Sustainable Development News

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Top Story

Valuing natural capital helps companies make better business decisions
In an increasingly resource-constrained world, business needs to account for its natural capital dependencies and impacts in the same way it does for financial capital. The key question is: how? A new game Evaluate, produced by the Cambridge-hosted Natural Capital Leaders Platform, introduces natural capital valuation and shows how it can inform commercial decisions that mitigate risk, reduce negative environmental impacts, and create value. According to the recently published Living Planet Report, we are already consuming 50% more natural capital resources per year than the Earth can replenish, and the rate of depletion is accelerating. Translating this into financial terms – we are no longer living off the dividends of natural capital, but off the capital itself. This creates significant risks in supply chains.

Energy and Climate Change

Natural gas boom is ‘not the answer for cutting emissions’
The boom in natural gas supplies brought about by techniques like fracking will not automatically deliver the anticipated cuts to greenhouse emissions, a new analysis has warned. Burning natural gas produces roughly half the greenhouse emissions of coal, raising hopes that emissions from power stations could be significantly reduced with the help of sources such as shale gas and coal seam gas. But the new study, published in Nature, predicts that without new policies to regulate emissions, the so-called “abundant gas” revolution could end up drawing investment away from renewable and nuclear energy sources, as well as from coal.

Carbon capture and storage — reality or still a dream?
Recently the largest carbon capture and storage program yet began operation at SaskPower’s Boundary Dam project in Saskatchewan, Canada. The project retrofitted a 138 megawatt coal power station into a 110 megawatt station, and is expected to capture 90% of the carbon emissions produced through burning the coal. Carbon capture and storage, or CCS, gained attention as far back as 1995, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change speculated that yet-to-be-developed CCS technology might be applied to large fossil fuel generators. The Canadian project demonstrates that the technology can be used, but we now know it comes at considerable cost, and may not even reduce overall carbon emissions.

Plants absorb more CO2 than we thought, but …
A new study led by Dr. Sun and colleagues published in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows the land could take up slightly more carbon than we thought. But it doesn’t change in any significant way how quickly we must decrease carbon emissions to avoid dangerous climate change.

Online map of electricity grid constraints to boost renewables
The Institute of Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology, Sydney will create online maps of electricity network constraints that will help inform network investments and lead to more renewable energy, thanks to $425,000 in funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. ISF research director Chris Dunstan said an increase in distributed generation, including solar and trigeneration, was changing the energy sector and new tools were needed to manage the transition.

Green app launched to help retailers with energy efficiency
The Resource Efficient Scotland programme has unveiled the Green Retail App, a tool for small size shops and retailers to save on water, energy and waste. The app has been developed by Enscape Consulting Ltd and is free to download from Google Play or Apple store. The idea was launched by Resource Efficient Scotland, a programme by Zero Waste Scotland aimed at boosting resource efficiency and promoting a circular economy across the country.

First US public offering of solar bonds: can crowdfunding take clean energy to the next level?
The largest solar installer in the US announced Wednesday that it is offering up to $200m in bonds to retail investors, marking the first registered public sale of solar bonds in the country. SolarCity’s landmark move toward crowdfunding could democratize the way solar projects are bankrolled ­and grow overall investment for clean energy.

Scientists create light that uses 100 times less energy than LEDs
Scientists have created a flat-panel light based on carbon nanotubes with a power consumption 100 times lower than that of LEDs. The new type of energy-efficient light source has been developed by researchers at Japan’s Tohuku University, and has a power consumption of just 0.1 watts for every hour’s operation. The discovery has been detailed in the journal Review of Scientific Instruments, where the researchers describe the fabrication and optimisation of the device, which is based on a phosphor screen and single-walled carbon nanotubes as electrodes in a diode structure.

Great minds on climate change
UK environmental news publication Edie has some nice quotes on energy and sustainability from the great minds of our past and current times.


Environment and Biodiversity

How gut bacteria ensure a healthy brain – and could play a role in treating depression
One of medicine’s greatest innovations in the 20th century was the development of antibiotics. It transformed our ability to combat disease. But medicine in the 21st century is rethinking its relationship with bacteria and concluding that, far from being uniformly bad for us, many of these organisms are actually essential for our health. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the human gut, where the microbiome – the collection of bacteria living in the gastrointestinal tract – plays a complex and critical role in the health of its host. The microbiome interacts with and influences organ systems throughout the body, including, as research is revealing, the brain. This discovery has led to a surge of interest in potential gut-based treatments for neuropsychiatric disorders and a new class of studies investigating how the gut and its microbiome affect both healthy and diseased brains.

