Sustainable Development News

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Top Story

#BusinessCase: Gap, H&M, Levi’s, Target Mills Save $14.7M Through NRDC’s Clean by Design Program
The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) this week announced the stunning latest results of its Clean by Design program, a global model for sustainable manufacturing that is working with multinational apparel brand partners Target, Gap, Levi Strauss and H&M. According to NRDC’s latest analysis, the program’s production efficiency measures have enabled significant reductions in pollution, water and energy use, and chemicals at over 30 Chinese textile mills that create clothing for the brands, and delivered $14.73 million (92 million RMB) to the mills in total reduced operating costs (NRDC notes that participating mills invested $17.3 million in total one-time upfront costs to achieve these savings, with a payback time for the whole program of only 14 months.)

Energy and Climate Change

The Arctic is ‘unraveling’ due to climate change, and the consequences will be global
We often hear that climate change is radically reshaping the Arctic, a place many of us have never visited. As a result, it can be hard to feel directly affected by what’s happening up in a distant land of polar bears, ice floes and something odd called permafrost. A new booklet from the United States National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council wants to change that. Synthesising much past academy work on the Arctic region, the booklet – being released just before the US assumes the chairmanship of the eight-nation Arctic Council later this month – blazons this message: “What Happens in the Arctic Doesn’t Stay in the Arctic.” Here are four potential ways, drawing both upon the new report and much of the Washington Post’s reporting, that changes in the Arctic will reverberate well beyond it and, in some cases, have planet-wide consequences

Climate change: US agency says March hottest globally on record as Barack Obama urges action
Rising temperatures across the planet have set more records as the US government announced the globe experienced its hottest month of March since record keeping began in 1880. The period of January to March was also the warmest on record, according to the monthly report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The latest data, which takes into account global averages across land and sea surfaces, follows announcements from the same US government scientists that 2014 was the hottest year in modern history.

India hostility to HFC phase-out thaws, submits plans to UN
In signs India’s hostility to cutting greenhouse gas emissions is thawing, the government has delivered plans to the UN on how potent warming gases used in refrigeration could be curbed. On Thursday the government submitted an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to allow it to curb the use of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases, which are far more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. “The proposal is intended to support overall global efforts aimed at climate system protection,” it reads. The submission calls for a 15 year period of transition for developing countries to find replacements to HFCs – which are used in air conditioning, fridges and insulating foams. Cutting these would be equal to stopping the release of 100 billion tonnes of CO2 tonnes by 2050 say experts.

Five years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, we are closer than ever to catastrophe
In the five years since the Deepwater Horizon accident, the oil and gas industry has not retreated to safety. Instead, it has expanded its technological horizon in ways that make it harder to foresee the complex interactions between drilling technologies, inevitable human errors and the ultra-deepwater environment. Before its sinking, Deepwater Horizon had drilled one of the deepest oil and gas wells. That depth has since been surpassed, and exploration continues to new frontiers.

Amazon Dams Keep the Lights On But Could Hurt Fish, Forests
When Asháninka Indian leader Ruth Buendía realized that a hydroelectric dam on the Amazon’s Ene River would displace thousands of her people, she vowed to fight it. The project, she argued, would bring more hardship to families—including her own—already uprooted by political violence. Leaders in the Peruvian communities along the river were divided over the plan, with some looking forward to high-paying construction jobs. But Buendía stood her ground. Plans for that dam were eventually suspended. But about 150 other dams already exist in the Amazon basin, with other controversial projects underway and hundreds more planned. Scientists worry that dams will harm the Amazon’s legendary biodiversity by blocking fish-spawning runs, reducing the flow of vital soil nutrients, and clearing forests. Reservoirs behind the dams also could displace indigenous people, like the Asháninka, whose livelihood depends on the rivers.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Investors urge US regulator to force action on climate risk
Investors representing nearly US$2 trillion in assets have written urging the US financial regulator to act on climate risk. Global efforts to slash greenhouse gases could hit fossil fuel demand and therefore the value of oil and gas companies, 59 institutions warned. Shareholder activists succeeded on Thursday in persuading oil major BP to disclose how its portfolio could be affected by climate regulations. But Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Canadian Natural Resources are failing to seriously analyse the threat, according to the letter coordinated by advocacy group Ceres.  Signatories include the CEOs of Volvo, Accenture, BT, Philips, Swiss RE and Unilever.

