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Friday 05 December 2014

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As the damage bill from last week’s hail storm balloons to more than $1 billion, Brisbane’s disaster-weary residents are scrambling to prepare for more wet weather. Showers are forecast for the city today with a chance of afternoon storms this weekend. While the weather will not be as violent as the supercell, it is still bad news for 1,900 households whose hail-damaged homes have been left vulnerable to more water damage. Hail caused roof damage to nearly 2,000 homes and 60 are yet to be covered with tarpaulins. In the initial days after the storm authorities thought the damage bill could reach $150 million, but insurers and the Brisbane City Council said costs had spiralled.

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The Lima Climate Summit received a further boost yesterday, as the German government approved a wide-ranging new strategy designed to ensure it meets its goal of slashing greenhouse gas emissions 40 per cent by 2020. The country has delivered some of the steepest emissions cuts of any industrialised nation, in large part thanks to its world-leading investment in renewable energy capacity. However, the pace of emissions reductions has stalled in recent years, prompting warnings it would miss its EU goal of cutting emissions 40 per cent against 1990 levels by between five and eight percentage points. Consequently, the German government yesterday approved plans to deliver a further 78 million tonnes of emission reductions by 2020, which will be delivered by steep cuts in emissions from the building, transport, waste, and energy sectors.

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Two developments, one on the opening day of the climate summit in Lima and one the previous week, have led India to seriously consider an announcement when US president Barack Obama visits New Delhi late January.   Then, India may unveil details of the year when it intends greenhouse gas emissions will peak. This is a marked departure from India’s previous pronouncements on actions to combat climate change.

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The World Meteorological Organization reports that 2014 is on track to be possibly the world’s hottest year on record. Meanwhile, there’s been a lot of public commentary lately about the so-called “hiatus” in global surface temperature over the past 18 years, recent sea-level rise and what it all means. So what do CSIRO’s research and observations tell us? They show that average surface air temperatures have continued to rise during the past two decades, but not as fast as in preceding decades. In other words, while the rate of temperature increase is lower, the temperatures themselves are not lower.

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The highest point on South Tarawa, the capital island of Kiribati, survives behind a wall of sandbags and rock. It lies so close to the sea that one of the agile kids who make up almost half the population could leap from the top and land in the water three metres below. Across the Pacific in Lima, Peru, climate negotiators this week are drafting a deal that will control how high the sea will rise around this thin strip of sand and coral and maybe stop the country from disappearing altogether. Yet for most I-Kiribati, climate change remains an abstract concern against the foreground of calamitous poverty they face each day. More than half of this Pacific nation’s 102,000 people live on impoverished South Tarawa. Huge families, often as many as 20 to a home, live in cobbled-together dwellings amid coconut palms, pigs and piles of rubbish. There is no space nor privacy. The many who lack a toilet use the white sand beach. Children spend their days swimming in the electric blue lagoon, which doubles as a major fishing ground and open sewer. It is the world’s most scenic slum.

Nuclear power isn’t ‘economically feasible’ in Australia, but …
No sooner had foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop announced that Australia should take a fresh look at nuclear power than Prime Minister Tony Abbott responded that nuclear power would only be supported if it was “economically feasible” and would not receive government subsidies. Tony Abbott can rest easy in his position knowing this much to be true: thanks to an oversupply of incumbent, polluting electricity in the Australian market, nuclear energy is not economically feasible in Australia … but neither is any other new energy source without a policy to guide investment.

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Millions meant for dismantling Tas forestry sector now to be injected into industry
Millions of dollars earmarked for reducing Tasmania’s native forestry sector are to be spent on rebuilding it. After dismantling the forest peace deal, the State Liberal Government has set about rebuilding the native forestry sector. From tomorrow, forestry contractors can apply for a share of $4 million that was originally earmarked to help them leave the industry.

Student sheds light on water invention
The lives of almost 800 million people without access to clean drinking water could change, thanks to a $10,000 prize for Wellington PhD student Eldon Tate. The Victoria University student was one of 15 people to win an AMP scholarship or prize at the Do Your Thing awards ceremony last night. A nanotech researcher, Tate has already developed tiny molecules that, in the lab at least, have shown they can purify water. “These nanoparticles are anti-bacterial and they also use the sunlight to break down organic contaminants,” Tate said. “We’re not really filtering it, we’re using the energy from the sun to break down all the bad stuff in it.” The idea of harnessing the power of sunlight to purify water in developing nations is not a new one but, so far, no-one has cracked the magic formula of an efficient and yet inexpensive system, Tate says.

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NAB launches first Aussie Green Bond – we’re in the money now
National Australia Bank today floored the competition by launching Australia’s first climate bond in the local market with a $150 million offering that includes cornerstone investor Clean Energy Finance Corporation taking a $75 million commitment. The announcement signals this emerging asset class is starting to come of age, with huge interest from the capital markets, and now the property sector, gathering momentum. In the wings is another green bond from one of the big four banks for between $200 million and $300 million expected to come to market early in the new year, which will be managed by Ernst & Young. Only weeks ago, Stockland raised 300 million Euros in a green bond.

Norway’s oil fund will continue to invest in fossil fuels
A government panel has rejected calls for Norway’s $870 billion (£555bn) wealth fund to divest from polluting fossil fuels, instead advocating an engagement approach. The Government Pensions Fund of Norway is the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund. The fund owns around 1.25% of the world’s stocks, with 10-15% of its portfolio being invested in oil and gas, earning it the name ‘oil fund’. Of the 200 companies holding the majority of fossil fuel reserves, the oil fund invests in 147. The fund committed to increasing its green investment in April this year but campaign groups voiced disappointment that it didn’t go further. Pressure for the fund to drop its investments in the coal industry has been growing, with the opposition Labour party urging action last year.

