Sustainable Development News

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

End to fossil fuel subsidies ‘would cut global emissions by 12%’
Sandrine Dixson-Declève told the European Wind Energy Conference last week there is a “real window of opportunity” to move away from fossil fuel subsidies thanks to the low oil price. She said that global fossil fuel subsidies cost $5.3trn a year and cost the average UK family £1,000 per year. Renewable energy on the other hand costs £100 per family per year and produces 25% of UK power… “Fossil fuel subsidy reform is absolutely crucial to create a level playing field.” At the very least, the end to subsidies would remove an artificial market force supporting the burning of fossil fuels, while the money could also be reallocated towards renewables subsidies.

Energy and Climate Change

Weather disasters occurred almost daily over last decade, UN says
Weather-related disasters such as floods and heatwaves have occurred almost daily in the past decade, almost twice as often as two decades ago, with Asia being the hardest hit region, a UN report said on Monday. While the report authors could not pin the increase wholly on climate change, they did say that the upward trend was likely to continue as extreme weather events increased.

IRENA: Renewables and energy efficiency can put world on 2C pathway
Renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency gains can deliver the steep emissions cuts required to put the world on a path to less than 2C of warming this century. That is the conclusion of a new report from the Abu Dhabi-based International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), which suggests it is feasible for renewables to meet 36 per cent of global energy demand by 2030, delivering half of all the emissions reductions required to put the world on a path to the internationally agreed goal of limiting temperature increases to 2C above pre industrial levels. It adds that energy efficiency measures can deliver the remaining emissions reductions, potentially reducing the need for alternative low carbon technologies.

Alberta to implement carbon tax, phase out coal power
Canada — Alberta took what it hopes will be the first step toward shedding its status as international environmental pariah Sunday by revealing a sweeping climate change plan. The plan, the result of months of study and public input, will introduce a broad-based carbon tax that would apply across the economy. The government will move to phase out the province’s coal-fired power generation by 2030. And it will introduce a hard cap on greenhouse gas emissions for the oilsands.

Developing Countries Attracted Record $126 Billion In Clean Energy Investment In 2014
A new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance has found that developing nations attracted a record $126 billion in clean energy investment in 2014. Clean energy investment of $126 billion represents an increase of $35.5 billion, or 39%, on 2013 clean energy investment levels. Most importantly, however, this figure eclipsed the amount of clean energy investment attracted by the world’s wealthiest countries.

How Africa’s fastest solar power project is lighting up Rwanda
“Arise, shine for your light has come,” reads a sign at the entrance to the first major solar power farm in east Africa. The 8.5 megawatt (MW) power plant in Rwanda is designed so that, from a bird’s-eye view, it resembles the shape of the African continent. “Right now we’re in Somalia,” jokes Twaha Twagirimana, the plant supervisor, during a walkabout of the 17-hectare site. The plant is also evidence, not only of renewable energy’s increasing affordability, but how nimble it can be. The $23.7m (£15.6m) solar field went from contract signing to construction to connection in just a year, defying sceptics of Africa’s ability to realise projects fast.

Moroccan solar plant to bring energy to a million people
A giant plant using energy from the Sun to power a Moroccan city at night will open next month. The solar thermal plant at Ouarzazate will harness the Sun’s warmth to melt salt, which will hold its heat to power a steam turbine in the evening. The first phase will generate for three hours after dark; the last stage aims to supply power 20 hours a day. It is part of Morocco’s pledge to get 42% of its electricity from renewables by 2020.

Most of Britain’s major cities pledge to run on green energy by 2050
Most of Britain’s major cities will be run entirely on green energy by 2050, after the leaders of more than 50 Labour-run councils made pledges to eradicate carbon emissions in their areas. In a highly significant move, council leaders in Edinburgh, Manchester, Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds, Nottingham, Glasgow and many others signed up to the promise ahead of the crucial international climate talks that will take place next month in Paris. Labour said this would cut the UK’s carbon footprint by 10%.

