Wednesday 15 April 2015
Sustainable Development News
Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world. If you like what you see, you are welcome to sign up (on the right) for free sustainable development news delivered direct to your inbox each weekday morning.
Energy and Climate Change
Renewable investment falls 15% in 2015
Clean energy investment down 15% in 2015, according to figures from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. However, the figures suggest that falling oil and gas prices have had a limited impact on clean energy investment. Bloomberg New Energy Finance previously revealed that renewable energy investments increased by 16% in 2014, reaching $310 billion (£205bn), the first registered growth since 2011. The 2014 figure is more than five times the figure recorded just a decade ago, demonstrating how fast the industry has grown.
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Investment in large-scale renewable energy in Australia has plummeted by 90 per cent in the last 12 months and lenders are leaving the market, according to analysis from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). The report shows only one large-scale renewable energy project has been financed this year for $6.6 million, following zero investment in the last quarter of 2014. Since the Federal Government announced its review of the Renewable Energy Target in February 2014, $206.9 million has been invested in the sector. In the 12 months prior to the announcement of the RET review, investment was around $US1.9 billion.
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German energy companies say that construction of over half the country’s planned power plants could be scuppered if the country goes ahead with a leaked plan to set emissions budgets for the country’s biggest polluters. The proposed law would impose stiff financial penalties for the oldest and most inefficient coal and lignite plants, to be paid in the form of emissions trading certificates. Clean energy industries and environmentalists see the plan, which would be phased in from 2017, as an essential step to meeting the government’s energiewende blueprint for a 40% cut in carbon output by 2020.
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We cannot afford to reject effective, achievable climate solutions because other, less attainable, solutions are better. These best solutions cannot be achieved in time. Climate campaigners should learn to be more pragmatic. They should temper their ideological stance, their attitude to technology and their mantra that nothing will work without legally-binding international targets. Naomi Klein’s This changes everything is the current vogue read among climate campaigners. This is basically a diatribe against capitalism (though, interestingly, cannot be downloaded for free – unlike the excellent Sustainable Energy – without the hot air – by uber-pragmatist David Mackay. Capitalism is far from perfect. However, the hard left has been trying to replace it for centuries, without notable success.
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The first public hearings will take place in the Hague on Tuesday in the first case in the world to use existing human rights and tort law to hold a government responsible for failing to reduce carbon emissions fast enough. The 886 citizens involved in the class action against the Dutch government aim to force it to take more robust action to reduce emissions. They also hope to offer a legal solution to the political impasse on international climate change action.
Environment and Biodiversity
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Johan Rockström and Mattias Klum reveal the current state of nine planetary boundaries, including freshwater use, land-system change and climate change in a new book Big World Small Planet.
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Data centres buried deep in caves, mimicking the structure of leaves to cut cooling costs; buildings that reference the design of a spookfish eye to distribute light efficiently; greenhouses that borrow from beetles to collect and distribute water more effectively. Biomimicry – the implementation of functions from biological systems into technological ones – presents a neat way to deal with some of our most pressing environmental concerns. Pawlyn, founder of Exploration Architecture in the UK, says that nature offers “an amazing design source in which all the products have benefited from a 3.8 billion year research and development period”.
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Ask a group of farmers with over 500 years’ experience between them how to manage a property before, during and after a drought, and you get a lot of practical tips and wisdom. AgResearch asked 20 South Canterbury farmers about their strategies for successfully managing their properties after a drought. All the farmers had experienced severe droughts over the previous 20-30 years of farming. What worked best on an individual property depended on things like its climate and soil type, and what was being farmed, but the scientists concluded these are the key areas to look at.
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In its new position paper published today, Halting Deforestation and Achieving Sustainability, the Rainforest Alliance addresses the recent surge in deforestation-free pledges. Timed to coincide with an Innovation Forum event in Washington, DC on “How Business Can Tackle Deforestation,” the paper argues the deforestation-free trend is an exciting development, but needs definition, focus, and accountability to deliver lasting benefits for forests, people and the planet.
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AUSTRALIA – Scientists believe water may be the key in the battle between two introduced species – the cane toad and the dung beetle. Cane toads have left a trail of ecological destruction in their wake as they march ever further south and west. The poisonous South American toad is perhaps the most notorious example of Australia’s dubious track record of introducing species to control pests. But it is now being held responsible for the demise of one of the few success stories of introduced species – the humble, but very valuable, dung beetle.
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In Utah, female black bears with young cubs typically emerge from their hibernation dens at the end of March. But when state biologists entered two dens in mid-February to count cubs, both were already empty. A third den concealed an awake adult female bear “that almost attacked the biologists,” says Tonya Keiffer of the Utah Department of Natural Resources. The bears were likely roused by unseasonably warm temperatures and may have wandered out looking for food, says Dale Liechty, a state bear biologist. The bears have had their work cut out for them this spring, since plants didn’t start growing in much of Utah until weeks after the bears started stirring.
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A rare Omura’s whale has been found washed up on a West Australian beach, giving scientists a chance to learn more about the species. The rarely sighted whale was discovered on a remote beach at Exmouth, at the tip of the state’s North West Cape, after Tropical Cyclone Olwyn tore through the area last month. It is the first sighting of the species in WA and only the second in Australia. Identifying the 5.68-metre juvenile female was difficult for Department of Parks and Wildlife staff, but DNA profiling confirmed it was an Omura’s whale. WA Environment Minister Albert Jacob said the find was “highly significant” for whale scientists because very little was known about the species.
Economy and Business
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When it comes to cause marketing, there may not be a more mutually beneficial partnership than the 16-year relationship between Whirlpool and the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity. What began with appliance donations has become one of Whirlpool’s most successful corporate social responsibility programs. It is hard to argue with the numbers: over US$85 million in donations since 1999, 8,000-plus company employees who have volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, and a renewed lease on life for over 100,000 families. Along with its commitment to manufacturing in the United States, the reputation of its products and services and, of course, its financial strength, Whirlpool’s corporate citizenship is one reason it is consistently mentioned as one of the country’s most admired companies.
Waste and the Circular Economy
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Is it really true, as has been previously argued on The Conversation, that supermarket “ugly food” campaigns don’t actually reduce food waste? That argument says that selling less-than-perfect produce at cheaper prices encourages consumers to continue undervaluing fresh food, leading them to waste even more of it. But we think this misses the point. The purpose of these campaigns is not to encourage people to waste less food in their houses, but to reduce the amount of fruit and vegetables wasted during production, or “pre-farmgate”.
Politics and Society
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We live in an era of great contrasts. Never before have we faced catastrophic environmental risks on a planetary level, and seldom has there been such potential for innovation to allow us to avert serious risks and transform the world. Decisions made now will have profound impacts on the Earth for centuries to come. This calls for a new logic; abundance within planetary boundaries. Despite its obvious contradiction, we assume infinite material growth on a finite planet. This persistent “frontiers” worldview originates from the assumption that we are a relatively small world evolving on a relatively large planet.
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The European Commission has launched an online consultation on how science and innovation can help the EU “ensure safe, nutritious, sufficient and sustainable food globally.” The consultation will underpin the debate on a future research agenda to help tackle global food and nutrition security challenges. It will focus on the areas where the EU’s research efforts can have the strongest impact, including how to improve public health through nutrition; increase food safety and quality; reduce food loss and waste; make rural development more sustainable; increase agricultural yields through sustainable intensification; and how to better understand food markets and increase access to food for people around the world. The discussion is linked to the theme of this year’s Universal Exhibition (Expo Milano 2015) “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”, which aims to go beyond cultural activities and open a real political debate on global food security and sustainability.