Bee Keeping For Genetic Biodiversity in Cities

A few years ago, it was feared that bees were about to become extinct – but now they are buzzing back, and even, like humans, migrating to cities across Asia. By Jeremy Torr

SINGAPORE, 3 September 2017. Back in the late 1990s, fruit growers in North America were worried. Their fruit trees were healthy, and the blossoms fine in spring, signalling a good crop. But the numbers of insects – particularly bees - that would help pollinate them and help produce healthy quantities of fruit was dropping fast.

By the early 2000s, fruit farmers worldwide were paying massive amounts for trucks to gather up hundred of hives, drive them across the country, and then setting millions of bees free in orchards to pollinate their valuable trees.

Chinese farmers pollinate by hand to ensure a decent fruit crop. (Huffington Post)

Chinese farmers pollinate by hand to ensure a decent fruit crop. (Huffington Post)

In some places in the US, bee farmers were getting paid more for their massive high-output bee farms (for use in trucked pollinating) than they were from honey.

And in China, vast armies of low paid workers would swarm out into orchards every morning with bags of pollen and a pouch full of cotton buds to pollinate the fruit tree flowers by hand.

This mystifying crash in bee numbers – estimated to be around 50 per cent in some places – was named Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and led to serious analysis of insecticide usage across the northern hemisphere. It also boosted the general public’s awareness of the importance of bees – and an unusual spin off.

City Bees

As well as pesticide use, viral infections and mite infestation, one of the reasons put forward for the CCD plague was lack of genetic diversity. That is, bees were getting just a bit too incestuous because they all lived in massive hive-farms in the same place and came from the same queen stock.

Bees do very well in the urban environment because it’s a microclimate.
— Urban beekeeper Doug Purdie

Around the same time, hipsters were moving into older quarters of major cities across the world, growing beards and riding fixies, and looking for a more natural pastime than playing Nintendo.

It was a serendipitous time.

Bee hives began to crop up on city garden rooftops across Singapore, Bangkok, Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur, as much for permaculture passion as for honey. But whatever the reasons, bees took to city life very rapidly.

“Bees do very well in the urban environment because it's a microclimate," urban beekeeper Doug Purdie of Sydney-based Urban Beehive told ABC in an interview. Up on urban rooftops, the distances to fly and find flowers to gather pollen are shorter, and the likelihood of traditional honey predators like bears, possums and honey-badgers dropping by are way less 20 storeys up.

As a result, on rooftops around the world, keen city beekeepers are setting up hives to take advantage of the abundant local flora in parks, along highways and in rooftop gardens. The other bonus that city living brings to bees – in addition to maintaining separate hives away from the mass farms that might spread whatever it is that causes CCD – is that the city climate is often very hospitable.

A schematic representation of the Philips futuristic urban beehive design

A schematic representation of the Philips futuristic urban beehive design

It is usually a bit warmer than the surrounding countryside, and apart from the managed areas of lawn, flower beds and so on there are always plenty of flowering weeds too – something that is rapidly dying out in more intensively farmed areas. Purdie currently looks after around 100 beehives in the Sydney metro area, and can harvest up to 100kg of honey each year from his busy pets.

Even home appliance maker Philips has joined in with a futuristic city hive design specially crafted for use in high rise apartment windows, both as a honey producing device and a trendy showcase talking point.

New beginnings

The renewed interest in bees as a diversified small scale food producer has also seen interest spike in Asian countries that have traditionally harvested honey in rural areas, but in an unsustainable way. In many forested areas, local honey hunters would destroy the hive and kill the bees first, then harvest the honey. Now, apiarists (beekeepers) from the region are helping to give local people a more sustainable way to capitalise on the bees’ bounty.

"Protect the diversity of bees while earning an income from honey" - UNSW's Sam Malfroy

"Protect the diversity of bees while earning an income from honey" - UNSW's Sam Malfroy

“The unsustainable harvesting of honey from wild bees has become a major problem, causing the extinction of some native bee colonies,” said Associate Professor Daniel Tan from the University of Sydney (UoS), who is working with a local team on beekeeping techniques suitable for Asian ecosystems.

Tan and researchers from the UoS Faculty of Agriculture and Environment together with Prof Pham Hong Thai of Hanoi University are promoting the basics of beekeeping at three Cambodian universities, one Laotian university and one Vietnamese university.

