Wednesday 14 January 2015
Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Fixing the hole in the heart of corporate capitalism
Modern capitalism has a massive structural flaw in one of the cornerstones of its existence. The corporations which form the predominant business structure and which are the main instrument for dividing wealth have been operating on a false premise. Since the 1970s, corporate governance theory has centered around maximising shareholder value. The idea behind this is that if you align your corporate strategy with the financial interests of your shareholders then you provide managers with incentives to grow corporate profits. These profits would trigger economic growth and lead to “trickle down” effects benefiting not just corporations and shareholders, but also the public (notably including pensioners). However, it is now becoming increasingly apparent that a myopic focus on shareholder returns has had deeply damaging economic consequences.
Energy and Climate Change
Will Gadd: ‘We were climbing ice that isn’t going to be there next week’
When explorer Will Gadd set out to climb ice on every continent in the world 10 years ago, he assumed he would have plenty of time to accomplish his goal. With only Africa and Antarctica left on his to-climb list, however, the professional free climber and National Geographic Adventurer of the Year recently discovered that he would have to act sooner than he thought. “I’d seen pictures of the ice on Kilimanjaro — and there are other peaks in Africa that have ice too — and I thought ‘I’ll get around to that one day, glaciers are there forever, they don’t go away,’” he said. “It didn’t really hit me until I started reading research papers on Africa, and one of them said the ice on Kilimanjaro could be gone in as little as five years.” Arriving at the peak of the tallest mountain in Africa last October, Gadd could hardly believe that the massive ice structures he’d seen in recent pictures were the same as the small frozen formations that greeted him.
Second-biggest carbon market launched by South Korea
The world’s second-largest emission trading scheme began trading on Monday in South Korea. The scheme imposes emission caps on the country’s largest 525 companies. The cap-and-trade system was approved in 2012 and caps the country’s emissions at 1.687 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, it covers the period from 2015 through to 2017. The move aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by the end of the decade when compared to a business as usual mode.
Dubai Solar Bid Awes Market Players
Bidding to win a 100-megawatt solar photovoltaic (PV) contract for Dubai state utility DEWA, Saudi Arabia’s Acwa Power in November stunned solar industry players by submitting a tender-low bid of 5.98 U.S. cents per kilowatt-hour. Acwa has become well known for its aggressive bidding in solar energy tenders across the Middle East-Africa region. Nonetheless, its sub-6 cents per kWh bid was unprecedented, setting a new record-low cost for the building and operation of new utility-scale solar energy facilities globally.
Carbon pricing set to cover 80% of Canadian economy
Ontario to join Quebec and British Columbia in enforcing price on fossil fuels, despite opposition from prime minister Harper… Over 80% of Canada’s economy could be covered by a carbon tax by the end of 2015, after the province of Ontario announced it would release plans to price greenhouse gas emissions. Ontario environment minister Glenn Murray told local media he would unveil the strategy later this year, promising it would be “efficient, effective and economically positive.”
Obama to call for new methane regulation in State of the Union address
Barack Obama will unveil a new plan to cut methane from America’s booming oil and gas industry ahead of the State of the Union address, in an attempt to cement his climate legacy during his remaining two years in the White House. The new methane rules – expected ahead of the State of the Union speech next week – are the last big chance for Obama to fight climate change, campaigners said. “It is the largest opportunity to deal with climate pollution that this administration has not already seized,” said David Doniger, director of the climate and clean air programme at the Natural Resources Defence Council. Methane is the second biggest driver of climate change, after carbon dioxide. On a 20-year timescale, it is 87 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas.
Environment and Biodiversity
Hebei’s steel cities and China’s pollution crisis – in pictures
China’s Hebei Province has some of the worst air pollution in the country and the area’s vast steel industry is a key focus of government efforts to improve air quality. Lu Guang’s stark images capture the industrial landscapes of some of Hebei’s most polluted cities.
- The latest research on little auks, sometimes called “penguins of the north,” reveals a surprising response to a rapidly warming Arctic: The birds make up for food lost to the effects of climate change by catching prey that were stunned by the cold water running off melting glaciers—another effect of climate change. The study, published Monday in the journal Global Change Biology, is the first to examine the feeding habits of little auks as Arctic ice is lost. Scientists watched the birds in Franz-Josef Land, off the northern coast of Russia, during an expedition supported by the National Geographic Society.
Watch: Fishermen Catch Huge Numbers of Live Venomous Sea Snakes
Fishermen wading barefoot through a writhing ball of venomous serpents can pay a high price for participating in the Gulf of Thailand’s (map) sea snake harvest. Some die from snakebites, according to a recent study that suggests the snake catch may be one of the biggest hauls of marine reptiles in the world. Scientists published estimates of the catch size in the journal Conservation Biology in December, along with some of the first research documenting who’s buying and selling sea snakes and the fishery’s indirect role in rhino poaching. Fishermen bitten by their deadly catch believe that drinking ground-up rhino horn—or putting chunks of horn on the wound—can cure them.
Economy and Business
Can a new form of accounting save animals from extinction?
Over the past few years, businesses have increasingly talked about the need to assign monetary value to forests, wetlands and other ecosystems. The concept has been gaining momentum, and leading companies are already factoring it into their sustainability planning. Walmart, for example, has worked to examine how threats to the natural world pose risks up and down its supply chain. It has begun advising its suppliers on how to make their products more climate resilient by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving water conservation, and preserving biodiversity and ecosystems services to help improve crop yields.
