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Friday 24 July 2015

Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Top Story

Living Near A Lot Of Trees Makes You Feel 7 Years Younger (And $10,000 Richer)
The next time you’re hunting for an apartment or a house, maybe you should count the number of trees on the block. A new study found that living on a street with 10 more trees than average (both on the street and in people’s yards) makes you feel as healthy as if you were seven years younger—or as if you were making an extra $10,000 a year. Researchers already knew that living around green spaces makes people happier, safer, and that greenery can help reduce diseases like asthma by sucking up pollution. But the new study goes deeper to examine the benefits tree by tree.

Energy and Climate Change

Obama green lights Shell Arctic drilling
He may have secured plaudits from green business leaders for his new climate change strategy, but President Obama risked angering the environmental movement yesterday after his administration gave final approval to Shell’s plans to drill in the Arctic. The decision means Shell can start drilling exploratory wells in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of the Alaska. However, the awards represented only a partial victory for the oil giant as the approval from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) included a number of conditions that mean the company cannot drill in areas known to feature oil because its safety equipment is not yet fully ready.

NASA finds Greenland glaciers melting faster than thought
Greenland’s glaciers flowing into the ocean are grounded deeper below sea level than previously measured, allowing intruding ocean water to badly undercut the glacier faces. That process will raise sea levels around the world much faster than currently estimated, according to a team of researchers led by Eric Rignot of the University of California, Irvine (UCI), and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

Government kills off flagship green deal for home insulation
The UK government has effectively killed its flagship scheme to insulate homes because it says take-up has been too low, but has admitted it has nothing to replace the programme with.  The green deal was hailed as “transformational” and the “biggest home improvement programme since the second world war” by ministers when it was launched in 2013.  But the number of householders taking out the unique loans at the heart of the energy efficiency scheme were much lower than had been hoped, with just over 15,000 issued or in progress according to statistics.

Solar sector sets out ‘grid-parity’ roadmap following subsidy cut
The UK solar industry remains on track to deliver power without subsidies by 2020, but clearer and more stable support from the Government will be needed in order to avoid a ‘cliff-edge’ of deployment.  That’s the conclusion of a major new report from the Renewable Energy Association (REA) and consutancy firm KPMG, released just a day after the Tories unveiled shock proposals to end a key subsidy support scheme for solar energy developers.

The $7.6 Billion Burden That Led Britain to Slash Green Subsidy
Prime Minister David Cameron once promised his government would be the U.K.’s greenest ever. Now his ministers are cutting subsidies for renewables wherever they can, including limits on solar and biomass this week. The attached chart shows projections used by the government that indicate support for clean energy will cost 4.9 billion pounds ($7.6 billion) more than the Treasury has allowed for over the next six tax years. Consumers pay the cost of those subsidies through their bills.

With This Airbnb For Energy, Now You Can Buy Solar Power From Your Neighbor
In the last six years, the price of solar power has fallen by at least 50%. And yet, for most Americans, that fact hardly matters, because they’re not able to take advantage. Either their roof is facing the wrong way, there’s too much shading from trees or other buildings, or they’re renters rather than owners, so the decision isn’t for them to make. In the future, though, you may not need your own panel to participate in the solar boom. Instead, you might work out a relationship with someone else who has solar, using a sharing platform like Yeloha. A new site matching people with solar and people without solar, Yeloha is like Airbnb, except the excess capacity on offer isn’t a room in someone’s house, but spare cells on their roof.

50 per cent renewables market share by 2030 – what does it mean?
The Australian Labor Party announced on 22 July 2015 that it will be taking a policy of 50 per cent renewables market share by 2030 to the next election. This will be a key element of their climate change policy. This compares to recently amended legislation that is expected to deliver a renewables market share of 23.5 per cent by 2020. On the surface such an increase looks challenging…  It turns out that such a target could be achieved by simply maintaining the rate of renewable energy installations we are already on track to undertake to meet the government’s 2020 target.

FactCheck: does coal-fired power cost $79/kWh and wind power $1502/kWh?
AUSTRALIA – Broadcaster Alan Jones told the Q&A audience this week that coal-fired power costs about $79 a kilowatt-hour, while wind power is about $1502 a kilowatt-hour. Is that right?

National geosequestration laboratory and UNCOVER mining roadmap launched in Perth
Western Australia is set to become a global hub for carbon capture science after the opening of a national geosequestration laboratory (NGL) in Perth yesterday.  It was just one of a number of announcements and ribbon cutting ceremonies celebrated by the state’s resources industry.  The $48.4 million NGL project is a collaboration between the CSIRO, Curtin University, and the University of Western Australia and will bring together technology, equipment, and research to assess and develop sites for the long term storage of carbon.

