Friday 14 November 2014
Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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More reaction to US-China climate pact
US-China climate deal: at last, a real game-changer on emissions
The new US-China climate deal is a game-changer. The agreement between the world’s two biggest greenhouse gas emitters is part of preparations for the United Nations negotiations in Paris next year, where the rest of the world will attempt to hammer out a meaningful deal to limit emissions. It is a significant step forward. Back in 2009, the keenly anticipated UN climate conference in Copenhagen failed, largely because of a standoff between the two states. Their inability to collaborate and to reach a level of mutual recognition of each other’s capacities and limits before the conference was a major contributor to the meeting’s chaotic close and weak, non-binding outcome.
Making change happen in G20 climate talks: Beijing pact not enough
Having reached a landmark agreement with China this week to limit greenhouse gas emissions, US president Barack Obama heads to Australia for the G20 summit of economic superpowers. The China deal will aid Obama’s efforts to prioritize discussion of climate change, laying the groundwork for a United Nations-led international agreement next year. Yet despite building pressure, Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, as host of the summit, is likely to do his best to deflect any talk of international action. Along with Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, the two conservative leaders of fossil fuel-rich countries present a major barrier to a global climate deal.
3 Obstacles Ahead for Surprise U.S.-China Climate Deal
A surprise U.S.-China climate deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions, announced early Wednesday, sets ambitious targets that will likely prove difficult to accomplish, especially given the looming Republican takeover of the U.S. Congress. Yet for the deal to have an impact beyond climate negotiations, it will have to overcome at least three major obstacles.
Climate: US-China pact to curb emissions not enough, CSIRO scientist Pep Canadell says
The US-China pact to curb greenhouse gas emissions is “unprecedented” but won’t be enough to prevent dangerous climate change, said Pep Canadell, the head of CSIRO’s Global Carbon Project. The world’s carbon budget is about 300 billion tonnes of carbon by 2100 if it is to have a two-in-three chance of limiting the temperature increase to less than the internationally agreed 2-degree level, Dr Canadell said. “At the current rate of emissions – of about 10 billion tonnes of carbon a year – we have less than 30 years to fully decarbonise,” he said.
Bill Shorten accuses Tony Abbott of ‘stubborn isolationism’ on climate change
Bill Shorten has accused Tony Abbott of “stubborn isolationism” on climate change that could hurt Australia’s international trade in the long term. Responding to the significant post-2020 greenhouse gas reduction commitments by the US and China, the prime minister said he was “not focusing on what is happening in 16 years’ time” but rather on what his Direct Action scheme might achieve straight away. Australia will have to unveil a similar post-2020 commitment next year. Citing Abbott’s reaction, the Labor leader said: “I fear it will not be long before this stubborn isolationism takes a toll on our international competitiveness.”
Energy and Climate Change
Fukushima £11bn cleanup progresses, but there is no cause for optimism
With 500,000 tonnes of contaminated water onsite and reactor 1 off limits until 2025, decommissioning will take 40 years. The man in charge of cleaning up the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has admitted there is little cause for optimism while thousands of workers continue their battle to contain huge quantities of radioactive water. The water problem is so severe that the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power [Tepco], and its myriad partner firms have enlisted almost all of their 6,000 workers in the 2tn yen (£11bn) mission to bring it under control, almost four years after a deadly tsunami sparked a triple meltdown at the plant.
Environment and Biodiversity
We have more parks than ever, so why is wildlife still vanishing?
While we can never know for sure, an extraordinary number of animals and plants are threatened with extinction — up to a third of all mammals and over a tenth of all birds. And the problem is getting worse. At the same time, we have more land and sea than ever in protected areas (“parks”) — more than 200,000 protected areas covering about 15% of the world’s land area and 3% of the oceans. So why are protected areas making so little difference? This is a vital question about the future of nature that should be discussed at Sydney’s World Parks Congress, beginning [Wednesday 12 November].
Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu among World Heritage sites of ‘significant concern’: IUCN
The condition of three of Australia’s 14 World Heritage sites is of “significant concern”, including the Great Barrier Reef, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The reef, along with the Kakadu National Park and Wet Tropics of Queensland sites, are among the protected regions of Oceania facing threats including invasive species and climate change, the IUCN said in its World Heritage Outlook Report released at the World Parks Congress in Sydney.
Global report says over a third of the world’s natural heritage sites face significant threat
A global report card on the world’s natural heritage sites says there’s significant concern about three of Australia’s national treasures. The International union for the conservation of nature’s World Heritage Outlook has assessed all 228 world heritage sites. It lists significant worries about Queensland’s wet tropics, the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu National Park…
JULIA MARTON LEFÈVRE: What this is doing is looking at all of the 228 sites and assessing how they are doing – 63 per cent of the sites are rated as good, doing fine, or good with some concerns which can be corrected.
LIV CASBEN: But 8 per cent of the world’s sites are listed as critical. Among the main threats affecting the world’s 228 sites are invasive species, tourism, hunting and fishing and dams. But climate change is the most serious potential threat.
Great Barrier Reef: Greg Hunt vows to ban sediment dumping in marine park
The government has pledged to formally ban the highly controversial practice of dumping sediment in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef. Greg Hunt, the environment minister, said he will use the existing Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority act to “put in place this ban in legislative form”. The ban will apply to all new dredging projects that plan to dispose of removed seabed into the reef’s marine park. The ban differs slightly from Labor’s stated policy, announced this week, that there should be a legislated ban on dumping spoil in the reef’s world heritage area, rather than just the marine park. While the two areas overlap almost entirely, the world heritage area contains inshore waters where ports are located.
