Friday 12 September 2014
Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Amazon deforestation jumps 29%
The destruction of the world’s largest rainforest accelerated last year with a 29% spike in deforestation, according to final figures released by the Brazilian government on Wednesday that confirmed a reversal in gains seen since 2009. Satellite data for the 12 months through the end of July 2013 showed that 5,891 sq km of forest were cleared in the Brazilian Amazon, an area half the size of Puerto Rico. Fighting the destruction of the Amazon is considered crucial for reducing global warming because deforestation worldwide accounts for 15% of annual emissions of heat-trapping gases, more than the entire transportation sector.
WA shark cull: Drum lines dumped after EPA recommendations
Drum lines will not be deployed off WA [Australia] beaches this summer after the state’s Environmental Protection Authority advised against extending the Government’s controversial catch and kill shark policy. The regulator’s chairman, Paul Vogel, said the available information and evidence did not provide the organisation with a high level of confidence. Following a spate of fatal shark attacks in the state, in January the WA Government introduced a 13-week trial where baited drum lines were set off Perth and South West beaches. Premier Colin Barnett said the recommendation meant drum lines would not be in place off the WA coast this summer. [Ed: The final decision rests with the Commonwealth’s Environment Minister, Greg Hunt]
WA government moves to approve 25 contentious resource projects
The WA government plans to retrospectively validate 25 contentious resource project approvals, a move the Australian Conservation Foundation says shows the proposal for “one-stop-shop” state environmental decisions is “deeply inadequate”. The WA government is introducing legislation to provide reassurance to 25 huge resource projects which were approved by the state’s Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) between 2002 and 2012. EPA board members were subsequently found to have a conflict of interest, and in 2012 a supreme court ruling found that the environmental approval of a $40bn gas hub at James Price Point in the Kimberley was illegal. Chief justice Wayne Martin found that three board members had a series of conflicts of interest and should never have been involved in the decision.
Life on Earth still favours evolution over creationism
Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, first published in 1859, offered a bold new explanation for how animals and plants diversified and still serves as the foundation underpinning all medical and biological research today. But the theory remains under attack by creationists in various parts of the world, particularly the US, Turkey, Indonesia and the Middle East. Perhaps three of the most powerful ways to test evolution are through comparative genomics, homeobox genes and transitional fossils. Collectively these provide solid evidence for evolution as a robust theory to account for the diversification of all life. So allow me to explore some recent discoveries in these fields.
Economy and Business
Investors Press Palm Oil Producers to Halt Deforestation
Institutional investors representing over half a trillion dollars in assets under management are calling on four major palm oil producers to adopt an immediate moratorium on deforestation and join the growing effort within the industry to establish traceable, deforestation-free palm oil supply chains. Led by Green Century Capital Management, investors called on Sime Darby Plantation, Kuala Lumpour Kepong Berhad, IOI Corporation Berhad, and Asian Agri to cease their efforts to weaken the existing threshold for no-deforestation. The Palm Oil Manifesto Group (The Group) currently represents five palm oil growers that together produce around nine percent of the world’s palm oil. The Group has come under fire for its stated intent to redefine the threshold for what constitutes High Carbon Stock (HCS) that would be considered off-limits for development under recent company commitments to protect forests classified as HCS.
Can ASEAN become the global champion of sustainable growth?
If measured by political will and rhetoric, Australia’s relationship with Southeast Asia would undeniably be in fine shape. Prime ministers as diverse as Paul Keating, Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard have all had much to say on this relationship. …The closeness and developing nature of these economic and political ties cannot be based solely on crudely defined economic growth. Whether that growth helps alleviate poverty and creates the health, transport, education and energy infrastructure that the growing populations of the region require will be a major factor which either strengthens or weakens relations among ASEAN nations and with the wider global economy. In short, Southeast Asia is at the heart of the global challenge of achieving sustainable development.
Hope for clean economy as $20bn in green bonds are issued in 2014
There are two reasons why Zurich Insurance Group, one of the largest public companies in the world, is investing $2bn in green bonds. The first is the environmental benefit of investing in projects that will reduce carbon pollution and limit global warming, whether it’s a wind farm in Texas or energy efficiency upgrades to refrigerators and air conditioners in Mexico’s poorest neighbourhoods. The second reason – and most critical to investors – is that green bonds are profitable. It’s now clearer than ever that green bonds, which provide capital for clean energy projects with a promised return on investment, make good business sense. Investors are buying up green bonds at a blistering pace. More than $20bn in green bonds have been issued in 2014 and the Climate Bond Initiative, an investor-focused nonprofit group, expects the market will hit $40bn by year’s end. That’s a 20-fold jump from the $2bn of green bonds issued in 2012.
