees per kWH.

Alan Fotheringham, president of strategy and development for the Wood Group, which provides services to the energy industry, told The Independent India was setting an example that quick energy transition from fossil fuels to renewables is possible.

He said that the country was "demonstrating that when the conditions allow, it is possible to move very quickly to transition the energy mix.

He added: "We have seen strong and steady growth of the solar energy market in India to become one of the largest and strongest markets. With a huge population and a huge demand for energy, growing investments and political willingness, all the ingredients are there for the transition to happen."

Shortly after the auction India Energy Minister Plyush Goyal tweeted: “Another milestone towards PM @narendramodi's vision of clean affordable power for all.”

Last month, Mr Goyal said building coal-powered plant would be costlier than a solar plant. The minister added that India would meet its ambitious target to deploy more than 100 gigawatts of solar power by 2022.

The price of solar has been falling in the last three years as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government aimed to boost its green footprint.

The country is the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases and forecasters are anticipating its emissions could double as the country aims to lift millions out of poverty.

But solar consultancy firm Bridge to India, said India is expected to become the third biggest solar market in the world in 2017 with a capacity rise of 76 per cent compared to last year.

This will be helped by the fact the price of solar modules and solar inverters have fallen by 29 per cent over the past year, the firm said.

Upon ratifying the Paris Agreement, Mr Modi committed India to generate 40 per cent of the country’s electricity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030.

But a report by India’s electricity agency predicted the target would be exceeded by nearly three years ahead of schedule.

It forecasted the total capacity of renewable energy generated could reach 275 gigawatts by 2027.

The country has quadrupled its solar energy capacity in the last three years and the government set a target of building 175 gigawatts of solar energy capacity by 2030, The Times of India reported.

India is also home to the world’s largest power plant in the south of the country in Kamuthi, Tamil Nadu, which stretches across 2,500 acres and has 2.5million solar modules.

New national targets aim to generate 175 gigawatts of solar, wind and biomass energy by 2022.

 on: Today at 05:57 AM 
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China increases solar power output by 80% in three months

The power-generation increase comes even as more solar plants stand idle because of congested transmission infrastructure

Bloomberg News
25 May 2017 08:00 BST

China electricity output from photovoltaic plants rose 80 per cent in the first quarter after the world’s biggest solar power market increased installed capacity.

Solar power generation rose to 21.4 billion kilowatt-hours in the three months ending 31 March from a year earlier, the National Energy Administration said on Thursday in a statement on its website. China added 7.21 gigawatts of solar power during the period, boosting its total installed capacity to almost 85 gigawatts, the NEA said.

The power-generation increase comes even as more solar plants stand idle because of congested transmission infrastructure. China idled about 2.3 billion kilowatt-hours of solar power in the first quarter, up from 1.9 billion kilowatt-hours a year earlier, according to the NEA data.

Central and eastern China accounted for about 89 per cent of new capacity, the NEA said.

 on: Today at 05:56 AM 
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Solar power sets new electricity record supplying a quarter of UK demand

Solar surpasses output from nuclear power stations for first time

Ian Johnston Environment Correspondent

Solar panels have set a new record for electricity generation, providing nearly a quarter of the demand.

As much of Britain basked in warm and sunny weather, solar produced some 8.7 gigawatts at midday on Friday, representing 24.3 per cent of the electricity being used at the time, the National Grid has revealed.

The previous record was set on 10 May when 8.48GW was generated by solar, which tends to peak at about lunchtime.

Duncan Burt, who is in charge of National Grid’s control room operations, where they match supply and demand, said: “We now have significant volumes of renewable energy on the system and as this trend continues, our ability to forecast these patterns is becoming more and more important.
“We have an expert team of forecasters who monitor a range of data, to forecast just how much electricity will be needed over a set period.

“We have planned for these changes to the energy landscape and have the tools available to ensure we can balance supply and demand. It really is the beginning of a new era, which we are prepared for and excited to play our part”.

Paul Barwell, chief executive of the Solar Trade Association, said this was the first time that solar has generated more electricity than nuclear with only gas supplying more.

“This is a colossal achievement ... and sends a very positive message to the UK that solar has a strong place in the decarbonisation of the UK energy sector,” he said.

Environmentalists also welcomed the news, saying it showed how important the sector was becoming to the UK economy.

Hannah Martin, Greenpeace UK’s head of energy, said: “Britain has just hit another milestone in its effort to harness the increasingly cheaper energy coming from the sun.

“Today’s new record is a reminder of what the UK could achieve if our Government reversed its cuts to support for solar and backed the clean technologies that could provide jobs, business opportunities and plentiful clean energy for decades to come.

“All around the world, solar power keeps beating new records as costs come down and power generation goes up.

“In the US, more people were employed in generating electricity from solar last year than from coal, oil and gas combined.

