Friday 09 January 2015
Sustainable Development News
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.
Most fossil fuels ‘unburnable’ under 2C climate target
Most of the world’s fossil fuel reserves will need to stay in the ground if dangerous global warming is to be avoided, modelling work suggests. Over 80% of coal, 50% of gas and 30% of oil reserves are “unburnable” under the goal to limit global warming to no more than 2C, say scientists. University College London research, published in Nature journal, rules out drilling in the Arctic. And it points to heavy restrictions on coal to limit temperature rises. “We’ve now got tangible figures of the quantities and locations of fossil fuels that should remain unused in trying to keep within the 2C temperature limit,” said lead researcher Dr Christophe McGlade, of the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources.
Energy and Climate Change
Only a mug punter would bet on carbon storage over renewables
The question of whether the future will be powered by coal and oil or by renewable energy is crucially important, both to the medium-term future of the Australian economy and to the long-term future of the planet. For either to succeed, there is a storage problem to overcome. …the problem of energy storage has many possible solutions, whereas that of CCS has only a handful, none of which look likely to work. To see why this is so, let’s first consider the broader phenomenon of renewable energy.
Venture Capitalists Inject $27 Million Into Stem’s Distributed Energy Storage Tech
On Jan. 7 Stem announced it had closed a $27 million equity financing round. Constellation Technology Ventures and Total Energy Ventures joined earlier investors, including GE Ventures, that see energy storage playing a growing role in the U.S. power grid, both in front of and behind the meter, and Stem’s technology helping drive that growth. Integrating energy storage systems distributed across multiple customer sites, Stem’s predictive analytics software platform optimizes charging and discharging of battery storage capacity. This is a defining attribute that can enhance grid power reliability and resiliency — and do so even more more efficiently than conventional fossil fuel-fired reserve generation capacity, proponents contend.
Prepare for rising migration driven by climate change, governments told
Governments need to plan better for rising migration driven by climate change, experts said on Thursday, citing evidence that extreme weather and natural disasters force far more people from their homes than wars. Projections by leading climate scientists of rising sea levels, heatwaves, floods and droughts linked to global warming are likely to oblige millions of people to move out of harm’s way, with some never able to return. The issue is politically sensitive at a time when economic austerity is straining the generosity of host governments and anti-immigrant sentiment is rising in many countries, especially in Europe. “Natural disasters displace three to 10 times more people than all conflicts and war in the world combined,” said Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council which runs the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) in Geneva.
Germany’s Energiewende ‘on solid footing’, new figures show
Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions dropped to their lowest level since 1990 last year, according to new analysis that shows renewables overtook lignite coal as the country’s biggest single source of electricity. A report by analysts at Agora Energiewende published this week argued Germany’s energy transition was “on a solid footing”, contrary reports that the transition to a cleaner energy mix was resulting in increased emissions. The group, which is backed by both industry groups and the European Climate Foundation, found that renewables were the most important source of electrical energy in the power mix in Germany for the first time in 2014, meeting 27.3 percent share of demand. Power demand also fell by nearly four per cent as consumers and businesses adopted more energy efficient appliances, the data showed.
Obama Keystone Veto Threat Spurs Democrat’s Plea for Deal
President Barack Obama would veto a Senate bill introduced today that would approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline, his spokesman said, as a top Democratic supporter urged the administration to seek a compromise. A bill to sidestep a federal agency review was the first legislation Republicans introduced as they took control of both the House and Senate for the first time since 2007. The measure has enough sponsors to pass but not enough to override a veto.
Environment and Biodiversity
Ship Australia’s wildlife out to sea to save it from extinction
Australia is in the grip of an extinction crisis. Our unique animals, plants, and ecosystems are rapidly ebbing away in a process that began more than 200 years ago with European settlement. Feral cats and foxes are thought to be major culprits. So how do we stem the flood of extinctions? Predator-free offshore islands, previously seen as a last resort, could be a significant part of Australia’s conservation future. Other countries, such as New Zealand, can show us how it’s done. In 2014 Australia appointed its first Threatened Species Commissioner, Gregory Andrews. Andrews faces a huge challenge in saving Australia’s endangered animals and plants, but islands should be part of the solution.
