Sustainable Development News

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

Climate change ‘exacerbated’ Cyclone Pam damage, Climate Council says
Climate change exacerbated the damage caused by Cyclone Pam, which left a trail of destruction across Vanuatu, Australia’s Climate Council says. The statement was made in a briefing paper released by the Council, which found rising sea surface temperatures would mean more intense cyclones. “Higher surface temperatures can mean that you have higher wind speed and more damaging rainfall,” Amanda McKenzie from the Council said. “And what we saw in Vanuatu was in the lead-up to the cyclone, sea surface temperatures were well above average.”

China boosts solar goal for 2015 as it fights pollution
China will push this year to install almost 2 1/2 times as much solar capacity as the US added in 2014 in a race to clear its increasingly polluted air. The world’s biggest emitter of carbon aims to install as much as 17.8 gigawatts of solar projects in 2015, the National Energy Administration said Wednesday on its website. The NEA previously estimated 15 gigawatts would be added this year, according to a person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified, citing confidentiality requirements. The more ambitious goal may attract as much as 21 billion yuan ($4.3 billion) of additional investment to solar projects compared with the earlier plan, Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates.

Facing Polar Bears, Isolation, Researchers Explore Arctic Sea Ice
From January to June, in six-week stints, scientists are on board the Lance, a research vessel operated by the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI), to study how the ocean, atmosphere, snow, ice, and biology all interact in the Arctic amid a backdrop of significant warming. “Right now we’re just trying to take as much as we can, because this is a one-off opportunity to get this data,” said Amelie Meyer, an NPI oceanographer. “And nobody’s got it.”

A Call for Renewables From the Fossil-Fuel Center of the World
In a must-read report released this week on fast-changing energy markets, the National Bank of Abu Dhabi signals a once-in-a-lifetime opening for investors in Middle Eastern renewables and energy efficiency. The report, “Financing the Future of Energy: The Opportunity for the Gulf’s Financial Services Sector,” carries the imprimatur of researchers at the University of Cambridge and PwC. Australian readers will be familiar with the author of its forward: none other than Alex Thursby, CEO of the National Bank of Abu Dhabi, and previously the very successful chief executive of international & institutional banking at ANZ (Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd). What really jumps out, though, is where the report comes from, namely the epicenter of the fossil-fuel world. And while it focuses on investment opportunities in the political and economic union made up of the Gulf Cooperation Council — Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — its conclusions can be carried over in many ways to other parts of the world.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

EY on stranded assets: get out while you can – the analysis is shifting to longer term
A report by Ernst & Young on stranded assets has highlighted the competition renewable energy poses for long-term investors in traditional coal-fired, centralised energy generation. The report, which aligns with a growing body of analysis on the sector, highlights four areas of potential disruption that can make the fossil fuel-based energy sector assets effectively “stranded” as unprofitable, risky and in some cases obsolete. These assets include not only the coal deposits and gas fields, but also the power stations, distribution networks and associated infrastructure such as coal loading facilities. The four “x-factors” are: disruptive technologies such as renewable energy storage and carbon capture and storage technology; price competitiveness and uptake of renewable energy generation; debt and project finance; and global and domestic climate change policy.

Revealed: Gates Foundation’s $1.4bn in fossil fuel investments
The charity run by Bill and Melinda Gates, who say the threat of climate change is so serious that immediate action is needed, held at least $1.4bn (£1bn) of investments in the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies, according to a Guardian analysis of the charity’s most recent tax filing in 2013.

Students occupy Swarthmore college in fossil fuel divestment protest
Student activists have occupied a historic hall at Swarthmore College, the alma mater of the United Nations climate chief, demanding the university cut its ties to fossil fuels.  The sit-in at the liberal arts college in Pennsylvania launches a new wave of protests by campus divestment campaigners across the US that will culminate in an old-style teach-in at Harvard on 13 April.  Some 37 students and six alumni entered the finance and investment office of the university at about 9am on Thursday.

Environment and Biodiversity

Amazon rainforest soaking up less carbon as trees die young, study finds
The Amazon rainforest’s ability to soak up greenhouse gases from the air has fallen sharply, possibly because climate change and droughts mean more trees are dying, an international team of scientists said on Wednesday. The world’s biggest rainforest has soaked up vast amounts of carbon dioxide. Plants use the heat-trapping gas to grow and release it when they rot or burn, but the report said that role in offsetting global warming may be under threat. The study, of 321 plots in parts of the Amazon untouched by human activities, estimated the net amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the forest had fallen by 30 percent, to 1.4 billion tonnes a year in the 2000s from 2.0 billion in the 1990s. “Forest growth has flatlined over the last decade,” lead author Roel Brienen of the University of Leeds told Reuters of the findings in the journal Nature. At the same time “the whole forest is living faster – trees grow faster, die faster.”

