Sustainable Development News

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Top Story

The Coming, Preventable Phosphorus Crisis
Minerals are everywhere in the news, it seems. Everyone’s talking about coal, iron or copper, as prices of those resources falls globally. But one you don’t hear much about is phosphorus, though it might in fact be the most important mineral for life on this planet as we know it. That’s because phosphorus is one of the most important elements in soil and is critical for plant growth. Plants, of course, are the source of all the calories we eat every day (many indirectly via plant-eating animals like cows). The boom in human populations that the world has experienced over the past century was in part due to a boom in agricultural productivity, brought forth by the ability to fertilize acres upon acres of fields with mined phosphorus.

For decades, we’ve been depleting soil, but, so far, it’s been mitigated by fertilizers. That might be changing, according to the journal Science. “Profound changes are on the horizon for these interconnected functions — particularly sparked by changes to climate and food production — that will likely reverberate through society this century,” wrote the authors of a new report, Soil and Human Security in the 21st Century. “Ultimately, the way in which we directly and indirectly manage our planet’s soil will be interwoven within our future success as a species.”

Energy and Climate Change

Business leaders prepare for limited UN climate deal in Paris
Business leaders are preparing for a limited agreement on reducing carbon emissions at the crunch UN summit in Paris later this year, despite growing support from them for carbon pricing and a commitment to cut emissions by enough to avoid more than 2C of global warming. More than 1,000 business leaders, including the CEOs of Carrefour, Statoil, Total and Unilever, turned up at a business summit on tackling climate change in Paris this week in response to calls from the UN for the private sector to take a more active role in tackling climate change.… However, business leaders did not expect the necessary emissions reductions or their policy requests to be finalised in December…

Companies cannot keep shying away from setting tough climate targets
Today the low carbon economy is worth over £3tn. This fact is just one of many showing how far the business case for addressing climate change has come, with smart businesses broadening their strategy beyond risk management to value creation. Business leaders who shared their vision of a low-carbon future in Paris this week echoed this sentiment, calling on governments to lock in the right frameworks and targets to help deliver this goal. Yet, despite the emphasis on government target setting, the goals that come from businesses are just as important.

Millions of businesses call for zero carbon shift
Millions of businesses are backing a long term emissions target as part of a global climate deal.At the conclusion of the Business and Climate Summit in Paris, networks representing more than 6.5 million companies from 130+ countries called for policy action.In a statement, they said “science demands” a climate pact that will see net zero emissions “well before the end of the century”.Schneider boss Jean-Pascal Tricoire said: “The difference between now and three years ago is that nobody in business really dares to say climate change is not happening…

John Kerry says businesses should go 100 per cent renewable, as Saudis hint at end to oil age
US Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday joined a growing chorus of voices demanding businesses set ambitious goals to slash greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decades, ahead of this year’s crucial Paris Climate Summit. Speaking via video link to executives gathered for the Business & Climate Summit in the French capital yesterday, Kerry said the energy and climate markets were “the solution to climate change”… A report by Thomson Reuters produced yesterday showed greenhouse gas emissions from 32 global energy companies increased by 1.3 per cent, from 2010 to 2013, despite a UN report advising emissions should have fallen by 4.2 per cent over the period in order to stand a reasonable chance of meeting the internationally agreed 2C temperature goal.

Developing Nations’ Renewable Investments to Exceed Those of Developed World
When President Barack Obama signed his historic climate change agreement with China last year, there were those among his opponents who felt he had given away too much without asking for enough in return. Never mind that the U.S. has been emitting carbon far longer and has already had the opportunity to bring most of our population out of poverty (at least compared to China). Yes, the U.S. set a 26 to 28 percent reduction target for 2025, while China has promised to achieve a declining emissions trajectory starting in 2030. But let’s look at what China is doing. Last year, it spent $83 billion on renewable energy. That’s not only a 39 percent jump over last year and a new record, but it’s also twice what we spent in the States. China is not alone in this. Countries all across the developing world are making huge investments in renewables. In some cases, they are leapfrogging traditional utility infrastructure, much as they did with cell phones.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Axa to ditch €500m of coal holdings in 2015
French insurance group Axa has pledged to sell €500 million of coal assets before 2016, citing climate concerns.The biggest institutional investor to shun coal stocks, Axa also plans to sink €3 billion into low carbon sectors by 2020.Henri de Castries, the company’s chief executive, revealed the move at Climate Week Paris and encouraged others to follow.“The facts are undeniable. If we think we can live in a world where temperatures would have increased by more than 2C we’re just fooling ourselves,” he said.

