Sustainable Development News

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Top Story

Ocean plastic count in the trillions
The first estimate of plastic afloat on the global oceans is a “highly conservative” 5.25 trillion pieces. The count, which only measures surface-floating plastic, finds its total mass would weigh around 268,940 tonnes – though the vast majority of pieces are smaller than a grain of rice. Spinning out of gyres – rotating ocean currents that act as shredders – tiny plastic has reached all the world’s oceans, according to the study in the journal PLOS One. Wellington-based agency dumpark conducted the numerical modelling study and developed an accompanying interactive map (see below). “This means marine life is more vulnerable to ingestion through filter feeding and the toxins that come with that,” Marcus Eriksen, of the U.S. 5 Gyres Institute, told Fairfax Media. “I think it’s safe to say that microplastics impact the entire marine ecosystem,” Dr Eriksen said.

COP20, Peru

John Kerry: climate change is now a security issue
John Kerry, the US secretary of state, will call on world leaders to reach for an ambitious deal to fight climate change in a visit to UN negotiations on Thursday. The appearance of a high-profile official such as Kerry at a critical stage of the talks will send a powerful signal of Barack Obama’s continued commitment to climate action, US officials say.

Australia may not sign up to Paris climate deal: Andrew Robb
Trade Minister Andrew Robb has told  business leaders at climate change negotiations in Lima that Canberra may not sign up to a new global deal if major trade competitors are not pulling their weight,  stating Australia will not “get it in the neck”. Mr Robb hosted the meeting for Australian business leaders on Tuesday – which Fairfax Media also attended – and said the Abbott government had to ensure anything agreed through the United Nations climate talks would not put Australia at a disadvantage to its immediate trade rivals.

Energy and Climate Change

Geothermal powers ahead of gas
NEW ZEALAND – Geothermal has pipped gas generation for the first time as more plants come on stream. The 12-month milestone has been welcomed by Energy Minister Simon Bridges who said this showed there was good progress being made towards the target of 90 per cent renewable generation by 2025. “We’ve always been clear that should be on market principles rather than any subsidies or government regulatory regime. What we’re seeing is that is happening,” Bridges said. Electricity Authority figures show for the year ended October 30 geothermal generation accounted for 16.3 per cent of the total and gas 15.8 per cent.

More than half of Nissan Leaf owners insist they will never u-turn and buy conventional cars again
Nissan will today publish the results of customer research suggesting a majority of customers for its Leaf have become electric vehicle converts and have no intention of buying conventional fuelled cars in the future. The auto giant undertook the research using a relatively small sample of 76 current Leaf owners from among the 6,500 customers to purchase the vehicle in the UK. More than half of respondents said they would not go back to conventional cars, while 95 per cent said they were happy with the Leaf and would recommend it to a friend. In addition, 93 per cent said they used the Leaf as their main family car, more than a third said they found no need to plan journeys ahead of time, and 89 per cent reported significant cost savings had resulted from running an electric car.

The world’s worst anti-climate policies and how to fight them
The climate science might be gloomy but at least governments seem to be doing something about it. The number of laws passed to address climate change is steadily increasing across the world. By last year 127 countries had renewable energy support policies, for instance. But this is only half the story. Examination of public policy developments in the US, EU and China, the world’s three largest economies by far, has shown that side by side with policy initiatives designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions have come new policies that have the opposite effect: increased emissions.

Royal Society guide aims to remove bias from climate science
The Royal Society has produced a 60 second video and guide on climate change and its effect in an effort to remove bias and spin from climate science, instead focusing on what the experts say. The guide and the questions and answers on the Climate Change: Evidence & Causes website is designed to inform the public in an easy to understand and engaging way. The organisation states the guide aims to put more scientific evidence into pub and family arguments on climate change.

Environment and Biodiversity

Olkola Handover: Handing the land back to its rightful owners
Born in the town of Coen in central Cape York, Olkola Traditional Owner and Elder, Mike Ross, has lived his whole life on the Cape. For decades Mike has worked long and hard supporting Traditional Owner groups campaigning to have their land returned to them. And for thirty years he has fought for his own country to be returned to its rightful owners. After over a century locked out of their land and three decades of struggling to get it back — on December 10th 2014 — 633,630 hectares of ancestral homelands have been handed back to the Olkola people. This is a life-changing result for the Olkola. Now the largest non-government landholders in the region, they will play a huge role in determining the future of Australia’s Cape York and its people.

