Sustainable Development News

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

National Academy: There’s a Good and a Bad Way to “Geoengineer” the Planet
Developing the technology to suck planet-warming carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere is an expensive but promising approach that may be necessary to help prevent the worst effects of climate change, according to the first of two reports released this morning by the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences. But according to the second report, proposals to cool the planet on the cheap by reflecting sunlight are so risky that even serious study of them should be undertaken only in preparation for an emergency. Together the two reports from the National Research Council (NRC) offer the most comprehensive U.S. examination yet of “geoengineering”—the intentional intervening in the climate system in an attempt to forestall some of the impact of global warming.

How to make a big difference to global warming – make cities cooler
Cities may only occupy about 2% of the world’s habitable land, but they are big drivers of global climate change. Cities are usually hotter than rural areas, and get referred to in the jargon as “urban heat islands.” Cities are hotter for a number of reasons. Traffic pollution creates a greenhouse effect that keeps heat in at night. Cutting down trees means you lose their ability to absorb heat and convert it into nutrients. Paving and tarmac quickly release the heat they retain back into the air, and rainwater has to be drained away in sewer systems, which deprives the area of the cooling effect of rain-soaked soil.

Council approves 2GW mega solar project plan in Queensland
A staged plan to build what would be the largest solar PV plant in Australia – and possibly the largest yet proposed in the world – has been granted planning approval in Queensland. Solar Choice, which manages commercial solar power tenders and has been working on building a pipeline of major solar projects, has been working on the Bulli Creek Solar Farm in southern Queensland, a few kilometres from Powerlink’s 330kV substation near Millmerran, for the past 18 months.

German energy prices continue to plummet, and cuts prices in France
EPEX has just published the update for power prices on the wholesale exchange for January. In the winter, the spread is the greatest between France and Germany. Year over year, prices in Germany were down by a fifth in January, but the effect is probably partly due to record wind power production. Over at France’s DD Magazine, Yves Heuillard explains how France benefited from lower wholesale prices thanks to the surge in wind power production in the second half of the month “despite French demand for electric heat.” Nonetheless, French power was 17 per cent less expensive in December 2014 than it was in December 2013, when there was much greater demand for heat during a cold spell.

Power price rises spark Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland fears for regional businesses
The Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland [Australia] says power price rises in regional areas are unsustainable. The chamber said some businesses had seen power bills for the latest quarter rise by $5,000 and may be forced to cut staff. The chamber’s Nick Behrens said it was a common story and he hoped the national energy regulator took steps to alleviate the cost pressures in regional areas.”Across the last seven years, prices on average have risen by over 120 per cent, so what we are finding is due to unsustainable rises in electricity prices – it is now starting to impact on their viability,” he said. “Something has to change, we can’t go year in and year out having double digit increases.”

Environment and Biodiversity

Australia’s extinction rate higher than most other continents
Australia is losing its mammals at a quicker rate than most regions in the world.  A three-year nationwide study has found Australia’s loss of 10 per cent of its mammals since settlement is one of the highest rates recorded globally.  Researcher John Woinarski, from the Charles Darwin University, said the study found cats and foxes were mainly to blame.  “Australia has lost about 30 mammal species out of about 280 endemic land mammals since European settlement,” he said.

Conservationists call for UK to create world’s largest marine reserve
Pressure is mounting on the UK government and opposition parties to commit to creating at least one massive marine reserve in the Pacific or Atlantic to protect rare and threatened whales, sharks, fish and corals ahead of the general election. A coalition of over 100 conservation groups, prominent academics and film and TV celebrities have called on the Foreign Office to declare full protection zones around the Pitcairn Islands in the Pacific ocean, as well as Ascension Island and the South Sandwich Islands in the Atlantic. The three proposed reserves would together protect around 1.8m sq km (0.7m sq miles) of ocean and more than double the size of the world’s existing marine protected areas (MPA).

