Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Top Story

18 numbers that explain the BP oil spill (Infographic)
The Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico five years ago today, killing 11 men and sending nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the sea. After the well was finally plugged, the national media went home, but the story is still very much unfolding everywhere from federal courtrooms to Louisiana backyards. Let’s have a look back at the nation’s worst-ever oil spill, by the numbers.

Energy and Climate Change

Fossil Fuels Just Lost the Race Against Renewables
The race for renewable energy has passed a turning point. The world is now adding more capacity for renewable power each year than coal, natural gas, and oil combined. And there’s no going back. The shift occurred in 2013, when the world added 143 gigawatts of renewable electricity capacity, compared with 141 gigawatts in new plants that burn fossil fuels, according to an analysis presented Tuesday at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance annual summit in New York. The shift will continue to accelerate, and by 2030 more than four times as much renewable capacity will be added.

Harvard calculates health and environment costs of Victorian coal power
AUSTRALIA – Victorian coal power stations are causing billions of dollars of health and environmental damage, research out of Harvard University has found. The new figures, released by Environment Victoria, are based on the externalised social costs for electricity generators in Victoria, and estimate that brown coal generators in the Latrobe Valley are each causing between $500 million and $1.2 billion dollars worth of damage a year. “It has been known for a long time that burning coal causes health and environmental damage, but this is the first time research has attempted to quantify that cost in Victoria,” Environment Victoria Safe Climate campaign manager Dr Nicholas Aberle said.

Deep carbon emission cuts possible and inevitable, reports find
Australia’s abundance of renewable energy resources leaves it well-placed to exit fossil fuels altogether by 2050 at a manageable cost of the economy, according to an Australian National University report. The report, synthesising research by the CSIRO, ClimateWorks and other sources, argues that the country can tap solar, wind and other renewable energy sources in the order of 500 times the current power generation capacity. The power sector accounts for about one-third of Australia’s carbon emissions.

[Ed: The following two articles from different papers go to show what a difference perspective and a bit of spin make when reporting a story.  Both are published as a response to the release of an EPA report. Both are correct but make different points.]

EPA: US Greenhouse Gas Emissions Fall 9% Since 2005
Total greenhouse gas emissions generated in the United States increased by 2 percent from 2012 to 2013, but emission levels in 2013 were 9 percent below 2005 levels, according to a new annual report by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA’s 20th Inventory of US Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks tracks total annual US emissions and removals by source, economic sector and greenhouse gas going back to 1990. The agency uses national energy data, information on national agricultural activities and other national statistics to provide a comprehensive accounting of total greenhouse gas emissions for all man-made sources in the United States.

This Chart Shows How U.S. Carbon Emissions Are Rising—Again
U.S. emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide are rising again, posing a potential challenge to President Barack Obama’s climate pledge. In 2014, energy-related carbon emissions increased  for the second consecutive year, although by a smaller amount than in 2013, according to a report Monday by the U.S. Energy Information Administration or EIA. The uptick, after a few years of decline, suggests the United States could have a difficult time meeting its emissions target. Last month, ahead of historic climate talks in Paris, Obama pledged to reduce total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent, from 2005 levels, by 2025. The bulk (80 percent) of that total is energy-related carbon emissions, the remainder coming from other gases such as methane.

Explainer: the models that help us predict climate change
What will the weather be like next week, next season, or by the end of the century? In the absence of a second Earth to use in an experiment, global weather and climate model simulations are the only tools we have to answer these questions. Having access to this information is vital for the community, government and industries to make informed decisions – this includes sectors like tourism, natural resource management, agriculture and emergency services to name a few. Weather and climate may never be completely predictable, but the science has now come far enough for us to be more confident when it comes to knowing whether it will rain this afternoon and for projecting what Australia’s climate may look like many decades in the future.

