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Thursday 19 April 2018

Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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The top story today shows how business cases can be manipulated and looks at three infrastructure projects that don’t take into account some significant costs such as human and environmental health.  The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) is currently on in London with several articles highlighting the economy and climate change.  In other news, Prof. Terry Hughes’ research on the Great Barrier Reef, two years on from a massive bleaching event, makes headlines worldwide, and clean coal is dead after the last AU$90m project fails.

Top Story

A closer look at business cases raises questions about ‘priority’ national infrastructure projects | The Conversation
Infrastructure Australia’s latest infrastructure priority list has been criticised for being “too Sydney-centric” and for giving Melbourne’s East West Link, cancelled in 2014, “high priority” status. The cancelled Roe 8 project in Perth was removed from the list.  So how does a project get onto Infrastructure Australia’s list? This requires submission of a full business case, which then needs to be “positively assessed” to be given priority status. But our research, yet to be published, has found these business cases leave out highly significant costs.

Climate Change and Energy

Browned off: $90m ‘clean coal’ program ends as final project collapses | SMH
AUSTRALIA – The last of a long list of government-backed “clean coal” projects has fallen over, with the Andrews government reluctantly confirming the end of a $90 million program announced amid much fanfare six years ago. After days of pressing by The Age, Treasurer Tim Pallas’ department issued a statement announcing the conclusion of the joint federal and state Advanced Lignite Demonstration Program (ALDP) after the collapse of the program’s remaining scheme – a plan to turn Gippsland coal into char and oil by a company called Coal Energy Australia.

Dam fine energy plan: Tapping the nation’s water resources for power | SMH
AUSTRALIA – The nation’s reservoirs other than the Snowy Hydro offer largely untapped potential for energy storage and generation, including solar farms, that governments such as in NSW hope to unleash. The Berejiklian government on Thursday announced plans to partner its main reservoir management agency, WaterNSW, with the Department of Planning and Environment to open the way for energy investments in the state’s water assets.

Balkan dam projects could result in loss of one in 10 European fish species | The Guardian
Nearly one in 10 of Europe’s fish species will be pushed to the brink of extinction by a constellation of hydropower plants planned in the western Balkans, new research has found. Eleven endemic species would be wiped out, seven more would be critically endangered, four types of sturgeon would be devastated and the number of endangered species would double to 24, according to the University of Graz report.

The section of the Tara river in Montenegro that would be affected by dams on the Drina. Photograph: Riverwatch

The section of the Tara river in Montenegro that would be affected by dams on the Drina. Photograph: Riverwatch

Environment and Biodiversity

How the 2016 bleaching altered the shape of the northern Great Barrier Reef | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – In 2016 the Great Barrier Reef suffered unprecedented mass coral bleaching – part of a global bleaching event that dwarfed its predecessors in 1998 and 2002. This was followed by another mass bleaching the following year. This was the first case of back-to-back mass bleaching events on the reef. The result was a 30% loss of corals in 2016, a further 20% loss in 2017, and big changes in community structure. New research published in Nature today now reveals the damage that these losses caused to the wider ecosystem functioning of the Great Barrier Reef.

Other coverage:

Has the world reached peak ecological footprint? | The Fifth Estate
Humanity’s ecological footprint may have levelled off after decades of consistent increase, according to new data released last week by the Global Footprint Network. Mathis Wackernagel, the network’s founder and chief executive, told The Fifth Estate, “We may have reached peak eco-footprint, after years of expansion. For example, China underwent a rapid expansion of its footprint, and now it has flattened. This could be a real trend.”

Economy and Business

Green Growth for the Commonwealth: Ready for Phase Three | World Resources Institute
CHOGM – A few short years ago, the idea of sustainability drew praise
 as something that ought to be encouraged for its environmental [sic] its inevitable trade-off with economic growth. That was Phase One. Phase Two emerged from a number of empirical studies that found that the trade-offs weren’t so great after all, and that sustainable development and economic growth could go hand in hand. More recent research and technological innovation, articulated in the New Climate Economy project and other smart initiatives, has brought us to Phase Three, which recognizes that sustained economic growth can only be achieved by investing in low carbon and less polluting models of development.

Other articles related to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM):

You know clean air is good for your health. Did you know it’s good for the economy, too? | Ensia
When the Clean Air Act of 1970 became law, members of the business community in the United States responded with opposition. Such regulations are a drag on growth, some economists say, for individual businesses and for the economy at large. While it is often expensive to upgrade equipment to reduce pollution, other economists argue such actions should be seen not as a tax but rather an investment in human capital and healthy bottom lines.

Deep-sea mining possibly as damaging as land mining, lawyers say | The Guardian
The “new global gold rush” over deep-sea mining holds the same potential pitfalls as previous resource scrambles, with environmental and social impacts ignored and the rights of Indigenous people marginalised, a paper in the Harvard Law Review has warned.