Paris 2015: UN Conference on Climate Change

More than 2,000 academics call on world heads to do more to limit global warming
More than 2,000 academics from over 80 countries – including linguist Noam Chomsky, climate scientist Michael E Mann, philosopher Peter Singer, and historian Naomi Oreskes – have called on world leaders to do more to limit global warming to a 1.5C rise. In an open letter, they write that leaders meeting in Paris at a crunch UN climate summit next week should “be mustering planet-wide mobilisation, at all societal levels” and call for citizens around the world to hold their leaders to account on the issue.

Global CEOs issue rallying call for ‘ambitious’ COP21 deal
A coalition of 71 chief executives from some of the world’s largest companies has today called on global leaders to “reach an ambitious climate deal” at the UN climate change conference in Paris, further cranking up pressure on the talks to succeed. In an open statement bosses at a host of multinational firms, including Ikea, Lloyd’s, Philips Lighting, Pepsi, Siemens and Deutsche Telekom, said that a “comprehensive, inclusive and ambitious climate deal in Paris”, in combination with a “strong set of clear policy signals from the world’s leaders”, is key to accelerating a global transition to a low-carbon economy.

Paris climate talks: Russia will use its huge forests as a bargaining chip
Russia has a reputation as one of the more difficult states involved in international climate negotiations – and don’t expect things to change at the latest UN conference in Paris. After all, this is a country with vast oil and gas reserves, brutal winters and a strong sense of its own economic self-interest. Three main factors will influence Russia’s strategy at the talks.

How Could Paris Climate Talks Change Africa’s Future?
PILANESBERG NATIONAL PARK, South Africa—On a hot morning in mid-November, giraffes and zebras mingled near a watering hole. Yet elsewhere in this parched game reserve, home to lions and leopards, the scene is far from placid. In what’s normally the summer “wet” season, a severe drought has dried up several dams. So territorial males are fighting, literally, for the little water that’s left… The drought, South Africa’s worst in decades, has prompted farmers to pray for the heavens to open up and for Johannesburg to impose water restrictions such as three-minute showers. It could get worse. A landmark UN report says rising temperatures will “amplify existing stress on water availability” in Africa—a continent that’s contributed little to climate change but is reeling from its impacts.

Environment and Biodiversity

Pepe, the Splendid Fairy-wren, as featured in Leila Jeffreys' book Birdland.

Pepe, the Splendid Fairy-wren, as featured in Leila Jeffreys’ book Birdland.

Scientists say Qld and Federal Governments need to tackle gully erosion if they’re to meet their target of halving sedimentation of the Reef
Can you picture a line of dump trucks running from Sydney to Perth and then back again? That’s how much sediment is running out to the Great Barrier Reef each year from one Queensland catchment alone. We’ve often heard of the threats posed to the World Heritage site by climate change and the crown-of-thorns starfish, but scientists say erosion around the gullies and rivers in Australia’s north is also slowly smothering the Reef. Researchers now believe they’ve discovered a potential solution, but it won’t be cheap.

NT Government changes legislation to bring mining, oil and gas sector under Water Act
AUSTRALIA – Mining companies will no longer be exempt from the Water Act under changes announced by the Northern Territory Government. The issue has been a sticking point for residents in the Top End for many years, particularly as the Katherine and Mataranka water management plans were drafted.

Birdland: Photographer Leila Jeffreys captures birds as individuals in bold and intimate portraits
AUSTRALIA – As a child, fine art photographer Leila Jeffreys was “obsessed” with animals. She was born in Papua New Guinea and lived for a while with her parents and brother on a houseboat in Kashmir, India. As she grew older, she became “a back garden birdwatcher — I would notice them at home,” she said. “That’s probably tapping into a love of wildlife, and the fact that birds are probably one of the last remaining [types of] wildlife that we can see in our cities and suburbs.” Her desire to show people how she viewed the world around her spurred Ms Jeffreys to find ways of creating distinctive portraits of individual birds away from the distraction of their natural environment.

