Monday 24 November 2014
Sustainable Development News
Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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The week in wildlife – in pictures
The best of this week’s images from the natural world include grazing giraffes, a jumping spider and a particularly nimble elephant.
Energy and Climate Change
Climate fund receives $9.3bn pledge
Thirty nations meeting in Berlin have pledged $9.3bn (£6bn) for a fund to help developing countries cut emissions and prepare for climate change. The Green Climate Fund was to have held at least $10bn by the end of 2014, so the pledge is just shy of the target. The South Korea-based fund aims to help nations invest in clean energy and green technology. It is also designed to help them build up defences against rising seas and worsening storms, floods and droughts. Rich nations previously vowed that by 2020, developing countries would get $100bn (£64bn) a year from such a fund.
Slow Progress Towards Low Carbon Society
Despite anticipated increases in renewable power generation in coming years, global progress towards a low-carbon energy system will remain slow, according to an analysis by Frost & Sullivan. According to the report, coal-based generation will decline rapidly in North America and Europe post-2020 and gas-fired power generation is expected to register a substantial net increase globally. However, those gains will be offset by growth of coal-fired capacities in emerging regions. Coal will account for nearly 26 percent of the installed capacity and almost 34 percent of generation in 2030, according to Harald Thaler of Frost & Sullivan, though he notes that gas is expected to catch up rapidly.
There’s growing evidence that global warming is driving crazy winters
It may be the timeliest – and most troubling – idea in climate science. Back in 2012, two researchers with a particular interest in the Arctic, Rutgers’ Jennifer Francis and the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Stephen Vavrus, published a paper called “Evidence linking Arctic amplification to extreme weather in mid-latitudes.” In it, they suggested that the fact that the Arctic is warming so rapidly is leading to an unexpected but profound effect on the weather where the vast majority of Americans live – a change that, if their theory is correct, may have something to do with the extreme winter weather the US has seen lately.
Brian Fallow: NZ ducking the climate question
The Government faces two big decisions next year affecting the cost and effectiveness of climate policy over the next 15 years. It has to decide what commitment to make in the negotiations on an agreement to govern global action on climate change through the 2020s. And it has to decide what steps it is prepared to take to render the emissions trading scheme fit for purpose. At this point we can be confident of two things: the Government will claim it has “got the balance right” between the environment and the economy; but judging by its record to date, it will do no such thing. The momentum behind the international negotiations, which resume in Lima early next month, is mounting. The Europeans are offering an emissions cut of 40 per cent from 1990 levels by 2030.
Environment and Biodiversity
Half a million photographs could hold key to coral health
Queensland researchers have started analysing half a million photographs in a bid to understand and, hopefully, improve the health of coral reefs around the world. Catlin Seaview Survey researchers have spent about 350 hours underwater to take more than 500,000 360-degree photographs, which will be analysed at the University of Queensland. The Catlin Seaview Survey, of which UQ’s Global Change Institute is the leading scientific partner, has photographed underwater ecology from 20 countries, spread across 662 kilometres of coral reef.
Murray-Darling bird population reportedly halved in the last 30 years in wake of droughts and dams
Scientists believe Murray-Darling bird numbers have more than halved in the last 30 years. Researchers conducting an annual aerial waterbird survey have just completed their most comprehensive analysis ever of the river system. University of New South Wales Professor Richard Kingsford is now into his 32nd year of surveying. “We’ve been doing these surveys since 1983 and we’ve seen a 60 per cent decline in waterbird numbers since then,” Professor Kingsford said.
Great Barrier Reef will be ‘slaughtered’: scientists dismiss Julie Bishop’s claim reef not at risk
Mr Obama told the University of Queensland audience on the sidelines of the G20 meeting he wanted the reef to still exist “50 years from now” so his grandchildren could visit. While Ms Bishop and other Coalition leaders have criticised the US President’s intervention, leading scientists have come to his support. Mr Obama was “right on the money”, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the university’s Global Change Institute, said. “He was stating a fact We have one of the jewels of the planet in our possession and we should care a lot about climate and he wasn’t getting that from our leader [Prime Minister Tony Abbott],” Dr Hoegh-Guldberg said. Peer-reviewed research published by Dr Hoegh-Guldberg in 2012 said the global agreement to limit CO₂ concentrations to 450 parts per million in a bid to keep global warming to under 2 degrees from pre-industrial times would not be enough to protect the reefs. Any increase above 1.5 degrees would be devastating, the research found. The reef has already shrunk by half in 30 years, he added, with climate change a factor in its retreat.
Marine wildlife deaths prompt call to remove shark nets from Queensland beaches
Incidents of marine wildlife, including whales, becoming entangled in shark nets along Queensland’s most popular beaches have led to calls for the shark control program to be scrapped. Shark nets have curtained beaches in the state’s south east for more than 50 years, but marine experts say more than sharks are being caught in them. Eight whales became entangled during this year’s whale migration season, one of them fatally. While a distressed humpback generated media attention, it was the dozens of smaller species, including dolphins, turtles and rays, that had conservationists worried.
Possum blitz key to rescue of birdlife
From his office window Mick Clout can see the outline of Hauraki Gulf islands in the hazy distance. It is an appropriate view because the thriving presence of native birds on the predator-free islands – Rangitoto, Motutapu, Tiri, Little Barrier – is due in no small part to Professor Clout’s advocacy of eliminating rats, stoats, possums and other enemies of the birds. Dr Clout, professor in conservation biology at the University of Auckland, wants to extend the predator-free net across the entire country. He would like birds such as kaka and saddleback, which only are safe on offshore islands or protected havens such as Tawharanui north of Auckland, to become re-established on the mainland. His suggestion is to start with possums in Northland, where the animal has only become established since the 1990s.
