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Top Story

Climate changes amid the blaming game
Over the weekend, as bushfires scorched the Adelaide Hills, southern Australia was the hottest region on the face of the planet. On Monday, it was announced by the respected Japan Meteorological Agency that 2014 had been the warmest year the world has seen since reliable measurements began in 1890. On Tuesday, our own Bureau of Meteorology revealed that 2014 had been Australia’s third-warmest year, and NSW had just endured its hottest on record. All of the world’s top ten hottest years have now taken place since 1998. Clearly, things are escalating.

Energy and Climate Change

Emissions for power sector jump as carbon tax ends
The carbon intensity of Australia’s main electricity grid has surged since the end of the carbon tax, undermining the Abbott government’s efforts to cut national emissions. On an annualised basis, emissions from the National Electricity Market serving eastern Australia have risen by 3.9 million tonnes since June, while the sector’s emissions intensity has risen 11 per cent, according to the latest Cedex report, compiled by energy consultants Pitt & Sherry. The share of black and brown coal in the generation mix rose to an 18-month high of 74.5 per cent by the end of 2014 even as gas-fired power reached a record 13.3 per cent of the market.

Paris climate deal unlikely to avoid dangerous warming, says Ed Davey
A new global climate deal expected to be agreed in Paris at the end of this year will not be ambitious enough to prevent dangerous temperature rises, energy secretary Ed Davey has warned. Mr Davey, who admitted it was “quite likely” he would no longer be energy and climate change secretary by the UN climate talks in December, said a legally-binding treaty can be agreed at the negotiations – and would be the best way to curb global warming. But he said he feared the talks in Paris would not secure commitments to cut emissions that would keep temperatures from rising by more than 2C, a limit which countries have agreed in a bid to prevent “dangerous” climate change.

World Bank urges leaders to use oil crash to slash subsidies
Governments should slash oil subsidies as the global price plummets or face a longer term rise in demand and global carbon emissions. That is the stark warning from the World Bank in its Global Economic Prospects for 2015 publication, released on Wednesday. “If sustained over the medium-term, low oil prices may encourage a move towards production which is more intensive in fossil fuels or energy more generally,” it says. “This runs counter to broader environmental goals in many countries.”

Chinese coal demand fell in 2014
Coal demand in China dropped by around 2.3% in the first eleven months of 2014 compared to the same period in 2013, government figures show. Production of coal in China declined by 2.1% and imports fell 9.0%. Meanwhile, China’s economy and production of electricity continued to grow. The latest figures reinforce analysis by Greenpeace last October suggesting that Chinese coal consumption was going down. This reflects “a rapid loss of market share for coal in 2014,” says Tim Buckley, director of energy finance studies at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).

California Governor Calls for 50 Percent Renewables By 2030
On Monday, California Gov. Jerry Brown gave the inaugural address for his fourth gubernatorial term. During the address he praised California’s progress during the last 40 years. He also used the speech to call for new environmental targets — most notably increasing the state’s electricity from renewable sources to 50 percent by 2030.  In addition to increasing the RPS, Brown proposed two other 2030 goals: reducing the petroleum used in cars and trucks by up to 50 percent, and doubling the efficiency of existing buildings and making heating fuels cleaner.

Australia’s emergency funding is another disaster waiting to happen
The fires that have swept through South Australia over the past few days have destroyed at least 12,000 hectares and up to 38 homes, in what have been described as the worst South Australian conditions since Ash Wednesday in 1983. With the fires still burning, we don’t yet know the full toll. After the fires the clean up and rebuilding begins. If the recovery costs pass a threshold, the federal government will intervene. But evidence shows that too much of this funding goes simply to rebuilding, leaving infrastructure, property and lives at risk of future disasters. A recent draft report from the Productivity Commission argued that funding needs to be directed towards mitigating the risk of natural disasters, with a final report due this year.

Environment and Biodiversity

Early birds: how climate change is shifting time for animals and plants
Every Spring, the blanket of Australian alpine snow starts to melt, and the Mountain Pygmy Possum wakes up from its seven-month-long hibernation. Naturally after so long under the snow, its first thought is to find food. But over the last few years, the snow’s been melting earlier, and an important food source – the Bogong moth – is arriving later on its yearly migration, leaving these endangered possums to go hungry. In Australia, spring-time events on the land, as well as in freshwater and marine systems are now generally occurring earlier than they used to.

