Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
Sign up to the newsletter if you would like the news direct to your inbox each weekday morning.
Energy and Climate Change
Deep emissions cuts needed by 2050 to limit global warming: UN draft
Deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions of 40 to 70 per cent by mid-century will be needed to avert the worst of global warming that is already harming all continents, a draft UN report showed. The 26-page draft, obtained by Reuters on Thursday, sums up three UN scientific reports published over the past year as a guide for almost 200 governments which are due to agree a deal to combat climate change at a summit in Paris in late 2015. It says existing national pledges to restrict greenhouse gas emissions are insufficient to limit warming to 2 degrees celsius above pre-industrial times, a UN ceiling set in 2010 to limit heatwaves, floods, storms and rising seas.
Australia faces unprecedented oversupply of energy, no new energy generation needed for 10 years: report
South-eastern Australia will not need to ramp up energy generation for the next 10 years, even under a worst-case scenario, a report says. The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) report says Australia is facing an energy glut never before seen in the history of the national electricity market. It raises serious questions about the ongoing viability of existing coal-fired power stations, but might also result in more pressure on the Federal Government to reduce the Renewable Energy Target (RET). Electricity use in Australia has been falling now for about four years due to the take-up of rooftop solar systems, greater use of energy-efficient appliances and the downturn in some manufacturing industries that use lots of electricity.
Book Talk: Free Diving World Record Will Soon Be Pushed to 1,000 Feet, Author Says
When James Nestor first witnessed free diving, he nearly threw up. Then he got hooked. He learned to hold his breath for four minutes, hung out with a “shark whisperer,” and even traveled, Jules Verne-like, to the bottom of the sea. Here, he talks about the “master switch of life” and why we’re all born to dive, what it feels like to plunge 3,000 feet in a homemade submarine, and how a group of amateur researchers on the island of Reunion may one day be able to talk with whales.
Captivating Pictures of Africa’s Disappearing Lions
Concern about the fate of Africa’s most iconic cat species is growing, as lion populations have been reduced by 30 percent in the last two decades. To commemorate World Lion Day, which [took] place on August 10, National Geographic presents some of our most captivating images of lions.
Murray-Darling Basin water fight: Dry conditions put plan to the test
As farmers struggle to deal with drought across large parts of New South Wales, the controversial Murray-Darling Basin water-sharing plan is set to be put to the test. “Right now, in some parts of the Murray-Darling Basin it is as dry as a biscuit,” Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) chairman Craig Knowles said. “There is very little water, our dams are very low and people are destocking property as we speak.” After a controversial drafting period, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was signed off by then minister Tony Burke in November 2012. As the system starts to dry out, some farmers expect the plan to be put to the test.
Wombats buried alive by logging company
Forestry Corporation of NSW has buried wombats alive in their burrows, causing slow deaths, despite a deal with wildlife groups to protect the animals during logging. About 150 burrows were marked with GPS co-ordinates in bright paint by the Wombat Protection Society in the Glenbog State Forest, so loggers could avoid the burrows, and restrict truck movements at dawn and dusk. The NSW Environment Protection Authority confirmed the state government-owned Forestry Corporation had agreed to ensure entrances to the burrows weren’t obstructed by logging debris as it felled the southern forest.
Victoria zoos train Maremma bodyguards in bid to save bandicoots
Teams of highly trained dogs will be deployed as “bodyguards” for bandicoots threatened by feral cats and foxes, in an initiative which could help reverse the precipitous decline in several other Australian native species. Zoos Victoria is to run an extensive trial to determine whether groups of Maremma dogs can become trusted allies to the eastern barred bandicoot, which has been virtually wiped out in Australia. The small marsupial is extinct in the wild on mainland Australia, with a modest population remaining in Tasmania. A captive population of around 400 bandicoots is spread across four breeding sites in Australia.
Economy and Business
Agricultural giant Olam International says climate change is ‘absolutely a reality’
The head of one of the world’s largest agricultural commodity trading companies is warning Australian primary producers to take climate change seriously. Olam International chief executive Sunny Verghese has told Landline that agricultural producers and processors need to take action now. “It is absolutely a reality that climate change is going to significantly impact agriculture,” he said. “It impacts it both from the nexus it has with water, and the nexus it has with micro-climate as well, so it is probably the most important driver to future agricultural production, productivity and therefore price.” Mr Verghese was on the Gold Coast this week to address the 2014 Australian Cotton Conference. His Singapore-based company has operations in 65 countries, and is the world’s biggest trader in cashews, and the second biggest trader in coffee and cotton.
Sales of shark fin in China drop by up to 70%
A popular dish at weddings and banquets in China, shark fin soup is increasingly off the menu due to a government frugality drive and awareness campaigns and by conservationists, according to a new report. The trade in shark fins, a symbol of wealth in China and other parts of Asia, has led to the decline in some shark populations by up to 98% in the last 15 years. An estimated 100 million sharks are killed each year with up to 73 million used for their fins. China became the world’s largest market for shark fin due to its rising wealth and desire for luxury goods. However, sales of shark fin have fallen from 50-70%, according to a report by WildAid, a US-based organisation focusing on reducing demand for wildlife products.