University of Hawaii System votes to divest from fossil fuels
The University of Hawaii System has announced it will divest its $66m (£42m) endowment from oil, coal and gas companies, following a vote by its board of regents on Thursday. It becomes the 30th higher education institution in the world to join the fast-growing global fossil fuel divestment movement. The campaign, which started in September 2013, brought together more than 1,300 supporters including students, faculty and board members.

Australian scientists call for banks to rule out financing Galilee coal
A group of leading Australian scientists has called on major banks not to finance the massive expansion of coal projects in Queensland’s Galilee Basin. In an open letter, nine scientists, including Nobel prize winner Peter Doherty, former Australian of the Year Fiona Stanley, and Melbourne scientist and Climate Change Authority board member David Karoly, say the project cannot go ahead when countries are trying to avoid more than 2 degrees of global warming.

Student-led push for fossil fuel divestment gains traction at University of Tasmania
AUSTRALIA – A student-led push for fossil fuel divestment has gained momentum with the University of Tasmania (UTAS) committing to a “contest of ideas” on the subject. A panel discussion organised by the Fossil Free UTAS group was held at the university late on Thursday. It was moderated by Professor Richard Eccleston, director of the Institute for Social Change at UTAS. “It was a really productive and nuanced discussion where we really delved in to the complexity of the issue associated with divesting in fossil fuel investments,” he said.

Environment and Biodiversity

Plan to make Avon river red zone a native forest park
NEW ZEALAND – Christchurch’s abandoned Avon River red zone could become a green oasis if plans to turn it into a native forest park come to fruition. Community group Greening the Red Zone has unveiled its master plan for transforming vast tracts of former residential land on the edges of the Avon river into wetland and native forests habitats that would help bring some of New Zealand’s native species back from the brink. Outlining the group’s plan to the Christchurch City Council during the penultimate day of hearings on the draft Long Term Plan (LTP), Greening the Red Zone chairman Ashley Campbell said returning the Avon River red zone to a large native forest park was an opportunity Christchurch could not afford to miss.

Scientists race against time to stop mystery disease wiping out Bellinger River snapping turtles in NSW
AUSTRALIA – A mysterious disease is threatening the survival of a New South Wales turtle species, wiping out most of its population within two months and baffling scientists who say they have never seen anything like it. The Bellinger River snapping turtle had been thriving in a near-pristine stretch of waterway on the state’s mid-north coast, but has suddenly become endangered. In a race against time, authorities have established the state’s first wildlife biosecurity team to prevent the disease from spreading to nearby waterways.

Environmental standards face decline if all approval powers are handed to states, report finds
AUSTRALIA – Environmental standards would drop under a proposed state-based one-stop-shop environmental approval system, a new report has found. The proposed legislation, which is before the Federal Senate, seeks to streamline environmental approval processes by giving power of approval to state governments and cutting out the Commonwealth. But a report by the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) warns against relegating environmental approval powers to state governments, saying the environment will suffer.

The week in wildlife – in pictures
A fox facing up to a pride of lions, Tibetan antelope and sleeping koalas feature in this week’s pick of images from the natural world

Economy and Business

Green Climate Fund ‘open for business’ after Japan’s $1.5bn pledge
A climate change fund set up by the United Nations to bolster developing economy investment in clean technologies and climate adaptation has confirmed it is now open for business after Japan delivered its $1.5bn pledge, taking total contribution agreements to $5.47bn. The Green Climate Fund (GCF) needs to collect half of the pledged cash in order to start allocating finance to help developing countries roll out clean energy and climate adaptation projects. Yesterday, the GFC said the delivery of Tokyo’s pledge meant it had now formally reached “effectiveness”. This means it can start considering funding proposals with a view to handing out cash later this year, ahead of the COP21 UN conference in Paris, where world leaders are expected to sign a global deal on tackling climate change.

Trending: NGOs, Investors Losing Patience with Lag Between Deforestation Commitments, Implementation
Despite recent commitments to deforestation-free palm oil by several well-known brands and producers, many companies are delaying implementation of these commitments. Commitments are just the first step; the implementation stage is where companies can really start to make a difference – and both conservation groups and the investor community are voicing their dissatisfaction and concern about the lack of follow-through from companies including McDonald’s and Bunge Limited.

