Tuesday 14 October 2014
Sustainable Development News
Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
Sign up to the newsletter if you would like the news direct to your inbox each weekday morning.
Energy and Climate Change
Tony Abbott says ‘coal is good for humanity’ while opening mine
Tony Abbott has declared “coal is good for humanity” while opening a coalmine in Queensland. The prime minister, who describes himself as a conservationist, said coal was vital to the world and that fossil fuel should not be demonised. “Coal is vital for the future energy needs of the world,” he said. “So let’s have no demonisation of coal. Coal is good for humanity.” Abbott said the opening of the $4.2bn Caval Ridge coalmine in Moranbah, operated by BHP Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA), was ‘a great day for the world’. “The trajectory should be up and up and up in the years and decades to come,” Abbott said.
15 years from now, our impact on regional sea level will be clear
Human activity is driving sea levels higher. Australia’s seas are likely to rise by around 70 centimetres by 2100 if nothing is done to combat climate change. But 2100 can seem a long way off. Our new analysis of sea-level projections published in Nature Climate Change today indicates that regional sea-level rise will be generally noticeable before 2030. By then the average sea-level rise globally will be about 13 centimetres higher than the average sea level calculated between 1986 and 2005.
UNSW smashes electric vehicle speed record
A team of undergraduate engineering students at the University of NSW has smashed the world speed record for electric vehicles, with their Sunswift car averaging more than 100 km/h over 500 kilometres on a single battery charge. The record – which had stood at 73 km/h for 26 years – was set at a race track near Geelong in July but only now confirmed by the world motorsports governing body, the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile. “We always knew we were going to break it,” said Hayden Smith, the project’s director and a third-year software engineering student. “We wanted a record that people could say ‘wow’ “.
Environment and Biodiversity
Nemo and chips? Tropical fish are fleeing warming waters and heading to the poles
Fish are acutely aware of sea temperature; it’s one of the key reasons particular species of fish live where they do. As the oceans warm however, many tropical species are moving towards cooler climes. So might the traditional cod and chips one day be replaced by Nemo and chips? It’s a big question, as the distribution of species across the Earth is one of the most fundamental patterns in ecology. All plants and animals are of course adapted to a limited set of climatic and environmental conditions; if the climate changes, we expect distributions to change. This matters not only because we like to eat many of the species in question, but also because entire ecosystems appear to depend on the number of interacting species present [emphasis added].
Economy and Business
Discounting the Discount Rate: How Can We Value a Sustainable Future?
We know that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. The adage works well, and it makes sense for a hunter-gatherer, but does it also holds true for a globalised species seeking a sustainable future? Under some circumstances might the bird in the hand actually be worth less than a larger number of birds, which are potentially available but currently out of reach? Does the value proposition change at four birds in the bush, at six, or at ten? How do we value something we could have against what we have already?
Superannuation funds could catalyse impact investment in Australia
In the social purpose world access to capital is frustratingly difficult, and the pool of funding available in Australia has remained stagnant for years. There needs to be a radical rethink if we are to make progress toward ending entrenched disadvantage. We need to think differently about how we tap new sources of capital for social purpose, which is where retirement savings come in. The emergence of the asset class, broadly termed “impact investing”, has the potential to help you grow your retirement savings and fund social purpose at the same time. Sound too good to be true? It’s not. At the heart of the approach is the adoption of business disciplines for social purpose.
Divesting mining stocks just a financial call
The trend of global investment firms selling out of fossil fuel companies is a big issue for the investment in Australia’s mining sector. The Australian National University Trust and the Rockefeller family have recently shunned investment in mining companies. Peter Strachan, independent corporate analyst and author of Stock Analysis, says he believes that a lot of the divestment is being done purely as a cold hard business decisions. He thinks that it is less to do with environmental concerns.
Outrage at ANU divestment shows the power of its idea
Is the Australian National University’s decision to sell its shares in some resource companies merely tokenistic? Far from it. The outrage from the affected companies shows how much influence universities can wield when they put their money where their mouth is. The question is, will other universities follow suit, having seen the considerable criticism that greeted ANU’s decision?