As a result, hundreds of new hives and several beekeeping courses have already sprung up across Cambodia. Additionally, the extra hives help pollinate a variety of local crops, including sunflower, longan, lychee, cashew and mango, said Tan.

“Learning to manage honey bees not only helps provide an income through honey production and improved … quantity of agricultural produce,” said project worker Sam Malfroy, “it also helps protect the amazing diversity of bees from wild harvesting.”


Dieselgate VW scandal: Even worse to come from petrol?

The recent VW defeat device scandal blew the lid on car makers fudging the figures for diesel car exhaust emissions. But recent reports are indicating that the diesel emissions scandal is only half the story. By Jeremy Torr

Emissions testing is not a precise science - at least within the EU regulations it isn't, say many experts in the field

Emissions testing is not a precise science - at least within the EU regulations it isn't, say many experts in the field

Since 2001 official carbon dioxide (CO2) emission levels for new European passenger cars - both petrol and diesel - have decreased by an impressive average of 29%. That’s great news for the air we breathe.

Manufacturers are “cherry-picking” the best test results from different EU countries
— Peter Mock

But those official CO2 emission values are determined by EU sanctioned laboratory tests. And as recent analysis by the International Council of Clean Transportation (ICCT) has discovered, there is a significant and increasing gap between real-world emission levels and those impressive official values. And it is getting worse.

“[our] ... analysis shows that, in the EU, the gap between official and real-world CO2 emission values continues to grow—from 9% in 2001 to 42% in 2015,” said the ICCT in a recent report. If this sounds like scaremongering, here’s something to consider: the ICCT has many world class scientists on its books and was the key player in discovering the notorious VW ‘diesel defeat’ devices.

Dramatic increase in error reporting

ICCT’s Dr Peter Mock put it bluntly in a recent interview with the BBC. “The difference between official CO2 numbers and fuel consumption numbers, and the real world data from customers … is becoming bigger and bigger,” he says. “We see that in real world terms, the CO2 and the fuel consumption of vehicles is about 42% higher than what manufacturers claim it is.”

Mock says the majority of car makers are gaming the emissions test system in the EU, and producing figures that selectively indicate lower emissions than those produced by real world driving. He claims that “… almost 100% of the [reported lower emissions] effect is due to loopholes that are being exploited more and more over time.” According to Mock, manufacturers are “cherry-picking” the best test results from different EU countries, as well as using different cars of the same model to get the required pass levels for different emissions. And all quite legally.

"Nobody cares about that [NOx value]"- ICCT's Mock

"Nobody cares about that [NOx value]"- ICCT's Mock

“First of all, it is possible for the manufacturer to test the vehicle separately on air pollutant emissions, [then] on CO2 and fuel consumption,” he told the BBC. “So that means you can have one vehicle that is especially prepared just for CO2 emission testing, and it can have very high air pollutant [NOx] emissions. But nobody cares about that in the [CO2] test.”

Mock added that this loophole in EU regulations allows manufacturers to carry out the two critical tests (CO2 and NOx) independently. He also hinted at worse skulduggery by manufacturers. “We haven’t found an illegal defeat device … yet,” he added, “but it could also … be possible that for some vehicle models that there is also an illegal defeat device involved for CO2. But we don’t have any proof yet.”

Kidding ourselves on emissions

It’s not just the ICCT waving a warning flag on supposedly cleaner petrol vehicles. UK-based independent testing organisation, Emissions Analytics (EA), has warned that encouraging official EU data has given a misleadingly positive impression of the trend towards lower vehicle emissions.

"It's a greater scandal [than dieselgate]"- EA's Molden

"It's a greater scandal [than dieselgate]"- EA's Molden

“In recent years, we have been kidding ourselves about our actual achievement in reducing CO2 from cars,” said Nick Molden, CEO and founder of EA. “The new official world harmonised [emissions] test will help close the gap, but only partially,” he added.

Molden said that the dieselgate scandal in the US – primarily affecting VW, but with a knock-on effect to many other manufacturers – would “lift the lid” on the contentious EU testing regimes. “This is in many respects a much greater scandal [than dieselgate in the US],” he added.