The dangers of deep sea oil drilling: NZ’s shocking safety record revealed
It has taken a request under the Official Information Act to reveal a series of serious safety incidents on deep sea oil drilling ships in New Zealand waters. Until now, the Government and petroleum corporations have continuously reassured Kiwis that deep sea drilling was taking place without incident off our shores, but new information finally has been made public that indicates otherwise. A 3 News report revealed a growing list of dangerous incidents occurring in the petroleum industry operating in New Zealand. The details were able to be obtained only by filing an OIA request.

Environment and Biodiversity

Successful conservation efforts recognized in revised ESA Humpback Whale listing
NOAA Fisheries proposed today to reclassify the humpback whale into 14 distinct population segments under the Endangered Species Act, providing a more tailored conservation approach for U.S. fisheries managers. Protection and restoration efforts over the past 40 years have led to an increase in numbers and growth rates for humpback whales in many areas. The humpback whale is currently listed as endangered throughout its range. The proposed rule finds that ten of those 14 populations do not warrant ESA listing.

Illicit drugs found in Adelaide waterways impact local environment, research finds
Small traces of illicit drugs found in six waterways in Adelaide’s north are affecting the health of the local environment, a local researcher has found. Researches collected 50 samples of water from Adelaide waterways and tested them for illicit drugs. Six samples returned positive results for very small traces of ecstasy, cocaine and methamphetamine. University of South Australia PhD student and lead researcher Pandian Govindarasu said his research did not include tests on humans, but conclusively showed the health of the environment was affected at a microbiological level.

Economy and Business

The Roadmap Series, Phase IV: Taking Sustainability to Scale
This series has been taking a dive into the five phases of sustainable business described in the Hagen-Wilhelm change matrix published in Making Sustainability Stick. We want to offer a roadmap for those working to change business from inside large organizations. By capturing and sharing over a decade of experience implementing these ideas, hopefully we can help accelerate success. Earlier posts introduce the matrix and go deeper on Phase I, Phase II and Phase III. Phase IV is getting to some rarified space. While there are groups or divisions within companies who are demonstrating phase IV behavior and results, there are few complete companies at this level.

What will the chief sustainability officer of the future look like?
The issue of sustainability has never been more urgent. In 2013, greenhouse gases were at their highest rate for 30 years and by 2030, the United Nations estimates that more than half of the world’s population will have difficulty accessing water.  In response, some corporations are tackling these issues through the creation of a role directly responsible for environmental and social impact – the chief sustainability officer (CSO).  Created through the implementation of corporate responsibility, one of the first CSOs in the world was appointed as recently as 2004. As such, the CSO’s role is still evolving. Nonetheless, according to a study published last year (pdf) by Kathleen Miller and George Serafeim from Harvard Business School, the lifespan of the CSO develops through three stages.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Chocolate company Ferrero to make packaging using Nutella leftovers
Nut producers around the world send tonnes of nut shells to landfill each year. But a few innovative projects suggest they might be binning a valuable resource. [For example,] Hazelenuts. Ferrero, the largest chocolate producer in the world, has come up with a particularly neat use for its hazelnut shells. The Italian company is the world’s biggest buyer of hazelnuts, using 25% of the world’s supply and making 180m kg of its Nutella spread each year, according to the Italian Trade Agency. As a result, it has plenty of hazelnut shells to play with.

Politics and Society

University offering free online course to demolish climate denial
Starting 28 April, 2015, the University of Queensland is offering a free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) aimed at “Making Sense of Climate Science Denial”. The course coordinator is John Cook, University of Queensland Global Change Institute climate communication fellow, and founder of the climate science myth debunking website Skeptical Science. Cook’s research has primarily focused on the psychology of climate science denial.

[Ed: Oh, I am definitely signing up for this one.  UQ’s platform for delivery is edX and you can access the course here.]

