Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world. Sign up to the newsletter if you would like the news direct to your inbox each weekday morning.

Energy and Climate Change

China Seeks Pollution Cut With National Carbon Market
China, the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, plans to start a national market for carbon trading by 2016 as it seeks to balance pollution reduction with economic growth.  “We’ve brought forward this plan because it’s been prioritized in the central government’s economic reforms,” Wang Shu, an official with the climate division of the National Development and Reform Commission, China’s top planning agency, said by phone, confirming an earlier statement from Sun Cuihua, a senior climate official with the agency. “The central government is pushing reforms, so everything is speeding up.”  In preparation for the national market, China has selected seven cities and provinces, including Shanghai, Beijing and Guangdong, to set regional caps and institute pilot programs for trading rights as part of its initiative to cut the intensity of emissions by as much as 45 percent before 2020 from 2005 levels. The exchange in the southern city of Shenzhen near Hong Kong will allow foreigners to trade carbon permits.

No, the Bureau of Meteorology is not fiddling its weather data
Over the past week or so, the Bureau of Meteorology has stood accused of fudging its temperature data records to emphasise warming, in a series of articles in The Australian. The accusation hinges on the method that the Bureau uses to remove non-climate-related changes in its weather station data, referred to as “data homogenisation”. If true, this would be very serious because these data sets underpin major climate research projects, including deducing how much Australia is warming. But it’s not true.

Pennsylvania drinking wells contaminated by fracking operations hundreds of times
The US state of Pennsylvania has revealed to the public 243 cases where drinking water has been contaminated by fracking operations throughout the region. Statistics published online, by the Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), reveal that 22 counties within the state have had their drinking water affected by oil and gas drilling contaminations. Susquehanna, Tioga, Lycoming, and Bradford were the worst hit.

Safety issues raised by CSG incidents
The state’s coal seam gas industry is under a cloud after separate matters involving the safety of operations at Narrabri in northern NSW and near Sydney. The Land and Environment Court on Monday ordered Santos to make public water-monitoring data after legal action by farmers in the Pilliga Forest concerned about possible contamination to bores from CSG drilling… Santos has until the end of October to disclose all test results from sampling of bores on the affected property, owned by Tony Pickard, and the expert advice it received. Water from two bores became undrinkable in 2012.


Moving Beyond Commitments: Collaborating to End Deforestation
Deforestation can pose significant operational and reputational risks to businesses, and we at EDF are seeing companies start to take action in their supply chains. Deforestation accounts for an estimated 12 percent of overall GHG emissions worldwide — as much global warming pollution to the atmosphere as all of the cars and trucks in the world. In addition, deforestation wipes out biodiversity and ravages the livelihoods of people who live in and depend on the forest for survival. Unfortunately, it’s a hugely complex issue to address. Widely used agricultural commodities such as beef, soy, palm oil, paper and pulp drive over 85 percent of global deforestation. Companies struggle to understand both their role in deforestation, and how to operationalize changes that will have substantive impacts. When the drivers of deforestation are buried deep in the supply chain, innovative and collaborative solutions are required.

In Conversation with environment journalist Elizabeth Kolbert
Scientists are coming to the conclusion that we are on the brink of a mass extinction — the sixth known in the history of the Earth, and the latest since an asteroid killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. This time we are the culprits. Wherever humans go, extinction seems to follow, but worse is yet to come, with climate change and ocean acidification compounding pressures humans already place on ecosystems. The Sixth Extinction is the topic of the latest book by journalist Elizabeth Kolbert. An environmental commentator for The New Yorker, Kolbert previously wrote about climate change in Field Notes from a Catastrophe. Here environmental scientist Bill Laurance talks with Kolbert about extinction, climate change, and explaining bad news.

Your microbiome is shared with your family … including your pets
Microbial communities vary greatly between different households but are similar among members of the same household – including pets – according to research published in Science today. Microbes are everywhere. They live on and inside us, and cover most things we come into contact with, including our personal belongings. We also know that microbes play a role in human health, and the destruction of our personal microbial community (known as our microbiome) is thought to be contributing to the rapid rise of certain diseases. The research shows humans affect the microbial populations of their surroundings rather than the other way around.

