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Monday 22 September 2014

Sustainable Development News

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.

UN Climate Summit

Melbourne rally for climate change action attracts 30,000 people
Organisers of an international climate rally say the Melbourne leg of the global demonstration has seen 30,000 protesters converge on Melbourne’s Treasury Gardens on Sunday afternoon. Australia’s People’s Climate March is one of around 2500 rallies taking place around the globe ahead of a United Nations summit on climate change in New York next week. World leaders will meet on Tuesday where Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop will represent Australia. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said it is important he stay in Canberra but will head to the US the next day for a UN Security Council meeting on terrorism. “This is a clear testament that Australians want climate action regardless of what Tony Abbott and his government are doing right now,” GetUp! Campaigns chief of staff Erin McCallum said of the march on Sunday.

Climate change: Thousands march across the UK
Thousands of people have taken part in a march for climate action in London – one of more than 2,000 marches taking place around the world. Campaigners, including actress Emma Thompson and singer Peter Gabriel, marched along Embankment to a rally in Parliament Square. Other marches in the UK were taking place in Manchester, Edinburgh, Sheffield, Stroud and Dudley. Organisers said they expected more than 10,000 people to take part in London. Co-organiser Avaaz later claimed at least 40,000 people had participated. The rally heard from speakers including the Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres, and fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood. Actress Emma Thompson told the rally: “Climate change is the human rights issue of our time. No more are we the grungy hippies sitting in trees. We are the voice of the future – if there is to be a future.”

Ahead of UN Climate Summit, Global Treaty on Warming Looks Unlikely
Behind all the fanfare around this week’s UN Climate Summit, which will bring 120 heads of state to New York on Tuesday, looms one big question: Will the nations of the world agree on a path to avoid the most dangerous consequences of climate change, such as dramatic sea-level rise and extreme droughts and storms? The answer will not come during the official summit. This week’s event is not a negotiating session for the next international agreement; that will happen in December 2015, when countries that are signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meet in Paris. But it’s looking increasingly likely that the next big international agreement on climate change will not be a legally binding treaty like the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which required developed countries to reduce greenhouse gases by specific amounts (and which was rejected by the United States and, more recently, Canada).

UN climate summit: wealthy nations urged to donate to Green Climate Fund
As world leaders meet next week to plot the battle against climate change, representatives of richer nations will be tested for their willingness to foot the climate change bill for their poorer neighbours, the UN has said. High on the agenda will be the Green Climate Fund (GCF), a fund topped up by wealthier nations to help poorer nations tackle climate-related challenges and develop low-carbon economies. Though they have historically contributed relatively little of the greenhouse gas emissions that have accelerated climate change, developing countries are disproportionately vulnerable to its effects, such as extreme weather and falling crop yields.

Energy and Climate Change

Scientists reveal ‘fair system’ for countries to tackle climate change
Rich nations should make the deepest emission cuts and provide most money if countries are to share fairly the responsibility of preventing catastrophic climate change, says a major new study. Calculations by Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) scientists and Friends of the Earth suggest the UK would need to make cuts of up to 75% on 1990 emission levels by 2025 and would also need to transfer $49bn (£30bn) to developing countries. The US would have to cut slightly less, but transfer up to $634bn to make a fair contribution. But in a fair system of shared responsibility, most developing countries would be net receivers, says the report, released on ahead of Ban Ki-moon’s climate summit in New York on Tuesday. Kenya would receive $2bn, and be allowed to increase its emissions by more than 50%, while Peru would be allowed to double its emissions and receive $6bn.

High costs and a greener China expected to dampen thermal coal industry
New research by the Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI) has identified major financial risks for future investments in the international coal industry, supposedly caused by a domino effect initiated by slowing demand in China. The research, published earlier this week has determined that the industry as a whole could potentially peak as early as 2016, with an expected industry decline as demand for the fossil fuel decreases.

Environment and Biodiversity

Sneak a Peek at 9 Pictures of Sea Otters at Home
Sea otters are popular attractions both in aquariums and out in the wild: They bob and cavort, they use rocks to hammer away at shellfish, and they wrap themselves up in kelp to keep from floating away while they nap. But the animals were once heavily sought after for their fur. The fur trade decimated sea otter populations starting in the 1700s, eventually exterminating them from most of their historic range. They once stretched from Japan through Russia across to Alaska and down into Baja California. Now two subspecies inhabit coastlines from the Kuril Islands (map) in Russia over to the Aleutian Islands and down into Washington state, while the third lives off of California. Awareness campaigns such as the upcoming sea otter week—which runs from September 21 to 27—aim to educate people about the animals and how they still need our help.

Conservationists Spar With Fishermen Over World’s Largest Marine Monument
President Obama’s proposal in June to expand a marine sanctuary around seven U.S.-controlled islands and atolls in the central Pacific Ocean drew immediate praise from scientists and conservationists, but has since sparked opposition from representatives of the tuna industry, including fishermen in Hawaii who say it would threaten their livelihood. The tuna fishermen oppose the plan because commercial fishing is prohibited in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, which would increase from nearly 83,000 square miles to nearly 755,000 square miles (215,000 square kilometers to nearly 2 million square kilometers) under the plan Obama announced.

