Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Energy and Climate Change

Greenhouse gases made hottest year on record ‘2,000 times more likely’
Australia’s hottest year on record in 2013 would’ve been “virtually impossible” without human-driven climate change, with the record temperatures made 2,000 times more likely due to greenhouse gases, research has found. Four separate research papers into last year’s record heat have identified a distinctive human “fingerprint” on the series of highs, which included Australia’s hottest day, month, summer and spring since records began in 1910.

How global warming affected extreme weather events in 2013 (Interactive)
From Australia’s off-the-charts heat wave to Colorado’s biblical deluge, Europe’s scorching summer, and Britain’s miserable spring, nine events were caused at least in part by climate change, scientists conclude in a report in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society on Monday. Overseen by the US Noaa and the UK Met Office, 92 scientists from 14 countries looked at how climate change affected 16 of the biggest weather events of 2013.

Solar costs heading to 4c/kWh, rooftop solar seen “unbeatable”
The highly conservative International Energy Agency predicts the cost of solar energy will fall to around 4c/kWh in coming decades as the sun becomes the dominant source of power generation across the world. As we reported yesterday, the IEA now expects solar to become the biggest single source of energy by 2050 and has now doubled its forecast capacity for solar PV. Rooftop solar, it says, will now account for one half of the world’s solar PV installations, because as a distributed energy source the technology is “unbeatable”.

Coal seam gas will have ‘unintended consequences’, says chief scientist
The risk to human health and the environment posed by coal seam gas can be managed but “unintended consequences” due to accidents, human error and natural disasters are inevitable, the state’s top scientist says. In an eagerly awaited report made public on Tuesday night following 19 months of investigations, NSW Chief Scientist Mary O’Kane said the technical challenges and risks posed by the coal seam gas industry could be addressed by limiting extraction to areas where the geology and land use were appropriate.

Green MashUP: a sustainable future through smart cities
In smart cities, water, energy, transport, public health, safety and other services are managed seamlessly in concert, providing a clean, efficient and safe environment.  All of this is made possible by a smart grid that does three things. It automates power systems, providing remote monitoring and control through micro-grids. Second, it informs and educates consumers about how much energy they use. This enables them to make decisions about how and when to use electricity and gas. And third, the grid will create the safe, secure and reliable integration of distributed and renewable energy resources. The result: energy infrastructure that’s more reliable, more sustainable and more resilient. The grid turns the city into an organism where the different parts are working together.

Environment and Biodiversity

Report: Half of Global Wildlife Lost Between 1970 and 2010
Global populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish dropped 52 percent between 1970 and 2010, according to a new report by World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The 2014 Living Planet Report says this biodiversity loss is occuring disproportionately in low-income countries — and correlates with the increasing resource use of high-income countries. The amount of carbon in our atmosphere has risen to levels not seen in more than a million years, triggering climate change that is already destabilizing ecosystems. High concentrations of reactive nitrogen are degrading lands, rivers and oceans. Stress on already scarce water supplies is increasing. And more than 60 percent of the essential “services” provided by nature, from forests to seas, are in decline. “We’re gradually destroying our planet’s ability to support our way of life,” said Carter Roberts, president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund (WWF). “But we already have the knowledge and tools to avoid the worst predictions. We all live on a finite planet and its time we started acting within those limits.”

WWF report: Australians living beyond their means
If everyone on the planet consumed as many resources as Australians we’d need 3.6 planets to sustain our lifestyles, the latest WWF Living Planet Index has found. The 10th edition of the Living Planet Report, launched today (Tuesday) at the UN in Geneva, has found that humanity is overreaching the planet’s biocapacity by more than 50 per cent, which has led to a rapid reduction in biodiversity.

Huge variety in Niwa photo awards – environment
Stunning shots of psychedelic sea slugs and sinister seagulls are among the winners of the National Institute for Weather and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) photography awards. The Crown Research Institute unveiled its best staff photographs from the past year at its annual Excellence Awards last night. From stunning scenery to rare wildlife and unusual natural phenomena, the five category winners showcased the extraordinary variety of work Niwa carries out on a daily basis.

Laser-Guided Sea-Monkeys Show That Tiny Animals Can Move Mountains of Seawater
Swarms of tiny animals as small as brine shrimp—known to kids the world over as Sea-Monkeys—could have an outsize effect on ocean currents when they swim together in giant herds, according to new research. Plankton, tiny marine creatures often thought of as mere drifters, actually aren’t always so passive. Many move up and down in the ocean in dense layers throughout the day. These collective movements might produce currents large enough to mix seawater, says study co-author John Dabiri, an engineer studying biological physics at Caltech in Pasadena.

