Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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COP 20 Conference, Peru

Adapting to a warmer climate could cost almost three times as much as thought, says UN report
Adapting to a warmer world will cost hundreds of billions of dollars and up to three times as much as previous estimates, even if global climate talks manage to keep temperature rises below dangerous levels, warns a report by the UN The first United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) ‘Adaptation Gap Report’ shows a significant funding gap after 2020 unless more funds from rich countries are pumped in to helping developing nations adapt to the droughts, flooding and heatwaves expected to accompany climate change. “The report provides a powerful reminder that the potential cost of inaction carries a real price tag. Debating the economics of our response to climate change must become more honest,” said Achim Steiner, Unep’s executive director, as ministers from nearly 200 countries prepare to join the high level segment of UN climate talks in Lima, Peru, next week.

China singles out Australia for inadequate action on climate aid
Rich nations’ pledges of almost $US10 billion ($11.9 billion) to a green fund to help poor nations cope with global warming are “far from adequate”, particularly Australia’s lack of a donation, the head of China’s delegation at UN climate talks said on Thursday. Su Wei also urged all rich nations to deepen their planned cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, signalling that a joint Chinese-US announcement of greenhouse gas curbs last month does not mean an end to deep differences on climate policy.

Energy and Climate Change

Even climate change experts and activists might be in denial Another month, another important UN climate change conference. The latest is in Lima, the capital of Peru. Thousands of experts from the world of politics, business, academia and civil society – and Leonardo DiCaprio – have flown around the world to urge us all to curb our carbon emissions. Recent meetings have failed to make significant progress. Yet, this year there are high hopes that the US-China climate deal and the New York UN Climate Summit will allow Lima to provide a stepping stone for a binding emissions agreement at next year’s meeting in Paris. However, even if a deal can be reached – despite the urgent need for it – there is no guarantee that global greenhouse gas emissions will actually come down significantly and dangerous climate change can be averted. Psychoanalytic theory provides disturbing insights into why this may be so – and it is all to do with the split psychological make-up of those who work at the forefront of climate science, policy and activism.

Warming Seas Drive Rapid Acceleration of Melting Antarctic Ice Melting Antarctic glaciers that are large enough to raise worldwide sea level by more than a meter are dropping a Mount Everest’s worth of ice into the sea every two years, according to a study released this week. A second study, published Thursday in the journal Science, helps explain the accelerating ice melt: Warm ocean water is melting the floating ice shelves that hold back the glaciers. The two new pieces of research come as officials of the World Meteorological Organization announced Wednesday that 2014 is on track to be the warmest year on record.

Climate change: NSW to become hotter, more fire danger days
Sydney and the rest of NSW can expect more hot days, shifting rainfall patterns and more extreme fire danger weather as a result of global warming, according to the first high-resolution modelling of the future climate. The NSW and ACT governments combined with researchers at the University of NSW’s Climate Change Research Centre to generate scenarios for 100 square-kilometre grids out to 2030 and 2070 for all of eastern Australia stretching from south-east Queensland down to the east half South Australia.

NZ climate protesters draw line in the sand
It wasn’t quite fun in the sun for all beachgoers at Auckland’s Mission Bay yesterday. Some wanted to send a message to the Government. About 50 campaigners gathered at the city beach to protest against the Government’s attitude on climate change and mining. The Heads in the Sand protest, organised by Coal Action Network Aotearoa, was held at 13 beaches around New Zealand. Those who participated called on the Government to treat climate change seriously, the group said. “While the rest of the world is taking action on climate change, New Zealand’s emissions are set to go through the roof,” spokeswoman Jeanette Fitzsimons said.

Environment and Biodiversity

Amazing images of storms and wild weather across NSW, Qld and ACT
The storm season is well and truly underway around Australia.  Thunderstorms have been impacting many regions over recent days – including NSW, Queensland and the ACT. It is proving to be a boon for photographers. Take a look at some of the images captured so far.

Victory for Yukon Wilderness Is “Game-Changer”
Environmentalists and indigenous people across northern Canada are celebrating a historic legal victory that protects one of the world’s last major pristine river systems. In a December 2 ruling, Yukon Supreme Court Justice Ron Veale ruled that the Canadian territory’s government did not have the authority to override a land-use plan to preserve the bulk of the 26,000-square-mile (67,000-square-kilometer) Peel Watershed region. A wildlife habitat of global importance, the northern Yukon wilderness is one of North America’s few remaining unbroken tracts with large, intact predator-prey ecosystems. Seven major rivers flow through the Scotland-sized area, which is home to healthy populations of caribou, grizzly bears, wolverines, and peregrine falcons. The nearly roadless landscape is also the winter range of the Porcupine caribou herd, which summers in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Economy and Business

Industry lacking expertise in impact investing, says World Economic Forum
In a new report the World Economic Forum has voiced concerns that the investment industry lacks the expertise and understanding to effectively advise people on the growing trend of impact investing. Impact investing involves funding projects that deliver wider benefits, from social to environmental, and can include renewable energy, health and social care and sustainable agriculture. The market has been growing in recent years but still remains a small part of the investment market as a whole.

Managing a river is no plain sailing – five things you need to know
Many business risks stem from increasing pressures on the natural foundations of our water security: rivers, lakes and aquifers. Water scarcity or pollution can take their toll (pdf) on your company’s operations and supply chains, especially if you work in (or if you invest in) the food or beverage sectors, textiles, mining or energy. The best way to reduce the risks to your company is through collective action, working with other stakeholders, including NGOs, community organisations, researchers or local and national government agencies. It might take you into formal or informal partnerships to directly tackle problems, or you might jointly try to influence public policy. The environmental, socio-economic, political and cultural context in one river will be different from that in another, but nevertheless some patterns repeat. So here are the five things you should know about rivers before you embark on collective action to tackle business water risks.

