Tuesday 16 September 2014
Sustainable Development News
Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
Sign up to the newsletter if you would like the news direct to your inbox each weekday morning.
Energy and Climate Change
Report: Global Economies Must Decrease CO2 Emissions By 5 Times Current Levels
Global economies must cut their energy-related carbon emissions for every dollar of GDP by 6.2 percent — more than five times the rate currently achieved — every year from now to 2100 in order to to limit global warming to 2°C, according to a new report by PwC. Scientists agree 2°C of warming is the limit needed to ensure the serious risks of climate change impacts are avoided worldwide. For the sixth successive year of PwC analysis, The Low Carbon Economy Index, 2 degrees of separation – ambition & reality finds that the global carbon intensity (greenhouse gas emissions per GDP) reduction target has been missed. The gap between what countries are doing and what’s needed continues to grow.
Scientists Develop Transparent Solar Cells That Turn Windows Into Solar Panels
Scientists at Michigan State University say they have developed a translucent solar cell which can capture energy from the invisible parts of the light spectrum, but still let in visible light. In other words, it may soon be possible to generate solar electricity through your windows, instead of just the panels on the roof. The transparent luminescent solar concentrator uses organic molecules created to absorb invisible wavelengths of light, such as ultraviolet and near infrared light. The material moves this invisible light to the edges of the panel, where strips of photovoltaic solar cells absorb and convert it to electricity. …”In many buildings, we are already installing films to reject infrared light to reduce [heating and cooling] costs. We aim to do something similar while also generating power.”
Drinking water contaminated by shale gas boom in Texas and Pennsylvania
The natural gas boom resulting from fracking has contaminated drinking water in Texas and Pennsylvania, a new study said on Monday. However, the researchers said the gas leaks were due to defective gas well production – and were not a direct result of horizontal drilling, or fracking. The study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences validated some of the concerns raised by homeowners in the Barnett Shale of Texas and the Marcellus formation in Pennsylvania about natural gas leaking into their water supply. The film Gasland notoriously showed flames bursting out of a kitchen tap because of high concentrations of natural gas in drinking water. But the researchers said there was no direct causal relationship with fracking itself.
Ocean algae can evolve fast to tackle climate change, study finds
Tiny marine algae can evolve fast enough to cope with climate change in a sign that some ocean life may be more resilient than thought to rising temperatures and acidification, a study showed. Evolution is usually omitted in scientific projections of how global warming will affect the planet in coming decades because genetic changes happen too slowly to help larger creatures such as cod, tuna or whales. Sunday’s study found that a type of microscopic algae that can produce 500 generations a year – or more than one a day – can still thrive when exposed to warmer temperatures and levels of ocean acidification predicted for the mid-2100s. The Emiliania huxleyi phytoplankton studied are a main source of food for fish and other ocean life and also absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, as they grow. Their huge blooms can sometimes be seen from space.
Wild Chinese sturgeon on brink of extinction in polluted Yangtze
The wild Chinese sturgeon is at risk of extinction after none of the rare fish were detected reproducing naturally in the polluted and crowded Yangtze river last year. One of the world’s oldest living species, the wild Chinese sturgeon is thought to have existed for more than 140m years but has seen its numbers crash as China’s economic boom has brought pollution, dams and boat traffic along the world’s third-longest river. For the first time since researchers began keeping records 32 years ago, there was no natural reproduction of wild Chinese sturgeon in 2013, according to a report published by the Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences.
Great Barrier Reef plan ‘not enough to ward off UN in-danger listing’
A plan to improve the Great Barrier Reef’s water quality and conserve species such as turtles may not be enough to stave off a United Nations “in danger” listing for the ecosystem, environmentalists have warned. The draft Reef 2050 long-term sustainability plan, a joint strategy by the federal and Queensland governments, has been released in an attempt to satisfy Unesco, which has warned it may place the reef on its list of threatened sites in 2015. Port developers, the agriculture industry and environment groups helped draft the plan. The plan stipulates a 50% reduction in nitrogen and a 60% drop in pesticides flowing on to the reef by 2018. There is also a protection plan for dugongs and turtles and a commitment to prioritise “functional ecosystems critical to reef health”.
Beached whales point to population rebound
Two dead humpback whales have washed up on NSW beaches in recent days, prompting a reminder for swimmers to avoid getting too close to the giant “shark magnets”. One of the giant mammals reportedly washed up at Wallabi Point on the mid north coast on Monday morning, just a couple of kilometres north of Saltwater Beach where a second humpback carcass was found a day earlier. While investigations will determine what killed the creatures, a ship strike is one possibility, said Rob Harcourt, a professor at Macquarie University. Humpbacks are just starting to turn south again, including females with their young calves, he said. Humpback numbers off NSW have recovered strongly since dropping into the hundreds in the 1960s as whalers preyed on a species that tends to migrate close to the coast. The population is now about 20,000, after increasing at a rate of almost 11 per cent a year over the past decade, Professor Harcourt said.
Threatened shark species protected by new fishing ban
Five threatened species of sharks have gained new protection with the introduction of historic regulations on Sunday, as part of an effort to end unsustainable fishing practices. As of September 14, oceanic whitetips, porbeagles and three types of hammerhead shark are under the protection of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites). The ban, which also extends to two types of manta ray, will restrict the sale of any meat or fins from these threatened species, unless traders have permits proving they were legally sourced.
Brazil building Amazon observation tower to monitor climate change impact
Brazil is building a giant observation tower in the heart of the Amazon to monitor climate change and its impact on the region’s sensitive ecosystem, a newspaper has reported. The Amazon Tall Tower Observatory is a project of Brazil’s National Institute of Amazonian Research and Germany’s Max Planck Institute, O Estado de São Paulo said. The tower, which will rise 325 metres from the ground, will be equipped with high-tech instruments and an observatory to monitor relationships between the jungle and the atmosphere. It will gather data on heat, water, carbon gas, winds, cloud formation, carbon absorption and weather patterns.