Two thirds of world’s largest companies exposed to serious water risks
São Paulo is the wealthiest state in Brazil. It is the pulsating heartbeat of the Brazilian economy. The state’s capital of the same name is a major driver of commercial activity. A megacity and home to 20 million people, it was at one point the largest industrial city in the southern hemisphere. How then, can such an important metropolis find itself on the verge of running out of water? Brazil has experienced its driest period since records began, the worst drought in 80 years. São Paulo city’s population has also set records: for the 20 years from 1950, it was among the fastest growing. Today it’s still increasing. The resultant demand for water and the dependency and pressure on the Cantareira reservoir – the system that serves the city – has contributed to an official crisis. The huge basin is nearly dry, having dropped to below 10% of its capacity and São Paolo finds itself locked in difficult negotiations with neighbouring states that also rely on the Cantareira.
Program paying Tasmanian farmers to plant native vegetation yields results
Endangered native grasslands in Tasmania’s Midlands are showing signs of recovery after the efforts of a local conservation program. The Midlands Conservation Fund invests money from trusts and donations and pays the returns to farmers for protecting land from intensive grazing or cropping. Already 2,500 hectares are being protected, and it is hoped with more funding that will grow to 10,000 by 2020.
Scientists sift seaweed on the Southland seashore
A University of Otago [New Zealand] Marine Studies Centre project is encouraging Southlanders to find out as part of their Marine Metre 2 project. The nationwide citizen science project, launched this year, had its first run at Omaui yesterday with a team of Environment Southland scientists and local enviro school teachers scouring patches of Mokomoko Inlet for signs of life. Environment Southland environmental education officer Mark Oster said it was a great way for anyone to get involved with surveying plants and marine life at their favourite beaches. The aim of the project was to get people involved in the long-term monitoring of the shoreline and raise awareness of biodiversity, while creating a baseline against which change could be measured, he said.
Waste and the Circular Economy
Novelis to Convert all Beverage Can Sheets to High-Recycled Content evercan™ Aluminum by 2017
Novelis, producer of aluminum rolling products, has announced a new commitment to convert all of its beverage can body sheet production to its evercan sheet by the end of 2017. This new commitment means that all can body sheet produced by Novelis will be certified 90 percent recycled content, compared to the global industry average of 50 percent. evercan is the company’s independently certified high-recycled content aluminum sheet for beverage cans. The product is priced at the same levels as standard beverage can sheet and there is no difference in quality, technical characteristics or run-speed at customer plants between evercan and standard sheet.
Recycling week: the problem with e-waste
A significant shift in technology user behaviour is needed, according to Planet Ark, with an estimated 23 million mobile phones alone being hoarded in drawers and other places around the country. If these 23 million unloved digital devices were recycled, Planet Ark estimates it would obviate the need to mine 140,000 tonnes of precious metal ores, recover over 397 tonnes of plastic, and have an environmental impact equivalent to planting 120,000 trees.
Recycling week: there’s a long way to go (mainly to Queensland for the free landfill)
While the office sector has had some advances in purging unwanted paper, things haven’t been so rosy in the area of closing the loop and buying recycled paper for the office, or recycling our old phones or e-waste. Neither has been Queensland’s choice not to have a landfill levy. Some contractors from Victoria and New South Wales have been trucking rubbish to Queensland to take advantage of that state’s free landfill regime. But as Recycling Week got under way this week, it became apparent that a new NSW rule that came into effect on 1 November, the Proximity Principle, would start to stem the flow of rubbish, at least from one state. The rule means that NSW waste businesses now have to dispose of waste within 150 kilometres of the point of collection or, in the case of remote areas, the “nearest lawful facility” or be hit by substantial fines and possibly face criminal charges. Suddenly, recycling just got even more economically attractive.
Politics and Society
UK opposition could doom EU efforts to curb plastic bag use
A bid by the European parliament to impose an 80% cut in the 100bn plastic bags used by Europeans each year could be scuppered by several states opposed to Europe-wide action, and a European commission that increasingly views targets as an unnecessary distraction. ‘Single use’ plastic bags are light, convenient and easily thrown away but their very disposability creates an environmental threat. As many as a million seabirds and 100,000 sea mammals – including large numbers of seals and turtles – are killed each year by ingesting plastics or becoming entangled in the growing number of plastic islands that gloss large swathes of the world’s oceans. But several countries led by the UK and Croatia are opposing EU-wide mandatory pricing or product restrictions for plastic bags.
Why fixate on 20% renewables? It’s never been the actual target
Labor has walked away from negotiations with the government over changes to the Renewable Energy Target, saying the proposed cuts of almost 40% are too deep. Industry minister Ian Macfarlane says he is only trying to bring the scheme back into line with its “original bipartisan intent” of 20% renewable energy by 2020. Yet this wasn’t the original intent. The Renewable Energy Target has gone through a variety of iterations over its lifetime, but never has it been officially defined in terms in terms of a percentage target.
Australia talks the talk, but will it walk the walk to save rainforests?
At the Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit, which concluded yesterday in Sydney, environment minister Greg Hunt announced A$6 million to combat illegal logging. While the funding builds on legislation to ensure Australian goods are sourced legally, is this the deal Hunt was after to save rainforests? The summit was a Coalition election promise, highlighting the importance of slowing deforestation to combat climate change. It preceded the World Parks Congress, a once-in-a-decade phenomenon that is drawing some 6,000 park aficionados, environmental managers and government delegates from around the globe to Sydney this week.
‘No need’ for free range eggs standard says ACCC, outraging consumer and industry groups
The consumer watchdog has declared there is “no need” for a free range egg standard in Australia, shocking egg producers and consumer advocates, who are both in the midst of developing such a standard with ministers in every state. Rod Sims, chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, said producers should instead use commonsense and rely on court rulings to avoid misleading shoppers with their labelling.