Thursday 04 December 2014
Sustainable Development News
Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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The perils of the last human: flaws in modern economics
Nietzsche’s much quoted line “God is dead” was not, as it is often presented, a statement of triumphant atheism but was a warning and a call to action. We had killed God with rationalism and science. With God had gone our moral compass and our sense of purpose and we had nothing to replace them with but science and logic. This is an existential problem because, as David Hume famously proved, you can’t argue from “is” to “should”. We may be able to use science to help us get what we want but we cannot use science to tell us what to want nor to tell others what they should want.
This is where the field of economics has stepped in. Human well-being, according to mainstream neoclassical economics, is fundamentally about the expression of individual preferences. The more money we have the more preferences we can express and, therefore, the freer and happier we are. Boom, Nietzsche’s existential problem solved. The utilitarianism that underpins neoclassical economics simply equates money with choice and choice with the freedom to pursue pleasure and avoid pain. The freedom to buy. Economists tell us that economic growth is, therefore, the key to progress. Growing the economic pie gives more people more options and that is the goal of society. It’s a technocratic system where we believe any problem can be solved by better application of theory.
COP 20 Conference, Peru
ICC calls on all countries to demonstrate leadership on ambitious global climate agreement
With a strong presence at the 20th United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNCCC) in Lima this month, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) is calling for an ambitious, global agreement on climate change that fully engages the private sector in the short- and long-term. Talks in Lima have the potential to provide a solid basis to achieve, for the first time in over 20 years of negotiations, a binding and universal agreement on climate change from all nations of the world. This agreement ought to be finalized at the COP meeting next year in Paris (COP21). “Global business is calling for a new multilateral climate agreement. ICC’s strong presence at COP20 this year will ensure international business is represented during these negotiations and plays a significant role in shaping climate change solutions,” said ICC Secretary General John Danilovich.
Lima climate talks: developing nations urge rich to aim for zero emissions
Developing countries called on the rich on Tuesday to do more to lead the fight against climate change in line with scientific findings that global greenhouse gas emissions should fall to net zero by 2100 to avert the worst impacts. Yesterday underscored how much work remains to reach a global deal despite optimism in recent weeks after China, the United States and the European Union outlined goals for curbing their emissions beyond 2020. The group of least-developed nations said in a statement that rich counties should do “substantially more” to cut emissions and provide cash to enable the poor to curb greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change.
Energy and Climate Change
World on course for warmest year
This year is in the running to be the hottest globally and for the UK since records began, early estimates show. In the first 10 months of 2014, global average air temperature was about 0.57 Celsius above the long-term average. And the first eleven months in the UK have produced an average temperature 1.6C above the long-term. A separate study by the UK Met Office says the observed temperatures would be highly unlikely without the influence of greenhouse gases produced by humans. The global figures come in estimates from the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).
Opening of world’s largest solar power plant in California brings inspiration and disappointment to Australia’s renewable energy sector
Australia’s renewable energy sector says it is both inspired and disappointed by the opening of the world’s largest solar power plant in California. The Topaz solar farm boasts it can produce enough energy to take the place of almost 400,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions or the equivalent of taking 73,000 cars off the road. The company behind the project is First Solar. “From a scale and power perspective, it’s on par with a major fossil fuel generator like a coal or a gas plant,” said company spokesman Robert Bartrop. He said the American plant would produce enough electricity to power 160,000 homes. The company is also behind Australia’s largest solar farm which is midway through construction at Nyngan in western New South Wales. When in operation the Nyngan plant will be one-fifth the size of the Topaz plant. Mr Bartrop said he blamed uncertainty around the Renewable Energy Target in Australia for a lack of commitment to similarly large solar projects in Australia.
One in five Australian homes now using solar
One in five Australian households have installed domestic solar energy systems, data released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows. Solar Citizens national director Claire O’Rourke said most of the households were on lower and middle incomes, and that they were using solar as a way to reduce power costs. “The growing number of Australian households with rooftop solar are generating local jobs, producing clean energy and taking control of their power bills,” Ms O’Rourke said. “The best way the federal government can support Australian households in making the transition to solar energy and reducing the cost of power is to keep the Renewable Energy Target strong.