Australia pledges to halt loss of native mammal species by 2020
The environment minister, Greg Hunt, has set out his vision to reverse the precipitous decline in the number of Australian species, pledging to end the loss of native mammal species by 2020. Hunt admitted Australia has a legacy of “clear and significant failures” in protecting its wildlife, citing the fact that the country has the worst rate of mammal extinctions in the world, with 29 species perishing in the past 200 years. “I have set a goal of ending the loss of mammal species by 2020,” Hunt said in a speech in Melbourne on Wednesday. “What’s more, I want to see improvements in at least 20 of those species between now and then…” To achieve that goal the government will wage war on the feral cat population, which has been cited by scientists as a leading threat to Australian native species.

Shy epaulette shark to thrive from climate change, Queensland researchers say
The timid epaulette shark is one of a small group of species that will thrive on the expected impacts of climate change, north Queensland researchers say. The Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Townsville has been developing an insight into what the Great Barrier Reef might look like by 2100. Research fellow Jodie Rummer said epaulette sharks would become one of the hardiest creatures on the Great Barrier Reef.

Britain’s migrating birds are drastically declining, RSPB says
Bird populations that make the great journey between northern Europe and Africa – including the nightingale and turtle dove – are drastically declining, conservationists have warned. Nearly half of the 29 summer migrants, who appear in the UK in spring to breed before returning in the autumn, show long-term population declines. The nightingale, famed for its song and for inspiring English poets, is one of a group of birds that spend winter in the African humid zone of Sierra Leone, Senegal, the Gambia and Burkina Faso that are suffering particularly badly. Of this group of 11 humid zone species, eight are declining in number.

Economy and Business

MSCI launches fossil fuel free investment indexes
Provider of investment decision support tools MSCI has announced the launch of a set of benchmarks to help investors eliminate or reduce fossil fuel investments from their portfolios. The MSCI Global Fossil Fuels Exclusion Indexes, a series of free-float adjusted market capitalisation weighted benchmarks, were unveiled on Thursday with the launch of two new indexes.  The first, the MSCI ACWI ex Fossil Fuels Index, reduces carbon reserves exposure by 100%, by excluding 127 securities, representing 9.3% of the parent index market capitalisation. The second, the MSCI ACWI ex Coal Index reduces carbon reserves exposure by 50%, excluding 26 securities, representing 1.3% of the parent index market capitalisation.

The secret chemicals in perfume are about to be unbottled
The term “fragrance” has, for decades, hidden all manner of ingredients: somewhere between 10 to 50 chemicals, in most products, which don’t have to be disclosed on labels because they are considered trade secrets under the US Fair Packaging and Labeling Act.  Some of those ingredients might not remain secrets for much longer. Consumer packaged goods company SC Johnson last week became the first multinational to announce its intention to disclose all fragrance ingredients in its products.

Prada, Dior and Nike are finding a fashionable new purpose for fish skins
During the past three decades, capture fisheries production has increased from 69m to 93m tonnes, while aquaculture fish production has skyrocketed from 5m to 63m tonnes, the World Bank reports (pdf). With one tonne of fish fillets generally resulting in 40kgs of discarded skin (pdf), that’s thousands of tonnes of fish skin that could be put to productive use. And much of it already is. Fish leftovers are often ground up and turned into fish meal for animals. But there are more glamorous uses for this byproduct than an ingredient in fish meal paste. With their layered patterns, fish skins possess an elegant quality, and they’re flexible too. Increasingly, they are finding a new life as leather.

University of Leeds to buy only ethically sourced electronic equipment
The University of Leeds has signed up to Electronics Watch, which monitors the electronics industry for labour exploitation, and will now source only ethically produced equipment for its students. The school has joined other members including the University of Edinburgh, the London Universities Purchasing Consortium and the Advanced Procurement for Universities and Colleges. Electronics Watch is an independent monitoring organisation that encourages responsible purchasing in Europe to improve the working conditions of labourers in the electronics sector.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Lyf Shoes’ Cradle-to-Cradle Creations Out to Revolutionize ‘Dirty’ Industry
Typical shoemaking is reliant on toxic adhesives, big labor, massive shipping distances of inefficiently packaged goods, and eventually ends up in the landfill. For a long time, we may not have known better, but that time has passed. The company is working up a customized 3D-printing service for shoemaking whereby customers can build their own shoes, from the design and look to the actual fit, which can be optimized using data tracking. The business model aspires to cradle-to-cradle philosophies and will incentivize customers from the start to close the loop.

Tetra Pak Launches First Package Made From 100% Plant-Based Packaging Materials
Tetra Pak, provider of food processing and packaging solutions, today announced the launch of the industry’s first carton made entirely from plant-based, renewable packaging materials. The new Tetra Rex® carton will be the first in the market to have bio-based low-density polyethylene (LDPE) films and bio-based high-density polyethylene (HDPE) caps, both derived from sugar cane, in addition to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC ™) certified paperboard.