Australian scientists may have solved the mystery of bee colony collapse
It’s the bee version of a mystery thriller. Hives full of healthy honey bees suddenly empty. Inside, beekeepers the world over would find abandoned young and a queen but no worker bee corpses. At first apiarists worried a new disease was infecting their colonies. Evidence would later show bees were stressed out – by pesticides, pests and poor food quality – but not even that could explain the rapid collapse of colonies. Now an Australian-led team has discovered how multiple stressors trigger a series of events that can quickly lead to a total breakdown of bee society.

Imperiled Monarch Butterflies Get $3.2 Million From U.S. Government
Monarch butterflies have experienced a breathtaking decline in the past 20 years, going from a billion strong in 1996 to roughly 30 million today because of habitat destruction. On Monday, the U.S. government announced the first federal pot of money for rescuing monarchs, with the Fish and Wildlife Service earmarking $3.2 million for the effort. About $2 million will go toward conservation programs, with the balance seeding the Monarch Conservation Fund, to be administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The foundation will solicit donations to match Fish and Wildlife Service funding.

US harvest threatened by oil and gas boom and water shortages
Competition for increasingly scarce water resources is already a real and compelling issue, impacting economies and societies in both the developing and developed world. Shortages are localised, which can create an immediate impact on communities, but also have the potential to have truly global consequences. The US has a significant influence on the global food trade, from essential cereal crops to fruits and nuts. Indeed, the US accounts for 32% of global corn production and 31% of global soybean production (pdf) – both vital staples. As a result, the ongoing water crisis in California, the country’s largest agricultural producer, may threaten the price and availability of certain commodities worldwide.

Economy and Business

The Future of Business: From Mechanical to Natural
Times they are a changing. Such transformational times inevitably invoke fear and threat-rigidity yet it is now evident to many in business and beyond that we can no longer deal with today’s challenges with yesterday’s logic. Yesterday’s logic is centered around control-based thinking and self-assertion, which sets us apart from each other and nature. It is logic of command-and-control, top-down, hierarchic domination — rooted in atomized, silo’ed, quantized, mechanistic thinking. As leadership specialist Peter Senge and many others have noted, this shift in management and leadership thinking to a more emergent, collaborative, relational and integrative logic is the most profound challenge facing organizations today.

Green bond investors push for greater transparency
Zurich and the World Bank are among major investors today seeking clearer standards for the burgeoning green bond market. The group comprising substantial purchasers of green bonds including pension funds, insurance companies and asset management firms is set to release a Statement of Investor Expectations to “support the development of a consistent, durable framework for the green bonds market”. Over $37bn of green bonds were issued during 2014 to fund clean energy and other climate change solutions, almost three times the amount sold in 2013, and the market is tipped to hit $100bn over the course of this year.

How To Write a Green Business Plan That Stands Out
Having a green business plan is mission-critical to your company’s success in the global green economic revolution that has leaped in less than a decade to trillions of dollars in annual revenues. Business success is now being determined by a company’s ability to sell solutions that align value with values. This article begins a two-part series on how to write a green business plan that will win customers, successfully recruit millennial generation work associates and attract investors.

SolarAid project benefits 9 million in Africa, 1.5 million lights sold
Many of the 600 million people who are still without electricity in Africa rely on home-made kerosene lamps for lighting − putting themselves in danger from fire, toxic black smoke, and eye damage. But cheaper solar technology is being offered that can provide long-lasting light and additional power to charge telephones and other electric devices, without the need for an electricity grid connection. The campaign to eliminate the kerosene lamp was begun by SolarAid, an international charity that seeks to combat poverty and climate change. It set up an African network to sell these devices in 2006, with the aim that every kerosene lamp will be replaced with solar power by the end of the decade. So far, with 1.5 million solar lights sold, about 9 million people have benefited from its scheme.

