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Tuesday 14 July 2015

Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Top Story

Benefits far outweigh costs of tackling climate change, says LSE study
The economic benefits for a country from tackling climate change easily outweigh the costs, according to a study that seeks to highlight the incentives for individual nations to take urgent action to cut emissions. Countries stand to gain more than they would lose in economic terms from almost all of the actions needed to meet an agreed global warming limit of no more than 2C above pre-industrial levels, according to the paper published by two research institutes at the London School of Economics.

Energy and Climate Change

SA gov leading again, backs Adelaide City’s clean energy fund
The South Australian government has announced it will match the funding Adelaide City Council is providing to residents, businesses, schools and community organisations for sustainability initiatives like solar PV, battery storage and apartment energy efficiency upgrades. The council’s funding provides direct incentives of up to $5000 for a range of sustainability initiatives, with the budget capped at $150,000.

The transition from fossil to renewable energy
The announcement of the closure of two Alinta coal power stations at Port Augusta in South Australia is an indicator of just how fast the energy industry can move, and how quickly we need to respond to change.  No one could have predicted these power stations closing for economic reasons (sans carbon price) when the National Electricity Market was established some 16 years ago. These closures are somewhat of a surprise given the removal of the carbon price and Alinta’s recent statements about extending the life of the power station and coal mine at Leigh Creek in South Australia to 2030.

Community renewables funding boost for Scotland
Twenty three renewable energy projects across Scotland will share £500,000 of funding through a scheme designed to encourage the local uptake of green technologies.  The 23 projects include a way to capture and distribute heat from local waste water, as well as the formation of Local Energy Supply Companies (LESCOs), where towerblock residents produce and import energy to the grid. Specifically, the money – from the second round of the Local Energy Challenge Fund – will be used for feasibility studies, with successful schemes in line to receive further “significant capital support”.

Boeing Developing Sustainable Aviation Fuels For 2020 Olympics in Japan
Boeing and Japanese aviation industry stakeholders have partnered to develop sustainable aviation biofuel for flights during the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, when millions of people are expected to visit Japan. The Initiatives for Next Generation Aviation Fuels (INAF) — a consortium of 46 organizations including Boeing, ANA (All Nippon Airways), Japan Airlines, Nippon Cargo Airlines, Japan’s government and the University of Tokyo — laid out a five-year “roadmap” to develop biofuel by 2020 as a way to reduce aviation’s environmental footprint.

Australia can be a global solar and wind superpower, and the CEFC is the key
Australia is perfectly placed to become the next global superpower of renewable energy, the “Saudi Arabia of solar” for the coming century. While Saudi Arabia has barrels of oil, we have an abundance of sunlight to fuel solar power and wind to power turbines, plus enough geographical space, modern infrastructure and a stable political system to house such an industry on a massive scale.

Climate Change politics

[Ed: I find it hard sometimes to know what to do with so much climate change news so occasionally I find it helpful to put climate politics into its own little genre]

Alistair Woodward: Why the worst case is what matters
When we think about the risks to a business’s viability, or the threats to a nation’s security, we normally ask the question ‘What is the worst that could happen?’ Having identified the greatest risks, we can then decide how much effort to spend on reducing or avoiding them. Climate change, surely, should be no different. How else should a head of government decide how much effort to spend on reducing global emissions of greenhouse gases, other than by considering the worst case consequences of failing to do so?

Climate change threat must be taken as seriously as nuclear war – UK minister
The threat of climate change needs to be assessed in the same comprehensive way as nuclear weapons proliferation, according to a UK foreign minister. Baroness Joyce Anelay, minister of state at the Commonwealth and Foreign Office, said the indirect impacts of global warming, such as deteriorating international security, could be far greater than the direct effects, such as flooding. She issued the warning in a foreword to a new report on the risks of climate change led by the UK’s climate change envoy, Prof Sir David King. The report, commissioned by the Foreign Office, and written by experts from the UK, US, China and India, is stark in its assessment of the wide-ranging dangers posed by unchecked global warming

Come to Paris climate conference, prime minister: French ambassador
France’s ambassador to Australia, Christophe Lecourtier, has urged Prime Minister Tony Abbott to attend the United Nations conference on climate change in Paris late this year. It is assumed in the government that Abbott will not go – leaving it to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to lead Australia’s delegation. But Lecourtier said that if Abbott was able to be there, “it will be something absolutely positive and it will give a push on the right direction”.

The government should keep its hands off clean energy finance
AUSTRALIA – Can the government tell its clean energy finance body what to invest in? Recent news that the Clean Energy Finance Corporation will be banned from investing in wind farms and small-scale solar suggest that the government is trying to do just that. However a closer look at the law suggests the government may have breached its obligations under the corporation’s legislation.

