Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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El Nino fuels hottest June and hottest six months on record: US agency NOAA
Global temperature records continued to tumble in June, as the strengthening El Nino in the Pacific combined with background warming from climate change. Land and sea-surface temperatures last month and for the first half of 2015 were the warmest in 136 years of records, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said on Monday. For the first half of 2015 alone, those surface temperatures were 0.85 degrees Celsius above the 20th century average, beating the previous record set in 2010 by 0.09 of a degree.


Energy and Climate Change

If we quit oil, then what?
For all our progress on clean energy, our cars and trucks remain reliant on petroleum, which still provides a full 92 percent of energy for transportation in the U.S. Environmentalists argue that we can and must transition the transportation sector off of it, since burning petroleum for transportation is responsible for a quarter of our greenhouse gas emissions… What if we switched out all of our gas-guzzlers for electricity guzzlers? A future of fully electrified transportation would boost electricity demand in a dramatic way. In fact, a full-scale conversion to electric transportation would require around a 35 percent increase in electricity demand.

Household sticky tape used to create high-tech, ultra-thin solar cells, ANU scientist says
Researchers have successfully used sticky tape to help build ultrathin and light-weight solar cells that could improve the way solar energy is collected, according to scientists at the Australian National University in Canberra…  The team used normal adhesive tape to create single-atom thick layers called phosphorene in the same way as the recent Nobel-prize winning discovery of graphene. The phosphorene works as a semiconductor, but is thinner and lighter than the silicon which is generally used in devices such as LEDs or solar cells.

Qld: The hierarchy of choices in energy management
Energy efficiency is a win for both sustainability and the bottom line, but according to director of Queensland based Negawatt Energy Solutions, which also deals in energy procurement, there is a hierarchy of choices driving market behaviour, and if the energy comes in cheaper the appetite for efficiency can slide dramatically.

One year on from the carbon price experiment, the rebound in emissions is clear
Just over a year ago, Australia concluded a unique public policy experiment. For the preceding two years and two weeks, it had put a price on a range of greenhouse gas emitting activities, most significantly power generation. Now, 12 months since the price was removed, is a good time to assess the results of the experiment.

Arnold Schwarzenegger: climate change is not science fiction
Arnold Schwarzenegger has been chosen by the French government to join Nobel prizewinners, philosophers, UN secretary generals, spiritual leaders and theologians to make the moral case for the world to act urgently on climate change. Talking at the world’s first summit of conscience for the climate on Tuesday – ahead of the crucial UN climate change meeting in the city in December – the Terminator star and former California governor declared the science debate over, saying planetary catastrophe could only be avoided with ethical action

Act on climate change now, top British institutions tell governments
An unprecedented coalition of the UK’s most eminent scientific, medical and engineering bodies says immediate action must be taken by governments to avert the worst impacts of climate change.  But the joint communiqué, issued by 24 academic and professional institutions, also says that tackling global warming would drive economic progress, benefit the health of millions by cutting air pollution and improve access to energy, water and food. To have a reasonable chance of keeping warming below 2C, the internationally agreed danger limit, the world must end all emissions within the next few decades, the communiqué warns.

Amber Rudd lays out DECC’s priorities for 2015 and beyond
UK Energy Secretary Amber Rudd has today (21 July) answered crucial questions on the Government’s approach to energy efficiency, fracking, renewable energy subsidies and climate change.  Rudd was questioned by the Energy and Climate Change Committee in Parliament this morning, as part of the Committee’s inquiry into DECC’s priorities for 2015.

Can UK’s solar industry survive without subsidies?
Energy experts believe a rumoured government plan to cut subsidies to solar could cripple the burgeoning industry just before it is able to stand on its own. Late last week the government issued ambiguous warnings that the solar industry’s days of living off top-ups from bill-payers were numbered. A cabinet source revealed to the BBC that the government view had hardened further towards green subsidies and a “big reset” was coming.

Solar and wind sectors brace for subsidy axe, as Rudd insists grid-parity is near
UK – The renewables industry is braced for a new wave of steep subsidy cuts, potentially as early as tomorrow, after Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd used her first appearance before a Commons Select Committee since the election to reiterate her view the sector needs to quickly end its reliance on subsidies. Speculation is mounting ministers will this week provide further details on their trailed “reset” of renewable energy support policies, with the solar industry fearing particularly steep cuts to a range of subsidies.

Coal Production Using Mountaintop Removal Mining Decreased By 62% Since 2008
Coal production from mines with mountaintop removal (MTR) permits has declined since 2008, more than the downward trend in total U.S. coal production. Total U.S. coal production decreased about 15% from 2008 to 2014. Surface production decreased about 21%, and mountaintop removal, one type of surface production, decreased 62% over this period. Lower demand for U.S. coal, primarily used to generate electric power, driven by competitive natural gas prices, increasing use of renewable generation, flat electricity demand, and environmental regulations, has contributed to lower U.S. coal production.