French REIT’s loan terms linked to sustainability performance | The Fifth Estate
French real estate investment trust Gecina has inked a “sustainability performance-linked loan” with ING France for €150 million (AU$239m), with pricing dependant on how it performs on the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB). According to GRESB’s Ruben Langbroekif Gecina’s GRESB score goes up then the margin will come down, and vice versa.

Walmart to double EV charging network with Electrify America | GreenBiz
USA – Walmart shoppers soon will have far greater access to stations where they can charge up their electric cars quickly while they buy goods and groceries. The world’s largest retailer announced today that it will work with Volkswagen subsidiary Electrify America to roll out fast electric vehicle chargers at 100 locations across 34 states by the summer of 2019. The project will double the number of EV chargers installed at Walmart locations.

Waste and the Circular Economy

How plastic-eating bacteria actually work – a chemist explains | The Conversation
Scientists recently discovered a strain of bacteria that can literally eat the plastic used to make bottles, and have now improved it to make it work faster… Plastics are complex polymers, meaning they are long, repeating chains of molecules that don’t dissolve in water. The strength of these chains makes plastic very durable and means it takes a very long time to decompose naturally. If they could be broken down into their smaller, soluble chemical units, then these building blocks could be harvested and recycled to form new plastics in a closed-loop system.

New oil spill clean-up ‘sponge’ created from waste and pioneered by Australian scientists | ABC News
A new floating material that acts like a “sponge” with the potential to soak up oil spills has been developed by a team of researchers, including scientists from Flinders University in Adelaide. The polymer is made from used cooking oil and sulphur, a by-product of the petroleum industry, and can absorb oil floating on the ocean’s surface.

Recycling from more than 200,000 residents in Ipswich will go to landfill | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – The Ipswich City Council says China’s import ban on recycling and the rising level of contaminated rubbish in yellow bins means it is too costly to recycle properly, so all its recycling will go straight to the tip. Mayor Andrew Antoniolli said Ipswich was the latest to be affected by the nationwide issue, and eventually all councils would be impacted by the viability of recycling household waste.

Plastic bag bans are coming. Here’s what you need to know | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – From July 1, Queensland and Western Australia will ban single-use, lightweight plastic bags from major retailers, bringing the states into line with the ACT, South Australia and Tasmania. Victoria is set to follow, having announced plans in October 2017 to phase out most lightweight plastic bags this year, leaving only New South Wales without a proposed ban. Supermarkets have followed suit. There’s also a growing grassroots movement to ban plastic straws, with nearly 100 venues Australia-wide already having phased out single-use straws through partnerships with The Last Straw campaign. So, what do plastic bans actually mean and are they truly better for the environment?

How a technology invented for mining could play a role in e-waste processing | GreenBiz
An early-stage company developing environmentally sustainable alternatives of extracting gold during mining operations — the predominant means of recovery uses the deadly chemical cyanide — is considering another application for its technology, helping capture precious metals out of electronic waste. Call it urban mining. The electrochemical process developed by Canadian venture EnviroLeach Technologies, fronted by former mining industry executive Duane Nelson, is similar to the conventional method of leaching gold and other metals out of ores, concentrates and tailings. Only instead of using cyanide, the patent-pending formula uses five non-toxic, FDA-approved ingredients that are combined with water at ambient temperatures.

Politics and Society

Company defends Taranaki seabed iron sand mining decision | Stuff.co.nz
The company behind plans for seabed iron sand mining says the decision to grant consents for it was based on good information. In August Trans-Tasman Resources Ltd was granted marine and marine discharge consents, subject to conditions, for a site off the south Taranaki coast.

Built Environment

Bikeshare: a challenge worth solving | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – Dockless share bikes are dotted across Australia’s major cities – useful to some, seemingly a nuisance to many. In Sydney, the debate is dominated by the accusation that bike share is a “bad thing” affecting the city, and that we would be better off kicking the bikes out. Not so fast. Recently the Committee for Sydney has been investigating how to make the most out of bike share – and while there’s work to be done to make them work for everyone, the benefit in getting the balance right is enormous.

Food Systems

Americans waste 150,000 tons of food each day – equal to a pound per person | The Guardian
USA – Americans waste about a pound of food per person each day, with people who have healthier diets rich in fruit and vegetables the most wasteful, research has found. About 150,000 tons of food is tossed out in US households each day, equivalent to about a third of the daily calories that each American consumes. Fruit and vegetables were the most likely to be thrown out, followed by dairy and then meat.

Skye salmon farms approved despite warnings of ‘irrecoverable damage’ | The Guardian
UK – Two new salmon farms are to be built off the Scottish island of Skye after receiving permission from the Highland council, despite opposition from residents over the possible environmental impacts and a lack of guarantees the farms will remain organic.

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