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Thursday 25 September 2014

Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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UN Climate Summit

Rhetoric and reality at the United Nations climate summit
Covering UN meetings is not a job for the faint of heart, and this week’s climate summit in New York has been no exception. Two-hour waits for credentials are common. Staffers are plentiful, polite and ineffectual. Barricades, private security forces and squadrons of New York’s finest protect the UN compound on Manhattan’s Upper East Side from unwanted incursions from the world beyond. The summit itself consists of a series of carefully-scripted speeches from business and political leaders. They mix dire warnings with calls to action. Invariably, we are told, no country, company or NGO can solve the problem on its own; we must all work together. Partnerships are key. Climate is the defining issue of our time. The problem is urgent. The time to act is now. The future depends on us. It is all depressingly familiar to anyone who has been to Durban, Cancun or Copenhagen for summits past.

Leaders under fire for failure to attend post-UN climate summit meetings
David Cameron’s former top climate change aide has lambasted world leaders for failing to show up to the crucial informal dialogue session following Tuesday’s climate summit at the UN in New York. After a day of set-piece speeches by leaders including Barack Obama that yielded little in the way of new commitments, world leaders were supposed to meet over dinner to discuss climate change, and engage in “soft diplomacy” to iron out differences ahead of crunch negotiations on a new global climate agreement. But many prominent heads of state and government stayed away from the summit altogether, or failed to show at the dinner.

Climate change is solvable and is ‘a great opportunity’
In a video presented at the UN climate summit in New York and narrated by actor Morgan Freeman, the world’s leaders have been urged to take action to solve the challenges posed by climate change and use the opportunities it offers to create a sustainable future. The opening film, called What’s Possible, was created by director Louie Schwartzberg, writer Scott Z. Burns, Moving Art Studio, and Lyn Davis Lear and the Lear Family Foundation. It is narrated by Morgan Freeman, who explains people should act together to take advantage of the economic opportunities that climate change offers.

UN climate summit: Cameron calls for end to fossil fuel subsidies and a strong climate deal in Paris
UK’s prime minister David Cameron said in a speech at the UN’s climate summit that the country is on track to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050 but that businesses and the poorest countries need assistance in order to thrive in a low-carbon future. Speaking in New York, where world leaders gathered to discuss action on climate change, in order to ease the reaching of a global climate agreement in Paris in 2015, Cameron said the UK is “playing its part”.

UN Climate change summit in New York hears pledge to support poorest farmers
The international network of agricultural research groups (CGIAR) has committed the majority of its funding to help farmers adapt to climate change. The announcement came at the UN Climate Summit in New York. The alliance of 15 CGIARs says 500 million farmers face a food production crisis, particularly for the staples rice and maize. The network of research groups of vegetables, rice, wheat and corn, irrigation and livestock is investing 60 per cent of its budget to climate adaptation. Bruce Campbell, CGIAR director of climate change, agriculture and food security, says the key to adaptation is technology – mobile phones, radio and mass media. Climate smart villages in India are reducing irrigation water by 30 per cent through laser-levelling farm fields.

China and US promise to lead climate change fight
China and the US have both pledged to lead action against climate change, with the former promising for the first time to set targets for greenhouse gas emission cuts. Chinese vice premier Zhang Gaoli said yesterday that by 2020, China hopes to reduce its carbon emissions per unit of GDP by 45% from 2005 levels. Meanwhile, US president Barack Obama admitted that the two countries “have a responsibility to lead“, but added that all countries must follow.

Pledges can work, but it will take international law to fight climate change
Do we need a climate treaty, or could a simple political deal based on national pledges work just as well? Conventional wisdom suggests that the only international climate deal worth having is one that is “legally-binding”. In other words, a treaty which binds states to their commitments under international law. This wisdom is touted by academics, activists and politicians alike. Even Ban Ki-moon’s climate summit this week is working towards a legal deal at the next major climate conference in Paris, 2015. Whether simple national pledges could work instead is an important question to ask, since that is exactly where the negotiations are heading.