Traditional business approaches to aid and charity are being abandoned
Around the world, 1.1 billion live in extreme poverty and families must make difficult decisions daily between food, medicine, housing, and education. Although the circumstances for many people around the world remain dire, there is reason for hope. According to USAID, the number of children in schools is rising, more people have access to clean water and child mortality rates are falling. These positive outcomes are the result of a new roadmap that aims to leverage the resources of governments, foundations, civil society organisations and corporations to spur economic growth. While the roles of different sectors vary considerably, one thing is clear: traditional approaches to aid and charity are being abandoned. Corporations are putting the brakes on donation programs that don’t produce enough business or social results.
Cathay Pacific invests in sustainable biojet fuel developer
Cathay Pacific Airways announced Thursday that it has invested in Fulcrum BioEnergy, Inc., a US- based sustainable biofuel developer, as part of the airline’s biofuel strategy and to help it achieve a target of carbon-neutral growth from 2020. “These fuels are an important component of our sustainable development strategy, under which we aim to achieve carbon-neutral growth from 2020,” said Cathay Pacific Chief Executive Ivan Chu.
Air traffic growth rates will outpace emission reductions, research shows
Efforts to reduce aviation carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will be outweighed by the growth in air passengers, according to new research. Plane ticket prices would need to rise by at least 1.4% a year for emission levels to fall, the research by the University of Southampton said. But such a rise would buck the recent trend of lower air fares, said the authors of the research. They said that even if proposed mitigation measures were agreed upon and put into place, air traffic growth rates were likely to outpace emission reductions, unless demand was substantially reduced.
Politics and Society
Can money buy happiness? [Recommended reading]
If survey data are to be trusted, there’s a surprisingly weak relationship between money and happiness. As national incomes rise, happiness does not increase. Consider this: happiness in the United States has been stable for the past 50 years, although at the same time living standards have doubled. The same holds true for the United Kingdom and Japan. Money does make a difference to happiness in poorer countries though. If you don’t have enough for some degree of reasonable comfort, you can expect to be pretty stressed and unhappy. But once people reach a certain threshold (once they don’t have to worry about a roof over their heads or having enough to eat), extra money makes very little difference.
Can a mathematical equation really be the formula for happiness?
A decision-making task was given to 26 study participants in which they had to make choices winning or losing a monetary reward while also being asked about their happiness at that moment. Most interestingly, however, was the finding that rewards alone are not the best predictor of happiness. The most powerful predictor of happiness was whether or not people’s expectations relating to those rewards were exceeded. Managing our expectations may, therefore, be the best way to promote happiness: if we expect nothing and gain something we will be happier than if we expect what we get, or worse expect more than what we get.
Independent Senator Nick Xenophon increases pressure on Adelaide Zoo over palm oil ice creams
Pressure is continuing to mount on the Adelaide Zoo to reverse its decision to dump a local ice cream company in favour of another supplier that includes palm oil in its product. South Australia Senator Nick Xenophon has begun collecting signatures outside the zoo in an effort to force a special meeting. The move is in response to the decision by Zoos SA to end a contract with local ice cream company Golden North, which spent a year eliminating palm oil from its products as part of a zoo campaign to avoid the ingredient.
Secret AGL political donations while seeking CSG approval
Energy giant supplier AGL gave almost $100,000 to the NSW Labor and Liberal parties while seeking approval to drill 110 coal seam gas wells near Gloucester on the mid-north coast, but only half of those donations were apparently disclosed to the Planning Department making the decision. AGL’s then head of government affairs Sarah McNamara – now an adviser to Prime Minister Tony Abbott – declared on May 13, 2010, that the company had made four political donations over the “relevant” two-year period totalling $48,250. The funds were split $26,250 to Labor and $22,000 to the Liberals, who were then in opposition.
However, the declaration omitted $11,000 donated for membership to the Liberal Party’s now discredited Millennium Forum on October 1, 2008. Between the application and its approval by the Planning Assessment Commission on February 22, 2011, AGL donated a further $39,300. Of that, Labor received two donations of $13,750 and the bulk of the remainder went to the Liberals, including for several meals with then opposition leader and later premier Barry O’Farrell, who won a landslide victory in the subsequent March 2011 elections.
Gangs raking in thousands from the rising tide of wildlife crime
Poaching, poisoning and the theft of animals may sound like activities from Britain’s past, but modern gangs are muscling in on the act. A new report claims the scale of the problem is being hidden and that gangs are making large sums of money from illegal activities such as hare-coursing, raking in up to £10,000 a month in one case, while poaching of fish and deer is common and as likely to happen in urban parks as in the countryside. In the report published this week – the first such work to look at the broad range of wildlife crime in the UK – the charity World Animal Protection (WAP) says it presents a worrying picture of how the problem is affecting not only the individual animals and fish but also our biodiversity.
Actress Emma Thompson targets Tony Abbott on climate change
British actress Emma Thompson has targeted Prime Minister Tony Abbott as part of a campaign to protect the Arctic from global warming. The Academy Award winner is pictured atop the Smeerenburg glacier holding a placard that reads: “Tony Abbott climate change is real, I’m standing on it!” Ms Thompson and her 14-year-old daughter, Gaia, are travelling in the Arctic alongside Greenpeace in an effort to encourage government leaders to take action on climate change and protect the North Pole