Economy and Business
Seeking an easy win on carbon emissions? Cut global trade
The Obama administration has proposed several ad hoc multi-country economic agreements, and in doing so has abandoned de facto the World Trade Organization (WTO) as insufficiently malleable to its interests. The two most important of these are the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the more recent Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Even as the latter was being negotiated by US and EU officials, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported that the increase in greenhouse gases is more rapid than expected. The organisation’s secretary-general warned that humankind is “running out of time” to reverse rising levels of carbon dioxide that drive climate change. These two items, agreements to increase world trade and rapidly rising greenhouse gases, call for a bit of “linked up thinking”.
Big corporates leading the way on climate change with carbon pricing
The progressive corporate sector plans to make a major push at next week’s climate change summit in New York for the introduction of a meaningful global price for carbon, believing it to be one of the most effective measures to keep temperature rises within 2C… CDP, the sustainable-economy non-profit, has compiled the first global database which shows that the world’s largest corporations are outpacing their governments in responding to climate change and expect carbon to be priced. Its analysis shows that 150 major companies, including 29 in the US and 24 in the UK, already use an internal price on carbon and more than 200 businesses, or around 10% of the largest companies surveyed, are directly engaging policymakers in support of carbon-pricing legislation.
Farmers given ambitious targets to reduce nutrient run-off into the Great Barrier Reef
Farmers along Queensland’s east coast will need to halve their fertiliser run-off in the next 5 years to meet the water quality targets set for the Great Barrier Reef. The ambitious targets form part of the Reef 2050 document, launched by the Federal and Queensland Governments as part of an agreement with UNESCO to prepare a long-term sustainability plan for the Great Barrier Reef… Queensland Farmers’ Federation chief executive Dan Galligan says agricultural producers are well-aware of their responsibilities and have been working hard over the past 10 years to reduce fertiliser and sediment run-off… “The approach to ‘how to do it’ is the important bit for agriculture. The real challenge is to get the majority of farmers, particularly in the coastal grazing and cane growing industries, to adopt their BMP (best management practice) programs. If they do that, then the target takes care of itself.”
Politics and Society
The oceans are full of our plastic – here’s what we can do about it
By 2050, 95% of seabirds will have plastic in their gut. That is just one finding from our national marine debris research project, the largest sample of marine debris data ever collected anywhere in the world. The statistic is just one prediction of what’s in store if we don’t come to grips with the growing problem of rubbish at sea. The issue of marine debris was recently brought to the world’s attention by the search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, which was reportedly hampered by objects that look similar to aircraft remains. When you consider that six million tonnes of fishing gear is lost in the oceans each year, yet derelict fishing gear doesn’t even crack the top ten most common items found during coastal clean-ups, you begin to grasp the scale of the problem.
Water efficiency slipping through the cracks in Victoria
Only a fraction of new homes in Victoria are being built with rainwater tanks as standard compared with nearly all new houses in NSW, according to the Rainwater Harvesting Association of Australia. Current plumbing regulations in Victoria make it mandatory for new homes to come with either a rainwater tank or a solar hot water system. But the optional nature of the regulations means most most builders choose the solar hot water option as standard, with only a “handful”of builders choosing rainwater tanks, according to Stuart Heldon, director of the RHAA. While some builders are offering tanks as an extra, the take up is low and empirical data showed only around 10 per cent of new homes in the state were installing them, Mr Heldon told The Fifth Estate. This is causing Victoria to lag behind in water efficiency compared with places such as NSW, where BASIX regulations has led to rainwater tanks in 90 per cent of new homes and measured water savings of 39 per cent compared to the baseline target.
Western Australian shark cull policy dumped: experts react
Western Australia’s controversial shark drum line policy will come to an end, after the state’s Environmental Protection Agency recommended that it not be continued this summer. WA EPA chairman Paul Vogel said there was too much uncertainty about how the policy, which involves killing sharks longer than 3 m, would affect the great white shark population. Premier Colin Barnett said the government is unlikely to appeal the EPA’s decision, meaning that it will now abandon its plan to deploy baited drum lines off Perth and the state’s southwest tip for three summers beginning in November. The decision follows an acrimonious debate over last summer’s cull, which ran from January to April and caught 172 sharks, 68 of which were shot. The policy was developed in reaction to a spate of seven shark-related deaths over the past four years.
Save green deal by offering financial incentives to households, MPs say
Stamp duty discounts, variable council tax rates and other financial incentives should be offered to help households reduce energy bills and revive the government’s flagship conservation initiative, a group of MPs has urged in a scathing report. The green deal, launched in January 2012 to encourage energy efficiency, has been a failure and needs a complete rethink, says the energy and climate change select committee. Although over 300,000 households have asked for assessments, only around 4,000 have signed up to the financial packages offered. The pay-as-you-save scheme, which is designed to help retrofit older buildings allows households to have energy efficiency work done without upfront costs is seen as too complicated and has led to confusion and mistrust, say the MPs.
National Architecture Awards sustainability finalists revealed
The Australian Institute of Architects has released the shortlist for the 2014 National Architecture Awards, with seven projects in the running to take out the top sustainable architecture gong.
McDonald’s to phase out caged eggs
Fast-food giant McDonald’s has vowed to take caged eggs off the menu within three years, following sustained pressure from animal rights activists. Caged eggs will be phased out across all Australian McDonald’s restaurants by the end of 2017. The company also gave a commitment to be transparent with customers about where its eggs came from in the future. McDonald’s, which uses more than 91 million eggs a year in Australia, has already stopped sourcing caged eggs in Britain and Europe.