Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Energy and Climate Change

What’s the link between global warming and extreme weather?
Last week, some people got really mad at Bill Nye the US Science Guy. How come? Because he had the gall to say this on Twitter: “Billion$$ in damage in Texas & Oklahoma. Still no weather-caster may utter the phrase Climate Change.” Nye’s comments, and the reaction to them, raise a perennial issue: How do we accurately parse the relationship between climate change and extreme weather events, as they occur in real time? It’s a particularly pressing question of late, following not only catastrophic floods in Texas and Oklahoma, but also a historic heatwave in India that has killed over 2,000 people so far, and President Barack Obama’s recent trip to the National Hurricane Centre in Miami, where he explicitly invoked the idea that global warming will make these storms worse.

The battery revolution is exciting, but remember they pollute too
The recent unveiling by Tesla founder Elon Musk of the low-cost Powerwall storage battery is the latest in a series of exciting advances in battery technologies for electric cars and domestic electricity generation. We have also seen the development of an aluminium-ion battery that may be safer, lighter and cheaper than the lithium-ion batteries used by Tesla and most other auto and technology companies. These advances are exciting for two main reasons…

49 US states making plans to cut power plant emissions
The US Environmental Protection Agency’s plans to finalise the rules on carbon emissions from power plants are still several months away. But most states, even those challenging the agency in court, are already investigating ways to comply. The EPA expects 49 states to submit plans once the rules are finalised. The non-partisan group Great Plains Institute for Sustainable Development, which has been organising talks in the US midwest on the clean power plan, says 41 states have joined regional groups exploring options to comply with the rule.

Developing countries could leapfrog west with clean energy, says Hollande
Developing countries have the opportunity to leapfrog the west in economic development, if they go straight to clean technology while rich countries struggle to wean themselves off fossil fuels, president Francois Hollande of France said on Wednesday. “They are going to be skipping the stage where industrialised countries were stopped fro a long time, for many decades,” he said. “We were dependent on fossil fuel, which means we now have to concentrate on the transition in the medium to long term of abandoning fossil fuels. But they have the chance to move immediately to the new technologies.” He said clean technologies such as renewable energy were “dropping in price and will continue to drop”, while industrialised countries faced costs in having to scrap old infrastructure and rebuild it anew in a low-carbon fashion.

Lord Stern: India must tackle ‘worrying’ coal use
India’s growing use of coal is “worrying” and must be addressed if the world is to tackle climate change effectively, Lord Stern has warned. The noted economist said the country should not follow the example of China in inflicting significant environmental damage in pursuit of economic growth. India’s heavy reliance on coal power means it is already the world’s fourth largest source of greenhouse gases after China, the US and EU. And its emissions are expected to triple by 2030 if current levels of economic growth are maintained.

Ban Ki-moon urges governments to invest in low carbon energy
The world’s governments and businesses need to choose wisely and invest in low carbon energy, not the dirty fossil fuels of the past, according to the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon.  He said that climate change was striking faster than expected, but that the transition to clean energy was also accelerating. In an interview with the Guardian, Ban said previous slow progress on tackling climate change had spawned strong civil society movements, including a fast-growing fossil fuel divestment campaign. He encouraged citizens to press for action on global warming, which he said was a vital component of sealing a strong climate change deal at a crunch summit in Paris in December.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

The climate campaign cutting the cash flow to fossil fuels
“Here’s my bet: the kids are going to win and when they do, it’s going to matter,” wagered the environmentalist Bill McKibben to Rolling Stone two years ago. He was on tour with a new campaign that was rapidly gaining traction on college campuses across the United States. Students were persuading their universities to withdraw their money from fossil fuels – the richest companies in the world. Since McKibben’s climate movement launched its fossil fuel divestment campaign in 2012, more than 220 institutions – including universities, faith organisations, local authorities, pension funds and foundations – have committed to divesting from fossil fuels.

