Friday 10 October 2014
Sustainable Development News
Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Energy and Climate Change
EU approves Hinkley Point nuclear power station as costs raise by £8bn
The European commission on Wednesday gave Britain the green light for a huge government subsidy that will open the way for the first atomic power stations to be built for nearly 20 years. The ruling was welcomed by ministers and the nuclear industry but Austria threatened legal action against it, while consumer champions said it could add more than £5bn a year to energy bills. A majority of commissioners agreed Britain was not breaking state aid rules, overcoming the last regulatory hurdle for EDF Energy and its plan to construct Hinkley Point C in Somerset, south-west England. EDF believes the project will cost £16bn but the EC claimed construction costs alone by the time the plant is built in 2023 will be more than £24bn with a further possible £10bn of contingency payments.
Environment and Biodiversity
Climate change threatens Western Australia’s iconic Shark Bay
In the summer of 2010-2011 Western Australia experienced an unprecedented heatwave — but not on land. Between December 2010 and April 2011, sea temperatures off the WA coast reached 3C above average, and for two weeks peaked at 5C above average — 28C compared to the normal 23C. The effects were drastic. Corals bleached, and the makeup of the usually temperate south west marine ecosystems shifted to more tropical — both in fish, and algae. We’re still learning about this extraordinary event. Our recent research published in Journal of Ecology and Global Change Biology and Global Change Biology shows that the heatwave had a significant, possibly permanent, impact on the seagrass beds of Shark Bay — an internationally recognised World Heritage Area.
Not just fearsome predators: sharks have personalities too, study finds
Shyness and sociability are characteristics generally associated with people, but a new study from Britain has found sharks also possess these personality traits. The study is the first to demonstrate the fearsome predators actually have personalities. The research, led by Britain’s University of Exeter and the Marine Biology Association of the UK, has shown for the first time that individual sharks have personalities which influence how they associate with other sharks, and their defence mechanisms.
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The Perth Zoo is set to release more than 50 endangered dibblers into the wild after the tiny marsupials were almost wiped out by foxes, cats and a loss of habitat. The carnivorous creatures will be transported to Whiteman Park, in Perth’s north, and released in a predator-free 150-hectare parkland area in the hope they will re-establish the local population.
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Some of Australia’s peak conservation groups fear the country’s natural heritage will be lost because state and territory governments are declaring their national parks “open for business”. Commercial enterprise and development in national parks is set to happen in parks for the first time in generations, with several jurisdictions recently amending conservation laws to allow businesses to operate. The Northern Territory is the latest jurisdiction to open its protected parks to new business, after Queensland and Victoria recently made similar amendments.
Economy and Business
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Among the findings of the WWF Living Planet Report 2014 was a particularly sobering fact: the global Living Planet Index (LPI), which measures more than 10,000 representative populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish, has registered a 52% decline in wildlife between 1970 and 2010. With global species decline showing no sign of slowing down, this is a time for urgent reassessment with regards to how humans interact with the planet. What in particular is the role of business in creating this decline and can businesses be convinced to act for the good of the biosphere? The WWF states in its report that there are three main threats to wildlife, the first is habitat loss and degradation, the second is exploitation through hunting and fishing – for food, sport, or as accidental bycatch. The third threat is climate change.
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Ridesharing apps like Uber have the potential to make massive dents in carbon emissions, while providing end-users with a cheaper service. These services, however, are being blocked by state government regulation that can impose fines of up to $110,000 for breaches, which even the federal government’s Harper competition review says works to benefit powerful incumbents and stifle innovation. A recent study by MIT found that ridesharing apps could cut cab road time by up to 40 per cent (with concomitant reductions in carbon emissions) if users were willing to share rides. Operational costs would also be cut by 30 per cent, allowing for cheaper fares, and congestion would be eased.
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As part of a recent refurbishment of the Metricon Homes’ head office in Melbourne, a lighting upgrade was carried that demonstrates clearly how a combination of new LED lighting technologies and an induction fluorescent technology originally designed by Nicholas Tesla in the 1890s can, in combination, reduce lighting’s energy load substantially. Green Tomorrow Eco Solutions undertook the project, which is saving Metricon in excess of $54,167 annually, giving a return on investment payback period of 21 months. The project attracted VEET certificates, which also shortened the payback time.
Politics and Society
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Lego will not renew its marketing contract with Shell after coming under sustained pressure from Greenpeace to end a partnership that dates to the 1960s. The environmental campaign group, protesting about the oil giant’s plans to drill in the Arctic, had targeted the world’s biggest toy maker with a YouTube video that attracted nearly 6m views for its depiction of a pristine Arctic, built from 120kg of Lego, being covered in oil. Initially Lego had resisted Greenpeace, arguing that it ought to deal directly with Shell, but on Thursday it will relent. Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, the toy maker’s chief -executive, said Lego would honour its existing deal with Shell, which began in 2011, but “as things currently stand we will not renew the contract with Shell when the present contract ends”.
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An Indian conservation group is to raise objections in court to the creation of the largest coal mine in Australia, in what is thought to be the first such challenge mounted by overseas activists. The Conservation Action Trust (CAT) will challenge the approval of the enormous Carmichael mine in the land court of Queensland. A directions hearing will take place in Brisbane on Thursday. The $16.5bn project, overseen by Indian mining company Adani, will dig up and transport about 60m tonnes of coal a year for export. The mine, located in central Queensland, will be 60km long, and will span an area seven times the size of Sydney harbour, making it the largest coal mine in Australia and possibly the world.
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Combining improved technologies with prominent campaigns that urged consumers to ‘turn to 30’ has brought about reductions in the energy used by washing machines in the UK, from 268 kilowatt hours for the average household in the mid-1980s to 166 kilowatt hours in 2012. But the same period has seen a massive spike in the overall energy used in laundering clothes. Part of the problem is that more people are using washing machines more frequently than ever before. The average UK household now puts a wash through about five times per week, according to a report by the Energy Saving Trust.
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His name is Tommy, he is retired from the circus and he now spends his days watching television in a mobile home park in upstate New York. Tommy is also a 26-year-old chimpanzee who lives in a cage. And the primate is now having his day in court as activists pursue a landmark lawsuit for him to be the first animal to be declared a person – with the same rights as humans – under US law. In a hearing before the New York Supreme Court appeals division in Albany, Stephen Wise, a lawyer and president of the Nonhuman Rights Project, argued that Tommy was a “legal person” entitled to certain basic protections, including freedom from captivity.
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The Spanish conservative Miguel Arias Cañete was confirmed as the EU’s new climate and energy commissioner on Wednesday after a deal between centre-left and right parties in the European Parliament, despite protests from environmentalists. The centrist pact saw Liberal former Slovenian prime minister, Alenka Bratušek, overwhelmingly rejected by MEPs as the commission’s new energy union commissioner, but the words ‘sustainability, climate action and energy’ added to the portfolio of Cañete’s boss, the Dutch socialist, Frans Timmermans.
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In a world where too many go to bed hungry, it comes as a shock to realise that more than half the world’s food production is left to rot, lost in transit, thrown out, or otherwise wasted. This loss is a humanitarian disaster. It’s a moral tragedy. It’s a blight on the conscience of the world. It might ultimately be the salvation of the human species.
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The Californian almond harvest has fallen short of forecasts which predicted the largest season ever. The US state produces 80 per cent of the world’s almonds, but is in one of the worst droughts in its history. As a result, there have been irrigation cutbacks and that’s one reason yields are down on expectations. President and CEO of the Almond Board of California, Richard Waycott, says there are concerns about the ongoing effects of the drought.