Environment and Biodiversity
Why Backyard Birds Are Getting Drunk on Fermented Berries
If birds that feed on winter berries in the Northern Hemisphere seem to be painting the town red, it could be because they’re intoxicated. Alcohol forms in berries as they ferment with the first frosts, and the birds that gorge on these winter fruits may get drunk more often than we think, scientists say. “Most birds likely just get a bit tipsy, and very few people would be able to pick them out as intoxicated,” said Meghan Larivee, laboratory coordinator at the government agency Environment Yukon in Canada. “However, every now and then, some birds just overdo it.”
Queensland study finds coral adapts to acidic ocean
A key reef-building coral that can survive a more acidic ocean is giving scientists hope that the world’s reefs stand a chance against climate change. An international team of researchers has been using baby corals from the Great Barrier Reef to study the impacts of ocean acidification. A large portion of the world’s carbon emissions and greenhouse gases is being absorbed by the ocean, leading to higher acidity levels that are harmful to coral reefs and small marine animals. James Cook University ecologist Dr Aurelie Moya has been leading research into how baby corals’ genes react to a more acidic ocean and the findings have been promising.
Cleaning up the environment is complicated. Can software make it simpler?
The conventional approach to environmental cleanup jobs is to make sure the remediation works at the lowest possible cost. Now, it’s not that simple. Well-run companies now consider a broader set of criteria, including environmental and social issues such as water use, public safety, the pollution and noise caused by cleanup efforts – and even whether a site has cultural significance to the local community. By taking these sustainability-related issues into account, companies are trying to avoid risks that could delay a project, such as public opposition or unexpected requests for environmental reviews from regulators. Golder developed a remediation management tool called GoldSET, which it has used in more than 150 projects worldwide over the past two years. It’s one of a number of “green” or sustainable remediation software products that have emerged since the late 2000s to guide companies through the complicated decisions large public-facing projects entail.
Opposition to Wairarapa dam grows
NEW ZEALAND – Mangatarere Valley residents faced with the possibility of losing their land have found some new allies. Anglers and conservationists are also looking to take up their cause. The valley, east of Carterton, is one of five potential dam sites being investigated by the Greater Wellington Regional Council. The council is halfway through a 10 year study – Wairarapa Water Use Project (WWUP) – looking at ways to best irrigate the Wairarapa valley. By the middle of next year it is expected that the number of sites will have been whittled down to two. West Taratahi resident Michael Woodcock said the Mangatarere was the most significant spawning river for the 130-year-old Wairarapa wild trout fishery, out of all the proposed dam sites and the entire Wairarapa fishery. “The Mangatarere and the Ruamahanga are waters of regional and national significance and must be protected,” Woodcock says. A former Green Party candidate for Wairarapa, Woodcock said he was “not anti-farming, or anti job development”, but he said irrigation dams had mixed success and that the intensification of farming has considerable environmental impacts.
Economy and Business
Fossil fuel investors risk being stranded by tougher climate rules
A major threat to fossil fuel companies has suddenly moved from the fringe to centre stage with a dramatic announcement by Germany’s biggest power company and an intriguing letter from the Bank of England. A growing minority of investors and regulators are probing the possibility that untapped deposits of oil, gas and coal — valued at trillions of dollars globally — could become stranded assets as governments adopt stricter climate change policies. The concept gaining traction from Wall Street to the City of London is simple. Limits on emissions of carbon dioxide will be necessary to hold temperature increases to 2 degrees, the maximum climate scientists say is advisable. Without technologies to capture the waste gases from combusting fossil fuels, a majority of known oil, gas and coal deposits would have to stay underground. Once that point is reached, they become stranded.
Global day of action for fossil fuel divestment announced
The Fossil Free campaign, which is calling on institutions to divest from fossil fuel companies, has announced a global day of action beginning on February 13 2015. The divestment campaign launched in 2012 and has seen success across the globe over the last two years. Institutions are being urged to ditch fossil fuel holdings and instead focus on cleaner alternatives. So far over 180 institutions and local governments, along with thousands of individuals, representing over $50 billion (£32bn) in assets, have pledged to divest from fossil fuels.
Australian companies fail to identify sustainability risks and opportunities
There is now evidence to show that sustainability-related crises are strategic risks that have greater impact on company value than operational and financial risks. This is the result of the failure of management to adequately prepare and respond to a situation and its aftermath, resulting in a loss of investor confidence and decreased share price. This year, the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks 2014, found that of the top 10 global risks of the highest concern to global business leaders during 2014, seven were sustainability-related: water crises (3); income disparity (4); climate change (5); extreme weather (6); governance failures (7); food crises (8); and political and social instability (10).
