Sustainable Development News

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

Portland’s New Pipes Harvest Power From Drinking Water
If you live in Portland, your lights may now be partly powered by your drinking water. An ingenious new system captures energy as water flows through the city’s pipes, creating hydropower without the negative environmental effects of something like a dam. Small turbines in the pipes spin in the flowing water, and send that energy into a generator. “It’s pretty rare to find a new source of energy where there’s no environmental impact,” says Gregg Semler, CEO of Lucid Energy, the Portland-based startup that designed the new system. “But this is inside a pipe, so no fish or endangered species are impacted. That’s what’s exciting.”

Why Arctic melting will be erratic in the short term
Over the past 35 years, the September sea ice extent has reduced by about 35% overall and this decline is projected to continue as global temperatures increase. In 2007 and 2012 the summer ice extent was dramatically lower, causing some some media speculation that we would soon see a summer which was “ice-free” (meaning a year with less than 1 million km2 of sea-ice). Most climate scientists were more cautious. The weather in 2007 and 2012 was warmer than usual and the winds were particularly favourable for melting sea ice. Although human influence on Arctic sea ice has been detected, there was no evidence that these weather patterns would continue each year. In contrast, 2013 and 2014 had more sea ice than 2012, causing other speculation that a recovery was underway. Is this claim warranted?

Rocket blasts off with NASA satellite to help track climate change
A NASA satellite that will help with weather forecasting and tracking global climate change by measuring how much water is in the Earth’s soil has rocketed into orbit. The satellite measures the tiny amount of soil moisture that links the planet’s overall environmental systems – its water, energy and carbon cycles – as well as determines whether particular regions are afflicted with drought or flooding. “It’s the metabolism of the system,” NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory lead scientist Dara Entekhabi said.

UN targets draft of Paris climate deal by February 13
The co-chairs of the UN climate talks have told diplomats that they must finalise the draft version of a 2015 Paris deal this February. Diplomats from around the world will meet in Geneva 8-13 February for the first time since Lima, where they crafted a sprawling 38-page text laying out the various options for the landmark UN deal. It is the last time they meet before May, by which time UN rules dictate that the draft version of the negotiating text must be available. This allows time for the text to be translated from English into the five other UN languages before the Paris summit in December.

US Senate approves Keystone XL pipeline bill
After weeks of wrangling, US senators have passed the controversial Keystone XL bill by 62 votes to 36. The bill seeks to give Congress the power to approve a 1,400 km pipeline to deliver oil from Canada’s tar sands to the US state of Nebraska. Currently, that right lies with President Obama. Yet the White House has indicated that Obama will veto the bill, on the grounds it circumvents the process to determine whether it is in the best interests of the country. Congress would need a two-thirds majority in both houses to override a presidential veto.

Environment and Biodiversity

Explainer: wilderness, and why it matters
The Tasmanian government this month released a draft of the revised management plan for the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, which proposes rezoning certain areas from “wilderness zones” to “remote recreation zones”. The changes would enable greater private tourism investment in the World Heritage Area and allow for logging of speciality timbers. At the centre of the debate is how we define wilderness – and what people can use it for.

Secrets of the orchid mantis revealed – it doesn’t mimic an orchid after all
We have known about orchid mantises for more than 100 years. Famous naturalists such as Alfred Russell Wallace have speculated about their extraordinary appearance. Eschewing the drab green or brown of most mantises, the orchid mantis is resplendent in white and pink. The upper parts of its legs are greatly flattened and are heart-shaped, looking uncannily like petals. On a leaf it would be highly conspicuous – but when sitting on a flower, it is extremely hard to see. In photos, the mantis appears in or next to a flower, challenging the reader to spot it. On the face of it, this is a classic evolutionary story, and a cut-and-dried case: the mantis has evolved to mimic the flower as a form of crypsis – enabling it to hide among its petals, feeding upon insects that are attracted by the flower.