France promises $1bn for climate change fund at UN summit
France promised $1bn to a near-empty climate change fund for poor countries on Tuesday and called for the establishment of a new green economy in the first concrete result of a milestone United Nations summit. The pledge came on a day of impassioned speeches from some 120 presidents and prime ministers – as well as a cameo by the actor and now UN ambassador Leonardo DiCaprio – telling the summit they had wasted precious time and now needed to deal urgently with climate change. Both China and America, the world’s two biggest emitters, pledged their support for a climate deal, without offering specifics… But leaders from Africa and the Pacific islands threatened by rising seas said rich countries needed to do more. “We must get away from the ‘wait and see who is doing what’ style of leadership before deciding what needs to be done,” said Anote Tong, the president of Kiribati, which could be drowned by rising seas.

UN climate change summit in New York – as it happened (Live Blog)
I will now wrap up the live blog. The summit will culminate in a closing ceremony in the next hour or two. Most of the major announcements and speeches have been made. Over the coming days expect to see plenty of analysis to determine whether this summit will end up in the ‘historic momentum builder’ box or the ‘bilious talkfest’ box or somewhere in between. Much of the initial reaction has been positive. A lot of focus will be on the concrete monetary commitments made by France and other nations, including forensic examination to find out how much of this money is genuinely new and how much amounts to old promises with new names. Here is a summary of events from the day.

Energy and Climate Change

White House Launches Climate Tools and Data for Developing World
The White House is releasing new data and technological tools to help developing countries better prepare for climate change, Obama administration officials announced Wednesday. The information is critical for predicting water availability for farmers and forecasting severe flooding, the White House said. The data can also be used to better track the shrinking of glaciers, soil moisture levels, nutrient flow, vegetation cover, and erosion.

Scottish wind could fix UK energy woes – don’t let Westminster blow it
The UK faces the possibility of blackouts due to electricity shortages in the near future – maybe even this winter. The country therefore needs a strong balanced mix of traditional and renewable energy more than ever. As Scotland generates more electricity than it uses, most of these potential blackouts will be in England. Therefore it is all the more puzzling that the UK government has failed lamentably to ensure adequate support for offshore wind. For a windy island nation, offshore wind power generation is vital; it not only complements traditional generation methods but does so in a more sustainable way. And yet projections have been significantly scaled back: UK government estimates of expected offshore wind generation by 2020 have gone from 18 gigawatts (DECC, back in 2012) down to just 10 GW (Crown Estate, June 2014).

Economy and Business

How to pull the plug on irresponsible capitalism
The first corporations were organisations, like monasteries and universities, given a special status at the whim of the monarch to ensure that they could continue into the future, independent of any one person. The past 150 years of law has changed all this, and given corporations all sorts of rights whilst allowing them to evade all sorts of responsibilities. In British law, this means “limited liability” for owners, but also appears to mean unlimited profits for shareholders. So when it comes to scandals about tax evasion, huge levels of executive pay, the off-shoring of jobs, “right-sizing” cuts which raise share prices, environmental damage and so on, we shouldn’t really be that surprised. Corporations are now very powerful indeed, many with revenues that dwarf those of small states – and they have organised the world to their advantage.

CDP: Companies Taking Climate Action Generating 18% Higher ROE Than Peers
S&P 500 industry leaders that are actively managing and planning for climate-change are generating 18 percent higher return on equity (ROE) than peers and 67 percent higher than companies that do not disclose on climate change, according to a new report by CDP. The report tracks industry-leaders over the last three years against their financial performance. The analysis revealed that those who lead on climate disclosure and performance have generated higher profitability. Companies pursuing sustainability initiatives have seen 50 percent lower volatility of earnings over the past decade than low-ranking peers. In addition, dividends to shareholders are 21 percent stronger than low-ranking peers.

Will green chemistry save us from toxification?
The OECD defines green chemistry as “the design, manufacture and use of efficient, effective, safe and more environmentally benign chemical products and processes”. More specifically, green chemistry should use fewer hazardous and harmful feedstocks and reagents; improve the energy and material efficiency of chemical processes; use renewable feedstocks or wastes in preference to fossil fuels or mined resources; and design chemical products for better reuse or recycling. Popular categories of green chemistry include biochemical fuel cells, biodegradable packaging, aqueous solvents, white biotechnology (the application of biotechnology for industrial purposes), totally chlorine-free bleaching technologies and green plastics.