Albany swim centre woodchip-fired water heating plan promises council energy savings
AUSTRALIA – Albany City Council says it could save up to $50,000 a year on energy costs if a proposed woodchip-fired water heating system is installed at the city’s leisure and aquatic centre. The revised proposal will be presented to council next week. Under the new deal, energy company WA Biofuels will own and operate the heating plant, with the city paying only for the heating costs.

Fracking, Quakes, and Drinking Water: Your Questions Answered
Does it really cause earthquakes? What about the impact on drinking water? These and other questions, including one about dinosaurs, surfaced when [Nat Geo] asked what you want to know about fracking.

Environment and Biodiversity

UK suspends ban on pesticides linked to serious harm in bees
Farmers will be able to use blacklisted pesticides linked to serious harm in bees after the UK government temporarily lifted an EU ban. Opponents called the decision “scandalous” and criticised the government’s secrecy, which The Guardian revealed has included gagging its own expert advisers. But prime minister David Cameron defended the move. “We should follow the science,” he said.

Mangroves help protect coastal areas against sea level rise
Mangrove forests could play a crucial role in protecting coastal areas from sea level rise caused by climate change, according to new research involving the University of Southampton. A joint study between researchers at the University of Southampton along with colleagues from the Universities of Auckland and Waikato in New Zealand used leading-edge mathematical simulations to study how mangrove forests respond to elevated sea levels.

Scientists: we are ‘condemning’ forest elephants by ignoring evidence
How do you tell two species apart? Let’s say you’re investigating a bird with two populations. One lives in the savanna, the other in the forest. The savanna population eats grasshoppers, but the one in the forest eats beetles. The savanna bird is big-bodied with a curvy beak; the forest bird is smaller with a straighter beak. Is this enough to determine you’re dealing with not one, but two species? Probably. But how about you look at the genetics? Lo and behold, the animals’ DNA shows that the birds have been separated by 6 million years – easily making it two species.  Now, let’s say we’re not talking about birds here, but elephants. African elephants. Suddenly, things get messy. Really messy. And political. And heated.

Native forests can help hit emissions targets – if we leave them alone
AUSTRALIA – The debate over native forest logging has been sparked once again, partly by the government’s successful push for wood burning to be included in the revamped Renewable Energy Target. However, the disagreement over the best way to manage Australia’s 9.4 million hectares of public native forest is thrown into sharp relief by analysis showing that ending native forest logging, and completing the the industry’s shift into plantations instead, would get Australia much of the way to its greenhouse gas emissions reductions target.

‘True leader without the fanfare’
NEW ZEALAND – Former hockey Olympian Barry Maister has swapped his hockey stick for trees. Mr Maister now chairs the Kaipupu Point Wildlife Sanctuary – the “jewel in the crown of the Marlborough Sounds”. Motivated by a keen interest in biology and a passion for community development, Mr Maister donates much of his time to the sanctuary. Mr Maister, a former school principal, uses his background in education to encourage interest in the regeneration process and history of the Sounds. He hopes to one day leave a regenerated landscape for future generations to enjoy.

The war on feral cats will need many different weapons
AUSTRALIA – At the Threatened Species Summit last week in Melbourne, Environment Minister Greg Hunt and Threatened Species Commissioner Gregory Andrews declared war on feral cats. Cats are thought to be a significant contributor to the decline of many threatened species… One of us (Katherine) was lucky enough to be asked to give a presentation at the summit on alternative methods of controlling feral cats. The following article summarises this presentation and highlights the importance of investing in a broad range of cat control methods. Cats are highly adaptable and highly variable, hence we must continue to search for their Achilles Heel and invest in a wide range of control methods.

This Beautiful But Destructive Fish Is Resorting to Cannibalism
CONCH KEY, Florida—Fisherman Gary Nichols, who has been finding lionfish in his lobster traps off the Florida Keys for years, has noticed something different this year: Lionfish are eating each other… Visually stunning with their maroon and white stripes and long, fanlike fins, lionfish are considered the most destructive exotic species in marine waters off Florida and the Caribbean. They have voracious appetites and consume dozens of organisms in one feeding, drastically reducing other fish populations and altering delicate reef ecosystems.

Meet the Adorable “Sea Bunny” Taking Over the InternetNudibranch sea bunny
Say hello to this week’s Internet overlord, the fluffy-looking “sea bunny. The animal isn’t actually a tiny ocean-dwelling rabbit. The creature eliciting “awwws” around the world is a type of sea slug called Jorunna parva. Most are less than an inch (2.5 centimeters) long and can be found throughout the Indo-Pacific Ocean from South Africa to the central Pacific. Though the most popular images of these animals show white animals with black spots, these sea slugs are usually yellow or orange.  Jorunna parva’s fur-like coat is due to bunches of tiny rods, called caryophyllidia, that cover the animal’s back. They’re arranged around little knobs that are sometimes black, giving the sea bunny its speckled appearance.