“Britain cannot afford to miss out on the economic and environmental rewards of this energy revolution.”

And Gareth Redmond-King, head of energy and climate at WWF, said: “As we enjoy the sun, it’s great to learn that the UK just hit a new high for solar power generation. 

“Each record set by renewable power generation is another welcome milestone towards a cleaner, greener future for the UK.

“Solar power and other renewables are getting cheaper and more efficient as we install more of it around the country. And it doesn’t just power our homes, but also our economy, with almost a quarter of a million people now working in the low-carbon energy sector.

“Whoever forms the next Government after the election must prioritise a plan for reducing emissions from all sectors – electrifying our transport, and working towards more efficient homes and buildings  – with eight out of 10 British people in favour of clean energy, it is not only what the country needs, but is also what it wants.”

 on: Today at 05:52 AM 
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When wolves return to the wild, everything changes

Top predators like wolves have a powerful effect on their ecosystems, and if they are taken away, a strange phenomenon can happen   

By Yao-Hua Law
27 May 2017

In late March 1995, the USA's Yellowstone National Park received a special delivery. Fourteen grey wolves, flown in two months earlier from the Canadian Rockies, were released into the park. Neighbouring Idaho received fifteen wolves. Wolves howling in the snow, not heard in these forests since their extermination 60 years before, trumpeted their return.

Scientists had intended to reintroduce and conserve grey wolves in their original habitats. They did not foresee that the wolves, with blood on their teeth and claws, would restore leaves to the trees.

In fact, it seems the return of the wolves has had remarkable consequences for the entire Yellowstone ecosystem. The story illustrates how the presence or absence of a top predator can utterly reshape an ecosystem.

In Yellowstone, the wolves quickly reclaimed their spot as top predator. Ecologist William Ripple of Oregon State University has been studying the wolves since their return. He found that, within a decade of their release, the wolves had cut the number of elk – their main prey – by half. The surviving elks avoided the wolves' core range and stayed on the periphery. Woody trees like aspen and willow, which had been chewed and trimmed by zealous elks, now grew tall and lush.

    Wolves suppress coyote and release foxes, because foxes are small and do not compete with wolves

The wolves' rivals, such as coyotes, also suffered their wrath. "Coyotes are very scared of wolves," says Ripple, who has seen the wolves' aggression towards coyotes in Yellowstone. "Wolves will chase coyotes, kill them, and even consume them sometimes. Wolves do not like coyotes at all."

In the Lamar River Valley in Yellowstone, coyote densities dropped almost 40% after the wolf reintroduction. In neighbouring Grand Teton National Park, coyote densities fell by 30% in the presence of wolves. Pronghorn fawns, which coyotes prey on, survived better where there were more wolves and fewer coyotes.

Ripple and Thomas Newsome, an ecologist at Deakin University, found that across North America, coyotes retreated where wolves roamed. In turn red foxes, the prey and competitor of coyotes, increased. Ripple and Newsome derived their findings from fur harvest records from eight provinces and states.

"We found on a large geographic scale that wolves suppress coyote and release foxes, because foxes are small and do not compete with wolves," says Ripple. "So, foxes benefited from wolves suppressing coyotes."

In most ecosystems, every species eats and is eaten by various others. You can picture this as a ladder. The top predator claims the highest rung; mesopredators, which are smaller predators that are eaten by the top predator, sit one rung lower; and so on to plants on the bottom rung.

    In Australia, we have lost thirty mammal species over the last 200 years

This means that top predators put a cap on the numbers of mesopredators. If top predators dwindle or disappear, the cap is lifted, and mesopredator numbers should surge. This idea is called the "mesopredator release hypothesis".

Mesopredators, released in the absence of top predators, can potentially claim dominance. If that happens, species down the ladder have to contend with an unbridled mesopredator.

In the decades after grey wolves were hunted out of the USA, coyote numbers rose while wild rabbit and hare numbers plummeted. From coast to coast, snowshoe hares, white-tailed jackrabbits, black-tailed jackrabbits and pygmy rabbits were added to species-of-concern lists. Some were wiped out locally. Evidence suggests that coyotes caused the rabbit and hare's demise.

When the released mesopredator is an invasive species, the consequences can be drastic.

"In Australia, we have lost thirty mammal species over the last 200 years," says Newsome. "That's half of the world mammal extinctions in Australia alone." Such extinction rates greatly exceed past records.

    When dingoes started attacking sheep, people fought back

Europeans reached Australia in the 1600s, bringing the tides of change that eventually swept aside the continent's biodiversity. Humans and their livestock now dominate the wetter, richer environments of Australia, while introduced herbivores like camels and goats graze the arid parts. As their foods shrunk and competition spiked, native animals faltered.

