Sustainable Development News

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

Climate change effects feature in imaginary TV weather forecasts to promote UN global warming summit
Imaginary TV weather forecasts have predicted floods, storms and searing heat from Arizona to Zambia within four decades, as part of a UN campaign ahead of this month’s summit on fighting global warming. “Miami South Beach is under water,” one forecaster said in a first edition of “weather reports from the future”, a series set in 2050 and produced by companies including Japan’s NHK, the US Weather Channel and ARD in Germany.

Chinese president Xi Jinping ‘to skip Ban Ki-moon climate meeting’
Chinese president Xi Jinping has decided to skip a meeting of world leaders on climate change in New York, according to climate insiders, casting doubt on the summit’s potential to make progress ahead of next year’s major UN climate summit in Paris. President Xi had been expected to attend the 23 September summit called by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, but is now set to send another senior Chinese politician in his place, though Beijing officials are yet to confirm this. The news will be a blow to summit organisers, coming swiftly after the announcement that Indian prime minister Narendra Modi will also miss the meeting.

Electricity Demand Reduction pilot launched in the UK to help save energy
The government has launched a £20 million Electricity Demand Reduction (EDR) pilot, offering financial incentives to encourage businesses to install measures to reduce energy consumption. The EDR pilot will back companies and organisations willing to install more efficient electrical equipment that reduces their peak electricity demand, such as LEDs instead old bulbs or improved motors and pumps. It aims to reward those promoting “lasting reductions” in electricity demand, in order to assess whether the scheme can be included in the government’s planned capacity market.


Rethink on Barrier Reef offshore dumping proposal
Approval to dump millions of tonnes of dredging sludge on land, rather than in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef, will be sought by the companies wanting to expand a coal port next to the world heritage site. Fairfax Media understands over the past few months the companies behind the Abbot Point expansion – which include the North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation, Adani Group and GVK Hancock – have been studying alternative ways to dispose of the sludge, with one possible onshore site identified. The project proponents have already gained approval to dump the three million cubic metres of dredge spoil from the expanded Abbot Point coal port into the Great Barrier Reef’s waters, which has sparked outrage from marine scientists and conservationists about the impacts of delicate wildlife. But reports on Tuesday emerged in the Australian Financial Review that the offshore option would be dumped in favour for a land option.

Birders flock to see exotic bee-eaters
Exotic bee-eaters have had their best ever breeding attempt in the UK with eight chicks fledging from two nests, conservationists said. Two pairs of the brightly-coloured birds, which are normally found in the Mediterranean, have nested on the Isle of Wight this year. Three chicks fledged from one nest on National Trust land, in a small valley on the Wydcombe Estate, and another five from a second nest.

South Australia seeks more Murray River flow from upstream states to fight Lake Albert salinity
South Australia wants the upstream Murray River states to release more water to support a salinity mitigation effort in Lake Albert, near the Murray’s mouth. A year-long study has recommended “lake-level cycling” — intervening to raise and lower the level of Lake Albert — as the best way to keep tackling its saltiness. SA Environment Minister Ian Hunter said the method had been used in recent years to help deal with salinity problems for downstream irrigators who were reliant on the water for farm production.

Mexico baffled by sudden death of thousands of fish in Lake Cajititlán
Mexicans are baffled at the sudden death of thousands of fish in a lake in the centre of the country, a dramatic intensification of a problem that no one has yet been able to explain. Nearly 50 tonnes of dead popoche chub fish were removed at the weekend from Lake Cajititlán, a lagoon in the central state of Jalisco. The incident comes after of a series of smaller waves of dead popoche chub in the lake in recent months, including one last week, ensuring that 2014 is already by far the worst year for the species, which has been under attack for the past few years. The authorities in the lakeside town of Tlajomulco de Zúñiga, about 25 minutes’ drive south of the city of Guadalajara, had previously blamed the deaths on “a cyclical phenomenon caused by temperature variations and the reduction of oxygen”. This weekend, the state’s environment secretary, Magdalena Ruiz Mejía, ruled out natural causes and blamed “poor management of the body of water”.

Economy and Business

Joseph Stiglitz: capitalism needs reformed political system to thrive again
Nobel winner and leading economist Joseph E. Stiglitz has argued that modern democracies have failed to ensure markets’ competitiveness, thereby causing inequality and wealth gaps, and called for simple measures that could boost new growth and stability. In a column on Project Syndicate Stiglitz commented on the recent book by French economist Thomas Piketty Capital in the Twenty-First Century, which explored the dynamics behind rising inequality. After discussing the book, Stiglitz said, “What we have been observing – wage stagnation and rising inequality, even as wealth increases – does not reflect the workings of a normal market economy, but of what I call ersatz capitalism.

Islamic finance seeks to go green with environment-based products
Financial products based on renewable energy and sustainable agriculture are emerging in Islamic finance as asset managers seek a crossover opportunity between ethical and sharia-compliant investing. Islamic finance follows religious principles which forbid involvement in activities such as gambling, tobacco and alcohol, but the industry has only recently begun to stress themes of wider social responsibility, such as protecting the environment.

