Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Energy and Climate Change

Natural disasters displaced more people than war in 2013, study finds
Natural disasters displaced three times as many people as war last year – even as 2013 was a horrific year for conflict – with 22 million people driven out of their homes by floods, hurricanes and other hazards, a new study has found. Twice as many people now lose their homes to disaster as in the 1970s, and more people move into harm’s way each year, the study by the Norwegian Refugee Council found. “Basically, the combination of mega natural disasters and hundreds of smaller natural disasters massively displaces people in many more countries than the countries that have war and conflict,” said Jan Egeland, the secretary of the Norwegian refugee council.

 Environment and Biodiversity

Global wild tiger population to be counted by 2016: international conference
Thirteen countries with wild tiger populations agreed on Tuesday to take part in a global count to establish how many of the critically endangered big cats are left and improve policies to protect them. Experts say that although the tiger population is thought to have remained stable over the last four years, a lack of accurate numbers is hindering effective policies. The pledge came at a global conference – the second Stocktaking Conference under a Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP) –  in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka where more than 140 people have converged for three days to discuss actions to save the tiger.

What’s in your porcini packet? You may find a new species … or three
Mycologists – scientists who study fungi – estimate there are up to five million species of fungi on Earth. Of these, only about 2%, or 100,000 species, have been formally described. So where are the other 98% of fungi hiding? At least three, it seems, were hiding in a supermarket packet of dried porcini mushrooms from China. Mycologists Bryn Dentinger and Laura Suz from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, UK, used DNA sequencing to identify three new species in a packet of dried porcini mushrooms purchased from a supermarket, and report their findings in the journal PeerJ today.

Some household plastics could increase risk of childhood asthma, study finds
Several years ago, Columbia University researcher Robin Whyatt and her team at the Mailman School of Public Health discovered that inner-city kids in New York have some of the highest asthma rates in the world. Nearly a quarter of New York City kids have asthma. The scientists were determined to pinpoint which environmental factors contributed to those high rates, and began working with a cohort of 300 pregnant women to study their children from the womb into late childhood. The findings of that research have been published regularly since then, linking the children’s respiratory and neurological issues to various environmental toxins, including exposure to phthalates – chemical binders commonly found in many household cleaners, personal care products and food packaging – as well as insecticides and pesticide residues. On Wednesday, Whyatt and company released a study that, for the first time, traces the effects of phthalate exposure on children from fetus to school-age. The results are fairly staggering: children who were exposed to high concentrations of phthalates in the womb were 70% more likely to develop asthma between the ages of five and 12.

Economy and Business

New UK study looks to turbo-charge social impact investment
The Social Impact Investment Taskforce, led by Apax Partners founder and “father of British venture capital” Sir Ronald Cohen, yesterday released a report which marks the most ambitious attempt to date to set out a pathway for catapulting social impact investing into the mainstream. Acceptance of the notion that doing good and doing well need not necessarily be incompatible has been growing slowly over recent years. Add to that a desire among many to reconnect work with purpose and money to meaning, and the seeds of social impact investing are sown. Yet the impact investment sector, valued at less than $40bn globally, remains a fledgling alongside the momentous juggernaut that is mainstream finance. That could be about to change.

Four ‘Forces for Good’ We Can Leverage to Inform Human Capital Value
We continue to emerge from a financial crisis that for many of us caused catastrophic and lingering financial strain. Pre-crisis, key forces for ‘meaningful work’ that… were missing or overshadowed are now representing a new long-term shift in how business is done — a shift in what it means to work and to employ those that do the work, to the giving and the receiving of creating products and services, and the reasoning or purpose for doing so in the first place. From our ongoing research on how humans create value, we see four relevant key forces in the opportunity we have as business leaders to realize this value. Each force influences decision-making associated with long-term thinking.

