These forests provide many benefits: They store large amounts of carbon, are home to numerous wild species, provide food and fuel for local people, purify water supplies and improve air quality. Replenishing them is an urgent global imperative. A newly published study in the journal Science by European authors finds that there is room for an extra 3.4 million square miles (0.9 billion hectares) of canopy cover around the world, and that replenishing tree cover at this full potential would contribute significantly to reducing the risk of harmful climate change
But there aren’t enough resources to restore all tropical forests that have been lost or damaged. And restoration can conflict with other activities, such as farming and forestry. As a tropical forest ecologist, I am interested in developing better tools for assessing where these efforts will be most cost-effective and beneficial.
Over the past four years, tropical forestry professor Pedro Brancalionand I have led a team of researchers from an international network in evaluating the benefits and feasibility of restoration across tropical rainforests around the world. Our newly published findings identify restoration hotspots – areas where restoring tropical forests would be most beneficial and least costly and risky. They cover over 385,000 square miles (100 million hectares), an area as large as Spain and Sweden combined.
The five countries with the largest areas of restoration hotpots are Brazil, Indonesia, India, Madagascar and Colombia. Six countries in Africa – Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Togo, South Sudan and Madagascar – hold rainforest areas where restoration is expected to yield the highest benefits with the highest feasibility. We hope our results can help governments, conservation groups and international funders target areas where there is high potential for success.
North Korean officials commit sexual violence with little concern for the consequences, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The government fails to investigate and prosecute complaints, or to provide protection and services to victims, and even asserts that the country is implausibly free of sexism or sexual violence.
The 86-page report, “‘You Cry at Night, but Don’t Know Why’: Sexual Violence against Women in North Korea,” documents unwanted sexual contact and violence that is so common in North Korea it has come to be accepted as part of ordinary life. Many North Koreans told Human Rights Watch that when an official in a position of power “picks” a woman she has no choice but to comply with any demands he makes, whether for sex, money, or other favors. Women interviewed said that the sexual predators include high-ranking party officials, prison and detention facility guards and interrogators, police and secret police officials, prosecutors, and soldiers. Fearful of social disgrace and retaliation, and with few, if any, avenues for redress, North Korean women rarely report abuse.
“Sexual violence in North Korea is an open, unaddressed, and widely tolerated secret,” said Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch’s executive director. “North Korean woman would probably say ‘Me Too’ if they thought there was any way to obtain justice, but their voices are silenced in Kim Jong Un’s dictatorship.”
They planned to shoot 19-year-old Saba Qaiser in the head, put her body in a bag, and dump it in the river. It’s pure luck that they didn’t succeed. Saba was wounded but not dead, and managed to drag herself out of the river. Her attackers? Her father and her uncle, who sought revenge on Saba after she married without their permission.
In my last post, I noted how the water supply on Atauro is rarely more than a trickle. Late last week our freshwater team turned up something very surprising: a flowing stream that even some of the island’s residents didn’t know about.
The freshwater team, led by CI Timor-Leste Country Director Trudiann Dale, hiked for hours over rough terrain until they discovered the water flowing out of a limestone cave system. Within the crystal-clear water, the team found a range of freshwater insect species.
Creatures of the Night
Later, we took a night hike in the rainforest, which proved to be extremely challenging. Guided by a barefoot Timorese man who was as agile as a mountain goat, we spent several hours scrambling down valleys and over fallen trees.Fortunately, our efforts were rewarded.
First, we saw a civet — a small mammal with a raccoon-like face — high in the trees. Then we caught three geckos of an undescribed species! Only one individual of this kind of reptile had ever been found before. Our records will help to ensure the species is properly named and that a proposed protected area includes the locations where it lives.
We set a few live traps to see if we could capture a civet, a task we knew would be extremely difficult. If we caught one, we’d be able to find out if the island’s civet population was different from the mainland civet.
The next morning we returned to the traps. Most were empty … but one contained a civet! We couldn’t believe our luck.
The animal looked like a dark-colored palm civet. By comparing its DNA to that of other civets, we’ll learn whether it’s a new species. We took photos and videos of the civet, fed it fruit to keep it nourished and collected several hairs for the DNA sample. We then set the civet free and watched it scamper up a tree, none the worse for wear.
To the Bat Caves
Another group of mammals that has been poorly surveyed in Timor-Leste is bats. We have therefore begun a preliminary study to map bat caves and ensure that their most important habitats are included within our proposed protected area.
Our initial survey has so far turned up three bat species:
A small fruit bat, with a face like a tiny dog and tough, thin wings.
A large insectivorous bat, with an odd-shaped nose and large ears that allow it to use vibrations to detect insects.
A tiny insectivorous bat no more than 3 centimeters in length!
It’s incredible to see these marvels of nature up close — bats are truly amazing beasts. After measuring and collecting DNA samples from the bats, we released them, hoping to catch more in the coming days.
A Future Tourist Destination?
