Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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How Big Oil’s efforts to obstruct climate policy may have hit $114m in 2015
The high profile investigation into whether fossil fuel companies misled shareholders and the public about their understanding of climate change risks has recently thrown a public light on how some firms sought to actively obstruct the development of climate policies. Now, London-based research organisation InfluenceMap has attempted to put a price on such lobbying efforts. In a new report released late last week, the non-profit group calculated the amount spent per year by five organisations – ExxonMobil, Shell, and three fossil fuel trade associations – to obstruct climate policy, and came up with the hefty sum of nearly $115m.

Energy and Climate Change

Australian oil and gas lobby spent millions advocating against climate action: report
Australia’s peak oil and gas industry lobby group spent almost $4 million last year trying to “obstruct” more ambitious climate change policy, according to British research group InfluenceMap. It was part of an overall $150 million spent globally in 2015 by five major oil companies and lobby groups.

Burning fossil fuels is responsible for most sea-level rise since 1970
Global average sea level has risen by about 17 cm between 1900 and 2005. This is a much faster rate than in the previous 3,000 years. The sea level changes for several reasons, including rising temperatures as fossil fuel burning increases the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In a warming climate, the seas are expected to rise at faster rates, increasing the risk of flooding along our coasts. But until now we didn’t know what fraction of the rise was the result of human activities.

Move over, carbon: Countries take aim at another climate culprit
Representatives from more than 150 countries took solid steps in Geneva last week towards a global deal to phase down the super heat-trapping pollutants called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Countries committed in Dubai in November to reach an HFC deal this year under the Montreal Protocol, the treaty that saved the ozone layer. Meeting in the warm afterglow of the Paris Climate Agreement, the HFC negotiators worked out solutions to several key issues that divided them for nearly a decade.

Bacteria Batteries In The Future?
When it comes to storing electricity from renewable sources, bacteria may have a bright future alongside lithium. This may be great news as demand grows for storing renewable electricity. Scientists report in the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters a first-of-its-kind development toward that goal: a rechargeable battery driven by bacteria.

The hydrogen city: clean, green & another nail in the fossil fuel coffin
Hydrogen produces only water and heat when burnt and, if made using renewable fuels, is zero carbon. Leeds in the UK is investigating the potential to convert its natural gas to hydrogen in a £55 million (AU$102.6m) pilot project. The “hydrogen city” proposal is a leading example of how some cities and energy supply companies are considering ways to decarbonise heating and cooking in the future and become less dependent on fossil fuels.

Has China’s coal use peaked? Here’s how to read the tea leaves
As the largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, how much coal China is burning is of global interest. In March, the country’s National Bureau of Statistics said the tonnage of coal has fallen for the second year in the row. Indeed, there are reports that China will stop construction of new plants, as the country grapples with overcapacity, and efforts to phase out inefficient and outdated coal plants are expected to continue. A sustained reduction in coal, the main fuel used to generate electricity in China, will be good news for the local environment and global climate. But it also raises questions: what is driving the drop? And can we expect this nascent trend to continue?


Water Wars Threaten America’s Most Endangered Rivers
What do two rivers in the Southeast and California have in common? Both are threatened by battles over their water.   The Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Basin in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida tops a new list as the most endangered river in the U.S. this year, according to an annual report from the Washington, D.C.-based conservation group American Rivers. Second most endangered is the San Joaquin River in northern and central California.

Islands of Gauguin and Robinson Crusoe ‘could become parched paradise’
Climbing sea levels bedevil low-lying islands.  But a hotter planet brings a less obvious menace: drought. Three-quarters of the world’s small islands, home to 16 million people, are set to get more arid by mid-century, according to a study published in journal Nature Climate Change on Monday.

Economy and Business

Electric cars worth £51bn to UK economy ‘if Government acts now’
The UK Government will lose out on major economic benefits unless it makes a significant investment in upgrading the nation’s electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure and upskilling the motor industry, an independent academic report will warn this week.

Nigel Topping: reflections on the momentum behind the energy transition | We Mean Business
Four months after the breakthrough climate agreement in Paris and returning from 24 hours in France with an eclectic group of leaders who met for the 5th Shift Forum, it seems like a good time to reflect on the pace of change and the big challenges to come.

BP is playing fast and loose with our future | Bill McKibben
As shareholders gather for BP’s AGM in London this week, they deserve to be made aware of just how at-risk their investments are — and what BP thinks about the future of the firm and the planet. Because the company their investments allow to operate is fourth in a list of the world’s top-emitting companies and was responsible for 2.47% of global emissions from 1751-2010.

