Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Top Story

Is the global coal boom fizzling out?
The coal boom of the last decade appears to be petering out, according to new research that finds more coal-fired power plants are now being retired than built.  A new paper by the Sierra Club and research network CoalSwarm details how since 2010 for every new coal plant built worldwide two have been shelved or cancelled. The trend stands in stark contrast to the growth seen between 2005 and 2012, when global coal capacity grew at three times previous rates and the increase in the planet’s coal power plant fleet was twice the capacity of all the coal power plants in the US.

Energy and Climate Change

Wind ‘can meet’ a third of US power demand by 2050
Wind power could supply 35% of US energy demand by 2050, up from 4.5% in 2015, the department of energy (DoE) said in a report published this month.It predicted wind energy will be “directly competitive” with fossil fuels by 2025, and could support more than 600,000 jobs across the country’s 50 states.A widespread switch to electricity from wind from coal, oil and gas would help avoid 12.3 gigatonnes of emissions and US$400 billion in global damage from climate change by 2050, it said.

Insurers demand urgent action to reduce risk from natural disasters
Leading insurers have called on governments to step up efforts to build resilience against natural disasters, after facing average economic losses from disasters in the last decade of $190bn a year. Munich RE, Aviva, Swiss RE and AXA are among the companies calling for “decisive and urgent action” in a statement issued by the UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) Principles for Sustainable Insurance (PSI). The statement is backed by insurers representing about 15 per cent of the world’s premium volume and with $9tr in assets under their management.

How significant is news that CO2 energy emissions stalled in 2014?
A pause in emission growth last year was the result of a myriad of factors. The significance of Friday’s news from the International Energy Agency (IEA), that global emissions of carbon dioxide did not rise in 2014, cannot be overstated. If the IEA’s preliminary analysis (reported in the Financial Times) is correct, then for the first time in modern history, the size of the global economy has increased without carbon emissions following suit. Emissions did not actually fall in 2014. But emissions intensity – the amount of carbon dioxide released per unit of GDP – did. We’re making more stuff, doing more things, without emitting more CO2.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Oxford university defers fossil fuel divestment decision
Oxford university council has deferred a decision on whether to dump its shares in fossil fuels, saying the matter needed thorough consideration. A student union resolution in October called on the council to drop its shares in coal and tar sands companies and shift its investments towards low-carbon industries.  A statement released by the council on Monday said: “Last October’s Oxford university student union resolution has raised an important and multi-faceted matter which requires thorough consideration. The university council had a good discussion of the issues and agreed to consider the matter further at a future meeting.”

Jeremy Leggett: Why I pledged to give my degree back if Oxford voted to drop divestment
What I remember most about the image from my graduation ceremony was the pride shining from my mother’s face as she stood beside me. She and my dad had sacrificed a lot for this day to happen. Now her beloved son had a doctorate of philosophy from Oxford University. My research had been conducted in the Department of Earth Sciences, an elite training house for the extractive industries. Back then, 35 years ago, I would talk to executives from oil, gas, and coal companies and be quite faint with admiration. We all did. How things can change in just a few decades. Today, after all that has emerged about climate change since the mid 1980s, I constantly fight to suppress anger about how doggedly the incumbency, and its institutional supporters, protect a transparently ruinous way of fuelling the global economy: how hard they fight to slow the near-inevitable energy transition.

The argument for divesting from fossil fuels is becoming overwhelming
As progressive institutions, the Gates Foundation and Wellcome Trust should commit to taking their money out of the companies that are driving global warming, says the Guardian’s editor-in-chief as he launches our climate campaign…

The world has much more coal, oil and gas in the ground than it can safely burn. That much is physics.  Anyone studying the question with an open mind will almost certainly come to a similar conclusion: if we and our children are to have a reasonable chance of living stable and secure lives 30 or so years from now, according to one recent study 80% of the known coal reserves will have to stay underground, along with half the gas and a third of the oil reserves. If only science were enough.

