Sustainable Development News

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Energy and Climate Change

UK spent 300 times more on fossil fuels than clean energy despite green pledge
The UK government has broken a key pledge to support green energy abroad over “dirty” energy projects by spending more than three hundred times as much backing fossil fuel energy compared with clean energy projects via the government’s export credit agency. In the coalition agreement, the Tories and Lib Dems promised in 2010 that UK Export Finance (UKEF), a small government department, would “become champions for British companies that develop and export innovative green technologies around the world, instead of supporting investment in dirty fossil fuel energy production”. But over the course of the parliament, the department has given financial support worth just £3.6m to green energy projects around the world, data released to the Guardian under freedom of information rules shows.

Is geoengineering a bad idea?
In 2010, science writer Eli Kintisch called geoengineering “a bad idea whose time has come”. It is considered by many to be the ultimate admission of our failure to curb carbon emissions – a tech-fix that excuses continued carbon gluttony in the industrialised world. A report released on Tuesday by the US National Academies of Sciences (NAS) said tinkering with the global climate now would be “irrational and irresponsible” and climate change can only be avoided by cutting emissions. But the influential group of 16 scientists who authored the report urged policy makers to commit to further research into some geoengineering techniques. Should there come a time when the world must consider more extreme interventions in the climate, asked Marcia McNutt, the chair of the committee: “Do we want those decisions to be kneejerk reactions? Or do we want them to be made with a wealth of information?”

Green Deal passes 10,000 plan milestone
Over 10,000 UK households have either completed energy efficiency upgrades under the Green Deal financing scheme or are in the process of doing so, according to new figures from the government-backed Green Deal Finance Company (GDFC). The statistics reveal that there are now 10,050 ongoing Green Deal plans in the company’s system, while over 500 additional households are now requesting Green Deal plans each week. The company said the market for the Green Deal’s ‘pay-as-you-save’ financing plans was “beginning to gain traction”, after a slow start to the scheme.

GuardianWitness: Climate change on Valentine’s Day – in pictures
We asked readers to share the things they treasured that could be affected by climate change or something they love that may be lost forever

Environment and Biodiversity

EPA rejects second seabed mining bid
The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has today rejected an application for a major seabed mining operation proposed off the coast of Canterbury [New Zealand]. A decision-making committee appointed by the EPA to hear Chatham Rock Phosphate Limited’s marine consent application concluded the mining would cause “significant and permanent adverse effects” on the benthic (seabed) environment of the Chatham Rise, where the operation was proposed.

To Save Coral Reefs, First Save the Mangroves
With coral reefs in decline and NOAA calling for a larger protected area for reefs in the Gulf of Mexico, U.S. Geological Survey scientists are pointing out another strategy to save reefs: First save the mangroves. Mangrove trees’ thickets of stilt-like roots protect coastal land from erosion and help mitigate the damage of tsunamis and hurricanes.They may also serve as a haven for corals, according to a recent report in Biogeosciences.

Urban habitats ‘provide haven’ for bees
Britain’s urban areas are home to more types of wild bee than farmland, a study has found.  Flowers planted in gardens and allotments provide a valuable food source for bees across the year, according to research. Scientists counted honey bees, bumble bees and other pollinating insects, in and around some of the UK’s largest towns and cities.  Urban habitats can provide a valuable role in bee conservation, they say.

Economy and Business

Don’t trust your bank? Here’s how it could win you back
If we’re looking for ways the global banks can rise to the ethical challenge highlighted by the leaked files from banking giant HSBC, we could do worse than look at one of the few institutions to emerge from the financial crisis with any credit. Smaller players, such as Triodos, actually flourished during the recession by essentially offering an alternative foundation for banking, located in the very values that many bigger banks claim, in their rhetoric, to aspire to. Part of HSBC’s defence this week has been to argue that it has now “put compliance and tax transparency ahead of profitability”. The sector has some convincing to do, however. A recent survey of the general public from the Forum of Private Business found that more than three-quarters of respondents think big firms put profits before ethical standards.

Apple inks $850m deal for First Solar project
Apple is investing $848m (£555m) in a 130MW solar farm in California in partnership with First Solar. The tech giant has signed a 25-year power purchase agreement for electricity generated by First Solar’s California Flats Solar Project in Monterey County, which the companies said amounts to the largest agreement in the industry to provide clean energy to a commercial end user. After the deal was announced by Apple chief executive Tim Cook, the company’s value rose to almost $711bn, making it the first US corporation to close with a market cap above $700bn.

Unilever and Reckitt Benckiser come out top in deforestation rankings
Only a small minority of ‘powerbrokers’ that control the global supply chains that drive over half of tropical deforestation are equipped to tackle bold zero deforestation commitments, according the Forest 500 rankings. Among these are UK based Reckitt Benckiser, Unilever and HSBC. The Global Canopy Programme, which developed the Forest 500, explains that the majority of tropical forest loss and degradation is driven by the production of just a handful of globally traded commodities, including palm oil, soya, beef, leather, timber and pulp and paper. These commodities move along complex supply chains ending up in over 50% of packaged goods in supermarkets worldwide.

“Forest 500” index reveals deforestation heroes and villains
Only a handful of companies, investors and governments are acting to halt slashing and burning of rainforests, despite growing awareness of the problem. That is the picture revealed by the Forest 500, an index of key players in supply chains that drive more than half of tropical deforestation: soya, palm oil, beef, leather, timber, pulp and paper. While some consumer brands are making good on promises to phase out deforestation, they are outnumbered by firms with no forest policies at all.

