Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Paris 2015: COP21

China joins poor countries in pointing finger at wealthy states over emissions
The UN climate negotiations in Paris descended into recriminations on Thursday as China and two groups of developing countries accused the US and others of undermining trust and trying to evade responsibly to cut emissions. With only one full day of negotiations left before a final text is due to be released by the French presidency for politicians to work on next week, the gaps between rich and poor countries remain wide. But diplomats have been quick to say that all sides can be expected to compromise significantly by the end of next week, and it is not unusual for countries to be so far apart at this stage of the talks.

UN on wrong track with plans to limit global warming to 2C, says top scientist
James Hansen, former head of Nasa’s Goddard Center and the man who raised awareness of climate change in a key Senate hearing back in 1988 said that the UN meeting was on the wrong track by seeking a 2C maximum rise in temperatures. “What I am hearing is that the heads of state are planning to clap each other on the back and say this is a very successful conference. If that is what happens, we are screwing the next generation, because we are doing the same as before.  [A rise of ] 2C is definitely dangerous. We are at the point now where temperatures are hitting the 1C mark and are on a path above 1C. Even if we reduce emissions 6% a year we will still get 1C.

Elon Musk: End of fossil fuels is inevitable, but a carbon price would help
Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk has called for a carbon price to be imposed throughout the world and the removal of hidden subsidies supporting fossil fuels, in moves he said would to cut in half the time need to transition to a decarbonised world based mostly around renewable energy and storage. If the hidden fossil fuel subsidies were removed, and a carbon price imposed, he said, that transition could happen in a short a period as 15-20 years. But it could take double the time if the fossil fuel industry was not required to pay for its impacts on the environment.
More: Elon Musk Speaks in France During COP21 Talks – video

Paris UN Climate Conference 2015: Turnbull’s Kyoto pledge generates angst
Australia is relying on its negotiating teams securing a definition of emissions that allows the country to count a reduction in deforestation towards its target. However, delegates from a grouping called the Association of Small Island States expressed concern that the definition would in reality allow Australia to increase its industrial emissions by 2020 to about 11 per cent above 2000 levels while still being able to claim it is meeting its target of a 5 per cent cut in that period. A senior South African delegate said Australia was playing within the rules as laid out. Such rules may be tightened during the Paris talks – but only for post-2020 emissions.

Trudeau’s climate rhetoric is riveting. So what about the reality?
…It’s easy to be encouraged by Trudeau’s change in tone and approach. But when you come back to the table, doesn’t it count what you bring? Over the course of an entire election, and since coming to power, the Liberal government has chosen not to even hint at new emissions targets, and so came to Paris with Stephen Harper’s – well below that of comparable European countries. Turns out the man with the sweet look is packing what the brutish guest before him brought.

Bhutan has ‘most ambitious pledge’ at the Paris climate summit
The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has made the world’s most far-reaching climate promise to the Paris climate summit, according to new analysis from a respected climate change thinktank. Almost three quarters of the mountainous nation is covered in forests, often watered by snowmelt rivers, and Bhutan has pledged to reforest its land even further. Last summer, it set a world record for the most trees planted in one hour – nearly 50,000. According to the ‘carbon comparator’ tool developed by the Economic and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), the country is now an unparalleled carbon sink, absorbing three times more CO2 emissions than its 700,000 population produces, mostly through hydropower. A substantial portion of the country lacks access to the electricity grid, however.

Energy and Climate Change

China Can Reach All Its Key Climate Commitments
A new report by the World Wildlife Fund has concluded that China can meet its commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions and increase its share of renewable energy. More than reaching its commitments, the WWF also believes China’s goals are economically and technically feasible. In fact, the report finds that China has the technical potential to generate 84% of its electricity needs through renewable energy sources by 2050 — and at a much lower cost than relying on their traditional fuel of choice, coal.

We need a better way to compare the performance of energy storage technologies
Technically speaking, battery chemistries drive performance, and they vary greatly. New nomenclature and standards are needed for comparing batteries across applications. As anyone who has cycled batteries in the lab will attest, the lifetime of the battery is dependent on how the battery is used and under what conditions. Performance turns out to be difficult to communicate using a spec sheet, and vendors self-select the data they share. Consequently, the energy storage business has a bad reputation for over-promising.