Climate change: UN backs fossil fuel divestment campaign
The UN organisation in charge of global climate change negotiations is backing the fast-growing campaign persuading investors to sell off their fossil fuel assets. It said it was lending its “moral authority” to the divestment campaign because it shared the ambition to get a strong deal to tackle global warming at a crunch UN summit in Paris in December. “We support divestment as it sends a signal to companies, especially coal companies, that the age of ‘burn what you like, when you like’ cannot continue,” said Nick Nuttall, the spokesman for the UN framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC).

Environment and Biodiversity

Pangolins: the world’s most illegally traded mammal – in pictures
The endangered pangolin is being eaten out of existence before many people have even heard of it. Photographer Paul Hilton followed poachers in Indonesia to raise awareness of this gentle animal’s plight.  Often known as scaly anteaters, pangolins are the only mammal with scales. Their closest relatives are anteaters, armadillos and sloths. These two will end up on a dinner table in Gunagzhou, southern China, one of the areas of the world where their flesh is considered a delicacy. The illegal trade in pangolins is estimated to be worth about $19bn (£12.7bn) a year. There are four African and four Asian species of pangolin, of the genus Manis in the family Manidae. These pictures are all taken in Indonesia.

Abbott government moves to ban offshore dumping in Great Barrier Reef marine park
The Abbott government will permanently ban the dumping of dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Reef marine park, including for projects already issued permits for offshore dumping at Abbot Point. Environment Minister Greg Hunt announced draft laws on Monday that will “ban capital dredge disposal in the marine park forever”. The move makes good on a pledge the government made last year to end offshore dumping and comes just three months before UNESCO’s world heritage committee meets to consider whether the Great Barrier Reef should be given an endangered listing. The government has mounted a fierce international lobbying effort to avoid such a listing.

The perils of feeding bread to ducks
Throwing crumbs of stale bread in a pond or river is a ritual of family days out dating back to at least the 19th Century. Ducks vie with geese, swans, moorhens, sometimes gulls, for their fill. It’s long been recognised that a bread-rich diet – particularly processed white bread – can cause wildfowl to become ill and, in some cases, deformed. Now conservationists are warning that undigested bread sinking and rotting can create wider havoc. The Canal and River Trust says that it can encourage bacteria and algae which can poison other species as well as attracting vermin.

Economy and Business

A Sustainable Business Roadmap: The Hagen-Wilhelm Chart for Change
In his recent book, Making Sustainability Stick, Kevin Wilhelm offers a wealth of insight, experience and tools to help individuals and organizations deliver more business value by adding environmental and social parameters to their business strategy. By taking a look from the inside at the work of pioneering companies such as Starbucks and REI, the book shares some of the key things that have contributed to progress and tries to help folks avoid some of the setbacks of those who have gone before.


Starting Now: A Smarter Approach to Sustainability Management
The importance of sustainability has surged over the last two decades, as has the amount of information available and the demands on companies and practitioners – from regulators, customers and investors. At the same time, the new opportunities that have emerged are enormous. Companies are no longer just reacting to being told to be more sustainable – business leaders are driving change by using sustainability to boost their economic performance – reducing cost, mitigating risk, improving brand value and increasing sales.

What’s The True Cost of Gasoline?
Financial markets notwithstanding, most of us were happy to see gas prices fall. It has certainly helped to put a little extra breathing room in our household budgets, even though we suspect it could lead to increased use of fossil fuels. Perhaps this would be a good time to take a closer look at what that gallon of gasoline actually costs us, when all the impacts are considered. That’s what  Drew Shindell, a professor at Duke University, attempted recently in a study that was published in the journal Climatic Change.

Dairying at the crossroads
NEW ZEALAND – The Waikato could be at “peak dairy” as questions are raised over whether the region has reached its environmental and economic limit. But while environmentalists and some industry leaders say it could be time to limit the number of new farms, some of the region’s biggest farmers say there’s plenty of room for more cows. The sector, which underpins the regional economy through a $4.2 billion annual contribution to the Waikato and more than 10,000 direct jobs, has grown dramatically, adding 270,000 more dairy cows in the past five years.

