Tuesday 20 January 2015
Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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‘It is profitable to let the world go to hell’
How depressed would you be if you had spent more than 40 years warning of an impending global catastrophe, only to be continually ignored even as you watch the disaster unfolding? So spare a thought for Jørgen Randers, who back in 1972 co-authored the seminal work Limits to Growth (pdf), which highlighted the devastating impacts of exponential economic and population growth on a planet with finite resources.
Energy and Climate Change
UN climate chief: Carbon bubble is now a reality
The idea that investors may lose money sunk into fossil fuel projects is no longer just a theory—according to to UN climate chief Christiana Figueres, it is now a reality. Green groups have warned that huge reserves of oil, gas and coal are overvalued and could lead to a “carbon bubble”. This is because increasingly stringent climate policies will require around half of known fossil fuels to stay in the ground, instead of returning a profit to investors. Many, including oil giant Exxon Mobil, have shrugged off the threat. But Figueres, who leads the UN’s climate body, said that low oil prices are already affecting the market.
EU to launch diplomatic offensive ahead of Paris climate talks
Europe is launching a major diplomatic push for an ambitious deal on global warming, mobilising A-list celebrities and tens of thousands of diplomats to exert “maximum pressure” on key countries in international climate negotiations. The EU plan, endorsed by ministers on Monday in Brussels, will see 90,000 diplomats in over 3,000 missions lobbying to win new pledges on carbon cuts from countries ahead of a crunch UN climate summit in Paris this December. European stars, of a calibre of US public figures such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Al Gore, will front a push to make climate action a “strategic priority” at G7, G20 and Major Economies Forum summits.
Everyday climate change – in pictures
Inspired by the co-founder of Everydayafrica, photographer James Whitlow Delano launched Everydayclimatechange, an Instagram feed where photographers from five continents share their images as evidence that climate change is real and to raise awareness of the situation around the world.
Meet the unlikely climate allies bridging divides in UN talks
International climate talks are typically presented as a struggle between the developed and developing worlds. The reality is more complex, but there is an undeniable tension between those rich countries responsible for the bulk of historic emissions and the emerging economies that have an increasing impact on the climate. Much has been made of last year’s US-China pact straddling that historic divide and its significance in unblocking agreement at the last round of climate talks in Lima. Less is said about a small negotiating bloc that has been steadily influential in bridging the same gap since 2000. The environmental integrity group (EIG) is made up of Mexico, Switzerland and South Korea, plus the European principalities of Liechtenstein and Monaco. Negotiators for these unlikely allies tell RTCC the partnership, borne out of frustration with the process, can be a strong advocate for progressive climate policies.
Britain needs 14 fewer power stations thanks to energy efficiency gains
Britain would need 14 extra power stations today if it had not invested in energy efficiency and decentralised generation over the past 30 years, a new industry-backed report will claim today. As revealed by BusinessGreen last week, the study by the Association for Decentralised Energy (ADE), formerly the Combined Heat and Power Association, shows that businesses and consumers are effectively saving £32.7bn each year as a result of investments in energy demand-, rather than supply-, side measures. The report, entitled Invisible Energy, also analyses the high volumes of energy that are still wasted across the grid, noting how for every 16 units of energy delivered to homes and businesses, another 84 units are wasted through inefficient infrastructure and equipment.
Environment and Biodiversity
California’s Forests: Where Have All the Big Trees Gone?
California has lost half its big trees since the 1930s, according to a study to be published Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences—and climate change seems to be a major factor. The number of trees larger than two feet in diameter has declined by 50 percent on more than 46,000 square miles of California forests, the new study finds. No area was immune, from the foggy northern coast to the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the San Gabriels above Los Angeles. In the Sierra high country, the number of big trees has fallen by more than 55 percent; in parts of southern California the decline was nearly 75 percent.
Food diversity vital for adapting to climate change
Maintaining genetic diversity within the world’s food supply is vital to ensuring that humankind can preserve crop yields and adapt to climate change, however, a warming world places diversity at risk, a paper from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has warned. The paper notes that agriculture, fisheries, aquaculture and forestry face the challenge of ensuring food security of an additional 3 billion people by 2050, which is estimated to require a 60% increase in global food production. Climate change is expected to make the task of achieving this an even greater challenge. In order to meet future food demand, farmers could potentially turn to wild crops that genetically are more resilient to the conditions that climate change will present than crops currently used for farming. However, many of these crops are currently at risk. It is estimated that between 16 and 22% of wild relatives of crop species may be in danger of extinction within the next 50 years.
India’s tiger population increases by almost a third
The number of tigers in India has increased by almost a third in the last three years, official figures released on Tuesday reveal. The rise, from 1,706 in 2011 to 2,226 in 2014, will encourage campaigners fighting to protect the endangered species. Activists called the new statistics “robust” and “very good news”. Around 70% of the world’s wild tigers live in India, where their habitat has been threatened by uncontrolled development and poaching. Repeated efforts to stem trade and protect tigers from environmental pressures failed to stop their numbers in India dwindling to 1,411 in 2006. Prakash Javadekar, the environment minister in the emerging south Asian power, said the latest figures showed a huge success story and demonstrated that the current strategy of creating reserves staffed by specialist government staff was working.
Toxic Snail Puts Fish in a Sugar Coma, Then Eats Them
What happens if you need to catch your own dinner, but you’re just not fast enough? If you’re a slow-moving cone snail with a yen for sushi, you drug a bunch of fish. The tropical sluggard kills by overdosing fish with a toxic cloud containing insulin, researchers report this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Plummeting blood sugar levels throw the victims into a stupor. Cone snails are notorious for stinging scuba divers tempted to pick up their beautiful shells. But the geographic cone snail (Conus geographus)—the most venomous cone snail of all, with several human deaths under its belt—takes its practice of poisoning to a whole new level.