Molden asserted that in the UK, the average tested vehicle is some five times the stated emissions limit, with others being up to twenty times the limit – and that  incredibly, none of the manufacturers are breaking the law. “That’s the scandal,” he told the BBC. “It is amazing how you can get round the official system in Europe by fairly simple strategies, and … most of [the car makers] have done that.”

Using his company’s tested figures for greenhouse gas emissions, and taking the car market as a whole, EA reports that average real world emissions of Euro6 cars are 181g/km of CO2 – a figure that hasn’t improved since the first Euro5 certificates were issued in 2011.

“Compared to the current legal fleet average [emissions] target of 130g/km of CO2, our new EQUA data shows this … target is being exceeded by 39%,” said EA in a recent report. Even more worryingly, only around 40% of EU-tested vehicles are within the company’s “most accurate” rating for real-world confirmation of the EU’s rated test. That means 60% of newly tested and certified cars in the EU are exceeding the legally mandated emissions limits in some way or another.

“Despite the recent controversy over manipulated NOx emissions,” says EA in its report, “it underlines the fact that the manufacture of more petrol powered vehicles, to address environmental concerns, could negatively impact CO2 pollution levels.”

Korea's Black-faced Spoonbill Nature School

The Black-faced Spoonbill (BFS) Nature School began in April 2016 with the goal of raising awareness of students in Incheon, Republic of Korea, on the importance of migratory waterbirds and their habitats. The School, run by local science teachers, is led by Ms. Sunjeong Nam of the Incheon BFS Network, with the technical support of the EAAFP Secretariat. This year the Secretariat was happy to see that the number of students participating in BFS Nature School increased by nearly 600 hundred to 922, compared to the previous year.

Asia Pacific Traveller Trends, Behaviour Revealed

A recent Amadeus survey unveils huge diversity among travellers within the Asia Pacific region, with further findings of personalisation-privacy paradox, the need for genuine travel recommendations and the opportunity for creating the right content, through the right channel and at the right time. Mallika Naguran reports.

Sunseap Group & Shell Collaborate for Solar Energy

1 August 2017, Singapore - Sunseap Group, Singapore’s leading integrated clean energy solutions provider, has secured investment from Shell Technology Ventures B.V., Shell’s corporate venturing arm, with an intent for Sunseap and Shell to collaborate on solar projects in the Asia Pacific region, including Singapore. 

Industry Leaders at Asia Clean Energy Summit 2017

08 August 2017, SINGAPORE – In 2017, the Asia Clean Energy Summit (ACES), Asia’s leading thought leadership platform that brings focus to clean energy technology, policy and finance, will take place from 24-26 October 2017 at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre, Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. It also includes an exhibition, which is a marketplace for companies to showcase latest clean energy technologies and solutions.

PATA Award Winners 2017

Bangkok, 27 July 2017 – Winners of the 2017 PATA Grand and Gold Awards of Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA). These awards, supported by the Macao Government Tourism Office (MGTO),  recognise the achievements of 28 separate organisations and individuals in sustainable tourism, heritage, culture, environmental management.

Five Ways Solar PV is Greenest Among Renewables

Photovoltaic systems compared to other renewable energy sources have many merits, writes Mallika Naguran. Solar PV come out significantly better in terms of secondary impacts such as water use, greenhouse gas emissions, pollution and social disturbance. 

UNWTO: Fight Sexual Exploitation of Children in Tourism

UNWTO: Fight Sexual Exploitation of Children in Tourism

The Headquarters of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) hosted a meeting to fight against child sexual exploitation in the tourism sector. The initiative is coordinated by ECPAT International with the support of the government of The Netherlands

World Engineers Summit 2017 Discuss Energy & Carbon

World Engineers Summit 2017 Discuss Energy & Carbon

World Engineers Summit – Applied Energy Symposium & Forum 2017 to drive sharing and co-creation of low carbon, energy, engineering innovations for sustainable urban development from 18 to 21 July, 2017.

AkzoNobel Partners with World Green Building Council

The partnership between AkzoNobel and World Green Building Council will promote collaboration on sustainability and green buildings in Asia Pacific. Mallika Naguran reports.

7 July 2017, Singapore. AkzoNobel signed an agreement in Singapore today to work closely with the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) as a regional partner of its Asia Pacific network.

