Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Top Story

Tesla Promises New Battery Can Power Your Home, Power the Grid
Tesla founder Elon Musk has announced a new project that could get millions of people off the grid. Musk’s increased interest in the emerging energy storage market has led to plans for a giant lithium-ion battery factory. Home and businesses owners could buy these battery systems for backup power or for managing solar electricity generation and use. Musk, also of Space X and PayPal fame, said the designs for a residential or commercial battery are already complete and will likely be unveiled to the public “in the next month or two,” with production potentially as little as six months away. Tesla already is working with SolarCity, which bundles Tesla’s battery systems with solar panels and markets them to consumers and businesses.

[Ed: Storage of energy from renewables is an important component of getting reliable base load from what are inherently intermittent energy sources so to hear Tesla is making such great progress is fantastic!]

Energy and Climate Change

Floating solar plant set to be built in Australian first
Australia could have its first floating solar power plant within months, with construction set to begin on a PV array that will be installed on top of a wastewater treatment facility in Jamestown, South Australia. The company behind the project, Infratech Industries, said construction of the plant was about to get underway, much of which would be done offsite and slotted together at the Jamestown facility, eventually covering up to 90 per cent of the water’s surface… One of the advantages of floating solar panels is that they are kept cool by the water mass, making them about 57 per cent more efficient than land-based solar panels. It also prevents water evaporation up to 90 per cent of the surface area covered – an important water saving measure – and prevents the outbreak of blue-green algae by keeping the surface water cool; an important water quality issue for for treated wastewater.

Renewables Mandate in Colorado Survives Rollback Attempt
On Monday, the Colorado state legislature voted down a challenge to the state’s successful and popular Renewable Energy Standard, originally passed as the first of its kind in the country in 2004 by statewide ballot initiative. Originally mandating that utilities and rural co-ops generate 15 percent of their power from renewables, the standard has since been expanded by state legislators twice. The most recent expansion raised the bar to 30 percent for city utilities and 20 percent for rural electric cooperatives, which serve a sizable chunk of the state — more than 600,000 customers. A recent poll showed that 76 percent of Coloradans support pro-renewable candidates, so it’s unclear which Coloradans bill sponsor Rep. Dan Thurlow (R-Grand Junction) has been talking to when he says he thinks “we’ve done enough.”

Four ways to boost Australia’s economy that can help the climate
In a recent paper we modelled the likely future supply limits of fossil fuels, and when we might expect to reach “peak” fossil fuel. Our “best guess” was that global fossil fuel production may peak as early as the mid 2020s, driven by the peaking of coal production in China. We argued that this will increasingly make alternative energy (renewables and nuclear) a strategic pathway for Chinese energy and economic security. In turn this may see China pressuring for increasing global emissions reductions to boost exports from its alternative energy manufacturing industry. This could tip the balance in future international climate negotiations. In Australia the story is very different. Domestic oil production is collapsing. However, gas and coal resources are abundant enough to service strong export growth past mid-century (although not enough to provide for China’s future energy demand).

Global flood toll to triple by 2030
The number of people affected by river flooding worldwide could nearly triple in the next 15 years, analysis shows. Climate change and population growth are driving the increase, according to the World Resources Institute (WRI). In the UK, about 76,000 people a year could be at risk of being affected by flooding if defences aren’t improved, it says. The yearly cost of damage to urban areas could reach more than £1bn.  The centre says this is the first public analysis of all world data on current and future river-flood risks. It demonstrates some 20 million people are at risk of being affected by flooding, and it costs almost £65bn in GDP.

Environment and Biodiversity

Climate change and drought: a spark in igniting Syria’s civil war
We know that Earth is getting warmer and we know that humans, through burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and other factors, are significantly contributing to this warming. What we are less certain about is how, and how much, the change in the global climate will affect different regions. All regions will have different responses, with varying levels of vulnerability and resilience to global climate change. In Syria, a severe drought from 2007 to 2010 contributed to the unrest that started the country’s civil war. In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, my colleagues and I determined that man-made climate change increased the likelihood of a drought this severe occurring.

Lack of Snow Leaves California’s ‘Water Tower’ Running Low
Snowpack—which essentially serves as a water tower for the western United States—produces vital meltwater that flows off the mountains each spring. Like a time-release capsule, snowpack refills streams and reservoirs and waters crops and cities through the dry summer in this largely semiarid region. But the snowpack is becoming more like a snow gap, as temperatures in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada become too warm for the snow that replenishes the ecosystem each winter. Temperatures in the West are rising, and winter storms—which have been in infrequent for years—are bringing more rain and less snow.

Amazon drought led to doubling of tree mortality
Severe drought five years ago caused an observed doubling in the rate of tree mortality in the Amazon rainforest, according to a study published in the journal Nature on Wednesday.In addition, the drought caused the forest to take up about 1.4 billion tonnes less carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.The Amazon forest acts as a carbon sink, because trees suck the greenhouse gas CO2 out of the atmosphere as they grow, during photosynthesis, converting this to plant matter including bark, wood and roots.The Nature article showed how droughts may disrupt this carbon sink, both as a result of reduced photosynthesis and tree die-back. The study may be a concern, if climate change in future caused more frequent, severe droughts.

