Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Energy and Climate Change

EU wants Paris climate deal to cut carbon emissions 60% by 2050
The world’s states should commit to a legally binding emissions cut of 60% by 2050, with five-yearly reviews, in a Paris Protocol to replace the moribund Kyoto agreement at a climate summit later this year, according to a leaked EU document. But environmentalists have questioned the integrity of the headline 60% figure, and a strategy which is seen as overly-tilted towards the US. “Major economies, in particular the EU, China and the US, should show political leadership by joining the Protocol as early as possible,” says the EU’s ‘Road to Paris 2015’ communication, which the Guardian has seen. “It should enter into force as soon as countries with a share of 80% of current global emissions have ratified it.

[Ed: And now read the fifth of Five ways that people frame climate change debates]

BP: Put A Price on Carbon, Let The Market Cut Emissions
One of the world’s six major oil and gas companies supports a global price on carbon – and no, this is not an early April Fool’s joke. In the latest version of its annual Energy Outlook report, BP recommends that governments set a meaningful global price on carbon emissions to level the playing field for businesses and let the market choose the best climate solutions.

Opinion: NZ ripe for electric vehicle conversion
Is electricity the new oil? Only the most optimistic and hopeful of people will believe that current low prices at the pump will endure: oil is becoming ever-more difficult to extract. Electricity, on the other hand, is becoming ever-easier to generate from clean, renewable resources. Increasing numbers of people are now making their own. And now you can drive your car with it. Trouble is, currently the electric vehicles (EVs) whirring around the cities all cost a pretty penny, and are out of reach for the average motorist. But that won’t be the case for long. The pricey bit of an EV is the lithium ion batteries, which are dropping in price by 6 – 8% per year. And don’t forget the average motorist with an EV is already saving about $2500 per year on petrol.

Fresh leak of highly radioactive water detected at Fukushima nuclear power plant
Sensors at the Fukushima nuclear plant have detected a fresh leak of highly radioactive water into the sea. Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said the sensors, which were rigged to a gutter that pours rain and ground water at the Fukushima Daiichi plant to a nearby bay, detected contamination levels up to 70 times greater than the already-high radioactive status seen at the plant campus. TEPCO said its emergency inspections of tanks storing nuclear waste water did not find any additional abnormalities, but the firm said it shut the gutter to prevent radioactive water from going into the Pacific Ocean.

Environment and Biodiversity

The Sex Lives of Slugs—and Other Mysteries of the Animal Kingdom
Looking at and wondering about our fellow creatures is a good first step toward saving them, says author. Simon Barnes is one of Britain’s best-loved sportswriters. He’s also a passionate wildlife enthusiast and conservationist. His new book, Ten Million Aliens: A Journey Through the Entire Animal Kingdom, is his deeply researched, often hilarious, compendium of stories about the weird and wonderful creatures that surround us—the ones few of us notice. Talking from his home in the marshes of Norfolk, England, he explains the difference between sport and wildlife, why hunting wasps shook Darwin’s belief in a benign creator, and how the mating habits of slugs make Fifty Shades of Grey pale by comparison.

Book review: Grass, Soil Hope – A Journey through Carbon Country
Former Sierra Club activist Courtney White set out to discover how we can mitigate climate change impacts through the sequestration of carbon in soil. Along the way, after visiting rooftop farms, ranchers, Australian graziers, marsh land regenerators and waterway rehabilitation projects, he discovered something else – if we take care of the carbon, by taking care of land with regenerative practices, there’s a whole bunch of other immediate and lasting benefits. These things include improved protection for coastal communities like New Orleans because the mangroves and estuary marshes buffer the force of storm surges – and they also sequester “blue carbon”.

