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

False dawn for solar giant?
Australians considering putting solar panels on their roofs might want to get a hurry-on, with prices for a typical system looking set to rise by 50 per cent. The Abbott government is widely expected to cut the formerly bi-partisan renewable energy target (RET) this year, a move the clean energy industry fears will hit small-scale and utility-sized renewables alike. Under the RET scheme, the upfront payment for anticipated future power generation lowers the price of a typical 3-kilowatt photovoltaic (PV) system from about $7500 to $5000, according to Melbourne-based Ric Brazzale, president of the Renewable Energy Certificates Agents Association.


Despite metamorphosis, moths hold on to memories from their days as a caterpillar
The striking transformation of a caterpillar into a colourful, winged butterfly is one that has captivated scientists for years. The metamorphosis involves the breakdown of most of the caterpillar’s tissues before reassembling to form a butterfly. It therefore seems unlikely that butterflies or moths would remember experiences from their caterpillar days. However, scientists have now established that not only can a moth retain memories formed while it was a caterpillar, but that experiences gained during these early stages can have drastic impacts on adult life.

Atlantic warming causing stronger Pacific trade winds
A mysterious surge in the trade winds that blow across the Pacific Ocean – one of the causes of a recent slow down in global temperature rises – is actually the result of the warming of the Atlantic Ocean, Australian-led research has found. Research published in the journal Nature Climate Change on Monday sought to solve the puzzle of why the trade winds of the Pacific Ocean were about 50 per cent stronger since the late 1990s, levels above anything previous observed.

Sydneysiders choking on the air they breathe
Ongoing exposure to air pollution will cut months from the life expectancy of Sydneysiders, a new report says. Long-time city residents will have their lives reduced by an estimated 72 days for men and 65 for women by ongoing inhalation of fine particle pollution. Emissions from coal-fired power stations, motor vehicles and wood fire heaters have been identified as the main contributors to the toxic cocktail, which causes an estimated 520 deaths in Sydney every year, based on exposure to 2008 levels, as well as being linked to cardiovascular and asthma hospitalisations. Sydney’s air kills more people than traffic accidents. Last year the NSW road toll was 339.

Scientists hope for new era in weed control with development of Parkinsonia-targeting bioherbicide
Scientists at the University of Queensland in Gatton hope stopping the spread of woody weeds in Australia could be as simple as prescribing a pill. Researchers are preparing to produce a pilot batch of a bioherbicide that is inserted into the trunk of a weed tree, killing it. UQ Gatton Plant Pathology associate professor Dr Victor Galea said the inoculation technique itself was quite simple. “It relies on drilling a hole in the tree and inserting a capsule and then sealing that capsule into the tree,” Dr Galea said. Inside the capsule is a native fungus that has fatal consequences for the weed plant.

Before we plunder the deep ocean further we must take stock of what could be lost
We are on the verge of expanding the range of what we take from the sea: developments such as manganese nodule mining are closer to fruition, terrestrial supplies of rare earth elements are dwindling making the massive reservoirs under the ocean more attractive, and mining claims for massive sulfides, rich in elements used in electronics, are likely to start in the next year. This is the time to discuss deep-sea stewardship before it is already underway. Already commercial fishing has expanded to encompass more species, taking more from the sea with ramifications for the entire marine ecosystem. We need to realise how these ecosystems are important to human society now, so that those who are beginning to harvest yet more resources from the oceans can see what impact that may have.

Pacific island leaders call for action on the region’s fisheries as Pacific Islands Forum ends
Pacific island leaders have wrapped up their annual Pacific Islands Forum meeting with a call to action on the region’s fisheries. Leaders are calling on the United Nations to make healthy oceans a stand-alone development goal.  In their joint communiqué, leaders express serious concern about the rapid decline of fish stocks, especially bigeye and bluefin tuna. They’ve endorsed the Palau Declaration which urges the global community to share the cost of marine conservation now largely borne by small island states.

Economy and Business

Is natural capital a ‘neoliberal road to ruin’?- experts discuss [Recommended reading]
George Monbiot’s recent article criticised the natural capital agenda as “gobbledygook” and a “road to ruin”. But for many natural capital advocates, imperfect though the maths may be, natural capital offers a way to value something that we all rely on but that we are singularly failing to protect. Money makes the world go around – so what could be more of an incentive? For them, natural capital is a mechanism for convincing people to care about the planet. Where does the answer lie?

