Monday 05 January 2015
Sustainable Development News
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A Millennial’s Personal Sustainability Survival Guide
When I was young, my grandfather placed stickers saying ‘Turn off if unnecessary’ on light switches, ‘Close the tap while brushing your teeth’ on the sink, and ‘Did you unplug all unnecessary electronics?’ next to the front door. Even though I thought it was weird and controlling at the time, they were my first introductions to sustainability. That, and I was the only one in my elementary school with a cotton handkerchief when all my friends blew their noses with fancy Kleenex pack-by-packs. I also grew up listening to my mother’s best friend, who worked with Greenpeace for over two decades, and became inspired by her exotic stories — chaining herself in protest in various places, or going to Southern Ocean to save the whales. I didn’t know back then that all of these unrelated small details would deeply influence me and shape me to become who I am today.
[Ed: This really resonated with me; my grandparents also unknowingly had a huge influence on me. They taught me not to take everything that we have for granted. I can only hope that, like this Millennial (or Aspirational), I can in turn pass on some of the wisdom and inspire people to care.]
Energy and Climate Change
Lima climate change talks reach global warming agreement
International negotiators at the Lima climate change talks have agreed on a plan to fight global warming that would for the first time commit all countries to cutting their greenhouse gas emissions. The plan, agreed at United Nations talks on Sunday, was hailed as an important first step towards a climate change deal due to be finalised in Paris next year. The proposals call on countries to reveal how they will cut carbon pollution, ideally by March next year. “As a text it’s not perfect, but it includes the positions of the parties,” said Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, the Peruvian environment minister, who presided over the talks. However, negotiators acknowledged they had put off the most difficult decisions for later.
Lima climate deal: what was agreed – and what wasn’t
UN climate talks wrapped up in Peru with a modest agreement about the building blocks of a deal due to be agreed in Paris next year. All countries will be asked to submit plans for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, known as “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions,” or INDCs, to the United Nations by an informal deadline of 31 March 2015, as the core of a Paris deal. But there will be few obligations to provide details and no review to compare each nation’s pledges – as had been demanded by the European Union – after China and other emerging nations refused.
Pope Francis to issue climate change call to arms for world’s Catholics in measures that will anger Vatican conservatives
Pope Francis has declared it his mission to take on climate change in 2015, through a series of speeches, summit appearances and a rare call-to-arms for the world’s Catholics. According to Bishop Marcelo Sorondo, the chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Pope wants to have a direct influence on the vital 2015 UN climate conference in Paris, the culmination of decades of negotiations that will help determine the planet’s future. “The idea is to convene a meeting with leaders of the main religions to make all people aware of the state of our climate and the tragedy of social exclusion,” Sorondo was quoted as saying in the Observer.
David Attenborough: Leaders don’t take climate change seriously
Sir David Attenborough is calling on global leaders to step up their actions to curb climate change, saying that they are in denial about the dangers it poses despite the overwhelming evidence about its risks. The TV naturalist said those who wield power need to use it: “Wherever you look there are huge risks. The awful thing is that people in authority and power deny that, when the evidence is overwhelming and they deny it because it’s easier to deny it – much easier to deny it’s a problem and say ‘we don’t care’,” Sir David said.
Sunday Explainer: All climate change roads lead to Paris (via Rome)
This is the year that the world is supposed to save itself from itself. Governments have set a deadline of a December summit in Paris to land a deal to address the issue. What are the chances of success? What may success look like? And what role is Australia playing? Adam Morton explains.
Oil price plunge and clean energy – The real impact
The collapse in world oil prices in the second half of 2014 will have only a moderate impact on the fast-developing low-carbon transition in the world electricity system, according to research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The past five years have seen an average of $266bn per annum invested in clean energy worldwide. The majority of this has gone into renewable electricity generating capacity, which does not compete directly with oil. Wind and solar have been exhibiting very rapid growth, even as subsidies and support have in general become less generous, and that has been driven mainly by dramatic improvements to their cost-competitiveness, as well as by the removal of barriers such as grid bottlenecks. The slump in the Brent crude price per barrel from $112.36 on 30 June to $61.60 on 22 December will nevertheless have an impact in various sectors and regions.
10 Energy Breakthroughs of 2014 That Could Change Your Life
From a new kind of light bulb to a carbon-removing power plant, a dazzling array of new technologies that promise to save energy and help fight global warming debuted this year. They’re not just gee-whiz hoverboards—levitating skateboards once considered Hollywood lore that California-based tech firm Hendo has actually managed to build. The developments include practical products for the home, as well as potentially huge advances in how we produce energy and get around.
Environment and Biodiversity
Can Houseplants Really Clean the World’s Smoggiest City?