Economy and Business

Dell on Mission to Measure Net Positive Impact of IT on Education, Healthcare, Logistics and Beyond
In Fall of 2013, Dell launched what it called its Legacy of Good plan — a set of 21 ambitious sustainability goals covering everything from its packaging and production materials to reducing the energy intensity of its entire product portfolio by 80 percent. But as David Lear, Dell’s executive director of sustainability, told Sustainable Brands in a recent interview, the company’s “capstone goal” was to understand what he asserts is the Net Positive value of information technology — proving that the value its customers gain from IT solutions are 10 times greater than the footprint of the technology. To that end, the IT giant has launched a project with Arizona State University that aims to measure the environmental impacts of students on campus vs. those who attend programs online.

Apple’s £1.25bn Europe data centres will run entirely on renewable energy
Apple has announced £1.25bn plans to build two data centres in Europe powered entirely on renewable energy. Chief executive Tim Cook said the developments in Galway, Ireland and Jutland in Denmark would be Apple’s largest-ever European project and would “introduce some of our most advanced green building designs”. At 120,000 sq m each, the centres will be among the largest in the world.

Green buildings and smart grids to the fore in latest Canary Wharf clean tech challenge
Canary Wharf’s plan to pilot a host of smart technologies have taken another step forward today, as the company’s Cognicity Challenge announced that 12 more clean tech firms have been selected to take part in the initiative. Launched last year, Canary Wharf Group’s Cognicity Challenge will select 36 clean tech start-ups across six streams, which will compete for funding and the chance to trial their smart city technology on the Canary Wharf estate.

Jobs versus the environment: the debate Queensland can end
The tension between the two aims of protecting the environment and promoting economic development has been a major factor in the unprecedented swings from Labor to the Liberal National Party and back again in the past two Queensland state elections. If Labor doesn’t want to fall foul of that trend again in three years’ time, it has a tricky balancing act ahead of it. Can Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk deliver on her pledge that “fundamentally it’s about job creation, kick-starting our economy, restoring our confidence and restoring our trust”, without undermining her environmental promises, including that “only Labor will protect the Great Barrier Reef”?

Deutsch Bank to invest €1bn in green bonds
Deutsche Bank has announced its intention to invest €1 billion (£730m) of its portfolio into green bonds, stating that the market “matured” last year and offers an opportunity to fund sustainable energy projects whilst achieving “attractive returns”. Green bonds operate in the same way as traditional bonds, paying out interests at fixed periods, but fund a range of environmental projects, from renewable energy sources to protecting the environment. Deutsche Bank explains that the fixed income instrument offers competitive returns.

Waste and the Circular Economy

The future of waste: five things to look for by 2025
The European Commission recently backtracked on an ambitious set of legislative promises on waste and recycling, including the phasing out of using landfill for recyclable rubbish and a commitment to cut food waste by 30% by 2025. Nation states and businesses had cried foul, claiming the targets were too exacting. Such lacklustre foot-dragging is sadly typical. So what disruptive measures might shake up the waste industry and trash the pessimism of those who fail to reform?

Scotland could use oil price crash to kick-start CCS
But regardless of what’s behind [OPEC’s decision not to restrict oil supply], one consequence has been big cuts in North Sea oil exploration and the accelerated decommissioning of related infrastructure. Shell’s recent announcement that it is to begin decommissioning the Brent Delta platform, weighing 23,500 tonnes and standing higher than the Eiffel Tower (pdf), is one example of this. While this is obviously bad news for Aberdeen and other centres of the extraction economy, decommissioning also brings opportunities, and Shell’s chairman has been talking up the potential for the UK to be a world leader in the sector. Although oil and gas is not usually a sector associated with positive environmental stories, decommissioning is a chance to buck the trend.

Politics and Society

Can civilisation continue? An Earth system scientist explains
The Conversation organised a public question-and-answer session on Reddit in which James Dyke, a lecturer in Complex System Simulation, discussed planetary boundaries and whether global industrialised civilisation is headed for collapse.