Green bonds: ANZ joins the global rush
AUSTRALIA – ANZ announced on Friday it would in the next two weeks issue its first green bond, joining NAB, Westpac and Stockland with a product that continues to storm global investment markets. Chief executive of the Climate Bond Initiative Sean Kidney told The Fifth Estate in an interview earlier this year that the market was likely to top $100 billion by year’s end. ANZ said its decision was specifically in response to demand from investors during its February roadshow, led by its group treasurer Rick Moscati. It was also part of ANZ’s strategy to drive investments towards a lower carbon economy.

Trending: Gold-Plated Onions and 3D-Printed Skin — the Next Wave of Human Tissue Technology?
Every day seems to bring new uses for 3D printing – earlier this week, NASA announced a competition to design 3D printing settlements for deep space. Now, L’Oréal has revealed plans to 3D print human skin. The cosmetics giant has joined forces with bioengineering startup Organovo, a company that “designs and creates multicellular, dynamic, and functional human tissues to create artificial human skin to use in product testing.” This is the first partnership with a cosmetic company for the startup, which claims it has already 3D-printed a human liver.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Millions of pizza boxes needlessly sent to landfill
Kiwis love pizza, and between us we munch our way through about a million of the greasy, takeaway treats every week. But thanks to a string of misunderstandings, millions of pizza boxes wind up languishing in landfills rather than being recycled. Now industry players have joined forces in a bid to stop the waste. Public Place Recycling Scheme (PPRS) research found half of those surveyed threw their pizza boxes in the bin not knowing they could be recycled. That means about 26 million boxes a year – almost 3000 tonnes of cardboard – are being hurled into landfills needlessly.

Politics and Society

Why Alaska’s Inupiat Are Warming to Offshore Oil Drilling
Three hundred miles above the Arctic Circle, where the sun is now up nearly 23 hours a day, Alaskans are fanning out into frigid waters to hunt bowhead whales. For decades this subsistence hunt was the main reason that many of the 10,000 residents of the North Slope opposed offshore oil drilling: They worried that an oil spill would hurt the whales, walrus, and seals they still depend on for food. President Barack Obama’s conditional approval last week of drilling by Shell in the Arctic Ocean’s Chukchi Sea triggered a flotilla of several hundred kayakers who protested in Seattle. But in northernmost Alaska, the people with arguably the most to gain and lose—the Inupiat—are now divided.

EU dropped pesticide laws due to US pressure over TTIP, documents reveal
EU moves to regulate hormone-damaging chemicals linked to cancer and male infertility were shelved following pressure from US trade officials over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) free trade deal, newly released documents show. Draft EU criteria could have banned 31 pesticides containing endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). But these were dumped amid fears of a trade backlash stoked by an aggressive US lobby push, access to information documents obtained by Pesticides Action Network (PAN) Europe show.

Every Sustainability Acronym, Explained
We often hear that sustainability is a hot mess of acronyms that are intimidating to newcomers. We agree. Here’s a comprehensive list of acronyms and abbreviations every sustainability professional should know.

Built Environment

China pollution: Beijing’s improved air quality a result of good policy, city officials say
Chinese officials say a remarkable improvement in Beijing’s air quality is due to good policy. The Chinese capital has become infamous for its heavy smog, which is thought to lead to widespread illness and discomfort. But residents have been enjoying blue skies this year. In recent months, air pollution has dropped significantly, and jokes about Beijing’s pollution have given way to surprised expressions about the lovely weather. “Since March it’s been great. Every day I run home from work and it’s not like it was last year,” one Beijing resident told the ABC.

Food Systems

Makin’ bacon: 10+ tips to growing pigs
Most farmers will happily consider having cattle or sheep for grazing, but animals like the pig seem more of a mystery to many. Yet the pig is the ultimate animal for a small farm, requiring very little space and giving an excellent return in terms of quality meat, and often at a cheap price. Even better, the best pigs for the lifestyle block tend to be heritage breeds, that are hardy enough to free-range and enjoy an organic life before being turned into a delicious array of meats – bacon, pork, ham, sausages and more.

Can an ex-Googler use big data to help farmers grow more food?
Most independent farmers have amassed plenty of historical knowledge about their own land. Far fewer have access to external metrics that could help them make better management decisions, such as how new seeds may perform or other practices that could improve their harvests. Enter agriculture tech startup Farmers Business Network (FBN), which at its heart is a social networking community for independent agricultural businesses. Founded by a former Google program manager and a venture capitalist with a background in agriculture, FBN has disclosed a new $15m funding round led by Google Ventures, along with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and DBL Investors. The new money brings the Silicon Valley company close to $28m in total backing.


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