Wednesday 04 November 2015
Sustainable Development News
Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Solar and the circular economy: A recipe for climate optimism?
For a researcher who studies how humanity is pushing the earth close to potentially disastrous tipping points, Johan Rockström is surprisingly optimistic. Although he reckons that our species has crossed four of nine “planetary boundaries” — including those on climate change and deforestation — he believes there is still time to pull back from the brink and create a sustainable future based on renewable energy and a circular economy that continually reuses resources.
Energy and Climate Change
Electricity Authority claims solar panels subsidised by other users
NEW ZEALAND – The electricity regulator has launched an attack on the solar industry, claiming the current electricity pricing structure provides a massive subsidy and leads to “wasteful investment”. On Tuesday the Electricity Authority released a consultation paper on how new technology could affect the sector. While chief executive Carl Hansen said the regulator favours investment in new technology, the current pricing structure creates a false incentive for solar while placing a barrier to entry on other new technology, such as battery storage, smart appliances or electric vehicles.
Climate change a leading threat to India’s Economy, Modi aide says
Climate change is the top threat to the world’s fastest growing major economy as erratic monsoon rains cause distress in a sector that employs more than half of India’s billion-plus population, the country’s junior finance minister said. “The number one risk we face is global climate change because we are still very dependent on the monsoon,” Jayant Sinha, a Harvard Business School graduate who formerly worked with McKinsey, said in an interview. “The age-old patterns are changing, which is affecting our farming and creating a lot of agricultural distress.”
Melting ice in west Antarctica could raise seas by three metres, warns study
A key area of ice in west Antarctica may already be unstable enough to cause global sea levels to rise by three metres of ocean rise, scientists said on Monday. The study follows research published last year, led by Nasa glaciologist Eric Rignot, warning that ice in the Antarctic had gone into a state of irreversible retreat, that the melting was considered “unstoppable” and could raise sea level by 1.2 metres. This time, researchers at Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research pointed to the long-term impacts of the crucial Amundsen Sea sector of west Antarctica, which they said “has most likely been destabilized”.
Big Coal faces oblivion with strong 2°C climate deal in Paris
So far, the pledges from more than 150 governments are enough to lower the expected level of warming to around 2.7°C. But this needs to be ramped up considerably to meet the 2°C that the science calls for. This stunning graph, produced in the most recent report from investment bank HSBC, shows why the global thermal coal industry is terrified of the consequences of a strong Paris agreement, and why it is so intent on peddling the “coal is good for humanity” mantra so favoured by Tony Abbott. Basically, if the world holds on to their current pledges, there is not a lot of change, for the thermal coal industry or any other fossil fuel. Indeed, under the “INDC scenarios”, where the world keeps to its current pledges but takes no further action, the overall consumption of coal actually increases out to 2030.
The biggest sticking point in Paris climate talks: money
Many Paris financing debates will focus on how to most appropriately use the recently created Green Climate Fund (GCF) – the new main multilateral vehicle for helping developing countries to lower their GHG emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change. However, there remain significant questions about how the GCF will function, how it will operate alongside other organizations, and how effective the overall financing system may be. Indeed, the unresolved money question was front and center in the just-concluded Bonn talks, which were intended to pave the way for a Paris agreement.
Hunt hints at Turnbull climate change initiative in Paris talks
AUSTRALIA – Environment minister Greg Hunt has hinted that Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull will make a significant announcement on the first day of the Paris climate talks later this month… Hunt, interviewed at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance conference in Shangai, said Turnbull will have some important things to say at the meeting. “The Prime Minister will attend day one which is the leaders’ summit, and may have some very prospective and constructive things to propose on the day,” Hunt said.
Environment and Biodiversity
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Microbes – bacteria and other single-celled organisms – may be tiny, but they come in huge numbers and we rely on them for clean water, the air we breathe and the food we eat. They are nature’s powerhouses but they have often been ignored. We previously lacked the capacity to appreciate truly their diversity, from micro-scales right up to entire oceans. Recent advancements in genetic sequencing have revealed this diversity, and our research, published in Frontiers in Aquatic Microbiology this week, shows how we can use this information to understand human impacts on an unseen world – making microbes the new sentinels of the sea.
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The Southern Ocean is acidifying at such a rate because of rising carbon dioxide emissions that large regions may be inhospitable for key organisms in the food chain to survive as soon as 2030, new US research has found. Tiny pteropods, snail-like creatures that play an important role in the food web, will lose their ability to form shells as oceans absorb more of the CO2 from the atmosphere, a process already observed over short periods in areas close to the Antarctic coast.
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Delving into the world of chicken guts at a bacterial level could improve poultry health and reduce the need for antibiotics. Central Queensland University senior lecturer in microbiology Dana Stanley is looking into ways to improve the gut health of chickens and other agricultural animals.
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Cockroaches are often associated with dirty kitchens and grimy bathrooms – scuttling away as soon as you enter the room and turn on the light. But pest controllers aren’t the only people interested in them – these insects are inspiring research into antibiotics, robots and mechanical limbs, writes Mary Colwell.