Politics and Society

Attenborough to present three new BBC shows, including Waking Giants
Reports of David Attenborough’s retirement are likely to remain premature after the BBC unveiled three new natural history programmes he will present, including BBC1’s Waking Giants and Big Birds on BBC2. Attenborough, who once said he would retire, aged 80, in 2005, returns to BBC1 in his latest wildlife epic Life Story and turns 89 next year. His new projects were announced on Thursday as part of what the BBC described as its most “ambitious and wide ranging commitment to natural history across television and online”.

Island Hopping: A Former Journalist Sets Off to Uncover the True Indonesia
For 13 months former Reuters journalist Elizabeth Pisani trekked 13,000 miles (20,900 kilometers) across Indonesia by motorbike, bus, and boat, sleeping on mats in mosquito-infested bamboo huts, meeting and talking with ordinary Indonesians. The result, Indonesia Etc., is a sweeping panorama of a vast country of diverse peoples and cultures. From her home in London, Pisani talks about why Indonesia is like a bad boyfriend, the meaning of “sticky culture,” and the complex challenges that face Joko Widodo, who next week will be sworn in as the seventh president of the Republic of Indonesia.

Dr Yoram Bauman: Tackling climate change with humour and cartoons
Dr Yoram Bauman has a unique approach to spreading the climate change and carbon mitigation message. He’s a stand-up economist – quite probably the world’s only one – and has even had gigs entertaining oil and gas industry executives where he manages to slip some facts on climate change into the routine. He also recently released an illustrated book on the topic – The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change. “Generally, what I find is if people laugh for 45 minutes, they will listen to four to five minutes of what I really want to talk about, which is climate change,” Dr Bauman says.

Mountain men busy in the bush
“Rather than playing bad golf on a regular basis, we go up Maungatautari.” Cambridge’s George Dingle and his five friends share a unique pastime. The mountain men pals – five retired farmers and a retired surgeon – volunteer for the Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust (MEIT) in the southern enclosure of the mountain every second Friday.  While that in itself might not be particularly unusual, these men are all aged between 80 and 90. Dingle is 84, Don Caulton is 81, Paul Mountford and Marcus Beale are 88, Colin Jenkins is 90 and Jim McKnight is 85.

Built Environment

Toxic playgrounds: Broken Hill kids exposed to poisonous dust
In the shadows of Broken Hill’s rich mining history lies a legacy of contamination and regulatory failure that will likely outlive any benefits locals derive from mining. One in five children aged under five in Broken Hill [Australia] have blood lead levels above the current national goal of ten micrograms per decilitre (μg/dL). And the trend is headed in the wrong direction. Our research, published today in the journal Environmental Research, shows children are exposed to contaminants in play areas. Metal-rich dust accumulates continually on play surfaces and is readily picked up on the hands of children as they play. When they touch their mouth, they ingest the metal particles.

 Food Systems

A manifesto for solving the global food crisis
To celebrate World Food Day, here are key ways of promoting more sustainable food systems from building grain reserves to taxing pollution.

World Food Day, a time to recognise the value of bush tucker
Riberry jam on wattle seed bread, Kakadu or billy goat flavoured yoghurt with bunya pine cereal, lemon myrtle tea and wattle seed bread. These are just a few examples of products made from the 6,000 species of edible native plants, identified in Australia. Bush foods are not part of mainstream agriculture, but production is growing both from the wild harvest of native foods and farmed product. Director of Australian Native Food Industry Limited, Rus Glover, says they are focussing on 14 species with research identifying opportunities.

Fruit growers given 12 months to phase out fenthion use
The pesticides regulator has announced a ban on the chemical fenthion, but it won’t come into effect for another 12 months. That gives fruit growers time to transition away from using the product. The insecticide, which is used by growers to control fruit fly, has been the subject of numerous reviews and a recent Senate inquiry and its use has been restricted since 2012. From October 2015, it will be illegal to possess, use or supply fenthion products. Dr Raj Bhula, the APVMA’s executive director for scientific assessment and chemical review, says there were concerns about fenthion’s impact on human and environmental health.

Does craft coffee really work?
When you pay $20 for a bag of coffee or $10 for a chocolate bar the general assumption is that you are paying for a higher quality product, and that some portion of that higher-than-normal price is making its way into the pockets of farmers. Consumers pay a premium for specialty products, in theory leading to higher wages for farmers. But truly changing these markets requires a solution more nuanced than a fair trade certification.


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