How our baking obsession began with the green movement
The Great British Bake Off has been attracting its highest-ever ratings after a return to our screens. While many different explanations have been offered for the show’s success, the current popularity of baking – along with other domestic crafts such as growing vegetables, sewing, knitting and mending – seems to be one important factor. It is often said that viewers of Bake Off are simply content to watch cake being baked, rather than doing it themselves, but the show’s reported impact on the sale of baking equipment and ingredients tells another story. The context for this revival of interest in baking and sewing is, of course, austerity. In the wake of the financial crisis, we have tightened our belts, donned our aprons, and taken on board the historical lessons of “austerity Britain” – that period during and after World War II when rationing was imposed and British citizens learned how to “dig for victory”, “make do and mend” and “win the war on the kitchen front”.

Waste and the Circular Economy

SmartCity Malta inspiration for businesses seeking sustainable development model
Minister for the environment and sustainable development Leo Brincat paid a visit today to SmartCity Malta, where he was greeted by CEO Anthony P. Tabone and given a tour of the complex’s waste management systems.  SmartCity also operates solar and wind-power turbines in their park, powering the lighting in the complex. “They are costly to build but worthwhile in the long term due to cost-savings,” said Tabone. “SmartCity is built around five conceptual pillars; Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), conservation of water and electricity, sustainable procurement, increasing environmental awareness amongst its employees and the contribution given by all this to the environment and society at large”, explained Brincat.  Brincat said his visit was part of a series, where he planned to personally observe businesses’ waste management systems.

Politics and Society

The power of religion and prayer to head off climate disaster
Before the cacophony of noise around next week’s climate talks in New York becomes deafening, it is worth taking a moment to remember the fundamental reasons behind the wish to prevent global warming. Who better to help us than 82 year-old Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a key figure in the fight against apartheid, who has written a prayer ahead of the Peoples’ Climate March and UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon’s climate leaders’ summit. Tutu, archbishop emeritus of Cape Town and a Nobel peace laureate wrote: “Through greed, we have established an economy that destroys the web of life. We have changed our climate and drown in despair. Let oceans of justice flow. May we learn to sustain and renew the life of our Mother Earth. We pray for our leaders, custodians of Mother Earth, as they gather in New York City at the climate talks. May they negotiate with wisdom and fairness. May they act with compassion and courage, and lead us in the path of justice for the sake of our children and our children’s children.”

Pressure builds on Abbott government to relent on renewable energy cuts
Confidence is growing among clean energy supporters that the Abbott government will be forced to back down over plans to make deep cuts to the renewable energy target (RET). The industry is taking heart from the solid opposition so far from Labor, the Greens and the Palmer United Party to any government attempt to make a significant reduction to the current targets. “There is a very strong mood in the community and industry that the RET shouldn’t be cut back in any way,” said John Grimes, chair of the Australian Solar Council. “This is an issue that Australians feel strongly and passionately about.”

Obama delays key power plant rule of signature climate change plan
Barack Obama applied the brakes to the most critical component of his climate change plan on Tuesday, slowing the process of setting new rules cutting carbon pollution from power plants, and casting a shadow over a landmark United Nations’ summit on global warming. The proposed power plant rules were meant to be the signature environmental accomplishment of Obama’s second term. The threat of a delay in their implementation comes just one week before a heavily anticipated UN summit where officials had been looking to Obama to show leadership on climate change. In a conference call with reporters, the Environmental Protection Agency said it was extending the public comment period on the power plant rules for an additional 45 days, until 1 December.

US acts to cut potent global warming emissions
The Obama administration on Tuesday announced a series of moves aimed at cutting emissions of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, powerful greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. The White House has secured voluntary agreements from some of the nation’s largest companies to scale down or phase out their use of HFCs, which are factory-made gases used in air conditioning and refrigeration. Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Red Bull, Kroger, Honeywell and DuPont, the company that invented fluorinated refrigerants, have agreed to cut their use and replace them with climate-friendly alternatives. Overall, the administration estimated that the agreements announced Tuesday would reduce cumulative global consumption of HFCs by the equivalent of 700 million metric tons of carbon dioxide through 2025. That is about 1.5 per cent of the world’s 2010 greenhouse gas emissions, or the same as taking 15 million cars off the road for 10 years.

