Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
Sign up to the newsletter if you would like the news direct to your inbox each weekday morning.
Energy and Climate Change
The G20 has a crucial role in preventing future energy crises
Next week, Brisbane hosts the final meeting of the G20 Energy Sustainability Working Group before the main G20 summit in November. Government officials and energy experts from 20 of the most powerful countries in the world, including the United States and China, will sit down to discuss how the world governs energy. It might not sound like a barbeque stopper, but these discussions will help to determine what our future looks like. This is not just because the energy sector accounts for two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions, the main cause of climate change, but because it affects every part of our lives. The fuels we use to power our homes; the type of cars we drive; the fate of our coal, oil and gas industries over the coming decades – all are issues that will be shaped by global energy policy.
NSW unveils new groundwater monitoring plan for CSG flashpoints
The Baird government will increase its monitoring of groundwater, starting with three coal seam gas flashpoints, in a bid to ease community concerns about the impact of the emerging industry. The NSW Office of Water will drill additional bores and introduce advanced computer modelling to provide baseline water assessments of the Gloucester, Gunnedah and Clarence Moreton basins, three regions where CSG developers have faced fierce local opposition. “Once complete, this mapping will provide real-time data from bores across these basins that will be used as an ‘early warning system’ to quickly identify threats to water resources, tackle the causes and prevent future problems,” Water Minister Kevin Humphries said.
Ineos buys fracking rights around Grangemouth and Firth of Forth
Ineos, the company at the centre of last year’s bitter dispute with unions at its Grangemouth petrochemical plant, has bought the rights to explore fracking for shale gas in a 127 square mile area around Grangemouth and the Firth of Forth. The company, which is controlled by publicity-shy Switzerland-based multimillionaire Jim Ratcliffe, said on Monday it had bought 51% of the rights to fracking licence PEDL 133, which covers the Midland Valley of Scotland. The news of Ineos’s entry into shale gas extraction came on a day of organised nationwide protest against companies involved in fracking, which saw 10 arrests at a Cuadrilla building in Blackpool and activists superglueing themselves to the doors of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in London.
Rent to own solar systems hope to prevent blackouts in Nepal’s hospitals
Imagine giving birth at night and the lights in the hospital suddenly go out. Or, worse, picture yourself struggling for life on an oxygen machine, only for the hospital to face a power blackout. Such scenarios are part of every day life in Nepal’s rural areas, where daily power cuts can easily last nine hours or more, according to Andy Moon, co-founder of SunFarmer, a development-oriented solar energy provider. Together with former SunEdison colleague Jason Gray, Moon set up SunFarmer last year with the goal of enabling health facilities to “rent-to-own” affordable solar systems. The organisation’s funding model sees the up-front installation costs split 80% to 20% between SunFarmer and the local health facility.
South Korea running out of space for nuclear waste
South Korea is running out of space to store its spent nuclear fuel, with some of its storage facilities set to reach capacity by 2016, according to an independent body that advises the government on nuclear issues. A Public Engagement Commission, consisting of nuclear experts, professors, and officials, was set up in October 2013 to take account of public opinion on spent nuclear fuel issues and feed into policy decisions. South Korea has 23 nuclear reactors which supply about a third of its power and produce about 750 tonnes of spent fuel each year. According to the commission, at the end of last year, 13,254 tonnes of spent fuel was being held in temporary storage at nuclear plants.
Revolutionary perovskite solar cells could be a game changer, but questions remain
Year on year, solar panels have been plunging in price and improving in the efficiency with which they can convert light into energy. At the same time fossil fuel costs continue to rise, and in the next few years we will reach the point where the costs overlap – some figures suggest this may have already happened. The question is not whether solar energy can supplant fossil fuels as the cheapest means to produce energy, but rather when. While this has provided an enormous boost to the solar industry, the main excitement in the solar sector today is due to a new type of material called perovskite. Combining some of the best qualities of more mainstream materials, it has proved incredibly flexible – to the point that University of Sheffield researchers have manufactured perovskite solar cells as a spray-on liquid. So what is perovskite, and what’s the buzz around it?