Economy and Business
Report: 5 Most Pressing Global Risks Create 15 Sustainable Growth Opportunities
Business leaders globally have strong confidence in their own ability to turn sustainability challenges such as water scarcity and fossil fuel dependency into new business opportunities, particularly in the manufacturing and finance sectors in emerging economies. This is one of the key findings of the first Global Opportunity Report, released today by the Global Opportunity Network — an initiative launched in August by DNV GL, UN Global Compact and Monday Morning Global Institute. The Global Opportunity Network aims to identify opportunities for sustainable solutions to five pressing global risks.
From water to weather: where to make money in sustainability
Where there’s muck there’s brass – or should that be the other way round? The business community must play a meaningful role in cleaning up the mess created by its unsustainable behaviour, but in the absence of tougher regulation will we have to rely on companies finding money-making opportunities in solving the existential challenges we face? That is one conclusion of a new report, published as global leaders meet in Davos, that identifies and ranks 15 opportunities to transform the effects of extreme weather, our reliance of fossil fuels, and the sharp rise in chronic disease, water scarcity and mass urbanisation. The Global Opportunity Report 2015, drawn together by Scandinavian think tank Monday Morning Global Institute, Norwegian certification group DNV GL and corporate sustainability membership group UN Global Compact, is the result of a survey of 6,000 public and private sector leaders, and the thoughts of 200 sustainability experts from eight countries.
Just 6 UK universities assessing climate risk on investments
A survey of the UK’s universities has revealed that whilst a growing number of the institutions recognise the impact of their investments and are publishing ethical investment policies, just six are committed to assessing the climate change risk associated with their investments. The 2015 People & Planet University League found that whilst one third of universities are now publishing ethical investment policies, 80% of those refuse to disclose which companies they invest in. Additionally, it found that just six universities are assessing how climate change will affect investments, despite research suggesting negative impacts, but a handful of universities are now committing to divesting from fossil fuels.
10 predictions for sustainable NZ business in 2015
Find out what could be in store for sustainable business in New Zealand this year with these predictions from 10 people across our Network.
Waste and the Circular Economy
How to turn human waste into drinking water – and more
The Omniprocessor, which has been developed by Janicki Bioenery, a small family-run company north of Seattle, is a compact waste treatment plant that can process sewage for a community of about 100,000 people. Unlike modern sewage plants, which squander huge amounts of electricity incinerating waste, the technology combines incineration, steam power and filtration technologies to ensure no energy is wasted in the process. Its star turn is to generate 11,000 litres of high-grade drinking water a day – and that is just the start. The processor derives enough energy from the faecal matter it incinerates to run the unit, with 150kw a day spare to export to the grid. It also produces ash, which can be commercially valuable as a fertiliser.
Politics and Society
Sustainable development goals: changing the world in 17 steps – interactive
This year, the millennium development goals – launched in 2000 to make global progress on poverty, education, health, hunger and the environment – expire. UN member states are finalising the sustainable development goals that will replace them. But what do the SDGs aim to achieve? How do they differ from the MDGs? And did the MDGs make much progress?
What can climate talks learn from the fight against nuclear weapons?
From the 1950s until the 1990s, nuclear weapons were viewed as the greatest threat to human life on the planet. Today the world faces a different global threat of our own making: climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has documented the possibly catastrophic impacts of unchecked warming. This November, nations around the world will meet in Paris in an attempt to develop a global climate agreement beyond 2020. The threat of nuclear war was substantially reduced through several successful strategic arms-control agreements in the 1970s and 1980s. What – if anything – can such successful agreements, designed to address a global threat, tell us about climate change agreements and their success?
Why it’s good to laugh at climate change
Did you hear the one about the climate policy analyst? Or the polar bear who walked into a bar? Climate change is not generally considered a source of amusement: in terms of comedic material, the forecast is an ongoing cultural drought. But perhaps campaigners have missed a trick in overlooking the powerful role that satire and subversion can play in social change. Could humour cut through the malaise that has smothered the public discourse, activating our cultural antennae in a way that graphs, infographics and images of melting ice could never do?
Twelve Questions: Phillip Mills
Phillip Mills is CEO of Les Mills International, which has licensed 100,000 people to teach its fitness classes globally. Son of Les and Colleen, the Commonwealth Games finalist is also a committed environmentalist.
Child labour in the fashion supply chain – where, why and what can business do? (Interactive)
Some 170 million children were in child labour in 2012, according to the International Labour Organisation, touching areas of our lives from fashion to food. To achieve true sustainability, businesses must consider their impacts on children, both directly and indirectly.
Beijing’s smog is increasingly toxic for China’s politicians
The Chinese public’s awareness of air pollution — and its deleterious effects on human health — is light years ahead of where it was in early 2013. At that time, most Chinese, like everyone else in the world, were unfamiliar with the term “PM2.5.” But with the airpocalypse, Chinese became obsessed with daily PM2.5 readings, and the mobile apps devoted to tracking its levels proliferated. By the end of 2013 PM2.5 ranked #3 on the list of most popular memes in the country. In short, Chinese people today are more environmentally conscious — and are looking more insistently to the government to safeguard the country’s air.
Solar plane cleared for take-off on round the world record attempt
The team behind the world’s first solar powered plane to fly day and night have revealed the route it will take for a 35,000 kilometre round the world record attempt. The Swiss-built Solar Impulse 2 (Si2) will land at 12 locations across the globe during a five month journey, which will see it take off from Abu Dhabi in late February or early March.