The electricity network is changing fast, here’s where we’re heading
AUSTRALIA – Things are changing extremely fast in the electricity sector. In 2013 the electricity industry and its stakeholders came together in the CSIRO Future Grid Forum to imagine the possibilities for the future of electricity industry to 2050. Electricity demand was falling, solar panels were being adopted en masse, retail prices were rising, and air conditioner ownership had doubled. Two years on we’ve updated those scenarios as part of the Electricity Network Transformation Roadmap project with the Energy Networks Association. We expect retail prices to rise further in coming decades, but not as much as we originally thought. Concerningly, we also expect the gap in electricity costs between households with and without solar to increase dramatically

Energy ministers pushed to remove barriers to disruptive technologies
AUSTRALIA – The clean energy industry is calling on federal and state environment ministers to push through reforms to remove barriers that threaten to stifle the deployment of renewable energy and the much-vaunted “energy revolution”. The Clean Energy Council has written to the ministers outlining the barriers to deployment of large scale renewable energy, and to the deployment of rooftop solar and batter storage on households and business rooftops.

Low fossil fuel prices hindering climate change fight, says IMF
The International Monetary Fund has issued a warning before a meeting of the Opec oil cartel that permanently low fossil fuels are choking off investment in renewable sources of energy and hindering the fight against climate change… But an assesment of the energy market from the IMF, co-authored by its chief economist Maurice Obstfeld, said a global carbon price was needed to reflect the true cost of burning fossil fuels and to provide resources for investment in green technologies.

Uruguay makes dramatic shift to nearly 95% electricity from clean energy
As the world gathers in Paris for the daunting task of switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy, one small country on the other side of the Atlantic is making that transition look childishly simple and affordable. In less than 10 years, Uruguay has slashed its carbon footprint without government subsidies or higher consumer costs, according to the national director of energy, Ramón Méndez . In fact, he says that now that renewables provide 94.5% of the country’s electricity, prices are lower than in the past relative to inflation. There are also fewer power cuts because a diverse energy mix means greater resilience to droughts.

Climate Change Policy Should Start With Energy Efficiency
A new report explores the important role of energy efficiency in policies attempting to address global climate change. According to Yu Wang, an assistant professor of political science who studies global energy policy and energy efficiency at Iowa State University, while energy efficiency steps such as replacing old lightbulbs with new LED bulbs might seem an insignificant part in the larger climate movement picture, it represents a simple and effective step that shouldn’t be overlooked.

New energy app helps reduce power bills by 18 per cent
AUSTRALIA – Brisbane City Council’s sustainability agency CitySmart has announced that its trial of a new interactive app has helped low-income residents reduce their power bills by more than 18 per cent. The Reduce Your Juice program uses an interactive mobile gaming app in conjunction with a social media community, email and SMS to effect behaviour change. It is thought to be the first time this type of learning method has been trialled in Australia for energy-saving purposes.

World leaders urged to cut air pollution to save lives in poor countries
World governments have been urged to tackle air pollution in poorer countries by greening cities, reducing traffic and adopting better diets, and told that this will also rein in climate change, which global health specialists estimate will cause at least 250,000 additional deaths a year by 2030. “It makes complete sense to tackle air pollution and climate change together,” said Maria Neira, director of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) department of public health. “The solutions are the same. The major risk to health at the moment is air pollution. If we address this, the causes of air pollution will overlap and we will reduce climate change. It’s logical. It’s a win-win situation … The real costs of fossil fuels is seen in your lungs and your cardiovascular systems.”

Environment and Biodiversity

Organic compost trial a success at Raglan Station in Central Queensland
AUSTRALIA – Results from an organic compost field trial on a Central Queensland property has seen above average pasture growth, with synthetic fertiliser use cut in half.  The trial was conducted for three months at Raglan Station, 60 kilometres south of Rockhampton.  After the first six weeks, grass from a paddock with the compost was cut, as was grass from a paddock with only synthetic fertilisers.  The yields were three to four times higher for pasture where the compost had been applied.

Paris UN Climate Conference 2015: Sea grass a potential solution in climate fight
How to make sea grass sexy? That’s the problem Carlos Duarte has been been trying to solve since at least 2009, when he and fellow marine researchers came up with the term “blue carbon” to describe the surprisingly large role the world’s sea grasses, mangroves and salt bushes might play in tackling climate change. “One hectare of healthy sea grass has the capacity of holding 15 times the carbon of one hectare of Amazonian rainforest,” Professor Duarte, a marine ecologist at Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, said. “Their role as a carbon sink has been neglected.”