One in ten wild bees face extinction in Europe
Almost one in 10 of Europe’s native wild bees face extinction, according to the most comprehensive expert assessment so far. The European Red List, drawn up by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, found 9.2% of nearly 2,000 species are threatened with extinction. Another 5% are likely to be threatened in the near future. Threats include loss of habitat from intensive farming, pesticide use, urban development and climate change. Jean-Christophe Vié, of the IUCN Global Species Programme, said the assessment was the best understanding so far on wild bees in Europe, but knowledge was incomplete due to “an alarming lack of expertise and resources”.

Who is winning the PR battle over neonicotinoids?
When a judge ruled last week that an injunction be lifted on the German chapter of the Friends of the Earth (FoE) so it could criticise the “bee-friendly” claims of a chemical giant’s pesticides, campaigners hailed it as a victory for freedom of speech. “Bayer Group has been shown up as a corporate bully, trying to silence campaigners who are standing up for bees,” heralded a press release from the environmental group. But the case, which focused on two domestic plant sprays whose packaging claimed they were not harmful for bees, is just the latest battle in a public relations war over the environmental credentials of n eonicotinoids .

Unbelievably Cute Mammal With Teddy Bear Face Rediscovered
You could call it one of the world’s longest games of hide and seek. For more than 20 years, the Ili pika (Ochotona iliensis), a type of tiny, mountain-dwelling mammal with a teddy bear face, had eluded scientists in the Tianshan Mountains of northwestern China. People have seen the furry critter only a handful of times since it was discovered by accident in 1983. In fact, people have spotted only 29 live individuals, and little is known about the animal’s ecology and behavior. Then, in summer 2014, researchers rediscovered the pika.

This Ili pika was seen last summer in China's Tianshan Mountains. Photograph by Li Weidong

This Ili pika was seen last summer in China’s Tianshan Mountains. Photograph by Li Weidong

Economy and Business

Business leaders call for low carbon EU energy union
Business leaders are urging European heads of state to make sure the bloc’s “energy union” promotes low carbon investment.The European Council meets on Thursday afternoon to set the direction of a plan, conceived in the wake of conflict in the Ukraine, to reduce reliance on Russian gas imports.Unilever, Heathrow and GlaxoSmithKline are among 22 signatories to a letter calling for the package to tackle the “escalating climate crisis” as well as geopolitical threats.The EU needs to invest more than €2.5 trillion in energy infrastructure over the next decade, they wrote, “the vast majority of which is needed for capital-intensive low carbon infrastructure”.

Study: cost of climate change to become ‘serious challenge’ by 2040
Economists have said that the cost of climate change could increase significantly over the coming decades and become a “serious challenge” for businesses by 2040. They have urged businesses to consider the true financial costs of climate change in order to prepare for the future. The study was led by the Global Climate Adaption Partnership with Daniel Black & Associates and researchers at the University of Manchester and the University of Bath. The study mapped key risk factors from climate change for a housing and care and support services provider

Ben & Jerry’s wants to scoop you up into its new climate campaign
It seems the traditional milk float wasn’t quite up to scratch for the new global campaign from Ben & Jerry’s, which aims to stir up civil action on climate change. Instead, Ben & Jerry’s has enlisted a very different zero-emission vehicle to deliver dairy produce – a custom-designed Tesla Model S, which will be driven around the world handing out free ice cream as part of the new Save our Swirled initiative. Sadly, the campaign will not herald a new flavour from the iconic brand, but Ben & Jerry’s does hope to convert half a million people to become climate activists by the end of the year, when world leaders are expected to gather in Paris to sign a global deal on climate change.