Environment and Biodiversity

Indonesian Pulp and Paper Giant APRIL Pledges Zero Deforestation, Greenpeace Applauds
Asia Pacific Resources International Ltd (APRIL), one of the world’s largest producers of pulp and paper, has today announced an end to deforestation as part of a new Sustainable Forest Management Plan. Deforestation for pulp and paper, and palm oil, is a leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions in Indonesia. If properly implemented, APRIL’s pledge will prove to be another major step by business towards protecting Indonesia’s rainforests and peatlands.

Consumer Brands, Big Investors Call for Stronger Sustainable Palm Oil Standard
A group of investors and consumer food, beverage and products companies see long-term threats to both consumers and their businesses from RSPO sustainable palm oil certification standards that are too weak and/or narrowly defined. More specifically, they’re calling out RSPO with regard to the aspects of its sustainable palm oil certification standard regarding human rights and deforestation.

US, EU fall flat in cutting forest emissions
The United States and European Union are shirking chances to dent greenhouse gas emissions arising from forests and agriculture, a report charged on Tuesday. The major polluters have “considerable” potential to take steps like planting carbon-sucking trees and dialling down beef farming, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. But in an analysis of CO2-cutting plans submitted by 34 countries in March ahead of a global climate pact, the US advocacy group says the emitting blocs are overlooking the sector.

University students give Australian dams get a makeover
The traditional Australian farm dam is getting a makeover. As part of their landscape architecture degree, students from the Queensland University of Technology have researched and designed a concept to be applied to the feature dam at the Living Classroom. The Living Classroom used to be the ‘common’ on the outskirts of the northern New South Wales town of Bingara and is now a research centre that aims to showcase for the future of agriculture and for city and country living.  The purpose of a farm dam is to provide reliable, clean water for stock but the research by Debbie Turner and Emily Colling has found this is often defeated by high evaporation, high infiltration and stock pollution of the water.

Chimps Can’t Cook, But Maybe They’d Like To
Chimps have all the cognitive abilities necessary for the uniquely human behavior of cooking. They don’t do it in the wild because they’ve never learned to control fire. But aside from that, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Academy B, chimps’ brains are pretty much fully equipped to take the great culinary leap our direct human ancestors did in the dim past.

Economy and Business

Private sector must pay more into $100bn global climate fund, says report
The global target of directing $100bn to poor countries to help them cope with climate change is likely to be missed unless private sector finance is ramped up significantly, a new analysis has found. Rich countries will also have to find more money from taxpayers to fund developing countries, enabling them to cut their greenhouse gas emissions and rebuild their infrastructure to adapt to the likely effects of global warming. The analysis, seen by the Guardian, is a critical part of the runup to the UN climate change conference, starting on 30 November in Paris. Poor countries were promised finance flows of $100bn a year from developed countries by 2020, as part of the deal reached at the climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009.

Climate bonds standard for low carbon buildings launched
A climate bonds standard for low carbon buildings has been officially launched in London. The standard allows independent verification of a property asset’s sustainability value, providing investors certainty around green investment. Rules in the standard include criteria for commercial buildings, residential buildings and upgrade projects, and require a building to be in its respective city’s top 15 per cent of performers regarding carbon emissions or for cuts of over 30 per cent in emissions to be made through energy efficiency investment.

Green economy contributed £26bn to the UK in 2012
The UK’s green sector contributed £26.3bn to the economy in 2012, making up 1.6 per cent of total GDP, official figures show. Data released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) today show the value added by the environmental goods and services sector (EGSS) grew 1.5 per cent between 2010 and 2012, which was slower than GDP growth of the whole economy of 6.2 per cent over the same timeframe. However, total output in the green economy increased by over nine per cent during this period to £55.4bn, supporting 357,000 full-time jobs – a rise of 5.3 per cent, or 18,000 jobs, since 2010.