The Indian national park helping to save the one-horned rhino – in pictures
The greater one-horned rhino once thrived across the northern plains of the Indian sub-continent, but hunting for sport and poaching severely depleted the population, pushing the species to the brink of extinction. The Kaziranga national park, a rhino sanctuary and also a tiger reserve, has helped revive the species but poaching remains an ever present threat.

Alarm sounds for native wildlife
Losing our native species is not an inevitability but a choice – and one that could hurt New Zealand in more ways than we realise. That’s the message in a new book that will draw on one of the most comprehensive reviews of biodiversity and related policy done in New Zealand. After thousands of hours researching Vanishing Nature: Facing New Zealand’s biodiversity crisis, lead author Dr Marie Brown believes that saving cherished species such as the kiwi and kakapo is not so much a scientific problem as a political and economic one. She said the country had to overhaul legislation, beef up conservation funding and empower all New Zealanders to get involved. Losing the battle for native species would be a blow for the environment, tourism and the wider economy, she said.

Economy and Business

Report: transatlantic trade agreement could increase toxic pesticide use
International trade agreement proposals could roll back protections from harmful pesticides in the US and EU, according to a new report (pdf) expected to be released Wednesday. As part of the transatlantic trade agreement being negotiated behind closed doors, trade groups have recommended policies – under the banner of lifting trade barriers – that could impact pesticide regulations in both the US and the European Union. The proposals put forward by CropLife America and the European Crop Protection Association would reduce protection compared to the more stringent pesticide standards already in place in the EU and in individual US states, said the Center for International Environmental Law, or Ciel.

Note to bosses: workers perform better if you give to charity
We are used to the idea that workers respond to financial incentives, whether it’s a bonus or wage increase, but it might be that bosses can boost workers’ performance by appealing to their altruism, not just their pockets. As economies recover from the financial crisis, businesses have remained shy with the purse strings, but new evidence from our research has shown that involving employees in corporate philanthropy can offer the kind of motivation that we may have thought only money can buy.

Toyota Opens Up 5,680 Patents to Spur Hydrogen Fuel Cell Innovation
Toyota has announced it will invite royalty-free use of approximately 5,680 hydrogen fuel cell related patents held globally, including critical technologies developed for the new Toyota Mirai. This announcement covers only fuel cell-related patents wholly owned by Toyota. Patents related to fuel cell vehicles will be available for royalty-free licenses until the end of 2020. Patents for hydrogen production and supply will remain open for an unlimited duration. As part of licensing agreements, Toyota will request, but will not require, that other companies share their fuel cell-related patents with Toyota for similar royalty-free use.

BASF, Haier, Astronautics Corp Unveil Next-Gen Refrigeration Technology at CES 2015
Among the dizzying array of potentially game-changing innovations on display this week at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, BASF are presenting a proof‑of‑concept wine cooler refrigerated by a magnetocaloric heat pump. A magnetocaloric heat pump — a cooling device based on magnetocaloric materials, which heat up when put into a magnetic field and cool down when removed — is a more efficient and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional compressor-based refrigeration technology. In the magnetocaloric heat pump, heat is transferred from the cold interior of the wine cooler to the warm surrounding air by shuttling a water‑based coolant through the magnetocaloric materials as they go in and out of the magnetic field. Theoretical studies demonstrate that refrigeration systems based on the magnetocaloric effect can be up to 35 percent more energy-efficient than vapor compression systems. They are also less noisy due to the absence of a compressor, and use water-based coolants rather than gaseous refrigerants.

Optimism from UK climate policy expert honoured by the Queen
It was Fritz Schumacher’s 1973 work Small is Beautiful that first hooked a young Paul Ekins on green economics. This New Year, Ekins – now a professor at University College London – was awarded an OBE from the Queen for his own work on environmental policy. Reflecting on that journey, he tells RTCC that despite disappointments along the way, he is still optimistic policymakers will “bite the bullet” and tackle climate change. Ekins surfed into the nascent field of environmental economics on the “wave of concern” that followed then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s famous 1989 speech to the UN about climate change. He had been active in green politics in the 80s when The Other Economic Summit, set up in contrast to the G7, convinced him to focus on economics.

Waste and the Circular Economy

The Push for Bioplastics and the Myth of Biodegradability
Since the relatively recent rise in conscious consumerism, bioplastics — plastics made from biomass such as plants and algae – have been receiving significant attention. With the bioplastic market projected to grow in the next few years, many are pointing to plant-derived plastic alternatives as the ultimate solution to our unsustainable dependence on fossil fuel-based plastics. But one particular type of bioplastic has recently mobilized a torrent of misinformation, misplaced optimism and confusion: plastics labeled “biodegradable.”

