Sustainable Development News

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

Paris 2015 climate summit: countries’ targets beyond 2020
What are countries really bringing to the negotiating table when the world meets to thrash out a greenhouse deal in Paris this year? The stakes are high – the hoped-for deal at the 2015 summit will be the first since the landmark Kyoto Protocol in 1992, and could commit countries to cutting their greenhouse gas emissions beyond 2020. Throughout the year, countries will submit draft contributions known as INDCs or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions. These may be baselines and targets (such as 40% below 1990 levels by 2030), but may also take other forms. Contributions will be submitted through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change here. To read an explainer of INDCs and how they fit into a global climate deal, click here. The Conversation will be tracking these contributions as they are submitted through the interactive map below.

Carbon capture battle stirs hopes, dreams and grim realities
At least 10 European power plants were supposed to begin piping their carbon emissions into underground tombs this year, rather than letting them twirl into the sky. None has done so. Missed deadlines, squandered opportunities, spiralling costs and green protests have plagued the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology since Statoil proposed the concept more than two decades ago.  But in the face of desperate global warming projections the CCS dream still unites Canadian tar sands rollers with the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and Shell with some environmentalists.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Can the Gates Foundation be convinced to dump fossil fuels?
This week, The Guardian newspaper has campaigned for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to divest its fossil fuel investments – which the newspaper claims are worth US$1.4 billion. The foundation can and should address the climate crisis, particularly given the threat it poses to food security, public health, human rights, and the development agenda.

Environment and Biodiversity

World’s forests are fragmenting into tiny patches – risking mass extinctions
The loss of forest has wrought dramatic consequences for biodiversity and is the primary driver of the global extinction crisis. I work in Borneo where huge expanses of tropical forest are cleared to make way for palm oil plantations. The biological cost is the replacement of some 150 forest bird species with a few tens of farmland species. But forest is also frequently retained inside or at the edges of oil palm plantations, and this is a pattern that is replicated globally.

The problem, according to new research published in Science Advances, is that the vast majority of remaining forests are fragmented. In other words, remaining forests are increasingly isolated from other forests by a sea of transformed lands, and they are found in ever-smaller sized patches. The shockwaves of loss thus extend far beyond the footprint of deforestation.

Countries reveal progress on forest restoration challenge
Governments have explained how they plan to restore 59 million hectares of forest worldwide in initiatives revealed in Bonn, Germany on Saturday.Ethiopia and Liberia are collaborating in the “great green wall” to curb the spread of the Sahara. Mexico is leading restoration efforts in Latin America, while the private sector is getting involved in Southeast Asia.The schemes, which add up to roughly the size of Kenya, meet 40% of the 2011 Bonn Challenge target to restore 150 million hectares of degraded land by 2020.

Flower-friendly farms ‘boost bee populations’
Planting farmland with strips of flowers can boost the number of wild bumblebees, a study has confirmed. Not only does it attract foraging bees, but it also encourages nesting, say researchers at University of Sussex. In past decades, many bumblebee species have declined, due to a number of factors, including intensive farming. The study, published in Molecular Ecology, suggest farms given funding to improve the environment can increase the size of wild bumblebee populations. However, rarer species, which forage over shorter distances, may need special attention, as the method of management appeared to have no effect, said scientists.

Beekeeping in London – in pictures
Honeybee numbers are dwindling in the countryside across the world. Studies link the decline to several factors including the use of neonicotinoids in pesticides on farmlands. In cities though the bees are thriving with lower or no pesticide use and an abundant and diverse range of flowers, trees and plants – and in no small measure due to the efforts of the beekeepers. Lynda Larid documents the method of beekeeping

Easter Guide 2015 | Zoos Victoria
AUSTRALIA –  One of the biggest threats to organ-utans is unsustainble palm oil plantations. Make your Easter orangutan friendly by following our chocolate Easter Guide.