Scientists work to restore seaweed forests off Sydney’s coast
Scientists are rejuvenating barren, rocky reefs off Sydney by restoring underwater seaweed forests that disappeared due to pollution in the 1980s. Researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and the Sydney Institute of Marine Science (SIMS) plan to transplant 7,000 crayweed specimens along a 70-kilometre stretch of coast from Palm Beach, in the city’s north, to Cronulla in the south.

Attack of the jellies: the winners of ocean acidification
For most marine biologists, myself included, it wasn’t until 2005 that it dawned on us that a third of all human-caused carbon dioxide emissions are dissolving into and acidifying the sea. By driving down seawater pH (and increasing acidity), these emissions are increasingly bad news for marine organisms that build their protective shells and skeletons out of calcium carbonate. When seawater becomes too acidic, calcium carbonate structures begin to corrode, dissolving baby oysters, coral skeletons, and many other creatures. And while much has been written about the species that will lose out, a lot less has been said about the potential “winners” of ocean warming and acidification.

Marlborough District Council considers tightening forestry rules
NEW ZEALAND – The Marlborough District Council needs to consider more stringent rules around forestry, its coastal scientist has advised. Forestry activities in the Marlborough Sounds causes sediment to wash down steep slopes into coastal waters clogging the seabed, the council’s environment committee has heard. Scientist Steve Urlich examined more than 12 scientific papers and reports from the last 35 years of the effects of plantation forestry on coastal water quality and seabed habitats in the Marlborough Sounds. The environmental effects were first identified in the late 1970s, Urlich said

Te Radar: You are what eats you
I am not a very welcoming host. I don’t relish the thought of entertaining those that wish to feast or fornicate in, or on, my person. However I realize that for all my pompous self-awareness, I am simply an ecosystem. There could even be greeblies living in the glands of my eyelashes. The thought is horrific. However, while Demodex brevis feeds off dead skin cells on my face, a place they also use for mating, I take some comfort in the fact they don’t defecate there. Thank heaven for small mercies.

Economy and Business

Secret trade talks could weaken climate targets set in Paris, warn campaigners
Secret trade talks in Geneva could outlaw subsidies for renewable energy, undermining climate discussions in Paris that aim to cut greenhouse gas emissions, anti-poverty campaigners have warned. The Geneva summit involving 22 countries including the US, Mexico, Australia and the 28 EU member states, aim to create a “level playing field”, with the possible consequence that fracking companies could dispute subsidies for solar or wind power.

Waste and the Circular Economy

‘Weak’ and lacking ambition: critics respond to the EU’s new waste targets
The EU circular economy package that has been in the works for a year was finally launched yesterday. Promising to be a “more ambitious” set of proposals than the original plans that were controversially scrapped by the European commission a year ago, the new package has received a mixed reception.  Here we take a look at what the new package looks like, what the experts think and why we need a circular economy to start with.

Politics and Society

Most Kiribatian households are mulling climate migration – and that’s just the start
The Paris climate summit has come too late for Ioane Teitiota from the Pacific island nation of Kiribati, who made history when his case for asylum in New Zealand was rejected in September. His claim for protection was based on the effects of climate change. Kiribati president Anote Tong has argued that his citizens should be able to migrate with “dignity”, and a survey released at the Paris summit suggests that people in more than 70% of households in Kiribati and Tuvalu, and 35% of those in Nauru, would consider migrating because of climate stresses.

Climate of Hope: Q&A with Paul Young, Generation Zero
Q. What is climate change expected to mean for our youth today?
That rests on the choices we make as a world over the next 10 to 20 years. Without any action to reduce emissions, projections have us headed for around four degrees of global warming by the century’s end. That’s about the same magnitude of change that occurred from the last ice age to today, over a timeframe at least 10 times shorter. My view essentially shared by the World Bank, among many others is that society adapting to that radically changing world is probably impossible. That’s a polite way of saying we’d be screwed.

Built Environment

South Australia passes building upgrade legislation
Building Upgrade Finance has been passed into law in South Australia, which means there’s another tool in the arsenal for Adelaide to go carbon neutral. The Local Government (Building Upgrade Agreements) Amendment Bill 2015 will allow building upgrade finance – or Environmental Upgrade Agreements – to be used by commercial property owners to retrofit their properties. The mechanism allows access to cheap finance from banks for upgrade activities, with loans repaid through increases to council rates, which are generally offset by cheaper energy bills.


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