Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Energy and Climate Change

Small-scale solar power industry holds its own as clouds gather
Australia’s small-scale solar energy industry held steady in 2014 although uncertainty about the Abbott government’s support for renewable energy and rising costs for imported panels as the dollar wilts are casting a cloud over the sector. The country added about 800 megawatts of solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity last year, slightly above the 795 megawatts installed in 2013, according to Ric Brazzale, managing director of Green Energy Trading.  The number of new systems fell almost 10 per cent to 182,000 from 200,000, with average units increasing in size as the share of commercial buyers rather than homes increases.

Weather 2014: Australia’s third hottest year on record
Australia has capped two years of extraordinary warmth with 2014 declared the third hottest on record just 12 months after 2013 smashed annual highs, the Bureau of Meteorology said. Mean temperatures across the country in 2014 came in 0.91 degrees above the 1961-1990 average, behind only 2013 and 2005. “No year since 1985 has observed a below-average global mean temperature and all of the 10 warmest years have occurred between 1998 and the present.”  Melbourne posted its equal warmest year on record in 2014, while Sydney’s average mean temperatures were 1.6 degrees above average, placing it behind only 2013.

Plummeting oil price casts shadow over fracking’s future
There’s no doubt that US-based fracking – the process through which oil and gas deposits are blasted from shale deposits deep underground – has caused a revolution in worldwide energy supplies. Yet now the alarm bells are ringing about the financial health of the fracking industry, with talk of a mighty monetary bubble bursting − leading to turmoil on the international markets similar to that in 2008. In many ways, it’s a straightforward case of supply and demand. Due to the US fracking boom, world oil supply has increased. But with global economic growth now slowing – the drop in growth in China is particularly significant – there’s a lack of demand and a glut in supplies, leading to a fall in price of nearly 50% over the last six months.

Environment and Biodiversity

What makes one Earth-like planet more habitable than another?
All planets are believed to form by a process of competitive cannibalism, in a disk of material around a nascent star. Small pieces of dust collide and grow, devouring their neighbours. As they get larger, their ability to consume all around them increases and their growth accelerates. At the other end of the spectrum, an object that is too small and of too low a mass (such as Mercury, or Earth’s moon) won’t have enough gravity to hold an atmosphere. Typically, the more massive the planet, the more massive the atmosphere it can acquire and maintain. While a planet needs to be sufficiently massive to acquire and host a thick enough atmosphere to support life, there is more to the story.

Commodity boom extracting increasingly heavy toll on Amazon forests
A commodity boom has helped pull millions out of poverty across South America over the past decade. It has also unleashed a new scramble for oil, minerals and cropland that is accelerating deforestation and fuelling a new wave of land conflicts from Colombia to Chile. Now, as prices for oil and other commodities slide, economists and environmental researchers warn that the loss of forest cover may be hastened, leading to new clashes as governments in the region try to maintain growth rates and spending levels by driving deeper into the jungle.

Economy and Business

Multinational corporations remain hard-wired monoglots, is 2015 the year of the polyglot?
Last year I took a punt: 2014 would be the year that corporate responsibility becomes “too important to be left to corporates themselves”. So how did it pan out? Pretty well, I’d like to think. Ever since the dawn of globalisation, people have recognised that business is getting bigger (and that government is, relatively speaking, getting smaller). Some see that as positive, others as a worrying development. Yet almost all now recognise it as, like climate change, a phenomenon that cannot be ignored.

Investing in India requires sustainable, reliable finance
Over the next five years, India faces one of the world’s biggest challenges – ending financial “untouchability” for 100 million families, bringing clean, affordable and reliable supplies of water and energy to all of its 1.3 billion inhabitants, and investing in the enterprises that will provide livelihoods for an extra 10 million jobseekers each year. The demand for extra capital to meet these pressing needs is immense. Take renewable energy, which unites the issues of access and sustainability. India’s new government has introduced a five-fold increase in the country’s solar target to 100GW of installed capacity by 2022. This will require unprecedented investment, perhaps as much as an additional $100bn (£64bn).

China carbon trading to almost double in 2015
Carbon trading in China could almost double in 2015, analysts say, as more companies come up against curbs on climate pollution. It is the first year all seven regional carbon market pilots, designed to make polluters pay, are up and running. Some 24 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent were traded under these schemes in 2014, according to Thomson Reuters, with a value of €123 million. That will rise to 40 Mt in 2015, the research agency forecasts. “Historically, Chinese companies did not have to report on carbon emissions,” analyst Hongliang Chai told RTCC. “Now, around 2,000 companies need to report their carbon emissions on an annual basis, so it is something they have to take seriously.” Carbon trading forms part of China’s strategy to peak emissions around 2030.

