Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Greenhouse emissions targets: India commits before Paris but world falling short
The last major countries to reveal their new greenhouse gas emissions targets ahead of global talks in Paris have submitted their plans to the United Nations, but the collective commitments still sees the world falling short of the action needed to halt global warming at relatively safe levels. India, the world’s fourth-largest emitter and last big player to reveal its hand, on Friday said it would pursue a 33 to 35 per cent reduction to the emissions intensity of its economy by 2030 from 2005 levels. The target is not the kind of absolute cuts to emissions that rich countries pledge to make, nor is it a vow to peak emissions as China has done.

Energy and Climate Change

Disaster resilience key to managing climate change, say insurers
In 2003 Insurance Australia Group and green group World Wildlife Fund got together to urge the government to act on the rising number of disasters linked to climate change. The group, which included Australian climate scientists such as Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, from the University of Queensland, had another stab at public campaigning in 2007, when they re-formed to encourage the government to stabilise its greenhouse gas emissions. But such outward lobbying by insurers has quietened down since. Instead, warnings of climate disasters and frightening forecasts of hazardous emissions have been replaced by catastrophe-resilience measures such as getting involved in town planning to ensure houses are not built on flood zones.

How Europe’s biggest coal company came to grief – by ignoring change
The financial crisis engulfing Poland’s publicly-owned hard coal mining company, Kompania Weglowa, has largely been caused by the stubborn refusal of the Polish Government to adapt to Europe’s rapidly changing energy landscape. Last week the government announced it had withdrawn a plan to bail out the loss-making coal mining company after the European Commission signalled that it would investigate the support for a possible breach of European Union (EU) laws.  EU laws ban state aid except for mines slated for permanent closure before the end of 2018.

Solar Energy Sees Eye-Popping Price Drops
If only the same could be said of electric bills. The price of U.S. solar power has dropped a whopping 70 percent since 2009, even as panels get smarter. The figure, cited in a report this week from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, coincides with SolarCity’s debut Friday of what it calls the world’s most efficient rooftop solar panel. The largest residential solar installer in the U.S. says its module can produce 38 percent more power than a standard one, yet costs less to produce.

India signs up for 10-fold increase in renewables in Paris climate pledge
India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) will see a fivefold increase in renewable energy in the world’s third largest electricity market by 2022, driving significant further cost reduction and innovation. India has formally committed to lift renewable energy installations from the current 36GW fivefold to 175GW by 2022. In addition, India has announced a significant new target to take renewable installs to 40% of installed capacity by 2030, relative to only 13% today.

UN battle looms over finance as nations submit climate plans
India, the last big emitter to publish its contribution, said it would need $2.5 trillion to meet its targets. The Philippines said that without adequate climate compensation, their cuts in emissions wouldn’t happen. The UN says the plans increase the likelihood of a strong global treaty. 148 countries, out of a total of 196, have met a UN deadline for submitting a plan, termed an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC)…  Independent analysts at the Climate Action Tracker said that the plans, when added up, meant the world was on track for temperature rises of 2.7 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.

Environment and Biodiversity

Is the Wild West Dead? (Book Talk)
Jason Mark, cofounder of the largest urban farm in San Francisco, is a passionate outdoorsman and hiker.  In his new book, Satellites In The High Country: Searching For The Wild In The Age Of Man, Mark takes us on a journey across America in search of wilderness…  Edward Abbey wrote, “Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.” Is that a sentiment you share—and why? Jason Mark: “The spirit of Ed Abbey hovers over this book in large measure. I think we need wild places more than ever in what some are calling the Anthropocene or Age of Man. We need wilderness for ecological reasons as a safe harbor for plants and animals at a time when global climate change is increasingly dislocating them from their historical ranges and habitat.”

Satellite Eye on Earth: August 2015 – in pictures
Astronaut Instagrams, ship plumes and kettle lakes are among the images captured by European Space Agency and Nasa satellites last month.

El Niño is here and that means droughts, but they don’t work how you might think
With an El Niño looming large this summer, it is very likely we will start to hear quite a bit about drought over the coming months. Inevitably, at some point you will hear someone say that the warmer temperatures are making the drought worse. This is guaranteed to cause confusion because it’s not actually how droughts work.

‘Horrible’ conditions at troubled lake as restoration project begins
NEW ZEALAND – A decades-long effort to bring the country’s most polluted lake back to life is in its early stages, but not all are committed to the ambitious project. Lake Ellesmere is being restored after the troubled lake was declared “biologically dead” in 2005. Current data shows the lake’s water quality is continuing to decline.

Mobil takes $10m tank farm fight to Supreme Court
NEW ZEALAND – Oil giant Mobil, in an attempt to avoid a $10 million bill, wants the Supreme Court to decide the case over just who pays for the clean-up of a heavily contaminated area of Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter. Mobil Oil leased two properties in Auckland’s waterfront ‘tank farm’ for more than 50 years. When Mobil’s lease for the two sites ended in 2011, it was found the land they were on had been heavily contaminated.

