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Sustainable Development News, Tue 15 July 2014

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

Utilities face new challenge in rush for home storage
Australian electricity utilities face a new challenge from a fast-growing interest from Australian households in home energy storage. Numerous companies are poised to roll out home energy storage solutions in coming months, and all solar installers and distributors report a growing rate of inquiry about battery storage. Michael Anthony, from solar distributor and systems aggregator Solar360, says between 15 and 20 per cent of solar customers are asking about storage, and that rate is increasing each month.

Australia’s dry south to become even drier, scientists say
Southern Australia has been warned to brace for more dry winters as a new study links the drying trend of the past few decades to human-induced changes in the atmosphere. The US study found that southern Australia is drying out because human activity has changed the concentrations of greenhouse gases and ozone in the atmosphere.  Projections in the study, published in online journal Nature Geoscience, suggest that autumn and winter rainfall in south-west Australia may drop by up to 40 per cent by the end of the century.

Oil Drilling to Proceed in Spain’s Canary Islands
The Canary Islands Archipelago, an area in the Atlantic where oil tankers must sail carefully and inform the local authorities to avoid environmental damage,  is becoming the stage for a new chapter in the world’s race for oil. This week, the Spanish Supreme Court cleared Spanish oil company Repsol’s plans to drill up to three wells in the area to determine if the exploitation of its alleged oil reserves is economically viable.

Environment

Sightings suggest whale numbers back on the rise
Ninety-two humpback whales were seen over a four-week period this year – the second highest sighting on record. Figures from the latest Cook Strait Whale Project survey showed 33 more humpback whales were spotted this year than last year. The highest number sighted was in 2012, when 106 humpback whales were seen.  The annual survey has been carried out since 2004 to assess humpback whale recovery since commercial whaling was banned in 1964.

Study confirms serious risk to bees, worms
An international review of systemic pesticides known as neonicatinoids and fipronil has confirmed these commonly used pesticides are causing significant damage to a wide range of beneficial invertebrate species, including earthworms, and are a key factor in the decline of bee numbers.  The Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, a group of international independent scientists, has analysed 800 peer-reviewed papers on these pesticides, known collectively as neonics, which is due to be published in the journal Environment Science and Pollution Research.

Controlling canola virus could devastate bee hives
Beekeepers are warning efforts to control the spread of the deadly canola disease, beet western yellows virus, could devastate bee populations. The virus has affected more than 10,000 hectares of canola in South Australia, and has recently been detected in Victoria and New South Wales. The disease is spread by the green peach aphid, and beekeepers are worried that certain insecticides used to control the aphid could damage the bee industry.

Call for strong measures to save Pacific bluefin tuna fishery after 96 per cent decline in breeding stock
The Worldwide Fund for Nature is urging Pacific fisheries to immediately halve their catch limits to preserve bluefin tuna stocks for the long-term. Numbers of Pacific bluefin tuna breeding stock have declined from their unfished levels by more than 96 per cent. The WWF will submit its recommendations to this week’s Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission meeting in Peru, ahead of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting in Samoa in December.

Economy and Business

The business cost of climate change: what the science says
Honda lost more than $250m in 2011, when car assembly plants in Thailand flooded (pdf) during an especially heavy monsoon season. The next summer, US utility Dominion Resources had to shut down part of its Millstone nuclear plant in Connecticut because water from the Long Island Sound grew too warm to be used for cooling. And reinsurer Munich Re saw its quarterly profit decline 38% after paying out more than $350m in claims from Australia’s 2010–11 floods. These numbers — from a Center for Climate and Energy Solutions report (pdf) released last year — illustrate the losses many companies have experienced in recent years from extreme weather events. Worldwide, more than 800 weather-related disasters in 2012 — the most recent year discussed in the report — caused $130bn in losses, the third-costliest year on record after 2011 and 2005, according to data from Munich Re.

Climate change damages in the EU could amount to €190bn – study
A new study by the EU’s Joint Research Centre has found that if global temperatures increase by 3.5C climate change damages by 2080 could be in their billions. The European Commission’s in-house science service analysed the impacts of climate change across nine different sectors, including tourism, agriculture, human health and transport.

To reduce disaster risk, finance sustainable development
Policy commitments to reduce disaster risk with additional funding sound right, but actually they miss the point. Financing by national governments has a lower profile than some of the other perceived weaknesses of the existing Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) on disaster risk reduction (DRR): the disconnect between its five ‘priorities for action’; a lack of attention to the challenge of doing DRR in complex contexts; a focus on process rather than outcomes; and a tendency to separate out disaster risk from wider development. But financing is key to the future of DRR. The weakness of its articulation and absence of firm commitments in the original framework have been a major drag on progress in reducing risk.