Economy and Business

Failing to put a value on nature condemns it
“Nature is priceless”; “you can’t but a price on nature”; “economic valuations are a neo-liberal conspiracy”: these are the sorts of claims levelled at the natural capital approach to the environment. At best they represent a category mistake, and at worst they condemn the environment to yet more degradation. The category mistake is a failure to understand what natural capital is, and what it requires to maintain and enhance it. Natural capital is everything nature gives us for free. Some of it can only be used once – the non-renewables – and some (the most important bits) keep on giving, provided we do not deplete the stocks below critical thresholds.

How innovative finance is powering environmental good
Aware that 95 percent of California’s wetlands had dried up or already been converted to farmland, and fearing migrating birds could perish, an investment arm of the Nature Conservancy, NatureVest,  went into business with a novel market project. “We rely on the largest citizen database in the world, eBird, to get info on bird sightings in the Central Valley to figure out when and where the birds might need habitat,” said Sarah Heard, project director of NatureVest’s California conservation investments. “Then we go to the nearby rice farmers and purchase the right to flood their fields temporarily and use it as a bird habitat.” Farmers earn extra income by leasing the right to flood fields in the off season, birds are saved and investors in the NatureVest fund get a small return on their investment when farmers bid to participate.

Coca-Cola, Apple, Dow see fertile ground for investing in natural capital
Imagine solving a key problem that your company faces with a solution that is effective, far lower cost than alternatives and so straightforward that teachers could describe it to children. By the way, assume that this problem is fundamental to the business, highly technical and deeply contentious with local stakeholders. Think poor water quality flowing from a factory, which is not compliant with local laws; or the focus of environmental lawsuits filed by outraged local residents or activists.

World trade has an important role in combating climate change
In a few weeks’ time world leaders will have the opportunity to usher in a new era of multilateral cooperation on climate change. This starts with the UN climate change conference in Paris, but it does not end there. Building momentum to tackle climate change is a common challenge for us all – individually and institutionally. The broader international community, including the WTO, has to play its part. Like most economic activity, trade is often linked to carbon emissions, but the world cannot stop trading – not least as trade is essential in achieving many other shared goals.

How fast can we transition to a low-carbon energy system?
Starting later this month, the world’s nations will convene in traumatized Paris to hammer out commitments to slow down global climate change. Any long-term solution will require “decarbonizing” the world energy economy – that is, shifting to power sources that use little or no fossil fuel. How fast can this happen, and what could we do to accelerate this shift? A look at the history of other infrastructures offers some clues.

New Report Provides Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform Lessons From 15 Countries
A new report from the New Climate Economy highlights lessons learned from 15 countries who have undertaken reforms of fossil fuel subsidy policy. The paper, Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform: From Rhetoric to Reality, was partly responsible for the 2015 New Climate Economy report, and now goes further in an effort to articulate “practical steps that policymakers can take to phase out fossil fuel subsidies”

World’s ‘first’ fossil-free fund hits stock exchange
A new socially responsible and fossil-free exchange-traded fund was launched on the New York Stock Exchange last week. The ETHO ETF fund, launched by investment management company Etho Capital and ETF Managers Group subsidiary Factor Advisors, is made up of equities from the Etho Climate Leadership Index (ECLI), which lists 400 “climate-efficient” companies across various sectors.

Call For Collective Action Towards A Sustainable Future | Anirban Ghosh, Mahindra Group  
Coal, which lit many fires and fired the imagination of many, has become something man can’t do without and yet its use must be curbed, if not eliminated. We’ve already consumed half the carbon capacity of the atmosphere and experts say that we are on course to consume the other half by 2045… Those who have already made a large contribution to the carbon up in the air or those who are starting to make a larger contribution every passing day? Like most big problems, this is not an “either-or” situation. Those with large carbon footprints need to reduce it sharply and others need to find low-carbon ways of development.

