Sustainable Development News

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

British public thinks wind power subsidies are 14 times higher than reality
The UK public believes that wind power subsidies paid by consumers are many times higher than they actually are, according to polling for the industry. A survey questioned 2,000 people for industry body RenewableUK about what they thought payments for wind farms added to fuel bills, and found the average estimate was £259 for a typical £1,300 dual-fuel energy bill. But the industry said the actual cost of wind power subsidies from domestic energy bills was around £18 a year.

Oslo divests from coal companies
The City of Oslo has committed to selling off its investments in coal companies, citing the environmental damage caused by the fuel. It joins almost 40 cities around the world, including San Francisco and Oxford, UK, in dumping fossil fuel stocks but is the first capital city to do so. Olso’s finance commissioner, Eirik Lae Solberg, told Norway’s state broadcaster NRK: “We are pulling ourselves out of coal companies, because power generation based on coal is one of the most environmentally harmful in the energy sector. We want to use our investments to promote more environmentally-friendly energy and a more environmentally-friendly society.”

Members of €32bn Danish pension funds to vote on fossil fuel divestment
Hundreds of thousands of academics, engineers and lawyers in Denmark are set to vote on divesting their €32bn (£23bn) pension funds from the fossil fuels that drive climate change. The first of a series of resolutions will be filed on Monday asking six funds to dump their coal investments by 2018 and exclude high-risk oil and gas projects such as tar sands extraction and Arctic drilling. Campaigners are hopeful of success after resolutions demanding divestment from all fossil fuels were only narrowly defeated in 2014. The pension funds, which Danish professionals are obliged to join, cover almost 5% of the nation’s workforce.

University of Edinburgh academics call for divestment
The University of Edinburgh is facing calls to divest from the fossil fuel and arms industries following an open letter signed by academics from the institution. The university has one of the largest endowment funds in the UK, totalling £230 million. The letter has been published ahead of a meeting looking at the options for fossil fuel divestment. The University of Edinburgh is expected to announce a decision next month.

Policy uncertainty leads to UK slipping down renewable investment rankings
The UK’s top ten position as one of the most attractive destinations for renewable investment is at risk because of policy uncertainty, according to a report from financial advisory firm EY. A “lack of clarity” over the role of renewable energy after May’s general election and uptake of the recent Contract for Difference (CfD) regime has contributed to the UK falling to 8th place for the first time in 12 years. The UK has consistently featured high in the rankings of EY’s Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index (RECAI) but has been falling down the table in recent years.

Scientists confirm ‘critical link’ between CO2 emissions and warming
Government scientists in the US say they have directly observed for the first time the greenhouse effect in action, while monitoring the way carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere absorbed increasing amounts of thermal radiation from the surface.  Their measurements, taken over a period of 11 years in Alaska and Oklahoma, confirm predictions made more than 100 years ago, and repeatedly examined: there is a greenhouse effect, and the greenhouse gas that most helps the world warm is carbon dioxide. The phenomenon is known in climate science shorthand as radiative forcing, which happens when the Earth absorbs more energy from solar radiation than it emits as thermal radiation back into space. The sun shines through the greenhouse gases as if they were glass, and warms the rocks. The rocks emit infra-red waves, but the transparent gases now keep the heat in, as if they formed the glass roof of a greenhouse.

Environment and Biodiversity

Signs of spring ‘shifting’ in trees
Scientists say signs of spring are appearing earlier in woodlands because of temperature rises in past decades. They predict that climate change will alter the order in which different trees start to grow leaves, with long-term implications for the survival of some woodland plants. A 200-year-old record from a Norfolk estate shows warmer springs are causing most woodland plants to leaf earlier. But warmer autumns are having the opposite effect on some species. It is shifting the timing of when different trees grow leaves and flowers, according to biologists at the University of Edinburgh.

Economy and Business

10 Ways to Demystify the Business Case for Net Zero
Getting from emissions growth to ‘carbon neutrality’ or ‘net zero’ emissions by the middle of the century is the new race. Respected economists show that phasing out is affordable; experts have shown it is feasible to achieve the shift with technologies available already and the science shows that acting faster offers lower-cost solutions in the long run. Everyone understands the concept of ‘zero’ and it unifies all sectors in a transparent framing of action on climate and sustainability. But what exactly does the zero goal mean for companies of all sizes? Why are global business leaders including Paul Polman of Unilever, Richard Branson of the Virgin Group, Guilherme Leal of Natura and many others calling for a goal of ‘net zero emissions’ by 2050? Can actions that mitigate future disasters offer business growth strategies today?

Incentivizing Investment In Climate Change Infrastructure
However you frame the environmental challenges ahead of us, the need for investment in new infrastructure is staggering. Credit Suisse, World Wildlife Fund and McKinsey estimate that “to meet the need for conservation funding, investable cash flows from conservation projects need to be at least 20-30 times greater than they are today. “ The World Economic Forum reports $5.7 trillion will need to be invested annually by 2020 to build the infrastructure needed to mitigate catastrophic climate change. Much of this investment is additional—meaning it faces new risks and, without intervention, it will not otherwise occur.