The Shark Cull documentary sure to make waves in WA
With less than nine weeks until baited hooks could again be deployed in West Australian waters as part of the state government’s shark kill zones, a documentary on the program is set to reignite debate over the controversial issue. The state government is awaiting approval for the program to operate for a further three years, following a trial that ran for three months earlier this year.

Economy and Business

12 Industry Leaders Unveil Methodology for Assessing Social Impacts of Products
A group of companies united in the Roundtable for Product Social Metrics today announces the publication of the Handbook for Product Social Impact Assessment, a practical tool for assessing a product’s social impacts throughout its life cycle. The handbook is the result of a unique collaborative effort of a group of market leaders across a variety of industries. “Stakeholders increasingly demand transparency about the social impacts of products,” says João Fontes of consulting firm PRé Sustainability, spokesperson for the Roundtable.

It’s personal: why leaders don’t turn climate knowledge into action
There is an abundance of profitable business opportunity to be found in addressing sustainability issues. These stand out against the difficulties we face implementing effective change. Globally, the World Bank recently found that tackling climate change would help to grow the world’s economy by US$1.8 to 2.6 trillion a year… So why is there so much resistance to change, and why is the prime minister’s chief business adviser distracting business with warnings about global cooling? Of course, some of the reasons are financial – an illustration is the estimated AU$8 billion that would flow to coal electricity, at the expense of other businesses, if Australia’s renewable energy target is cut. However, it would be falling into a trap, similar to Newman’s simple cooling analysis, to imagine that such numbers explain everything. An extraordinary paradox is that unrealised, profitable, low-risk change opportunities have existed for decades. Business has simply not acted to maximise its profits and this is particularly apparent with respect to energy efficiency.

Study: greening the office is good for business
Plants make staff happier and boost productivity by 15 per cent, the first study to assess the long-term impacts of plants on office workers has found, contradicting notions that “lean” office spaces are more productive. The study, co-authored by Professor Alex Haslam from the University of Queensland’s School of Psychology, found that adding plants to an office also improved employee satisfaction and quality of life. Professor Haslam said a “green” office helped employees be more physically, mentally and emotionally involved in their work.

Politics and Society

We’re self-obsessed – but do we understand the nature of the self?
We live in an age of self-obsession. Everywhere we look, we encounter a preoccupation with self-interest, self-development, self-image, self-satisfaction, self-love, self-expression, self-confidence, self-help, self-acceptance … the list goes on. An internet headline sounds a warning: Facebook and Twitter are creating a vain generation of self-obsessed people with childlike need for feedback, warns top scientist. In 2013 no less august an organ than the Oxford English Dictionary chose “selfie” as its “Word of the Year”. Ask yourself whether any other time but the present could boast of successful print magazines called i or Me or Self? “The self” is actually quite a problematic notion. Given the destiny of the self concerns us so much we could all benefit from a little insight into its nature.

Small island conference calls for countries to forge partnerships
As the third international conference on small island developing states opens in Samoa, the talks are calling on countries to pledge their support for small islands at risks from the effects of climate change by forging national partnerships to overcome the environmental and economic challenges. Head of states, policymakers, business leaders and representatives from civil society are all attending the event which runs from the 1 to 4 September, which seeks to raise the awareness of issues faced by small island issues, such as climate change, environmental degradation and access to energy. The theme of this year’s theme is genuine and durable partnerships.

Food Systems

Why independent fishers are the key to seafood sustainability
Earlier this summer, President Obama announced an ambitious new policy to combat illegal fishing with tougher requirements on seafood entering US markets. At present, 20%-30% of seafood is thought to be caught through illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing – and half may be mislabeled. At the same time, recent investigative reports from the Guardian have uncovered slave-like conditions on Thai fishing boats, raising a wellspring of concern from activist consumers, as well as multinational retailers accused of sourcing from supply chains that use slave labor.  Seafood businesses face more consumer mistrust, disgust at labor conditions, and worry over fisheries collapse and ecological catastrophe than ever before. They are at a crossroads: they can wait to change their practices until increasingly stringent regulations force them to do so, or can embrace new policies now, investing in traceability and monitoring technology, and committing to sustainable sourcing from independent, near-shore fishing communities.



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