The year the climate ‘dam of denial’ breaks – ready for the flood? (Opinion)
This is the year the climate “dam of denial” will break and the momentum for action will become an unstoppable flood. It will be messy, confusing and endlessly debated but with historical hindsight, 2015 will be the year. The year the world turned; primarily because the market woke up to the economic threat posed by climate change and the economic opportunity in the inevitable decline of fossil fuels. That shift will in turn unlock government policy and public opinion because the previous resistance to action argued on economic grounds, will reverse to favour action on economic grounds. Before I argue for this conclusion, let me explain what I mean by the “dam of denial”, and why the concept is so important to understanding what’s underway.

Opinion: Pro-polluters should come out of the climate closet
Whenever someone uses the term “sceptic” to dignify a pro-fossil fuels fossil, there’s a certain linguistic cringe factor on the part of this little black duck. Let’s step back for a minute.  Surely someone who defends the “business as usual” approach of burning the limited carbonised remains of the dinosaur age to power the digital age instead of investing in the endlessly abundant solar/geothermal/wind/efficiency/biogas/innovation approaches is as much a Luddite as those who smashed textile looms to try and forestall the advance of mechanisation and steam power?

Deep ties to corporate cash for Willie Soon, a doubtful climate scientist
For years, politicians wanting to block legislation on climate change have bolstered their arguments by pointing to the work of a handful of scientists who claim that greenhouse gases pose little risk to humanity. One of the names they invoke most often is Wei-Hock Soon, known as Willie, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who claims that variations in the sun’s energy can largely explain recent global warming. He has often appeared on conservative news programs, testified before Congress and in state capitals, and starred at conferences of people who deny the risks of global warming. But newly released documents show the extent to which Soon’s work has been tied to funding he received from corporate interests.

Hunter Valley coal’s annual health bill $600 million, doctors groups say
The coal industry in the Hunter Valley could leave taxpayers with annual health bills running into the hundreds of millions of dollars and further mine expansion should be halted,  a report released by 28 health groups says. The Coal and Health in the Hunter report by the Climate and Health Alliance estimates that burning coal for electricity in the valley alone produces health damage in the order of $600 million annually from the resulting air pollution, including the release of small particles. The particulate matter from coal, measured in 2.5-10 millionths of a metre in diameter, “lodges into the linings of the blood vessels and causes inflammation and irritation, and leads to long-term cardio-vascular and lung disorders”, said Liz Hanna, president of the alliance and a research fellow in epidemiology at the Australian National University.

Five ways that people frame climate change debates
Framing happens in all sorts of contexts, from obesity to economic growth. Spotting frames is an invaluable skill because noticing a frame opens the door to looking outside it, where new and innovative ideas may be lurking.  In the case of climate change, framing abounds as CEOs, politicians, NGOs and many more besides vie to frame the debate to suit their agendas – not always with the best environmental outcomes in mind. But even when their intentions are good, they can remain unknowingly trapped in frames. With this in mind, here are five frames to help build your framespotting skills.


How Does Sustainability Research Fit Within Business Schools?
This is the fifth of six questions from a roundtable discussion with the directors of sustainability research centers at six top business schools.

Olivia Newton-John launches Bristol tree-planting project
All of Bristol’s 36,000 primary school pupils will get the chance to plant at least one tree as part of a global initiative launched by the pop star and actor Olivia Newton-John. Bristol is the first city in the world to roll out the One Tree Per Child initiative, which will also involve experts going into schools and talking to youngsters about the environment. Newton-John, who has planted over 10,000 trees at her home in Australia, said: “I believe that society benefits when young children get out, get their hands in the earth, and plant trees.

Built Environment

Common flame retardants linked to obesity
Chemicals commonly used as synthetic flame retardants in furniture, carpet padding and electronics have been found to cause metabolic and liver problems that can lead to insulin resistance, a major cause of obesity. The findings by University of New Hampshire researchers were based on animal studies, with lab rats exposed to polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, experiencing a disruption in metabolism resulting in the development of metabolic obesity and enlarged livers.


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