Public concern over mining plans
An overwhelming number of people have opposed a part of the proposed Thames-Coromandel District Plan [New Zealand] that could allow mining in the area. 570 submissions were received that relate to mining activities in the district. Of those 570 submissions, close to 550 opposed mining and mining-related activities. A report prepared by District Plan Manager Leigh Robcke highlights public concern about mining activities in zones, which include the conservation zone, and overlays, which include coastal and historic heritage. “A common theme was that the natural environment of the Coromandel Peninsula is of paramount importance and that mining should be prohibited – or at least very tightly controlled.”

Economy and Business

Where corporate initiatives flounder, sustainable enterprises thrive
For the most part, corporate sustainability programs drive change from the top down. Fish Forever is a partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund and the sustainable fisheries group at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB). It’s a good example of how sustainable business practices can be developed in places that are beyond the reach of corporate initiatives. Fish Forever is launching this year in five countries – Belize, Brazil, Indonesia, Mozambique and the Philippines. It targets fishers with a single boat or two, as well as those who fish from shore… Yet most of these near-shore, local fisheries are unmanaged, overexploited or even collapsed. “The tragedy of the commons is on full display,” Jenks says. “Every fisherman is out there trying to catch the last fish,” says John Mimikakis, who oversees oceans programs at Environmental Defense: “That’s an environmental crisis and a humanitarian one because so many people depend on these small-scale fisheries for their nutrition and their livelihood.”

Green economy faces sustainability skills gap
Too few businesses are equipped with the skills needed to compete in a sustainable economy, a leading business body has warned. Research by Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) found only 13 per cent of organisations are confident they have the right blend of skills to successfully transition to a sustainable economy, while coping with a “perfect storm” of threats from climate change, increasing resource scarcity, unprecedented consumption, and a rapidly growing global population. “This skills gap is limiting businesses’ and organisations’ ability to capitalise on the significant economic opportunities offered by more sustainable actions,” said Tim Balcon, chief executive of IEMA.

Prince of Wales urges accountants to spread corporate sustainability message
The Prince of Wales will today call on the accountancy profession to step up efforts to promote corporate sustainability reporting, arguing that the measurement of a host of environmental metrics should become the norm for businesses around the world. Prince Charles is to attend an event to mark the 10th anniversary of the Accounting for Sustainability (A4S) initiative, which he set up to help establish and promote environmental reporting best practices.

Climate Bonds Initiative lifts lid on green bond market
With the green bonds market set to be worth $100bn next year, The Climate Bonds Initiative has unveiled a new database of every public product on the market in a bid to make it easier for investors to get to grips with the rapidly growing sector. The list, which is the first of its kind, contains basic bond data as well as second party opinions, where these have been made publicly available.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Researchers Turn Old Toothpaste Tubes into Aluminum and Fuel
Nestlé, Kraft Foods and Mondelez International are helping fund a new commercial-scale recycling plant that can turn old toothpaste tubes into aluminum and fuel in only three minutes. This type of plastic-aluminum laminate waste, often used used in drink pouches and pet food packaging, typically ends up in the landfill. Each year, around 16,000 tons of aluminum is wasted in the UK alone. To address this waste problem, researchers at the University of Cambridge have been exploring how laminate packaging would react to intense heating, called microwave-induced pyrolysis.

Farmers donate leftover and unsaleable produce to charity
Farmers on the Coffs Coast in northern New South Wales are donating an estimated 70 kilograms of produce per week to charity. The leftover and unsaleable food is collected locally by REAP, the regional arm of the OzHarvest food rescue program.  The produce, along with other local food donations, is delivered to 24 local organisations including the soup kitchen, various refuges, resource centres, migrant programs and schools.

E-waste Banned from Regular Trash in NY Beginning Jan. 1
A new state law in New York will require the recycling of electronics beginning Jan. 1, 2015. Beginning on that day, consumers wishing to get rid of old computers and monitors, phones, keyboards, TVs and other electronic gear will have to drop them off at participating retail stores or at local recycling events.

Politics and Society

Sam Judd: Responsible giving
Here we go again. Carols blaring through the radio, loads of useless plastic junk being bought, wrapped and discarded. Hams, turkeys, the beach, the bach, and the barbecue are the parts I prefer. While malls are filling with wary Christmas shoppers, I thought I would compile a list of ideas for gifts that will have less impact on your wallet and the planet.