Here are 4 big pollution problems EPA has (mostly) fixed already
Acid rain. Toxic leaded gas fumes. Dangerous DDT. Rampant air pollution. These environmental challenges once seemed impossible to meet, and they put our nation’s air, water, and land at risk — not to mention our families’ health. The dangers they posed were real, but you probably haven’t heard about them in a while. There’s a good reason for that: We put smart policies in place to fix them. So this Earth Day, here’s a reminder of a few of the environmental challenges our nation has conquered with EPA leading the way, and a look at where we’re headed next.

Illegal trade in endangered wildlife thriving on eBay despite controls
Illegal online trafficking in imperiled wildlife is rampant, and attempted controls are few and largely ineffective. Log on to most any international internet store that deals in wildlife or wildlife parts, and you’ll find a charnel house of endangered and protected species hawked openly or under phony names and in violation of US law and international agreements. The world’s largest online marketplace by far, eBay, is one of the few that makes a serious effort to control wildlife smuggling by deleting ads for illegal products — but only the few it notices or hears about.

Dumping of markets advisory board is another independent voice lost
AUSTRALIA – When is reducing red tape not reducing red tape? When the phrase is used to support the removal of advocacy capacity within any sector of our community. Peak bodies, government bodies and other regulators and supervisory organisations are critical in protecting the interests of vulnerable people and the wider community. To remove the advocacy agencies that advise or comment, or to reduce the capacity of peak bodies to advocate, is to materially weaken the democratic process as well as place at risk those vulnerable people.

UWA vice-chancellor defends think tank linked to controversial environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg
AUSTRALIA – The University of Western Australia’s vice-chancellor has defended the establishment of a think tank linked to controversial environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg. Dr Lomborg has attracted controversy in the past for suggesting that the dangers of climate change are overstated and that alleviating poverty is a greater priority. The UWA Consensus Centre will use the methods of Doctor Lomborg’s Copenhagen Center. The Federal Government’s decision to provide $4 million to fund the UWA centre has been attacked by environmentalists while its Student Guild has called for the concept to be dumped.

Yeb Sano: Why I’m leaving diplomacy to fight climate change
To fellow pilgrims, movers, missionaries, activists, peace-lovers, and kindred spirits, allow me first of all to offer my sincerest Earth Day greetings to all.  This day is indeed a day to celebrate, but also a day to earnestly reflect on the state of our Planet.  Today, I wish to announce that I am stepping down as a Commissioner of the Philippines’ Climate Change Commission. I will be working with different faith groups across the world, as part of the larger global climate movement’ As we celebrate Earth Day, I am filled with gladness and hope as I join OurVoices as Leader of The People’s Pilgrimage.

Food Systems

Starbucks and Harris + Hoole share the dregs in ethical coffee rankingsEthical coffee shop rankings
Consumers have been urged to switch to independent coffee shops after major brands including Costa, Caffè Nero and Starbucks scored poorly in an assessment of their social and environmental impacts. As well as being penalised for its well-publicised tax avoidance, Starbucks was criticised for trade union violations, removing paid lunch breaks, political lobbying and a lack of commitment to sourcing sustainable palm oil. Caffè Nero was found to have little evidence of environmental or ethical sourcing, while Costa’s policies were described as “weak” in the ratings scorecard produced by Ethical Consumer magazine. Top of the ranking were the SOHO Coffee company, Esquires and AMT, with SOHO the only coffee chain whose coffee, tea and hot chocolate was all Fairtrade.

EU threatens Thailand with trade ban over illegal fishing
The EU has given Thailand, the world’s third-largest seafood exporter, six months to crack down on illegal fishing or face a trade ban on its fish imports. South Korea and the Philippines though have escaped the commission’s net after bringing in legal reforms and improved control and inspection systems.“The commission has put Thailand on formal notice, after identifying serious shortcoming in its fish monitoring, control and sanctioning systems,” the environment and fisheries commissioner, Karmenu Vella told a press conference in Brussels. “There are no controls whatsoever and no efforts being made whatsoever and illegal fishing is almost totally allowed.”


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