Scientists Create Graphene 100 Times Cheaper Than Before
Since its initial synthesization at the University of Manchester in 2004, there has been a general belief that graphene could help resolve the material challenges of the future. However, cost has continued to be a significant barrier in comparison with traditional electronic materials. A team of researchers at the University of Glasgow now claim to have uncovered a method that will make producing graphene significantly less expensive, indeed, they believe they can create the material 100 times cheaper than ever achieved previously.

Perfect score for Fairphone in iFixit tests
In 2009, Fairphone set out to design, manufacture and market a mobile device in a new way, prioritising factors like transparency, ethics, durability and repair. This project is now showing signs of real progress, especially in the area of design for disassembly, with the newly-released Fairphone 2.0 receiving a perfect 10/10 score in iFixit’s repairability test.

Mobile phone operators team up in pursuit of industry-standard eco label
The latest version of a tool that helps people compare the sustainability of a wide range of mobile devices has been released by a consortium of some of the UK’s biggest network operators, replacing the separate environmental labelling schemes previously operated by competing mobile firms.  The Open Eco Rating tool, developed by O2 UK, Vodafone and Orange along with sustainability consultancy non-profit Forum for the Future, attempts to create an industry standard for rating devices based on their sustainability credentials.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Materials matchmaking: GM, Nike and scaling the circular economy
John Bradburn was re-purposing unconventional materials way before it was cool to sell upcycled goods online. As the 25-year leader of General Motors’ waste reduction efforts, Bradburn has evolved the company’s approach to wringing more value out of reused and recycled materials — now to the tune of $1 billion in additional revenue each year.

Australia’s Urban Mining Opportunity
Australia is an economy with rich stocks of mineral resources, which have been the source of national wealth and competitive advantage, enabling Australia to be one of the global resources leaders internationally. While there is no doubt that mineral resources will continue to be imported, about seven million tonnes of metals leave the economy through waste streams every year,  creating enormous potential for Australia to turn its extensive expertise and know-how in primary mining towards the recovery of metals and minerals from ‘above-ground’ resources.

Plastic waste in Pacific Ocean washed up on Hawaii beach – in pictures
The Great Pacific garbage patch is one of the world’s least talked about environmental disasters. At Kamilo beach in Hawaii, Sophie Thomas from the Royal Society of Arts has documented pieces from the patch washed up on land, including discarded bottles, toothbrushes and toys

Consumer goods are mostly made from mixed plastics which are hard to separate and can’t be recycled together. This results in enormous amounts of waste.

Consumer goods are mostly made from mixed plastics which are hard to separate and can’t be recycled together. This results in enormous amounts of waste.
Photograph: Sophie Thomas

Politics and Society

Ideas for ethical weddings
Julia Moore-Pilbrow, a wedding photographer, says although the wedding industry is renowned for its conspicuous consumption, an ethical ceremony is not an oxymoron. She shares some of her insider tips on how you can have a socially and environmentally responsible celebration.

How Australia could reach 90% renewables by 2030Home 20151124
The Australian Greens have now launched details of how they would meet their long held policy proposal to take Australia to 90 per cent renewable energy for its electricity needs by 2030. The first thing that should be noted is that it is not going to happen. And that’s not because the technology doesn’t exist to effect the transition, it does: The Australian Energy Market Operator assured us of that in a detailed analysis completed in 2014, and said it may not be any more costly than business as usual. The reason it won’t happen is that the Greens would not get into power fast enough to effect that change.

Built Environment

Award-winning off-grid solar+battery storage home… for less than $300,000
The developer of an off-grid, solar-plus-battery powered, 8-star energy rated new-build home in Trentham, Victoria, has taken out the award for Energy Efficiency at the HIA Greensmart Awards in Melbourne.

Food Systems

Maori organic kai
NEW ZEALAND – To reclaim and update a particular cultural heritage, a new book is out this month: Te Mahi Māra Hua Parakore: A Māori Food Sovereignty Handbook. It’s a road map for Māori aiming to produce organic kai in a colonised world. Part manifesto and part gardening manual, the book, by kaupapa Māori researcher Dr Jessica Hutchings, shares success stories and lays out cultural and practical instructions for contemporary Māori organic growing.


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