While conducting our survey, we’ve also been assessing the ecotourism potential of the area. If Timor-Leste can benefit financially from protecting nature on this small island, then there is a greater likelihood that it will be well-managed and kept intact. Our initial assessment is that if the area is managed carefully, it has huge tourism potential. We have found some fabulous walks, breathtaking viewpoints and pristine snorkeling sites.
Yesterday we visited a particularly spectacular site: a long, narrow valley that runs down to a small village by the sea. Lined by high limestone cliffs, the valley was full of caves and festooned with massive fig trees. The valley’s rainforest is kept damp by the lack of full sunlight and the clouds and sea mist that cover the hills each night. The trees were draped in orchids and ferns, and noisy birds flew through the canopy.
As we walked down the path, I saw a large tokay gecko in a hollow tree. Upon closer inspection, we saw that it was a huge female covered in bright orange spots — guarding eight eggs that were in the middle of hatching! We watched three eggs hatch as the mother looked on guardedly, displaying a maternal instinct unusual to see in a lizard.
An Unexpected Discovery
As I was about to walk farther down the path, I heard a distinctive squeak. Much higher-pitched than a bird or mouse, the sound meant only one thing: a shrew. These small insectivorous mammals are widespread around much of the world, but only one had ever been found in Timor, and none on Atauro!
I stood absolutely still and waited. The tiny shrew came out from under a rock and began rummaging in the leaves. I leapt over and grabbed a handful of leaves where it had been and quickly stuffed them in a bag. I peered in to see if I’d caught it — success! The first record for the island, and almost definitely an undescribed new species of mammal.
That night, we were full of excitement discussing our list of species likely new to science: a rodent, a shrew, at least two lizards and probably a wide range of plants and freshwater insects. It’s amazing that such a small island can hold so much rare and unstudied life.
Again, I was struck by the fact that when people respect nature and truly value the gifts it provides, everyone benefits: the people who rely on the forests for fresh water, the visiting tourists who come for stunning views of forest and pristine coral reefs, the sharks offshore that swim in protected waters — and of course, the tiny shrews that call the forest home.
An HSBC sign is seen outside a bank branch near the Shard in London February 9, 2015.
(Reuters) – HSBC and Standard Chartered are looking at the viability of quitting London for a new home in Asia because a big jump in a tax on UK banks makes staying in Britain increasingly painful.
Several investors told Reuters they want the two banks to do a thorough analysis on whether it makes sense to move after Britain raised the bank tax by a third last month.
Some are expected to quiz bosses on it at shareholder meetings, including at an investor gathering in Hong Kong on Monday.
“There is a very clear risk that HSBC and StanChart reach a pain threshold where they think it is no longer worth staying in the UK,” said Richard Buxton, head of equities at Old Mutual Global Investors, which owns HSBC shares and who said the bank was reflecting on a move.
The tax has increased eight times since being introduced in 2010 to ensure banks make a “fair contribution” after the financial crisis. The latest rise was seen as a popular move ahead of Britain’s May 7 election.
Aberdeen Asset Management, the second biggest shareholder in Standard Chartered, with an aggregate 9.4 percent stake, said the bank should consider the option.
Senior management are already assessing the situation, people familiar with the matter said. Four years ago, HSBC said it would review its domicile in 2015, although the bank declined to comment if or when any review might occur.
“It’s a live conversation internally because it’s an issue being raised by investors and sell-side analysts,” said a person close to one of the banks, who asked not to be named as the discussions are private.
The banks, who make most of their profits in Asia, face a combined $2 billion (£1.3 billion) bill this year under the annual UK bank tax, up from $1.5 billion last year and almost double what they paid in 2013.
The Labour Party plans to increase it by 800 million pounds to 4.5 billion pounds a year for the banking industry as a whole, if it wins power, to pay for childcare for three and four year olds. Labour is neck and neck with Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives in polls.
Another hefty rise could be the final catalyst and force banks to move, Bernstein analyst Chirantan Barua said.
HSBC, which has described the levy as a tax on staying in London, faces a bill of $1.5 billion this year, about 7 percent of expected profits. Standard Chartered is set to pay $500 million, or about 9 percent of earnings.
“TOO MANY MOVING PARTS”
HSBC says it has two “home” markets, Britain and Hong Kong. It moved from Hong Kong to London in 1993 when it bought Midland Bank and its most likely move would be back to its former home, one of the few places that could handle its $2.6 trillion balance sheet.
The bank began life in Hong Kong 150 years ago, with roots as a financier of trade between Europe and Asia. It issues most of the territory’s bank notes and has made $24 billion in profits there over the last three years, compared to a $4 billion loss in Britain over the same period.
London has been home to Standard Chartered since it was formed in 1969 and its most likely new home would be Singapore, from where most of its businesses are already run.
Analysts said the cost of moving could be between $1.5 billion and $2.5 billion per bank.
HSBC told MPs in February, before the levy increase, the best location was still Britain. It had postponed a review in 2011 because Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver said there were too many moving parts to make a rational decision.
Industry sources said that could still be the case for both banks. They are trying to improve profitability, cut costs, sell businesses, deal with old misconduct issues and simplify. Standard Chartered also gets a new CEO next month, Bill Winters, who may want to raise capital.