NEW DELHI—On the roof of an office building in India’s capital, the world’s smoggiest city, Kamal Meattle has a unique tactic for cleaning the air: a greenhouse with 400 common plants, including mother-in-law’s tongue. Meattle, the CEO of Paharpur Business Centre, has 800 other plants spread throughout the building’s lower six floors, greening each room and hallway. Their job: remove soot and other chemicals from the often charcoal-colored outdoor air. In India, where almost no one wears filter masks on the streets as many do in China, Meattle is seen as a radical. He says he’s even been dubbed the Mad Hatter of Nehru Place, a high-tech hub that’s home to his leafy building and an adjacent lot he converted from a slum into an oasis of 2,000 trees. He uses rainwater collected in cisterns to spray the trees so they can grow faster and absorb more pollutants. He’s urging India’s new government to require rainwater harvesting and to paint roofs, and buses, white. And he’s pushing to build one of the world’s largest energy-efficient office parks, complete with greenhouses.
Pirate’s haul of ‘white gold’ reveals cost of illegal fishing
Abandoned gillnets up to 25 kilometres long, banned in the Antarctic, have been seized as a notorious pirate fishing boat tries to shake a marathon pursuit with Australian Sea Shepherd boats. Prized “white gold” toothfish have been recovered with countless other fish and crabs from one of the nets by Sea Shepherd crew, who are hauling a second net. The pirate fishing vessel Thunder, said by Interpol to have reaped tens of millions of dollars worth of toothfish, was detected near the first net at Banzare Bank, south-west of Perth, on 17 December, and sped away. Melbourne-based Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker chased it, while volunteer crew on another of the group’s vessel’s, Sam Simon, also based in Melbourne, hauled the nets in freezing polar conditions.
South dominates bad air statistics
[New Zealand’s] South Island towns have some of the filthiest air in the country, nabbing eight out of the 10 most polluted places across the country in a new government report. The Ministry for the Environment has released its first report on how councils are tackling air quality standards. Councils must reduce high-pollution nights to three or fewer by next year and just one by 2020. Rankings of the worst polluted areas from 2007 to 2012 had eight of the top 10 spots taken by South Island areas or towns – Otago, Timaru, Reefton, Invercargill, Christchurch, Richmond, Kaiapoi and Rangiora. None is close to achieving the 2016 or 2020 standard.
Economy and Business
Business and development: the top five stories of 2014
Malaria may be on the retreat, but it still kills one African child every minute, so it’s unsurprising that Elisabeth Braw’s article on the biotech company breeding sterile male mosquitoes for release in malaria-affected areas hit the top spot on GSB’s business and development hub this year. Other popular stories in 2014 include Randall Krantz’s feature on the south Asian country famed for its Gross National Happiness index, Oliver Balch on the day charity Global Witness pushed Shell to explain more about its “shadowy deals” with Nigeria’s former oil minister, and Jo Confino on the need for Nissan to withdraw a dangerous car model from the Indian market.
10 green business predictions for 2015
It is the nature of the global fight against climate change that every year is more important than the last, but at a national and international level 2015 promises to be a truly critical year for the green economy. Several crucial turning points loom where the UK and international community could opt to accelerate efforts to curb global emissions, or alternatively could choose to throw encouraging recent policy progress into reverse. In the UK, May’s general election should determine whether a new wave of ambitious domestic green policies is embraced or not. Meanwhile, December’s Paris Summit provides a focal point for green businesses and campaigners everywhere, holding out the promise of a new global climate change treaty or the final death knell for the multi-lateral approach to climate risks. Against this backdrop of inherent and growing uncertainty, here are 10 predictions we can make for 2015, with varying degrees of confidence.
Business needs to play the long game on climate action
There is… only so much carbon we can emit before we dramatically increase our chances of pushing temperatures above 2C, the limit agreed by governments and climate scientists. To stay within that budget, the question remains if the long-term targets – to be announced by all governments next year – will be enough to achieve carbon neutrality by mid-century. Companies too will have to join this race to set bold climate targets in 2015. While emissions targets are increasingly becoming the norm for successful businesses, the reality is that too few are aligning these targets with the requirements of climate science. That is beginning to change.
Waste and the Circular Economy
Year in Review: One Company’s Waste Becomes Another’s Bioplastic
As data continues to emerge on the damage being caused by discarded plastic persisting in the environment, it’s clear the millions of tons of the ubiquitous material we’ve already produced isn’t going away anytime soon. Luckily, a host of scientists and researchers hard at work developing bio-based alternatives to plastic are making surprising discoveries — not only are they revolutionizing the material itself, they’re creating a whole new set of unexpected symbiotic relationships, wherein one industry’s manufacturing waste becomes feedstock for another. Here are some of our favorite waste-to-plastic innovations from this year.
