Sustainable Development News

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

Stern warning: Legally-binding climate deal ‘not necessary’
Many developing countries support a legally binding deal that would be structured in a similar way to the Kyoto Protocol, signed back in 1997. One key element of that agreement was that countries faced sanctions if they failed in their commitments to cut carbon. According to Lord Stern, a deal in Paris would work better if it steered away from this format.  “Some may fear that commitments that are not internationally legally-binding may lack credibility,” he said. “That, in my view, is a serious mistake. The sanctions available under the Kyoto Protocol, for example, were notionally legally-binding but were simply not credible and failed to guarantee domestic implementation of commitments.”

Energy and Climate Change

UNSW sets solar efficiency world record using Australian tower technology
An ARENA-funded solar research team at the University of New South Wales has recorded the highest efficiency for a PV system ever reported, converting over 40 per cent of sunlight into electricity, with an innovative take on Australian-designed solar tower technology. The team achieved 40.1 per cent efficiency in outdoor testing in Sydney in late October, using a solar ‘Power Cube’ system made up of commercially available solar cells, but with innovative efficiency improvements. “The new results are based on the use of focused sunlight, and are particularly relevant to photovoltaic power towers being developed in Australia,” said UNSW Scientia Professor and Director of the Advanced Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics (ACAP) Professor Martin Green.

Australia named worst-performing industrial country on climate change
Australia has been named the worst-performing industrial country in the world on climate change in a report released at international negotiations in Peru. The climate change performance index ranked Denmark as the best-performing country in the world, followed by Sweden and Britain. Among the world’s top 10 emitters, Germany was ranked the highest at 22. Australia was second bottom overall, above Saudi Arabia – which was not classified as industrial. The report states: “The new conservative Australian government has apparently made good on last year’s announcement and reversed the climate policies previously in effect. As a result, the country lost a further 21 positions in the policy evaluation compared to last year, thus replacing Canada as the worst-performing industrial country.”

Heatwaves likely ‘every other year’ by 2030s, says Met Office study Torrid European summers like the one in 2003 which claimed an estimated 70,000 lives are set to become a regular occurrence within two decades and the “new normal” by the end of the century, according to a new Met Office study. The climate modelling, which was published in Nature Climate Change on Monday, foresees a dramatic rise in the chance of severely hot weather patterns in central Europe and the Mediterranean, if greenhouse gas emissions continue along their current path.

The Energy Boom You Haven’t Heard About: Wood Pellets
Deep in the forests of the U.S. South, tree scraps are fueling a little-known but controversial energy boom: wood pellets. Long used to heat homes in the country’s Northeast, they’re now destined for a new market. Europe is importing the pellets in ever higher volumes, burning them for electricity to meet renewable energy targets. The demand has transformed the U.S. industry, prompting a doubling of biomass exports last year. The pellet boom is not without controversy. While it hasn’t generated the headlines or large protests that have accompanied the surge in U.S. oil and natural gas production, there’s still debate. The pellet industry says it’s using wood by-products that would otherwise go to waste. Critics say the expansion hurts forests and does not help the climate.

Small-holder farmers could have big impact on climate change
If you’re a small operator, you can often feel as though there’s not much potential for you to make your mark on the world, but it would seem that’s not always the case. There are more than 500 million small-holder farmers across the world, with more than 2 billion people depending on them for their livelihoods and they’re often seen as the potential victims of climate change. However, a report released at the 2014 United Nations Climate Change forum in Lima, Peru, says these farmers should be viewed as more than victims, but should be seen as possible agents of change.

Shale gas projections are in decline – and we shouldn’t be surprised
The recent confidence in shale gas was likely premature, according to several new reports published in the US. In particular a study from the University of Texas claims the US boom will tail off by 2020 and not keep going to 2040 as previous less thorough analyses have predicted. To anyone who has been closely following the industry in recent years, this difference in predictions will not be surprising, of course.

Science and coal seam gas – a case of the tortoise and the hare?
One of the key questions about the coal seam gas (CSG) industry, which is now being developed at breakneck speed across Australia, is how much methane is released as “fugitive” emissions. Three weeks ago we published a paper containing the first detailed maps of atmospheric greenhouse gases in Queensland’s CSG heartland. Our study clearly exposes the lack of knowledge in this area, leaving open the question of whether CSG really is greener than coal. This research has seen us caught in the middle of a scientific, economic and political tug of war. While the industry keeps expanding at a rapid rate, is CSG science moving too slowly?

Environment and Biodiversity

Water is far more valuable and useful than oil
I have a confession: I knocked back 320 pints at the pub last night. I actually only had two shots of a decent single malt but it took 320 pints of water to grow and process the grain used to make the whisky. That’s a whole lot of water considering the average bathtub holds 60 to 80 litres. Even after 20 years of covering environmental issues in two dozen countries I had no idea of the incredible amounts of water needed to grow food or make things. Now, after two years working on my book Your Water Footprint: the shocking facts about how much water we use to make everyday products, I’m still amazed that the t-shirt I’m wearing needed 3,000 litres to grow and process the cotton; or that 140 litres went into my morning cup of coffee.

Economy and Business

Sustainable Supply Chains: Can Retailers Be the Rising Tide That Lifts All Boats?
A whopping 97 percent of environmental impacts in the retail sector come from the product itself — from raw materials, transportation and product manufacturing. With impacts so heavily weighted in the supply chain, retailers are increasingly and creatively wading upstream to partner with their suppliers on their greatest impacts. The key to success lies in selecting the appropriate supplier engagement method and then using that approach as a vehicle to deeper collaboration. But can successful retailer approaches truly motivate meaningful supply chain improvements?

