Sustainable Development News, Thu 21 Aug 2014
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
Solar boom drives first global panel shortage since 2006
The solar industry is facing a looming shortage of photovoltaic panels, reversing a two-year slump triggered by a global glut. The oversupply pushed prices through the floor, making solar power more competitive and driving up demand. It also dragged dozens of manufacturers into bankruptcy, and slowed capital investment at the survivors. With installations expected to swell as much as 29 per cent this year, executives are bracing for the first shortfall since 2006. Scarcity will benefit the biggest manufacturers, including China’s Yingli Green Energy and Trina Solar. A shortage may slow development outside the top markets in Asia and North America if suppliers favor their largest customers. Shipments to large, utility-scale solar farms may get priority over smaller, rooftop systems, threatening one of the industry’s fastest-growing markets.
Restructured Queensland business tariffs could be catastrophic: Australian Solar Council
Australia’s peak solar power body says a change in the way some Queensland businesses pay for their electricity could be catastrophic for the renewable energy industry. Under restructured business tariffs, actual energy costs could go down for some companies but the fixed costs, or service fees, will take up a larger portion of the bill. John Grimes from the Australian Solar Council argued higher fixed fees attacked the business case for renewable energy, at a time when the technology was emerging as an affordable alternative.
Greenpeace and TEC strip greenwash from energy retailers
Greenpeace and the Total Environment Centre have released a guide to assess the nation’s retail electricity providers against seven criteria, including investments in fossil fuels or renewable, carbon emissions intensity of assets, support for the Renewable Energy Target, solar offers, GreenPower products, investment in coal seam gas and commitment to not buying electricity generated by burning native forest products. In some states, the assessment showed found no provider that met all seven criteria, and that claims of sustainability was often no more than smoke and mirrors. “The biggest greenwashers by far are the top three energy retailers – EnergyAustralia, AGL and Origin Energy – which provide electricity to over three quarters of Australian households,” senior Greenpeace campaigner Reece Turner said.
Carbon tax will be back, industry believes
Major polluting companies believe a carbon price will be reintroduced in Australia some time in the future, according to the first business survey released after its repeal. The survey of major Australian energy, mining, construction and manufacturing firms also found that 77 per cent of those who responded did not believe the repeal of the carbon price scheme was likely to reduce their overall costs. Led by Deakin University, the study was carried out between April and June this year – before the repeal was passed by the Senate, but when there was a general expectation it would occur. The survey was sent to 436 firms required to report their emissions to the federal government annually. About 20 per cent – 87 companies – responded. The responses were given on the condition of anonymity.
IKEA switches on solar in Queensland
IKEA has started to turn on the solar panels installed as part of Australia’s largest commercial project, with a 741 kilowatt system at Logan in Queensland switched on today (Wednesday). IKEA announced in May it was in the process of installing close to four megawatts of solar panels this year over 32,000 square metres of roof space, with an estimated output of 5.5 gigawatt-hours. IKEA is the first major retailer in Queensland to install solar. Logan store manager Richard Harris said he hoped that taking tahe first steps would inspire other businesses to follow suit.
Why the Current Mass Extinction Matters
More species are becoming extinct today than at any time since dinosaurs were wiped off the face of the Earth by an asteroid 65 million years ago. Yet this bio-Armageddon, caused mainly by humans, is greeted by most of us with a yawn and a shrug. One fewer bat species? I’ve got my mortgage to pay! Another frog extinct? There are plenty more! In his new book Australian anthropologist Thom Van Dooren tries to break through this wall of indifference by showing us how we’re connected to the living world, and how, when a species becomes extinct, we don’t just lose another number on a list. We lose part of ourselves. Here he talks about grieving crows and urban penguins—and how vultures in India provide a free garbage-disposal service.
Drought in California – in pictures
As the severe drought continues for a third year, water levels in the state’s lakes and reservoirs are reaching historic lows.
If You Think the Water Crisis Can’t Get Worse, Wait Until the Aquifers Are Drained
Aquifers provide us freshwater that makes up for surface water lost from drought-depleted lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. We are drawing down these hidden, mostly nonrenewable groundwater supplies at unsustainable rates in the western United States and in several dry regions globally, threatening our future. Groundwater comes from aquifers—spongelike gravel and sand-filled underground reservoirs—and we see this water only when it flows from springs and wells. In the United States we rely on this hidden—and shrinking—water supply to meet half our needs, and as drought shrinks surface water in lakes, rivers, and reservoirs, we rely on groundwater from aquifers even more. Some shallow aquifers recharge from surface water, but deeper aquifers contain ancient water locked in the earth by changes in geology thousands or millions of years ago. These aquifers typically cannot recharge, and once this “fossil” water is gone, it is gone forever—potentially changing how and where we can live and grow food, among other things.
Economy and Business
UN Member States receive report on finance for sustainable development
The General Assembly formally received today an expert report setting out options that can be weighed by Member States on ways to finance the United Nations-driven sustainable development agenda, which will aim to improve people’s lives and protect the planet for future generations. The report, forwarded to the Assembly by the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing,established that, with appropriate reallocation, a robust $22 trillion in annual global savings could meet the financing needs for sustainable development in the future. Asserting that most resources were not allocated to where they are most needed, the Committee noted that even a small shift in appropriations would have an enormous impact – improving people’s lives and protecting the planet for future generations.
