Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Top Story

Unilever: sustainable brands growing twice as fast
Unilever brands leading its sustainability agenda accounted for half of the business’s growth last year and grew twice as fast as its other brands, the company will say today. This proves its Sustainable Living Plan is making a “growing and positive” impact on its business and is making the economic case to the wider investment community, Unilever says in a four year update on the strategy. The Plan, set out in 2010, commits the company to halving the environmental footprint of its products and to “de-couple” environmental impact from growth by 2020, as well as sourcing 100 per cent of agricultural raw materials sustainably and helping more than one billion people improve their health and well-being.

[Ed: Big Brands are not all bad, some of them are trying to be less bad.  Keeping informed about what’s going on helps with purchasing decisions.]

Energy and Climate Change

Australia sets new wind energy record, breaks 3GW for first time
Wind power generation in Australia reached a new record on Tuesday morning, peaking just below 3,000MW for the first time. The level was reached at 7.55am, with output of 2,988MW of wind capacity – 81 per cent of the rates 3,667MW of capacity in the National Electricity Market.  It broke the previous record of 2,848MW set on December 16 last year.

Paris 2015: Two degrees warming a ‘prescription for disaster’ says top climate scientist James Hansen
The aim to limit global warming to two degrees of pre-industrial levels is “crazy” and “a prescription for disaster”, according to a long-time NASA climate scientist. The paleo-climate record shows sea-levels were six to eight metres higher than current levels when global temperatures were less than two degrees warmer than they are now, Professor James Hansen, formerly head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and now at Columbia University in New York, said.

‘Sunny Scotland’ urged to embrace solar power
Figures showing last month’s sunshine could have powered all the homes in Scotland have sparked calls for more properties to install rooftop panels. Scottish homes with solar panels saw more than 100 per cent of their energy needs met by the sun during April, according to data collated by WeatherEnergy, the UK arm of a Europe-wide network of analysts. The country received enough sunlight to generate 113 per cent of the electricity needs of an average home in Edinburgh, 111 per cent in Aberdeen, 106 per cent in Glasgow, and 104 per cent in Inverness. “Scotland has long been leading the charge when it comes to wind power,” said Karen Robinson of WeatherEnergy. “However, despite misconceptions, Scotland also has potential for sun-loving renewables too.”

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Standard Chartered faces pressure to cut links to Australian ‘carbon bomb’ project
One of the UK’s largest banks, Standard Chartered, has lent $680m (£448m) to a company building one of the biggest coal mines in the world, according to legal testimony that casts doubt over the bank’s public stance that it is not funding the controversial ‘carbon bomb’ project. Standard Chartered, which is headquartered in London but does most of its business abroad, is now under pressure to cut all links to the Carmichael mine and railway in Queensland, Australia, the A$16.5bn (£8.5bn) mega project proposed by an offshoot of the Indian conglomerate Adani.

Members of three Danish pension funds vote to divest from fossil fuels
Academics, civil engineers and architects in Denmark have voted in favour of their pension funds selling off coal and high risk oil and gas investments, because of the role of fossil fuels in driving climate change. However, votes on divestment by lawyers, vets and other engineers were narrowly lost. Together the six pension funds for Danish professionals cover 200,000 people, about 5% of all workers, and have €32bn (£23bn) of assets. Denmark’s largest pension fund, PFA, has already excluded tar sands companies and PKA, the fourth largest fund which provides pensions for nurses, has excluded over 30 coal companies.

Environment and Biodiversity

Carmichael coal mega-mine ‘unviable’ after Adani restructure
A controversial coal mine in Queensland, Australia, is commercially unviable after a restructuring of owners Adani, analysts say.The US$16.5 billion Carmichael venture, set to be the country’s largest mine, is unlikely to attract finance since the Indian conglomerate split its mining operations from its power generation business.That is the conclusion of a report by the Cleveland-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA). Adani rejected the findings.“Carmichael is already a stranded asset in the making,” said Tim Buckley, IEEFA’s director of energy finance studies.

NT deep sea port in environmentally significant area open for business despite no impact assessment
AUSTRALIA – A $130 million deep sea port in an area listed as internationally significant for wildlife is already open for business, despite no formal environmental impact assessments from either the Northern Territory or Commonwealth governments. The head of the Northern Territory Environment Protection Authority (NTEPA) has admitted “gross deficiencies” in the existing laws meant companies could ignore the NTEPA and “that is just the way it is”. Companies face up to $5.5 million in fines for breaching federal environment laws but under existing NT legislation no penalties apply.