Dear SB Vanguard: What Are the Hottest Types of Know How to Watch This Year?
This is the latest in a series of posts in which we will poll our global community of business leaders and practitioners — the “SB Vanguard” — on a variety of issues pertinent to the evolving sustainable business landscape. For SB, the theme for 2015 is How Now. With that in mind, which leading-edge, practical tactics and tools do you expect to shine in 2015? What do you think are the hottest types of know-how to watch this year? Here are a few of the responses…

The rubber in your rubbers: the condom company making sexy time sustainable
Waldemar Zeiler, reformed capitalist and co-founder of Einhorn, confesses he and his co-entrepreneurs knew very little about condoms – apart from as users. “We had no clue what we were doing,” he says. “But we worked together with a university in Germany [who are] experts on sustainable rubber production. We’ll go to Malaysia with German scientists and go through our plantations. Then we’ll test the soil and stay over there analysing stuff and make things better. This includes making sure the minimum wage is paid to workers and knowing what’s in the condoms. Right now, we’re 10% sustainable. Our goal is to have an 80-90% sustainable product in five years… But we won’t go round saying it’s 100% Fairtrade or whatever … this is all bullshit and people need to realise that.” Perhaps what the Einhorn crew are really selling is a business model founded on open-source information and transparency. Condoms, it seems, are the product they choose to sell, but the way they deal with the market could be transferable to any product.

Coffee Ground Yarn, Rice Husks and More in M&S’ First Sustainable Footwear Collection
UK retailer Marks & Spencer has launched its first sustainable footwear collection, called Footglove Earth — the latest component of the company’s ongoing Plan A initiative to become the world’s most sustainable retailer by 2020. Each of the shoes’ components is sourced through suppliers that developed them sustainably or through the use of recycled, post-consumer waste: The premium leather uppers are made in tanneries accredited to the independent Leather Working Group standards. The fabric lining is made from 57 percent coffee ground yarns. The soles contain 35 percent natural rubber and 10 percent rice husks and the padding is made from recycled foam. Internal components are made using post-consumer plastic bottles. Furthermore, the adhesives are water-based and latex- and solvent-free, meaning less water and energy used in production.

Politics and Society

Utopia or reality: can South America lead a fossil-free future?
Business, as a rule, doesn’t do utopia. The reason is simple: as the French author and philosopher Albert Camus put it, “utopia is that which is in contradiction with reality.” And reality, as far as conventional capitalism sees it, is about the no-nonsense pursuit of financial profit. On the face of it, therefore, an abstract philosophy based around indigenous Andean precepts of harmony between humans and nature has little to say to rational, money-minded economists and business executives in the twenty-first century. Yet proponents of the South American philosophy of Buen Vivir (literally, “living well”) beg to differ. To prove it, proponents of the belief system have laid out a series of tangible policy steps that they say portend a shift towards a more sustainable, more balanced economy.

Stranded whales set to open Fringe festival
If you happen to be passing through Queen Street tonight, en-route home after a day at the office, be warned. You might just find yourself with a bucket in hand, working alongside other unsuspecting passer bys, to save the 20 or so whales stranded in Aotea Square. Whales, an outdoor performance from Wellington theatre company Binge Culture, officially opens the 2015 Auckland Fringe Festival – running until March 9. The one off show will see six Binge Culture performers join 20 or so members of the public who have volunteered to don wetsuits and be whales for the evening. In 2013 Whales won the best of New Zealand Fringe Award at its premiere in Wellington.

Boris Johnson advised his London air pollution plans are too little, too late
Boris Johnson’s plan for an “ultra low emission zone” (ULEZ) to reduce London’s air pollution from dirty vehicles should not be delayed for five years and must be widened to cover a much larger area of the capital, the London assembly has told the mayor. The zone, which Transport for London (TfL) hopes will enable the city to avoid heavy fines from Europe and cut the number of premature deaths from air pollution each year, will not ban traffic but will charge the owners of polluting vehicles up to £100 a day if they drive into most of central London. With air pollution in London now estimated to be causing the early deaths of over four thousand people a year, the environment committee of the London assembly in its official response to a consultation on the zone argued that waiting until 2020 to introduce the ULEZ would be inexcusable.

WWF collaborating with FSB to combat Russia’s illegal loggers
Russia’s feared Federal Security Service (FSB) is working with environmentalists to combat illegal logging in the country’s Far East. Activists from WWF described long term collaboration with officials from Russia’s former KGB service in the effort to combat corruption and illegal timber exports. Alexey Kokorin, head of WWF Russia’s climate and energy programme told RTCC that the relationship was “unusual” but also unavoidable. “If you want to stop any transfer over a boundary, you have to cooperate with the security services,” he said. For WWF, this means providing training for local customs officials – a branch of the FSB – in how to distinguish different species of trees, and identify those which are illegal.

Built Environment

How can we make our streets safer for children to cycle?
There are lots of surveys asking people about cycle infrastructure preferences. But no one has asked about riding with or by children. We assume standards need to be higher than for riding by solo adults, but haven’t explored how high they need to be. Are residential streets generally OK for child cycling? What levels of segregation are needed on busier roads? Asking about preferences is limited – we also need to look at what happens to child cycling when infrastructure is radically improved. But as we – and other low-cycling countries – are only just getting around to that, there’s not much evidence yet. So I carried out the first online survey measuring adults’ attitudes towards child cycling, using 10 infrastructure examples. Nearly 2,000 people responded to the survey, and a paper on the results has been accepted for publication in the European Journal of Transport and Infrastructure Research.

Food Systems

Breyers to Source 100% Sustainable Vanilla
Breyers has launched an initiative with the Rainforest Alliance to ensure all Breyers vanilla will come from sustainably sourced and Rainforest Alliance-certified vanilla beans from Madagascar. The Unilever brand also says it’s the largest packaged US ice cream brand to source only milk and cream from farmers who don’t treat their cows with artificial growth hormones.


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