New Report Finds Forest Certification Program Misleads Consumers
On Wednesday, forest conservation NGO ForestEthics released Peeling Back the Eco-Labels, a report comparing the rigor of forest audits conducted in Canada by the two leading forest certification systems: the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). The report found that the SFI certification program has serious flaws in comparison to FSC. ForestEthics analyzed publicly available audit reports from the past 10 years and concluded that SFI is dramatically less transparent and audit teams were smaller and took less time for the audit process than FSC. More than half of the SFI reports were missing pertinent data and SFI rarely required logging companies to take any additional action to improve operations.
Economy and Business
Green vehicle demand revs up as UK electric car sales quadruple
There has been a ‘remarkable surge’ in demand for ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEV) in the UK, with sales of plug-in hybrid cars increasing four-fold in 2014. New annual figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) have revealed that sales of alternatively-fuelled vehicles (AFVs) – including electric cars and hybrids – rose by 58% last year, with 51,739 new AFVs registered. AFV sales accounted for a market share of 2.1% in 2014 – up from 1.4% a year earlier. Overall car sales increased by 9.3% to just south of 2.5 million.
How Georgia became the biggest electric vehicle market in the US
During the last year, sales grew more than sevenfold in the southeastern state, with electric cars accounting for one of every 60 new cars sold, according to data firm Statista. That’s a higher percentage than the second-largest market, California, where the figure was one in 70. So how did Georgia, not exactly a bastion of progressive politics and lifestyles, overtake the so-called Left Coast in adopting this green technology? And are there lessons to be learned from this boom for other sustainable businesses?
Waste and the Circular Economy
Self-Powered Waste-to-Water System Solves Sanitation, Gates Says
The waste produced by every human being can be the key to producing energy and potable water in developing countries that lack sanitation. Janicki Industries Inc., with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has developed a system, the Omniprocessor, that converts human feces into electricity and clean drinking water. A pilot project planned in Senegal may be the first step toward solving sanitation issues that kill hundreds of thousands every year, Gates said in a Jan. 5 blog post, which includes a video of him drinking Omniprocessor-produced water.
Canadian City Moves Toward First Closed-Loop Organics Waste Management System
The Canadian city of Surrey has chosen Iris Solutions to build what the city claims will be the first closed-loop, fully-integrated organics waste management system in North America. The Surrey Biofuels Processing Facility will process 115,000 tons of residual kitchen and garden waste from Surrey each year. The process will create a renewable natural gas which can then be used to power the city’s natural gas waste collection trucks. The facility will also produce a compost product that will be suitable for landscaping and agricultural applications. When completed, the facility will be the largest of its kind in Canada with a capacity to process 100 percent of the city’s organic waste, along with commercial organic waste, helping Metro Vancouver achieve its regional 70 percent waste diversion target.
Are quantum dot TVs – and their toxic ingredients – actually better for the environment?
Earlier this week, The Conversation reported that, “The future is bright, the future is … quantum dot televisions.” And judging by the buzz coming from this week’s annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that’s right – the technology is providing manufacturers with a cheap and efficient way of producing the next generation of brilliant, high-definition TV screens. But the quantum dots in these displays also use materials and technologies – including engineered nanoparticles and the heavy metal cadmium – that have been a magnet for health and environmental concerns. Will the dazzling pictures this technology allow blind us to new health and environmental challenges, or do their benefits outweigh the potential risks?
Politics and Society
Do we need yet another ethical business ranking to improve performance?
A new social index ranking 500 of the world’s largest firms in the agriculture, IT, clothing and extractive sectors, is being drawn up by a high-profile group of investors and human rights experts. Backed by the UK government, the Corporate Human Rights Index is due for publication this year. No one doubts the importance of human rights in business: labour injustices, workplace harassment and land grabs are just some of the common corporate abuses affecting the lives of millions of people across global supply chains. But why an index? It’s a timely question. Every year, the tide of rankings, ratings and indices on social risks – from global corruption and political freedoms, to the rule of law and union rights – continues to rise. As instruments of change, do they really work?
Sainsbury’s Inching Toward 100% Certified Sustainable Palm Oil
UK grocery giant Sainsbury’s has announced that 95 percent of the palm oil used in its own-brand products is now certified as sustainably sourced. The supermarket revealed this statistic late last month, on the day it also became the first UK retailer to launch a dishwashing liquid made with palm oil certified as sustainable by mass balance analysis.