However, for many of the extinct animals the final blow might likely have come from two invasive predators: the red fox and domestic cat. A 2006 study suggested that predation by foxes and feral cats was a key force driving many native rodents, marsupials and birds into decline or extinction.

Despite their deadly impact, foxes and cats are not the top predators in Australia. They are mesopredators, weighing only 6kg and 4kg on average respectively. Larger marsupial predators once reigned over Australia, but they are just bones and dirt now. Today, a canine, the dingo sits atop the ladder in mainland Australia.

Looking much like a dog, the dingo weighs about 20kg. It too was brought into Australia by humans, 3,500-5,000 years ago, and used to live across most of mainland Australia. But when dingoes started attacking sheep, people fought back.

Dingoes were trapped, shot and poisoned in and around sheep farms. Australians were so keen to exclude dingoes that they built a wire fence 5,500km long and up to 2m high. The Dingo Barrier Fence, completed in 1946, keeps dingoes out of the sheep pastures of south-east Australia. South of the fence remains an almost dingo-free sheep haven.

    In the presence of dingoes you can have fewer foxes and maybe fewer cats

However, it turns out the Dingo Barrier Fence affects more than dingoes.

In a 2011 study, scientists compared sites on either sides of the fence and found more small mammals on the dingo side. There were also fewer foxes on the dingo side. What's more, when scientists began to relate the distributions of dingoes, foxes and small animals, they found a consistent pattern elsewhere beyond the vicinity of the fence. Where dingoes live, there were fewer foxes and more small animals like greater bilbies, dusky hopping mice, rock wallabies, painted dragons and malleefowl.

Since dingoes and foxes compete for many of the same prey, it is easy to imagine the bigger dingoes dominating foxes through brute force. Like wolves limiting coyotes in North America, dingoes in Australia seem to suppress foxes. However, the evidence is less clear as to whether dingoes suppress the feral cats that are Australia's other major mesopredator.

The success of the grey wolf reintroduction into the Yellowstone ecosystem, and the positive response of the ecosystem to the return of its top predator, has prompted some scientists to consider reintroducing dingoes to their original habitats.

Of 30 extinct mammal species in Australia, "at least 20 are attributed to the predation of red foxes and feral cats in the absence of dingoes," says Newsome. Because studies have suggested that "in the presence of dingoes you can have fewer foxes and maybe fewer cats, and you have higher survival of native mammals, I think this is something we should explore further and pursue as a conservation tool."

However, the return of a top predator could also wreak havoc.

The top predator might have a severe impact on mesopredators, or on prey that are close to extinction. The story of wild dogs, and their struggle in the wake of the reintroductions of lions to parts of Africa, highlights the dire consequences.

Wild dogs are Africa's most endangered large carnivores. A 2012 census put the population at fewer than 1,400 adults. On average, one and three out of every ten wild dog adults and pups are killed by lions, respectively. Lions are death manifest for wild dogs.

    Savé Valley Conservancy may end up trading wild dogs for lions

A study published in December 2016 detailed the conflict between wild dogs and lions in the Savé Valley Conservancy, Zimbabwe.

The conservancy received three lions in 1995, and had fewer than ten by 1999. Another ten were released in 2005, and the population had exceeded 100 by the late 2000s. Meanwhile, wild dogs recolonised the conservancy in the early 1990s and their numbers peaked in 2004. To understand the impact of lions on wild dogs, scientists examined how wild dog numbers and den sites changed between the periods 1996-1999 and 2010-2013, when lion numbers were low and high, respectively.

The growing lion pride knocked the wild dogs off their stride. The lions took to hunting in impala-rich areas, so to avoid them wild dogs shifted their dens to rugged areas with fewer impalas. Even so, their pack sizes shrunk by one-third and pup numbers halved. At least 30% and 70% of wild dog adults' and pups' deaths, respectively, were caused by lions in 2010-2013; there were no such casualties in 1996-1999.

The issue may be that wild dogs huddle near their dens for three months to raise newborns, making them easy pickings for lions. Wild dogs breed only once a year, and lions kill more pups than the dogs can produce. In effect, Savé Valley Conservancy may end up trading wild dogs for lions.

In Australia, reintroducing dingoes might also plunge some endangered animals into the same plight as wild dogs.

Wild greater bilbies in central Australia are often eaten by foxes and cats, and evidence suggests that dingoes can relieve bilbies by controlling foxes, says ecologist Euan Ritchie of Deakin University. But in particularly small bilby populations, "putting dingoes [in] could just tip them over the edge."

Similar concerns have been raised over dingo predation on the critically endangered northern hairy-nosed wombat. "There are surely areas in Australia where you wouldn't rush to put dingoes back, because that could contribute to extinction of critically endangered animals," says Ritchie.

On top of that, there is the conflict between sheep and dingoes. "Dingoes and sheep don't mix," says Peter Fleming, a pest researcher at Australia's Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre. The issue is that dingoes kill more sheep than they eat. "If you have dingoes with your sheep, they will continue to kill your sheep until your sheep's all gone or the dingoes die."