The growth of green bonds
After sitting on the capital market sidelines for nearly three years, Canadian-issued green bonds entered the game as star players in 2014. In fact, they pulled in $1.2 billion (U.S.) from investors by October, compared to nothing in 2013. But it wasn’t just the amount that mattered. Equally important was the market’s response. In October, Ontario’s $500 million four-year bond attracted bids of $2.5 billion — five times more than was available — from about 80 investors. Ontario says green bonds will become a staple of its annual capital-raising program, which could encourage other provinces and municipalities to follow suit.

Clean production methods key to scaling up exports
SOUTH ASIA – Apparel makers must focus on cleaner production to attain the goal of reaching $50 billion in exports by 2021, analysts said. Adoption of cleaner technology will not only protect the environment but also enhance the factories’ competitive edge, they said. “Environmental initiatives are compulsory to enhance competitiveness,” said Bastiaan Mohrmann, head of International Finance Corporation’s water advisory team in South Asia.

New Tool Measures Corporate Progress Towards Safer Chemicals
A group of corporate and NGO leaders today released a new tool for assessing leadership in corporate chemicals management. The Chemical Footprint Project (CFP) provides the first-ever common metric of its kind for publicly benchmarking corporate chemicals management and profiling leadership companies. The CFP will enable purchasers to preferentially select suppliers and investors to integrate chemical risk into their sustainability analyses and investments. Its results enable brands to market their progress and success in using safer chemicals. Similar to Carbon Footprinting, Chemical Footprinting can apply to any business sector. Retailers, health care organizations, governments and investors all see value in a comprehensive measure of business progress to safer chemicals.

Politics and Society

Welcome to the new age of philanthropy – philanthropreneurship
The truly rich have often reflected that it is much easier to make money than to give it away in sensible and sustainable ways. One of the reasons why this has traditionally been difficult is that philanthropy was viewed as a slightly distant process, involving a rich person brandishing a cheque before departing into the sunset. This quintessentially Victorian view of the philanthropist continues today – just think of the TV programme The Secret Millionaire. Yet today’s philanthropists have a much more interventionist interpretation of their role… At the heart of “philanthropreneurship” is the idea that the skills which enabled people to make their fortunes are often the ones required to solve apparently intractable problems.

Russell Brand: a hero for our times?
Three things about the present era are especially striking. First, problems persist. For those fortunate enough to have grown up in post-war Australia in particular, this is a somewhat surprising reality. Not only has scientific rationality failed to solve many of humanity’s problems, but international order is increasingly fragile, and the very durability of the natural environment is alarmingly uncertain. Second, the world is becoming an increasingly unequal place. For all the unprecedented achievements of China, the distribution of wealth – especially within individual countries – is grotesquely uneven and getting worse. And yet, third, there are no obvious answers to any of these problems. The failure of socialism as a credible political project has meant that there seems to be little economic alternative to some form of capitalism or other.

Sustainability at the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing (Video 6:36)
Channel Islands Surfboards and Vans team rider Dane Gudauskas heads over to Hawaii to learn and participate in some of the sustainable practices at the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing.

George Osborne oversees biggest fossil fuel boom since North Sea oil discovery
George Osborne has sparked the biggest boom in UK fossil fuel investment since the North Sea oil and gas industry was founded in the 1970s. Analysis of new Treasury data also shows investment in clean energy has plummeted this year and is now exceeded by fossil fuels, while road and airport building is soaring. After years of coalition infighting over green energy, the stark shift marks a major victory for the chancellor. But it conflicts with David Cameron’s recent statement that climate change is “a threat to our national security and to economic prosperity” and his 2010 pledge to the lead the “greenest government ever”. UK ministers are currently at UN climate talks in Peru arguing for strong action against global warming. In Wednesday’s autumn statement, Osborne added £430m to the billions in tax breaks he has granted the fossil fuel sector since 2012. Taxpayers will also now fund seismic exploration to help companies find more oil and gas and will pay £31m for shale gas research drilling plus another £5m to “ensure the public is better engaged” with fracking.

Built Environment

Cities need innovative governance tools and brave politicians to combat climate change
In our highly urbanised world, cities create problems as well as provide solutions. Many of humanity’s challenges exist at city level. Cities are an unsustainable source of resource depletion and pollution, and account for 40 per cent of global energy consumption and over 30 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, there are solutions. Technology and social know-how is available to facilitate a cost-effective transition towards cities that are less dependent on energy, water and other resources, produce less greenhouse gasses and other wastes. Why then do we not see a massive uptake of this technology and know-how?

10 places vying for the title of greenest building on the planet
We ran the numbers on the new Apple Campus 2 and discovered that it has some fierce competition in the sustainability department. Take a look at some of the greenest buildings ever constructed.

Dubai Urged To Focus On Sustainable Mobility Ahead Of Expo 2020
Dubai should focus on creating sustainable transport options and on convincing more and more residents to switch away from motorcars, transport experts have said.  Speaking on the sidelines of the recent Michelin Bibendum Challenge event in China, Kulveer Ranger, former director of Environment and Digital London at the Mayor of London’s Office and an expert on sustainable transport said that the emirate will draw international scrutiny ahead of the World Expo 2020, which it will host.  “When the world comes to an expo and journalists come, they are looking beyond the glitz and glamour – they are looking for what it’s built on. What’s the future, what are the ethics, is it sustainable? So the city’s reputation is at stake,” he explained.


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