How a Wolf Named Romeo Won Hearts in an Alaska Suburb (Book Talk)
In the winter of 2003, a jet-black wolf appeared at the edge of suburban Juneau, Alaska. It was not the snarling villain of folklore. This wolf seemed to crave the company of humans and their dogs. Soon Romeo, as the wolf came to be known, captured the hearts of almost the entire town. But its presence raised complex questions. Should a predatory animal, however friendly, be encouraged to live among people and their children? What if someone decided to shoot it? Talking from his winter home in Florida, Nick Jans, a former hunter turned wildlife photographer and the author of A Wolf Called Romeo, describes how some tracks in the snow led to an encounter that would change his life; why the Inuit revere the wolf; and why there are parts of the book he still can’t read in public without crying.

Economy and Business

The Roadmap Series: We All Start at Stage I
[Ed: This is a continuation of an article from last Tuesday’s news]

OK, I hear you. The change chart is pretty busy, but there’s a lot packed into this infographic. In the first post in the series, I highlight the key curves: The blue value & profitability curve shows that companies will be more successful as they adopt sustainable business thinking. The brown line says environmental and social consequences get worse before they get better, and the green line is the “ta-da”: It represents the idea that beyond doing less bad, business can create net environmental and social value and will be more successful when they do. In this and subsequent posts, I plan to dive into some detail on each phase of progress and offer some stories or examples of what the process looks like in real life.

Fonterra premium pleases organic milk suppliers
NEW ZEALAND – Organic dairy farmers received a welcome boost last week with Fonterra Co-operative Group announcing it would pay its producers a 45 cent a kilogram milk solid premium. Fonterra says it hopes the move will add an extra 600,000kg/ms of supply this year, and give its 73 organic dairy producers greater security. Organic dairy and pastoral group chair Bryan Clearwater, of Mt Peel, said the move indicated Fonterra’s management team saw the organic market as worth pursuing.

Electric vehicles’ second-hand value ‘similar to diesels’
The value of second-hand electric cars is closing the gap on diesels and could overtake them as used-car retailers and buyers became more familiar with the technology. Trade pricing bible Glass’s says in many cases residual value forecasts for electric vehicles (EVs) are already broadly similar to diesels, which could spur even greater uptake of low-carbon vehicles. Rupert Pontin, head of valuations at Glass’s, said the “gold standard” for EVs is the Tesla model S, whose 220-mile range ensures its three-year/60,000 mile value is about 43 per cent – almost exactly the same as well-established direct competitor the BMW M535D M Sport.

We’re all losers to a gadget industry built on planned obsolescence
It’s hard to deny that the smartphone has in part changed the world in favour of consumers. It helps us avoid expensive SMS costs thanks to online messaging apps, undercut taxi and hotel companies with the likes of Uber and Airbnb, and generally serves as a remote control to the sharing economy. But when you shift the focus from what our devices help us access to how we access the devices themselves, the picture is less rosy.  Once we own a new device, we often can’t replace its batteries or take it to an independent repair shop for a simple fix. In fact, proprietary screws on Apple products often prevent us from opening Apple devices at all. It’s standard practice for companies to plan obsolescence into their products…

Waste and the Circular Economy

World’s first plantable cup offers eco-friendly option
A Californian start up could be about to revolutionise the waste disposal system after a successful crowd funding campaign for the world’s first commercially available, plantable coffee cup. Following a successful crowd funding campaign on Kickstarter, which raised more than double of its $10,000 goal, Reduce Reuse Regrow will begin large-scale manufacturing of the cups – which have native seeds embedded in them. The plantable coffee cups cost about two cents each to produce, a similar price to other biodegradable cups currently on the market. The founder of RRG, landscape architecture student Alex Henige, said he came up with the idea after he noticed the amount of litter on the side of the motorway. “It came to me: What if each piece of trash was a plant?”

Politics and Society

We must let go of this ‘trickle-down’ nonsense once and for all
What are the building blocks of a post-growth politics? And how can we get from here to there? A crucial part of the answer is that we need a deep reframing of the central questions of politics. In the first place, we should talk less about the economy as a machine for producing more goods (many of which turn out to be “bads”). We should talk more about what an economy is actually for: satisfying needs, creating a better society and improving our quality of life. Once we do that we see that continuing growth can be counter-productive, as well as impossible in a finite system such as the planet we live on.

