Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
Sign up to the newsletter if you would like the news direct to your inbox each weekday morning.
Energy and Climate Change
Scientists may have solved the giant Siberian crater mystery – and the news isn’t good
By now, you’ve heard of the crater on the Yamal Peninsula. It’s the one that suddenly appeared, yawning nearly 60 metres in diameter, and made several rounds in the global viral media machine. The adjectives most often used to describe it: giant, mysterious, curious. Scientists were subsequently “baffled”. Locals were “mystified”. There were whispers that aliens were responsible. Nearby residents peddled theories of “bright flashes” and “celestial bodies”. There’s now a substantiated theory about what created the crater. And the news isn’t so good.
Scientists warn expansion of fracking is outpacing research into environmental impacts
A US-based study has warned that the expansion of shale gas extraction, through methods such as fracking, is outpacing research on the issues around the practice, including spills leading to contamination and the environmental impacts. Fracking has grown rapidly in the US but remains a relatively new source of energy in the UK. However, the UK government is increasingly placing an emphasis on the fledgling sector despite polls showing the public are typically opposed to its development.
Coal-fired power at nadir as carbon price comes off
The end of the price on carbon triggered a drop in output from Snowy Hydro last month, while high levels of wind and solar energy helped drive the share of coal-fired power stations in Australia’s main electricity grid to a record low, consultants Pitt & Sherry say. The annualised share of coal in the National Electricity Market (NEM), supplying about 80 per cent of Australian demand, fell to 72.9 per cent in July, with the proportion from wind farms at a record 4.9 per cent, said Hugh Saddler, Pitt & Sherry’s principal consultant.
China solar energy firms rally on hopes for rising demand at home
Chinese solar manufacturers climbed on news the world’s biggest supplier of photovoltaic panels may announce policies as soon as this month to encourage businesses to install the technology on rooftops. Trina Solar advanced 8.1 per cent to $US11.57 at the close in New York on Tuesday, the most in two months. JinkoSolar rose 7.1 per cent and Yingli Green Energy gained 3.2 per cent. The Bloomberg Intelligence Global Large Solar Index had its biggest climb since June 20. Under the policies, the National Energy Administration would call for local planners to add more projects in regions where electricity can be distributed to customers living nearby, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because they aren’t authorized to speak publicly.
UQ commences construction on Australia’s largest solar research facility
The University of Queensland and First Solar have started construction on a 3.275 megawatt, 40,000-panel solar photovoltaic research facility, the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. The facility will be built over 10 hectares at UQ’s Gatton campus and conduct research on large-scale solar as well as generate enough electricity to power 30 per cent of the campus. It will also host a megawatt-hour-scale battery storage research station to investigate the value of short- and medium-term energy storage of large-scale PV, its impact on the quality of power supply and any resulting economic benefits. “The researchers using this facility will provide new insights on integrating large-scale renewable power plants with conventional electricity grids,” said UQ vice-chancellor and president Professor Peter Høj.
Watch: SharkCam Shows Great White Attack in “Spectacular” Detail
The great white shark is great for a reason: It’s a massive, powerful predator that ambushes its prey from below. Now, thanks to an underwater robot, we can see exactly what it looks like to be struck by these awesome animals—in high definition, no less. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution recently captured video of a great white vigorously attacking their REMUS SharkCam off Guadalupe Island, Mexico (map)—one of the most “spectacular” videos ever taken of the phenomenon, according to shark experts.
NZ’s first whale and seal sanctuaries open
New Zealand’s first whale and seal sanctuaries were opened in Kaikoura today by the Minister of Conservation. The divisive debate over marine protection for the area had been going for more than 20 years, but an agreement was reached in Parliament last week to pass the legislative bill through its final stages. Conservation Minister Nick Smith said Kaikoura had the most biologically rich ocean environment in the world, which needed the recognition and protection of the new reserves, sanctuaries and tighter fishing limits that will be signed into effect tomorrow.
Turtle conservation project in Fiji shows signs of success
Turtle hunters in Fiji have been turned into conservationists as a result of a long-running program set up by the World Wildlife Fund. Called Dau ni Vonu, or Turtle Monitors, the program has been underway four years, during which time many locals have been enlisted to rehabilitate turtle populations. Project manager and co-founder Merewalesi Laveti believes the program has worked, with success in reducing turtle harvesting, improved enforcement of regulations, increased awareness of the threat posed by hunting, and effective habitat management.
Waste and the Circular Economy
NSW councils given $2.3m to shame litterbugs into doing the right thing
Dozens of local councils are hoping to drastically reduce the amount of litter dumped in their shires in the biggest crackdown on the problem in New South Wales in more than a decade. The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has awarded 43 local councils a share in its $2.3 million Littering Prevention Grant Program. The grants are part of a campaign led by the EPA and the State Government to reduce litter by 40 per cent and make NSW the cleanest state in Australia by 2016. Up to 50,000 tonnes of litter are tossed into the state’s parks, gutters and waterways every year. State Environment Minister Rob Stokes said the national clean-up bill for littering was more than $300 million every year.
