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

Fossil fuels should be phased out by 2100 says IPCC
The unrestricted use of fossil fuels should be phased out by 2100 if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change, a UN-backed expert panel says. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says in a stark report that most of the world’s electricity can – and must – be produced from low-carbon sources by 2050. If not, the world faces “severe, pervasive and irreversible” damage. The UN said inaction would cost “much more” than taking the necessary action. The IPCC’s Synthesis Report was published on Sunday in Copenhagen, after a week of intense debate between scientists and government officials. It is intended to inform politicians engaged in attempts to deliver a new global treaty on climate by the end of 2015.

5 Key Takeaways From the Latest Climate Change Report
The latest report from the main international panel charged with assessing climate change, released today in Copenhagen, shouts the same basic message scientists have been telling governments for decades. Protecting the planet will require a dramatic shift away from fossil fuels, the report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emphasizes. The release was timed for political impact, arriving weeks before international negotiators meet in Lima, Peru, to start forging a new strategy on climate change. “Science has spoken. There is no ambiguity in their message,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a news conference this morning in Copenhagen. “Leaders must act; time is not on our side.”

IPCC report: six graphs that show how we’re changing the world’s climate
We look at the data that underpins the forthcoming IPCC climate science report detailing humanity’s influence on the climate, global impacts and solutions. Here are the six graphs that are at the core of the evidence collected by the IPCC on climate change and its effects.

Researchers Develop Process to Make Nanostructured Carbon from Sawdust Waste
Chemists at the University of Birmingham have found a new way to make nanostructured carbon using the waste product sawdust, according to research published in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Green Chemistry. By cooking sawdust with a thin coating of iron at 700 degrees centigrade, the researchers found they can create carbon with a structure made up of several tiny tubes. These tubes are one thousand times smaller than an average human hair. Scientists are looking for new ways of making carbon nanomaterials because they can be expensive and difficult to manufacture. Carbons with a very specialized structure have many different applications — for example, carbons with very small pores are used in water treatment for removing pollutants and in soil remediation where they can help to retain moisture and nutrients. More advanced carbons are finding use in batteries and may also be used in future hydrogen-powered cars.

Environment and Biodiversity

Palm oil plantations are bad for wildlife great and small: study
Palm oil plantations have an overall negative impact on biodiversity, according to research released this week. The study, published in Nature Communications, found palm oil plantations are home to fewer insect species than even intensive rubber tree plantations. “The big message is that oil palm is bad for biodiversity, in every sense of the word — even when compared to damaged rainforests that are regenerating after earlier logging or clearing,” said Bill Laurance, a forests expert at James Cook University.

Anglers angry at claim fish stocks healthy
Recreational anglers [in New Zealand] say anecdotal evidence from thousands of people over many years shows fish stocks are declining, regardless of what the Government’s scientific assessments say.  A crowd of 350 people packed into the Hawke’s Bay Sports Fishing Club on Wednesday evening to mark the launch of LegaSea Hawke’s Bay, and to hear speakers spell out the issues and discuss possible solutions.  As well as drumming up financial support for the organisation to begin advocating for the local fishery, the meeting focused on the impact of commercial operations and the commercial catch limits set by the Ministry for Primary Industries.  Extreme fisherman and TV host Matt Watson noted the ministry had assured anglers that stocks in the area were healthy, but said he was sick of hearing experienced anglers’ views so readily dismissed.

Common bird species such as sparrow and skylark facing decline in Europe
Bird populations across Europe have decreased by over 420 million in the past 30 years, according to a study that brings together the results of scientific surveys in 25 countries While some rarer species have seen an increase in numbers due to concerted conservation efforts, more common species across Europe are facing a steep decline. Some of the birds that have suffered the most alarming declines are the most well known species including the house sparrow which has fallen in number by 147m or 62%, the starling (53%) and skylark (46%). The study looked at 144 species across Europe between 1980 and 2009.

Economy and Business

Zero-waste blogger launches 3-ingredient laundry detergent
Lauren Singer, the creator of the Trash is for Tossers blog who bravely let us look through her cabinets, is launching a zero-waste cleaning supply company, called The Simply Co. Her first product will be a three-ingredient laundry detergent, which she hand-makes from castile soap, baking soda and washing soda.

Global supply chains link us all to shame of child and forced labour
The fragmentation of global production has dramatically increased the length and complexity of supply chains. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates that more than half of the world’s manufactured imports are intermediate goods. These are used as inputs in the production of other goods, sourced from different parts of the globe. A serious problem with such long and complex supply chains is that this can lead to a lack of oversight and worker exploitation such as the use of child and forced labour, for estimated profits of US$150 billion a year. At our end of the supply chain, demand for low-cost goods can push suppliers towards abusive practices.

