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Wednesday 04 February 2015

Sustainable Development News

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

Overcoming the social barriers to climate consensus
It can be tempting to think that people who disagree with you are mad, bad or simply stupid. However, not only are such judgements usually wrong, but telling people that they are stupid is unlikely to convince them of the merit of your own view. Yet this is often what happens when it comes to debates about climate change and what we ought to do about it. Despite there being a near consensus in the scientific community that the primary driver of climate change is anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, and that we need to cut those emissions if we’re to keep global warming to a minimum, the public remains divided on the issue.

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The oceans are continuing to warm steadily despite an apparent slowdown in global warming at the earth’s surface, according to data collected by thousands of floating robots published today in Nature Climate Change. Between 2006 and 2013, ocean waters shallower than 500 metres warmed by 0.005C per year, while between 500 and 2,000 metres the ocean warmed by 0.002C per year. While seemingly tiny, John Church, a sea level researcher at CSIRO and one of the study’s authors, said these numbers “represent a huge amount of heat”.

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A switch from gas to electricity for heating and cooking in Australian households might not only be cheaper, but in most cases would be better for the environment, a new report has found. The report, released on Tuesday by the Alternative Technology Association (ATA), found that in most cases and for most households across Australia, switching from gas to efficient electric appliances for space heating, water heating and cooking produced less greenhouse gas emissions

Environment and Biodiversity

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Europe is to become the first place in the world to force ‘real world’ emissions tests on car makers, opening up a new front in the fight to tackle air pollution. New regulations will introduce the tests to reveal what cars’ emissions are like when driving on roads and in traffic rather than in ideal laboratory-like conditions as is currently the case, the Guardian has learned.  Green lit by European Commission vice president Frans Timmermans, the tests are designed to enforce a limit of 80mg of nitrogen oxide per kilometre, a level met by only one car out of 16 according to researchers.

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Brad Sanders, an American forestry manager in Jambi province on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, stood with members of his Harapan rainforest team, sharpening bamboo poles in anticipation of an attack. A stout, elderly ex-military officer who worked as a camp security guard asked Sanders’ advice on that morning in October 2012. “What should we do if they come into the camp and try to hurt us? Try to swing their machetes or shoot us, pak [sir]?”  Sanders responded that they should stand behind the line of police who had made the day’s drive from the provincial capital, the people with guns and uniforms. “But pak,” the guard said, “they will be the first to run.” Indonesia is no stranger to conflict over its shrinking forests. But this fight does not involve the usual players. Harapan, a rainforest the size of greater London whose name means ‘hope’, is majority-owned and managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

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The Australian government’s marine research agency is looking to genetically alter species of coral to help them cope with rising sea temperatures, as new modelling showed the coverage of living corals on the Great Barrier Reef could decline to less than 10% if warming continued. Scientists at the Australian Institute of Marine Science have partnered with the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology to look at how “assisted evolution” may help corals more quickly adapt to climate change. These studies are some of the first conservation-based, non-commercial uses of genetic modification.

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Feral cats are estimated to eat tens of millions of native animals each night in Australia. But what kinds of wildlife are they eating? In research published today in the Journal of Biogeography, my colleagues and I show that cats kill hundreds of different kinds of animals, including at least 16 species considered globally threatened.

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Endurance swimmer Lewis Pugh is taking his latest challenge to Antarctic waters, in support of a Ross Sea marine sanctuary. Pugh will undertake five 1km swims in the freezing seas, wearing nothing but a swim suit. He wants to break the world record for most southerly swim in three of the five sub-zero dips.  A long-time ocean advocate, Pugh wants to raise awareness of a joint New Zealand-US bid to establish the world’s largest marine reserve in the pristine waters.

Economy and Business

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The fashion industry as a whole doesn’t have a great reputation. Consider the culture of overconsumption and the growing tidal wave of low-quality, rock-bottom-priced products. How can it ever become truly sustainable? Many companies have made strides in water conservation, eco-labels and have even engaged with consumers to talk about consumption. However, there is another avenue that can effect more widespread change: making better choices in the design phase.