The partnership, sealed at an undisclosed sum and lasting for a year, will inject greater impetus toward environmental change within buildings. This begins with the awareness of ‘green building’ significance and impacts through private and public sector symposiums.  This comes at the heel of separate partnerships established between AkzoNobel and the green building councils of the Emirates and Pakistan in the last 12 months. AkzoNobel has also joined the WorldGBC's corporate advisory board in September 2016.

The partnership between AkzoNobel and WorldGBC aims to boost knowledge and relevance of green building practices and concepts to the public and industries of Asia Pacific. Left - Jeremy Rowe of AkzoNobel; Right - Tai Lee Siang of WorldGBC. 

The partnership between AkzoNobel and WorldGBC aims to boost knowledge and relevance of green building practices and concepts to the public and industries of Asia Pacific. Left - Jeremy Rowe of AkzoNobel; Right - Tai Lee Siang of WorldGBC. 

AkzoNobel is a global market player in paints and coatings, and a producer of specialty chemicals. Headquartered in Amsterdam, it has operations in around 80 countries with brands such as Dulux, Sikkens, International, Interpon and Eka.

Government regulations and incentives may serve as primary drivers for sustainable development in some Asia Pacific cities, but not all. As such, the private sector, particularly industry product and solution providers, could step up to the task of providing expertise on resource-efficiency and environmental innovations to the building and construction communities.

“We need to empower our community to drive change, and in order to achieve better results, there needs to be more industry involvement and adoption of sustainable practices in every aspect of design, development, operations and more importantly, behavioural change, across entire regions,” said Mr Tai Lee Siang, Chairperson of the WorldGBC.

WorldGBC’s Asia Pacific network comprises 15 Green Building Councils based in Australia, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.

Mr Jeremy Rowe, Managing Director at AkzoNobel Decorative Paints, South East & South Asia, Middle East, said, “We’re committed to developing a more sustainable business and creating more value from fewer resources.  We are taking on a ground-up approach by encouraging a continuous regional dialogue through the ‘Human Cities’ series of symposiums in several cities including Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia. These are held in Asia where government and private sector will jointly sit together.”

The Positive Impacts of Green Buildings

Going beyond the building sector, the partnership between AkzoNobel and WorldGBC ultimately aims to increase sustainability knowledge and relevance of green building practices and concepts to the members of the public.

Mr Tai noted that, “One of the key challenges is relating the benefits of green buildings to the man-on-the-street, but not over-simplifying the environmental message. While there is growing interest in topics like climate change, health and wellness, and liveability, there can be more information on how green buildings can support better and more productive lives.” 

As an example, the Harvard School of Public Health study has shown that people in well-ventilated offices with low volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions recorded a 101% increase in cognitive scores. 

Mr Rowe said, “There is ample opportunity to boost green product innovation that benefits consumers. In the last five years, we invested €1.83 billion in research and development. Over 50% of our innovations will provide distinct sustainability benefits for our customers and their value chains, according to targets AkzoNobel has set.” 

In line with this, AkzoNobel’s Human Cities Initiative underscores their commitment to creating everyday essentials to make people’s lives more liveable and inspiring. Since it was launched in 2014, the Human Cities initiative has resulted in 300 projects involving 9 million people worldwide. 

AkzoNobel's Dulux Professional Weathershield has claimed to deliver high standards in product performance and weather protection with one less coat. This translates to cost and time savings for the building industry, with purported result of up to 30 percent increase in productivity.

AkzoNobel's Dulux Professional Weathershield has claimed to deliver high standards in product performance and weather protection with one less coat. This translates to cost and time savings for the building industry, with purported result of up to 30 percent increase in productivity.

Towards Zero Carbon in 2050

The partnership between AkzoNobel and the WorldGBC comes in response to WorldGBC’s recent report, which calls for a dramatic and ambitious transformation towards a 100% net zero carbon built environment. To keep global warming well under two degrees Celsius as committed in the Paris Agreement, all buildings must operate at ‘net zero carbon’ by 2050.

AkzoNobel’s own Planet Possible sustainability agenda aims to be carbon neutral and use 100% renewable energy by 2050. 

“We are charting a scientific path towards zero carbon by 2050,” added Mr Rowe. “Through this partnership, we hope to increase momentum of the green agenda and encourage sustainability and innovation worldwide.” 

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