Orchid mantis, Hymenopus coronatus. Igor Siwanowicz

Orchid mantis, Hymenopus coronatus. Igor Siwanowicz

Most rivers in New Zealand too dirty for a swim
Two-thirds of more than 160 monitored river swimming spots in New Zealand have been deemed unsafe for a dip. Information released to the Green Party by regional councils and unitary authorities showed 66 per cent of the sites had a Suitability For Recreational Grade (SFRG) of either poor or very poor during the 2013/14 summer.

Breakthrough in feral cat management in Western Australia as new bait gets tick of approval
In a world first, the West Australian Department of Parks and Wildlife has had a bait registered to help eliminate feral cats.  Feral cats reportedly kill 75 million native animals every night across the nation and are responsible for the near extinction of a number of species. For the last decade, the WA Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPaW) has been working on a 1080-based bait called ‘Eradicat’.  It has been successfully trialled in selected national parks as part of the Western Shield program. The bait has now received registration from the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine’s Authority, meaning it will be rolled out state wide.  WA Minister for Environment Albert Jacob said the bait will put a big dent in feral cat populations.

How to eradicate grey squirrels without firing a shot
Is there anything more stupid than the government’s plan to kill grey squirrels? I ask not because I believe – as Animal Aid does – that grey squirrels are harmless. Far from it: they have eliminated red squirrels from most of Britain since their introduction by Victorian landowners, and are now doing the same thing in parts of the continent. By destroying young trees, they also make the establishment of new woodland almost impossible in many places. As someone who believes there should be many more trees in this country, I see that as a problem. A big one. No, I oppose the cull for two reasons. The first is that it’s a total waste of time and money…  My second reason for opposing the cull is that there is another way of dealing with grey squirrels, which requires hardly any expense, indeed hardly any human intervention at all.

Political will is the biggest barrier to tackling global water risk
In its tenth annual Global Risks report released last week, the World Economic Forum (WEF) – hardly a group of dyed-in-the-wool environmentalists – identified water crises as the most serious global threat in terms of impact on business and society, outranking infectious disease, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and yes – energy price shocks. Farmers in California or flood victims in China don’t need an elite Swiss thinktank to tell them to worry about water, but for the rest of the world, the finding is a call to action to build resilience to water-related risks.

Economy and Business

Behind one of the Nature Conservancy’s largest ever forest purchases
Even for the Nature Conservancy, which attracts more money than any other US environmental nonprofit – revenues were $1.1bn last year – buying 165,000 acres of land in Washington’s Cascade Mountains and Montana’s Blackfoot River Valley for $134m is, quite literally, a very big deal.  To raise the money in a timely manner and to negotiate the acquisition, which closed last week, the conservancy relied on NatureVest. Launched last spring, NatureVest is a division of the conservancy that functions much like a bank, albeit a bank whose purpose is to protect nature.  NatureVest raises money from institutions and high-net-worth individuals who care about the environment but want to get their investment back, perhaps with a modest return. It then invests that money in conservation projects – land acquisitions, sustainable ranching, green infrastructure or eco-tourism – that can generate money so it can pay back its investors.

OECD says green tape is not damaging the economy
Green tape has become a by-word for burdensome regulations that erode profits and cost jobs. The Abbott Government seems to agree – its election manifesto said that green tape, and its big brother “red tape”, were excessive and promised “sensible whole-of-government initiatives that will assist in reducing red and green tape.” But the economists at the OECD have made a surprising discovery: green tape might not cost nearly as much as politicians and business leaders claim… They found the strictness of environmental policies has “increased significantly” in all the [24 OECD] countries over the past two decades. But that increased stringency has not harmed productivity growth or productivity levels. In fact, new green regulations “may translate into a permanent increase in productivity levels in some industries.”