Capping and piping our greatest water resource for future generations
A new phase of future proofing will soon be rolled out across New South Wales as more artesian bores are capped to reduce the free flow of water from the Great Artesian Basin. The Great Artesian Basin is one of the largest underground water reservoirs in the world. It underlies approximately 22 per cent of Australia, occupying an area of over 1.7 million square kilometres beneath the arid and semi-arid parts of Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and the Northern Territory. And it has provided a stable and reliable source of water for farms and communities across those four states since it was discovered more than 100 years ago.

Economy and Business

Impact investing could help plug $2.5tn funding gap for development
Developing nations need trillions of dollars a year to tackle issues like food security, climate change risks and basic infrastructure. But foreign investment into these countries dropped by 16% in 2014, to $1.23tn, further widening the $2.5tn gap needed annually to address the most critical areas. “The global challenges are so complex and the size of the funding that’s needed is so large, traditional funding sources like philanthropy are probably not going to be sufficient to meet it,” said Anna Kearney, associate director for corporate social responsibility at the Bank of New York Mellon (BNY Mellon), which this week released a white paper on the importance of social finance.

London economy vulnerable to climate change, assembly report finds
London’s economy is increasingly vulnerable to climate change because of the city’s status as a global financial centre and the international connections of its businesses, a report by the London assembly has found. It urges more action to prepare the city for climate risks from mayor Boris Johnson. Just over half of the 100 largest businesses listed on the London Stock Exchange have no adaptation strategy in place to prepare for the risks posed by climate change, which include floods, droughts and heatwaves.

Sustainability, Virtuous Cycles and (Gasp!) Brand Self-Actualization
The Design for Sustainability program at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) has been defining a new role for designers that helps reconcile the promises that companies make through their brand values with real and permanent sustainable change. The program’s approach incorporates a double-pronged strategy: From a systems thinking perspective, the designers are required to seek solutions that set off virtuous cycles of continued improvement. And from a branding perspective, projects aim to help companies realize their brand values by authentically bringing words into action.

Never seen before weather conditions culminate in abnormal livestock losses
AUSTRALIA – Extreme cold weather conditions in southern New South Wales last week created a perfect storm of unfortunate events for some sheep producers, culminating in some significant livestock losses. The Department of Primary Industries, at the Cowra Research Station, is conducting autopsies on an abnormally high number of lambs from its commercial lambing flock.

P&G to make 230 million bottles a year out of recycled plastic
Consumer products giant Procter & Gamble (P&G) Fabric Care has reinforced its environmental credentials with the announcement of a new environmental initiative which will result in 230 million bottles of flagship brands like Ariel, Dash, Lenor and Unstoppables made out of ‘Post Consumer Recyclate’ (PCR) – recycled packaging. As the fourth environmental action in a period of just eighteen months, today’s announcement is a continuation of P&G Fabric Care’s journey towards greater environmental sustainability.

HP’s Texas data centres to get wind power upgrade
Computing giant HP is expecting to reach its greenhouse gas reduction goal five years early, after signing a 12-year contract to power its Texas data centres with wind energy. Five of the company’s data centres will be powered by 112MW of wind energy, after it signed a power purchase agreement (PPA) with renewable energy developer SunEdison.

Politics and Society

Vivek Wadhwa and why the fossil fuelers will lose their shirts
Stephen Albin, chief executive of Urban Development Institute of Australia NSW, is a big ideas kind of guy. But even so, his call that energy would or could soon be virtually free – and mostly solar – prompted a bit of a step back during a recent conversation. “You need to come and hear Vivek Wadhwa,” he said, referring to the man who will run a 10-hour workshop in Sydney at the end of this month for some key UDIA members. All would then be revealed, he said. Curiosity is a hard itch to scratch, especially when it relates to something that could decimate the fossil fuel industry. The only relief: information. So we called Wadhwa in the US to find out why the head of what we used to think of as one of the more conservative development organisations in Australia was saying such outlandish things.

Google’s vast library reveals the rising tide of climate-related words in literature
We have just published an analysis that shows a couple of interesting ways in which we humans have responded to rising global temperatures. It turns out that, as well as tree rings, corals and other traditional proxy indicators of climate change, the history of global warming also shows up in humans’ literary endeavours. The back story lies with Google. A bit over a decade ago, Google began a grand project of digitally scanning all of the books. By 2011 it had scanned 15 million books (about 12% of all books published) and had enough data to start doing interesting things. One of the interesting things was to build what Google calls the Ngram Viewer.