Native birds returning as fence goes up
As New Zealand robin birdsong rang out through the trees of the Brook Waimarama Sanctuary, the reasoning behind the enormous efforts going into a $4.7 million pest-proof fence was clear.  Slowly, native birds are returning to the place they had visited hundreds of years ago, and there is hope that many more will follow.  “We are starting to see a complete change of birds, that’s the really exciting bit, and the cool thing is, they’ll also end up in people’s backyards,” said Brook Waimarama Sanctuary project co-ordinator Rick Field.  Work is now well under way on the fence, which will run for 14km around the sanctuary, protecting the wildlife within from predators like rats and stoats.

Economy and Business

Six things we learned about business and sustainability policy
In his recent article, ‘why whale poo matters’, George Monbiot writes: “In truth it’s not just about whale poo, though that’s an important component. It’s about the remarkable connectivity, on this small and spherical planet, of living processes. Nothing human beings do, and nothing that takes place in the natural world, occurs in isolation.” Yet all too often we do look at things in isolation. Where businesses are concerned, not thinking systematically is damaging to both profits and planet, as well as the people we rely on to make these businesses possible. In our latest Guardian Sustainable Business Q&A, we brought together experts from a diverse range of organisations to discuss a particular aspect of this – what businesses should do to shape sustainability policy. So what did we learn?

Survey: Millennials and Women Leading the Sustainable Investing Charge
Seventy-one percent of active individual investors describe themselves as interested in sustainable investing, and nearly two in three (65 percent) believe sustainable investing will become more prevalent over the next five years, according to a new survey by the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing. The Sustainable Signals report examines the attitudes and perceptions of individual investors towards sustainable investing and considers the broader implications for investors, corporations and governments.

Politics and Society

UN warns of escalating cost of climate disasters
The UN has urged governments and businesses to step up investment in climate resilience measures, arguing that a “small additional investment” in more resilient infrastructure “could make a crucial difference in achieving the national and international goals of ending poverty, improving health and education, and ensuring sustainable and equitable growth”. The call comes in a major new report from the UN published yesterday and titled Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction. The report concludes that the economic cost of natural disasters worldwide has reached an average of between $250bn and $300bn and warns that without urgent action climate change impacts will result in increased costs in the future.

New grassroots carbon reduction project set for City of Yarra
AUSTRALIA – A project to engage the community in reducing carbon emissions will be launched in Melbourne tonight (Thursday), with a keynote by Professor Ross Garnaut. Livewell Clusters, a Curtin University project funded by the CRC for Low Carbon Living, researches barriers to and drivers of community engagement for low-carbon living. The Livewell Yarra pilot project to be launched tonight in Fitzroy will be the first collaborative trial of what the university hopes will be many clusters driving positive change from the grassroots.

For this generation, and the next, it’s time to bring back the carbon tax
Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey will release the Intergenerational Report on Thursday, and has invited Australians to join in a conversation about the economy and the challenges facing the budget. I’d like to argue the case for bringing back the carbon tax. Tony Abbott, when leader of the Opposition, promised to repeal the carbon tax brought in by Prime Minister Julia Gillard. And he has fulfilled his promise. Now circumstances have changed: the budget deficit and public debt have turned out to be important problems in the eyes of the government because of the somewhat unexpected decline in export prices. So Abbott, or his successor as prime minister, would be justified in re-imposing this tax.

Climate change no longer a budget problem for future generations
Climate change is no longer a serious problem, apparently. In the 2010 Intergenerational Report an entire chapter was dedicated to the topic. This time around, references to the subject have been reduced to a handful of paragraphs. “It is difficult for individual governments to control or affect the collective and cumulative impact of human activity globally, but there is a role for the Australian government to continue in its efforts in leading and co-ordinating domestic environmental policies to drive better environmental management and economic growth for the generations to come,” the 2015 report says. The 2010 report says something different: “Climate change is the largest threat to Australia’s environment and represents one of the most significant challenges to our economic sustainability…”

Republicans fail to override Obama veto of Keystone XL tar-sands pipeline
The US Senate failed to override President Barack Obama’s veto of a bill forcing approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, a setback for Republicans who’ve made building the $US8 billion ($10.2 billion) US-Canada oil link a legislative priority. Supporters of the pipeline, including Republicans and some Democrats, fell short of the two-thirds super majority needed to overcome the veto by Obama, who said the bill circumvented his administration’s review. The vote was 62-37.