Waste and the Circular Economy

How China is turning faecal sludge into ‘black gold’
Heinz-Peter Mang is obsessed with turning human waste into gold. As millions of Chinese move to cities, the German engineer is convinced the country is on the way to hitting the jackpot. A growing portion of China’s toilet waste is converted into fertiliser and biogas. In Beijing, some estimates show 6,800 tons of human excrement are treated each day, enough to fill almost three Olympic-size swimming pools. Over the past decade, China’s economic ascent has driven millions of rural workers into its cities in the largest migration in human history. In 2013, the number of urban dwellers crossed 731 million, overtaking the rural population by more than 100 million. Some fallouts: water shortages in the North and toilet waste routed into rivers in the south. That’s forcing city planners to get creative in dealing with toilet refuse, and drawing engineers like Mang to help refine models.

Dob in a tosser
Eagle-eyed members of the NSW public can dob-in litterbugs who dump rubbish from their vehicles from March 1. The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) launched a new system on February 1 to allow public reporting of littering from vehicles using the Authority’s website or phone app. Fines will be issued from March for reports submitted by the community. It’s a system that was introduced in Victoria in 2002 and Queensland in 2011 with the idea being that people think twice before littering if they think they are being watched. Reports can include observing litter being thrown out of a vehicle into a public place, such as a car park, fast food outlet, public road or shopping centre car park or seeing litter being blown off or out of a vehicle – including a trailer or back of a ute – into a public place.

Politics and Society

China in Latin America: Growing links that could impact climate talks
China is now a major creditor, investor, and trade partner across the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).  Chinese-CELAC trade has accelerated rapidly and China recently replaced the European Union as the second largest market for CELAC exports. Between 2000 and 2013, trade in goods between Latin America and the Caribbean and China increased from around US$12 billion to nearly US$275 billion. This trade and investment is overwhelmingly concentrated in natural resources and energy such as oil, copper and soybeans. Following the newly created China-CELAC Forum last January, countries agreed to aim to reach US$500 billion of bilateral trade and US$250 billion of Chinese direct investment to the region over the next decade. Below the team at the Brown University Climate and Development Lab explore how this could impact low carbon development on the continent.

UN scheme blamed for Brazil steel emissions spike
Carbon emissions from Brazil’s steel industry have doubled as a result of UN-backed measures to cut reliance on coal. The UN’s Clean Development Mechanism provides a financial reward to industries that replace the polluting fossil fuel with cleaner sources – in this case charcoal grown from specially planted forests in order to reduce global emissions. But the scheme has backfired, finds a report published in Nature Climate Change. Emissions from Brazil’s steel industry doubled from 9.1 million to 182 million tons of CO2 between 2000 and 2007, despite a decline in the use of coal.

Oil company employees should consider quitting their jobs (Opinion)
Back in January, the Guardian carried a story about Forum for the Future having decided to no longer work with Shell or BP. I explained the grounds on which we came to that decision, and while acknowledging “our failure” to turn what were once good working relationships with both those companies into anything resembling sustained traction, I also reminded readers that this experience had, if anything, reinforced our commitment to working with those companies in other sectors intent on bringing about real transformation. The response to the article has been illuminating – broadly supportive, apart from a number of hostile voices pointing out that we should have severed our ties with Shell and BP many years ago. But I’ve been particularly struck by the reaction from old colleagues either still working in the sector, or only recently out of it, reminding me yet again of the very personal dilemmas faced by many people working in “big oil” and other fossil fuel businesses.

Food Systems

Is gluten-free good for the planet?
Sales of wheat-based bread and pasta are plummeting, while the UK “free-from” market is worth an estimated £238m, according to retail analyst Kantar Worldpanel. Sainsbury’s, one of the largest stockists of free-from produce in the UK, estimates that one in five consumers now buys gluten-free produce. In the US, the gluten-free food and beverage industry experienced a growth of 44% between 2011-13, with neither market showing signs of slowing down. A quick look at the back of a packet of gluten-free bread shows a variety of ingredients: rice flour, tapioca starch, sorghum, millet, potato starch, maize starch and maize flour. So what happens when 25% of UK consumers start swapping out their daily loaf of bread for gluten-free, and how can we ensure that the grains we’re getting are sustainable?


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