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Sustainable Development News, Tuesday 13 May 2014

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world. Sign up to our newsletter if you would like your copy delivered direct to your inbox each weekday morning.

Energy and Climate Change

Floating solar power plant would reduce evaporation, proponent says A solar power plant which is planned for South Australia would float on a wastewater treatment basin.  Geits ANZ is proposing the venture and director Felicia Whiting thinks it would prove at least 50 per cent more efficient than a land-based solar power system.  “It’s very much like a traditional solar array with the exception that it’s designed to float on the water,” she said. Galilee Basin coal mine: Queensland government granted approval despite expert environmental concerns The Federal Government must decide on final approval by early next month.  In giving it the go-ahead with conditions, the State Government sided with Adani against the Independent Expert Scientific Committee (IESC) on coal seam gas and large coal mining developments, set up in 2012 to advise state and federal governments.  The committee was mainly worried about the impact of the mine on groundwater in the underlying and adjacent Great Artesian Basin.   It said it had “little confidence” in much of the modelling used by Adani and highlighted gaps in its data.

Environment

Roaring Forties’ shift south means more droughts for southern Australia Droughts across southern Australia are to continue increasing as the Roaring Forties get stronger and closer to Antarctica, a study has found. It also explains why Antarctica is bucking the global warming trend.  Australian National University researchers looked at the past 1,000 years of Southern Ocean winds for the first time, along with ice core samples and South American tree rings and lakes. New species of metal eating plant uncovered A new species of plant that absorbs heavy metals has been discovered in the Philippines.  The plant, dubbed Rinorea niccolifera, has been found to have accumulate nickel, up to 18 000 ppm, without being poisoned, according to PenSoft.  The discovery is a rare one, with only around 450 species of plant known worldwide to be hyperaccumulators of metals. WHO report: our air is not as healthy as it could be In terms of air quality, Australia is ahead of nations such as the US, according to the data in the new World Health Organization Urban Air Quality Database released on Thursday in Geneva. However, Australians in capital cities and regional centres are still at risk from the level of particulate air pollution, according to Professor Bin Jalaludin from the UNSW School of Public Health and Community Medicine.  In the media announcement accompanying the database, WHO said, “In most cities where there is enough data to compare the situation today with previous years, air pollution is getting worse.” Scientist debunks many of the myths about cockroaches in new book Cockroaches may be one of the least-loved insects, but of the more than 500 species in Australia only six are pests and most play a valuable role as nature’s recyclers before they wind up as a meal for a lizard or bird, scientist David Rentz says.

Economy and Business

Flirting with disaster After the deadly summer of 2010-2011, executives at Insurance Australia Group made a decision. Floods had swept through the eastern states, killing more than two dozen people and causing billions of dollars of damage.  ”We have a whole ‘natural perils’ department made up of scientists and engineers who constantly model risk,” says Mike Wilkins, IAG’s managing director. ”But it’s bigger than us. We needed to be part of a co-ordinated national conversation.”  The team began planning a ”risk summit”, with 60 invitees from the business world, community groups and government. Together, they took aim at Australia’s record on disaster prevention. They identified two key problems: not enough spending on mitigation and poor land-use planning. US failed to inspect thousands of at-risk oil and gas wells, report finds The government has failed to inspect thousands of oil and gas wells it considers potentially high risks for water contamination and other environmental damage, congressional investigators say.  The report, obtained by the Associated Press before its public release, highlights substantial gaps in oversight by the agency that manages oil and gas development on federal and Indian lands.  Investigators said weak control by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) resulted from policies based on outdated science and from incomplete monitoring data. 5 innovations helping business deliver more value with less impact Good business has always been about getting more from less – it was one of the bedrocks of the Industrial Revolution. But for 200 years, the focus was on getting the most out of workers for the least cost.  Yet a decade of cost increases for commodities and other inputs has effectively undone a century’s worth of price falls, says David Bent, director of sustainable business at Forum for the Future. “The relative price of ‘stuff’ has gone up compared to people so now that focus has switched to getting the most out of energy and raw materials,” he notes.

Politics and Society

Viewpoints: should fuel tax credits be cut in the budget? Tony Abbott has warned there will be “tough decisions” in tomorrow’s federal budget – but would his government risk an industry and internal backlash by cutting back on multi-billion-dollar fuel tax credits for miners, farmers, trucking companies and others?  While some within the government have been keen to save money by cutting back on the fuel tax credits for off-road use of diesel, Treasurer Joe Hockey has reportedly reassured miners that the multi-billion-dollar fuel tax credits aren’t on his budget cut list. So would that be the right decision? Today’s Viewpoints: should the government cut fuel tax credits in the budget? Two economists square off on the issue: Richard Denniss argues we should, while Sinclair Davidson argues we shouldn’t. ARENA’s axing would mean end of Tony Abbott’s support for renewables, says industry The Abbott government appears intent on abandoning all major support for clean energy in Australia if plans to axe the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) are confirmed in Tuesday’s budget, senior officials and industry groups said.  Chairman Greg Bourne warned the government would be “clearing the decks” if ARENA’s remaining unallocated funds of about $1 billion were returned to consolidated revenue, adding to moves to scrap the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation and its apparent intention to weaken or delay the Renewable Energy Target. Soon-to-be-axed Australian Renewable Energy Agency speaks out It’s emerged that in [tonight’s] budget one of 36 government agencies to be axed, on top of the 40 already slated for closure, is the Australian Renewable Energy Agency – also known as ARENA.   It was set up two years ago with bipartisan support as an independent agency to improve the competitiveness of renewable energy technologies and their uptake. And it has a budget of $3.2 billion, to be spent over eight years.   Ivor Frischknecht is the agency’s chief executive. He told Alexandra Kirk that scrapping the agency will reduce Australia’s ability to have lower cost energy in the longer term. Tasmania’s volunteer force worth almost $640 million A new report estimates volunteers in Tasmania effectively contribute almost $640 million dollars to the economy a year, making the sector among the state’s biggest employers if it was an industry.  The State Government commissioned the report into the economic value of volunteering to coincide with National Volunteer Week (NVW), which runs until Sunday. India goes green, drafts policy to lower carbon emissions The Indian Government’s Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has released the first draft of a policy that may nudge the nation into complying with the United Nation’s REDD+ program. The program is a collaborative initiative comprised of numerous partner countries from around the world. REDD stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation. The initiative was launched back in 2008 with the aim of reducing deforestation by providing monetary incentives to help communities that depend on forests for their livelihoods. Water pressure to drop in low-lying river areas under new Perth program A $120 million program to cut water use by reducing water pressure is starting in Perth today.  The program is expected to save more than 10 billion litres of water per year and will lead to fewer leaks and breaks in water pipes.

Education

Ballarat teacher creates a fertile learning environment If you’re wondering about the best place to put a vegetable patch in your garden, you could do a lot worse than to seek the advice of a year 6 pupil from St Francis Xavier Primary School in Ballarat East.  Over the past couple of years the kids at the school have become dab hands at identifying the optimum conditions for growing everything from broccoli to ginger – and boosting their marks in the process.

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