How do you put a price on water? Try algorithms
Anheuser-Busch InBev uses a lot of water. It is a central ingredient in beer; but the brewing giant also uses water to grow barley, to generate steam and to clean its facilities. And when you use as much water as Anheuser-Busch InBev does, small changes in access and pricing have a big impact. “Generally, most stakeholders agree that water is an undervalued natural resource and that we need to understand its true value,” said Hugh Share, the company’s senior global director for beer and better world. “As we see stress [on natural resources] increase globally in certain regions, I think we can expect water costs to increase.” This challenge is what the water, energy, and hygiene services company Ecolab hopes to confront with a new water-pricing tool released last month.

VTT Developing Eco-friendly Alternative for Polystyrene
VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has announced it is developing an affordable and environmentally friendly alternative for polystyrene from PLA bioplastic, which is derived from organic sources. Although expanded polystyrene (EPS) is currently used all over the world as a light packaging and insulation material, it poses a significant waste problem. The annual production volume of EPS is 5 to 6 million tons per year, and the non-biodegradable material typically ends up on waste tips or is disposed of by burning, which results in toxic compounds.

How to address wage issues in garment industry: boycott, pressurise or invest?
The collapse last year (2013) of the Rana Plaza factory building in Bangladesh, killing more than 1,130 garment workers, shocked the world. While campaigners had warned for years about the poor conditions endured by many of those making the cheap clothes worn and regularly discarded by western shoppers, the tragedy meant that the workers’ plight could no longer be ignored. It also helped to highlight just how little they were paid for their work – often less than £30 a month. How to address some of these issues and achieve a fair wage in the fashion industry was the subject of a recent seminar held by the Guardian, in association with the fashion retailer H&M.

SustainAbility Launches Transparency Reporting Tool
SustainAbility today launched a tool to help companies improve transparency in their sustainability reporting. The Transparency Advancement Tool coincides with a report, also published today, which finds that companies are spending too much time and resources creating lengthy reports that few read, noting that it is time to start a new type of reporting and transparency that has a greater impact on improving performance. However, the report notes that in order for transparency to instigate change, companies must increase their efforts on three transparency elements: materiality, valuation of externalities and integration.

Waste and the Circular Economy

U.K. Researchers Cleaning Mine Water With Algae
The GW4 Alliance—a consortium of four leading research universities in the South West of England and Wales—has announced a new project to clean up water from a Cornish tin mine using algae to harvest the precious heavy metals and produce biofuel at the same time. Researchers from universities in Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter, in collaboration with Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML), are now working with the Coal Authority and Veolia to take untreated mine water samples from Wheal Jane tin mine in Cornwall into the laboratory and grow algae in them. The research will explore whether algae is effective in removing materials such as arsenic and cadmium from the mine water.

Politics and Society

Report calls on researchers to step-change to address world challenges
If the world is to address the serious environmental, social and economic challenges it currently faces than a step-change in research is needed, according to a new report. The report – Strategic Research Agenda 2014 – has been published by Future Earth, a global research platform that brings together scientists from across disciplines to research on three themes – dynamic planet, global sustainable development and transformations towards sustainability. The paper urges the private sector, governments and civil society to work with researchers co-produce a more “agile global innovation”. It sets out what Future Earth needs to achieve in order to reach its vision of a sustainable and equitable world by 2025.

Lessons from Dr Suess on power, status and sustainability
One of my favourite Dr Seuss stories, which highlights both the idiocy and extraordinary power of status, is the Sneetches. It features two groups of characters, identical apart from one set having stars on their chests. Those Sneetches proudly displaying the star hold the reins of power while those without feel powerless and excluded. But then along comes Sylvester McMonkey McBean who throws the status quo into disarray when he brings his Heath Robinson style contraption that, for just $1, prints a star upon the chests of those who have been oppressed. Those with the stars look on aghast until McMonkey McBean charges them $1 each to race through the machine, erase the symbol and maintain their point of difference. Suddenly the absence of a star is the symbol of power. The simple moral of course is that we are all equal and status is at the deepest level just a figment of our imagination made manifest. Yet it creates the most powerful physical and mental scars in our society.

Built Environment

10 things we learned about technology and sustainable urban transport
Here are the highlights of a recent debate about harnessing the power of technology to keep city transport clean, sustainable and efficient.

Apple Campus 2: the greenest building on the planet?
In the most recent and high-profile boast, Apple CEO Tim Cook said during the recent Climate Week conference in New York, “We are building a new headquarters that will, I think, be the greenest building on the planet.” But will the actual performance of Apple Campus 2 – with its futuristic solar-powered, spaceship-like main building – match its promise?

Food Systems

Value of Pacific fishing watchdog questioned after multi-nation talks end in stalemate
The effectiveness of the fishing watchdog in lucrative Pacific island waters was under scrutiny Saturday after talks aimed at protecting the region’s valuable tuna stocks ended in a stalemate. Small Pacific Island states and the powerful countries which fish in their waters were unable to agree on tuna conservation measures during a week of heavy talks at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) annual conference. A group of island nations including Samoa and Palau want the commission, which polices fishing in the region, to establish strict catch limits for bigeye tuna, one of the most sought after species for sushi restaurants in Asia, America and Europe.

General Mills, P&G, Pepsi, Others Set Sustainable Agriculture Goals
Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture today announced goals that its member companies — including General Mills, Kellogg’s, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Cargill — have committed to in an effort to advance sustainable agriculture in the US.


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