CEFC confirms advice sought on Govt directive to cut wind and solar funding
AUSTRALIA – The Clean Energy Finance Corporation has confirmed that it’s seeking advice on the Federal Government’s directive on what it can and can’t finance. The Treasurer and the Finance Minister have directed the CEFC no longer to finance wind farms and small scale solar projects. The corporation says it will not affect existing CEFC investments and co-financing programs. Some questions have been raised about a clause in the CEFC legislation barring ministers from requiring the board not to make, a particular investment.

What happened to the ‘greenest-ever’ Conservative Party?
UK – In a year when the all-important UN climate change summit will take place in Paris and the UN’s sustainable development goals will be finalised, one would have thought the government of one of the world’s most powerful nations might seize the moment to put forward progressive environmental policies. Unfortunately the summer budget introduced by UK chancellor, George Osborne, has failed to do just that. Nothing announced this week will put the UK into a leadership position at the negotiations later this year – and it becomes increasingly clear things will not change for the next five years of Conservative government.

Environment and Biodiversity

We need to tighten the law to protect wildlife homes
AUSTRALIA – Three recent reports make clear that we should be saving habitat in order to save species. It is pretty simple. Destroy a species’ habitat and you destroy its home… Without an adequate home, a species cannot survive. Of course, stressing the need to protect habitat is much easier said than done. Why is that? It largely comes down to three obstacles that have been intractable so far.

Whitehead release a milestone for Shakespear Open Sanctuary
NEW ZEALAND – The release of 40 tiny popokatea or whitehead on Defence Force land on Saturday is a milestone for the Shakespear Open Sanctuary. While other birds have repopulated the 500 hectare protected area naturally since pests were eradicated several years ago, this is the first time any native birds have been translocated there behind the predator-proof fence.

How drones are helping conservation
What have drones got to do with native plants? Quite a lot when it comes to aerially capturing the unique “spectra” – or electromagnetic signatures – that are reflected by different plants on the ground. This approach allows scientists to make high-tech stocktakes of the different plant ecosystems in vast areas of vegetation, such as forests and wetlands, and makes it possible to identify large-scale changes in our natural landscapes. While all this might sound cutting edge, it’s actually a commonly-used method overseas and New Zealand has been one of the few developed countries without an online “spectral library”.

“Huge Surprise”: Worms Hitchhike in Slug Guts
Just when it seemed that travel couldn’t get more uncomfortable than flying coach, scientists have discovered that worms hitch rides inside slugs. Arion slugs accidentally swallow the worms—including the popular research species Caenorhabditis elegans—while eating decomposing plants. Instead of being digested, however, the tiny worms somehow hunker down in slug intestines until they are pooped out, often far away from where they were first eaten.

Surge of frolicking whales prompts boating warning off San Francisco
Dozens of whales are frolicking off Northern California’s coast in a feast for the eyes that has also prompted federal officials to issue a boating warning. Officials documented 115 humpback, blue and fin whales during a one-hour survey last weekend near the Farallon Islands, the Marin Independent Journal reported on Saturday. “We are alerting small boaters and large vessel operators to be on the alert for endangered whales, and to maintain minimum distances,” said Maria Brown, superintendent of the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

Gold Ridge mine: Toxic tailings dam on the brink of overflow; environmentalists fear mass contamination
As heavy rain continues to fall in the Solomon Islands following Tropical Cyclone Raquel last week, fears the Gold Ridge mine’s toxic tailings dam will overflow are starting to intensify. The local government declared the area a disaster zone, but experts fear hardly enough precautions are being taken to prevent looming disaster to surrounding communities.

Economy and Business

17-year-old grows successful aquaponics business
NEW ZEALAND – At the end of 2014, 17-year-old Georgia Lala took on the notable challenge of starting her own sustainable business – and it’s going from strength to strength. Root Aquaponics sells aquaponic units to schools and homes throughout the country, based on a design which Lala built and trialled herself. Aquaponics is an ingenious food production system. It involves aquaculture, which is the raising of aquatic animals including snails and fish in tanks, being combined with hydroponics – growing plants in the same tank for a symbiotic effect. This is a great method by which people can grow food in limited space.

Levi’s jeans produced more sustainably than ever before
Levi Strauss, the jean company with which the world has been familiar for years, is continuing to make great statements for sustainability as it bucks the throwaway society phenomenon by making products that genuinely last for years. The San Francisco-based company was founded in 1853 by German migrant Levi Strauss. Since then, it has constantly been on the top of the heap, staving off competition from other jeans producers and denim clothing manufacturers. Levi’s now openly believes that what has set them apart from the other companies is it holds sustainability at the core of all its business operations.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Editorial: Time to tax the plastic bag
OPINION: The war on plastic bags is now a global struggle, and New Zealand should join it. This week a proposal for a compulsory levy on plastic shopping bags will be debated at the Local Government New Zealand conference. In fact, the time for debate is over. Now we need action. Plastic bag levies, or even outright bans, are now common throughout the world, because bags are an environmental menace. They break down slowly and so they continue to blight the landscape and kill sea life and animals for many years.