Australia given more than $4 billion in foreign subsidies for coal projects: report
Australia has received more than $4 billion in money from foreign governments to fund coal projects since 2007, according to a new report highlighting the extent to which wealthy countries are still financing fossil fuels. And Australian taxpayers have subsidised coal mines and power plants around the world to the tune of $1.4 billion through the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation, a government bank that helps finance Australian projects in other countries. Government-owned finance institutions poured more than $US73 billion into coal between 2007 and 2014, according to the research by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Oil Change International and the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Best of the Sustainable Brands summit in San Diego
In sunny San Diego, California, nearly 2,500 business leaders, experts, investors and NGO advocates are gathering this week to discuss corporate sustainability at the Sustainable Brands San Diego conference. As they share new ideas and initiatives, case studies, and best practices, we’ll collect the best nuggets to share with you here.

Best Buy: E-Waste Take-Back is Excellent Customer Service
In 2009, electronics retail giant Best Buy decided to become part of the solution to the growing problem of e-waste, launching a national take-back and recycling program for unwanted electronics like cell phones, computers and TVs in its retail stores. The initiative has been a huge success, meeting its initial goal to collect 1 billion pounds of e-waste and large appliances by the end of 2014 six months ahead of schedule, Scott Weislow, Best Buy’s senior director of environmental services, told TriplePundit… Best Buy’s electronics take-back and recycling program is self-subsidizing but “barely profitable.” So, why does the electronics retail giant stay in the business of collecting and recycling e-waste?

Politics and Society

Fossil fuel subsidies outstrip global public spending on healthcare
Fossil fuel companies are benefiting from global subsidies of $7.38tn (£3.4tn) a year, equivalent to $10m a minute every day, according to a startling estimate by the International Monetary Fund. The IMF calls the finding “shocking” and says the figure is an “extremely robust” estimate of the true cost of fossil fuels. The $7.38tn subsidy estimated for 2015 is greater than the total health spending of all the world’s governments.  The vast sum is largely due to polluters not paying the costs imposed on governments by the burning of coal, oil and gas. These include the harm caused to local populations by air pollution as well as to people across the globe affected by the floods, droughts and storms being driven by climate change.

Flood, fire and Fukushima: environmental photographer of the year 2015 – in pictures
A sandstorm rages over Kuwait, a woman shops in a derelict supermarket in Fukushima, and in Lagos women weave hair on the lagoon. These images are some of the best on the shortlist for the 2015 Ciwem Atkins Environmental Photographer of the year. Many are deceptively beautiful – look more closely and they reveal the powerful impact both humans and nature have on our landscape

Life in tidal flood 3 by Jashim Salam , Chittagong, Bangladesh.

Life in tidal flood 3 by Jashim Salam , Chittagong, Bangladesh.

‘Engineering Marvel’ of Queen of Sheba’s City Damaged in Airstrike
One of the grandest engineering marvels of the ancient world—the Great Dam of Marib in central Yemen—has been damaged in an airstrike, according to local news reports and archaeological experts in touch with local sources. Ancient Marib was the capital of the wealthy caravan kingdom of Saba (biblical Sheba, home of the legendary queen), which thrived during the first millennium B.C. Along with remains of the Great Dam, considered the most important ancient site in Yemen, excavations of the Sabaean capital have revealed two elaborate pre-Islamic temple precincts dedicated to Almaqah, the chief deity of the kingdom.

Food Systems

In Africa, Learning How Food Can Move
On a recent visit to Zambia, I met with a group of smallholder farmers who had previously been trying to feed their families year-round with the half ton of crops they could grow on each hectare of land, far below the world average. Eighty percent of Africa’s farmers are smallholders who cultivate less than two hectares. After some straightforward training on planting, pest management, post-harvest storage and more, these farmers told me they had boosted their yields eight-fold, to about 4 tons per hectare. They explained that not only could they now feed their families, they were reinvesting to grow their businesses.


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