Sustainable Development News

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Top Story

G20 climate challenge calls for a rethink of economics
Focusing on growth, the Brisbane G20 leaders’ summit has not grappled with three key issues. How much more growth can the planet survive? How can poorer nations raise their living standards to parity with the “developed” world? And within both rich and poor countries, how can a fairer distribution of the benefits of growth be realised? The key problem of our time is the possibility of pursuing three goals simultaneously – ecological sustainability, economic development and a more equitable distribution of wealth within and among nations.

Harvard economist Steven Marglin argues affluent nations must limit further increases in their standard of living. Priority must be given to the development goals of poorer nations and to addressing poverty in the affluent world. But even this cannot be done within current wasteful approaches to growth. A radical rethink of the foundations of economics is required. Six economists and sociologists from Cambridge, the Hague, India, Italy and Australia debate this challenge in the December 2014 issue of The Economic and Labour Relations Review.

Climate Change Politics

G20 leaders pledge on growth and support climate action
G20 nations have supported “strong and effective” action on climate change, but included some equivocal wording on the timing for issuing post-2020 targets and on the Green Climate Fund to accommodate differences among them. The communique issued by the leaders said that consistent with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its agreed outcomes, “our actions will support sustainable development, economic growth and certainty for business and investment”. They said they would work together to achieve a successful and binding outcome at next year’s Paris climate conference (COP21).


Red faces for Tony Abbott on Green Climate Fund
The Abbott government has been left embarrassed on another climate front with key ally Canada indicating that it will support a United Nations climate fund to assist poor nations to cope with global warming. Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whom Prime Minister Tony Abbott last month described as “a friend and almost a brother”, has told Canadian media his country will contribute to the Green Climate Fund. He did not indicate how much Canada would give to the fund, which has an initial goal of raising $US10 billion ($11.4 billion).

US, Japan Pledge $4.5bn to Green Climate Fund
The US and Japan pledged a total of $4.5 billion to the Green Climate Fund over the weekend, with $3 billion from the US and $1.5 billion from Japan to help poor nations curb greenhouse gas emissions and limit climate change. With Japan’s commitment, announced yesterday at the G-20 Summit in Brisbane, Australia, the UN fund has received pledges from 13 nations totaling $7.5 billion.

The US-China climate deal leaves Australia with no excuse
The US-China climate deal provides a fresh burst of momentum after years of exhausting international negotiations in search of a worldwide agreement to tackle climate change. It also confirms that Australia will need to agree and implement stronger emissions targets than are currently being discussed by the government. Or, to be more blunt, it shows beyond doubt that Australia is now a laggard on climate action.

FactCheck: does the new climate deal let China do nothing for 16 years?
“As I read the agreement it requires the Chinese to do nothing at all for 16 years while these carbon emissions regulations are creating havoc in my state and around the country.” – US Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, November 12, 2014. Far from “doing nothing”, China will be building the world’s largest renewable energy system over the next 16 years. This is something that China has already started doing – so the targets agreed upon are feasible, if arduous.

Paying the train fare
Queensland taxpayers will partly fund new infrastructure in the Galilee Basin in a bid to speed up coal developments. But some analysts say it could be a risky investment with doubt about the viability of new coal mines. Despite those doubts, coal remains one of Australia’s biggest mineral exports.

Gone with the wind
With the United States and China agreeing to increase their investment in renewable energy, the giant global wind company Vestas has issued a stark warning to Australia. Vestas says Australia may miss out on unprecedented investment opportunities if uncertainty over the Renewable Energy Target continues.  Dozens of approved wind farm projects are unlikely to proceed after the collapse of negotiations between Labor and the Coalition over how much the target should be wound back. As Kerry Brewster reports, months of political uncertainty have already led to a flight of capital as investors put their money into clean energy projects in other countries.

Hunt announces more ERF methodologies for the built sector
Four more methodologies for the Emissions Reduction Fund were announced last week, with household energy efficiency and industrial energy efficiency covered in two. Environment Minister Greg Hunt used the Cooperative Research Centre for Low Carbon Living’s annual forum on Friday to announce the new ERF methodologies. Two of the four ERF activities announced were directly applicable to the built form: Aggregated Small Energy Users, and Industrial Fuel and Energy Efficiency.