Waste and the Circular Economy

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My mother died recently and at the funeral home I was asked if I had any ideas what kind of coffin she would like. For some reason I said something environmentally friendly. These words came out of my mouth more out of nervousness than anything previously discussed with my mother. Duly the undertaker showed us a catalogue of wicker coffins and we chose one made of banana leaves. I often think of my carbon footprint – I have not owned a car in more than 15 years, for example – but I had never thought about my “green obligations” in death.

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The UK Green Investment Bank has launched a new £50 million fund that will target smaller-scale, innovative, recycling and waste projects across the UK. The Green Investment Bank was created by the government with that aim to use its finance to back green projects on commercial terms and mobilise other private sector capital into the UK’s green economy. One of the bank’s key targets requires an investment of £330 billion in the UK’s green sectors by 2020.

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Western Australia’s Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has recommended the approval of a waste-to-energy facility in Kwinana. Phoenix Energy wants to process up to 400,000 tonnes of household waste a year to power nearly 50,000 homes. This is the third plant to be approved in the state. As WA’s population grows, the plant aims to save land space while reducing a reliance on burning coal.

Politics and Society

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In his first royal decree, Saudi Arabia’s newly crowned King Salman announced two-month bonuses for state employees, pensioners, students, and recipients of social service programs (that is, everyone in the country with a Saudi passport). It adds billions of dollars’ worth of spending to a budget already hit hard by falling oil prices. How far, and for how long, will Saudi Arabia short-sell its main source of revenue? When the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) initiated its “price war” last year, Saudi Arabia’s resources minister Ali Al-Naimi suggested that lower crude prices would help spur demand in a still-fragile global economy. Of primary concern, however, was the long-term economic security of the Saudi state. Gulf monarchies are funded by hydrocarbon receipts that comprise upwards of 80% of government revenue.

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India’s government on Tuesday defended its efforts to combat climate change after US President Barack Obama urged the country to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said the government was already turning words into action on clean energy with efforts that include increasing solar power across the country. “We have already started walking the talk,” he said. But Javadekar declined to say whether India – the world’s third biggest emitter of polluting greenhouse gases – would set itself a target on reducing carbon emissions ahead of a UN climate summit in Paris in December.

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Stuffed animals including penguins, foxes, a zebra and a polar bear are to deliver an environmental message at a new exhibition at the National Trust in East Melbourne.  Artist Rod McCrae used taxidermy to explore issues of climate change, pollution and the destruction of animal habitat.  “What I’m trying to do is create a story for the animal,” he told 774 ABC Melbourne’s Red Symons. “People go ‘oh my god, I really like that animal, I really want to save it’.”

Built Environment

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The City of Sydney has released a study showing how the upcoming transformation of part of George Street into a car-free light rail and pedestrian stretch can maximise both public use and commercial opportunities. The study, George Street 2020: A Public Domain Activation Strategy, recommends outdoor dining, vending, creative and cultural activities and methods to encourage walking and dwelling, such as flexible lighting and seating, which the city says is critical to support long-term economic success.

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Tomorrow’s cities are expected to be hubs of smart technology, but eco-living will be more than just sensors, energy-efficient appliances, solar panels and wind turbines. The design of our homes could also be influenced by some rather unusual materials and innovations. Here’s a little tour of what to expect.

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More than 400 car-dependent Birkenhead residents ditched their vehicles to try alternative commute methods last year thanks to Auckland Council’s Commute programme, with wide-ranging benefits.  Many Birkenhead residents rely heavily on car travel even though the suburb is only 8 kilometres from the city centre. The Commute programme, which sets up ‘personalised journey planning’ for local residents, is part of the Council’s bid to get more commuters using better forms of transport to get to work or study, while reducing tedious morning traffic. It has already had a number of successful trials including New Lynn, Devonport, Beach Haven and Manukau.

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