Delivering on Profit and Purpose – a Job for the CFO?
Back in 2012, a Deloitte study remarked how chief finance officers (CFOs) were ‘coming to the table’ in matters relating to board-level sustainability. The CFO role has evolved to the point where it is now widely perceived as an enabler for sustainable business – customers, shareholders and other key stakeholders are increasingly looking to connect corporate financial performance to social and environmental impacts, and accountability for this tends to rest at the door of the CFO. Given the competing priorities that CFOs have to deal with on a daily basis, throwing sustainability into the mix makes this juggling act even harder. How do CFOs balance pressing short-term measures against the recognition that long-term value is increasingly being determined by societal trends? This question was recently raised at a debate The CFO’s Dilemma held in London on January 5.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Circular economy could create half a million UK jobs
We know from lessons of the past that those who have stripped all available natural resources have suffered, such as those on Easter Island. But, looking at the present day, we also know that if the European lifestyle was adopted globally, we would need three planets worth of resources to support it. We can’t just go on forever, taking everything we can. There’s no doubt that we need a plan. And there is a solution – the circular economy. The circular economy keeps resources in circulation for longer. It means that rather than taking or extracting natural resources from the source, the materials that have already been taken can be recovered and reused in a variety of ways, protecting these virgin resources from over-exploitation.

Unilever Achieves Zero Waste to Landfill Across Global Factory Network, Creating €200M in Savings, Hundreds of Jobs
Consumer goods giant Unilever today announced it has achieved a key sustainability target of sending zero non-hazardous* waste to landfill from its global factory network. The company says the milestone not only represents a significant step towards its ambition to double its size while reducing its environmental impact, the effort has eliminated more than €200m in costs and created hundreds of jobs – once again proving the business case for sweeping sustainability initiatives. Believed to be a global first for delivering zero waste on this scale, more than 240 factories in 67 countries making products for brands such as Magnum, Knorr, Dove and Domestos have now eliminated landfill waste.

What a waste: study finds big US brands stuck on disposable packaging
Big brands, including Burger King, Dunkin Donuts, KFC, Kraft Foods and MillerCoors, are wasting billions of dollars worth of valuable materials because they sell food and drinks in subpar packaging, according to a comprehensive new report on packaging and recycling by the fast food, beverage, consumer goods and grocery industries. The 62-page rank-‘em-and-spank-‘em study, Waste and Opportunity 2015, was published Thursday by advocacy nonprofits As You Sow and the Natural Resources Defense Council. They found that few companies have robust sustainable packaging policies or system-wide programs to recycle packages. Indeed, no company was awarded their highest rating of “best practices.”

Politics and Society

Felons, addicts, immigrants: This bakery will hire anyone
There are millions of people in America that lack the means to feed their families legally. That’s the claim made by Dion Drew, who speaks from personal experience rather than statistical authority. Drew grew up in the projects and started selling drugs when he was 15, then bounced in and out of jail for nearly 20 years. Finally, he decided he wanted to do whatever was necessary to stay on the right side of the law. But of course no business owner wanted to hire an ex-convict. No business except one. For the last 30 years, Greyston Bakery, in Yonkers, N.Y., has made it a policy to hire anyone who comes in the door, without asking questions or even looking at a resume. As a result, Greyston has a staff of former addicts, felons, and immigrants — people normally considered unemployable.

Want To Change The World? Bill And Melinda Gates Say To Study It First
Bill Gates has some advice to young people who want to have a social impact over their lives and careers: look around and observe the world around you first. It’s not a surprising that one of the world’s biggest philanthropists and entrepreneurs would put a high value on first-hand learning and experience. But it is worth thinking about, given how many people jump into fields or ideas with preconceived notions.

Food Systems

UK supermarkets failing to stock enough sustainable fish, says report
Some of the UK’s biggest supermarkets are not offering enough sustainably caught fish, despite soaring demand from consumers, according to new research published on Friday. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) said the availability of certified fish was at record levels but pointed out a growing gap between supermarkets in terms of how many products they stocked.


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