We can’t hope to solve global ills without action against poverty
In recent years there has been growing global awareness of the interplay between rights and the development process and a generalised recognition of social determinants of health connecting poverty, equality and health. Yet, for millions of people throughout the world, the full enjoyment of the right to health still remains a distant goal. Poverty is still one of the driving forces behind ill health, a lack of access to healthcare and medicines and consistent underdevelopment. According to the World Bank, 700m fewer people across developing regions lived in conditions of extreme poverty in 2010 than in 1990. Yet every day thousands of children, women and men die silently from preventable diseases associated with poverty.

Australia’s $200 million climate pledge falls short of its true debt
Climate debt is financially complex but morally simple. It is the idea that rich countries should pay reparations to poor countries for damage suffered as a result of climate change. Justin Lin, former chief economist at the World Bank, summed up the moral argument succinctly back in 2009: “Developing countries, which have historically contributed little to global warming, are now, ironically, faced with 75 to 80 percent of the potential damage from it. They need help to cope with climate change, as they are preoccupied with existing challenges such as reducing poverty and hunger and providing access to energy and water.”

Book review: Standard Deviations – Flawed Assumptions, Tortured Data and Other Ways to Lie with Statistics
If the brand new government ads saying “university graduates earn 75 per cent more” have you mentally shouting, “Compared to what?”, or when someone says, “There is not 100 per cent scientific certainty about climate change,” you feel the urge to Kris Kringle them every volume of the IPCC reports, economics professor Dr Gary Smith’s Standard Deviations – Flawed Assumptions Tortured Data and Other Ways to Lie with Statistics is good mental medicine. An incredibly amusing exploration of how statistics work and how they can be so terribly abused, the book steps the reader through concepts like confirmation bias – how data can be used to confirm an opinion the analyst wanted to see. And it does so in ways that cut through the political spin stats are often given by focusing on eyebrow-raising examples of the misuse of information.

Built Environment

Cities could be the secret to fighting climate change
The world’s population could reach almost 10 billion by 2050. Most people will live in cities. To accommodate an additional 3 billion people, we’ll need to build the equivalent of one new city, that can support one million people, every five days between now and 2050. Currently cities consume 78% of the world’s energy and produce more than 60% of all carbon. Cities are major contributors to climate change, but they’re also highly vulnerable to the risks, especially those on the coast. Recent research by the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at the University of Leeds and London School of Economics and Political Science found that cities could help cut global energy-related emissions by 34% at absolutely no net cost.

Canberra leading the nation on sustainability
When Canberra’s Reverse Solar Auction won this year’s Gold Banksia Award, the nation’s top honour in sustainability, it was no isolated gem of achievement. According to ACT director-general of the Planning and Environment Directorate Dorte Eklund, the territory’s renewable energy policy is among a raft of measures, including low carbon transport (featuring the new light rail), high density planning and recycling, that make the territory a national leader. In addition, medium and high-density development is boosting the territory’s economic resilience, and giving Canberra a greater level of social and civic amenity, exemplified by the activation of the shoreline of Lake Burley Griffin.

Food Systems

Proud stewards of the land
Looking after land for future generations is the philosophy of a Rahotu [Taranaki, New Zealand] farming family who are being praised for their environmental vigilance. Willcox Farms received a Taranaki Regional Council (TRC) environmental award for their stewardship and sustainable dairy farming last month. Willcox Farms is a company formed seven years ago by Rob and Gwen Willcox and their daughter, Tina Worthington, to run the family farm that milks a kiwi-cross herd of 500 cows. Noting 2014 is the United Nations International Year of Family Farming, [Rob] said the farm’s heritage was important to the trio. “The trees will be high in the sky when we’re long gone. We’re putting our mark on the place for future generations. We don’t own the land – we look after it.” Initially he was reluctant to undertake a riparian programme. “And there are still farmers fighting it.” Since the trio started the programme, they’ve noticed fewer weeds, so they no longer need to spray ragwort and thistle. “And the plants provide shelter, so we don’t lose stock. “We didn’t expect there’d be as much benefit as we’ve had. We no longer have an erosion problem and the planting has also stopped flooding damage. So we’re not going to stop when we finish the plan.”


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