Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Energy and Climate Change

Greenhouse Gases Hit Record High Amid Fears of CO2 Saturation Point The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new record high in 2013, propelled by a surge in levels of carbon dioxide, the World Meteorological Organization reported Tuesday, raising the threat of increased global warming. The scientists warn that the Earth’s natural ability to store and mediate the gases through oceans, plants, and other means may be reaching a saturation point, which could exacerbate current warming. Not all scientists agree, however. The World Meteorological Organization’s annual report “shows that, far from falling, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere actually increased last year at the fastest rate for nearly 30 years,” said Michel Jarraud, the group’s secretary-general, in a statement. “We must reverse this trend by cutting emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases across the board,” said Jarraud. “We are running out of time.”

Printable solar panels, developed by CSIRO and Melbourne universities, one step closer to market Australian solar power scientists are one step closer to making available a cheaper and faster way to print solar cells on to plastic. CSIRO’s senior research scientist Dr Fiona Scholes said the technology was almost at the commercialisation stage and could be used to power laptops to rooftops. “iPad covers, laptop bags, skins of iPhone – not just for casing electronics but to collect some energy as well and power those electronics,” Dr Scholes said.

NASA probe to study world’s forests and carbon cycle NASA is developing a new probe that will create a unique 3D map of all the world’s forests, in an attempt to improve understanding of their role in the carbon cycle and the mitigation of climate change. From its celestial vantage point on the International Space Station, the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) lidar will work to answer a long-running question. While forests of all kinds are invaluable because of their biodiversity and importance to global ecosystems, they also provide an essential service, as trees store significant amounts of carbon. It is thought that around a quarter of all carbon emissions are absorbed by the biosphere – by living organisms but especially by trees. When released, this carbon can be a big contributor to climate change.  However, scientists are unsure exactly how much carbon is stored in the world’s forests. With its advanced laser-based system, GEDI will allow scientists to accurately calculate this, mapping faraway forests with remarkable precision.

Art project to highlight risk of climate change to Bristol A blue chalk line – heralded as the largest art work ever commissioned in the UK – has begun weaving its way around Bristol’s streets to raise awareness of what could happen if global warming goes unchecked. The HighWaterLine project is designed to show which parts of the city are at risk of disappearing under water if sea levels rise and more extreme weather batters the coast of England’s west country. Over the next fortnight, hundreds of residents are expected take to the streets to create the 32-mile line, which aims to show what could be lost.


David Attenborough returns to the Great Barrier Reef for a new BBC series Sir David Attenborough is returning to the Great Barrier Reef for a new BBC series, almost six decades after he first filmed there. The veteran wildlife presenter will front three hour-long films from the natural wonder off the coast of Australia, using sophisticated techniques to examine the array of creatures in new ways. The landmark BBC1 series, to be called David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef, is being made by the team behind the award-winning First Life and is expected to be screened late next year. They will use techniques such as satellite scanning to examine the 1,429-mile reef as well as macro lenses on the cameras that will enable viewers to close in on tiny and normally unseen creatures.

Greenpeace launch campaign to save ancient Mahan Forest from Indian Coal This week, environmental group Greenpeace have launched a campaign to save over 400,000 trees and its local inhabitants in Mahan, India, from a potentially illegal coal plant. A petition has already begun to raise pressure on India’s minister of tribal affairs to ensure a fair village vote in the wake of proposals to develop a coal plant in the Mahan forest. Locals run the risk of being bullied into voting in favour of the coal plant, with cases of some people already being threatened and arrested as they protest the plans. The Mahan community make their living off the forest, selling seasonal forest produce, such as mahua flowers and tendu leaves. The community would subsequently lose their livelihood, with the energy being produced by the coal plant only beneficial to industry, not the community.

India’s ‘Steve Irwin’, Kartick Satyanarayan, calls for support to save endangered wildlife He has been called the Steve Irwin of India, but fending off wild animals is all part of the job for wildlife campaigner Kartick Satyanarayan. In the spotlight recently for helping free Raju the Indian elephant, who cried when he was released after 50 years in chains, Mr Satyanarayan is in Australia to bolster support for his work saving India’s wildlife. “I sometimes feel that maybe my blood is green. You just are sometimes born with it,” the co-founder of Indian conservation group Wildlife SOS said.

Economy and Business

Banning food waste: companies in Massachusetts get ready to compost Massachusetts recently enacted the most aggressive mandatory composting program in history, to affect supermarkets, colleges, nursing homes, and prisons. How are they adapting? Starting 1 October, approximately 1,700 of the state’s biggest food-waste generators – think hospitals, colleges, supermarkets, hotels, nursing homes, prisons and other facilities that produce at least one ton of food waste per week – must divert it away from landfills. The state’s new commercial food-waste ban will require table scraps, withered fruits, tired vegetables, and expired packaged foods to flow toward food pantries, compost facilities, local farms – or to newly established anaerobic digestion facilities that can transform it into clean energy.