Turning oil companies into climate allies
Can fossil fuel companies be transformed into allies in the fight against climate change? As unlikely as it might seem, a coalition of environmental groups and investors is trying to persuade coal, oil and gas companies to turn away from carbon-polluting sources of energy and invest in low-carbon alternatives. Ceres, a Boston-based network of investors, companies and nonprofits, and Carbon Tracker, a London-based nonprofit that has popularized the notion of a “carbon bubble,” have organized a new campaign around carbon asset risks.  The campaign aims to get fossil fuel companies first to disclose the risks created by their dependence on carbon-intensive assets, and then, as Ceres puts it, “ensure they are using shareholder capital prudently” in a world that takes “the economic threat of climate change seriously”.

Mary Robinson: Developing nations must move rapidly beyond fossil fuels
Tackling climate change will require developing countries to move beyond fossil fuels far more quickly than the rich world has managed, the United Nations envoy on climate change has warned. Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and ex-UN human rights chief, said: “It may seem contradictory, but to be fair all countries must be enabled to participate in the transition away from fossil fuels together and at the same time. If not, we will exceed the carbon budget and consign countries without the means to participate in the transition to renewable energy to a future based on expensive, obsolete and polluting fossil fuels.”The poorest countries, she added, must lead the way in that transition with financial assistance from the rich world.

Environment and Biodiversity

Marie Brown: Answer there if we want to halt loss
NEW ZEALAND – Yesterday [Friday] we highlighted the importance of protecting nature, demonstrated how it underpins our long-term prosperity and showed that we are not doing a good enough job of protecting it. And we established it was because there are loads of incentives to cause harm to the environment and far fewer to protect it. Every problem has a solution, though. We think the solutions exist at three levels: the practical level (on-the-ground conservation stuff), the tactical (balancing public and private interests) and the strategic (game-changer solutions that make more people want nature protected).

Macquarie Island wildlife recovering after rabbit eradication
Rabbits came to Macquarie Island with sealers in the early 1800s as a source of food. By the 1980s their numbers had exploded. This prompted a massive island rescue mission that included releasing the callici virus into the rabbit population, large-scale bait drops, and teams of hunters and sniffer dogs. Last year, the eradication program was declared a success. “I think it’s incredible. I came down here in 2010 and I could see rabbits on the hillside and a lot of the damage and now we are still seeing rapid change, with increasing tussock coverage on the hillside, little fungi popping up all over the place, insects, and it’s going to just keep going,” island ranger Angela Turbett said.

For Earth Day, 14 Pictures of Extraordinary Trees
One of the most popular ways to celebrate Earth Day, on April 22, is to plant a tree. It seems so basic that it’s easy to forget the value of doing so. So National Geographic asked Kathleen Rogers, president of Earth Day Network, to explain the importance of trees. “They hold our world together,” said Rogers. “They support biodiversity, they provide building materials, but they’re undervalued by all of us.” Trees don’t just give birds a place to live and provide shade from the sun, they impact the structure of their environment.

Economy and Business

World Bank fossil fuel financing leapt in 2014 despite its calls to end subsidies
The World Bank increased its financing for fossil fuel projects in the last financial year, according to a new analysis, despite repeated calls by its president to end the global subsidies for oil, coal and gas. In a report released on Friday, Oil Change International (OCI) identified $3.4bn (£2.3bn) of loans, grants, guarantees, risk management and equity for fossil fuel-related projects in the developing world in the 2013-14 financial year. This was the highest recorded in four years and up 23% on the year before although the bank said it disagreed with lumping in both direct and indirect funding.