Socio-economic issues aside, scientists are yet to agree on the impact of dingoes on mesopredators.

Some scientists, like Fleming, insist that only experiments can confirm whether a mesopredator release will happen. For that, dingoes should either be added into or removed from multiple sites, and mesopredators monitored over time and compared against sites without dingo treatments. These experiments must be done across different ecosystems to reflect Australia's diverse environments.

    We weren't dealing with negative press about buffoons trying to reintroduce dingoes to kill all the sheep

"I'm quite happy to accept whatever evidence it is, as long as it's causative rather than just correlative," says Fleming. "You should not make decisions based just on correlative evidence."

Other scientists, like Ritchie and Newsome, see compelling evidence in various studies showing that fewer dingoes correlate with more red foxes. Although correlational studies cannot pinpoint underlying processes like experiments can, they capture patterns across large swaths of land and time, says Ritchie.

"If we continue to take dingoes out of the system, or compare between areas with and without dingoes, we don't really know to what extent dingoes suppress foxes and cats," says Newsome. Reintroducing dingoes as an experiment would assess the full ecological effects of dingoes. "It would help us make an informed decision about the next step going forward."

To that end, in 2015 Newsome, Ritchie, Fleming, Ripple and others proposed reintroducing dingoes as an experiment.

They suggested Sturt National Park, an arid area of 3,000 sq km tucked in the north-west corner of New South Wales. Red foxes, feral cats and several large herbivore species live in the Park, and the Dingo Barrier Fence runs along the north and west borders of the Park.

    At the moment, it doesn't look like there's any evidence of suppression

If the fence was moved inwards to run along the south and east borders instead, dingoes should naturally recolonise the Park. Scientists could then compare sites inside and outside the dingo-recolonised Park to see how an increase in dingoes affect their communities. Newsome is currently talking to stakeholders and sponsors about the project.

When Newsome first proposed his dingo reintroduction experiment, he was surprised by the press's encouraging response. "We weren't dealing with negative press about buffoons trying to reintroduce dingoes to kill all the sheep," he says. "That was the more common rhetoric about 15 years ago."

Meanwhile, Fleming and his team are about to end a four-year dingo-removal experiment in east Australia. "At the moment, it doesn't look like there's any evidence of suppression," says Fleming. After "eye-balling the data", Fleming says dingoes, foxes and cats all increased when they stopped removing dingoes. If dingoes suppress foxes, then "dogs would go up but the foxes wouldn't. But that doesn't occur in their experiment." Fleming aims to publish the results by the end of 2017.

If we wish to enlist dingoes to control red foxes and feral cats, we would need to do more than test the mesopredator release hypothesis. We must also protect the welfare of sheep farmers and their flock from dingoes. For that, we may have to turn to another introduced canine: livestock guardian dogs.

Linda van Bommel, an ecologist at Australia National University, has been studying the use of guardian dogs to protect Australian livestock. Maremma sheepdogs, a white woolly dog of 40kg, are one of the more common guardian dogs used in Australia. Maremma bond well with sheep. "Often, the sheep will run towards the dogs, and the dogs will stand between the sheep and the threat," says van Bommel.

Most farmers benefited from having the dogs. In van Bommel's survey, published in 2012, 66% of livestock guardian dog owners said sheep predation stopped after they started using the dogs. Another 30% reported lower sheep predation.

One farmer used to lose all his lambs and 100 sheep a year, either to wild dogs or dingoes. But with guardian dogs among his sheep, he kept most of his lambs and did not lose a single adult sheep. "For that farmer," says van Bommel, "it's the difference between going broke and continuing to profit from running sheep."

In another study, published in 2016, van Bommel found that red foxes and grey kangaroos avoid Maremma sheepdogs. Hence Maremma sheepdogs not only protect livestock from dingoes, they may even function like top predators and deter mesopredators and large herbivores.

If dingoes were ever to be reintroduced into areas around farms, farmers would need ways to protect their flock without killing the dingoes. "Livestock guardian dogs would be prominent candidates for that," says van Bommel.

However, she says there is still a mountain to climb. "Most farmers would rather not see dingoes in the environment altogether."

Today, more than ever before, scientists are studying predators and unraveling their influence. "It is a new science. I expect a lot more to be known," says Ripple, whose grey wolf studies in Yellowstone popularized the positive role of predators.

A century ago, people were enthusiastically killing lions, wolves, and dingoes. When we eliminated the top predators, we unknowingly released mesopredators that have led to unexpected, and still underappreciated, consequences. Now, though we have yet to fully appreciate the dynamics of predators, we are at least debating alternatives to killing them. Nature is red in tooth and claw, and it seems that can be a good thing.

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