Environment and Biodiversity Blue marble - Earth

New ‘blue marble’ picture delights
Such images, which show the Earth in its entirety, are known as “Blue Marbles”. The latest of these was captured by the US DISCOVR earth observation satellite, which was launched in February this year. The original Blue Marble, taken by the crew of Apollo 17, is thought by some to be the most reproduced photo of all time.


How plankton help control clouds over the world’s most remote oceans
Most life in the sea ultimately depends on photosynthetic plankton. Also known as microalgae, these tiny or microscopic organisms live near the surface and take their energy from the sun and pass it on through the marine food chain. But these plankton have a big role to play above the surface of the sea too. In new study published in the journal Science Advances, colleagues and I found that plankton help to control clouds over remote seas far from land. These clouds in turn bounce the sun’s energy back into space, regulating the Earth’s climate and keeping temperatures cooler than they would otherwise be without them.

Study shows tropical fish genetically adapting to cope with warmer waters
As climate change continues to heat up the world’s oceans, many aquatic species will face increasing threats to their survival. But one little fish has found a way to genetically adapt. In an Australian-led study, researchers examined the genes of coral reef fish and the way they responded after many generations living at higher temperatures predicted under climate change… In a collaboration with scientists from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, researchers from James Cook University in Townsville identified 53 genes involved in long-term adaptation to higher temperatures.

The march of the king crabs: a warning from Antarctica
Hundreds of metres below the surface of the freezing ocean surrounding Antarctica, the seafloor is teeming with life. The animals living there have no idea that an army is on the brink of invading their tranquil environment. The army is composed of king crabs. Until 2003, there were no crabs in this fragile Antarctic ecosystem. Now, driven by warming waters, their arrival heralds a major upset.

How shrimp farming wreaked havoc on Sri Lanka’s coasts
We are not far from the ocean here. The air smells of salt and sulphur, of marine life. But the square of black, cracked mud in front of us, bounded by its four crumbling walls of sand, is no place for living things. It was previously a pond for cultivating tiger prawns, the lucrative species that was the reason for cutting the lush mangrove forest that once covered this area. The recent history of this abandoned place is sadly representative of the story of thousands of hectares in this region in the west of Sri Lanka.


Hume dam was at capacity in 2012 but the storage is now at 35 per cent

Hume dam was at capacity in 2012 but the storage is now at 35 per cent. Gaye Pattison: ABC Goulburn Murray


Drinking water shortage forecast for South West WA within a decade
AUSTRALIA – A report has found South West WA will not have enough drinking water to meet demand within about a decade. The Water Forever South West report shows the demand for drinking water will outstrip supply some time between 2020 and 2030. The report outlines the importance of securing long-term drinking water supplies for the region, with its drying climate and population forecast to double.

Water storages stay low in New South Wales despite rain
AUSTRALI A – Following three dry winters and hot summers, water levels in the major dams and storages in New South Wales are continuing to fall. Winter rains have not been heavy enough to provide the runoff necessary to fill up the big dams and shore up supplies for irrigators over summer. Grain growers have been welcoming the recent rains in many parts of the Central West and the Riverina.



Economy and Business

5 Questions to Ask Before Labeling a Business with the ‘S-Word’
We tend to call everything ‘sustainability,’ for the lack of a better term to describe the wide cross-section of business activities we deem ‘good.’ That does not make each fairly virtuous act sustainable. It doesn’t. Most of the mislabeled ‘good’ just compares favorably to a more deplorable, drummed-up alternative; it might be more bearable or better for the environment, but advantageous comparisons do not equate to sustainability… So, where does that leave the pool of consumers regularly bombarded with ostentatious claims? Here are five questions to ask before acknowledging business actions, behaviors or practices as sustainable.

EU carbon price tops €8 for first time since 2012
EU carbon allowances (EUAs) hit their highest levels since 2012 yesterday, breaking the €8 mark for the first time in years as the market continued its recent bullish sentiment. Trading of allowances for December reached a high of €8.01 before closing at €7.99 a ton on the ICE exchange. The performance represented the first time since 2012 that the carbon price had topped €8, continuing a recovery that saw prices slump below €3 in 2013 as the market battled with a glut of allowances caused by the financial crash and resulting slump in industrial production.

SunEdison continues global expansion with two major deals
International renewable energy firm SunEdison has expanded its solar portfolio with a $2.2bn deal, as well as securing a new channel to the UK energy market in a separate acquisition… SunEdison believes the move will establish a direct sales channel for UK residential and commercial expansion.

Gas giant Inpex multi-million dollar greenhouse gas offset program under fire
A multi-million dollar program designed to offset greenhouse gas emissions from the Inpex gas plant in Darwin has stalled, four years after the program was announced. The Icthys project, which includes a $33 billion gas plant at Blaydin Point, is predicted to emit 280 million tonnes of greenhouse gases over 40 years, an amount expected to increase Northern Territory emissions by 30 per cent. As part of Northern Territory and Federal Government approval to build the gas plant, Inpex committed to spend $91 million on environmental and social benefits in the Territory… [including] $37 million for a greenhouse gas offset program involving savannah fire management in the Daly River area and the Delissaville-Wagait-Larrakia Aboriginal Land Trust.