Other Energy and Climate Change

Tiny Batteries Could Revolutionize Green Energy
Tiny is big in the quest to build batteries that store more energy for cars, buildings, and personal electronics. Nanosize batteries that are 80,000 times thinner than a human hair represent a promising new front. They could advance the use of electric vehicles, now limited by short driving ranges, and of renewable energy, which needs storage for times when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine. The latest breakthrough: a “nanopore” that’s the ultimate in miniaturization. It’s a hole in a ceramic sheet, no thicker than a grain of salt, that contains all the components a battery needs to produce electric current. One billion of these holes, connected in a honeycomb fashion, could fit on a postage stamp.

Environment and Biodiversity

Now is our chance to deliver on the 30% ocean protection target
Top scientists, senior government managers, industry representatives, conservationists and even some nations’ presidents are currently in Sydney for the World Parks Congress. This major international meeting happens only once a decade, and provides a critical opportunity to share the latest scientific knowledge and management of protected areas, both land-based and marine. It is also a time for assessing progress and reviewing targets that drive the world’s conservation reserves. …But global progress towards achieving the marine target has been excruciatingly slow. Currently, less than 3% of the world’s ocean is protected in marine parks, with only 1% afforded full protection in no-take sanctuaries. Is it any wonder that marine parks have yet to stem global declines in marine biodiversity?

Red List: the world’s most threatened species (Interactive)
Now in its 50th year, the IUCN red list assesses 76,199 species around the world – of which 22,413 are threatened. The 15 species below are either new additions or have changed status this year. They include Pacific bluefin tuna, Chinese pufferfish and an Australian butterfly that are all threatened with extinction, and the world’s biggest earwig that is now extinct

Cement company blows up limestone hill and renders snail extinct
Humble snails are no match for the might and indifference of the global cement industry. So it has proved for the now extinct Plectostoma sciaphilum, a rather beautiful snail that lived only on a single limestone hill in Peninsular Malaysia. A cement company blew up the entire hill and all remaining molluscs with it. All that is left of its former habitat is a big hole in the ground filled with water. Its extinction was highlighted by the global environment network IUCN when it launched a major new study showing that 22,413 out of its 76,199 assessed species are threatened with extinction.

Economy and Business

How Leadership on Sustainability Shapes Smart Regulatory Policy
This past year, we’ve seen some bold action by companies in what we’ve dubbed the business-policy nexus, and it’s taking several different forms. Some have been calling for state or federal action on environmental impacts, while others are taking far-reaching voluntary efforts that could help support policy advocacy in the future. Whether you view engagement on public policy as risk mitigation, providing market certainty, supporting corporate sustainability goals or securing competitive advantage, leading businesses are increasingly stepping up their efforts to support smart policy reform that will benefit the environment and economy.

Coming to a mall near you: a green alternative to Home Depot
Junkyards are the end of the market, the graveyards for products that have been broken and forgotten, replaced and abandoned. They’re also where Garrett Boone, the Texas businessman who co-founded The Container Store, discovered his first big retail idea. “I was wandering around dumps and wrecking yards, taking pictures, and I started noticing all these old commercial storage products,” he recalled. “They were pretty cool, and as I looked at them through the camera, I started to view them in a new light. Instead of seeing them as commercial products, which was how they were sold and marketed, I saw them as consumer products. What if consumers were allowed to buy and use them?” Over the next few years, Boone transformed that question into a business model. The Container Store, which opened its doors in 1978, took modular, mass-produced storage – long a staple of offices, factories and retail stores – and made it available to the general public.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Staples, TerraCycle Launch Zero-Waste Recycling System
Staples along with global recycling company TerraCycle is now offering Canada’s first-ever zero-waste recycling option for all household and office waste. Through the system, Canadians coast-to-coast can recycle almost anything — broken pen holders, empty lipstick tubes, old filing accessories, rusty lawn and garden equipment, party decorations, old lightbulbs, used coffee capsules and more — through TerraCycle’s Zero Waste Boxes, sold online.

