Tuesday 13 January 2015
Sustainable Development News
Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Energy and Climate Change
Clean energy sector ‘uninvestable’ due to renewable energy target uncertainty, analyst says
Uncertainty surrounding the renewable energy target (RET) has made the large-scale sector of the industry in Australia “uninvestable”, a clean energy analyst says. A report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance said large-scale energy investment fell 88 per cent – to $240 million – in 2014 compared to the previous year. It was the lowest level since 2002, the report said. Analyst Khobad Bhavnagri said uncertainty over the renewable energy target was to blame and that Australia was faring poorly on an international scale. “In 2013, Australia was the 11th largest investor in large-scale clean energy projects and in 2014 it slid to 39th,” he said.
Solar at grid parity in most of world by 2017
Investment bank Deutsche Bank is predicting that solar systems will be at grid parity in up to 80 per cent of the global market within 2 years, and says the collapse in the oil price will do little to slow down the solar juggernaut. In his 2015 solar outlook, leading analyst Vishal Shah says solar will be at grid parity in most of the world by the end of 2017. That’s because grid-based electricity prices are rising across the world, and solar costs are still falling. Shah predicts solar module costs will fall another 40 per cent over the next four to five years. Even if electricity prices remain stable – two thirds of the world will find solar to be cheaper than their current conventional energy supply. If electricity costs rise by around 3 per cent a year, then Deutsche’s “Blue sky” scenario is for 80 per cent of countries to be at grid parity for solar.
At least one major oil company will turn its back on fossil fuels, says scientist
The oil price crash coupled with growing concerns about global warming will encourage at least one of the major oil companies to turn its back on fossil fuels in the near future, predicts an award-winning scientist and former industry adviser. Dr Jeremy Leggett, who has had consultations on climate change with senior oil company executives over 25 years, says it will not be a rerun of the BP story when the company launched its “beyond petroleum” strategy and then did a U-turn. “One of the oil companies will break ranks and this time it is going to stick,” he said. “The industry is facing plunging commodity prices and soaring costs at risky projects in the Arctic, deepwater Brazil and elsewhere. Oil companies are also realising it is no long morally defensible to ignore the consequences of climate change.”
Reports: SunEdison and Adani Enterprises reveal plans for $4bn Indian solar factory
SunEdison is to continue its global expansion drive, with reports over the weekend revealing the US clean energy giant plans to team up with Indian conglomerate Adani Enterprises to build a giant solar panel factory in the country. The proposed Gujarat-based solar plant would be the largest of its kind in India and promises to provide a major boost to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plan to accelerate the roll out of 100GW of solar capacity by 2022, a 33-fold increase on current levels. According to various reports, SunEdison and the Indian billionaire industrialist Gautam Adani used the Vibrant Gujarat business summit yesterday to announce they would jointly invest $4bn in the new facility in Modi’s home state.
Obama’s India visit could yield progress on climate change and solar power
There could be progress on US-India civil nuclear cooperation, solar power and climate change when US President Barack Obama visits India in two weeks, US officials said on Sunday. While stressing there were no guarantees that some of the most vexing economic issues between India and the United States would be resolved, the officials said some agreements were conceivable. “We are working on the civil nuclear liability issue,” a senior State Department official told reporters traveling with US Secretary of State John Kerry to the home state of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi. “The goal is to have very concrete and tangible things that we can show forward movement on when President Obama and Prime Minister Modi meet, including on climate change,” he said. The leaders are expected to unveil a number of modest initiatives to expand research and access to clean energy technologies.
Environment and Biodiversity
It’s survival of the most useful when protecting species
Consensus is growing that we are steering towards a sixth mass extinction event. There are calls for increased efforts to stop the accelerating loss of plants and animals. But do we really need to protect all species from global extinction? Over the past decade, ecologists have increasingly replaced the value of biodiversity – the diversity of plants, animals and bacteria – with the concept of “functional diversity”. The best way to understand this concept is to compare it with a familiar, striking equivalent: our cities. Our decision to live in permanent settlements is a success story that is fundamental to the rise of human civilisation. It is based on the partitioning of tasks and professional specialisation, which cohesively provides services to the community. Food, health, security and construction are among the life-blood of cities. Yet all of these professions are inherently diverse and without this diversity the community would soon collapse.
Can Borneo’s Tribes Survive ‘Asian Timber Mafia’?
Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has called the deforestation of Sarawak, a sliver of rain forest on the island of Borneo, in Malaysia, “probably the biggest environmental crime of our times.” In his new book Money Logging: On the Trail of the Asian Timber Mafia, Lukas Straumann investigates that crime. Straumann is director of the Bruno Manser Fund, which works to protect tropical rain forests. Speaking from his office in Zurich, Switzerland, Straumann describes the nexus of corruption and weak governance that has allowed Malaysia’s timber barons to destroy much of Sarawak’s rain forest and export that model to other parts of the world, how his organization is using everything from GPS mapping to the courts to help the Penan people of Borneo fight for their homeland, and what we can do to assist them.
Rare shark birth captured on camera A remarkable photograph of the live birth of a thresher shark has cast light on the lives of these elusive, vulnerable fish. The image, taken during a research dive in 2013 and now published in the journal Coral Reefs, is believed to be the first record of a birth in this species. Lead researcher Dr Simon Oliver from the University of Chester told BBC News that this was also “the first record of any oceanic species giving birth”. He added that seeing the image was one of the most exciting moments in his career.
Blind orangutan released into the wild in Indonesia after sight restored
A rescued orangutan whose sight was restored after a ground-breaking operation has been released into the wild with her twin offspring in an Indonesia forest. The formerly blind Gober gave birth to twins after mating with a blind male in captivity at a rescue centre near Medan in North Sumatra. Twins are a rarity for orangutans and unheard-of from two blind parents. This week the mother and four year-old twins, a male and female, were released into Jantho forest in Aceh, one of the regions hit by the 2004 tsunami.
Economy and Business
Social stock exchanges – do we need them?
Public interest in the development of global impact investing received a significant boost last year, due to an international campaign to divest in fossil fuels by superannuation, pension, and university endowment funds. This emerging market (estimated to be worth $650 billion by 2020) aims to connect social enterprises with so-called “impact” investors. An important aspect has been the creation of social stock exchanges. While securities exchanges have been facilitating financial market transactions for centuries, the first social stock exchanges were officially launched only recently. So what are they? Are they working? And do we need them?
Social cost of carbon six times higher than thought – study
The economic damage inflicted by climate change could be six times worse than previously thought, US scientists have warned. The US government takes climate policy decisions on the basis emitting one tonne of carbon dioxide incurs US$37 of social costs. In a study published in Nature Climate Change, researchers from Stanford University reached a figure of US$220 a tonne. These costs may include lower crop yields, harm to human health and infrastructure damage from extreme weather. That implies it could be worth investing in more expensive strategies to cut greenhouse gas emissions, said co-author Delavane Diaz. “If the social cost of carbon is higher, many more mitigation measures will pass a cost-benefit analysis,” she said.
Measuring Sustainability, Part III: How a Sustainability Index Can Optimize Decision-Making
In the first two parts of this series, we explored the motivations behind creating a sustainability index, and the steps to take when creating an index. In this final part of the series, we will explore how organizations can deploy an index to make consistent decisions to support a sustainability strategy. After the index has been designed and created, the next task is to deploy it into the decisions-making structure. Let’s explore some examples of how other organizations have deployed this approach to make more sustainable products.
Haiti: business, not charity, is the key to a better future
Five years after the big earthquake, Elizabeth Schaeffer Brown’s attempts to help Haitians secure a prosperous future have taught her that philanthropy simply isn’t enough… As I witnessed the world respond to the crisis with aid and support, I joined a growing number of social entrepreneurs determined to help Haiti build a sustainable, prosperous and secure future. During multiple trips to Haiti in the years following the earthquake, I never found the woman I had encountered in Fort Nationale in 1995, but I did meet others like her. One of the first women I met when I landed in Port-au-Prince asked suspiciously if I was a celebrity. When I said no, she asked: “Nonprofit?” When I told her I was a business person, her face lit up. “Welcome to Haiti!” she said.
New finance-charity hybrid aims to make affordable housing greener
Many people still think of green technologies as costly. But some US nonprofits are working to tap the benefits of energy-efficiency technologies for the poor. In Wisconsin, nonprofit Habitat for Humanity is planning an eco-village of affordable housing equipped with energy-efficient windows and insulation, as well as solar panels that produce more energy than the homes consume. And in Washington state, nonprofit Transitional Housing Corp is retrofitting affordable apartments to be super-insulated and energy-efficient. Now another NGO, the International Center for Appropriate and Sustainable Technology (ICAST), on Monday plans to launch a charity-finance hybrid to provide low-interest loans for energy-efficiency upgrades.
Ecotricity benefits from customer dissatisfaction with ‘big six’
Renewable energy firm Ecotricity has revealed that it has almost doubled in size over the last 12 months, having benefitted from customer dissatisfaction with the ‘big six’ energy companies. The firm has now reached 150,000 customers, almost double the figure it had at the beginning of 2014. The news is part of a trend that has seen over two million customers leave ‘big six’ energy suppliers and many have opted for smaller firms that generally have greater levels of customer satisfaction.