Coalition accused of ‘bullying’ ANU after criticism of fossil fuel divestment
The government has been accused of bullying the Australian National University, after Joe Hockey criticised it for divesting from a number of fossil fuel companies. In highly unusual remarks about a business’s investment decisions, the treasurer said ANU should reconsider its decision to jettison investment in seven firms – Santos, Iluka Resources, Independence Group, Newcrest Mining, Sandfire Resources, Oil Search and Sirius Resources. “I would suggest they’re removed from the reality of what is helping to drive the Australian economy and create more employment,” Hockey told the Australian Financial Review. “Sometimes the view looks different from the lofty rooms of a university.”
97% of companies fail to provide data on key sustainability indicators
Only 128 of the 4,609 largest companies listed on the world’s stock exchanges disclose the most basic information on how they meet their responsibilities to society, according to a new report. The study by Canadian investment advisory firm Corporate Knights Capital says 97% of companies are failing to provide data on the full set of “first-generation” sustainability indicators – employee turnover, energy, greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), injury rate, pay equity, waste and water. While the number of companies disclosing individual metrics has risen in recent years, the study says it remains “disconcertingly low” and the improvement is starting to tail off.
China’s mining region has grape prospects
To reinvent itself in China’s new consumption-driven economy, one region will need to crush a few grapes. After a decade of mining coal to power China’s economy, the arid and remote north-western region of Ningxia is remaking itself as industry slows and demand for fossil fuels is set to wane. Ningxia has set its sights on becoming China’s vineyard.
Waste and the Circular Economy
The US, South Africa and Australia are turning wastewater into drinking water
Of all the clean water that our cities consume, roughly half of it flows down our sewers to sewage treatment plants where it is treated and released back to the environment. Conventional sewage treatment plants are designed to clean this water to a degree that can be discharged to rivers or the ocean without major environmental or public health impacts. In many parts of the word, sufficient fresh water supplies are increasingly difficult to source. An alternative opportunity is to reclaim the water that we discharge from sewage treatment plants and treat that to a quality suitable for safe human consumption.
Politics and Society
To have sustainable development, we need to consider culture
At the end of July draft Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were released by the United Nations-appointed Open Working Group. Those of us hoping to see culture identified as part of those goals were initially disappointed, as not one of them directly references culture. But on closer scrutiny of the detailed targets, culture is mentioned four times. It’s part of the goal relating to education. There’s a reference to safeguarding cultural heritage in cities and human settlements. Culture features twice with reference to tourism as part of sustainable economic development, production and consumption. Slotting culture under those headings positions it in quite particular ways: as something relatively static, something to learn about and profit from. What the draft SDGs don’t do is recognise culture as an expressive and dynamic force.
The future sustainable home: low-tech or high-tech?
More than 2,500 gathered at the Austin Convention Center in Texas for the fourth annual SXSW Eco last week. But environmental science professor Jeff Wilson spent most of his time in a dumpster across the street. That’s where he lives: a 36 sq-foot trash container tricked out with LED lighting, non-toxic paint, an energy monitoring system, and a bucket for his bathroom waste. In stark contrast, four floors up in the convention center was Honda’s version of a smart home: a snazzy demo of the 2,000 sq-foot model smart home, which the company recently unveiled at the University of California at Davis.
AURIN to boost Australia’s smart planning capabilities
A national urban intelligence initiative launched today (Monday) is giving researchers, planners and policymakers easy access to big data in order for smarter, more sustainable planning decisions to be made. The Australian Urban Research Infrastructure Network provides access to thousands of datasets, from Australian Property Monitors through to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Geoscience Australia and city councils. With it, researchers will be able to ask the big questions of big data, including how can cities can manage water and energy use in the context of rising populations, how can walkable neighbourhoods be created, and what factors lead to neighbourhoods combating the urban heat island effect?
How much food does the UK waste? – quiz
Ahead of World Food Day, test your knowledge on the types and amounts of food the UK throws away.