Politics and Society

Congress Set to Approve Keystone XL
The US House of Representatives voted to approve the Keystone XL pipeline on Friday and the US Senate is expected to vote to approve the long-delayed project tomorrow. President Obama has said his decision on Keystone depends on the pipeline’s net effects on carbon emissions: “The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.” The LA Times reports White House spokesman Josh Earnest last week said Obama is likely to veto the pipeline: “In evaluating those earlier proposals, we have indicated that the president’s senior advisors at the White House would recommend that he veto legislation like that.”

Tanzania accused of backtracking over sale of Masai’s ancestral land
Tanzania has been accused of reneging on its promise to 40,000 Masai pastoralists by going ahead with plans to evict them and turn their ancestral land into a reserve for the royal family of Dubai to hunt big game. Activists celebrated last year when the government said it had backed down over a proposed 1,500 sq km “wildlife corridor” bordering the Serengeti national park that would serve a commercial hunting and safari company based in the United Arab Emirates. Now the deal appears to be back on and the Masai have been ordered to quit their traditional lands by the end of the year. Masai representatives will meet the prime minister, Mizengo Pinda, in Dodoma on Tuesday to express their anger. They insist the sale of the land would rob them of their heritage and directly or indirectly affect the livelihoods of 80,000 people. The area is crucial for grazing livestock on which the nomadic Masai depend.

How the Kalahari bushmen and other tribespeople are being evicted to make way for ‘wilderness’
According to a Survival International report, launched at the World Parks Congress in Sydney, the world’s biggest conservation meeting, the San of the Kalahari are just one among hundreds of tribal peoples who have been evicted or are under threat of expulsion from the world’s 6,000 national parks and 100,000 protected conservation areas, which together are thought to cover nearly 13% of the Earth’s land surface.

Queensland Government pays fishermen to appear in advertisement on controversial Abbot Point port development
The Queensland Government has paid Bowen fishermen to be part of an advertisement campaign around the expansion of the Abbot Point Coal terminal.  Bowen fisherman and seafood wholesaler Terry Must supports the amended on-shore dumping proposal but says extra concerns about the impact the development will have on fishing grounds are not being heard. He says this has not been helped by some of his colleagues agreeing to appear in government-funded advertising.

Built Environment

How a garden on your roof could fight floods this winter
In recent years, there seems to have been a rise in the extreme weather all over the world from terrible flooding in Bangladesh and Pakistan, the record cold snap in North America, to one of the wettest winters on record in the UK. Extreme events are very difficult to tackle, and in some cases there is little we can do, other than increase our preparedness and our recovery response. However there is one thing we can do in response to smaller scale, more common events such as flooding from intensive rain showers. As winter closes in on, it’s worth looking at some of the ways we can better manage excess water.

Food Systems

Alice Waters: the evolution of ‘slow food’
Alice Waters has been at the forefront of the slow food movement since opening her restaurant Chez Panisse in 1971. She joins Natasha Mitchell to talk about the importance of the movement, its critics and her Edible Schoolyard Project, during her Australian visit.

Supertrawler fishing ban comes to an end amid demands for permanent stop
The ban on fishing supertrawlers hauling nets in Australian waters lapses on Tuesday, with conservationists and recreational fishers demanding the Abbott government put in place a permanent stop. Imposed against the factory trawler Margiris by the Gillard Government, the two-year ban ends with commercial fishers still pitted against recreational fishers and conservationists. Since it was brought in, a 34,000 tonne quota fishery for jack mackerel and redbait around the southern Australian coastline has remained unfished, while the Margiris operated in the south-east Pacific and North Atlantic. The Stop the Trawler Alliance said Prime Minister Tony Abbott should make good on his promise in March that: “The supertrawler was banned from Australian waters…It will stay banned”.

Lucent shines light on life of pigs from conception to slaughter
These days when it comes to how our food is produced, the question is no longer “how much do you know about where it comes from?” but, “how much do you want to know?” This question is a key point of contention in the volatile debate over pig farming in Australia catalysed by Lucent, a new documentary produced by the Aussie Farms Initiative. Lucent is a compilation of footage filmed covertly on more than 50 pig farms and slaughterhouses across the country, showing the life of a pig from conception to slaughter. What is different about this film is that it is not trying to draw attention to the worst of the worst by only using examples of so-called “isolated” incidents of cruelty or mistreatment.  Rather, Lucent documents the slow, painful everyday reality of life on an intensive pig farm by showing us, the consumer, what standard, legal practice looks like.


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