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Wednesday 24 September 2014

Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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UN Climate Summit

UN climate summit pledges to halt the loss of natural forests by 2030
Governments, multinational companies and campaigners are pledging to halt the loss of the world’s natural forests by 2030. A declaration announced as part of a UN summit on climate change being held in New York also pledges to halve the rate of deforestation by the end of this decade and to restore hundreds of millions of acres of degraded land.  Backers of the New York declaration on forests claim their efforts could save between 4.5bn and 8.8bn tonnes of carbon emissions per year by 2030 – the equivalent of taking all the world’s cars off the road.  The UK, Germany and Norway have pledged to enter into up to 20 programmes over the next couple of years to pay countries for reducing their deforestation, which could be worth more than £700m.

UN climate summit: Leonard DiCaprio urges world leaders in New York to stop treating global warming as ‘fiction’
Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio brought star power to the UN summit on climate change on Tuesday, urging leaders to stop treating global warming as “fiction.” The United Nations is zeroing in on climate change at the summit in New York City, giving leaders from 125 countries a platform to explain how they plan to address the issue. “As an actor, I pretend for a living. I play fictitious characters often solving fictitious problems,” DiCaprio, a UN Messenger of Peace, told the summit. “I believe mankind has looked at climate change in that same way – as if it were fiction.” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, opening the summit, called on world leaders to make history in fighting climate change. “We’re not here to talk, we’re here to make history,” he said.

Leonardo DiCaprio speaks at UN climate change summit (Video)
Actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio addresses the UN summit meeting on climate change on Tuesday. DiCaprio was recently named a United Nations Messenger of Peace. ‘This disaster has grown beyond the choices that individuals make. This is now about our industries, and governments…’ he tells the summit.

Apple CEO Tim Cook at Climate Week: ‘the time for inaction has passed’
Describing climate change as a defining issue for his generation, the Apple chief executive said boomers must decide ‘if we want to be the first generation who leaves the world worse off’.

Australia out in the cold as world turns up the heat on climate change (Opinion)
As world leaders sit down in New York to discuss climate change, it is unlikely Australia will be trying to scupper the talks. But nor is it going out of its way to be very helpful either. For one, Prime Minister Tony Abbott is not even turning up. The New York summit is critical. Over the past five years, getting world leaders to engage in climate change negotiations has been nigh on impossible. This time it took a personal plea from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to get 125 heads of state to go to New York. And even then the top leaders of China and India are not among the attendees, though US President Barack Obama will be there. The problem has been that the disastrous Copenhagen negotiations of 2009, at which efforts to sign a comprehensive global climate treaty fell in a spectacular heap, have long cast a shadow over international diplomacy.

Coal has no future in the world’s energy mix, UN warns, ahead of New York summit
The UN has warned that coal has no future in the world’s energy mix, as world leaders gather ahead of a major climate summit in New York. The Federal Government says coal will serve as an affordable, dependable energy source for decades to come, but the UN’s climate chief has questioned whether that is in Australia’s best interests long term. “It is certainly within Australia’s purview to decide how Australia is going to pursue its energy generation and energy growth,” Christiana Figueres said. “It is just a question of really thinking through very carefully what is in the best long-term interest of Australia and of the Australian population, making careful decisions that are informed both by today’s reality of climate change impacts as well as tomorrow’s but very soon reality of a low-carbon society.”

Report: Australia can be zero carbon by 2050
Residential and commercial building energy use would halve and rooftop PV increase 10-fold if an ambitious plan to decarbonise Australia by 2050 is realised. The report by ClimateWorks and the Australian National University, Pathways to Deep Decarbonisation in 2050: How Australia can prosper in a low carbon world, which is to be presented to the UN Climate Leaders’ Summit in New York today (Tuesday), finds that deep decarbonisation could happen with existing technologies, and without major structural changes to the economy.

UN climate change summit in New York – live coverage

  • • Barack Obama, David Cameron and Dilma Rousseff are among leaders in New York today at a climate summit hosted by Ban Ki-moon
  • • French president François Hollande promises $1bn for Green Climate Fund and says Paris can be symbol of ‘change for climate’
  • • Ban Ki-moon says leaders are ‘not here to talk, but to make history’. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio tells leaders ‘you can make history or you will be vilified’

Energy and Climate Change

Refrigerant phase out could lead to huge carbon cuts
Australia could cut carbon emissions by seven per cent from the heating, ventilation, airconditioning and refrigerant industry alone if a move to phase out hydrofluorocarbons is realised, according to the Australian Refrigeration Association. HFCs, commonly used in airconditioning, refrigeration and insulating foam production, have largely replaced the ozone depleting substances chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons banned under the Montreal Protocol. However, HFCs, while non-ozone depleting, are still powerful greenhouse gases with global warming potential many thousands of times greater than carbon dioxide. And they’re increasing. If not tackled, HFC emissions are set to double by 2020 and triple by 2030, and will account for 9-19 per cent of global emissions by 2050.