Accounting for Carbon: New UK Regulations Connect Carbon to Finances
In 2013, legislation quietly passed within the UK that would require companies listed on the London Stock Exchange to disclose global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) within their publically available annual Directors’ Report. These new reporting rules made the UK the first country to institute mandatory carbon reporting as of October 2013. This law will allow potential investors and shareholders to evaluate a company’s true financial standing — including the important long-term cost of carbon. Although many UK companies already report their carbon emissions voluntarily (through programs such as the Carbon Disclosure Project), over 1,000 companies now must include GHG emission data for their entire organization alongside their financial reporting.
Half a billion invested in commercial solar, says CEC
Australian businesses have invested close to half a billion dollars in solar panels, according to new figures from the Clean Energy Council. More than 15,000 businesses now have solar panels at an estimated value of $458 million dollars, which is saving $64 million in electricity costs. “These businesses cover a broad range of sectors, from dairy and chicken farmers through to wineries, offices, supermarkets and retail outlets,” Clean Energy Council Acting Chief Executive Kane Thornton said.
Carbon management professionals show little faith in ERF
A survey of carbon reduction and energy efficiency professionals has found the sector has little faith in the [Australian] government’s proposed Emissions Reduction Fund. Following the repeal of the carbon tax in August, the Carbon Management Institute of Australia and New Zealand undertook a survey in conjunction with Sustainable Business Australia to take the pulse of the carbon reduction and energy efficiency sector. The responses from over 600 members of both organisations showed an overwhelming majority have no faith the ERF will deliver significant abatement results, and that the policy bloodbath of recent months has seen energy efficiency and carbon reduction shift lower down the priority list for roughly one in five organisations.
Tata Steel gains certificate
Tata Steel has become the largest company to acquire the BRE responsible sourcing standard BES 6001 for its UK construction products. Designers and developers can specify and use Tata Steel’s UK-made construction products confident in the knowledge they are fully certified to BES 6001. They can thereby secure maximum credits under the responsible sourcing of materials sections of other standards, such as BREEAM, the Code for Sustainable Homes, and CEEQUAL – standards that are also recognised in some markets outside the UK.
Politics and Society
Ozone layer showing signs of thickening, reflecting ban on CFCs, UN says
The ozone layer that shields life from the sun’s cancer-causing ultraviolet rays is showing its first sign of thickening after years of dangerous depletion, a United Nations study says. The ozone hole that appears annually over Antarctica has also stopped growing bigger every year, though it will be about a decade before it starts shrinking, the report co-produced by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the UN Environment Program (UNEP) said. Past studies have suggested the ozone layer has stopped getting worse. “Now for the first time in this report we say that we see indications of a small increase in total ozone,” WMO senior scientific officer Geir Braathen said.
UN Climate Summit must show climate change action is in everyone’s interests
UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, will host the Climate Summit in New York on 23 September, bringing together more than 100 heads of state, along with chief executives, city mayors, and civil society and labour leaders, to spur renewed efforts on climate change. The summit aims to underscore not just the urgency of low-carbon, resilient development, but also that acting on climate can advance the direct interests of nations, businesses and communities. Four drivers give meaning to this message.
Reef ecosystem researchers take out Eureka Prize for survey engaging volunteer scuba divers
A worldwide underwater survey engaging volunteer scuba divers has taken out a national science award. Professor Graham Edgar and Dr Rick Stuart-Smith from the University of Tasmania won a Eureka Prize for their study of reef systems across the world using a team of 200 recreational divers to collect data. Dr Stuart-Smith said the volunteer divers knew they were contributing to something bigger.
Survey: Brits show appetite for socially responsible businesses
A new UK-wide survey, conducted to coincide with Social Saturday, has revealed that the public have an appetite and appreciation for socially responsible businesses. The survey found that over a third of people feel ashamed when buying products or services from a business that they feel is socially irresponsible. As demand for businesses that consider their social and environmental impact increase, 40% state they feel there are not enough businesses that meet these expectations.
Personalising climate change through open data and apps
Government-released open data is fuelling a whole new level of innovation in sustainability. Moving beyond hackathons, today’s climate data partnerships are creating unique ventures that cross boundaries between business, government and academia. In the US, “datapaloozas” – gatherings focused on creating open data innovations in the areas of health, education, energy and safety across sectors – are popping up all over the place. Recently, the geographic information system technology (GIS) company Esri held the Esri Climate Resilience App Challenge in conjunction with the White House’s Climate Data Initiative. The challenge’s winner, the University of Minnesota’s Minnesota Solar Suitability Analysis app, identified the best sites for solar panel installations across the state.
MacBank reveals new green global headquarters
Macquarie Bank’s new global headquarters at 50 Martin Place has undergone extensive refurbishment to become the largest heritage building in Australia awarded a 6 Star Green Star rating. The refurbishment of 20,000 square metres has transformed the 1928 building into sustainable commercial office space over 11 levels, involving the overhaul of building services and systems, a new fitout, the widening of an existing atrium and the construction of a two-storey domed roof and glass shuttle lifts.