Sweden reveals world’s first garment made entirely from recycled cotton
In 2010, the world consumed a record 69.7m tonnes of clothes. That’s up from 47.4m tonnes just 10 years earlier, according to statistics from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). The unwieldy figures translate to approximately 10kg of clothes per person in 2013, up from 6.7kg 10 years earlier. That may not sound like a lot but the world population is growing, as are our western habits. Our apparel consumption is likely to keep increasing, an alarming thought as most worn-out clothing goes straight to the landfill or other unsustainable destinations. Now several companies are trying to change that equation.
Desperate need for trade dumping site
An Auckland Council investigation has concluded its contractor’s dumping of waste water in a Pukekohe stream last month was legal but a new trade waste disposal site was needed in the town. The investigation followed public outrage when the contractor was photographed dumping the waste water in the Rowles Rd, Pukekohe stream by members of the Pukekohe Citizens and Ratepayers Association. Member Ganges Singh told Franklin County News it happened on at least three occasions in July. ”It was black stinking stuff [being dumped],” he said. But Craig McIlroy, Auckland Council manager stormwater, said the dumping was legal and only involved decant water with 0.1 per cent contamination.
Economy and Business
IPWEA: electricity utilities impeding LED street lighting
Councils are paying upwards of $400 million a year for street lighting, but with the system owned and benefitted from by electricity distribution utilities, there is concern that these utilities are stalling the move to more efficient, cleaner and safer LEDs. According to the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia, switching to LED street lights could halve electricity consumption, save local councils across Australia up to $87 million and prevent 720,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions a year. However, while local councils are legally responsible for providing street lights – and pay for them – more than 90 per cent are owned and maintained by private and public electricity distribution utilities, a new practice note released by IPWEA says.
Australian National University to take sustainable investment advice from CAER
Environmental campaigners have welcomed the Australian National University’s (ANU) decision to hire research firm CAER, to advise the institution on sustainable and ethical investment. ANU’s new agreement with Canberra-based analysts CAER will mean its investments are judged according to social, environmental and ethical risks. ANU is currently under pressure from campaigners to divest from companies that extract or burn fossil fuels. The growing fossil fuel divestment campaign has targeted universities around the world, urging such respected institutions to use their position in society to strengthen the movement.
Politics and Society
Encouraging Brazil’s emerging middle class to buy sustainably
There is an economic phenomenon transforming emerging economies around the world – the rise of a new middle class of consumers. And the need for business to manage their major impact on the existing global system of production and consumption. Encouraging these new consumers to make sustainable buying choices is one of the greatest challenges facing responsible companies today. As traditional approaches fail, businesses in Brazil are now starting to explore the power of behaviour change techniques.
Wild Rivers legislation repealed in Queensland as new planning laws introduced to protect rivers
Queensland’s Wild Rivers legislation has been repealed in a move the Government says will give locals more say on what level of protection is given. The 13 rivers in Cape York and in the state’s western Channel Country will now be protected under the new Regional Interest Planning Act to prevent inappropriate development going forward. Labor, scientists, and environmentalists, however, worry the environment will suffer under the changes. Under the new framework, planning decisions will now be made through either local government planning schemes, or regional interest development approvals at the state level, to reduce complexity for development and maintain environmental values.
Frequent changes to carbon policy is proving risky for investors
Australian business and farmers are looking for a more stable carbon policy in order to invest in carbon abatement according according to UTAS academic Dr Rohan Nelson. Associate Professor of Agricultural Economics and Policy at the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture, Dr Nelson says frequent policy changes are making it costly for businesses to invest in and achieve carbon abatement.
How the renewable energy target affects the cost of living
Ross Gittins, Economics Editor, SMH – There’s a lot of public support for the renewable energy target, which requires electricity retailers to get 20 per cent of their power from renewable sources by 2020. But now that the country is being run by climate change “sceptics”, let’s get with the program. Forget the threat of climate change, stop worrying about your grandchildren and focus on what matters most: what this do-gooder scheme is doing to your cost of living.
Small-holder farmers key to sustainable agri development: IFAD
UN body for development of agriculture IFAD today said small-holder farmers should be the starting point for sustainable development. Speaking at the 8th TAAS (Trust for Advancement of Agricultural Sciences) foundation lecture, IFAD President, Kanayo Nwanze said, “… We see time and time again the transformation that occurs when development is sustainable and when local people are involved from the start…Our starting point for sustainable agricultural development must be small-holder farmers.” Nwanze, however, stated that there is a mis-perception that small farms mean poor farms.
Farmers forced to re-think fodder crops as south east SA responds to groundwater depletion
A new water plan introduced in south east South Australia is likely to force a complete re-think of fodder crops grown in the region, according to experts. The water security plan was formed in response to concerns about the sustainability of resources in the region and investigations that showed aquifers were incessantly depleting over time. Lamb, beef and dairy farmers are among many concerned they will have less water to irrigate feed crops and experts are urging producers to plan for the future.
Iceland Says Whaling in National Waters ‘Sustainable’
The government of Iceland concluded that the whaling in national waters is “sustainable,” taking into account that catch limits for 2014 and 2015 involve less than 1 percent of the existing whale population, the Undercurrent news reported. Commercial whaling was prohibited by the International Whaling Commission back in 1986. However, Iceland, Norway and Russian Federation have objected to this provision. In October 2006, Iceland resumed commercial whaling. Iceland’s main trading partner on whale products is Japan.