‘Safe’ pollution levels not so safe: QUT researcher
Increased pollution will kill 6000 Australians exposed to what would be classed as “safe” levels, a Queensland pollution expert has warned. Queensland University of Technology Associate Professor Adrian Barnett said the description of potential pollution levels as “safe”, which were used to approve infrastructure projects across Australia, were misleading. Professor Barnett said an increase in pollution levels to just below the National Environment Protection Measures (NEPM) standards would cause an additional 6000 deaths a year. Those included 2600 in both Sydney and Melbourne and 800 in Brisbane. “The increase would hospitalise a further 20,700 people per year across those cities,” Professor Barnett said.

California governor likely to approve statewide ban on plastic bags
The governor of California, Jerry Brown, has indicated that he is likely to sign a bill imposing the nation’s first statewide ban on single-use plastic bags as a way to address litter, primarily in waterways. SB270 is one of the last major bills pending Tuesday, the deadline for the governor to sign or veto the hundreds of bills sent to him during the final weeks of the legislative session. The legislation will prohibit large grocery stores from carrying single-use bags starting in July 2015, expanding to smaller stores the year after. It also allows businesses to charge 10-cent fees to provide customers with reusable or paper bags.

Bushfire season in NSW expected to be worse than last year
The NSW Rural Fire Service has warned this year’s bushfire season will be worse than last year, when more than 200 homes were lost in the Blue Mountains. “Without being alarmist in any way, we are being realistic based on the forecast and the underlying conditions that this season is shaping up to be a difficult one and on the forecast alone, more problematic than last year,” NSW RFS commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said. The official fire danger period for New South Wales starts tomorrow, but the bushfire season began early for areas of Sydney due to a predicated forecast of dry conditions.

Economy and Business

California law change sparks nationwide demand for flame-retardant-free furniture
[…] Almost since the appearance of GB-117, environmental health advocates have been trying to change it due to the health impacts of these chemicals. Flame retardants like polybrominated diphenyl ethers have been linked to cancer, fertility issues and lower IQs in children. They made little progress, however, until 2012, when the Chicago Tribune ran a landmark investigative series on flame retardants. In addition to their health risks, the paper found that these chemicals provided no meaningful protection against the start or spread of fire. The award-winning series led California lawmakers to amend GB-117 in 2013 to require that covering materials be flame resistant rather than interior materials like upholstery foam.

For first time, majority of people responding to a survey willing to pay more money for ‘ethically’ produced food
More people than ever say they’re willing to pay more for food that’s ethically produced.  A global survey found that in the Asia Pacific region, 64 per cent of people said they’d pay more to ensure farmers were paid fairly. Molly Harriss Olson, from Fairtrade Australia/New Zealand, says younger generations are twice as likely to pay more for ethical food.

Sustainable fashion should tap into power of millennials
It’s time for ethical fashion brands to decide on to whom they are speaking and why. The movement’s current blind spot is young millennials, who have largely been excluded from the ethical fashion conversation. Millennials, as a group often proved to be the most interested in brands dedicated to social change, are the ideal audience for ethical fashion. A recent study by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that 50% of the 4,000 13 to 34 year-olds contacted in the US believe brands “say something about who I am, my values, and where I fit in,” while 48% of US millennials choose to buy from brands that are active in supporting social causes.

Politics and Society

COZero: getting off the policy solar coaster
Australian energy management solutions company COZero says it has developed a business model to insulate itself from “policy shifts” around the Renewable Energy Target and state government energy efficiency programs. The service model combines a wholly-owned energy efficiency optimisation product, no-capital solar systems and a license as an electrical retailer and GreenPower provider for the commercial property sector, and evolved over seven years “on the solar coaster”, according to COZero chief executive Nicholas Armstrong. The scrapping of the carbon tax too, he said, had seen an increase in uptake of GreenPower by companies wanting to have tangible corporate social responsibility measures in place.

Oil drill protest convenes at Sky City
Activists blocked off Auckland’s Federal Street this afternoon in a colourful and musical protest against deep sea oil drilling. Bongo-playing Greenpeace members joined the Hikoi that travelled from Northland to the petroleum summit at Sky City’s convention centre. Almost 500 people gathered in the street outside to wave protest banners and play music while chanting “Statoil go home leave our seas alone”. The demonstration was specifically targeted at Statoil – a Norwegian multinational oil and gas company which intends to start seabed drilling explorations in Northland later this year.

Is a vulnerable world teetering on the edge of a new Dark Age?
We appear to have reached one of those extraordinary moments in history when people everywhere, communities and even entire nations, feel increasingly stressed and vulnerable. The same may be said of the planet as a whole. Whether intellectually or intuitively, many are asking the same question: Where are we heading? How do we explain the long list of financial, environmental and humanitarian emergencies, epidemics, small and larger conflicts, genocides, war crimes, terrorist attacks and military interventions? Why does the international community seem powerless to prevent any of this?


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