Sustainable Development News

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

Sea levels rising faster than previously thought says new study
Sea level rise in the past two decades has accelerated faster than previously thought in a sign of climate change threatening coasts from Florida to Bangladesh, a study said on Wednesday. The report, reassessing records from more than 600 tidal gauges, found that readings from 1901-90 had over-estimated the rise in sea levels. Based on revised figures for those years, the acceleration since then was greater than so far assumed. The report said the earlier readings were incomplete or skewed by local factors such as subsidence. The new analysis “suggests that the acceleration in the past two decades is 25 percent higher than previously thought,” Carling Hay, a Canadian scientist at Harvard University and lead author of the study in the journal Nature, told Reuters.

Report: renewables to grow faster than fossil fuels in 2015
Growth in renewable energy consumption is set to significantly outpace the growth seen in fossil fuels this year, according to a report. However, it also warns that non-fossil fuels lack the policy needed to progress fast globally. The report – Industries in 2015 – is from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and notes that as governments around the world seek to limit global warming and emissions by implementing policies, renewables are likely to benefit.

Germany breezes past 1GW offshore wind milestone
A report by Deutsche WindGuard commissioned by VDMA Power Systems, the German Wind Energy Association (BWE), the Wind Energy Agency (WAB) and the German Offshore Wind Energy Foundation (SOW) revealed that as of the end of last year Germany had 258 offshore turbines online, providing 1,049.2MW of capacity from the North and Baltic Seas. The report also confirmed that installed offshore wind capacity more than doubled last year, with 142 turbines boasting 528.9MW of capacity connected to the grid over the 12 month period. In addition, capacity is expected to more than double again this year, with the report confirming 285 turbines with over 1.3GW of capacity have been installed and are awaiting grid-connection, while a further 220 foundations have been completed.

Environment and Biodiversity

Another Australian animal slips away to extinction
Last July, the federal environment minister, Greg Hunt, announced the appointment of Gregory Andrews as Australia’s first Threatened Species Commissioner. His mission: to help avert the extinction of a growing number of native plant and animal species. The problem is, given the limited funds available, which species to prioritise. Australia was recently ranked among the bottom 40 countries for the funding of its share of global biodiversity, considering its governance, size and wealth. Prioritising which animals and plants to save is controversial because it implies triage – giving up on some to save others. But it has to be done. One way would be to prioritise the species most threatened with extinction. However, the inefficiencies of this method have been well-documented. All states and territories have more complex ways of prioritising species. We really need a national system; this was a key recommendation of the 2008 Hawke review of Australia’s environmental legislation. Commissioner Andrews is charged with developing such a framework.

5 Ways Regular People Are Tracking Wildlife With Personal Tech
Whale sharks are generally thought of as denizens of the tropical waters of the Gulf of Mexico or the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. But in July 2014, a person in New Jersey saw a whale shark and reported it to Wildbook for Whale Sharks, which collects reports, pictures, and video of animals that people encounter on their travels. This surprised Jason Holmberg, information architect for Wild Me, the platform behind Wildbook for Whale Sharks. “We had no idea [whale sharks] went that far north, [and] there were no pictures to confirm it.” Then Holmberg found a corroborating video of the same big fish off Sandy Hook, New Jersey, on YouTube. That’s just one example of how enlisting input from a network of volunteer citizen scientists expands the reach of a project, sometimes beyond what scientists can imagine.

Obituaries for coral reefs may be premature, study finds
Coral reefs are the poster child for the damage people are doing to the world’s oceans. Overfishing, pollution and declining water quality have all taken their toll on reefs around the world. Perhaps the most famous example is Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, where half of the coral cover has disappeared over the past 25 years. But increasingly, coral reefs face additional threats: global warming and ocean acidification, which cause coral bleaching and damage the coral’s ability to build reefs, respectively. These new climate-induced effects, if not reversed by controlling greenhouse gas emissions, coupled with the global pressures already in place, have prompted many coral reef scientists to predict the overall demise of reefs in as little as a couple of decades. However, research published today in Nature on reefs from the Seychelles provides some hope that all will not be lost for future coral reefs.

‘Heavenly’ Ice Halos Form Over New Mexico—What Causes Them?
It’s not quite like finding diamonds in the sky, but a photographer in Red River, New Mexico, was lucky enough to catch rainbow-like arcs and pillars of light blazing over a snowy landscape last week. This example of sunlight run amok is caused by the collision of light and ice crystals high in Earth’s atmosphere. Those frozen specks of water bend or refract light in myriad ways to produce arcs, halos, and pillars of light. Air temperatures, as well as the shape and arrangement of ice crystals, fine-tune the phenomena that we see.

