Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Energy and Climate Change

Obama action on methane emissions ‘misses 90% of pollution’
Barack Obama has defied a Republican Congress to move ahead on his climate agenda on Wednesday, cracking down on methane emissions from America’s oil and natural gas boom. In a further use of the president’s executive authority, the White House unveiled a strategy aimed at cutting methane – one of the most powerful heat-trapping gases – by 40% to 45% over the next decade. However, the plan applied only to future oil and gas wells and infrastructure – and not the thousands of existing sites which are leaking methane, campaigners noted.

The Antarctic ice sheet is a sleeping giant, beginning to stir
In a paper I just published with colleague Dr Ted Scambos from the National Snow and Ice Data Center, we highlight the impact of southern ice sheet loss, particularly the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, on sea-level rise around the world. In the Southern Hemisphere, the largest player is the Western Antarctic ice sheet (WAIS). It is less stable than Eastern Antarctica and is particularly vulnerable to melting from below by warmed ocean waters. Scientists are closely watching the ice near the edges of the WAIS because they buttress large volumes of ice that are more inland. When these buttressing ice shelves melt, the ice upstream will slide more rapidly toward the ocean waters.

Business leaders call for stability reserve in EU Emissions Trading Scheme
European business leaders are calling for the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS) to be reformed to include a Market Stability Reserve by 2017. They argue such a move is necessary to ensure the low-carbon economy and energy system remains on track. The EU-ETS covers more than 11,000 factories, power stations and other installations. It operates on a cap-and-trade system, where the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions that can be emitted by the businesses involved is set and allowances can then be traded. A Market Stability Reserve would reduce the amount of emissions allowance units that the EU is permitted to auction on the global market.

Environment and Biodiversity

Mass Animal Die-Offs Are on the Rise, Killing Billions and Raising Questions
We’re not talking about a few dead fish littering your local beach. Mass die-offs are individual events that kill at least a billion animals, wipe out over 90 percent of a population, or destroy 700 million tons—the equivalent weight of roughly 1,900 Empire State Buildings—worth of animals. And according to new research, such die-offs are on the rise. The study, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first to examine whether mass die-offs have increased over time. Researchers reviewed historical records of 727 mass die-offs from 1940 to 2012 and found that over that time, these events have become more common for birds, marine invertebrates, and fish. The numbers remained unchanged for mammals and decreased for amphibians and reptiles.

Martinborough runs out of water when alarm fails to activate
NEW ZEALAND – Taps ran dry in Martinborough last Friday after water reservoirs ran out and an alarm, which is supposed to warn council workers when supply is low, failed to go off. South Wairarapa residents have been using more water than usual this summer and the district council says there is a critical need for Martinborough residents to conserve water. On Wednesday evening, the computer system that controlled the water levels in the storage reservoirs failed, said Mark Allingham, council’s group manager infrastructure and services.

China’s efforts to ease water stress failing, say researchers
China, the world’s most populous nation, faces one of the planet’s most intractable water crises, and scientists say Beijing’s strategy for resolving the problem is simply making it worse.  A team of international researchers say that water stress is only partially mitigated by China’s current two-pronged approach: transferring water physically to regions that are short of it − for example, by the huge projects to transfer water from the south to the north of the country − and exporting the “virtual” water embodied in products traded domestically and internationally. China needs more water for energy, food and industry, for its rising population, and for its attempts to end poverty. But maintaining even current levels of provision is becoming increasingly difficult as climate change lives up to its dire reputation as a threat multiplier and endangers water and food supplies.

Economy and Business

Green bond market hits record $36.6bn in 2014
Green Bond issuances reached a record $36.6bn in 2014, more than triple the previous year, industry figures have revealed, fuelling predictions the market could hit $100bn this year. Data released today by the Climate Bonds Initiative shows 73 different issuers made up the market last year with corporate and municipal bond issuers joining the development banks that have to date provided the backbone of the green bond sector. Corporates grabbed 33 per cent of the market share last year – a huge rise considering no corporate green bonds were issued until November 2013. Climate Bonds Initiative said the $12bn of corporate issuances created depth in the market and offered a range of currencies, which improved liquidity in the market.

Top 10 Carbon Market Predictions for 2015
Last week, the Climate Trust, a mission-driven nonprofit that specializes in climate solutions, with a reduction of 1.9 million tons of greenhouse gases to its name, announced its second annual prediction list of 10 carbon market trends to watch in 2015. The trends, which range from increased climate change adaptation measures at the state and city-level to new protocols for agriculture and forestry, were identified by the Climate Trust based on interactions with their diverse group of working partners—government, utilities, project developers and large businesses.