Prince Charles: Nature could go “bust” unless we protect it
The Prince of Wales has concluded his US tour with a call for governments, businesses and consumers to place a greater value on nature.In a speech in Louisville, the heir to the British throne said the world was at the brink of an “environmental crisis” with symptoms such as climate change threatening to “engulf us all”.“For all its achievements, our consumerist society comes at an enormous cost to the Earth and we must face up to the fact that the Earth cannot afford to support it,” the Prince said.Nature’s “life-support systems” were failing to cope with rapacious demand for raw materials as well as increased consumption of water and atmospheric pollution.“If we don’t face up to this, then Nature, the biggest bank of all, could go bust. And no amount of quantitative easing will revive it,” he said.

How Corruption Kills the Promise of Social Enterprise (Book review)
In her new book, Thieves of State, journalist, social entrepreneur and anti-corruption activist Sarah Chayes takes the case against corruption into new territory. She argues that, not only is corruption bad for the marketplace, it actually generates violent extremism and poses a direct threat to global security. Drawing on her first-hand experience of founding and operating the social enterprise Arghand in Afghanistan for almost a decade, Chayes demonstrates how extremism arises as a reaction to corruption. And she makes a forceful case for dealing with systemic corruption as a way of strengthening global security and creating a climate where economic development can make a difference to people’s lives.

Why you should celebrate World Sparrow Day
For the past five years there has been a growing movement to recognise March 20 as World Sparrow Day – a day to celebrate the house sparrow (Passer domesticus) with art, poems, stories and events like office parties and school activities. Let us convince you that this is an event that we too should take seriously and start celebrating here in Australia. It’s not too late to have an impromptu event or upload your support to the official website. World Sparrow Day is an initiative of the Nature Forever Society, a conservation body established in India that aims to increase conservation action within urban areas. In order to protect biodiversity throughout the world, there is a real challenge in getting increasingly urbanised populations to value the natural world.

Built Environment

Active building management pays off for Auckland’s NZI Centre
The NZI Centre in Auckland has credited active building management for boosting its NABERSNZ rating from five stars to 5.5 out of a possible six – the highest score achieved for the city. The centre now has a base building energy intensity of 49 kilowatt hours a square metre a year, representing a 17 per cent improvement in the energy use. Developed by Newcrest in 2009, the five-storey commercial office building achieved a 5 Star Green Star rating for fitout and design when built. It features a double-skinned facade, automatically controlled blinds to manage thermal gain and glare, and exposed concrete ceilings for indoor thermal mass.

Food Systems

Taste over waste: ugly food movement winning friends
Consumer driven food trends are nothing new. “Organics”, gluten-free, and more recently buying “local” have all captured consumers, encouraging supermarkets around the globe and in Australia to respond. But the next emerging European food trend that may have the biggest impact on what we buy each week is “ugly food”. It is estimated that a third of all the food produced in the world is never consumed, with the total cost of that food waste being as high as US$400 billion a year. In response to the European Commission’s plan to make 2014 the “European Year Against Food Waste” and the EU’s scrapping of rules that prevented the sale of oddly-sized or misshapen fruit and vegetables, supermarkets across Europe were quick to respond.

Why fruit and vegetables have become their own brand
There’s nothing flashy about fennel, or controversial about a carrot. Potatoes don’t re-market themselves every season to model a new coat of soil. Fruit and vegetables often get a boost of PR during healthful campaigns such as Meat Free Week, which kicks off on Monday, but now they’re beginning to star in their own advertising campaigns. Is this capitalism gone mad, or a last resort to improve the diets of the western world?

Dairying leader calls for a halt to big conversions
NEW ZEALAND – Waikato dairying productivity and the economy of rural communities are at risk from reckless conversions, says a respected farming leader. Martin Bennett, chairman of the Dairy Environment Leaders Forum of the country’s top 60 farmers, wants a halt to big conversions he says threaten to tip an already pressured catchment into a groundwater disaster, until a proper nutrient limit policy is developed. The South Waikato farmer is strongly critical of the Waikato Regional Council’s failure to develop policy. He said it had been eight years since the council’s “botched” water use management action plan left farmers short of water and the rural community “with a disaster to sort out”. “The same thing is going to happen with nutrients. We at least need time for policy to be developed. We need to understand the numbers.” Bennett said the council’s inaction and proposals for “reckless” large-scale conversions are undermining farmers’ efforts and costly investments to make their farms sustainable.


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