Dogs really can smell a dirty rat
NEW ZEALAND – A rodent sniffer’s work is seemingly never done. Chase and Bail’s careers started at 6 months old, with rigorous obedience training long before they even began to smell a rat, Plaisier said. “So you have full control of the dog when it’s grown up and exposed to endangered animals . . . If you do it wrong, you can do a lot of damage to wildlife.” Teaching the dogs what to ignore – from weta to kakapo – was as important as what to search out. “Once they’ve been around a few birds, they get into the frame of mind that they only care about rats and mice, because that’s the only thing the handler gets excited about.”

Economy and Business

Patagonia closes New York stores for climate march. What are other companies doing?
I recently had lunch with Mary Wenzel, a senior vice president at Wells Fargo who directs the bank’s environmental projects. The bank’s efforts are laudable: it intends to finance business opportunities that protect the environment to the tune of $30bn by 2020, it’s making its offices more efficient, it’s a big-time supporter of a nonprofit called Grid Alternatives that delivers solar power to low-income people, and so on.  But when I asked Mary whether Wells Fargo has declared itself to be in favor of a carbon tax or a cap on carbon dioxide emissions, she told me that, no, that’s a step the bank has not yet been willing to take. In that regard, Wells Fargo is typical of most big companies in the US.

Politics and Society

Human Ingenuity Can Fix Past Mistakes and Shape the Future
In her new book, The Human Age, Diane Ackerman, best-selling author of The Zookeeper’s Wife and A Natural History of the Senses, takes us on a journey into the Anthropocene: the era in which humans have both mastered and degraded the natural world. Ranging across the globe, she shows how our unique talent for self-awareness and our technological prowess can help us overcome today’s global challenges. Speaking a few days before what may be the largest ever climate change demonstration, in New York, she talked about the Frozen Ark, where the DNA of vanishing species is being collected, introduced us to an orangutan with an iPad and a group of Alaskan Inuits threatened by rising sea levels, and expressed her optimism about the future.

The human race evolved to be fair for selfish reasons
“Make sure you play fairly,” often say parents to their kids. In fact, children do not need encouragement to be fair, it is a unique feature of human social life, which emerges in childhood. When given the opportunity to share sweets equally, young children tend to behave selfishly but, by about eight years of age, most prefer to distribute resources to avoid inequalities, at least among members of their own social group. Biologists are surprised by this tendency to behave fairly. The theory of evolution by natural selection predicts that individuals should behave in ways to maximise their inclusive fitness.

Desmond Tutu: We fought apartheid. Now climate change is our global enemy (Letter)
On the eve of the UN Climate Summit, Desmond Tutu argues that tactics used against firms who did business with South Africa must now be applied to fossil fuels to prevent human suffering.

‘Australia is a Pacific island – it has a responsibility’
Before it became dominated by the United States’ effort to build a coalition for war with Islamic State, this week’s General Assembly of the United Nations was to have focused on climate change. So far Australia has been as vocal about the former as it has been silent on the latter. Speaking in the offices of his nation’s mission to the United Nations on Saturday afternoon, Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Tony de Brum said he and the leaders of other Pacific island nations were bewildered by what he called “backsliding” on climate change by Australia, which the region had considered to be its “big brother down south”. “Probably one of the most frustrating events of the past year for Pacific islanders is Australia’s strange behaviour when it comes to climate change,” he said.  Island nations had watched with dismay not only the abolition of the carbon tax in Australia, but also the defunding of scientific advisory bodies, said Mr de Brum. “It just does not make sense, it goes against the grain of the world.

Julie Bishop rejects UN request to strengthen Australian climate targets
Australia is refusing to take a plan for deeper cuts to greenhouse gas emissions to a special world leaders’ climate summit in New York next week, rejecting calls from United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who will represent the Abbott government at the conference on Tuesday, ruled out bringing to the table beefed-up emissions reduction targets, despite hopes the meeting would build momentum towards signing a new post-2020 global climate change deal in Paris next year.

Sustainable development must be doughnut-shaped
Is it possible for humans to fulfil their needs without also destroying the environment? It’s a question we need to find an answer to soon, as the world’s poorer regions demand the same perks that come with development. On one hand, people need to consume some of a region’s resources so that those living there can drink clean water, grow nutritious food and get access to health services and education. But such consumption comes with unavoidable impacts. If these impacts increase beyond a region’s ability to continue to provide services such as water, pollination, soil stabilisation and climate regulation then the process of development can actually hinder rather than improve people’s welfare and well-being. Striking the right balance is tricky and requires a new way of defining places that are both environmentally safe and socially just. Over the past two years, working with an international group of scientists, we have developed such a definition of safe and just operating spaces.

Food Systems

Sir Paul McCartney raps for Meat Free Monday campaign
Sir Paul McCartney has turned his hand to rapping in an attempt to persuade people to sign up for meat-free Mondays. The former Beatle, widely considered to be one of the greatest living songwriters, made the plea for people to go vegetarian once a week before the UN climate summit, which takes place on Tuesday in New York. In the video posted on YouTube, he says: “I need your help, all I want you to do is just log in on pledge.meatfreemondays.com and pledge your support to the idea of meat-free Mondays … Please do it. We’ll send all these pledges to the politicians, and then they’ll do something about it.”

American Farmers Are Growing Old, With Spiraling Costs Keeping Out Young
The latest U.S. Department of Agriculture farm census, released in May, showed the average age of principal farm operators is now 58 years old. That’s seven and a half years older than the average age of a farmer in the early 1980s. The aging of farmers presents challenges that transcend simple nostalgia for a more agrarian past. With the world population expected to bulge to nine billion by 2050—up from just over seven billion today—there are real concerns about having enough farmers to feed the future planet, agricultural experts say.

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