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Sustainable Development News, Monday 12 May 2014

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

Participation is democratising; it’s now time to democratise climate solutions
Historically, our society has done a poor job engaging a broad base of voices in conversations that matter. That’s true of the discourse around energy and climate, which is mostly dominated by business stakeholders and policymakers. But the same could be said of political campaigns, for example, which have always given elites and big donors outsized influence. The underlying assumption is that getting more people involved isn’t practical or worthwhile.  But now, with great leaps in technology, that assumption is eroding.

Green groups question $16b Galilee Basin coal mine’s returns to Queensland
The State Government yesterday approved Adani’s $16 billion Carmichael project, north-west of Clermont, saying it will create thousands of jobs and provide a multi-billion boost to the economy.  The Carmichael Coal Mine will produce up to 60 million tonnes of coal each year and includes a 189-kilometre rail line.   The project, which is being run by Adani Mining, a wholly owned subsidiary of India’s Adani Group, now goes to the Federal Government for final approval.

Environment

Honeybees abandoning hives and dying due to insecticide use, research finds
The mysterious vanishing of honeybees from hives can be directly linked to insectcide use, according to new research from Harvard University. The scientists showed that exposure to two neonicotinoids, the world’s most widely used class of insecticide, lead to half the colonies studied dying, while none of the untreated colonies saw their bees disappear.  “We demonstrated that neonicotinoids are highly likely to be responsible for triggering ‘colony collapse disorder’ in honeybee hives that were healthy prior to the arrival of winter,” said Chensheng Lu, an expert on environmental exposure biology at Harvard School of Public Health and who led the work.  The loss of honeybees in many countries in the last decade has caused widespread concern because about three-quarters of the world’s food crops require pollination.

10 staff to monitor 800 environmental projects: report
Only 10 staff monitored 800 environmentally-sensitive projects across the country in 2011, a new report on Gladstone Harbour reveals.  And federal environment department officers did not take any notes – and appeared to have no knowledge that a protective bund wall in Gladstone Harbour was leaking – five months after the problem was first noticed by the public and the Queensland Government.  At that time, there were only 10 federal government environmental monitoring staff managing 800 environmentally-sensitive projects around Australia.

Gladstone dredging project ‘not consistent with best practice’
A dredging project at Gladstone harbour which coincided with the deaths of a large number of fish was deficient in its decision making and construction, a report instigated by the federal government has found.  An independent review, ordered by environment minister Greg Hunt, found aspects of the design and construction of a “bund” wall, which aimed to prevent dredged sediment leaking into the harbour of the Queensland port, “were not consistent with industry best practice”.  The report says the location of water-monitoring sites and record-keeping practices were “inadequate”, with a confusingly complex oversight regime from state and federal governments.

WA shark cull: Undersized animals killed during trial prompts call for policy to be scrapped
A conservation group says Western Australia’s shark catch-and-kill policy should not receive federal approval because at least 18 undersized animals died during a trial.  Drum lines were set off five Perth beaches and another two in the South West following a spate of fatal shark attacks in the state, attributed mostly to great whites.  The trial program ran for about three months and the State Government, which hailed it a success, is pushing for an extension for the next three summers.

Male-only gene trick could leave invasive fish species floundering
A genetic modification that creates male-only populations could give us a new weapon against invasive fish such as carp that plague our waterways.  “Daughterless technology”, which works by removing females so a population can no longer breed, has previously been used to tackle mosquitoes. But new CSIRO research shows that it also works on fish.  The technology is safe and could be used to greatest effect with other forms of pest control. It might also be used to control other vertebrate pests such as cane toads.

14 New “Dancing Frogs” Discovered in India
Fourteen new species of tiny “dancing frogs” have been discovered in the jungles of western India, scientists report.  The spectacular haul more than doubles the number of Indian dancing frogs, a family named for the bizarre courtship displays of their foot-waving males, to 24 species.  The diminutive amphibians—which measure 13 to 35 millimeters long—were found during a decade-long search across the Western Ghats, a mountain range that extends north-south across India for 990 miles (1,600 kilometers).

Economy and Business

Unpicking the link between laissez-faire economics and corporate greenwashing
Research says firms greenwash less and engage in more substantive CSR in countries which emphasise individual responsibility.  An Oxford University study has found a connection between national attitudes to individualism and greenwashing.

Major companies fail to act on responsible soy sourcing says WWF
There has always been a concern that companies that are not in the public eye are failing to embed sustainability into their operations.  Now we have some hard evidence with the release of a report by NGO WWF which shows that while many retailers across Europe are heeding the call to move to the responsible sourcing of soy, companies operating behind the scenes in the animal feed, meat and egg sectors are largely failing to act.

More flexibility for irrigators to trade water: ACCC
A more flexible water market has enabled a great number of irrigators to trade their assets and remain connected to irrigation networks.  In its fourth annual water monitoring report, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has revealed more than a million megalitres of water entitlements was sold in the Murray-Darling Basin in 2012-13.

CEFC key to unlocking huge renewables market
The chief of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation [Australia] has made another pitch for the cause of the $10 billion green bank, describing its role as a “specialist financier” for Australia’s renewables industry as critical.  Speaking at the Australian Solar Council conference in Melbourne on Friday, Yates described renewable energy assets as a “unique animal,” with huge potential to create jobs, transform Australia’s supply chain industry and replace fossil fuels.  Yates said the CEFC’s role as a “circuit-breaker or catalyst,” in an increasingly complex political and economic environment, had been a great success.