Can companies do better by doing less?
Not surprisingly, when policymakers and business leaders look for solutions to environmental and social crises, they usually focus on technology-based “growth” strategies like “green growth”, geo-engineering and carbon capture. However, a growing number of scientists have argued that growth-based technology solutions alone will not be able to stop the dramatic human overuse of nature, or eradicate poverty. Globally, greenhouse gas emissions, non-renewable resource consumption and even social inequality are rising, and the possibility of decoupling ecological impact from economic performance is far from proven.

Bupa, Unilever, Terrafiniti Shortlisted for 2014 Finance for the Future Awards
The Awards, now in their third year, are organized by ICAEW and The Prince’s Accounting for Sustainability Project (A4S) to highlight the important role that finance teams play in helping businesses achieve positive long-term environmental, social, economic and financial outcomes. The awards go beyond sustainability issues and corporate responsibility and celebrate organizations that are drawing on the leadership and skillset of the finance team to put sustainability at the heart of their operations and strategy.

Integrated sustainability key to business resilience, according to new report
Long-term thinking and integration is key when it come sustainability and making business strategies more resilient, a report from consultants Corporate Citizenship argues. The report – Creating Resilient Strategies – addresses the current strategy debate and considers if strategies are sufficiently far-sighted and robust enough to cope with a fast changing operating context.

McKinsey: company leaders rallying behind sustainability
Company leaders are increasingly seeing the value of incorporating sustainability into their businesses to address environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, according to a survey conducted by consultancy firm McKinsey. The results suggest that sustainability is becoming a more integral part of businesses. Some 43% said their companies are seeking to align their sustainability with their overall goals, mission or value, compared to the 30% that said this in 2011. McKinsey links this trend to business leaders themselves placing more importance on sustainability, the number of CEOs that described it as their top priority was double that seen two years ago.

How much are our bees worth?
Bees are worth $5.1 billion to the New Zealand economy each year, a report to Parliament says. The report into the health of our bees by the primary production select committee reported the estimated economic value of bees. The value of clover pollination for the dairy industry was $1.5b. The export value of horticultural products for 2012/13 was $3.5b, the report says. New Zealand is also an exporter of bees, thanks to the quality of our bee stock, with exports of $4.4 million in the year to June 2013. But all is not well with bees.  Beekeeper numbers are rising, but “colony numbers over the last decade have increased despite reports of increasing losses from unexplained causes, which may have been masked by beekeepers dividing colonies faster to replace them”.

Government uncertainty takes wind out of Capital II funding
It has been approved since 2011, but Australia’s largest wind farm developer says there is no guarantee that dirt will ever be turned on its 41-turbine project near Bungendore. Infigen Energy managing director Miles George said uncertainty over the federal government’s Renewable Energy Target policy had ended immediate chances of funding for the Capital II project.

Sustainable forestry project supporting 900 families
After five years of research and development, the Cochabamba Project is now supporting 900 families living in Bolivia to stop slash and burn farming of the Amazon and instead use the resources sustainably. The project has established 1,400 hectares of commercial tree plantations on around 2,600 separate lots, by providing support and advice to communities and families living on the fringes of the rainforest.

Opportunity to invest in Bolivian sustainable forestry project announced
The Cochabama Project, a Bolivian sustainable forestry initiative, has opened up a loan stock offer on Friday, giving investors an opportunity to support a sustainable forestry project. The funds raised through the loan stock offer would be used to develop new activities as part of a match-funded project to develop harvesting, processing and marketing activities for its smallholders and other communities. To learn more about the project and the loan stock offer click here.

Startup plans to tackle illegal deforestation in the Amazon with old smartphones
Old smartphones turned into solar devices to detect illegal activities in the Amazon are the innovative response proposed by a San Francisco-based start up that has joined conservationists to protect rainforest. The company – which has an undergoing campaign on Kickstarter to raise funds – collects old smartphones and turns them into solar powered mobile devices that are then installed hidden in the forest and able to detect chainsaw or trucks in protected areas. Phones then alert rangers to prevent the crime from happening, using the valuable help of local indigenous, trained as forest officials to stop deforestation.

Politics and Society

Participant Media’s ‘TakePart World’ Highlights Sustainability Progress in Developing World Participant Media, with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, this week launched a new multi-platform series, TakePart World, which investigates the myths and misconceptions people across the globe have about the developing world. The year-long series spotlights the faces and voices of those driving progress towards a sustainable future for the world’s poorest. The 10 dedicated TakePart World episodes will focus on pertinent themes and welcome guests who are trying to drive development in the areas of innovation and technology, agriculture and nutrition, health, disaster relief, and economic development.

