Wednesday 15 October 2014
Sustainable Development News
Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Javier Gomez sucks the last morsels of meat from the leg bone of an agouti, a large Amazonian rodent, his creased face belying his 44 years. ‘We’re just happy to have the work,” he shrugs wearily. “Here the only work is timber, that’s it. It’s heavy work but we’re used to it.” Older than his sinewy companions, Gomez says he will earn around $825 for spending four months logging in a camp two days up the Mayuruna river from his home village. In this remote part of Peru’s 700,000 sq km of Amazon rainforest, there is not much beyond subsistence fishing and farming as a way to earn a living. Other options are mostly illegal: logging Amazonian hardwoods, growing coca, hunting and selling bushmeat.
Energy and Climate Change
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Sea levels remained steady for thousands of years before recent rapid rises, a study led by the Australian National University shows. The study looked at the fluctuation of ocean levels over the past 35,000 years, based on ice volume changes around the world. The researchers have described the study as the most comprehensive paper of its kind looking at the period. ANU’s Professor Kurt Lambeck said sea levels were oscillating by no more than 20 centimetres over several millennia.
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Three quarters of European countries have placed adapting to disruption from climate change on the political agenda, but the same percentage cite factors such as time, money or technologies as a barrier to taking action, in the most comprehensive survey of the issue to date. The European Environment Agency survey shows “uncertainties about the extent of future climate change” and “unclear responsibilities” are seen as blocks to action by a large number of countries. But as freak weather events increase in severity and frequency, climate change adaptation is increasingly focusing minds in government.
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The growth in carbon dioxide levels worldwide are currently 17 per cent lower than predicted by computer models, research shows. Lianhong Gu, from the Climate Change Institute at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the United States, said most carbon-cycle models had over-predicted the growth rate. Dr Gu said the growth rate of carbon dioxide levels had been over-predicted by 17 per cent over a 100-year period. His paper, published in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), set out some rare good news on climate change. Dr Gu said it underlined how critical plants were to keeping atmospheric CO2 levels as low as possible.
Environment and Biodiversity
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Efforts to revive the Snowy River are continuing with a major water release from Lake Jindabyne Dam today. More than 10,000 megalitres of water flowed down the river in just eight hours, the biggest single pulse in a two-week flush designed to mimic the spring snow melt. The high-volume release was part of continued efforts to restore the parched river, which was reduced to just 1 per cent of its annual flow rates by the construction of the Snowy Hydro Scheme.
Economy and Business
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In recent years, the quest for a business model that balances the needs of people, the planet and the bottom line has been gaining traction. While various commercial experiments have explored solutions ranging from social entrepreneurship to local currencies, one solution – fair trade – has consistently delivered triple-bottom-line results. But the program’s success has led to new problems. As a growing cadre of consumers seek out the fair trade logo on items ranging from chocolate bars to bananas to their daily cup of coffee, the supply of products has needed to increase to meet the market demand. In the process, however, the program has faced a fundamental question: how can fair trade continue to grow without sacrificing its principles?
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Many companies are committed to policies to ensure environmental, social and governance sustainability — but a growing minority remain skeptical about their benefits, according to a report from the Economist Intelligence Unit.
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“There is a strong business case for investing in sustainability. Private sector approaches can help us to innovate,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a welcoming address delivered by video. “At the same time, collaboration and partnership can ensure that investment in sustainable development is inclusive and aligned with the priorities of countries. This Forum helps to forge such links.” Mr. Ban added: “You have the opportunity to contribute to improved livelihoods and well-being for billions of people over decades to come.”
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In November 1990, then treasurer Paul Keating announced that Australia was in recession – and that it was “the recession we had to have”. Today, there are growing calls for serious, structural economic reform of the kind we haven’t seen in Australia since the Hawke-Keating years. But there appears to be little appetite for it. Unfortunately, it seems that reform will be postponed until we experience the crisis we have to have.
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A court case has been launched against the Commonwealth Bank (CBA) after it rejected a shareholder request for it to reveal the level of greenhouse gas emissions it finances. Activist group the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR), which is a minor shareholder in the CBA, banded together with more than 100 other shareholders to ask the bank to report on the amount of carbon pollution it finances. The resolution also called on the bank to outline its exposure to “unburnable carbon”, referring to fossil fuel projects that are unlikely to go ahead due to economic trends and global action to mitigate climate change.
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For investors in coal and other fossil fuels, the outlook is not rosy. In recent weeks the industry has been rocked by divestment announcements from a range of institutions including, it turns out, the highly influential Australian National University. Now former Citibank and Deutschbank managing director Tim Buckley points to why divestment is such a good idea.
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For local councils, funding cutbacks and having to do “more with less“ is standard business practice. But one consultancy that’s worked with 200 local government authorities around the country says sustainability is key to stretching the dollar. According to Alexi Lynch, Ironbark Sustainability business leader sustainability strategy, when revenue dries up local councils have the choice to cut services and forgo maintaining community assets, but in general these days they can see that greater energy efficiency and sustainability saves money.
Waste and the Circular Economy
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Research by the University of Technology in Sydney in collaboration the CSIRO and other universities found that up to 70 per cent of Australia’s metal consumption could be provided by recovering the five million tonnes of metals in landfills or discarded products. What this points to is an above ground revolution that’s making some innovative companies very rich.
Politics and Society
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The Australian National University’s decision to withdraw A$16 million in investment from seven resources companies, including gas producer Santos, has been praised by divestment campaigners and condemned by industry and the federal government.
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New research shows cities understand climate change, they are closely aligned to business priorities and they provide a lower risk environment for companies. It includes data about the concerns of companies, closing the circle with reports such as Risky Business, which examine the business risks due to climate change. In 2014, it’s clearer that the interests of cities and of companies are much more closely aligned than one might expect.
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Marks and Spencer has been stripped of an award for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from its refrigerators, in the latest edition of a long-running green ranking scheme. The supermarket, which regularly brandishes its environmental credentials and has a far-reaching ‘Plan A’ green strategy, was downgraded from leadership status by the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency when it comes to phasing out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) from its chillers and putting doors on them to save energy.
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Standards Australia has published a new standard for commercial building energy audits, which recommends audits be undertaken every three to five years, or following major changes, and include suggestions for improvements to energy performance based on a financial analysis.
China Tuna Industry Group admits breaching quotas for vulnerable species in Pacific
China is distancing itself from a major Chinese-operated tuna fishing company that has admitted breaching quotas for the most vulnerable species in the Pacific. In a draft prospectus presented to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, the China Tuna Industry Group revealed China had exceeded the catch quotas for Bigeye and Yellowfin tuna for three of the last four years for which records are available. The Dalian-based company claimed sanctions were ineffective and that, according to legal advice, it would not be penalised for its actions. It also outlined plans for a public listing that it hoped would raise more than $100 million to fund expansion of its activities.