Politics and Society

Upper Hunter conservationist gives up battle against mining projects, sells farm
The owner of an Upper Hunter property that was transformed using restoration techniques has explained how financial pressures forced him to sell up, to make way for a coal mine.  Peter Andrews’ Natural Sequence Farming featured on the ABC’s Australian Story program has transformed his Bylong Valley property, Tarwyn Park from salt-ravaged land to fertile, drought resistant pastures.

Acland coal mine: Company seeking mine expansion donated $700,000 to LNP, federal Liberal Party
Landholders on Queensland’s Darling Downs say they are fighting a losing battle to stop a huge mine expansion on prime farming country because the company behind the project is a massive donor to the conservative side of politics.  The mining group New Hope wants to expand its coal mine at Acland, west of Toowoomba, taking the operation’s output from 4.8 million tonnes to 7.5 million tonnes per year. It will also increase the mine’s water consumption to 9 billion litres per year, in an area that has recently been drought declared.

Farm poison ban reversed by new Tasmanian Liberal government
The new Tasmanian Liberal government has reversed a ban on the use of 1080 poison by farmers, but the Greens have warned that this will reopen divisions and trash the brand of the state’s products.  The former state Labor government had put in place a timetable to ban the controversial poison from next year, but the new government on Friday announced it would abandon the plan because there was no alternative for farmers to use against animals such as possums and wallabies that were destroying their crops.

Indian political parties gloss over environment
NEW DELHI (AP) — As India faces certain water scarcity and ecological decline, the country’s main political parties campaigning for elections have all but ignored environmental issues seen as crucial to India’s vast rural majority, policy analysts say.  Environmentalists say the omission is alarming given the problems India faces. The World Bank estimates that environmental degradation costs India 5.7 percent of its annual gross domestic product, and causes a quarter of the country’s 1.6 million deaths among children each year.  On Wednesday, the World Health Organization confirmed that India’s capital, New Delhi, has the most polluted air in the world, according to data reported by 1,600 cities in 91 countries.

East China government says no waste plant without support
In a statement on its website, the Yuhang government said all work on the incinerator had stopped, and that it would invite the public to participate in a decision on whether to go ahead with the scheme.  We will “invite the local people to participate, fully listen to and seek everyone’s opinions — and guarantee people’s right to know what is happening and right to participate,” it said.  The announcement is an apparent victory for protesters, who have demonstrated against the plan for more than two weeks.

So Delicious turns to Twitter for ‘the world’s shortest grant application’
In a novel use of Twitter, So Delicious, the maker of coconut, almond and soy milk products, is using the social media platform for “the world’s shortest grant application”. It’s giving out money for ideas to make the planet a better place in 140 characters or less.

The truth inside the Google bus lawsuit: gentrification hurts the environment
A new lawsuit brought by San Francisco activists against the city places blame squarely on Silicon Valley’s now infamous private tech-employee shuttle buses, claiming that they not only spew air pollution across the city and endanger cyclists and pedestrians, but also that they directly displace residents from their homes. But this lawsuit – and the city’s bypassing of a review process, and the buses themselves – isn’t really about the environment. It’s about class, and it could foretell big changes for how California’s cities grow in the future.

Waste Reduction

Environment Minister Albert Jacob wants households to collect food scraps and garden cuttings
WA households will be asked to separate garden cuttings and possibly food scraps to boost the state’s woeful recycling rate.  Environment Minister Albert Jacob wants councils in Perth and regional towns to introduce a third bin to collect organic waste for composting.  Recycling leftover food is common in the US and Europe.  The three-bin system – one for general rubbish, one for co-mingled recycling and one for green waste – is already operated by several Perth councils.  A further 23 councils have now expressed an interest in adopting it before a big rise in the landfill levy next year.

Food Systems

What Is A GMO? Genetically Modified Foods Continue To Confuse Consumers
There’s a lot of confusion about genetically modified foods and their safety.  Some people feel very strongly about GMOs. Opponents, who at times have protested in the streets, say consumers have the right to know whether their food contains GMOs. The Vermont law is their first major victory.  The food industry and companies that genetically engineer seeds have pushed back against the labeling laws, saying GMOs are safe and labels would be misleading.  “It’s really polarizing,” says New York University’s Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition and food studies. “There’s no middle ground.”

EMUs changing land management perspective
EMU stands for Ecosystem Management Understanding, and is a way of assessing land which uses and builds on the landholders’ existing knowledge.  It’s not a radical concept, but it can have a big impact on productivity.  Dr Hugh Pringle helps landholders carry out this type of assessment and has worked with people in Africa, South Australia’s APY lands and recently, with a station owner near Burra.  “We go out onto the landscape and ask questions and get the landholders to work out for themselves what’s going wrong,” he says.  “With our observations of what we think is going wrong, we formulate specific questions for that area to pull those issues to the forefront.  “The key benefit is empowering the landholder to understand his land as the system.”

Built Environment

Too big to save: why commercial buildings resist energy efficiency
While many see beauty in a city skyline lit up at night, energy efficiency researchers see wasted resources and missed opportunities. Leaving lights on in empty buildings is just the tip of the iceberg. A recent behavioral study (pdf) by the University of California Davis and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) concludes that low cost changes in building operations can save from 5% to 30% of buildings energy usage, but often these changes aren’t made.

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