Economy and Business

The Economics of Natural Capital
All organizations have financial goals and making a profit is critical to be a financially sustainable organization.  To make financial capital a reality we need to draw from natural capital i.e. Mother Nature’s ‘bank’ of natural resources, to produce manufactured products and business services. Some typical natural resources may include trees, minerals and fossil fuels. Through the extraction process whole ecologies can be transformed, impacting ecosystem services that produce essential benefits such as clean air, water and a stable climate. We are essentially making constant withdrawals without a mandate for making any deposits back to nature’s reserves.

Major corporations taking climate change threat more seriously – survey
More companies are making climate change one of their top sustainability priorities, according to a survey released this week by nonprofit Business for Social Responsibility, which counts big brands like consumer goods giant Unilever and food and beverage maker Coca-Cola among its members.  The annual survey, which polled 440 sustainability workers from nearly 200 companies around the world, aims to provide a snapshot of what environmental and social issues are important to businesses over the coming year.

Latest BSR/GlobeScan Survey Reveals Many Execs Not Sold on Significance of COP21, SDGs, More
Despite all of the hubbub and calls to action from business leaders around Climate Week NYC and the release of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), corporate minds at large may not be drinking the Kool-Aid: Survey results released this week reveal that even in companies with sustainability commitments, about one-third of business leaders believe that a new agreement from COP21 in December will have little to no significance for their business, and only one-third believe their company will use the SDGs to set goals.

Will China’s factories go green?
For many years, China has been the world’s fastest-growing economy. Its dizzying growth founded super-cities and necessitated mammoth factories to deliver cheaper goods to a public clamoring for more. But now, with a slumping economy and internal pressure to improve the environment and make cities less polluted, China has shifted its focus towards sustainability. At the head of these efforts is the government’s mandate for the largest energy-consuming enterprises to establish an energy management system (EnMS), which means these companies must track their energy use and report on it, and have a plan to become more energy efficient.

Food Companies to Congress: Step Up with Bold, Enforceable Climate Agreement at COP21
The CEOs of 10 global food companies pledged to accelerate business action on climate change and urged U.S. and world leaders to form a robust international agreement at COP21 in December in a joint letter coordinated by Ceres and released yesterday. The signatories are the CEOs of Mars, Inc; General Mills, Unilever, Kellogg Company, Nestlé USA, New Belgium Brewing, Ben & Jerry’s, Clif Bar, Stonyfield Farm and Dannon USA — all companies that have already been vocal on the need for climate action as members of Ceres’ Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP), an advocacy coalition working to pass meaningful energy and climate legislation; and in Ben & Jerry’s case, with efforts such as its “Too Hot to Handle” media series with The Guardian.

VW’s emissions fraud was breathtakingly cynical. But it’s not the first
The breath-taking cynicism of Volkswagen’s fraud against regulatory authorities and consumers over the level of emissions from its diesel cars has been stunning. But it is debatable whether this is the worst act ever to be perpetrated on consumers by big motor companies.

Starbucks UK to Give ‘Home Sweet Loans’ to Employees Under 25, Living Wage to All
Starbucks UK has announced it is going beyond government recommendations for the National Living Wage and will be the first private company to implement housing and homelessness charity Shelter’s Tenancy Deposit Loan Scheme, to help its employees manage the cost of living.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Matthew Luxon: The rubbish free champion
Luxon believes too much focus is placed on the technical aspects of dealing with waste – recycling and how to divert waste from landfill – and not enough on issues further up the pipe like improving design or demanding meaningful product stewardship… He also thinks the New Zealand public expects local authorities and the waste recovery industry to deal with all the materials and items they had no role in creating or deciding to bring to market in the first place. “If we are really going to have a circular economy we need to be designing for re-use and end of life.”

Politics and Society

The social roots of risk: How vulnerable are we?
In retrospect, it seems puzzling that researchers have devoted so much time to studying how individuals and groups perceive risk and so little time to exploring where risks come from in the first place. Much of the research of the past 30 years proceeded on the assumption that risks simply exist “out there” and that they can be analyzed, assessed, and subsequently managed, but it did not delve into the origins of risks themselves. It would seem more reasonable to examine how different risks come into being in order to determine what can be done to eliminate or avoid them, than to take their existence as given and try to manage them.

The Observer view on climate change
Mark Carney calls it the Tragedy of the Horizon: the chronic inability of Britain’s leaders, whether in business or politics, to tackle challenges that extend more than a few years ahead. There are plenty of examples, from the shameful failure to build enough homes to the indecision about whether, and where, to add to airport capacity. But climate change is the ultimate example: it presents an existential threat to the status quo, yet it barely features in the day-to-day calculations of many business and policymakers. It’s too big, too scary and, most of all, too distant, to start planning for.

NSW environment agencies to lose $20 million in ‘efficiency’ cuts
NSW, AUSTRALIA – The Baird government will cut $20 million from environment agencies this year in an “efficiency” drive, with National Parks and Wildlife and the Royal Botanic Gardens among the hardest hit. The latest efficiency cuts come on top of $60 million already stripped from the environment department over the past three years. Australia’s largest bush walking group, the National Parks Association, said the impact can be seen in national parks, where rangers have become scarce.

Built Environment

New cycling infrastructure in the UK: share your photos
Britain’s cycle infrastructure is a mess, but there may be hope. Across the country, there are signs that councils and other local authorities are at least beginning to be aware of the demands for safe, attractive facilities that can be enjoyed by people of all ages.


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