Tuesday 23 August 2016
Sustainable Development News
Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Liebreich and McCrone: Electric vehicles – It’s not just about the car
One of the key characteristics of complex systems, such as the world’s energy and transport sectors, is that when they change it tends not to be a linear process. They flip from one state to another in a way strongly analogous to a phase change in material science. We have written about this before, for instance here and here. A second important characteristic of this type of economic phase change is that when one major sector flips, the results rip through the whole economy and can have impacts on the societal scale.
Energy and Climate Change
Australia’s new focus on gas could be playing with fire
Gas is back on Australia’s agenda in a big way. Last week’s meeting of state and federal energy ministers in particular saw an extraordinary focus on gas in the electricity sector. While the meeting promised major reform for the energy sector, the federal energy and environment minister, Josh Frydenberg, highlighted the need for more gas supplies and “the growing importance of gas as a transition fuel as we move to incorporate more renewables into the system”. Gas is certainly a lower-carbon energy source than coal, but gas prices have soared as Australia begins shipping gas overseas. So what might this mean for energy and climate policy?
Energy storage sector calls for grid contracts clarity to ignite ‘smart power revolution’
The business case for energy storage is being undermined by many uncertainties within the burgeoning sector, such as limited revenue streams and grid services contract availability, according to new research from renewable energy purchaser and supplier SmartestEnergy.
6 ways to personally divest from fossil fuels
A couple years ago, I began to discuss the idea that the end of the internal combustion era finally was in sight, along with the overall rapid decline of a fossil fuel-driven world. I think some folks felt it was a premature pronouncement — yet in more recent days, the prediction has begun to pick up momentum. Recent climate talks, scandals by Volkswagen and the emergence of ever-more electric vehicle platforms have combined to give further weight to my prediction. To be clear, I think we will see the end of fossil fuels as the predominant fuel source for the world within our lifetime — and the reign of the internal combustion engine has a scant two decades left.
Environment and Biodiversity
A widening 80 mile crack is threatening one of Antarctica’s biggest ice shelves
For some time, scientists who focus on Antarctica have been watching the progression of a large crack in one of the world’s great ice shelves — Larsen C, the most northern major ice shelf of the Antarctic peninsula and the fourth largest Antarctic ice shelf overall. Larsen C, according to the British Antarctic Survey, is “slightly smaller than Scotland.” It’s called an ice “shelf” because the entirety of this country-sized area is covered by 350-meter-thick ice that is floating on top of deep ocean waters. The crack in Larsen C grew around 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) in length between 2011 and 2015.
Can Madagascar get rid of this troubling toad before it’s too late?
In early 2014, biologist Jonathan Kolby was working with a group of amphibian researchers in Madagascar when they received a surprising email from a man living outside of Toamasina, the country’s major port city. He’d attached a picture of a brown toad never before seen on the tropical island nation known for its rich biodiversity. Intrigued, the researchers found the man’s house, just next to a nickel refinery, but they didn’t expect to find the toad. The man assured them that wouldn’t be a problem. “Wait 10 minutes,” he said. Shortly afterward, as dusk fell, they stepped outside and immediately saw half a dozen Asian toads. “Big, fat breeding-size adults,” recalls Kolby, a Ph.D. candidate who studies amphibian diseases at Australia’s James Cook University. “We were like, ‘Shit, this is bad.’”
Health Check: should kids be given antibiotics in their first year?
Two-thirds of children have already received antibiotics by the time they are one year old. Antibiotic use is increasing in Australia, which directly affects the development of antibiotic resistance. This is now at crisis levels, meaning some infections are becoming untreatable. So if you have a ten-month-old baby, what do you need to know? What do you need to ask your GP about the benefits and risks of antibiotics?
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AUSTRALIA – The EPA is letting mines in northern NSW self-monitor pollution – with some bizarre results. A pollution monitor near some of the state’s biggest coal mines has been found to generate wild data swings – even negative ones – despite receiving preliminary approval from the NSW Environment Protection Authority. James Whelan, a researcher for Environmental Justice Australia, analysed seven months of data from the Maules Creek monitor, which is supposed to track air quality of nearby mines owned by Whitehaven and Idemitsu in the Namoi Valley.