Is corporate sustainability reporting a great waste of time?
After analysing over 50 interviews with its own professional stakeholder network, and a survey of nearly 500 sustainability experts and thought leaders, SustainAbility concludes that sustainability reporting has stalled. Others throughout the sustainability reporting industry have come to similar conclusions. “Of the companies that are already reporting, I do believe sustainability reporting is stalled, but there’s a ton of room for growth. The reason it’s plateaued is basically a marketing problem. People write these giant reports, plagued by special language and catch-all-categories, and don’t think about the audience,” says Kevin Wilhelm, CEO of Sustainability Business Consulting.

Why is Slow Fashion So Slow to Catch On?
The realized growth in the fast fashion market has been astounding – and it’s leaving conventional apparel retailers in the dust. The traditional apparel model of selling seasonal lines of clothing, manufactured and marketed months in advance, has been replaced by these bargain brands that rapidly respond to the latest fashion trends and live by just-in-time production. As a whole, consumers have been loving it; yet, recent events have shed light on questionable aspects of fast fashion’s modus operandi that are prompting some consumers to think twice about purchasing those $5 T-shirts.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Cashew Nut Byproduct Could Help Trap Tsetse Fly, Create New Value for African Farmers
Researchers have developed a new chemical method applied to a byproduct of cashew nuts that could make it easier to trap tsetse flies and open new revenue streams for nut producers in sub-Saharan Africa, according to a new report. The technology could offer a sustainable and more affordable way to make two tsetse fly-attractant chemicals—3-ethylphenol and 3-propylphenol. The cashew nut liquid byproduct contains the chemical cardanol, which can be used to make an attractant that can be coated on a plastic sheet along with an ordinary insecticide. The attractant lures the insects to the sheet where they are poisoned. Many common odor attractants such as buffalo urine are prohibitively expensive and not widely available in large quantities. Better yet, cashew nut producers generate more than 300,000 tons of this waste product every year, which means African countries could produce the chemicals locally.

Politics and Society

Winter’s Cold Brings New Misery for Millions of Middle East Refugees
Refugees from the violence in Syria and Iraq are hunkered down in camps and half-finished buildings in hilly, windswept terrain. In hilly, windswept northern Iraq and eastern Syria, the onset of winter is making life even harsher for Edo and other refugees who live in tents and unfinished dwellings. Unseasonably heavy rains have already exacted a cruel toll, and snow has struck some exposed camps.

Is It Time to Stop Hating the Car? Maybe Not
With electric cars finally making it to the market — at prices that are cost competitive with traditional gasoline-powered cars — many of us are breathing a sigh of relief: There is a viable alternative that will allow us to keep driving. Fluctuating fuel prices and pollution are not the only costs associated with driving, however. Heavy reliance on automobiles wears down transit infrastructure and encourages sprawl development and other unhealthy practices. If people really wanted a greener world, we would drive less, not just make our driving greener.

Built Environment

Population boom driving Philippines’ climate vulnerability
The Philippines’ rapidly growing population is increasing its vulnerability to climate change, according to a government document. Around 92 million people live in the Philippines and the number is growing by 1.9% a year. The country has slipped recently from 12th to 3rd most vulnerable in the world to climate change. “The large number of people and their migration patterns have led to crowded cities, waste and housing problems, pollution, and encroachment of upland forests and watersheds leading to denudation and, consequently, significant reduction of carbon sinks,” write the authors of the report.

Philips Gives Madrid’s Entire City Lighting Infrastructure an Energy-Efficient Overhaul
In what is being called the world’s largest street lighting upgrade to date, Royal Philips has provided the government of the City of Madrid with 225,000 new energy-efficient lights and connected LEDs, renewing its entire street lighting system to support its ambition of becoming a Smart City.  Philips says the new lighting, which will save 44 percent in energy costs, will quickly pay for itself, providing Madrid with high-quality, ultra-efficient street lighting for a brighter, safer and smarter city at no additional cost to its citizens.

How many councils does it take to change a light bulb?
The answer was 41 when the New South Wales government and energy authority Ausgrid revealed an ambitious plan in August 2013 to replace existing mercury vapour street lights with light-emitting diode (LED) technology. The big change was the largest overhaul of its kind in Australia when former Premier Barry O’Farrell’s government announced its plan to change to LED street lights across Sydney, the Central Coast and the Hunter. As LED is a relatively newer and far more energy efficient technology, governments across Australia have been keen to switch on LED because of the potential savings in maintenance and energy costs it offers. While the anticipated savings have varied between governments, the expected results make the switch an easy decision for cash-strapped councils looking to hold on to every last cent.


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