Business leaders are not taking sustainability seriously
It’s extraordinary how many experts believe it will take a disaster of unprecedented proportions to wake business leaders up to the need to take radical action on sustainability. I recently chaired a roundtable of leading sustainability executives from several industries and none of them believes the majority of corporate boards will take the necessary steps to ensure the survival of their own companies, not to mention society in general, unless push comes to shove. I am not surprised that they and many others are starting to give up hope. The latest evidence to suggest directors are ignoring the reality of climate change, resource scarcity, social injustice and biodiversity collapse comes from Joining Forces: Collaboration and Leadership for Sustainability, a comprehensive survey conducted by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), MIT Sloan Management Review and the UN Global Compact.
New Global Traceable Down Standard Addresses Animal Welfare, Supply Chain Traceability from Farm to Factory
In 2013, after years of efforts to develop the highest standard for animal welfare in the industry, outdoor goods retailer and manufacturer Patagonia published its 100% Traceable Down Standard to provide a roadmap for other brands to meet the same high bar and prevent needless animal suffering. Patagonia says it is the only company to date to have fully implemented this rigorous standard, which it achieved in 2014. Since developing the standard, Patagonia approached NSF International, a globally recognized standards and certification organization, to facilitate a consensus-based process to refining its internal standard into a multi-tiered global down standard.
Waste and the Circular Economy
New York City Bans Foam Packaging
New York City is joining a slew of California cities that have banned foam packaging. Known as expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam, the formerly common packaging product can’t be used by food service establishments, stores and manufacturers on and after July 1, 2015. Polystyrene loose packaging also falls under the ban. New York City’s Department of Sanitation (DSNY) determined that EPS foam can’t be recycled. The DSNY also determined that there is not a market for post-consumer EPS collected curbside recycling program.
Politics and Society
This 14-year-old will fix the planet before she graduates
In a dream world, every kid’s resume would look a lot like Maya Penn’s. Her dizzying fount of accomplishments by the tender age of 14 puts us all to shame. The multi-talented wunderkind is — so far! — an eco-fashion designer, children’s book author, artist, animator, coder, public speaker, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and environmentalist. She founded her eco-fashion line, Maya’s Ideas, when she was just 8 years old. “I guess I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit,” she says, matter-of-factly.
Cutting funding for basic scientific research would be a big mistake
For all the exciting stories and developments that basic science research produces, there is one question that the public never tires of asking: “What are the possible applications of that discovery?” or “What is the value of your research?” While the question is arguably one worth asking, the answer doesn’t always convince everyone. And if it isn’t convincing, people are quick to react: “Why then are we investing insane amounts of money into those experiments?” These questions aren’t just benign queries. They can have real-life consequences, such as how UK politicians are reconsidering funding certain science projects.
Low-energy urbanisation ‘can help climate goals’
A study of 274 cities has helped shed light on energy consumption in urban areas and what can be done to make future urbanisation more efficient. Globally, cities are best placed to mitigate emissions as urban areas are much more energy intensive than rural areas, say researchers. Most people now live in urban areas, a trend that is accelerating as the global population continues to grow. The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Writing in their paper, a team of researchers from Germany and the US observed: “The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report shows that urban areas consume between 67% and 76% of global energy and generate about three quarters of global carbon emissions.
Low carbon battery-powered train carries first passengers
A new battery-powered train will pick up its first passengers this week, signalling that the days of noisy and polluting diesel engines may soon be a thing of the past. Following successful trials of a prototype at test tracks in Derby and Leicestershire last year, the modified Class 379 Electrostar battery-powered train – also known as an Independently Powered Electric Multiple Unit (IPEMU) – will run a weekday service for five weeks between Harwich International and Manningtree stations in Essex. The IPEMU, which has been emblazoned with ‘Batteries Included’ livery, is the first battery-powered train to run on the UK’s rail network in more than half a century.
Independent Builders Network adds green to average homes
AUSTRALIA – A new network for builders is aiming to provide readymade packages for green homes to the lower end of the housing buyer market, with a demonstration home – the InsulLiving home – launched at the end of last year at Wallan, about an hour north of Melbourne. The Independent Builders Network currently has membership of around 145 builders, who collectively construct between 500 and 700 homes a year, so the potential to influence a growing number of consumers is huge, according to spokesman Tim Renwick. Renwick says IBN is training all its members in South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland in the InsulLiving products and method, as well as other sustainability-enhancing aspects.
Crunch time for Doritos as campaign advert slams palm oil record
Doritos has become the latest high-profile brand to face criticism over its palm oil sourcing policy, after US campaign group SumOfUS today launched a viral ad accusing parent company PepsiCo of failing to take adequate steps to ensure the 427,500 tonnes of palm oil it uses each year comes from sustainable sources. The group launched the online advert – which is backed by new bus ads in the UK and a “five figure ad buy” globally – to coincide with Doritos ‘Crash the Super Bowl’ competition that invites customers to submit their own adverts for the popular crisps with the winner aired during the Super Bowl.
Breeding flies and edible plastic: the kitchen of the future
The kitchen of the future will be full of cutlery that cleans itself, Willy Wonka-style food pills and edible packaging, according to forecasting agency Trendstop. It also predicts that by 2063, fresh, organic produce will be in high demand and we’ll be turning our backs on supermarkets to go hyperlocal and grow our own food. So what are the future-thinking innovations that might influence how we produce food and what we do with our waste?
The beef with sustainable beef
In the near future, you might not feel as guilty about ordering a Big Mac. McDonald’s claims that by 2016, its iconic burger – along with all its other beef products – will be made with “verified sustainable beef”. While beef is beloved by Americans – who ate 25bn lbs in 2013 – it’s also one of the most environmentally damaging food in today’s diet. So the fast-food giant’s move to make beef more palatable for the environmentally conscious should be a welcome move. Except it’s unclear what exactly is so sustainable – or indeed verifiable – about the beef of the future.