L’Oréal Reduces CO2 Emissions 50% in First Year of Sustainable Development Plan
Just one year after the launch of its ambitious Sharing Beauty with All program for sustainable development, cosmetics giant the L’Oréal Group has today revealed significant improvements in the first progress reportof its efforts:

  • a reduction of CO2 emissions of the Group’s production by 50 percent in absolute terms, from a 2005 baseline, while increasing production 22 percent;
  • 67 percent of new products screened have an improved environmental or social profile;
  • 54,000 jobs created for people from underprivileged communities in social or financial difficulty.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Scotland’s plastic bag usage down 80% since 5p charge introduced
Plastic bag usage in Scotland has plummeted following the introduction of a 5p charge. Early figures from retailers show that single-use carrier bag usage has fallen by more than 80% since the charge was introduced on 20 October 2014. The results are in line with the dramatic reduction in plastic bag usage in Wales, which introduced the charge in 2011. It was also brought in by Northern Ireland in 2013 and a drop in usage of nearly 72% was reported the following year. Meanwhile, official figures showed last year that the use of plastic bags had risen in the UK for the fourth year in a row to 8.3bn. England has yet to introduce the charge, but it is expected to come into force later in the autumn.

Norway approves mine’s controversial plan to dump waste into fjord
Environmentalists promised civil disobedience after Norway’s government approved a controversial plan for a mining company to dump millions of tonnes of waste into a fjord. “This is a fjord full of life – to smother it with toxins is insane,” said Arnstein Vestre, president of Young Friends of the Earth Norway, which has been part of protests against the plan. “We have 600 people ready to do civil disobedience actions, and we will not stop until the fjord is safe,” he said.  Announcing its approval of the project on Friday, industry minister Monica Mæland said there would be strict environmental controls and monitoring of waste matter.

Politics and Society

Comic artists unite on climate change
Kiwi comic book artists concerned over sea level rises, super storms and climate change have put pen to paper to highlight the issues. Acclaimed artists Dylan Horrocks, Sarah Laing, Chris Slane and eight others volunteered their work for graphic novel anthology High Water. The introduction is written by actress and activist Lucy Lawless. Editor Damon Keen says the book is a way into the highly volatile debate for New Zealand’s comic community. “We’ve had 25 years of scientists talking, politicians kind of ignoring them and I feel like it’s time for the rest of us to step up,” he said.

Permission to Care: Moving From Anxiety to Action on Climate Change
How can we get people to care more? How do we motivate people? What’s it going to take? What if these are the wrong questions to be asking? Let’s consider this question by first reconsidering the context. Environmental issues can generate huge anxieties that make them hard for many people to contemplate. Climate change in particular taps into all sorts of cognitive dissonances and feelings of guilt, leaving many people feeling overwhelmed about their role in the problem and solution. This anxiety is often managed through an array of brilliant (usually unconscious) strategies, often both privately and socially, that help us avoid pain, discomfort and conflicts.

UK government in lawsuit for lax air standards An environmental law group will take the British government to court today over breaching safe limits of nitrogen dioxide in 16 UK cities. ClientEarth take their fight to the country’s Supreme Court after the European Court of Justice ruled the UK must have a plan to meet air quality standards in the shortest time possible. After nearly 25 years of missed targets, the Government is not set to hit reduction targets of the harmful pollutant – emitted mainly by diesel exhausts – until 2030.

Can Japan’s climate policy get back on track after Fukushima?
Less than two decades ago, Japan positioned itself in the vanguard of the global fight against climate change when it helped broker the Kyoto protocol. Now, though, it is Fukushima, not Kyoto, that has come to define Japan’s energy policy, and with potentially grim consequences for its already stalled attempts to reduce CO2 emissions. It was telling that in the same week as a court blocked the restart of two nuclear reactors on the Japan Sea coast – citing concerns over their vulnerability to a major earthquake – the government released emissions data showing just how far Japan has regressed since the more hopeful days of the Kyoto summit in 1997.