Great Barrier Reef will deteriorate further after decision to dump spoil from Abbot Point, former marine park official says
Australian authorities are failing to protect the country’s greatest natural icon, the Great Barrier Reef, by approving the dumping of dredge spoil inside the marine park, a former government official says. Jon Day, until recently the director of Heritage Conservation at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), has told the ABC’s Four Corners that not enough was being done to repair the reef. He says the dumping of dredge spoil will put more pressure on the reef, which is already in decline.
The way the wind blows may not be enough to prevent ocean ‘dead zones’ growing
The world’s oceans are plagued with the problem of “dead zones”, areas of high nutrients (such as nitrogen and phosphorus) in which plankton blooms cause a major reduction of oxygen levels in the water. Sea creatures need oxygen to breathe just as we do, and if oxygen levels fall low enough marine animals can suffocate. This commonly happens around coastlines where fertilisers are washed from fields into rivers and the sea, but also mid-ocean, where currents trap waters in gyres (large systems of rotating ocean currents).
Waste and the Circular Economy
Guilt-free takeaway coffee in a paper cup: is there such a thing?
Each year, an estimated 2.5bn paper cups are thrown away in the UK. And a whole lot of energy goes into making these single-use containers. What’s more, despite their name, paper cups don’t just consist of paper: in order to prevent the cups going soggy, most manufacturers add a thin coating of plastic. While the result may make your coffee experience more enjoyable, it also makes the cups very hard to recycle. Several new companies have set out to solve that dilemma. 3Boys, a pioneering British packaging firm that recently made headlines when it introduced a “paper wine bottle”, has developed a paper cup with a plastic lining that easily separates from the paper. “We need to address issues on the local level, and 90% of coffee customers walk away from the shop with their coffee”, explains Martin Myerscough, 3Boys’ CEO. “Recycling in the store doesn’t really help.”
Politics and Society
Renewable Energy Target cut would hit budget: modelling
Reducing the renewable energy target would cost the federal budget about $680 million more to meet Australia’s target of 5% emissions reduction by 2020, according to modelling released today by climate and conservation groups. The modelling found that cutting the RET would increase the profits of coal power stations while boosting the costs for the public through more pollution without reducing electricity prices for consumers. It would see “the loss of billions of dollars of investment in the short term”; by further destabilising the policy environment for investors, it would drive up the costs of power sector investment in the future.
Plans for one of Australia’s largest solar power stations scrapped
Plans for one of Australia’s largest solar power stations have been scrapped, in part because of uncertainty over the future of the renewable energy target (RET). Funding for the $75m, 100-megawatt Mildura solar power station has been suspended amid speculation that the RET will be either scrapped or wound back by the government. It emerged on Monday that Tony Abbott is backing the closure of the renewable energy target for all new entrants.
These folks feed their family with a garden in their swimming pool — and you can, too
When Dennis and Danielle McClung bought a foreclosed home in Mesa, Ariz., in 2009, their new yard featured a broken, empty swimming pool. Instead of spending a small fortune to repair and fill it, Dennis had a far more prescient idea: He built a plastic cap over it and started growing things inside. Thus, with help from family and friends and a ton of internet research, Garden Pool was born. What was once a yawning cement hole was transformed into an incredibly prolific closed-loop ecosystem, growing everything from broccoli and sweet potatoes to sorghum and wheat, with chickens, tilapia, algae, and duckweed all interacting symbiotically to provide enough food to feed a family of five.
Sunshine Coast retirement village welcomes 10-star home
As energy bills rise, greater attention is being placed on operational costs by home buyers. Smart developers are taking note and providing homes that are cheaper to run, and nowhere is the trend stronger than in the retirement space. The Halycon Landing over 50s development on the Sunshine Coast gained attention last year for mandating a minimum eight stars Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme rating and other sustainability features such as solar panels as standard, in a move to attract cost-aware residents. Now it’s in the process of building its first 10-star NatHERS-rated home, and the first for a retirement community in Australia.