South Australia commits to 50pc renewable energy target by 2025
The South Australian Government says it will increase its Renewable Energy Target (RET) and aim for 50 per cent of the state’s power to be generated by renewables by 2025. Premier Jay Weatherill said figures from last financial year showed 31.5 per cent of energy produced in the state came from renewable sources. He said updated figures were expected to show SA had since exceeded its current target of 33 per cent by 2020. “Modelling shows that the RET has underpinned $5.5 billion of expenditure to date,” he said. “[It is] forecast to support a further $4.5 billion by 2025. This new target of half of the state’s power to be generated by renewable sources will create jobs and drive capital investment and advanced manufacturing industries.”

‘Energy superpower’: Coalition’s grand fossil fuel plan for Australia
The government has unveiled its strategy to make Australia into an “energy superpower”, including goals to increase energy productivity, ramp up gas production and stabilise electricity prices. The energy green paper states that the repeal of the carbon and mining taxes have improved Australia as an investment destination but more needed to be done, such as improving worker productivity and speeding up the extraction and export of gas and uranium supplies.

Environment and Biodiversity

Elephant killings in Mozambique happening on ‘industrialised’ scale
Elephant poaching is happening on an unprecedented and “industrialised” scale in Mozambique, environmentalists have warned, after 22 of the animals were killed for their tusks in the first two weeks of September. The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) said organised crime syndicates are slaughtering between 1,500 and 1,800 elephants a year in the southern African country, feeding demand for ivory in the far east. There are fears that Mozambique’s elephant herds could be extinct within a decade. The crisis, described by the WCS as a “national disaster”, was discussed during a two-day meeting of Mozambican officials, law enforcement agents and diplomats in the capital, Maputo.

Economy and Business

Sustainable corporations perform better financially, report finds
A new report by nonprofit CDP, released Tuesday, provides some of the first evidence of a link between business leadership on climate change and a company’s profitability. The study, which coincides with the climate talks in New York, finds that S&P 500 companies that build sustainability into their core strategies are outperforming those that fail to show leadership. Specifically, corporations that are actively managing and planning for climate change secure an 18% higher return on investment (ROI) than companies that aren’t – and 67% higher than companies who refuse to disclose their emissions. The findings could help answer the long-debated industry question of whether sustainability undermines or improves financial results.

What businesses need to know about the latest climate science
United Nations reports on climate change are not usually required reading for business managers. But the University of Cambridge is making the case that they should be: it has come out with a series of briefings that translate climate science for a business audience. The university’s Institute of Sustainability Leadership, in partnership with the European Climate Foundation, developed 13 reports that explain how climate change is expected to impact several industries, including agriculture, buildings, defense, transportation and energy. As it prepares to release parts of its fifth assessment report, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is highlighting Cambridge’s briefings at Climate Week, which began Monday in New York City.

Barclays Pledges £1bn to Rapidly Growing Green Bonds Sector
On Monday, Barclays reaffirmed its commitment to the Green Bonds sector by announcing it will invest a minimum of £1bn (US$1.64) by November 2015 to form part of its liquid asset buffer — one of the largest such investments by a bank. “Every so often, market innovation and social imperatives come together to create something exciting that has the potential to make a real difference,” said Tushar Morzaria, Group Finance Director at Barclays. “The Green Bond sector is a fast-growing and powerful example of this synthesis.” Green Bonds are fixed-income securities designed to raise capital to finance a low-carbon environment. The sector has grown significantly in recent years, and Barclays’ Treasury department will be building on its existing Green Bonds portfolio, which currently stands at roughly £430m (roughly US$700m), across various investment grade issuers, including the World Bank.

More job cuts as coal industry keeps struggling
A coal company co-owned by the mining giant BHP has blamed poor market conditions for its decision to slash 700 jobs. The BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance says the jobs will go from seven coal mines in Queensland. Some industry analysts are warning there’s more tough times ahead for Australia’s coal industry.

Alibaba feeding frenzy shows how little we have learnt
Greed is still good. Wall Street has just witnessed its largest ever stock market launch as Chinese internet giant Alibaba raised some $25 billion and watched its share price rise by 35% on its first day’s trading. It says a lot about how little we have changed after the 2008 crash. We are still willing to be seduced by the perennial golden goose; still fearful of missing out; and still addicted to power, wealth and growth at any cost. So if the shares saw such a spike, why did the bankers get the pricing so wrong? Effectively, the company lost over $8 billion at the launch because it did not pitch at the right price to investors from the outset.

Politics and Society

Beyond GPD: 20 US states have adopted genuine progress indicators
Vermont two years ago became the first state in the US to pass a law introducing a new metric for measuring economic performance and success. The Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) offers an alternative to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which has been used at national and state levels since Simon Kuznets presented it to Congress in 1934, despite his warning of the oversimplifications embedded in the metric. Systems thinker Donella Meadows, the founder of the Vermont-based organisation that I now direct, cut to the heart of GDP’s limitations when she wrote: “If you define the goal of society as GDP, that society will do its best to produce GDP. It will not produce welfare, equity, justice or efficiency unless you define a goal and regularly measure and report the state of welfare, equity, justice, or efficiency.” So it should come as no surprise that Vermont has been joined by 19 other US states and dozens of nations in working on “beyond GDP” metrics.

