Monday 02 March 2015
Sustainable Development News
Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Energy and Climate Change
Switzerland becomes first country to submit Paris climate deal pledge
Switzerland has become the first country to formally communicate its contribution to a UN climate change deal: 50% greenhouse gas cuts on 1990 levels by 2030. Released on Friday, the Swiss government says 30% of those cuts will be achieved within the country, with the remaining 20% through carbon markets or other forms of offsets. “This objective of a 50% reduction in emissions reflects Switzerland’s responsibility for climate warming and the potential cost of emissions reduction measures in Switzerland and abroad over the 2020-2030 period,” says the Swiss communication.
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A significant majority of Americans believe combating global warming is a moral issue that obligates them — and world leaders — to reduce carbon emissions, a new survey indicates. The Reuters/IPSOS poll of 2,827 Americans was conducted in February to measure the impact of moral language, including interventions by Pope Francis, on the climate change debate. In recent months, the pope has warned about the consequences of failing to act on rising global temperatures, the impact of which is expected to disproportionately affect the lives of the world’s poor. The result of the poll, released Friday, suggests that appeals based on ethics could be key to shifting the debate over climate change in the United States.
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Manmade global warming over the past decade has probably been partly offset by the cooling effect of natural variability in the Earth’s climate system, a team of climate researchers have concluded. The finding could help explain the slowdown in temperature rises this century that climate sceptics have seized on as evidence climate change has stopped, even though 14 of the 15 hottest years on record have happened since 2000. The authors of the new paper describe the slowdown, sometimes called a global warming hiatus or pause, as a “false pause”. They warn that the natural cycles in the Pacific and Atlantic that they found are currently having an overall cooling effect on temperatures will reverse in the coming decades – at which point warming will accelerate again.
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In the middle of last summer came news of a bizarre occurrence no one could explain. Seemingly out of nowhere, a massive crater appeared in one of the planet’s most inhospitable lands. Early estimates said the crater, nestled in a land called “the ends of the Earth” where temperatures can sink far below zero, yawned nearly 100 feet in diameter. The saga deepened. The Siberian crater wasn’t alone. There were two more, ratcheting up the tension in a drama that hit its climax as a probable explanation surfaced. Global warming had thawed the permafrost, which had caused methane trapped inside the icy ground to explode.
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Large swaths of the Upper Hunter are likely to be cleared to make way for as many as 16 new or expanded open-cut coal mines, according to leaked studies prepared by the Office of the Environment and Heritage and 11 major mining companies. The OEH has been working with mining giants, including BHP, Glencore and Rio Tinto, to assess new coal projects that could cover as much as 45,000 hectares, or about 18 times the size of the City of Sydney. Each miner paid $93,000 to help cover the costs of the assessment, the OEH said.
Environment and Biodiversity
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Wheatbelt farms established in the twentieth century were to provide an independent living for hardworking families and grain for hungry millions, as well as wealth and respect for the state and its denizens. From around 70,000 acres in 1890, the area under crop in Western Australia had exploded to almost five million acres by 1930. Such reckless occupation left wheatbelt families vulnerable – to prices that fell and rain that failed, to salt and locusts and boredom. The earth that remained when the bushland was consumed was also left vulnerable – to salt, erosion and abandonment. No amount of optimism, investment or technology would enable the vision of bountiful fields dotted with smiling homesteads and bustling villages to be realised in a low-nutrient environment, so far from large markets: only large-scale industrialised farming would make the wheatbelt a viable economic proposition.
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If your stance on foreign ownership of prized New Zealand countryside is black or white, the case of Robert “Mutt” Lange reveals issues that are far from clear-cut. The Swiss-based multimillionaire music producer has gained control of a slice of South Island high country so big Auckland’s entire built-up area could fit in it… What’s unfolded is likely the most ambitious individually-funded ecological restoration effort undertaken in New Zealand: destocking the high, sub-alpine pasture, replacing cattle with sheep on lower productive land, waging war against wilding pines, goats, stoats, weeds and other pests, planting hundreds of thousands of native trees and shrubs, and building walking tracks and huts for public use.
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China’s population of wild giant pandas jumped nearly 17 per cent over a decade, state media is reporting, with conservation measures credited as being behind the increase. The investigation by the State Forestry Administration (SFA) found that by the end of 2013 China had 1,864 giant pandas alive in the wild, marking an increase of 268 individuals, or 16.8 per cent, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
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A rescued baby orangutan, spectacular breaching whale and foraging wood mouse are among this week’s pick of images from the natural world. [Ed: The Guardian does a weekly wildlife photo summary every week but this week is particularly spectacular and intense.]