Ice halos arc over a snowy ridge in Red River, New Mexico. Photograph by Joshua Thomas

Ice halos arc over a snowy ridge in Red River, New Mexico. Photograph by Joshua Thomas

Testing cattle better than culling badgers to control bovine TB, study suggests
Frequent testing of cattle is a far more effective way of controlling bovine tuberculosis (TB) than culling badgers, research suggests. A new computer simulation showed that vigilant cattle testing can eventually eradicate the disease whether or not badgers are culled. Badger culling alone did not lead to TB eradication, according to the model. The research also suggested that housing cows in large sheds over winter potentially doubled the number of infected animals in a herd, greatly increasing the risk of bacterial transmission.

Economy and Business

CleanTech stocks outperformed market last year
CleanTech stocks have had a stellar year, increasing in value by 7.3 per cent compared with the ASX200’s 1.1 per cent. For the final quarter of 2014, the ACT Australian CleanTech Index added 9.4 per cent, compared with the ASX200’s 2.2 per cent. The best performing sub-indices for the quarter were the Environmental Services Index with a gain of 9.4 per cent and the Efficiency/Storage/Fuel Cells Index with an 8.1 per cent gain. The quarter’s performance was driven by 10 companies with gains of more than 25 per cent. The greatest gains were recorded by renewables financing and technology company Solco, creator of HVAC biofilm removal technology Aeris Environmental and waste wood technology company Papyrus Australia. The market capitalisation of the 62 stocks in the ACT Australian CleanTech Index is $17 billion.

U.S. Solar Jobs Climb 22% as Clean Power Aids Economic Recovery
U.S. solar companies boosted their employee rolls by 22 percent last year, and now employ 86 percent more workers than they did in 2010, driven by rising demand in the world’s third-largest market.  Almost 174,000 people are working in the U.S. solar industry, compared with 143,000 in 2013 and 93,500 in 2010, according to a report today from the Solar Foundation. Another 36,000 solar jobs may be added this year, including factory workers, salespeople, installers, developers and researchers.  The growth indicates that solar energy is one of the industries helping drive an economic recovery in the U.S., while slumping oil prices are prompting oil companies to reduce capital spending and cut employment. About 3 million Americans found work last year, the most in 15 years, and one out of every 78 new positions was in solar.

Will the Chevrolet Bolt EV Push Electric Vehicles to the Mainstream?
Concept cars at automobile shows generally offer the following: great opps for selfies, dreams over driving a vehicle that will never exist and, of course, the occasional eye roll. But this week at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, one concept car dazzled because of its design and its potential to transform the automobile industry: General Motors’ (GM) Chevrolet Bolt EV, which could hit the market as soon as 2017. The Bolt is a huge step closer toward the holy grail of electric vehicles (EVs): affordability and sustainability — the latter of which in this case is defined by range, the current bugaboo of most EVs. Sure, we love Tesla for its phenomenal design and range of 265 miles between charges. Unfortunately, the sticker price, which ranges between $70,000 and $90,000, is out of range of most of our budgets. GM’s Chevy Spark EV could be a car for the rest of us, with a price of about $20,000 after federal rebates. But with a range of about 82 miles, it fails to snag interest from most consumers due to that massive hurdle: “range anxiety.”

Chipotle Stops Serving Pork at Some Restaurants
Chipotle Mexican Grill is serious about upholding its Food With Integrity program. It’s so serious about it that the Mexican food chain suspended a pork supplier for violating the company’s standards, the Associated Press reports. As a result, Chipotle stopped serving pork at hundreds of its restaurants. It’s the first time the company has had to stop serving an ingredient. Chipotle found out about the supplier’s violations through a routine audit, and most had to do with how the pigs are housed. Chipotle requires its pork suppliers to house pigs humanely and not in cramped pens. The company’s website states that it has sourced 100 percent of its pork from producers who follow its guidelines.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Recycling with Purpose: Chevy Volt Battery Cases Become Duck Houses in Russia
Zero waste has become the mantra at companies across the board, from vineyards to CPG giants such as Procter and Gamble. The waste diversion bug has hit General Motors (GM) as well, as the automaker continues to increase the number of its facilities that are landfill-free. The brain behind new ways to get rid of garbage is GM’s global manager of waste reduction, John Bradburn, often called the “MacGyver of waste” by his colleagues at the company’s campus in Warren, Michigan.