Veolia Mines Waste for Profit
Veolia expects the global recycling market to grow 10-15 percent per year to 40 billion euros ($47 billion) by 2020 from 25 billion ($30 billion) today, CEO Antoine Frerot told Reuters. The environmental services group expects its recycling turnover to more than double to about 5 billion euros ($6 billion) by 2020 and anticipates potential profit in developed countries’ waste streams. “The waste streams of developed countries are a real mine for raw materials, and even if we do not become a mining company, our recycling activities increasingly compete with the mining industry,” Frerot told Reuters in an interview.
Waste and the Circular Economy
India’s mounds of garbage can only be overcome through recycling, expert says
India is home to some of the filthiest cities in the world, but the success of its mission to clean up its streets will hinge on whether it can completely revolutionise the way it recycles waste, one expert says. In October, prime minister Narendra Modi launched the clean India campaign, a five-year bid to modernise the country’s sanitation system by installing toilets, sweeping filthy streets and taking down trash mounds. The director of the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi, Sunita Narain, said India’s cities were drowning in rubbish because the country did not have a garbage management system.
Forbo Closes Loop on Its ‘Back to the Floor’ Recycling Scheme
Dutch flooring supplier and manufacturer Forbo Flooring has now closed the loop on its Back to the Floor recycling scheme, according to Environmental Expert. Now in its third year, the scheme now recycles Forbo flooring off-cuts into new products. Forbo Flooring Systems, part of the Swiss Forbo Group, is a global market player in linoleum, vinyl, textile and flocked floor coverings, as well as entrance flooring systems, where it has a market share of over 60 percent. The company says Back to the Floor showed great progress in its second year, collecting and recycling three times the volume of off-cuts as in 2013.
Soaring Kiwis: E-waste recycling pioneer aiming for positive changes
Privahini Bradoo is working to help solve the world’s waste problems through her company which aims to extract reusable metals from electronic waste. Bradoo is the chief executive of BlueOak, a company she co-founded in 2010 with Bryce Goodman at the Nasa Ames campus in California. The startup company is targeting the 40 million tonnes of discarded computers and mobile phones (e-waste) every year to process at specially built mini-refineries to extract the precious materials, reducing the need to mine. BlueOak raised more than US$35 million ($44.5 million) last year in two funding rounds in the US, which included funding from venture capital firm KPCB, to build its first refinery in Arkansas with the company on track to be in production by late this year.
8 Groundbreaking Startups Making the Circular Economy Look Easy
On January 20th, one of these companies will be crowned king of entrepreneurship at The Circular Economy Awards. You’ve already met those leading the charge. So, we’re taking a closer look at the eight finalists for the inaugural ‘Circulars,’ who are undoubtedly biting their nails as they wait for the announcement of the winners at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Politics and Society
Stanford professors urge withdrawal from fossil fuel investments
Three hundred professors at Stanford, including Nobel laureates and this year’s Fields medal winner, are calling on the university to rid itself of all fossil fuel investments, in a sign that the campus divestment movement is gathering force. In a letter to Stanford’s president, John Hennessy, and the board of trustees, made available exclusively to the Guardian, the faculty members call on the university to recognise the urgency of climate change and divest from all oil, coal and gas companies. Stanford, which controls a $21.4bn (£14.2bn) endowment, eliminated direct investments in coalmining companies last May, making it the most prominent university to cut its ties to the industries that cause climate change. Months later, however, the university invested in three oil and gas companies.
Engineers relaunch Chartered Environmentalist certification
Members of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) is offering its members the chance to set themselves apart from their peers by highlighting their environmental expertise. The organisation has relaunched the Chartered Environmentalist (CEnv) grade in response to the “spectacular growth” in clean technologies and is calling for its members to apply for accreditation. The expansion in demand for clean tech and low carbon infrastructure engineering skills has prompted several industry bodies to warn of skills shortages that could limit businesses’ ability to capitalise on the economic opportunities offered by the green economy.
Precincts: sustainability in seven steps (Book Excerpt)
An innovative approach to finance, delivery, management and operation of sustainable infrastructure and services in precincts can make it affordable to build green. Key to overcoming market, regulatory, political and technical barriers – which have historically prevented the take up of sustainable solutions and systems in new developments – is an innovative business model. This model needs to keep the long term benefit within the community; extract value where there would typically be cost; and avoid a dependence on financial incentives or positive policy frameworks. To begin a trend towards sustainable precinct development, there are seven rules the industry and government authorities can follow.