Queensland Government under pressure to stop ‘heritage value’ bushland clearing on Cape York
AUSTRALIA – The Queensland Government is under pressure to stop the bulldozing of tens of thousands of hectares of bushland on Cape York, a move approved in the dying days of the previous Liberal National Party government. Conservationists argue the land is of world heritage value and includes the headwaters of important rivers flowing into the Great Barrier Reef. The ABC has discovered that approval to clear nearly 32,000 hectares on Olive Vale station was granted by Campbell Newman’s LNP state government just days before the election in January. Initial clearing work has already begun.

Picturesque fjords also bury carbon
Picture postcard fjords like those in the South Island have been found to likely play a significant part in regulation of the planet’s climate, according to a newly published study by Kiwi and international researchers. The study, which today features in the international journal Nature Geoscience, suggests that fjords worldwide are major carbon sinks that can bury about 18 million tonnes of organic carbon – equivalent to 11 per cent of annual marine carbon burial globally.

94 pangolins released in Sumatra following huge illegal wildlife seizure
Following a major seizure of illegal wildlife goods in North Sumatra, the Indonesian authorities released 94 pangolins into the wild last week, including a newborn whose mother died shortly after the authorities caught up with the traffickers.  Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya flew to the provincial capital of Medan to witness the burning of five tons of pangolin meat which had been confiscated along with 77 kilograms (169 pounds) of pangolin scales and the live animals.

Big whales have stretchy nerves to help them gulp
Scientists have stumbled upon one of the secrets behind the big gulps of the world’s biggest whales: the nerves in their jaws are stretchy. Rorquals, a family that includes blue and humpback whales, feed by engulfing huge volumes of water and food, sometimes bigger than themselves. Researchers made the discovery by inadvertently stretching a thick cable they found in the jaw of a fin whale. Most nerves are fragile and inelastic, so this find is first for vertebrates. The work is reported in the journal Current Biology.

Economy and Business

IEA: Clean tech R&D spending must be tripled to hit climate goals
Spending on low-carbon technology research and development must rise threefold to over $50bn a year if the world is to meet its climate goals, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned. In a new report, Energy Technology Perspectives 2015, the Paris-based organisation says current clean energy progress is “falling well short” of the levels needed to limit global temperature rise to the internationally-agreed limit of 2C. This chimes with research showing the number of green energy patents is falling.

A bumpy ride ahead: Australia’s economy and the ‘new normal’
Australians, fasten your seat belts and prepare for a bumpy ride ahead. We have had an early taste of the new normal for the Australian economy – and there are more painful changes on the way. The early signs have been impossible to ignore: a sharp and continuous drop in commodity prices, a slump in the value of the Australian dollar. Prospects for the budget position are weak (with the AAA rating on the line) and productivity is stagnant. Unemployment is hovering above the 6% comfort zone, asset prices are rising but the real economy is sluggish.

Extreme heat poses a billion-dollar threat to Australia’s economy
When heat waves hit in summer, do you have trouble sleeping? And the next day, even though you are working in air-conditioning, are you a bit slower, your judgement a bit off, or your patience a bit frayed? In a paper published today in Nature Climate Change, we and colleagues show that heat stress probably cost the Australian economy nearly A$7 billion in 2013-2014 through productivity losses such as those we’ve mentioned above. That bodes ill for the future, with heatwaves forecast to get hotter and more common thanks to climate change. While we should continue to attempt to mitigate climate change, we need to take steps to adapt.

How to break the political silence on the environment
…This level of support for the environment shows there is nothing wrong with the people of Britain. But there is something wrong with the way in which those of us privileged to lead this community have made our case. If the environment hasn’t featured in this election we must take some of the blame. We have been voluble and voluminous in arguing for the things we care about – biodiversity, carbon emissions, ecosystems, toxic chemicals. We have asked consumers, corporations and governments to do more to protect them. A lot of the time we have sounded as remote from the realities of everyday life as the politicians. It is now time for us to ask a different question. What can the environment do for Britain?

Waste and the Circular Economy

The UK company turning coffee waste into furniture
Britain was falling in love with coffee just as Adam Fairweather was exploring ideas for new products and materials. Ten years ago, Starbucks stores were opening on every corner, followed by the burgeoning industry of artisan coffee roasters. Fairweather, a designer by training and expert in recycling technologies and materials development, now develops materials from coffee grounds and uses them to design products including furniture, jewellery and coffee machines.

Watch: Cigarette Butts, World’s #1 Litter, Recycled as Park Benches
Cigarette butts are, by some counts, the world’s number one litter problem. Butts represent the most numerous form of trash that volunteers collect from the world’s beaches on the Ocean Conservancy’s cleanup days. More than two million cigarette parts were recently collected in a single year around the world—double the amount of both food containers and beverage containers.  The problem extends well beyond the gross factor. Cigarette filters are made from wood-based plastic fibers that take generations to fully decompose, says Tom Szaky, CEO and founder of the New Jersey-based recycling company TerraCycle. And the filters can leach nicotine and tar into the ground or water. Butts are also often eaten by birds, fish, and other animals, who can choke on them or be hurt from the poisons they contain.

