Monday 09 February 2015
Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
Sign up on the right for sustainable development news delivered direct to your inbox each weekday morning.
Energy and Climate Change
World’s biggest sovereign wealth fund dumps dozens of coal companies
The world’s richest sovereign wealth fund removed 32 coal mining companies from its portfolio in 2014, citing the risk they face from regulatory action on climate change. Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), worth $850bn (£556bn) and founded on the nation’s oil and gas wealth, revealed a total of 114 companies had been dumped on environmental and climate grounds in its first report on responsible investing, released on Thursday. The companies divested also include tar sands producers, cement makers and gold miners.
Richard Branson leads call to free global economy from carbon emissions
Governments should set a clear target of making the world’s economy free from carbon emissions by mid-century, Sir Richard Branson and a group of other prominent businesspeople have urged. The goal – of eliminating the net impact of greenhouse gases, by replacing fossil fuels and ensuring that any remaining emissions are balanced out by carbon-saving projects such as tree-planting and carbon capture and storage – is more stretching than any yet agreed by world governments. The G8 group of rich nations has pledged to cut emissions by 80% by 2050, and some developing countries to halving emissions by then.
Climate change drove Australia’s record hot year, report finds
Australia’s hottest year on record would not have happened without climate change, according to a new report. The country experienced its hottest day, month, season and calendar year in 2013, registering a mean temperature 1.2C above the 1961-90 average. The Climate Council says recent studies show those heat events would have occurred only once every 12,300 years without greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. “In fact, we can say the 2013 record year was virtually impossible without climate change; it wouldn’t have happened,” Will Steffen, the author of Quantifying the Strong Influence of Climate Change on Extreme Heat in Australia, told AAP. “I mean, no one would bet on odds of one in nearly 13,000.”
Greenland’s hidden meltwater lakes store up trouble
One small mystery that surrounds Greenland’s melting ice is a little closer to being solved as scientists in the US confirm that surface meltwater can drain all the way down to fill concealed lakes under the ice. This means that atmospheric warming can reach thousands of metres below the ice sheet − warming the glacial base and potentially increasing its rate of flow. One group, led by geologist Michael Willis, of Cornell University, and another team led by glaciologist Ian Howat, of Ohio State University, report in two different journals on separate but related studies of Greenland’s plumbing system: what happens to meltwater.
Environment and Biodiversity
We should strengthen, not strangle, European protections for our wildlife
Europe is about to reconsider all protection for wildlife. The significance is huge, for everything we do.
Just this week, a little girl walked past me wearing her primary school uniform which has the badge of a Bewick’s swan, Europe’s smallest swan. Meanwhile 1,200 miles away near Helsinki, another little girl is going to her local swimming club which has a similar logo. The young swimmers are called pikku joutsen – or little swans, the Finnish name for the species. The European birds and habitats directives are due for a review. But in this time of austerity, there is also political pressure across Europe for nature to either contribute financially or get out of the way. In truth, Bewick’s swans are subject to budget cuts as much as the rest of us…
As it happens, nature can make a pretty good case for pulling its financial weight. A few years ago it was estimated that UK wetlands alone provide nearly £7bn in services to society. They supply us with a regulated water supply that helps to mitigate floods and drought. They help to clean our water by filtering it and they help to clean our air by storing carbon. And in order to work properly, wetlands rely on the wildlife within them – including Bewick’s swans – to maintain the ecosystem.
Seafloor Eruptions Triggered by Tides, Ice Ages
Earth’s seafloor is born in fiery eruptions along volcanic mid-ocean ridges. According to a new study published this week in Geophysical Research Letters, those volcanoes are surprisingly sensitive to the tides—and they just might have something to do with ice ages as well. Maya Tolstoy, a marine geophysicist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, examined seismic records of ten seafloor eruptions. She found the eruptions tended to occur near “neap” tide, every two weeks, when the amount of seawater over the volcanoes is slightly lower than at other times. The reduced weight on the volcanoes apparently encourages small earthquakes, which can be associated with eruptions.
Economy and Business
The outdoor economy is big. Its voice in Washington is not
Two small California ski resorts, Dodge Ridge and Badger Pass, shut down in January as temperatures climbed to near-record highs and weeks passed without snow. With the Sierras suffering a historic drought, it’s hard to say for certain if they’ll reopen. The ski-industry closings are a small but representative setback for what a new report calls the outdoor economy — that is, “the stream of economic output that results from the protection and sustainable use of America’s lands and waters when they are preserved in a largely undeveloped state”. Outdoor recreation is a powerful economic force. It accounts for “more direct jobs than oil, natural gas and mining combined”, according to the report published by the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, in January.
Are small farms in India the key to taking tea organic?
When fourth-generation tea planter Ramesh Babu decided to leave his family’s plantation in the southeast Indian state of Tamil Nadu to start his own organic operation, people called him crazy. “It was unheard of in our part of the country,” the 54-year-old said of his decision in 2006 to take on 10 acres surrounded by forest in the hill town of Kotagiri nearby. “Initially, when you stop using [chemical] fertilizer you have a big fall in your production, so that’s one major factor which keeps other tea growers from going organic.”