Starbucks Starting New ‘Social Impact’ Media Company
Starbucks is launching its own media company that will produce long-form documentaries, focusing on social justice issues. The news broke late last week when The Columbia Journalism Review reported that The Washington Post’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran would be leaving to help form the new venture. The startup will produce longform “social-impact content” in the form of non-fiction documentaries — with an initial focus on veterans’ issues. The partnership is rooted in Chandrasekaran’s 2014 book about veterans, For Love of Country, which he co-authored with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. Chandrasekaran insists the new venture is not a public relations or marketing machine, but is Starbucks and Howard Schultz “recognizing the power of storytelling and wanting to help contribute to the national understanding around a set of key issues.”

Waste and the Circular Economy

Looking for Sustainable Leather? Try Salmon Skin
Ever wonder what happens to that skin that was once part of your lox, dinner or the fishy pate in a tube that you were brave enough to buy while passing by the food market in Ikea? Well, it turns out that it usually just discarded after salmon is harvested. But two fashion designers, Heidi Carneau and Adèle Taylor, have decided salmon skin is a beautiful and resilient material for their fashion accessories. With years of designing leather goods under their belts, the two long-time friends have joined forces and now design handbags and wallets using more sustainable options than conventional leather, including the skins of salmon and eel. Together they launched their own designer line, Heidi & Adèle.

Green Investment Bank backs latest waste-to-energy plant
The government-backed Green Investment Bank (GIB) has announced its latest waste-to-energy investment, confirming it is to invest £29.9m in a planned £60.4m project in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire. The GIB and its fund manager Foresight Group announced late last week that they would provide a combination of shareholder loans and equity for the project, while co-investors NOY and P3P will provide £20m and £10m respectively on the same terms. The deal is significant as it represents the first time the construction of a commercial-scale Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) gasification plant will be financed by third-party investors. The plant, which is expected to come online in the first half of 2017, also marks the first time advanced waste-to-energy technology has been combined with a merchant waste supply.

Politics and Society

Viral China pollution film is brave, personal and powerful
A documentary about China’s shockingly high levels of air pollution that has gone viral within China is being compared to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.  The self-funded documentary, Under the Dome, by former state television presenter Chai Jing, takes a stark look at China’s air pollution woes by combining personal narrative, striking imagery, on-the-the ground interviews with scientific evidence.

Climate march in London set to go ahead this weekend
Despite some issues around policing, the Time to Act march is set to go ahead on Saturday 7 March, with the aim of raising awareness about the challenges of climate change and to urge government to act. Speakers at the event include Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, Labour MP John McDonnell and John Sauven executive director of Greenpeace, as well as a host of activists, campaigners and organisation representatives. Comedian Russell Brand and author Naomi Klein will also have video messages played. Those taking part will meet at Lincoln Inns Fields, London, at 12:30 and will rally outside of Parliament from around 2:15.

Lewis Pugh’s Antarctic swim – in pictures
British endurance swimmer and United Nations Environment Programme patron of the oceans, completes most southerly swim in human history after swimming in the Bay of Whales, Ross Sea.  Pugh is undertaking a series of death defying swims in the Antarctic Ocean to influence world leaders to make the Ross Sea a marine protected area (MPA). The Ross Sea is one of the most pristine and untarnished areas in the world and is under threat from human influences including commercial fishing and global warming. He is particularly keen to appeal to Russia, which is presiding over the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources – the body which can grant MPAs.

CSIRO research ship RV Investigator returns to Hobart after successful cold water sea trials
Australia’s newest research ship, the RV Investigator, has exceeded expectations during its first sea trials. The $120 million vessel took scientists far into the Southern Ocean to carry out world-first climate change research. Deputy voyage manager Max McGuire Professor Zoran Risovski from the Queensland University of Technology said the ship performed extremely well but it was hard work.


Water loss: seven things you need to know about an invisible global problem
While concerns over water conservation, access and hygiene feature high on the news agenda, the problem of water loss often gets overlooked. Yet this vital issue affects millions of lives. A recent live discussion hosted by Guardian Sustainable Business looked at the role business and government should play in addressing global water loss and where things are set to go next. Here’s what you need to know.

Iraqis fill drinking water and wash clothes at a broken water pipeline in a Shia district of Sadr City, Baghdad. Photograph: Karim Kadim/AP

Iraqis fill drinking water and wash clothes at a broken water pipeline in a Shia district of Sadr City, Baghdad. Photograph: Karim Kadim/AP

Food Systems

Cool Planet’s Biochar Reduces Water Use, Increases Crop Yield
In the past several years, Cool Planet has rocketed from inception to the pilot stage to producing commercially available biochar, a product that could have a significant impact on California’s severe drought conditions. Farmers that use Cool Planet’s biochar can use up to 40 percent less water on the same crop surface area and maintain the same yield, or use the same amount of water and harvest a significantly bigger yield. The enhanced biochar (the commercial name is CoolTerra) is created from biomass, which can include agricultural waste but the preferred source is wood chips, Cool Planet’s Commercial Director, Neil Wahlgren, explains.


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