Environmental policy isn’t value-neutral: where do the ethics hide?
However they’re spun, environmental concerns are never far from the headlines – and coordinated global marches on the weekend attest to the public’s interest in this area. Whenever we’ve made contributions to government inquiries on environmental issues, my colleagues and I have been disappointed to find the ethical concerns we raised were relegated to the back pages of the final report. One reason for our disappointment lies in the conviction that ethics deserves a better billing. If something is unethical it shouldn’t be done. We were also puzzled by the assumption that ethical values have nothing to do with the economic and technological reasoning that plays a dominant role in public decision-making. All public decision-making depends on ethical values, but sometimes values are disguised by a method that appears to be value-neutral. So what are the hidden ethical assumptions that underpin decisions about environmental issues?

Google, GE and others contribute to climate-change deniers in Congress, report finds
According to oft-cited statistics, climate scientists are 95%-99% certain of climate change – about as certain as they are of the link between smoking and lung cancer. Nonetheless, an estimated 58% of US Republican congressmen claim to be unconvinced of it. This group, the so-called “climate denier caucus,” is a big part of the reason that meaningful climate activist legislation keeps getting shot down. And according to a recent report, some of America’s most popular companies are helping to fund the effort. Forecast the Facts and Sum of Us, two sustainability oriented NGOs, recently released “#DisruptDenial,” a report outlining the corporate contributions to the 160 members of the climate denier caucus in Congress. According to them, these legislators have received $641m in campaign contributions from US companies, including $98m in 2014.

Google to cut ties with rightwing lobby group over climate change ‘lies’
The internet giant Google has announced it is to sever its ties with an influential rightwing lobbying network, the American Legislative Exchange Council, accusing it of “lying” about climate change. The move, ahead of a United Nations summit on climate change, delivered a victory to campaigners and the UN’s newly minted initiative to persuade companies to shun climate-denying business lobbies.

Education

Clearing up confusion between correlation and causation
Here’s an historical tidbit you may not be aware of. Between the years 1860 and 1940, as the number of Methodist ministers living in New England increased, so too did the amount of Cuban rum imported into Boston – and they both increased in an extremely similar way. Thus, Methodist ministers must have bought up lots of rum in that time period! Actually no, that’s a silly conclusion to draw. What’s really going on is that both quantities – Methodist ministers and Cuban rum – were driven upwards by other factors, such as population growth. In reaching that incorrect conclusion, we’ve made the far-too-common mistake of confusing correlation with causation.

Built Environment

Parking could be optional for some apartments near rail
Minimum car spaces in new apartment developments near train stations are set to go under flagged changes to New South Wales’ [Australia] State Environmental Planning Policy 65, in a move the government says could reduce purchase cost by at least $50,000. The move, announced today (Tuesday) by the NSW government, reflects the growing move away from driving that Professor Peter Newman, director of Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute, says is a worldwide phenomenon.

Here’s a new book to boost Australia’s eco-building movement
A new book on sustainable housing and materials looks set to become an industry standard. How to Rethink Building Materials – creating ecological housing – for the designer, builder and homeowner, is edited by Envirotecture director Dick Clarke and has contributions from some of the industry’s leading architects, designers, material scientists and advocates.

How to build your own sustainable house
WikiHouse is an open source information system that enables people to design and build their own house.  First, the user must choose their design and download the free online plan. They then send the plans to a saw mill where the various shaped components are cut from sheet material, such as plywood, by a computer numerical control (CNC) machine. The pieces are delivered to the chosen site and where the user needs to gather a team of builders or friends, to put the house together. Similar to a piece of Ikea flat-pack furniture, the kit contains everything needed to build the house including make-your-own tools such as a mallet and ladder. WikiHouse 4.0 is the latest prototype house of a project that began three years ago. It is on display as part of the London Design Festival 2014 until Friday 26 September and is a result of a partnership between WikiHouse co-designer Alastair Parvin of Zero Zero Architects, Arup engineers and The Building Centre.

Global Shift to Mass Transit Can Save $100 Trillion by 2050
More than $100 trillion in cumulative public and private spending, and 1,700 megatons of annual carbon dioxide (CO2) — a 40 percent reduction of urban passenger transport emissions — could be eliminated by 2050 if the world expands public transportation, walking and cycling in cities, according to a new report released by the University of California, Davis, and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP). In addition, an estimated 1.4 million early deaths could be avoided annually by 2050 if governments began requiring the strongest vehicle pollution controls and ultralow-sulfur fuels, according to a related analysis of these urban vehicle activity pathways by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) included in the report

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