Business leaders must prioritise sustainability to gain society’s trust
It’s disturbing how little trust society has in business leaders. According to the 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer, just one in five of us trust business leaders to solve social or societal issues, tell us the truth, or make ethical and moral decisions. We have even less trust in our elected political leaders. There is no shortage of rhetoric about companies going green. Company websites are littered with “core values” that relate to environment and society, such as “contributing positively to our communities and our environment”, or “helping make the world a better place”. Most of them agree on the general principle, that it is about doing the right thing. The test, however, is not what companies or their leaders say, but what they actually do; not what it says in the company’s vision statement or in its policies, but what lies at the heart of the business plan and strategy that is recognised and rewarded in practice.
Tougher government attitudes on climate change key to business action
The UK has been seen by some as a climate change leader, partly because of its early adoption of a legally binding target to reduce its 1990 levels of emissions by 80% by 2050. In contrast, the US has been seen as a laggard, in both domestic and international arenas. While the recent US-China climate change agreement (in which the US has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% below its 2005 levels by 2025) may signal a change, it remains to be seen how successful the US will be at delivering on these commitments. But do government attitudes to climate change influence corporate attitudes and practice on climate change?
Politics and Society
Whose job is it to protect human rights?
Scan the headlines about modern day slavery in Qatar, forced labor in Uzbekistan, a ban on trade unions in Swaziland, a draconian anti-gay law in Uganda and widespread economic and social discrimination against women – as well as millions of children who are abused, neglected or exploited – and it is hard to argue that global corporations are being asked to do too much to protect human rights. And yet as the number of human-rights demands placed on business – and particularly on global companies with supply chains in poor countries – continues to escalate, there’s a risk that governments will be let off the hook. After all, governments are obligated, if not always willing or able, to protect human rights. This is one of the themes that arose at this week’s UN Forum on Business and Human Rights, an annual meeting that attracted about 2,000 people from business, government, labor groups and nonprofits to the sprawling Palais de Nations compound in Geneva.
Hard Evidence: meat means emissions – so which countries are doing the most damage?
Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions created by humans are a primary cause of global warming. While carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and changes in land use make up the largest share of these emissions, non-CO2 greenhouse gases such as methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) contribute substantially to overall warming and livestock – and the meat that we eat – is a big contributor.
Eating less meat essential to curb climate change, says report
Curbing the world’s huge and increasing appetite for meat is essential to avoid devastating climate change, according to a new report. But governments and green campaigners are doing nothing to tackle the issue due to fears of a consumer backlash, warns the analysis from the thinktank Chatham House. The global livestock industry produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all cars, planes, trains and ships combined, but a worldwide survey by Ipsos MORI in the report finds twice as many people think transport is the bigger contributor to global warming.
Pacific Island states frustrated at lack of progress in tuna conservation talks at Apia meeting
Pacific Island states have expressed frustration at a lack of progress in talks aimed at protecting the region’s tuna resources, accusing foreign fishing nations of stalling on conservation measures. The islands want the annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) in Samoa to cut tuna quotas in the region, which is the source of almost 60 per cent of the global catch. They have tabled proposals to help preserve key tuna species such as bigeye and yellowfin, but say the “distant water fishing nations” are reluctant to curb an industry worth an estimated $6 billion a year.
China, Japan block Antarctic fisheries regulation as rorts continue
Despite attempts to crack down on illegal Antarctic fishing, a report has found that there is still rorting and a refusal to tighten rules in the chase for high-priced fish. Korean authorities found a fleet of three ships fabricated catch documents and ship tracks, apparently with Russian help, the preliminary report of the 25-member Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) shows. At a meeting of the CCAMLR in Hobart, China has blocked attempts to impose an official observer watch on the krill fishery, which is growing at such a pace one hotspot had to be shut down midseason. The renewed attention to illegal fishing comes as hardline activists of Sea Shepherd turn their attention to Antarctic fisheries, departing from the Tasmanian capital on Wednesday to hunt for illegal fishers while Japanese whalers rest their harpoons this summer.