NSW Government set to introduce a drinks container deposit scheme
A drinks container deposit scheme is to be introduced in NSW within the next few weeks as part of a plan to clean up the state’s beaches and parks. The details of the cash for containers scheme are still being finalised but it is likely to feature a rebate of 10 cents per item. The NSW Government has been negotiating with the drinks industry to introduce the system and Environment Minister Rob Stokes said similar initiatives had proved highly successful in reducing waste in public spaces around the world. “The beverage industry obviously has a responsibility in terms of the extent of producer liability for their products,” Mr Stokes said. “But we recognise that Government has a strong leadership role to play,” he said. “What we are interested in doing is working together effectively to produce solutions to a shared problem, which is litter and waste in our environment.”
Politics and Society
2014, the year that was: Environment + Energy
AUSTRALIA – Want a single word to sum up environmental affairs in 2014? Let’s go with “heated”. The year began with the realisation that 2013 was Australia’s hottest ever (and yes, it’s because of us), and ended with the knowledge that the world has probably just lived through the hottest ever measured globally. But the heat wasn’t just in the atmosphere; environmental policy provided enough acrimony to keep everyone simmering about something. As the certainty over climate science stacked up ever higher, the uncertainty over Australia’s response has grown too.
10 Ways Politics Shaped the Environment in 2014
USA – The environment and the effects of climate change were at the center of legislative debate in many countries this year. The release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2014 draft treatise on global warming helped center legislators’ attention on the task at hand, but some countries still opted for the wait-and-see approach over regulatory fixes. Here in the U.S., the response was equally inconsistent, thanks in part to a hearty push-back from the oil and gas sector and the gold-rush boom of the fracking industry in several states. But in those areas where climate change, dwindling resources or water issues were a concern, legislative options often took center stage.
Sustainability 2015: the devil will be in the detail (Opinion)
My colleagues in the sustainability field and I have long hoped for the day when consumers, producers, companies and governments around the world would recognise and adopt the sustainability imperative. In many ways, that day is here. Sustainability ambitions are soaring around the world. Many government initiatives to fight climate change and deforestation were announced this year, including a raft of new ones at COP20 in Lima. Companies increasingly integrate sustainability into their value chains and triple bottom line accounting into their corporate governance. Powerful emerging technologies hold the promise of new, powerful sustainability impacts.
The ‘simple life’ manifesto and how it could save us
The aftermath of Christmas is a good time to think about where consumer-capitalism is getting us. The sad fact is that, with these values, our society can never be ecologically sustainable or just. Accelerating global problems cannot be solved in a society obsessed with production and consumption, affluent living standards, market forces, the profit motive and economic growth. The only way out is via a huge and radical transition to The Simpler Way.
Survey: 60% of Americans Resolving More Environmentally Responsible Lifestyles in 2015
Three in five Americans say they will make a New Year’s resolution to live a more environmentally responsible lifestyle in 2015, according to a nationwide public opinion poll released this week by advocacy marketing consultancy Tiller, LLC. The survey is the latest in a string released this year that point to Americans’ deep and growing concern for the environment. When asked which factor posed the greatest long-term threat to their health and wellbeing, Americans chose climate change and environmental problems (45 percent) above terrorism (35 percent) and global epidemics such as ebola (21 percent). This prioritization is consistent with Americans’ increasing concern over global warming and the belief expressed by more than half of all respondents (57 percent) that the condition of the environment has worsened over their lifetime.
Why I’ll talk politics with climate change deniers – but not science
There are many complex reasons why people decide not to accept the science of climate change. The doubters range from the conspiracy theorist to the sceptical scientist, or from the paid lobbyist to the raving lunatic. Climate scientists, myself included, and other academics have strived to understand this reluctance. We wonder why so many people are unable to accept a seemingly straight-forward pollution problem. And we struggle to see why climate change debates have inspired such vitriol. These questions are important. In a world increasingly dominated by science and technology, it is essential to understand why people accept certain types of science but not others. In short, it seems when it comes to climate change, it is not about the science but all about the politics.
Almost 7,000 UK properties to be sacrificed to rising seas
Almost 7,000 homes and buildings will be sacrificed to the rising seas around England and Wales over the next century, according to an unpublished Environment Agency (EA) analysis seen by the Guardian. Over 800 of the properties will be lost to coastal erosion within the next 20 years. The properties, worth well over £1bn, will be allowed to fall into the sea because the cost of protecting them would be far greater. But there is no compensation scheme for homeowners to enable them to move to a safer location.