Ford Transforming Dearborn Campus to Further Drive Innovation and Collaboration, Invest in Employees
Ford Motor Company today announced plans to transform its Dearborn facilities into a modern, sustainable, high-tech campus to foster innovation and help drive the company’s transition beyond mere automaker to a mobility company.

Corporate human rights benchmark launches
After more than a year of consultations with over 400 contributors, a consortium led by Aviva Investors, and including Calvert Investments and the sustainable investment research firm Vigeo Eiris, has produced a 150-page pilot methodology for the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB), which will publish its first ranking — of the top 100 companies from the agricultural products, apparel and extractives industries — in November.

Tuhoe Living Building

Tuhoe Living Building

Six inspirations from the Bay
NEW ZEALAND – If you missed ‘Inspiring Sustainability in the Bay’, at Tūhoe’s stunning living building in Taneatua, Bay of Plenty on 30 March, read on for our top takeaway learnings.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Steelcase CEO on the business case for cradle to cradle design (Video 6:58)
It wasn’t a unanimously popular decision when Steelcase CEO Jim Keane decided that all products the furniture company showcased at a major annual event would have to measure up to cradle to cradle design standards. “People told me it was naive, and it was. That it would cost too much, and it did,” Keane said in an on-stage interview at the GreenBiz 16 conference held earlier this year in Arizona. Skeptics also told him that it was a bad idea altogether, but on this point he diverges: “It wasn’t,” Keane said.  He explained that the process required the company to get serious about scaling the number of sustainable products in its portfolio, hiring on people with relevant expertise and setting up new systems for full lifecycle design.

Bad Earth: the human cost of pollution in China – in pictures
This series of images shows the extent of China’s pollution problems and the human toll of exponential growth on local communities in China’s vast and severely damaged northern region.

Chenglei, a farmer from outside Qian’an, Hebei province, looks out at coal-fired power and steel plants.

Chenglei, a farmer from outside Qian’an, Hebei province, looks out at coal-fired power and steel plants.

Politics and Society

The Palestinian farmers battling border restrictions and lack of water
Whether their produce is destined for overseas consumers or for the 4.68 million Palestinians split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, producers complain of issues including lack of access to water, unfair competition and delays in navigating border checkpoints.  A wide range of fresh produce can easily be grown in the West Bank, including many herbs and vegetables, dates, olives, citrus fruits, grapes, figs, melons and strawberries. However, with Israel and Egypt controlling all borders, Palestinian farmers must work within a fractured supply chain that reduces their competitiveness.

Climate scientist James Hansen: ‘I don’t think I’m an alarmist’
Climate scientist James Hansen has been a prominent figure in the global climate conversation for more than 40 years. His 1988 congressional testimony on climate change helped introduce the problem of rising greenhouse gas emissions to the American public, and he has led study after study examining exactly how our world will change as a result of global warming.  Eight years ago, however, Hansen made the rare decision to begin engaging in climate activism, and he has since protested mountaintop removal in West Virginia and gotten arrested outside the White House in a rally against the Keystone XL pipeline.

The Suit Against the Clean Power Plan, Explained
The Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s most sweeping climate change policy, is being challenged in federal appeals court and its future is expected to hinge on the outcome of at least one court decision — and possibly two — over the next year. The merits of the lawsuit are set to be argued June 2 before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. Groups on both sides of the issue filed “friend of the court” briefs at the end of March. The documents provide a telling glimpse into each side’s arguments and whether the Obama administration has the authority to enforce the plan. Here are seven things to know about the Clean Power Plan as it winds its way through the courts.

We must close the loopholes in Britain’s carbon budget
UK – Last month the government made a landmark decision to reduce the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions to zero sometime this century. This makes Britain the first country to commit to one of the key pledges in the Paris climate agreement reached last December… The Climate Change Act was rightly held up as a groundbreaking piece of environmental legislation, the poster-child policy for global climate leadership… But at some point shortly after this historic environmental victory – when the streamers had all been popped and the champagne had all been drunk – the lawyers and the accountants were called in to write the rules for our carbon budgets and somewhere along the way they decided to get a little creative.

Food Systems

Farmland could play key role in tackling climate change
The earth’s soil stores a lot of carbon from the atmosphere, and managing it with the climate in mind may be an important part of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to curb global warming, according to a paper published Wednesday in the journal Nature.


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