As sharing businesses grow the challenge is to stay authentic
The sharing economy provides almost limitless opportunities for businesses and individuals to profit from sharing unused assets – anything from office space to power drills – with flourishing online communities. Users often trade with peers, adding a human element to the experience. So what happens when sharing companies grow? Can they retain their authenticity and appeal? This week, ParkatmyHouse, the online marketplace for peer-to-peer parking space rental, revealed it will offer parking spaces at major hotels and car parks, as well as on people’s home driveways. The company, which has more than 500,000 members worldwide, is rebranding as Just Park and will provide cheaper parking in urban areas through partnerships with the Sheraton, the Hilton and car park giants APCOA and NCP.

If waste is such a valuable resource, why is UK exporting so much of it?
British exporters are facing some worrying headwinds. The value of the pound is riding high and the engines of economic recovery in the Eurozone (the UK’s main export market) are yet to start firing. But there’s a bright spark on the horizon and it’s rubbish – literally. An estimated 887,465 tonnes of waste-derived fuel – is now sold overseas  (pdf), up from zero tonnes six years ago. Likewise, the export of recovered plastics experienced a nine-fold increase in the decade up to 2011. Millions of tonnes of paper, metals and other UK recyclate (pdf) are finding their way to international markets as well, with China taking the lion’s share.

‘End-to-end visibility’: Reinventing how companies root out worker abuse
The Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh in 2013 was a wake-up call to consumers and retailers alike. At least two of the factories in the building, where over 1,100 garment industry workers were killed and over 2,500 injured, had passed social compliance audits that failed to expose or fix dangerous working conditions. Over a year after the disaster, despite promises of reform by both government and corporate officials, many garment factory workers in Bangladesh are still campaigning for better pay, safe working conditions, an end to 14-hour workdays, and benefits like on-site child care and maternity leave.

‘Green Silk Road,’ new engine for world sustainable development
The ancient Silk Road once connected the East and West by traversing through desert. Two thousand years later, countries along the road are striving to revive the path together, but in a “green” way. At the ongoing annual conference of the Eco Forum Global held in Guiyang, capital of southwest China’s Guizhou Province, former or current leaders and experts from around the world agreed the construction of the Silk Road Economic Belt should not repeat history by pursuing development at the cost of the environment.

Politics and Society

Carbon tax repeal: Legislation goes before Senate for third time as Clive Palmer confirms PUP support
The carbon tax repeal legislation goes to the Senate today for what the Federal Government hopes will be the final time. The legislation sailed through the House of Representatives last night after Clive Palmer confirmed his senators would support the repeal legislation. The Government was embarrassed last week when the Palmer bloc switched sides at the last minute and voted against the repeal bills. Mr Palmer says after a weekend of negotiations, he is satisfied savings from scrapping the carbon tax will be passed on to consumers.

Ross Garnaut Q&A: “There is no doubt Australia is out of step”
Ross Garnaut was the architect of the Labor government’s carbon pricing scheme, which looks likely to be scrapped this week despite last week’s brinkmanship in the Senate. The Conversation asked Professor Garnaut where this leaves Australia on the world stage, whether we have any tools left to cut greenhouse emissions, and why a government with a much-touted budget crisis on its hands has decided to forego several billion dollars in carbon tax revenues.

Why the renewable target should be ramped up, not cut
It’s hard to predict which of Australia’s climate policies will survive, or perhaps even thrive, in the current parliament. But our research suggests that if the Abbott government wants to cut long-term power costs and risk to electricity consumers, it should consider ramping up rather than weakening the Renewable Energy Target (RET). Recent UNSW modelling highlights that not only will renewable energy generation reduce greenhouse emissions, but it can also reduce the risks associated with high wholesale electricity costs from uncertain future gas price and carbon pricing policies here in Australia and Internationally.

Big energy in Victoria more important than families VEET review finds
Victoria’s Napthine government has spurned major economic benefits and used “dodgy data” to justify scrapping the Victorian Energy Efficiency Target, a new report by global engineering and construction firm Jacobs has found. A recently released business impact assessment conducted by the government, concluded the benefits of VEET were limited and recommended that it should therefore be discontinued. However, the Jacobs report said the VEET could deliver between $48 million and $179 million a year.

Indian government’s first budget to boost solar energy and confront climate change
The first budget of India’s newly elected government has put aside considerable sums of money to promote renewable energy and tackle climate change. Prime minister Narendra Modi’s government, which came to power in May, unveiled a reformist budget last week. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party have promised to revive stalling economic growth while also taking measures to protect India’s environment and support citizens affected by climate change.

Food Systems

Tighter rules mean Brazil is now kicking goals on animal welfare
While Brazil’s footballers have failed spectacularly to live up to expectations, there are other areas where the country is quietly exceeding them. Perhaps surprisingly, Brazil’s rapidly improving animal welfare standards put several more developed countries to shame. When we think of Brazil and animals, we might picture huge cattle herds and the resulting deforestation of the Amazon. Yet Brazil is ahead of other livestock-producing countries such as Australia, at least as far as animal welfare legislation and regulation are concerned. This is a pretty damning indictment of Australia.

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