Shoalhaven seeks $120,000 for 99kW community owned solar project
Installation of what will be Australia’s largest community-owned commercial solar system is set to begin next week, after the Shoalhaven Heads Bowling and Recreation Club signed off on the 99kW project on Tuesday. The project, dubbed Repower One, is being driven by Repower Shoalhaven, a community group formed last year to spearhead the south-coast NSW town’s transition to sustainable energy systems. Repower is calling for an upfront investment of $5,990 per shareholder, for a 3.96kW share of the system. The rate of return projected for investors is 6.5 per cent a year, over a 10-year period.

Investing in young children makes good business sense
Frequently, those of us who spend our days consumed with Lancet articles and the like have committed the all too common mistake of trying to convince others to engage in an issue we love for the same reasons that moved us to action. Instead, we should have been focusing on connecting to the intrinsic motivations that move business leaders everyday. We need to explain why young children are good for business.

White House partners with Amazon and others on climate change resilience
Along with its warning this week that delaying action on climate change would cause enormous economic losses, the White House has announced a series of data-related initiatives to prepare US food and water supplies – along with the industries and jobs that rely on them – for climate challenges. The White House hopes the data will spur and enhance efforts by industry, communities and other sectors to improve water and food security, as well as overall resilience to climate change. A new report from president’s council of economic advisors found that the costs of cutting greenhouse gas pollution and coping with global warming’s impacts would rise by 40% for every decade of delay.

Obama’s executive order helps better employers win government contracts
President Obama signed an important new executive order Thursday, requiring companies seeking federal contracts to disclose violations of labor laws. The measure is one of too few ways in which companies are rewarded for good behavior and held accountable for bad actions. One of the reasons that public trust in companies is so low – over half of people surveyed for the 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer believe that the government’s role is to protect people from business, and even more believe that more regulation is needed – is a dearth of corporate accountability.

Environment Minister launches the Green Army with the announcement of the scheme’s first projects
The Coalition’s Green Army has been launched with the announcement of 196 projects, with five environmental and employment organisations chosen to roll out the program. Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Environment Minister Greg Hunt have announced projects including revegetating river catchments, constructing boardwalks, pest animal management, monitoring threatened species and koala habitat restoration.

Birds ‘deliberately’ poisoned in Bingara
Tests are back from some of the dead native birds found around the Bingara Showground [NSW, Australia] recently and results suggest the animals had been intentionally poisoned with insecticide. Acting Northern Branch Director of the EPA Brett Nudd is appealing for community assistance, after it was determined the native birds appear to have eaten bread soaked in Fenthion.  The same poison was found to be the cause of death of hundreds of birds near Dubbo around March this year.

Home grown honey: cultivating a bee hive in your Sydney backyard
In the name of bees, Doug Purdie is on a mission to bolster Sydney’s buzzing backyard population – one hive at time. It’s a recent passion for the self-confessed ‘beevangelist’ and author of the book Backyard Bees, who picked up a book on the insects for the very first time, only a few years ago. “I started reading about bees and realised that bees are really, really in trouble,” he told 702 ABC Sydney.

Minister Norman Baker: Animal testing to be stopped in UK
Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker, who is in charge of regulating animal experiments in the UK, has announced the practice will be finally phased out, but warned that it would not happen quickly. A longstanding anti-vivisection campaigner, Baker has announced the government is moving in the right direction in ending the practice – which scientists still maintain is the most effective form of testing new drugs and treatments. Baker is attempting to persuade the scientific community of the economic case over the morale argument in ending the practice, urging the more efficient use of alternative methods.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Designers shadow staff in London waste sites to inform sustainable design
Put a team of designers into different waste facilities. Get them to observe how products and materials flow through those systems – not just from a processing perspective, but from a behavioural and communications perspective. Could our waste be handled or managed in a better way? How do people relate to the products they are throwing away? What design faults might be at play here? This was the brief given to four designers in July as a part of a new project being led by The Great Recovery – a creative platform building new networks to investigate some of the disconnects and innovation gaps preventing design-led circular economy solutions.

Food Systems

MIT study links climate change, air pollution and decreasing food supplies
MIT research published in the journal Nature Climate Change warns that rising temperatures and air pollution will combine to have negative effect on crop yield, placing pressure on the food system. Several separate pieces of research of linked falling crop yields with climate change. However, the MIT research is one of the first studies to consider the interactions between increasing temperatures and air pollution, specifically ozone pollution, and the impact this will have on food supplies.


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