Eco-innovation: going beyond creating technology for technology’s sake
Slowly but surely, sustainable technologies are challenging business and transforming our outdated industrial model which is no longer fit for purpose. As examples from the agri-food, chemicals and metals sectors have shown, removing barriers to the sharing of existing technologies is just as important as coming up with new and better tools. So how does this work in practice?

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Experts reflect on progress of circular economy in last year
It’s a little over a year since we launched the circular economy hub on Guardian Sustainable Business. Back then, it felt like a seedling of an idea that was yet to fully take root in business. We’ve asked a range of experts what progress has been made in the last 12 months.

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‘Future Earth’ platform outlines global change strategy
A global initiative bringing together scientists across different disciplines has launched its strategy to identify key priorities for sustainability. The document outlines what Future Earth, launched at the 2012 Rio +20 Summit, hopes to contribute towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It has identified eight global challenges, including “water, energy and for all” and decarbonisation. The strategy also focuses on the roles of policymakers and funding bodies.

Keystone XL opponent Bill McKibben steps down as head of 350.org
The author Bill McKibben, who founded a new generation of environmental activism in the Keystone XL pipeline and divestment campaigns, is stepping down from the daily leadership of his 350.org organisation. McKibben’s departure, announced in a post on 350.org, caps an extraordinary seven -year run for the organisation. “I’m stepping down as chair of the board at 350.org to become what we’re calling a ‘senior sdvisor’,” McKibben wrote. “I will stay on as an active member of the board, and 90% of my daily work will stay the same, since it’s always involved the external work of campaigning, not the internal work of budgets and flow charts. I’m not standing down from that work, or stepping back, or walking away.”

Extracted – How the quest for mineral wealth is plundering the planet (Book Review)
Minerals analyst Ugo Bardi sounds every economic, social and environmental alarm bell in Extracted – How the quest for mineral wealth is plundering the planet.  A report to the Club of Rome, the detailed analysis starts out by explaining exactly how minerals are formed, how much of the key resources are left, and how we ended up with economies so firmly grounded in a sector that has, by definition, a limited horizon. Extracted is extremely readable, offering many “Crikey! Yes! Exactly!” moments. It is also impeccably and very broadly researched and referenced, and draws on a range of experts from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to minerals policy analysts, geologists, historians, economists and engineers. Contributing essayists include former head of the Australian Coal Association Ian Dunlop, who outlines the case against continued exploitation of fossil fuels, and the pressing environmental risks we run due to the fracking industry.

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Case study: the Gold Coast’s green transit-oriented hospital
The $1.76 billion Gold Coast University Hospital, one of the largest public health infrastructure projects completed in Australia, recently won Aurecon and Jacobs, part of an engineering joint venture, a National Engineering Excellence Award. Designed by HASSELL and constructed by Lend Lease, the project was benchmarked against the Green Building Council of Australia’s Green Star Healthcare rating tool, and incorporated major sustainability initiatives around energy, water, indoor environment quality, open space, materials and transport, with the masterplan including a dedicated light rail station for the newly opened Gold Coast light rail.

AIRAH on designing for resilience and upgrading preloved buildings
Climate change resilience and improving B and C grade building energy efficiency are high on the agenda for the Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Airconditioning and Heating, the institute’s chief executive Phil Wilkinson says. Resilience was particularly front of mind at AIRAH’s awards night last week as Brisbane’s supercell storm pounded the building where the event was being held. Mr Wilkinson said early involvement of the facilities management and heating, ventilation and airconditioning consultant was part of the solution to reduce the number of design decisions that leave plant or other equipment exposed to damage.

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Market bans caged eggs and introduces labels on stocking density
The debate over free-range, barn-raised or caged hens, and appropriate stocking densities for each, has raged within the egg industry for years and now it’s being played out in the market place. An outright ban on caged eggs came into force at South Melbourne Market this week.  Market manager Ross Williamson says the ban, which will apply to all eggs sold at the market, including those used in restaurants and cafes, was based on an ethical decision. “There was not much of a price differentiation between our cheapest free range egg and our cheapest caged egg. It was about 15 cents,” Mr Williamson said. “So we realised from a choice perspective we weren’t affecting it, but we could make an ethical decision that also didn’t affect choice too much.” As well as banning caged eggs, the market is also requiring stallholders to display labels on stocking densities for the eggs they sell.

Turn your city into a swarm of robot farms
There’s unused land even in the most prosperous cities. There are vacant lots that developers hold until the moment is right to build; there are underused parking lots; and there are acres and acres of flat roofs. Clearly this is not the highest and best use of real estate. The fact that land remains empty represents a failure of the market. There’s no shortage of demand: There are solar companies that would like to put panels on the roofs, priced-out residents who would love to erect mobile mini-dwellings in unused parking lots, and urban farmers who could cultivate zucchini on vacant lots. But often the transaction costs of setting up these enterprises are too high: Landlords don’t even bother investigating the possibility of renting out their unused space because they figure there are bound to be insurmountable complications. The company Cityblooms has found a solution to this problem by creating lightweight, modular gardens that can be picked up and moved to a new location with minimal fuss.

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