How new technologies are helping mining companies to come clean
The devastating effects of mine wastewater are regrettably obvious: polluted rivers and streams, dead aquatic life and countless hardships for downstream populations. Mining companies are under increasing pressure to contain, control and clear up contaminated water from their operations. One knock-on effect is the mining industry’s emergence as “one of the most dynamic” markets for water and wastewater treatment, according to a recent report by industry analysts Frost & Sullivan. By 2016, the industry’s demand for water-treatment equipment and services is expected to be worth $3.6bn (£2.3bn). While regulatory trends explain much of this growth, another force is also at work: the rising value of metal recovery. Historically, wastewater treatment was catergorised exclusively as a business cost, but advances in metal-removal technologies now mean there could be money to be made too.

How a DVD Case Killed a Whale
In August of 2014, biologists from the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center Stranding Response Team were notified of an unusual sighting in the Elizabeth River, a busy, industrial tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. A 45-foot-long young female sei whale was spotted swimming up the river, far from the deep waters of the Atlantic where the species, listed as endangered, is normally found. “She was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” says the aquarium’s research coordinator Susan Barco. The whale seemed disoriented. Barco and her colleagues followed it for several days in an attempt to protect it from a fatal collision with a ship. Despite these efforts, the whale was found dead a few days later. A necropsy revealed the animal had swallowed a shard of rigid, black plastic that lacerated its stomach, preventing it from feeding. The weakened whale also had been struck by a ship and suffered a fractured vertebrae. “It was a very long and painful decline,” Barco says.

Auto industry confident it can meet 95 per cent recycling target
The UK auto and recycling sectors are on track to meet demanding new EU targets that came into effect at the start of this month, requiring 95 per cent of end of life vehicles by weight be recycled or recovered. The new end-of-life vehicle (ELV) directive replaces the previous 85 per cent target with a 95 per cent goal, which requires a minimum of 85 per cent of material be recycled or reused, while the additional 10 per cent can be met by processing unrecyclable materials through waste-to-energy facilities or recovering material such as glass for use in aggregates.

Politics and Society

The tools for a radical new kind of leadership
Brilliance, charisma and eloquence are essential gifts for a leader, but they are no longer sufficient. In a world of spin, unsubstantiated claims and the pressure of lobbyists, today’s leaders have to be credible. We have to have a reason to believe them. This not only needs a radical rethinking of values; it requires work. That work is internal, because the leaders needed today have to be authentic and you can only discover your authenticity by enquiring within. In half a century of working with leaders in key conflict areas, such as Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, the most important lesson I learned was that inner work is a prerequisite for effectiveness. Results achieved by a leader are in direct ratio to their perceived authenticity.

China encourages environmental groups to sue polluters
China on Wednesday granted public interest groups more power to sue those that flout environmental protection laws, the country’s highest court said, as Beijing steps up efforts to curb pollution that regularly chokes major cities. Social groups that work to fight polluters judicially will gain special status and have court fees reduced, the Supreme People’s Court said on its website. They will also be allowed to sue firms or individuals across China, regardless of where the organisation is based.

TripAdvisor scheme helps travellers select a sustainable bed for the night
Hanging a ‘do not disturb’ sign on a hotel door almost always assures your privacy when away on holiday or business. But does hanging a used towel back on its rack assure your green preferences? Does this simple action mean you’ve played your part in being a sustainable hotel guest, or will housekeeping wash your towel anyway? GreenLeaders, TripAdvisor’s new sustainable hotel programme, aims to “gives consumers around the world a simple way to make greener travel choices, right at the point at which they are making that decision”. 8,000 hotels are already participating and earning green badges on the popular travel review site.

Shell announces £55m payout for Nigeria oil spills
The mud stinks and the crabs caught in the swamps around the town of Bodo in the Niger delta still smell of light crude oil. But the 15,600 Ogoni farmers and fishermen whose lives were devastated by two large Shell oil spills in 2008 and 2009 will be celebrating on Wednesday as the company’s Nigerian subsidiary announces a £55m settlement.  British banks will start to transfer 600,000 naira (about £2,100) into each of the local people’s accounts and the community will be given millions to build health clinics and refurbish its schools.  The settlement, split £35m for individuals and £20m for the Bodo community, avoids Shell having to defend a potentially embarrassing London high court case which was due to start shortly. It is thought to be the largest payout to any African community following environmental damage and the first time that compensation for an oil spill has been paid directly to affected individuals rather than to local chiefs.


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