As drought looms, the Murray-Darling is in much healthier shape – just don’t get complacent
AUSTRALIA – The Murray Darling Basin Authority’s weekly reports show inflows into the River Murray (which can be seen as a proxy for the southern MDB) during the year to end September 2015 were the among the lowest on record. And the Bureau of Meteorology’s National Climate and Water Briefing last week suggests a warm and dry summer in prospect in the southern MDB, amid a still strengthening El Niño. Yet there are reasons to believe that these past nine years of stronger Commonwealth involvement have left the MDB much better placed to withstand an escalating drought.
Economy and Business
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Corporate board directors are failing to deliver tangible environmental impacts despite incorporating sustainability into a company’s ethos, a new report has found. The report, ‘View from the Top: How Corporate Boards can Engage on Sustainability Performance’, highlighted short-term thinking and poor company-wide linkage as the main factors in continuous ‘weak performances’.
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Climate action plans drawn up by a coalition of leading businesses could deliver up to 65 per cent of the emissions cuts needed to put the world on a two-degree pathway, according to new analysis published today by PwC. The report, produced in collaboration with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), analyses the climate ambitions of nine industries set out by business working groups as part of the WBCSD’s Low Carbon Technology Partnerships initiative.
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The cost of wind and solar energy will continue to fall rapidly between now and 2050, but will remain more expensive than gas unless a global carbon price is imposed. That’s according to BP’s inaugural Technology Outlook which considers how technology upgrades will affect the planet’s energy supply.
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As countries prepare to meet in Paris on a global climate agreement increasing numbers of businesses and governments are calling for a price on carbon. Why are we seeing this growing support? And what can business do to move from simple calls for carbon pricing to helping put in place effective carbon pricing policies that transition economies toward environmentally and economically sustainable growth?
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BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, has become the latest partner in a global initiative to promote the growing market for green bonds. The investor giant, which manages $4.5tr of assets worldwide, yesterday confirmed it is the newest member of the Climate Bonds Initiative (CBI), a non-profit programme that aims to improve the market for bonds that will support climate mitigation and adaptation investments, such as renewable energy technologies and flood protection measures. HSBC, Barclays, Bloomberg and Credit Suisse are already members of the initiative.
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Banking giant Goldman Sachs has announced it will finance and invest $150bn over the next 10 years in clean energy projects. The amount is a substantial expansion on the investment bank’s previous target of $40bn by 2022, which it set in 2012. The firm says it is now close to achieving the target, with $37bn invested as of September 2015.
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Companies that are fully committed to sustainability and corporate responsibility (CR) could see a potential revenue boost of up to 20% – equivalent to $1.8bn for some of the largest publicly-traded firms. That’s according to Project ROI – a new report from US communications firm Verizon and the Campbell Soup Company, which assesses the business case for CR “for the benefit of senior decision-makers”.
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IKEA announced last week that as of September 2015, all cotton used for its products — from furniture to towels, bedding and other home textiles — comes from more sustainable sources; specifically from farmers that use less water, less chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and are also able to increase their profits. This positions IKEA as the first major retailer to reach this milestone.
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NEW ZEALAND – Your procurement practices and supply chain management are the engines of your business, so it’s important you understand the risks and opportunities. We’ve spoken to three members that target sustainability by focusing on their greatest impacts.
Waste and the Circular Economy
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UK – Unsold food that is safe to eat will be donated to local community organisations at over 500 Morrisons supermarkets. After being the focus of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s War on Waste programme on BBC1 last night, the retailer has now announced that a trial at 100 stores in Yorkshire and the North East will be extended across the UK in early 2016.
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It’s difficult to swallow the contradictory statistic that 50 million Americans are food insecure while 40 percent of the food produced in the U.S. is wasted, according to the NRDC. Food recovery entrepreneur and advocate, Dana Frasz — founder of Oakland, Calif.-based food-recovery non-profit Food Shift— suggests that the sustainable food movement could use a new recipe. Those working on hunger should not just look at providing food, but how they can create jobs. “Food isn’t enough. People need work and the support to sustain themselves individually,” she said in a recent interview.
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Data released by the European Aluminium Foil Association (EAFA) has shown that 55% of alufoil trays and semi-rigid containers were recycled in 2013. The previous reporting period of 2010 saw a rate of just over 50%.
Politics and Society
Science fatigue keeps us clinging to bad health habits
The World Health Organization (WHO) threw the cat among the pigeons last week with a new report linking eating red and processed meat to cancer. It didn’t claim our way of life is killing us, but it would seem this way from the reactions. Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, for instance, said the WHO would have humans living in caves were we to follow all its recommendations. This response is all too familiar and highlights the public’s fundamental misunderstanding of how science works. Two issues stand in the way of, and often override, sensible interpretations of research findings – science fatigue and confirmation bias.
Report: Millennials Key Drivers of Small Business Sustainability
Millennials will lead the way for small and medium businesses (SMBs) in future conversations and efforts around conservation, energy efficiency and environmental stewardship, according to a new survey by Cox Enterprises.