Politics and Society

Is “resilience” the new sustainababble?
Suddenly, “resilience” is everywhere. It’s the subject of serious books and breezy news articles, of high-minded initiatives and of many, many conferences. After Superstorm Sandy, it was triumphantly plastered on city buses, declaring New Jersey “A State of Resilience.” What’s going on? Does all this talk about resilience mean that we’ve basically given up on averting climate change and other environmental catastrophes — and that our only hope is to roll with the punches? Have we leapfrogged over denial, anger, and bargaining, landing squarely in acceptance? Not necessarily. Resilience, like sustainability before it, is an idea with potentially transformative power. Resilience is all about our capacity to survive and thrive in the face of disruptions of all kinds. If we were to take resilience seriously (highly recommended in our increasingly disruption-prone world), we would make some far-reaching changes in how we live.

UK Labour leader on collision course with Shell and BP
Ed Miliband would commit the UK to a goal of slashing fossil fuel emissions to zero by 2050 if he is elected as prime minister in this year’s general election. The Labour leader made the pledge in a speech in London, where he said addressing climate change and global poverty would be priorities for a government he led. “I know tackling climate change, global poverty and inequality are not as fashionable as they once were. But I also know they are more important than ever,” Miliband, said. “For me, they are not luxury items in our programme for change. They are not part of a branding exercise. They go to the heart of my beliefs and the reason why I entered politics.”

Sam Judd: Cost of the catch
NEW ZEALAND – In this beautiful weather, a great number of people would rather be out fishing than back at work. There can be no doubt as to how important fishing is to our culture, but when I read Michael Field’s investigative book The Catch over summer, aside from being deeply disturbed by the revelations, I felt that the way fishing was being carried out is against another important part of the Kiwi culture: human rights. The books describes horrific conditions endured by crew on foreign charter vessels – boats from overseas who lease quota from our fishing companies and catch fish in New Zealand waters… Thankfully, the Fisheries (Foreign Charter Vessels and Other Matters) Bill, which passed with full support of all parties, will require all foreign charter vessels to carry the New Zealand flag from 1 May 2016, and operate under full New Zealand legal jurisdiction.

Food Systems 

Palm oil risk to Africa as prospectors eye swaths of land
Palm oil has long been produced in Africa on small-scale, diversified plantations. A report on palm oil, published last year by the NGO Grain, notes that tens of millions of people in Africa, most of them women, rely on this native tree for food and livelihoods. But the landscape is changing. Booming global demand for palm oil and limited room for the industry’s expansion in Asia have led large palm oil producers to look towards Africa. These producers are being welcomed into Africa with open arms. Governments desperate for foreign investment are scrambling to sign deals, offering companies cheap land and tax holidays in the hope of generating jobs and development. Politicians are struggling with the supposed trade-off between growth and conservation.

Why we must invest in local food storage in sub-Saharan Africa
We often associate the term “food loss” with spoiled food in our kitchen fridges or overflowing bins behind restaurants. However, when we look at developing regions, food loss has more to do with grain slowly spilling from an aging truck as it bounces around on pothole-marked roads on its way from farm to market. Post-harvest food losses are particularly high in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where a third of all food produced is lost before it reaches the marketplace (pdf). Grains and oilseeds are one of the main staples in SSA, representing the basis for food security for most of the population. According to data supplied by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 30m tonnes of grains and oilseeds are lost each year in SSA (pdf). Of this, 85% is lost in the production, harvesting, handling and processing stages of the supply chain. Reducing food loss is important because it makes more food available for consumption, and this is crucial in low-income and food-deficit countries.

Navy unable to board illegal fishers’ boats
NEW ZEALAND – The navy was barred from boarding two boats fishing illegally for toothfish in Antarctic waters, which then tried to get away. Captains of the Yongding and the Songhua have refused to let the crew board. The navy was attempting to verify the flag status of the Equatorial Guinea-flagged vessels after the Government gained permission from the central African nation overnight. The Wellington’s crew also wanted to gather evidence to use in any future prosecution after shooting video of the fishermen hauling aboard their illegal catch. In the past week they have busted three ships – linked to Spanish pirates – poaching in the Southern Ocean.

Farmer sells off lambs as drought looms
NEW ZEALAND – A North Canterbury farmer has sold 1400 of his lambs early to head off a dry weather pattern not seen for a couple of decades. David Meares, one of the country’s sharpest livestock analysts, made the move this week after looking at his frazzled pasture and slumping prices in saleyards and processing plants. The co-founder of the Agrifax market data company said he looked closely at physical farming conditions and had expected livestock values to drop quickly through January as others rushed to quit their lambs. He expected some of his drought-tolerant neighbours would chip him for being “a panicker” but noted the sale pens at Christchurch’s Canterbury Agricultural Park were crammed on Tuesday. A dwindling number of farmers have surplus feed.


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