Former Cigarette Plant to Produce Batteries for Solar and Wind Energy Storage
The Philip Morris cigarette plant in Concord, North Carolina is switching to produce batteries to store energy for wind and solar farms, Fortune reports. The plant used to manufacture a billion cigarettes annually, but a reduction in the number of Americans smoking took its toll and Philip Morris stopped producing cigarettes at the plant several years ago. Swiss-owned battery manufacturer Alevo bought the 3.5 million square foot facility for $68.5 million, which will make lithium-iron-phosphate batteries that can be charged within 30 minutes, run 24/7 and last for 40,000 charges. Alevo says it will hire 500 people in the next year and create 2,500 jobs within three years. This is slightly higher than the 2,000 people employed there when the plant produced cigarettes.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Nigerian recycling initiative proves it’s not all about hi-tech solutions
Wecyclers enables low-income communities to make money on waste piling up in their streets. By deploying a fleet of cargo bicycles to collect and recycle unmanaged waste in Lagos, Wecyclers lets families exchange garbage for consumer goods via an SMS-based point system. Recycling companies purchase Wecyclers’ sorted waste for reprocessing for products as mattresses, pillows and trash bags. Wecyclers is a response to local waste issues, where it’s estimated that only 40% of the city’s rubbish is collected. According to the World Bank only 46% of municipal solid waste in Africa is collected. More than 5,000 households have signed up so far and there are plans to extend the initiative to other cities throughout Nigeria.

Politics and Society

G20: Australia makes token concession on climate change after US lobbying
Australia has reluctantly conceded that climate change can be included in a single brief paragraph of the G20 leaders’ communique after heavy lobbying by the US and European nations. The government had resisted any discussion of climate at the Brisbane meeting on the grounds that the G20 is primarily an economic forum, but other nations argued leaders’ agreements at meetings like the G20 are crucial to build momentum towards a successful international deal at the United Nations conference on climate change in Paris next year.

Australia has a climate policy again – sort of Australia can now say it has a climate change policy again – of sorts – after the Senate voted through the Direct Action package following the agreement between the Abbott government and the Palmer United Party led by aspiring coal baron Clive Palmer. Environment Minister Greg Hunt hailed the passage as “real and practical action to achieve our emissions goals and targets without a carbon tax.” The rest of the Coalition, the Palmer United Party, independent senator Nick Xenophon and The Business Council of Australia shared his enthusiasm, but few others were impressed. The Greens were particularly appalled by details in the Direct Action package that will allow for Tasmania native forests to be cut down and burned to generate electricity.

Victoria town aims to be 100% renewable by 2022
It seems that it is not just towns in New South Wales that are looking to meet all their own electricity needs with renewable energy – a small township in Victoria is also looking to become 100% renewable within a decade. The small town of Yackandandah, about 120kms south of Albury Wodonga, will host the launch of the ”Totally Renewable Yackandandah” initiative later this month that aims to achieve the goal by 2022. Yackandandah and surrounding villages already have a penetration rate of rooftop solar of 28.7 per cent, with 201 of the 700 dwelling buildings hosting a total of 600kW of solar. The Indigo Shire that surrounds it has the highest solar penetration of any council in the state.

Book Talk: E. O. Wilson’s Bold Vision for Saving the World
Edward O. Wilson has been called the heir of Darwin. His relationship to National Geographic stretches back to 1939, when, as a ten-year-old boy, he read about insects in the magazine and made up his mind to be an entomologist. Last year, at the age of 84, he was awarded the National Geographic Society’s highest award, the Hubbard Medal. In his new book, The Meaning of Human Existence, he ranges far and wide across biology, artificial intelligence, and philosophy. Speaking from his home near Boston, the evolutionary biologist, conservationist, and prolific author explains why storytelling and the humanities—not science—are what makes us unique, what ET might look like, how the “half-Earth” concept could save the planet, and why he wants to have dinner with the pope.

Raglan’s strong voice against mining
Raglan might be dwarfed in population by Auckland and Wellington but the town punches above its weight in opposition to seabed mining.  The Waikato seaside town got its own category in the list of submitters to an application by Chatham Rock Phosphate (CRP) to mine the seabed 450 kilometres off the Canterbury coast.  Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) chairman Phil McCabe led the charge against Trans-Tasman Resources and ironsand mining on the west coast and turned his attention to the Chatham Rise application.  He appeared in front of the independent decision-making committee appointed by the Environmental Protection Authority.  Battling EPA fatigue, McCabe climbed back into the fray in a joint submission with Greenpeace and the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition and called for the “lifespring” of the southern oceans to be left alone.

Food Systems

Like eating fish? It’s time to start caring where it comes from
Australians love seafood. Whether it’s fish and chips by the seaside or prawns on the barbie at Christmas, it’s integral to many of our traditions and social gatherings. Yet very little of the seafood we consume is sustainable. For a country that has such a love affair with the ocean, I find this perplexing. The health of the world’s oceans and its fisheries are in decline, and this applies to one of Australia’s most precious icons, the Great Barrier Reef. Although there a range of actions required to reverse this decline, one simple thing that anyone can do is stop eating unsustainable seafood.


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