Climate change to cut South Asia’s growth 9 per cent by 2100, Asian Development Bank warns
Climate change will cut South Asia’s growth almost 9 per cent by the end of the century unless world governments try harder to counter global warming, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) warns. According to the ADB’s report, titled Assessing the Costs of Climate Change and Adaptation in South Asia, the costs of countering climate change in South Asia will also increase over time and will be prohibitively high in the long term. Gross domestic product (GDP) losses are projected at 12.6 per cent for the Maldives, 9.9 per cent for Nepal, 9.4 per cent for Bangladesh and 8.7 per cent for India by 2100.
Waste and the Circular Economy
Novelis Doubles Aluminum Recycling Capacity in Brazil
Novelis, global producer of aluminum rolled products, has announced a $106 million investment that will add 100,000 metric tons of coating capacity and 190,000 metric tons of recycling capacity at its Pindamonhangaba facility in São Paulo, Brazil. The investment in the recycling center supports the company’s long-term commitment to increasing the recycled content in its products to 80 percent by 2020. With this expansion, the plant’s recycling center — already the largest in South America — will nearly double its capacity from 200,000 to 390,000 metric tons per year when fully commissioned later this year.
Circular economy principles help NHS meet cost and environmental targets
Three sustainability and waste experts on what the healthcare system can gain from circular economy principles…
Politics and Society
From the Reef to the RET: the politicisation of environmental science in Australia
The future of Australia’s climate and respect for environmental science stand to be the biggest losers in all of the forms of class-mobilised politicisation that are impacting Australia currently. Somewhere between the vocation of politics and the vocation of science, Australia has lost its way – to the point where our international standing is seriously on the line. Sociologist Max Weber argued ‘politics is the art of compromise’, while science is able to deliver societal progress for those who will listen to it. Neither are being achieved in Australia at the moment. The government is perfecting a paradigm for how to lose friends and alienate people, and bases its advice on those who have neither scientific method or credibility. This is a dangerous reductivism.
Climate change scientist calls on colleagues to speak up on global warming debate
One of Australia’s most senior climate scientists has called on his colleagues not to sit on the sidelines of the political debate about global warming and other environmental issues, given the evidence they present asks society to consider fundamental changes. In a speech to be given to the Australian Academy of Science on Tuesday evening, Dr Michael Raupach will say environment scientists’ position in the public debate had changed because they were now presenting evidence requiring society to make major choices in response. Dr Raupach, who heads the ANU Climate Change Institute, told Fairfax Media ahead of the speech ”Exhibit A” was human-induced climate change. “To pretend that science, and in particular environmental science, can remain at the side of that debate is simply no longer tenable,” he said. ”And any statement environmental science chooses to make carries implications about those choices and there is a very important call for the scientific community to be fully engaged in that public debate, fully participating in it.”
Criticism over Great Barrier Reef deals for Gina Rinehart’s mining company
Australia’s system of environmental protections has been labelled “broken” after it emerged that Gina Rinehart’s mining company was able to negotiate down a compensation payment demanded by the government. Documents obtained under freedom of information show that the previous Labor government demanded $800,000 a year in “biodiversity offsets” from GVK Hancock due to the environmental impact of its proposed coal terminal in Queensland. But the documents state GVK Hancock considered this amount “excessive” and put in a counter-offer of $375,000 a year. The government acquiesced to this bargaining, with a figure of $600,000 a year eventually deemed an “adequate” amount.
Water = A Key to Education for All
Quick, avoid the peacock! Watch out! Throw the boomerang! Grab that mango! Because Maya’s community’s water pump has broken down, she is forced to withdraw from school to fetch water for her family. But, with your help, “Phew,” Maya has filled up her water bucket and is back in school. These are just a few of the components of the video game “Get Water.” The free, downloadable game is fun and requires quick reactions and dexterity, so much so that I’ve only reached the first several levels. But it also has a larger purpose — to educate the player (usually subtly) of the direct connection between access to clean water and the ability for girls to get an education.
Four mobile-based tools that can bring education to millions
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”, Nelson Mandela is famed for saying. Yet access to good quality learning is still denied to millions around the world, particularly in developing countries where teaching standards and education facilities are often poor. The ubiquity of mobile phones is presenting educators with a new, low-cost tool for teaching. Here we look at four mobile-based solutions delivering real results for low-income learners.
Support local, sustainable fisheries, say the experts
While the oceans are vast, they’re not inexhaustible, says Elizabeth Fitzsimons, outreach manager for the New England Aquarium’s sustainable seafood programs. According to the World Bank Sustainable Development Network, approximately 85 percent of the world’s ocean fisheries are categorized as fully exploited, over-exploited, or depleted. One reason for at-risk fish is consumer preference for tastes that are already familiar. In this country, says Fitzsimons, “We eat so little of what actually is available.” Three varieties — shrimp, tuna (mostly canned), and salmon — make up 55 percent of the seafood Americans eat. The top 10, which also includes tilapia, Alaska pollock, catfish, crab, and cod, add up to 88 percent. Of those, only wild salmon and pollock are caught in any significant quantity off coastlines in the United States; the majority of the others are imported.
New technology helps farmers conserve fertilizer and protect their crops
We have a nitrogen problem. Nitrogen is essential to our existence, a required nutrient for the plants we eat. It is the broad swath at the bottom of our own human food pyramid and it is applied by farmers to agriculture fields all over the world. From there, much of it is lost to the atmosphere, as a greenhouse gas 300 times as potent as carbon dioxide. Still more of it leaches into waterways, creating dead zones, like the ones that inevitably creep up in the Gulf of Mexico, decimating fish populations. Researchers at Cornell University are hoping they’ve created the beginnings of a solution. Adapt-N, a software program developed after years of research, aims to help farmers simultaneously save money and mitigate these environmental impacts by giving them the information they need to determine how and when to apply nitrogen fertilizer to their fields.