Our opportunity to improve environmental protection must not be lost
Maintenance of Australia’s native vegetation and the habitat it provides is the cornerstone of all our strategies to manage land, water and biodiversity. Native habitat is critical for any attempt to manage threatened species, as it is for water supply, the quality of our streams, estuaries, lakes and rivers. It is central to salinity management, soil erosion and sedimentation, and much more. Not only that, but it provides so much of the amenity that we love about Australia. Our art, poetry and music celebrates our iconic flora as an intrinsic part of our natural heritage. The introduction of the Native Vegetation Act in 2003 put in place legislation that could serve as a foundation for prudent natural resources and environmental management in NSW. Unfortunately exemptions to the Act were given to urban development and mining industries with the consequence that responsibility for maintaining native vegetation was not shared equally across all sectors of the community.

Amid Drought, New California Law Will Limit Groundwater Pumping for First Time
But it won’t help right away: The limits on pumping won’t kick in before the 2020s. Despite California’s reputation as an environmental policy leader, its regulation of groundwater extraction has long been among the weakest in the nation. That changed Tuesday, when California Governor Jerry Brown signed a package of three bills designed to regulate the pumping of water from underground aquifers. While many observers say the rules are too little and too late to protect the state’s rapidly depleting aquifers, the new laws are still a major shift in a long-deadlocked political battle.

Built Environment

We need to develop a new urban agenda – let’s start on World Cities Day
On 31 October this year, for the first time, the planet will celebrate World Cities Day. This is an important recognition of the role cities play not only to the more-than-3.5 billion people who live in them, but also as key economic, social and environmental components of our world today… The facts speak for themselves: two-thirds of us will be living in urban areas by 2030. We must choose the type of cities that we want to live in. Well-planned cities with robust urban planning and dedicated public spaces provide economic opportunities. It is cheaper and more efficient to provide services to people living in optimal density than in sprawling, unplanned residential areas. When we can walk, cycle and catch public transport to our places of work and recreation, our environmental footprint is significantly reduced.

How to make the green belt productive – but still green
England’s green belts have had, and continue to have, a major impact on town planning. The idea of a ring of countryside surrounding an urban area to prevent sprawl originated in the 1930s and spread to post-war London and was adopted nationally in 1955. Today, about 13% of England is green belt land. But what made sense in the 1950s seems outdated and rather stale now. A one-size-fits-all approach to tackling complex planning issues tends to create more problems than it solves. You don’t need a belt-shaped area of land to check urban sprawl; you don’t need to block all development to promote greener outcomes. Perhaps in the 21st century it is time to admit that green belts are no longer fit for purpose.

Property industry celebrates Australia’s GRESB results
This month heralded some good news: Australia leads the world on sustainability in the property sector, according to the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark. Last week, at  JLL’s offices in Sydney Ruben Langbroek, GRESB head of Asia Pacific, presented the results of the survey. For the fourth year running, Australian properties were ranked most sustainable, beating Europe, Asia and North America. Australia was leader in all categories, including management, policy and disclosure, risks and opportunities, monitoring and EMS, performance indicators, building certifications, stakeholder engagement, and new construction and major renovations.

Food Systems

Food ratings website launched by George Institute in absence of scheme pulled down by Government
While consumers are waiting for the Federal Government to re-launch its healthy star food labelling website, a world-leading health research body has stepped into the vacuum. The Sydney-based George Institute for Global Health is tonight launching its own website that rates 55,000 packaged food products commonly found in supermarkets. The George Institute calculated the stars based on the government-backed formulae which measures salt, saturated fat, sugar and kilojoules plus any positive nutrients.

MSC-Labeled Seafood Products Increase by 118% in 5 Years
Increasing consumer demand and a greater commitment to sustainability by the fishing industry and retailers has led the number of Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) labeled products to more than double over the past five years, according to two new reports by MSC. In 2013-2014 the retail market value of sustainable seafood carrying the MSC ecolabel reached $4.8 billion, an increase of 118 percent since 2009. More than 23,000 products from MSC certified fisheries were available in over 100 countries, a tenfold increase since 2009. The MSC’s Global Impacts Report 2014 and Annual Report 2013-14 show improvements to marine environments being delivered by fisheries engaged in the MSC certification program. These changes are often incentivised by increased market demand and, in some cases, a price premium for sustainable seafood.


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