Proposal to relocate town of Bulga in NSW Hunter region for mine expansion will ‘destroy heritage’
A proposal to relocate the town of Bulga in the Hunter Region of New South Wales to make way for the extension of a mine, will destroy the town’s heritage, residents say. The extension of the mine could also negatively affect property values, according to the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC), an independent body set up by the NSW Government to scrutinise significant developments. The PAC put forward the proposal to relocate the town as part of its recommendations into an application to extend the Mount Thorley Warkworth Mine. The mine is coming to the end of its life and the owners, Rio Tinto, want to extract more than 230 million tonnes of coal over the next 21 years.

Built Environment

What the experts say: how to make our cities more sustainable
The growth of the city demands our attention. How can we make our cities better places to live, both for us and the planet, when they are expanding at such a phenomenal rate in many parts of the world? Of course, there are many things cities can do well, such as efficient public transport, utilities and social infrastructure. However, they have to be set against problems including gross inequality, resource-heavy construction and wasteful patterns of consumption. We recently brought together a panel of experts, including Professor Tim Dixon from Reading University, Lucy Warin from Futures Cities Catapult and Stephen Cook from Arup, to discuss some of these and other challenges.

Food Systems

New Zealand farmed pork loses ground to imports
Pork lovers take note – the chances of being able to eat New Zealand-farmed pork are diminishing by the year as foreign imports take its place. In January this year the percentage of imported pork hit the 52 per cent mark, or 50,000 tonnes. As recently as 2008, imports accounted for just 41 per cent but the figure has climbed as kiwi farmers have withdrawn from the industry. It is a far cry from the 1980s when New Zealand was a pork exporter, albeit on a small scale. The nation’s farmed pig population has been on a downward slide since 2004, when numbers were 388,000. They now stand at 285,000, although improvements in feed and genetics mean the amount of meat obtained off an individual pig is much greater than in the past.

Gulf fishermen pin ‘surprising’ banana prawn harvest on good management
AUSTRALIA – Fishermen in the Gulf of Carpentaria are crediting good fishery management for this year’s “surprising” harvest of banana prawns.  Banana prawns rely on heavy rain during the wet season to wash inland river sediment and nutrients out to sea.  After an unseasonably dry wet season in the north, banana prawn stocks were expected to suffer… He said better management of the prawn fishery was the reason why the drier than average season was able to produce an average prawn harvest. “In 2007, we had a major restructure in the industry and we reduced the fleet size by a further 35 per cent,” he said.  “I think that’s led to a higher level of escapement of this year’s cohort, which allows for more prawns to get back up into the river for the following year.”

Farmers under pressure as long drought refuses to ease in rural NSW
As the kangaroos and emus around her property die in the dry of the drought, May “Bushie” McKeown is doing all she can to keep her cattle alive. The 76-year-old has been on the land at Come By Chance, in north-west New South Wales, for almost all her life, and said she had never seen things so bad at Longview station. Her property has not seen decent rain since January 2012, and conditions are so harsh that “you can hardly stand up in the wind and see yourself in the dust”, Ms McKeown said. The drought has forced her to hand-feed her cattle every day for almost two-and-a-half years “[The property] is 6,000 acres and I usually run 250 breeding cows. At the moment we’re down to 50 of everything – about 30 cows and young stuff and a few bulls,” she said.

For Agriculture, California Drought Part of Broader Trend
The historic drought in California is making headlines across the United States, but any farmer, anywhere in the world, knows firsthand that this isn’t an isolated event. The weather everywhere is posing more and more frequent challenges. So, the issue before us today isn’t whether climate change is real, but how we adapt and respond to increasingly volatile weather. As someone who works for a company focused solely on agriculture, I can tell you that doing nothing is not a viable option. We must put all ideas on the table and commit to embracing solutions, wherever we may find them. Nobody is more vulnerable than farmers to the effects of climate change, but the success of growers impacts everyone – through, among other things, the price of food at supermarkets in developed countries and the overall availability of food in parts of the developing world. In short: A healthy, robust agriculture system plays a vital role in economic, social and political stability.


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