Puree from ‘waste’ potatoes could earn South Australian industry millions
A project to turn “waste” spuds into a nutritious puree for sale to hospitals, nursing homes and retailers could earn about $26 million for the South Australian potato industry. Potatoes South Australia is working on the project with researchers from the University of Adelaide after receiving a $100,000 grant from the State Government.

World’s largest steel company to use rabbit gut microbe to cut emissions
The world’s largest steel producer is planning to spend €87m to use a microbe originally found in a rabbit’s gut to turn a waste gas that contributes to global warming into fuel. Bioengineering company LanzaTech’s technology will be installed at ArcelorMittal’s steel mill in Ghent, Belgium, with the customised Clostridium microbe capturing carbon monoxide and converting it into ethanol.

Politics and Society

The Mediterranean migrant crisis has big business and climate change at its roots
The whole world, it seems, is on the move and heading Europe’s way. According to the UNHCR, 137,000 people arrived on Mediterranean shores between January and June this year – almost double the previous year’s figures. Tragically, 1,867 perished trying to make the crossing, most in a spate of shocking mass drownings that has catapulted the migration crisis to the top of the agenda. For the most part, this catastrophe has been framed as a purely political issue… Much less has been said about the macroeconomic push factors compelling migrants and refugees to leave their homelands and what we might do to address them.

Built Environment

7 Cool Ways Cities Are Thinking Ahead on Climate Change
The world’s cities are coming up with ingenious ways to fight climate change, from massive sea walls to “sponge zones” and floating communities.  Urban areas have reason to act. Many are already grappling with impacts such as rising sea levels and extreme weather. They’re experiencing more frequent floods, power outages, and deadly heat waves.

Prefab revolution? Factory houses are the secret to green building
The building sector globally currently consumes more energy (34%) than the transport sector (27%) or the industry sector (28%). It is also the biggest polluter, with the biggest potential for significant cuts to greenhouse gas emissions compared to other sectors, at no cost. Buildings offer an easily accessible and highly cost-effective opportunity to reach energy targets. A green building is one that minimises energy use during design, construction, operation and demolition. The need to reduce energy use during the operation of buildings is now commonly accepted around the world. Changing behaviour could result in a 50% reduction in energy use by 2050.

Paris joins roster of Formula E host cities
Paris is set to join the electric car racing revolution next year, after Formula E organisers announced the French capital will host the first European round of the season. The city will host the first race of the European leg of the series on April 23rd 2016, with racers also driving in Berlin, Moscow and London in the weeks that follow. The Paris race will take place at the 17th century Les Invalides complex.

Food Systems

Campaign against plundering krill in the Southern Ocean
Sea Shepherd Australia has launched a new campaign to protect a species much smaller than the whales it has generally focused on, but just as important to the Southern Ocean ecosystem. Krill play a crucial role in the Antarctic food chain, as they are consumed by whales, penguins and various other seabirds. The Southern Ocean is not only cold, but also remote and barren, meaning the vast swarms of 5cm-long crustaceans are the basis of the marine food chain. A single humpback whale, for example, will consume around a tonne, almost exclusively krill, every day. But now corporate interests have the krill in their sights. The species is the new fad, identified as containing a cheap source of protein, and it has even gained the moniker ‘pink gold’.

Why genetically modified crops have been slow to take hold in Africa
There’s a confined field trial taking place in rural Nigeria. The crop being tested is genetically modified (GM) insect-resistant cowpea, an important, high-protein, drought-tolerant food legume grown widely in the dry savannah regions of tropical Africa. The gene that has been introduced comes from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt for short. This organism has been used as an insecticidal spray, especially by organic farmers, for years. It produces a toxin that is specific for the larvae of certain insects, including the damaging pod borer, Maruca vitrata, which often devastates cowpeas.

A year on, Australia’s health star food-rating system is showing cracks
The government has started the second phase of its awareness campaign for Australia’s year-old health star food-rating system. The A$2.1 million campaign is aimed at educating grocery buyers about how to shop for healthy food and encouraging the food industry to adopt the voluntary system. But it’s unlikely the campaign will fulfil its first aim because health stars are predominantly being used by the food industry to market highly processed food products. It would be unfortunate if it was successful in its latter aim because unless we change the way the system currently works, consumers will be the losers.

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