Yale University fund takes aim at climate change As pressure grows from students who want to see their schools use financial clout to address environmental issues, Yale University’s investment office wrote to its money managers asking them to assess how investments could affect climate change and suggesting they avoid companies that do not take sensible “steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” The letter, from David F. Swensen, Yale’s chief investment officer, stopped short of asking managers to sell shares in companies with a “large greenhouse footprint.” Instead, Yale asked them to “discuss with company managements the financial risks of climate change and the financial implications of current and prospective government policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

How London Zoo made its old water infrastructure more sustainable In 1995, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) faced huge water management issues with a water infrastructure that was old and required an ever increasing maintenance and annual water budget. The strategies developed and implemented at the zoo have saved more than £1m since 1995. Moreover, the annual water charge today is only 5.9% higher than 12 years ago. This figure is more significant considering that from 2002 to 2014 the mean cost per square cubic metre of water charged to ZSL has increased by 103.1%.

Politics and Society

Fremantle joins the One Planet council family The City of Fremantle has joined the elite of sustainable councils – one of only two in Australia, and four in the world – to be officially certified as a One Planet Living council. The One Planet Council certification provides a framework and action plan for councils to empower “one planet living” – living within Earth’s finite resources. …Fremantle Mayor Dr Brad Pettitt said the city’s certification was a significant achievement, and vital to ongoing sustainability efforts. “We’ve been working steadily towards best practice and leadership in sustainability at all levels and have had some significant achievements over the years, including becoming WA’s first carbon neutral council in WA in 2009.,” Dr Pettitt said. “The One Planet accreditation is another signal to the community that our efforts are not token gestures or small talk, but worthwhile, effective and measurable.

Human rights violations have increased 70% since 2008 globally Since 2008, there has been an unprecedented rise in human rights violations globally, up 70% according to a new report. Workers’ rights are seriously compromised and rural and indigenous communities are facing land grabs and forced displacement amid growing demand for low-cost labour and resources, according to the 2014 Human Rights Risk Atlas published by risks analytics firm Maplecroft. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPS), unanimously endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011, are designed to address these issues. They summarise states’ duties and business’ responsibilities to protect and respect human rights, and provide guidelines on how they should be put into practice.

United Nations says international conflicts are hurting farmers and cutting food production International conflict is taking a big hit out of global food production. Dominique Burgeon, the director of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) emergency and rehabilitation division, cites conflicts in Iraq, Syria, the central African republic, south Sudan and Gaza among key emergencies his organisation has been dealing with since the end of last year. Mr Burgeon says emergency and conflict situations can have a huge impact on food production, using the example of Syria which in good years produces as much as five million tonnes of wheat.  “According to the latest projections, we would be around two million tonnes this year, so it means a huge deficit that has to be plugged one way or another,” Mr Burgeon said.

Diners in Austin, NYC Going Halfsies to Address Obesity, Food Waste, Hunger Controlling the size of your portions is a great way to save money, food and unnecessary health problems caused by obesity. Eating out, on the other hand, takes that control away from you — unless you go for a restaurant that’s signed up for Halfsies. Launched at the end of 2012 in Texas and New York, it’s an initiative that lets you donate half of your food before it even gets to the table. Apart from the warm, fuzzy feeling you’ll get from giving, your waistline will be thankful as well. Here’s how the idea works: Diners still pay full price for a meal but receive half of the portion size instead — while the other half goes off to people in need throughout the city.

Bristol to provide urban farming inspiration as EU Green Capital Steve Glover doesn’t mind being called an unlikely pioneer of sustainable urban agriculture. A few years ago he didn’t even know how to grow organic vegetables, let alone on a deserted piece of land next to Bristol’s train station. Today, Glover is supplying high-end local restaurants with vegetables and salads from his farm, the Severn Project. His staff, those that grow and pick the produce are recovering drug addicts. …Glover trains them as organic farmers during their drug rehabilitation programme, giving them work at the end of the process. “In the past, our growers would walk through town identifying themselves as drug addicts”, he notes. “Now they walk down the street saying, ‘I supply this restaurant; I supply that restaurant’.”

Built Environment

Tender to develop a pathway to Zero Net Energy towns A proposal to develop an open-source roadmap for how to finance and deliver a zero net energy town in a regional New South Wales area is currently out to tender. And among the finance options under consideration is the Environmental Upgrade Agreement model. The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage has provided $80,000 for the tender fee for the ZNET, with possible test cases, Moree, Uralla, Guyra and Quirindi. Executive director of facilitator Starfish Initiatives Adam Blakester said the blueprinting process will involve looking at financing models, including local investment , finance offered by technology companies and EUAs.


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