Li Keqiang announces new energy target to wean China off coal
China’s premier Li Keqiang has announced new targets to wean the country off coal and cut chronic air pollution levels affecting most of the country’s big cities. Speaking at the opening session of the National People’s Congress, the annual meeting of parliament, Li promised to fight environmental degradation “with all our might”. The government would aim to reduce the amount of energy used per unit of GDP, or energy intensity, by 3.1% in 2015. “We must strictly enforce environmental laws and regulations; crack down on those guilty of creating illegal emissions and ensure they pay a heavy price for such offences,” Li said. Last year China’s energy intensity fell 4.8%, with coal use down 2.9% on 2013 levels.

What China must do to fix its air pollution problem
The 100 million-and-counting views of Chinese air pollution documentary Under the Dome is dramatic, but shouldn’t come as any surprise in a country where discussion of smog is more commonplace than discussion of the weather. It is of course hard to ignore air pollution in most Chinese cities once you step outside. Where Los Angeles in the 70s was famous for its brown skyline, resulting from nitrogen dioxide and photochemical smog, China is now renowned for its white haze of fine droplets, formed when particulate matter pollution and water vapour combine and grow. China isn’t alone in having a problem with air pollution, (go visit New Delhi, Mexico City, Lagos or London), but you simply can’t ignore it when the impacts on visibility are so great.

As Smog Thins in L.A., Dramatic Evidence of Kids’ Healthier Lungs
It may be the biggest success story in environmental health in modern America. Children in the Los Angeles region have substantially healthier lungs than they did just 20 years ago, thanks largely to multibillion-dollar efforts to clean up southern California’s infamous smog and soot. In landmark research published Wednesday, University of Southern California scientists found that kids in the region are breathing better than they did in 1994, and the percentage of kids with abnormally poor lung function dropped by more than half. The scientists reached a dramatic conclusion that they hope reverberates globally: Reducing air pollution improves people’s health.

Why does Chamonix have some of the worst air pollution in France?
My ears pop as the car winds its way up the mountainside. On either side, a sheer, vertical drop of over 60 metres looms. Ahead, just before the Mont Blanc Tunnel, is the picturesque French resort of Chamonix, where over 10,000 people live and almost five million tourists visit every year. Anyone there to enjoy the pure mountain air may be disappointed. Chamonix, like much of the l’Arve Valley, is home to some of the highest air pollution levels in France.

Industry lobbyists weakened Europe’s air pollution rules, say Greenpeace
New limits on air pollution in Europe have been watered down because governments are allowing some of the worst polluters to help draw up the rules, according to a Greenpeace investigation. The Guardian has also learned that despite UK claims to the contrary, energy industry representatives repeatedly and forcefully pushed for weaker pollution limits at meetings in Brussels. As a result of ongoing lobbying, the proposed European Union standards on toxic emissions from coal plants will be less strict than in China, the green campaign group said.

Built Environment

How to green your supply chain
Some construction industry heavyweights are taking the sustainability mission beyond the base building rating approach, looking instead to improve sustainability along the entire supply chain through a new online tool and e-learning platform. According to Mark Lamb, general manager of the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (Australia), it’s a valuable initiative as decisions made about suppliers are a major determinant of whether a building is truly sustainable in lifecycle terms. Launched this week, the Supply Chain Sustainability School aims to increase subcontractor and supplier sustainability knowledge and competency through self-assessment tools and a resource library that addresses topics including energy, waste, water, carbon, environmental management and climate adaptation.

The Sharing Economy Comes to Facility Management
Our society is changing. ‘Us’ is becoming the new ‘me.’ Access to items is becoming more important than actually possessing them. We are in the midst of a transition to a circular, sharing economy in which we make more efficient use of everything we already have. We are now looking to share, lend/borrow and exchange anything and everything. The development to a sharing economy presents a huge chance for procurement and facility professionals. Why should we stay focused on buying while everybody else is sharing? Why not explore the possibility of sharing underutilized company assets (equipment, services, real estate and personnel) to save money or generate additional income?

Gold Coast’s proposed Wavebreak Island development sparks environmental impact fears
AUSTRALIA – A Gold Coast city councillor says a thorough environmental impact study (EIS) into the proposed integrated resort and cruise ship terminal development at Wavebreak Island will prove it is not appropriate for the area. Mayor Tom Tate said Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk should allow the ASF consortium to follow due process and complete its EIS. The Premier has reaffirmed her pre-election commitment ruling out development on the island. Cr Margaret Grummit said locals were already concerned about flooding. “This city is a flood plain. We have built on a flood plain,” she said. “If you make Wavebreak Island three times larger than it already is, where is that water going to go in high tide times and heavy rainfall?

Food Systems

WRAP: Extending Product Life by One Day Will Prevent 250,000 Tons of Food Waste
In a report published this week, Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP) estimates that an increase on product life of just one day across a range of foods could prevent roughly 250,000 tons of food waste each year — in households and in the supply chain — by giving consumers longer to eat the food that they buy. The “life” of a product is the time period over which food remains safe to eat, or over which the quality does not deteriorate to unacceptable levels, usually designated on-pack by companies through “Sell by” or “Best before” dates.




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