Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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National Australia Bank emphasises natural capital in banking policy
A momentous shift in thinking for some of the world’s largest corporations is giving a whole new meaning to the term ‘environmental sustainability’.  Forty big global businesses, including the National Australia Bank, will now consider the value of “natural capital” in their accounting polices. The bank is one of the signatories to Natural Capital Declaration, a global agreement to try and develop a way to incorporate natural capital factors across their businesses. It means that while, in the past, farmers’ ability to get a bigger bank loan was determined by cash flow and assets like tractors, sheds and machinery, the inclusion of natural capital in financial institutions’ accounting principles will assign value to assets like water, trees and grasses, depending on how well they are managed.

Energy and Climate Change

Australian scientists make fresh attempt at explaining climate change
Australia’s leading science body has reissued its climate change booklet in a bid to improve public understanding of the contentious subject. The Australian Academy of Science was prompted to update the information based on new research and public questions since its original release in 2010.  Most available material is either too technical for the lay reader and usually omits some of the basics, such as how scientists know humans are causing global warming and what future projections are based on, said Steven Sherwood, a climate scientist at the University of NSW. “There is so much misinformation or confusing information out there, that we thought it would be nice to gather in one place an accessible explanation,” Professor Sherwood said.

Japan now has more EV chargers than petrol stations
The number of EV charging points in Japan, including fast-chargers and those installed in homes, has reached 40,000, surpassing the nation’s 34,000 gas stations, a new report has found. The surprising figures were reported last week by Japanese auto giant Nissan, whose fully electric car, the Leaf, has been one of the world’s big EV success stories, selling 160,000 cars globally since its 2011 launch date. According to recent company data, the largest global markets for the LEAF (30,200 in US and 15,096 in Europe), Nissan sold total 59,473. Add to this Canada with 1,085 and the total was 60,558 in 2014. In the LEAF’s home market, however, range anxiety – the fear of having a flat battery out of range of a charger – has restrained consumer demand, says Bloomberg. Which is why the rapid expansion of the charging network is important news.

Germany moves to legalise fracking
Germany has proposed a draft law that would allow commercial shale gas fracking at depths of over 3,000 metres, overturning a de facto moratorium that has been in place since the start of the decade. A new six-person expert panel would also be empowered to allow fracks at shallower levels Shale gas industry groups welcomed the proposal for its potential to crack open the German shale gas market, but it has sparked outrage among environmentalists who view it as the thin edge of a fossil fuel wedge. Senior German officials say that the proposal, first mooted in July, is an environmental protection measure, wholly unrelated to energy security concerns which have been intensified by the conflict in Ukraine.

Environment and Biodiversity

Wetlands, swamps ‘hold great potential’ to store carbon, fight climate change
Australian researchers are embarking on a project to find out how swamps and wetlands could be used to help fight climate change. Scientists from Deakin University in Victoria said freshwater wetlands had the potential to capture and store carbon for hundreds of years. “We know from those initial studies that the potential for carbon to be stored in these systems is huge,” Deakin academic Rebecca Lester said. “Wetlands can store approximately 50 times as much carbon as quite high carbon sequestration ecosystems such as tropical rainforests.

Solomon Islands landowners on Kolombangara Island challenge logging approval for forest minister’s company
A logging company majority-owned by Solomon Islands’ forestry minister is facing a legal challenge from landowners keen to protect the cloud forest on Kolombangara Island. The ground-breaking case has been in and out of the courts for five years and is due for its next appearance soon. Kolombangara is home to around 6,000 people who live mostly in villages scattered around the coast of the island’s single jungle-clad cone. The cloud forest is a special kind of rainforest which grows above 400 metres. The rare Western Province ecosystem is a source of food and water and contains cultural sites as well as species found nowhere else in the world. Success Company Ltd is 60 per cent owned by Heinz Horst Bodo Dettke, who was re-appointed the country’s forestry and research minister after elections in November.

Photo: A waterfall on the Vila River deep inside the crater, Patu Kolo. (Supplied: Andrew Cox)

Photo: A waterfall on the Vila River deep inside the crater, Patu Kolo. (Supplied: Andrew Cox)

China’s rosewood craving cuts deep into Madagascar rainforests

Another day draws to its end in Antanandavehely, a peaceful village on the eastern slopes of the Masoala peninsula, the largest nature conservation area in Madagascar. The last rafts, loaded with rosewood, pull into the river bank. As the loggers return, the atmosphere grows festive, infused with the smell of beer and the sound of dice clicking. Among the russet logs, exhausted by a hard day’s labour, Blandine checks the weight of the incoming cargo. Wearing a little black dress and sparkling jewels, she is a go-between for the big businessmen on the coast. Dipping into a bag full of banknotes she pays $135 for a two-metre-long log, generally weighing about 120kg, a fortune in this poverty-stricken country. In addition to its rich colour and fragrance, rosewood is prized for its even texture and high density. It finds a ready market in China, where reproduction furniture is highly sought after.