IKEA to Raise UK Employee Pay Above National Living Wage By 2016
IKEA will be the first national retailer in the United Kingdom to pay workers above the government’s new National Living Wage, BBC News reports. The Swedish furniture company said it would pay all of its 9,000 UK workers at least £7.85 (US $12.22) per hour hour starting in April 2016. Employees in London will be paid £9.15 ($14.40) an hour, reflecting the higher cost of living. The wage increase will affect around half of the company’s UK employees.

EU countries agree textile chemical ban
EU member states have agreed to ban a toxic substance widely found in clothing because it poses an “unacceptable risk” to the environment. Countries unanimously voted in favour of extending existing restrictions on nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPE) to imports of clothing and other textile products. The measure is intended to protect aquatic species. Use of NPE in textile manufacture in Europe was banned over 10 years ago but the substance is still released into the aquatic environment through imported textiles being washed.

Waste and the Circular Economy

New Genomatica-Cargill Collaboration Will Bring More Renewable Chemicals to Market
Sustainable chemical technology company Genomatica announced today it has partnered with Cargill to accelerate the production of renewable chemicals for industrial applications. The collaboration will give chemical producers, distributors and users access to a reliable, cost-effective source of carbohydrate feedstocks, co-location support services and production partnerships, based on GENO™ process technologies.

Politics and Society

We can prevent an epidemic of short-sighted kids with more time outdoors
Myopia, or short-sightedness, is a condition in which distant objects appear blurred, but closer objects can usually be seen in sharp focus. Its biological basis is an eye that, during childhood, has grown too long for its optical power. The focal plane for images of distant objects ends up in front of the retina, causing out-of-focus perception. Fortunately, mild to moderate levels of myopia can be readily corrected with spectacles, contact lenses or laser surgery, which flattens the front of the eye. But prevention is better than correcting the optical defocus. Fortunately, spending more time outdoors may decrease children’s chances of developing myopia.

Sydney’s Town Hall throws open doors to homeless community
Charging your phone or getting a haircut might not seem like a big deal, but it can be if you’re homeless.  Today, Sydney’s Town Hall threw its doors open to thousands of people needing those sort of simple services. Homelessness numbers have been slowly rising in Australia in recent years and some rough sleepers say that that’s putting a strain on day-to-day services.

Why Alan Jones could become a champion for wind, solar energy
One of the big problems for the wind and solar industries in Australia over the last few years has been the absence of a public champion for renewable energy. Sure, it’s had great support from the Greens, and Labor, and even the Coalition before the election of Tony Abbott, but there’s been no public figure who has galvanised the population. What if that person turned out to be Alan Jones?

Yes, Alan Jones. The radio shock jock deemed to have political views somewhere to the right of Genghis Khan; He who wanted Julia Gillard dumped in a chaff bag and thrown to sea; He who fronted a virulent anti-wind rally in Canberra, and who ridicules solar with his pronunciation – solarrrr; and He who elicits extraordinary comments from leading politicians, such as the “wind farms are offensive” remark from Treasurer Joe Hockey, and the “wind farms are ugly” and other, way too numerous comments from Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

How political engagement on social media can drive people to extremes
At a recent conference, NSW Police deputy commissioner Nick Kaldas noted concern at the increasing public visibility of right-wing extremism. He suggested that extremist groups’ “increasing use of online and social media strategies” is a factor in encouraging political radicalisation and “divisive notions of us and them”. Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane agrees that social media can play a role: “Part of it must have something to do with online mobilisation, the fact that you can attract attention and support more easily through social media and the internet.” Here, both Kaldas and Soutphommasane are highlighting that political debate around global issues is increasingly extended by online engagement across social media.

Built Environment

Improving air conditioner efficiency could reduce global warming, report finds
Improving the energy efficiency of air conditioners could save up to 100 billion tonnes of CO2 by 2050, according to new research from the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development (IGSD)… The findings from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California also call for the parallel phase out of hydroflourocarbon (HFC) refrigerants under the ongoing Montreal Protocol.

Food Systems

The scandal of the 89m tonnes of food binned while millions go hungry
A new report by the Overseas Development Institute, a London-based think tank, links progressively higher prices for healthy food to poorer diets that encourage weight gain. At the same time, millions of tonnes of fresh food go to waste – a phenomenon that a House of Lords committee described as “morally repugnant”.

Government announces new labelling system for Australian food
After a Cabinet meeting this morning Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce emerged for a joint announcement with the Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane on Country of Origin labelling. They outlined plans to use simple gold bar as the new national standard for showing whether food has been grown, made or packaged in Australia. The labels weave in the existing ‘Made in Australia’ green and gold kangaroo with a yellow bar showing whether a product was grown or made in Australia and the percentage of local ingredients.

This comic shows all you need to know about butchering chickens
About a year ago, I experienced something I never thought I would: the butchering of 75 chickens. And I wasn’t just an observer. I was an active participant. This comic [Ed: I think a better term would be cartoon] shows you, in great detail, what exactly happened.


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