Multi-Sector Gathering Calls for Harmonized Framework for Shifting to Sustainable Product Portfolios
Last week, Sustainable Brands participated in and helped support an important meeting in Berlin, hosted by BASF, entitled “Steering a Portfolio Toward Sustainability.” On day one, Executive Board member Margret Suckale and BASF’s VP of Sustainability Strategy, Dirk Voeste, set the stage for the meeting by sharing BASF’s portfolio segmentation strategy and framework — dubbed the Sustainable Solutions Steering method — which the company has already used to map as many as 50,000 of its product applications. The goal is to seek opportunities to develop its portfolio into more sustainable products and applications, and to support others in its value network in doing the same.
3 Sustainability Trends to Improve Business Strategies
As companies seek ways to complement their business strategies with sustainability in 2015, PricewaterhouseCoopers has narrowed down three key trends that will be top of mind for executives in the coming year.
Waste and the Circular Economy
Closing the Loop on Recycling: Unilever, P&G Aim to Give Communities Greater Access to Recycling Programs
Regardless of where we live, we’re neighbors — sharing this grand global space, and thus all of its sustainability challenges and opportunities. Therefore, we believe we also share in the responsibility to develop solutions, and to work together when our combined resources can have a positive impact that none of us could achieve on our own. It was this shared belief that led our two companies, Unilever and Procter & Gamble, to join with others in forming the Closed Loop Fund, a consortium of major corporations that have created a $100 million fund aimed at providing municipalities access to zero- and low-interest loans to build comprehensive recycling programs.
Carpet Waste Diversion from Landfill Hits New Record
Diversion of carpet from landfill continues its upward trend, rising to a new record-breaking 113,000 metric tons – or 28% — that were reused, recycled or recovered for energy in 2014, according to latest Carpet Recycling UK figures. The organization has exceeded its original goal, set in 2008, to achieve 25% diversion by 2015.
Politics and Society
Marking World Interfaith Week, top UN officials hope for collaboration on sustainable development
At a special event today which marked World Interfaith Week, top United Nations officials celebrated the importance of dialogue among different faiths and religions to enhance mutual understanding, harmony and cooperation among people. The President of the General Assembly told the event, titled “World Interfaith Harmony: Multi-religious Partnership for Sustainable Development,” that the message of peace and goodwill was as important as ever in light of the recent disturbing rise of intolerance and prejudice in many of our communities.
How beverage companies joined forces to attack Baird recycling scheme
Beverage giants Carlton and United, Lion and Coca-Cola colluded in a secret plan to attack the Baird government’s proposed cash for containers recycling scheme, leaked emails reveal. A group of 15 company executives and industry lobbyists held regular conference calls, and circulated emails, as they shared tactics and reported back on their meetings with politicians. A “to do” list shared among the rival companies in December included Lion calling on Victorian environment minister Lisa Neville and Coca-Cola asking Queensland Premier Campbell Newman to “reach out” to the NSW Environment Minister Rob Stokes to get him to change his mind.
Zimbabwe Planning to Increase Its Sales of Baby Elephants, Sources Say
Forcibly separating baby elephants from their mothers is reprehensible, according to experts. For opponents of Zimbabwe’s controversial plan to export scores of baby elephants, the stakes have just gotten higher. More than 80 young elephants are being held in a capture facility in Hwange National Park, in Zimbabwe, according to sources monitoring the situation there. The sources report hearing of plans to send 27 elephants to Thailand as soon as this weekend, and 60 to China next week. It is also possible, the sources say, that these exports will be delayed.
“Frozen” Sequel? Kids Educate Disney About Climate Change
Maybe it’s just the approach that’s missing. Just recently, the Obama administration reached out to Walt Disney Co. with a simple request — or so it probably seemed to Rear Adm. Robert Papp, the administration’s special representative for the Arctic and former commander of the U.S. Coast Guard. As Papp recounted at an Arctic Frontiers Conference in Tromsø, Norway this January, his mission was to ask the 92-year-old company if the Obama administration could use Disney’s new blockbuster, “Frozen,” to teach kids about climate change.
Danone and Mars launch £79m fund for smallholder farmers
Fund will prioritise key crops including vanilla, cocoa, sugar and palm oil, but Oxfam says multinationals need to improve everyday dealings with smallholders. Danone and Mars, two of the world’s largest food multinationals, yesterday announced their intention to invest €120 million (£79m) over the next decade in an investment fund aimed at increasing the productivity of smallholder farmers. The Livelihoods Fund for Family Farming will make between four and five investments per year, averaging around €3-5m (£2.3m-£3.8m) each. The projects, which will span Africa, Latin America and Asia, will focus on low-tech, sustainable farming practices that are easy to adopt and quick to scale.