Brazil faces water rationing amid worst drought in 84 years
Brazil is struggling to supply enough water to its 200 million people, amid the worst drought in 84 years. São Paulo’s 20 million citizens face having their tap water cut off five days a week, in a bid to conserve dwindling resources. Some 17% of Brazilian towns have declared a state of emergency. In the centre and southeast of the country, electricity supplies are threatened as water levels drop to 18% in the reservoirs for hydropower generation. “We have never seen such sensitive and worrying situation as this,” admitted the minister of environment, Izabella Teixeira.

Economy and Business

Alpine ski resorts gain boost from going green
Tourism manager Dominique Geissberger is looking out from her office in the small Swiss alpine ski resort of Villars at forests dusted with fresh snow and spectacular mountains dazzling in the winter sunshine. “This pristine landscape is what we all depend on,” says Geissberger. “It’s what tourists expect to find when they come here.” In an effort to protect the environment upon which the village’s tourist trade relies, Villars has embarked on a comprehensive programme of sustainability initiatives ranging from introducing a fleet of hybrid buses that ferry skiers about, to low-energy snow-making systems. In recognition of its pioneering environmental work, Villars has become the first ski resort in Switzerland and one of three resorts in the Alps to be awarded the Flocon Vert – the green snowflake – a sustainable certifying label run by Mountain Riders, a French group that campaigns for a more sustainable winter sports industry.

What should business do to shape sustainability policy? – live chat
Business is traditionally associated with a ‘profits first, everything else second’ mentality. This has led to serious problems – for people, the planet and for the very resources that companies rely on, including land, water supplies and indeed employees themselves.  Yet there are examples of companies looking beyond the short-term as they make significant strides to ensure sustainable business practices. Take Interface Europe’s Mission Zero plan, which has already seen the carpet tile company reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by more than 90% since 1996 at its European manufacturing facility in Scherpenzeel, Holland as the company works towards zero environmental impact by 2020. Its progress to date has saved the company €7.6m (£5.6m) per year. The question is, how do we learn from the handful of companies pioneering truly sustainable business practices? On Thursday 19 February, 1pm – 2pm GMT, experts in sustainable business and systems thinking will join us online to take your questions.

The Leaders and Laggards of Sustainability Goals
Imagine that you arrive to take your first flying lesson. The instructing pilot asks, “How much fuel do you guess we should put in the tank?” You think: “Guess? Come again? Shouldn’t we calculate the distance between where we are and where we are going, and then determine the fuel needed (and add in some extra fuel for peace of mind)?” Yes. And the same is true for sustainability goals. For the great majority of the Fortune Global 200, sustainability goals appear to be based on incremental improvements and/or what the company thinks it can easily do, rather than where the company needs to go. Sustainability goals must be based on the gap between the starting point and the destination and identified by the leading science or ethics relevant to the goal, such as IPCC goals for GHG reductions, or management-diversity goals based on gender percentages in the population.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Turning our mountains of food waste into graphene
Blended cocoa beans, rice, fruit skins, leeks and asparagus sounds like it should be a recipe for a disastrous smoothie. But these are just some of the wasted foodstuffs that are being treated and converted into materials, with environmental benefits. Scientists at the City University of Hong Kong have found that they can turn coffee grounds and stale bakery goods – collected from a local Starbucks – into a sugary solution that can be used to manufacture plastic. The food waste was mixed with bacteria and fermented to produce succinic acid, a substance usually made from petrochemicals, that can be found in a range of fibres, fabrics and plastics.

Politics and Society

3 Simple Ways Entrepreneurs Can Change the World
If you’re a successful entrepreneur, you’ve probably felt a pull toward philanthropy. According to a 2010 study, 89 percent of entrepreneurs donate money to charitable causes; 70 percent donate their time; and 61 percent believe they are more inclined to give to charity because they are entrepreneurs. There’s no doubt philanthropy and entrepreneurship go hand in hand. An entrepreneur’s drive to pursue a dream is the same force that leads to giving back. By helping others, entrepreneurs generate good feelings that help them overcome daily struggles, and they get a sense of personal fulfillment. But even if you feel compelled to give back, you might not know the best way to help.