Taxi-Sharing Boosts Energy Efficiency, But Will Riders Get on Board?
Many of us have had the deflating experience of arriving in a city by train or plane only to encounter a line at the taxi stand that seems to last longer than the trip to get there. But how many people waiting in that queue at, say, New York City’s Penn Station could be sharing cabs to the same destination? Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) set out to answer that question, analyzing a year’s worth of New York taxi trips. They concluded that the total amount of time that taxis spent traveling could have been reduced 32 percent by shared cabs, with passengers riding no more than an extra five minutes. That reduction in travel time would result in less pollution and traffic, the researchers said, though they did not specify how much. Their work was published Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Pastured eggs from free range chooks in a cow paddock at Dunedoo
Todd and Sara Fergusson are running cattle on the river flats of the Talbragar, north of Dunedoo in central west New South Wales. This is a classic example of family farming but in some ways their operation is anything but traditional. Finalists in the 2014 Farmer of the Year awards, the Fergussons are producing stud Shorthorn cattle on their rich pastures, but the cattle are not the only production unit at work here. They share the fertile river flats with over 1,000 free range hens which roam the paddocks, pecking and scratching, and fertilizing the ground as they move around.  The hens’ lives centre around several ‘chicken caravans’; effectively chook sheds on wheels which provide nesting boxes and feed dispensers during the day and roosting space at night. The caravans are moved regularly, the hens follow them and the operation works in much the same way is cell grazing.  The hens also share their lives with three white guardians: Maremma dogs, wandering sleepily amongst them during the day and standing sentinel near their roosts at night; it’s a three-pronged model of symbiosis.

Recycling in the home: how to break down the barriers
Government, industry and consumers in the developed world have known about the environmental and financial benefits of recycling for well over a generation. Yet it’s not something everyone does – despite knowing they should. In fact, while three-quarters of British and French consumers say they always recycle plastic bottles at home, recycling rates in these countries still fall short, with only around half of all plastic bottles being returned for recycling. So why is it seemingly so difficult to recycle? A six-month study, Unpacking the Household (pdf), conducted by Coca-Cola Enterprises and the University of Exeter and released in March, sought to uncover the different barriers that exist for people recycling in the home.

Politics and Society

Why were RET modellers instructed to ignore commercial reality?
The firm hired by the Abbott government to conduct the modelling for its controversial review of the Renewable Energy Target has admitted it was instructed to ignore commercial reality – particularly around coal-fired power generation. Buried in its voluminous report, leading consultant firm ACIL Allen says it was instructed by the RET Review panel, headed by climate skeptic Dick Warburton, to ignore commercial realities around coal-fired generation. ACIL Allen is one of the country’s leading modellers, providing analysis for many of the country’s biggest companies. Normally, it says, it would take into account the risk of a carbon price, financing issues and community views when assessing the prospects for coal-fired generation.

Australia urged to embrace new forms of philanthropy
Australia’s national philanthropy conference gets underway in Melbourne today. And while some of its best-known speakers will indeed be among the very richest in society, Australia is being urged to capitalise on a new international trend in philanthropy that isn’t dominated by the very wealthy. Community foundations are an increasingly popular form of philanthropy that allow for people with less money to get involved. The head of the Canadian community foundation sector says the model has attracted billions of dollars, which goes to grassroots community spending.

Tasmania repeals the forestry peace deal between conservationists and loggers, opening up 400,000 hectares
Tasmania’s Parliament has passed the State Government’s signature bill to repeal the forestry peace deal.  The bill passed a vote in the Lower House, after being passed with amendments by the independent-dominated Upper House last week. After four years of negotiations and countless hours of debate in Parliament to form the peace deal under the former Labor-Green government, it is now a thing of the past. The deal added an extra half a million hectares of native forest to the state’s existing reserves of 1 million hectares. The repeal bill will reclassify 400,000 hectares of native forest for potential future logging.

Academics say all coal mines and power plants should be monitored for health risks
Every coal mine and power plant in the country should have consistent pollution monitoring to study whether those who live nearby are suffering adverse health impacts, two former Australian of the Year winners say. In a joint statement Professor Tim Flannery and Professor Fiona Stanley say studies now show that every part of coal production and use posed significant human health risks. They urged government to urgently fund research and account for these risks in policy, planning and investment decisions in Australia. The statement, and discussion paper, will be released on Wednesday to coincide with the release of the inquiry into the Hazelwood brown coal mine fire earlier this year that shrouded the town of Morwell in smoke for a month.

Food Systems

Let’s put the ‘school’ back into free school meals and teach the importance of healthy habits
…But eating is not just about nutrition. It’s a habit which is set in childhood and when it goes well it can be a pleasurable and easy part of our daily lives. But when it goes wrong, eating can lead to health problems such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease and also create a lifelong struggle with body image, anxiety, depression and eating disorders.

Energy from waste and urban mining: businesses aim for sustainable growth
The mantra of growth is central to modern business. The more sales companies can accrue, the more markets they can enter, the more customers they can win, and the healthier their bottom line. But there’s a catch: the world is a finite place, and the resources to make ever more products and sell ever more stuff are limited. The reality of increasing resource constraints is pushing companies to modify their business patterns. One industry leading the way is the food and drink sector. Given the sector’s heavy reliance on energy and water, its need to shift towards more efficient, innovative and collaborative ways of working is obvious. “In the food and drink business we’ve been making a lot of our products for many, many years,” says Richard Martin, technical director at Nestlé UK and Ireland. “One of the key things we’re doing is reinventing and re-engineering the processes through the lens of resource efficiency. All resources, from energy to the ingredients and the water, have to be used in a responsible way.”

Stronger sustainable productivity needed to boost African agriculture, leaders say
Governments, businesses, NGOs and investors have met in Addis Abeba during the African Green Revolution Forum to discuss economic opportunities for the continent’s agricultural sector, as well as poverty and issues related to climate change. The forum hopes to discuss and develop concrete investment plans to achieve a green revolution in Africa, which would combine the economic productivity of agriculture – Africa’s most important industry – and sustainability.


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