CSIRO-China collaboration promises greener cement, steel
Australian technology that harvests blast furnace waste from steel production and uses it to make greener cement is being trialled at industrial scale in China, the world’s largest iron user The sustainability potential for the technology is immense. If fully commercialised, it has the potential to save each year 60 billion litres of water, 800 petajoules of energy and 600 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. This is equivalent to 14 per cent of Australia’s entire energy use, and about 10 per cent of its annual greenhouse gas emissions. The process, know as Dry Slag Granulation, is subject to an agreement signed by CSIRO and the Beijing MCC Equipment Research & Design Corporation, and is a landmark for both Australia-China research collaboration and environmentally friendly metal production, according Jonathan Law, director of CSIRO’s Mineral Resources Flagship.

Could Dyson’s latest investment give the electric vehicle market a boost?
Dyson has invested $15m in an innovative energy storage company that could potentially provide electric cars with cheaper, lighter and more powerful batteries that could run 600 miles on one charge. Sakti3, a spin-out company from the University of Michigan, has produced a solid state battery that removes the need for the liquid that is traditionally found in today’s lithium-ion cells. The liquid acts as an aqueous electrolyte, but has a number of downsides, including adding weight, increasing fire risk, and reducing the power density of the battery.

Waste and the Circular Economy

The Little Black Dress Goes Zero Waste, Thanks to Robots
When Oprah Winfrey likes what you make, you know you’re in good company. Getting a shout-out in O magazine, not to mention being recognized as a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and one of Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People, is impressive – but there are far greater reasons to like Natalia Allen’s new collection. Allen’s attention to where the textiles in her designs come from, how the garments are constructed and how each dress is sold has created a new model for sustainable fashion that has made the fashion world take notice.

Politics and Society

Chinese premier vows tougher rules to curb air pollution
Premier Li Keqiang of China said Sunday that the government was failing to satisfy public demands to stanch pollution and would impose heavier punishments to cut the toxic smog that was the subject of a popular documentary belatedly banned by censors. The premier’s news conference at the end of the annual full meeting of the National People’s Congress has become a fixture of the Chinese political calendar, cast as a show of political candor and accountability. But the briefings have mostly become a stilted ritual, with questions generally preselected and massaged to avoid the airing of controversies about legal rights, corruption scandals and other themes unwelcome by Communist Party leaders. This year’s conference was no different. But Li took one reporter’s question about air pollution, which mentioned the banned documentary, “Under the Dome,” and he acknowledged that there was a gap between the government’s efforts and public ire about pervasive smog.

Built Environment

The way we live now: the rise of the energy-producing home
Imagine living in a house that contributed to society: a house that produced energy, while consuming none itself. Well, imagine no more. After perfecting the “passivhaus”, which consumes minimal energy, engineers and architects have developed the energy positive house. Generating energy is one thing, building a house is another. But with its plant-decorated walls and enormous double-glazed windows, the ArchiBlox Positive House, introduced in Melbourne’s City Square last month, looks elegant and modernist. “The trick is to make the sustainable and performance products visually pleasing while also practical,” reports David Martin, construction director of the ArchiBlox Positive House – the world’s first pre-fab energy positive house.

On-Site Water Recycling Could Create Drought-Resilient Homes in California
California builders, water & sewer agencies and homeowners are one step closer to being able to construct bona fide drought-resilient homes. Nexus eWater, maker of home water and energy recyclers, has received certification to the NSF/ANSI 350 global standard for residential grey water treatment for its ‘NEXtreater’ home water recycler. The water recycler is capable of safely recycling two out of every three gallons of grey water in the home for non-potable, approved uses.

Bringing Energy Efficiency to Affordable Housing
The environmental and socioeconomic stakes are being raised as the urbanization process intensifies and what were once “undeveloped” lands and free-flowing waterways are leveled, paved over and built upon. It should be clear that the need for a more sustainable approach to residential and commercial building design is increasingly urgent. A Boston-based startup is harnessing the power of the Internet and high-powered, data-driven analytics to move us closer to this goal. WegoWise‘s open-source software platform gives building owners and managers the means to reduce their impact, as well as their operations and maintenance expenses, by tracking and taking steps to enhance energy and water efficiency.


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