Government blamed as Fish and Game pulls out of crucial nationwide water forum
A key member of a national water use and quality taskforce has quit, blaming the Government for “a lack of good faith” over collaboration. Fish and Game New Zealand – the first to coin the phrase “dirty dairying” – formally resigned from the Land and Water Forum last week. Chief executive Bryce Johnson said changes to the forum’s rules around membership and restrictions on the ability to speak out had “essentially compelled us to resign”. “It’s been clear the Government’s goals all along have been about natural resource development, not about environmental protection. They make the growth strategies, and add on the end the words ‘within environmental limits’.”
Historic agreement to protect Mackenzie Basin falters
NEW ZEALAND – An agreement uniting opposing sides to protect the Mackenzie landscape has faltered after the Government refused to support some of its recommendations. The Mackenzie agreement, unveiled in 2013, would have allowed conservation and intensive farming to co-exist in the Mackenzie high country. It was led by former Conservation Minister Nick Smith, and brought together farmers, irrigators, and environmental experts to broker a deal to protect the area’s unique biodiversity, while still allowing farmers to irrigate.
Offering kai and a cuddle to the city’s troubled kids
NEW ZEALAND – Ms Munroe is the founder and driving force of a new community heart – she doesn’t like to use the word charity – that began feeding youngsters in Southmall some 18 months ago. Ms Munroe, a teacher-turned-youth worker, was fed up with the negative comments she was reading on Facebook about the youth causing havoc in the mall. “Honestly, people were saying things like ‘run them over’ or ‘shoot them’,” she says. “But instead of judging people, let’s find out why they’re doing it. I started to just walk around. There were 30 kids, some as young as 8 years. We’d sober them up, give them a feed. We don’t ask questions, we just have one question: ‘How can we help’? When you show respect, they show respect for you.”
Sydney brewery taps community solar, with local govt support
AUSTRALIA – NSW community solar group Pingala has won funding from the City of Sydney to install a rooftop solar plant on top of a local brewery in the city’s inner west – marking the inaugural project for the renewables start-up, which plans to build community-owned solar farms on businesses and organisations across Sydney.
Three quarters of Australians believe climate change is real; views on cause correspond with world view, voting patterns: CSIRO report
Research by the CSIRO has found more than three quarters of Australians agree climate change is happening, with divisions emerging along political lines. The survey of almost 18,000 people over five years showed 78 per cent of Australians believed in climate change… When asked on what best described their thoughts, 45.9 per cent of people said they believed in climate change and that humans were largely causing it, while 38.6 per cent believed in climate change, but that it was a natural fluctuation in the Earth’s temperature.
CSIRO survey: Most Coalition voters reject humans to blame for climate change
Barely one in four Coalition voters accepts climate change is mostly caused by humans, with more than half of Liberal voters believing changes to global temperatures are natural, according to a CSIRO survey. The wide-ranging report, which summarised the findings of five surveys of Australian attitudes from 2010 to 2014 before the program was axed earlier this year, was released without fanfare on Tuesday.
Do trees really help clear the air in our cities?
It may sound like a no-brainer to say that trees improve air quality. After all, we know that trees absorb the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO₂), and that their leaves can trap the toxic pollutants nitrogen dioxide (NO₂), ozone, and harmful microscopic particles produced by diesel vehicles, cooking and wood burning. Yet some recent studies have suggested that trees may in fact worsen urban air quality by trapping pollutants at street level. A closer look at the evidence – and how it was collected – reveals the root of this dispute, and can help us come to a more nuanced understanding of the impacts of trees on our urban environment.
Circular economy in practice: fitting out sustainable and stylish work places
Half of all waste created in New Zealand comes from the construction and demolition industry and year on year tonnes of that waste is dumped into landfills across the country. Perhaps what’s most shocking is that 90 per cent of that waste can be recycled – and in the case of office furniture that number’s closer to 99 per cent. One by one, organisations are reclaiming responsibility for the waste created during office refurbishments.
The cities that are cleaning up their act
We asked a panel of experts how communities from Mexico City to Belfast are becoming healthier and more sustainable.
Delhi’s air pollution is causing a health crisis. So, what can be done?
For a few hours one morning two weeks ago, private cars were banned from driving into the heart of old Delhi. It was hard to tell at the messy road junction in front of the historic Red Fort and the shopping street of Chandni Chowk, though, which was still crammed with auto-rickshaws and buses barrelling along the roads with seemingly little regard for any traffic rules. But Delhi’s so-called “car-free day” experiment was nevertheless a success: scientists monitoring the air here, routinely one of Delhi’s most polluted areas, found a dramatic 60% drop in the amount of dangerous pollutants – the tiniest particles that come out of traffic exhausts and which can exacerbate health problems such as asthma, heart disease and stroke – compared to the previous day.
‘Wild-caught’ salmon may be farmed or faux
The wild-caught salmon sold by restaurants and fishmongers is frequently farm-raised fish that has been mislabeled, said a report released on Wednesday. Using DNA analysis, the nonprofit ocean conservation group Oceana studied 82 samples and found that two-thirds of the salmon appearing on restaurant menus were incorrectly labelled. Twenty percent of salmon from groceries was incorrectly identified, the group found.