Report Shows World’s Poor Benefit from Small-Scale Commercial Aquaculture
A new report from WorldFish shows that resource-poor Bangladeshis can participate in commercial aquaculture, challenging conventional assumptions that this was not possible. The report also highlights that more of the very poor in Bangladesh are profiting from commercial aquaculture than was previously thought. Aquaculture, employment, poverty, food security and well-being in Bangladesh: A comparative study finds that where a critical mass of aquaculture producers had formed in a particular region, the development of related infrastructure reduced costs and lowered barriers to entry for other producers. In those areas, the potential of aquaculture to generate significant returns was sufficiently attractive to make the risks of investing in it appear acceptable to resource-poor households.

For Clifford, Hope Springs Eternal for ‘The Greening of Asia’
Mark Clifford’s forthcoming book, The Greening of Asia: The Business Case for Solving Asia’s Environmental Emergency (Columbia University Press, March 2015), offers a hopeful take on major trends in the region, such as entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial companies working together to generate solutions in energy, land and water conservation that are efficient and sustainable. His case-study approach looks at companies in China, India, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, South Korea, Singapore and Thailand, and the growing commitment to turning social and environmental problems into business opportunity.

Only 42% of Firms’ Boards Engaged in Sustainability Efforts
Less than half (42 percent) of companies say their boards of directors are actively involved in sustainability, according to a survey from MIT Sloan Management Review, The Boston Consulting Group and the UN Global Compact. This is despite the fact that 87 percent of managers and executives say that boards of directors should be engaged in sustainability. The survey and accompanying report, Joining Forces: Collaboration and Leadership for Sustainability, includes responses from more than 3,795 executives and managers from 113 countries.

Thomas Cook lightens aircraft load in successful bid to deliver greener holidays
Thomas Cook has revealed it is on course to improve the fuel efficiency of its planes by 12 per cent by 2020, after installing lightweight seats for passengers and taking steps to improve the aerodynamics of its fleet. In its annual sustainability report, published today, Thomas Cook Group Airlines said it has slashed its carbon emissions by 385,000 tonnes since 2008 and has improved fuel efficiency by 5.6 per cent since 2009.

Tetra Pak debuts first renewable carton with Finnish dairy
Packaging giant Tetra Pak has signed up the first client to trial its new fully renewable carton, marking the latest breakthrough for plant-based plastic technologies. Tetra Pak confirmed yesterday that Finnish dairy producer Valio this week started selling lactose free semi-skimmed milk in the new Tetra Rex Bio-based cartons, which use polythene derived from sugar cane rather than oil for the laminate film, cap, and neck opening. In addition, both the plastic and the Forest Stewardship Council certified cardboard, are traceable to their origins, the company said.

Waste and the Circular Economy

The Myth of Biodegradability in Plastic Consumer Products and Packaging
For consumers, understanding what biodegradable really means is crucial to making sustainable purchasing and disposal decisions. Needless to say, marketers and advertisers have confounded this issue, making many consumers believe that the plastic products they are purchasing are more eco-friendly than they really are. I’d like to take this opportunity to address some of this confusion, along with some of the biggest problems biodegradable plastics bring to the table today.

Biogas: smells like a solution to our energy and waste problems
Could what we flush down the toilet be used to power our homes? Thanks to biogas technology, Australia’s relationship with organic waste – human and animal excreta, plant scraps and food-processing waste – is changing, turning waste into a commercial source of renewable energy. A recent report  suggests that Australia produces about 20 million tonnes of organic waste per year from domestic and industrial sources. This in turn accounts for a large portion of national greenhouse gas emissions. Manure from livestock industries alone accounts for 22 Mt of carbon dioxide equivalents.Organic waste, when broken down by bacteria, produces a methane-rich “biogas” that can be used to generate electricity and heat.

11 things we learned about achieving a zero-waste fashion industry
Our panel of experts took questions on tackling waste in the fashion industry. From revamped supply chains to recycling jeans and rethinking dyes, here’s what we discovered.

Politics and Society

Paul Nurse accuses politicians of ‘cowardice’ over scientific evidence
Politicians are “cowardly” in their repeated ignorance of scientific evidence that may be unpopular with the public, Sir Paul Nurse has said. The Royal Society president and Nobel Prize-winning geneticist said politicians “must be honest” when disregarding scientists’ findings. He also warned “anti-immigration rhetoric” from certain political parties was damaging UK science. He said top scientists from abroad were being put off working in Britain. Sir Paul explained he feels “distressed” when scientists find clear evidence that contributes to a particular issue – such as drugs policy – only for politicians to ignore it “because they don’t think it will play well with the public”.

Harvard defies divestment campaigners and invests tens of millions of dollars in fossil fuels
Harvard has newly invested tens of millions of dollars in oil and gas companies, rebuffing campaigners’ demands to sever the wealthy university’s ties to the companies that cause climate change. The university’s refusal to withdraw an $32.7bn endowment from fossil fuels has frustrated campaigners and resulted in a law suit brought by seven Harvard students. The university – the world’s richest – is due to appear in court next month. Now it emerges Harvard increased its holdings in publicly traded oil and gas companies by a factor of seven during the third financial quarter of 2014, the latest data available.


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