“On a 10 or 15 year view, I’d be surprised if both of them are still here. But I don’t think it’s an issue for the short-term, they have bigger priorities,” John-Paul Crutchley, UBS banking analyst, said.
Yet it could be worth it. JPMorgan analyst Raul Sinha estimated the higher UK bank levy will cut Standard Chartered’s earnings by 13 percent in 2017, while a move away from Britain could lift its return on tangible equity, a key profitability measure, by 1.6 percentage points to 12.7 percent.
Britain is also forcing banks to separate domestic retail operations by 2019, so if HSBC is serious about moving, it could spin off its UK business at the same time, analysts said.
But the complexity of all the issues in the mix make a decision difficult. These include Europe’s pay rules for staff, the risk of losing staff, how capital and leverage rules in places like Singapore compare, access to capital, political stability, credit ratings and the risk of regulatory change in any new jurisdiction.
Britain’s strongest card is London itself, which has always ranked alongside New York as the most attractive global financial hub, in the Z/Yen Global Financial Centres index.
Banks, accused of sabre-rattling with threats to quit before, are also wary of stepping into a political minefield.
“StanChart and HSBC might well be firing warning shots on their possible relocation to … tell politicians they won’t be bullied,” said Paul Mumford, senior investment manager at Cavendish Asset Management, which owns stock in both banks.
“But I think unless these firms start feeling that some politicians are in tune with what they offer the UK, then we might see genuine action … the threat is there,” he said.
The Black Death struck Europe in 1347, killing 30-50% of the European population in six violent years. It wasn’t a one-off epidemic: it signalled the start of the second plague pandemicin Europe that lasted for hundreds of years and only slowly disappeared from the continent after the Great Plague of London in 1665-1666.
These outbreaks were traditionally thought to be caused by rodent reservoirs of infected rats lurking in Europe’s cities, or potentially by rodent reservoirs in the wilderness. But our research, published in the journal PNAS, suggests otherwise.
If the “reservoir” thesis were correct, we would expect plague outbreaks to be associated with local climate fluctuations, through changes in agricultural yields and primary productions in forests, affecting the number of urban and wildlife rodents, resulting in more plague. We found that Europe’s plague outbreaks were indeed associated with climate fluctuations – but in Asia.
The Black Death came to Europe from Asia. Historical records tentatively map it back to outbreaks in 1345 in Astrakhan and Sarai, two trade centres located on the Volga river near the Caspian Sea.
Where the Black Death came from before it hit those cities is not known, but by recovering fragments of DNA from the teeth of plague victims in Europe, the closest currently known living relatives of this medieval strain of the plague causing bacteriaYersinia pestis are circulating in marmots and long-tailed ground squirrels in north-west China.
Some dominant narratives on the plague are poorly substantiated. One being that medieval plague was transmitted by black or brown rats and their infected fleas jumping to humans. This was indeed how the third plague pandemic in the 19th and 20th centuries was transmitted – but there is poor archaeological evidence there were many rats across much of northern Europe in the Middle Ages aside from small populations of black rats in harbour towns, and no historic records that rats played a role in the disease.
“Rodent reservoirs” represent another dominant narrative. The idea is that the disease was introduced in medieval Europe once (the Black Death epidemic) after which it settled into local rats or wildlife rodents, and continued to cause outbreaks in European cities for hundreds of years.
This is the narrative we aimed to substantiate through evidence, but which we ended up challenging. Using tree-ring based climate records from Europe and Asia, we showed that plague reintroductions into European harbours were associated with periods of wet conditions, followed by a drought, across large parts of Central Asia.
These conditions were tough for rodents in the region, traditionally the hosts of the plague bacterium, and their numbers would plummet. Infected fleas would seek new hosts, often latching onto passing human traders or their camels, though we don’t yet know exactly how the plague made the journey westward. What we do know is that, 14-16 years after the rodent-killing drought, we would often find plague reintroduced into Europe.
The chart below shows these climate fluctuations in Central Asia preceded the Black Death in 1347, the Italian plague of 1629, and the Great Plague of Marseille a century later, but notably not the London plague of 1665 or the outbreak in Vienna the following decade.
This followed a pattern that we associate with current-day plague outbreaks. What is the implication of such a finding? In terms of our understanding of the past plague pandemics, it provides a different perspective as to how the disease moved across Eurasia, driven by climate events that were and still are frequently occurring.
It implies that there might never have been permanent reservoirs of plague among European rodents. While alpine marmotsmight have been affected and transmitted plague in medieval Europe, we found no indications that they can form a long-term reservoir, as their cousins in Asia do.
Furthermore, the observation that plague disappeared from the European mainland, while outbreaks in the Middle East and northern Africa continued to follow upon climate events in Central Asia strongly suggests that the reason why plague disappeared from Europe should be phrased not in terms of why its reservoirs disappeared, but why the disease could no longer spread efficiently across the continent. It gives historians, epidemiologists and biologists new questions to ask in their quest to reconstruct what exactly happened during one of the most devastating pandemics in human history.