Google's ngram and prevalence of "climate change"

What we found surprised us. Some of the correlations between changes in the use of these words and the temperature record stand out a mile.

Money makes world of politics go round, and keeping it clean isn’t simple
The role of money in politics challenges rich and poor countries worldwide. Its abuse raises problems of graft, corruption and cronyism, undermining legitimacy and governance.

Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation raises $40m for environmental preservation
Leonardo DiCaprio’s foundation on Wednesday raised more than $40m to help preserve and save the environment. The amount was raised through the auction of luxury items and unique experiences, at the second annual gala hosted by actor’s eponymous foundation in St Tropez.

Can You Run A City Based On Happiness?
It’s hard to imagine anyone being unhappy living in Santa Monica, California. The affluent beachfront city, a suburb of Los Angeles, is home to surfers, students, and celebrities mixed with vacationers have a good time. But not everyone’s doing as well as you’d think. According to the city’s first well-being index—and one of the first put together by any city in the world—many of the city’s 90,000 residents feel disengaged in their civic and social life.

Santa Monica’s Wellbeing Project is the result of two years of work and a $1 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies. The goal was to have Santa Monica provide a model of how cities can develop strategies for maximizing their citizens’ happiness, rather than traditional measures of economic prosperity. Many national governments, like Bhutan, Chile, and Canada, have been adopting this idea, but it hasn’t yet happened much on a local level.

Myanmar sentences 153 Chinese nationals to life in prison for illegal logging
Beijing has launched a diplomatic protest after Myanmar handed down more than 150 life sentences to Chinese nationals for illegal logging near the countries’ shared border. The mass sentencing, which sparked outraged editorials in the Chinese media, came after the loggers were arrested in January during a crackdown on illegal forestry activities in northern Kachin state.

More And More People Are Suing To Slow Climate Change. Will Companies Finally Recognize The Cost Of Their Emissions?
High in the Andes of Peru, the glaciers that feed Lake Pallqaqucha are melting. Down below, the lake itself is swelling; and if it bursts its banks, Saul Luciano Lliuya’s farm will flood, as will his village of Huaraz and much of the surrounding countryside. So Lliuya is proactively suing a German energy company for 1% of the damages, because the carbon majors report showed that the company was responsible for 1% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, a nonprofit organization in Belgium is preparing to sue the Belgium government into taking more climate action after a court in the neighboring Netherlands ruled that its own government had violated human rights by not doing enough to combat climate change.  These are just a handful of several pending cases that test the ability of our legal system to address climate change, and attorney Carroll Muffett says they stem partly from the failure of international climate negotiators to deliver results.

UK authorities ‘lack resources’ to investigate Trafigura over toxic waste
UK authorities have admitted they lack both the expertise and resources to investigate the oil company Trafigura for prosecution over its role in a toxic waste dump in Ivory Coast which left up to 100,000 people with skin rashes, headaches and respiratory problems. In the past 15 months, the human rights group Amnesty International has contacted UK police forces, agencies and prosecutors with a detailed dossier laying out its case for why authorities should explore a criminal conspiracy prosecution against the company for its role in one of the most controversial corporate incidents of the past decade. Amnesty’s case was centred around the shipping and subsequent deliberate dumping of toxic waste in Ivory Coast’s largest city by the Probo Koala, a vessel operated by a subcontractor of Trafigura, in 2006.

Leading Tory MP calls Tony Abbott’s climate change policies ‘incomprehensible’
Richard Benyon, a former environment minister under British leader David Cameron, says Mr Abbott’s decision to become the first world leader to abolish a carbon price is “mystifying” and his attack on renewable energy targets “bewildering”, especially for a “supposedly pro-business government”. In an opinion piece for The Sydney Morning Herald, Mr Benyon argues that “those who, like Mr Abbott, persist in regarding climate change as a left-wing conspiracy based on speculative science are in a rapidly dwindling minority”.

Built Environment

New insulation technology could boost building efficiency by 20%
Kingspan Insulation has developed what it calls “the most significant insulated panel technology breakthrough in a decade”.   The new ‘IPN QuadCore’ insulation panel technology could deliver up to a 20% improvement in the thermal efficiency of buildings, along with lower lifetime costs.

Food Systems

Vets aim to remove antibiotics from animals
New Zealand veterinarians aim to make sure livestock is largely antibiotic-free by 2030,  giving exporters an “enormous” market advantage. At present New Zealand is the third lowest user of antibiotics in animals among the 34 countries of the OECD. “By 2030 New Zealand Inc will not need antibiotics for the maintenance of animal health and wellness,” New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA) president Dr Steve Merchant said.

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