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As the National Parks Service turns 100 this week, we look at how receding ice, extreme heat and acidifying oceans are transforming America’s landscapes, and guardians of national parks face the herculean task of stopping it
Economy and Business
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A total of 91, 300 electric vehicles were sold in Europe in the first six months of 2016 – a 21 per cent year on year increase. This data includes both all-electric (EV) and plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV) passenger vehicles, as well as light commercial vehicles such as delivery vans.
Waste and the Circular Economy
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Keeping materials cycling throughout the economy is good, right? Perhaps not, if you haven’t considered exactly what materials you’ve got re-entering the loop. Unfortunately, we don’t know all the substances contained in the products and built environment around us, or understand the health impacts that can occur as a result of the accumulation of certain chemicals. Creating pure material flows is a crucial value driver for the circular economy, offering economic and health benefits.
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Manufacturers of footwear, furniture and computers that wish to use the EU Ecolabel will now have to comply with new strict criteria including more recyclability. The new criteria also focus on the ability to repair products and overall environmental performance, product safety and social aspects.
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Cities across the United States continue to take a quantity-over-quality approach to waste management that often leads to inefficient, expensive and confusing outcomes. It’s time to rethink recycling strategies. While recycling remains a great way to reducing upstream impacts of mining virgin materials to make products, the current “recycling religion’s” emphasis on setting weight-based goals fail to address many varying environmental benefits of disparate materials. Meanwhile, technologies are changing faster than our dated recycling systems can adapt to.
Politics and Society
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Balancing the environment with development is tricky. One way for policymakers to include the value of ecosystems in development is to set limits for pollution and other environmental impacts, known as environmental bottom lines (EBLs)… The combination of listing bottom lines while looking for the best economic return can lead to perverse outcomes… So how can we make better policy that actually helps the environment?
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AUSTRALIA – State and federal energy ministers hailed progress they made in their COAG Energy Council summit late last week, but they may have condemned Australia to another great big investment bubble – this time in gas infrastructure. The meeting of ministers… resulted in a couple of promising steps that may help contain price surges of the type seen in recent months, but it seems to have ducked action on the critical issues.
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Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike declared this weekend that sustainability will be a key objective of the Tokyo Olympics 2020. Tokyo 2020 is committed to being cleaner and more transparent in addition to being “faster, higher, and stronger” under the Olympic charter.
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Hunched over her laptop, eyes locked on the screen, Marième Seye listens to the step-by-step instructions given by her teacher. The 18-year-old isn’t studying math or history, however. With 24 other Senegalese students, she is learning to develop a mobile app to raise awareness about the environment.
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AUSTRALIA – A network of proposed waterway improvements around Canberra will restore the natural landscape and could even reduce temperatures in summer, according to a local ecologist. Up to 25 waterway improvement projects will go ahead as part of a $93.5 million clean-up of Canberra waterways funded by the ACT and Federal governments. Professor Ross Thompson from the University of Canberra said the projects would help repair damage and pollution caused by Canberra’s vast concrete stormwater system.
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AUSTRALIA – The government will spend $33 million over the next two years – funded from recently announced Victorian green bonds – to “reboot” the program, with energy and carbon reduction projects… The projects are expected to repay the initial investment after five years. The overall program is expected to save $6 million a year over 15 years, cut 25,000 tonnes of CO2 a year, and create hundred of new jobs in the energy efficiency sector.
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NEW ZEALAND – An inquiry into Havelock North’s contaminated drinking water needs to look at the role of intensive agriculture, the Green Party says. The government has ordered an inquiry after an estimated 4100 people in the town were hit by gastric illness, which in about 500 cases is confirmed to be due to campylobacter. The local council said the contamination is most likely to have come from cattle, sheep or deer faeces.
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