Goodyear Turning Rice Husk Waste Into Fuel-Efficient Tire Treads
The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company announced Monday it will begin using ash left over from the burning of rice husks to produce electricity and an environmentally friendly source of silica for use in its tires. Silica is mixed with rubber in tire treads to increase the rubber’s strength and help reduce rolling resistance, which improves fuel economy and can improve a tire’s traction on wet surfaces. The company says the use of the ash will provide it with an alternative source of silica while helping reduce the amount of rice husk waste being landfilled — it is now negotiating with potential suppliers to purchase rice husk ash silica — which is already used as an additive in concrete and cement — for use in its tires.

Waste and the Circular Economy

We have TV on demand, why not household appliances?
Have you heard about FridgeFlix? No? How about the Appliance Alliance? Not that either…? Well, it’s probably because they have yet to be created. FridgeFlix and the Appliance Alliance were invented during a hackathon at the World Economic Forum’s summer meeting in Tianjin, northern China, a couple of weeks ago. The brainchild of software developers, a hackathon is a collaborative event in which a group of people have a go at developing or changing a project or a strategy in a short time. I was part of a group of five very different people – from the leader of WWF in Norway to an expert on the shared economy and a senior VP of a large drinks company. Our challenge was to give input to a technology company to make more of its products compatible with the circular economy. There was heated debate and we almost split up. We could not agree on whether our ideas were making present consumption more intelligent and resource effective or just creating new and unnecessary consumption. But then it happened: we came up with FridgeFlix.

Politics and Society

SA transport projects face axe after defeat of car park tax
Key public transport projects in South Australia face an uncertain future after the State Government’s controversial car park tax was voted down in Parliament, leaving a $120 million hole in the budget.  An Opposition amendment to remove the Transport Development Levy from the budget was supported by two Family First MPs and independent John Darley.  The levy would have put a $750 charge on car parking spaces in Adelaide’s CBD and was expected to raise about $30 million a year.

Win for animal activists and media but ag-gag fight goes on
The animal protection movement has recorded a significant victory, with the defeat of “ag-gag” legislation in South Australia. On Tuesday, South Australian legislators voted against the Surveillance Devices Bill, which sought to criminalise the public release of information collected through the use of surveillance devices, with a maximum penalty of $75,000 for a corporation and $15,000 or imprisonment for three years for individuals. This bill would have had a significant impact on how the media reports on matters of public interest, including the treatment of animals in factory farms.

Built Environment

Office buildings are key to workers’ health, wellbeing and productivity
The relationship between people and the building in which they are working is vital. The majority of businesses are missing a trick in ignoring the enormous opportunity this relationship presents. Salaries and benefits typically account for 90% of an organisation’s operating costs, far greater than energy (1%) and even rent (9%). The productivity of staff, or anything that affects their ability to be productive, should be a major concern for any employer, and therefore the building in which they operate, should be a key interest. For architects and designers, the idea that buildings influence the health, wellbeing and productivity of their occupants is not new. But this type of thinking is still not influencing most design, financing and leasing decisions – beyond perhaps the odd high profile Silicon Valley tech company. Six months ago, the World Green Building Council convened 60 experts from 40 businesses and academic institutions, across 20 countries, to try to bring this issue into the mainstream.

City of Melbourne wins world climate adaptation award
The City of Melbourne has won a City Climate Leadership award for its Urban Landscapes Climate Adaptation program. The Adaptation and Resilience award was presented to Lord Mayor Robert Doyle at an event in New York this week hosted by Siemens and the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. “The City of Melbourne implemented our Urban Landscape Adaptation Program in 2010 to protect our people, businesses, trees and other environmental assets after more than a decade of drought, low rainfalls and record-breaking extreme heat,” Mr Doyle said. The program includes increasing green space to 7.6 per cent of municipal space, doubling tree canopy, retrofitting streets to increase permeability and introducing water sensitive urban design.

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