Ready, Set, Power Up—Can the U.S. Win the Race to Create a Superbattery? (Book Talk)
Ever since the Italian count Alessandro Volta invented the first electric battery in 1799, scientists have sought to ramp up its performance. Even though we have sent a robot to Mars and split the atom, it has proved surprisingly difficult. Now a global race is on to create a battery powerful enough to run an electric car 300 miles (483 kilometers) on one charge. The prize is a market worth as much as $300 billion annually. From his office in Washington, D.C., Steve Levine, author of The Powerhouse: Inside the Invention of a Battery to Save the World, explains why he wrote a book his wife said would be boring; what makes a battery guy tick; why it is so difficult to create a superbattery; and why he thinks the scientists at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois are front-runners in the race.

Industry pressure delays ERF auction
The Clean Energy Regulator has announced the first Emissions Reduction Fund auction will take place on 15 April, a month later than previously expected. According to energy research firm RepuTex, industry pressure has forced the government to delay the start of the auction to allow more time to prepare bids for reduction methods yet to be finalised. “The delay allows more time for new draft emissions reduction methods for industry to be formally regulated and be eligible for use in the first auction, including a method to cover industrial fuel and energy efficiency,” a RepuTex statement said. Only three emissions reduction methods have been formally declared by environment minister Greg Hunt, including for commercial buildings, alternative waste treatment and landfill gas. Fourteen more draft methods are yet to be formally declared.

Industry responds to new Queensland government
Industry groups with interests in delivering sustainable buildings and infrastructure have responded to the formation of the new Queensland Labor government, with the ministry today (Monday) being sworn in. The Green Building Council of Australia welcomed a commitment to green buildings; Engineers Australia warned that confidence in infrastructure delivery needed to be restored; and the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council praised a commitment to ensuring resilience is embedded in planning schemes. The GBCA said it had received a commitment from the Palaszczuk government to “work towards achieving Green Star ratings for government-owned buildings” and audit government accommodation to determine “where the best value for money improvements can be made”.

Queensland Labor appoints ‘Minister for the Reef’
The newly sworn in Queensland Labor government has named Steven Miles – the “local dad” ALP candidate for Mount Coot-Tha – as the state’s first Minister for the Great Barrier Reef. The new role in the Queensland cabinet marks a distinct departure from the previous Campbell Newman-led Coalition government, whose singular focus on developing the state’s coal resource effectively wiped climate, the environment and clean energy off the policy map – and quite probably cost Newman the election. And in light of the Abbott government’s failure to appoint either a climate change-dedicated minister, or a minister for science, the Queensland appointment offers a refreshing departure from federal politics, too. “Having a Minister for the Reef is an important signal that saving our national icon is a priority for this new administration,” said WWF-Australia CEO Dermot O’Gorman in response to the news.

Graziers pushing new Queensland Government to put Great Artesian Basin Sustainability Initiative high on agenda
Western Queenslanders are calling for the new Queensland Government to have the Great Artesian Basin Sustainability Initiative high on its list of priorities. The Great Artesian Basin is said to be western Queensland’s lifeline; graziers say without access to the underground water resource the current drought would have seen a mass destocking of the region. Over the last 15 years Federal and State Governments have worked with landholders to better manage the basin by drastically reducing water losses. To date, 674 uncontrolled bores have been capped and more than 14,000 kilometres of bore drains replaced with pipe.  But last June funding for the water saving scheme ended and while the Federal Government has committed new funding, the program is still at a standstill.

Food Systems

Poor hygiene in China thought to be cause of hepatitis A outbreak linked to imported frozen berries
AUSTRALIA – Poor hygiene amongst Chinese workers as well as potentially contaminated water supplies in China are thought to be the likely causes of an outbreak of hepatitis A in Australia, linked to imported frozen berries. Nine people — three in Victoria, four in Queensland and two in New South Wales — have become sick with hepatitis A after eating Nanna’s frozen mixed berries, prompting a national recall of the one-kilogram bag product. On Sunday the recall was extended to Creative Gourmet mixed berries in 300 gram and 500 gram packets, because they were packaged in the same plant as the Nanna’s berries. The berries, grown in China and Chile, had previously been repackaged by Patties Foods in Bairnsdale in regional Victoria.


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