Record Drought Reveals Stunning Changes Along Colorado River
LAKE POWELL, Utah—In early September, at the abandoned Piute Farms marina on a remote edge of southern Utah’s Navajo reservation, we watched a ten-foot (three-meter) waterfall plunging off what used to be the end of the San Juan River. Until 1990, this point marked the smooth confluence of the river with Lake Powell, one of the largest reservoirs in the U.S. But the lake has shrunk so much due to the recent drought that this waterfall has emerged, with sandy water as thick as a milkshake.
Economy and Business
Corporate executives gather at the UN for a go at fixing sustainability
Can corporations, even the most responsible ones, lead the way to a sustainable future? Or should people who care about social and environmental problems instead focus on politics and government? On Thursday, executives from some of the world’s most admired companies met at the United Nations to discuss the “The Future Corporation,” as part of the UN Global Compact’s Lead program. A spirited debate unfolded about the potential – and the limits – of corporate sustainability.
Toyota hopes to recreate Prius success with hydrogen-powered Mirai
From the driver’s seat of the Toyota Mirai, the world’s first mass-produced hydrogen fuel cell car could be a plusher and more powerful version of the Prius – if it wasn’t for the H20 button on the dash which releases a trickle of water. Until now, car companies have been slow to bring hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to market. But Toyota is betting on the Mirai (‘future’ in Japanese) to emerge as the next generation of green car. For that to occur, the four-seater sedan will need to replicate the success of the Prius in taking the offbeat technology of a gas-electric hybrid engine and making it middle of the road within the space of only a few years. The Prius is now the top-selling car in California. The Mirai goes on sale in Japan in December, and in the US and Europe in the second half of 2015.
Waste and the Circular Economy
Circular economy: the regional challenge (Video)
Local authorities are key to pushing forward the circular economy and changing the way we see waste. But so often a lack of knowledge, piecemeal recycling and reuse programmes, and misaligned incentives prevent genuine moves to embed circular economy principles. Increasingly local communities are taking the lead, forming reuse and repair groups and rethinking the traditional linear waste structure. How can we both harness this new energy and push local authorities to step up on the circular economy?
Politics and Society
Providing the toilets people want will help Clean India’s campaign
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi has wowed audiences in Australia during his recent visit and used the occasion to remind people of his plan to provide a toilet at home for all Indians by 2019. The leader of the world’s largest democracy and second-most-populous nation addressed a function in Sydney this week where he encouraged Indians in Australia to contribute to the building of toilets back in India. Since his election in May, Prime Minister Modi has passionately pledged his support to the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan Mission, stating that his country will be “open defecation free” by 2019. He even took the opportunity to highlight the importance of sanitation in his inaugural Independence Day speech.
Paul Little: If we fail here, how will Earth II fare?
Interstellar, the sci-fi blockbuster starring Matthew McConaughey as a farmer turned galactic explorer, is one of those movies that has got everyone talking. Often during the movie itself. You may as well because it’s just about impossible to hear what’s being said for much of the time. It’s an ideas movie, jam-packed with conversation-starters about humanity and its place in the universe. The film tells of a near future in which mankind has made the planet uninhabitable and is facing extinction. We’ve just about used up all the resources here and are running out of food.
A truly smart city is more than sensors, big data and an all-seeing internet
To a classical economist, cities should not really exist at all. They represent disease, higher costs of goods, land, and labour, and in so many cases, congestion that leaves workers stuck behind the wheel rather than their more productive desks or factory lines. Cities represent the majority of greenhouse gas emissions (pdf), combined sewage overflows, and air pollutants. Meanwhile, urbanites experience many of the worst effects of the steady decline in ecological function. In 2013 alone, China’s poor air quality shut down Harbin, a city of 11 million people, and crippled the capital city of Beijing. And yet, cities are the world’s engines of economic growth, accounting for 70% of global GDP and even more as the balance of humans tips from 50% to 70% urban between now and 2050.
How to Determine Smart Building Benefits, Costs, ROI
Smart building technology can be expensive, so building owners should look at several areas to achieve the best benefits and highest return on their investment, according to HPAC Engineering. In smart buildings, energy savings are tied to energy information systems, which are used to store, analyze and display building energy data. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory recently did a study of EIS, examining 28 buildings and nine facility portfolios containing 260 million square feet of space. Reported energy savings were as high as 35 percent, with median savings of 17 percent for individual buildings and 8 percent for portfolios, or $56,000 annually per individual building and $1.9 million annually per portfolio.
Americans Will Pay More For Organic, But They Also Have No Idea What “Organic” Means
Young American consumers care about their food, but they’re also entirely baffled by what they’re eating. When brand consultancy BFG surveyed 300 shoppers in late September, they found that nearly 70% were buying some organic food, but only 20% thought they could define what “organic” means. BFG, whose survey respondents were mostly under 35, found that more than half qualified as “concerned, but confused.” “What I think we’re seeing in grocery stores is that consumers are ultimately idealists,” explains BFG CEO Kevin Meany. “They desire honesty. They want to believe. They trust the label, and they’re willing to pay more based on that for something like ‘all-natural’ even though they’re not totally sure what it means.”