Is There a Business Case for Product Take-Back?
There are many environmental and financial benefits to extended producer responsibility (EPR): the idea that a product’s manufacturers and retailers should assume responsibility for the environmental and social impacts of the product throughout its lifecycle, from sourcing the material and production to consumer use and disposal. EPR can result in more effective recycling programs and push manufacturers to create the product in a more environmentally and socially responsible way. This policy approach can also relieve governments and taxpayers from the costs of collecting and disposing of a product at the end of its useful life. But what about EPR’s effect on the private sector – the companies making or selling the product? Can EPR – and taking responsibility for a product’s waste management, in particular – augment a company’s bottom-line, or is it always a loss leader?

Politics and Society

Employee Engagement Helps Drive Business
It is often said that a company’s most valuable asset is its employees… The good thing is that when employees are meaningfully engaged – and by this, we mean more than the “free food-free gym membership-free massages” model of engagement practiced by some companies – employees and their employers can reap substantial rewards. Beyond improving employee recruitment, retention, morale and wellness, engaging employees can also benefit business’ bottom lines, as numerous reports reveal.

The Pope’s climate message will extend his advocacy for the poor
Last week, Pope Francis hosted a historic meeting of scientists, religious figures and policymakers to discuss the science of global warming and the danger it poses to the world’s poorest people. At meeting’s conclusion, participants signed a statement which says that climate change is “a scientific reality” and that humanity has “a moral and religious imperative” to mitigate it. The meeting comes as Francis’s forthcoming encyclical (letter) to bishops on climate change, set to be released next month, is translated into hundreds of languages ahead of the United Nations climate conference in December.

The BRIC nations’ response to climate change is critical to the fate of the planet
These four countries, with a combined population of 3 billion people and a GDP of $16tn, will have a huge direct impact on global emissions. Perhaps just as importantly, if they can get sustainable development right, they could pave the way for other developing countries to create economic opportunities without destroying the planet and oppressing workers and residents.  The routes the BRIC nations take will, for better or for worse, shape the path of sustainable development for the rest of the world. Clean energy or fossil fuels? Human rights or cheap labor? The decisions being made in the BRICs are top of mind for everyone reading the world’s economic and environmental tea leaves.

Greenpeace India could close within a month due to government crackdown
Greenpeace India will be forced to close within a month with the loss of 340 jobs because of a government crackdown on its funding, the organisation’s chief has warned. The Indian home ministry froze seven bank accounts connected with the organisation last month, the latest in a series of moves against the NGO since Narendra Modi’s government came to power. The international group said that if it was forced to close the Indian operation, it would be the first time since it was founded in 1971 that one of its national organisations was forcibly closed down.

Built Environment

Speed dating 5 sustainability rating tools
AUSTRALIA – There are so many tools for measuring a building’s energy efficiency and sustainability that choosing the most appropriate one for a project can be confusing. The Australian Institute of Architects recently sought to clear up the confusion with a rating systems speed dating night at its Melbourne office. Experts on five rating systems had 10 minutes each to explain the basics of each system. Here’s a brief summary.

Australand gets its first 6 Star rating for shopping centre
The Ponds Shopping Centre in Sydney’s north west has delivered Australand’s first 6 Star Green rating, and the only 6 Star Retail Centre Design rating in Australia. The $40 million centre designed by NH Architects is part of a new breed of shopping centres aiming high on sustainability, such as Stockland’s Shellharbour Shopping Centre, which will have Australia’s largest rooftop solar installation; and Highpoint shopping centre in Maribyrnong, Victoria, which was just awarded the Property Council of Australia’s Victorian development of the year and national best shopping centre development. Shopping centres account for half of all retail emissions and 4-5 per cent of Australia’s total emissions, so the sector is a key target for improved performance in the property sector.

Food Systems

Can This Scientist Unite Genetic Engineers and Organic Farmers?
Ronald is a plant pathologist and geneticist—a professor at the University of California, Davis whose lab has isolated genes from rice that can resist diseases and tolerate floods. When those genes are inserted into existing rice plants, they help farmers grow high-yield harvests in places where the crop is a vulnerable staple…  She’s also trying to mend the perceived schism between genetic engineering and organic farming. To do so, she’s promoting a form of sustainable agriculture that draws on both practices. Only by combining elements of each, she contends, will we have a chance of feeding the world’s swelling population (expected to reach 9.2 billion by 2050) while also protecting the planet’s natural resources and countenancing the effects of climate change.


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