Sustainability a bottom-line driven trend for clubs sector
The licensed clubs sector in Australia has seen the balance sheet benefits of improving sustainability of its built assets. In areas as far flung as Mt Isa, Dubbo, Sydney, the Illawarra and the Mornington Peninsula, clubs are changing how they operate and embarking on energy-efficiency upgrades, renewable power, rainwater harvesting and better managing food waste. The sector’s 6500 licensed clubs nationwide, all not-for-profits, range from bowling clubs and football clubs to workers clubs and Catholic clubs. A KPMG census of the sector last year found that in NSW, clubs generate $3.2 billion in economic benefits; employ 42,000 people, including 20,000 people in regional areas; and have a total of 5.7 million members across the state.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Rubbish from as far away as Madagascar found washed up on Tasmanian beaches
Volunteers have returned to Hobart with almost 80,000 pieces of rubbish they collected from remote beaches of Tasmania’s west coast. Twenty-seven people spent eight nights at sea on a fleet of fishing boats going from beach to beach, from Low Rocky Point to the mouth of Port Davey, in an annual effort to clean up the beaches. Some they visited are so remote they are not accessible by road, but their World Heritage listing does not protect them from rubbish.

Politics and Society

Solar success holds key to Paris deal, says UK climate envoy
The roaring success of solar power has transformed the green economy from “hypothesis to a reality”, and made the prospects of a global climate change deal more likely now than ever before. That is the view of Greg Barker, the UK prime minister’s special envoy on climate change and former government minister, reflecting on clean energy progress in the past five years.While governments were nervous about committing to a low carbon future at the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, he believes they now trust the alternative cleaner energy sources on offer.

‘More Than Scientists’ Campaign Hopes to Humanize Climate Scientists
More Than Scientists, launched this week, brings together climate scientists, advocacy organizations and the public in a campaign that offers a glimpse into the stories, views and feelings of various experts on climate change. The campaign shares their personal perspectives — not on the science itself, but why it matters for future generations. More Than Scientists is a growing community of climate scientists stepping out from behind the data to share their stories. From leading universities such as MIT, University of Washington and Harvard, they are parents, artists, hikers and musicians sharing their hopes for the future and what they fear will happen if we don’t act now to reverse the impacts of climate change.

High-end Laos resort serves up illegal wildlife for Chinese tourists
Lying on the banks of the Mekong River, the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone is a large resort city catering especially to Chinese tourists and run by the Hong Kong-based Kings Romans Group… The report calls the zone a “lawless playground” with “not even a pretence of enforcement”. Indeed, even in a region of the world where wildlife trafficking is rampant and consumption of endangered species common, the report’s findings are shocking. At the God of Fortune restaurant, for example, undercover investigators viewed a live, caged bear cub and python – both of which were “available to eat on request,” according to the report. The menu also openly included such fare as bear paw, monitor lizards, pangolins, geckos, and a variety of snakes and turtles. And one could wash all that down with a jar of purported tiger bone wine.

Conservationist murders threaten Costa Rica’s eco-friendly reputation
As darkness falls on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, dozens of giant reptiles emerge from the sea and drag themselves laboriously onto the shore at Moín Beach.  Every night throughout the nesting season, from March to July, leatherback turtles crawl beyond the tideline to lay scores of eggs in holes laboriously scraped in the sand.  Each turtle can lay up to 80 of the cue-ball-sized eggs, but only a fraction remain safely in their nests: most are plundered by poachers who sell them on the black market as aphrodisiacs. It’s a lucrative trade for the poachers, but disastrous for the turtles, which have been pushed to the brink of extinction by the illegal trade.

In recent years, conservationists have joined in the race to find eggs, which were reburied in a secure location. But frustrated poachers soon began to retaliate with attacks on the volunteers. In May 2013, the conflict culminated in the murder of 26-year-old conservation activist Jairo Mora. Kidnapped while collecting turtle eggs, Mora was beaten and dragged behind a car until he died of asphyxiation in the sand.

Watch Six-Year-Old’s Gripping Video on Climate Change
From partly bare hillsides once covered in snow to intensifying forest fires, Montana first grader Noah Gue says he’s seen climate change “with my own eyes.” The six-year-old looks into the camera in a compelling three-minute video that his parents produced, and talks about how rising temperatures are affecting his family—his dad’s a firefighter—and the landscapes near his home in Bozeman. “Glaciers are receding and could soon be gone forever … Some animals may go extinct in the next century … It’s time for the world to see conservation through a kid’s eyes,” he says in “Noah’s Project,” which will be honored Friday at the White House.

Food Systems

Supermarkets starting to dictate pesticide use
A US expert says big business, rather than science, is starting to dictate the amount of pesticides used on fruit. Dave Sorensen investigates post-harvest pesticide residues in California, and attended this week’s citrus industry conference in Mildura. He said what happens in the packing shed was increasingly being driven by consumers and supermarkets, which wanted perfect looking fruit with a minimum of spraying.


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