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Wildlife guide and presenter Paul Goldstein brings together his favourite polar bear photos from Spitsbergen, Norway, to celebrate Ursus maritime.
Economy and Business
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While the budget “debate” drags on in Canberra, there are increasingly plain signs that, economically speaking, we might be on entirely the wrong tram. Two senior economists at the Bank for International Settlements, or BIS, have surveyed recent research about the impact of the finance sector on the rest of the economy. They draw two conclusions. First, higher growth in the finance sector reduces growth across the economy as a whole. “In other words,” they write, “financial booms are not, in general, growth-enhancing, likely because the financial sector competes with the rest of the economy for resources.” And, second, “credit booms harm what we normally think of as the engines for growth” – those sectors of the economy fuelled by research and development. Add in the experience of the financial crisis, the two economists say, and there is “a pressing need to reassess the relationship of finance and real growth in modern economic systems.”
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In mid January, the Thai Government’s Department of Primary Industries and Mines ordered the 30-day suspension of activities of Akara Resources, a Thai gold mining subsidiary of Australia’s Kingsgate Consolidated Limited. The suspension followed a protracted dispute between Akara and local villagers. The locals claimed – and this was voiced predominantly by women – they had been adversely affected by the mine’s activities. Despite the concerns raised by villagers, Akara continued to issue environmental impact studies that failed to address the concerns. But when the Thai government assessed the mine’s impacts on the environment and health, arsenic and manganese were found to exceed acceptable levels in 282 villagers living near Kingsgate’s Chatree gold mine in Pijit Province.
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Google has today shattered its previous renewable energy investment record by announcing it has poured $300 million into SolarCity’s $750 million fund for residential solar PV projects. The announcement dwarfs Google’s $280 million investment in SolarCity in 2011, and serves as a bold statement of intent for the tech giant – and a ringing endorsement of solar power’s growing prominence in the U.S. energy landscape. “Corporations are starting to realize the importance of using clean energy,” said SolarCity chief executive Lyndon Rive.
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New Zealand’s major dairy companies have committed to spend $5 million over two years on predator control. Fonterra, Open Country, Synlait, Tatua and Westland Milk Products have joined forces with the Department of Conservation and the Next Foundation to focus on “innovative solutions” to remove introduced predators such as rats, stoats and possums. Forest & Bird advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell said the funding would add to the research already being carried out by Crown research institutes and DOC.
Waste and the Circular Economy
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The world’s ocean contains trillions of plastic fragments coming from packaging, fishing gear and other synthetic objects that break down at sea over time. Most of what is known about these ocean plastics comes from surface net sampling, where the top 15cm of water is filtered to collect particles larger than 0.3mm. Now we have published the first ever high-resolution depth profiles of ocean plastics in the journal Biogeosciences and data repository Figshare. Most of the submerged plastics were very small – less than 1 mm across. Previous studies had noticed that tiny plastics were missing from the oceans.
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Poo. It’s a dirty word, and in some parts of the world, a taboo. But everyone does it – the average person alone produces 72.5kg of faecal matter annually. Some of it gets treated, some of it is left to float around, but nearly all of it has an economic value. Last year, the UK’s first bus powered by human poo hit the roads of Bristol and in January this year, the Janicki Omniprocessor, a machine that turns human poo into water was revealed. Janicki Bioenergy, the company behind the machine, is soon to ship a processor to Dakar, Senegal, where it will produce 10,800 litres of water. Here are some other examples of how waste is being integrated into sustainable, circular design and production with environmental and social benefits.
Waste is so last season: recycling clothes in the fashion industry
Experts on textiles and fashion took questions on creating a more sustainable fashion industry. Here are eight key points.
For safety’s sake, make food labels say what companies already know
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has called on two senior ministers to prepare a cabinet submission on country-of-origin labelling laws. The move follows a national outbreak of hepatitis A linked to frozen berries from China and Chile. The outbreak was a strong reminder that all is not well in Australia’s food supply. Once the alleged offending ingredient was identified and relevant products recalled, consumers claimed they were not aware the berries they were choosing to eat were from China. But labelling on the berry products complied with current labelling and consumer information laws.