Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
Sign up to the newsletter if you would like the news direct to your inbox each weekday morning.

Energy and Climate Change

China’s energy transition: effects on global climate and sustainable development
The following is a lecture presented by Ross Garnaut on August 25 2014 at the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne.

China took the world by surprise with its sustained, rapid, coal-intensive growth of the early twenty first century. It contributed a majority of the growth in global coal use and greenhouse gas emissions from 2000 to 2011. This caused considerable pessimism about humanity’s capacity to hold human-induced increases in temperature within reasonable limits, and introduced new tension into international discussions of climate change mitigation. These developments in China pushed global emissions above the highest of the many scenarios for the future that had been developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). And then China took the world by surprise again. The pattern of Chinese economic growth changed, towards less energy-intensive activity and less emissions-intensive energy. The effects of the structural change showed up in the statistics from 2012, and more decisively in each year after that. The changes in China have again transformed expectations of what is possible in global climate change mitigation, this time in a positive direction.

The great solar riddle: Saving money, the planet, or energy independence?
What is driving the rush to solar and storage? Saving money, saving the planet or energy independence? Business models for multi-billion dollar utilities depend on getting this right. New Zealand network provider Vector, a pioneer of solar and battery leases, has a view that will surprise many. [A]ccording to New Zealand energy network operator Vector, which runs the poles and wires –and  increasingly, the solar and storage – in that country’s biggest city of Auckland, the theory that price is the only motivation is  not correct. Vector CEO Simon McKenzie, who pioneered the company’s groundbreaking solar and battery storage leasing scheme, says customers want solar and storage because they value the environment, and they value their independence. And they are tech-savvy enough to get on and do it, in much the same as they gotten their heads around the move from landlines to smart phones.


Life boils down to five ‘rules’ … or so says the Madingley Model
It may sound overly simple, but just five processes can define us as animals: eating, metabolism, reproduction, dispersal and death. They might not seem like much, but, thanks to a mathematical model from scientists at Microsoft Research, we know that these five processes are the key to all ecosystems. It’s called the Madingley Model, and is the first time scientists have simulated ecosystems across the globe using a single set of biological rules. When these rules are combined with your body mass at birth and your body mass at maturity, they are enough to define your role in an ecosystem. In fact, they are enough to define any organism’s role (for plants, substitute “eating” with “photosynthesis”). The Madingley Model is a global ecosystem model (GEM). While it is not the only ecosystem model around (we’ve been able to simulate ecosystems in terrestrial and marine environments for a while), the Madingley Model is the first to go global – linking land and sea – which is kind of a big deal.

Last ditch plea to protect pine forest adopted by Carnaby’s black cockatoos
Conservationists have made a last ditch plea to the federal government to intervene to help prevent a species of cockatoo from becoming extinct due to the felling of its habitat. Research by BirdLife Australia found there are 3,922 Carnaby’s black cockatoos in the large Gnangara pine plantation, north of Perth. This equates to around 10% of the global population of this endangered cockatoo. The Western Australian government has been clearing the 23,000 hectare (57,000 acre) plantation to protect Perth’s water catchment area due to the amount of water the trees require. However, BirdLife Australia said the plantation isn’t being replaced with any native forest, meaning the “catastrophic” clearing will hasten the Carnaby’s black cockatoo’s extinction. The wildlife organisation said the cockatoo’s population is in collapse, declining by around 15% a year.

A tiny, rare snail in Malaysia has big consequences for global cement giant
For the first time ever, a ‘new’ species has been named after the company that has the power to either conserve or destroy it. It’s a snail and, although small, has the potential to leave a permanent legacy for a giant global business. The snail in question was recently discovered living on an isolated limestone hill called Gunung Kanthan in the northwest of Peninsula Malaysia – its only known home on Earth. Many species with tiny geographical ranges are at particular risk of extinction, but this one more so than many as the only place it has ever been found is in the corner of a limestone quarry run by global cement and aggregates giant Lafarge. Biologists who published the paper naming the new species did so in the most recent issue of Basteria, the journal of the Netherlands Malacological Society. They write “We name this species Charopa lafargei after Lafarge whose declared goals for biodiversity include minimising and avoiding damage to important habitats, minimising and avoiding species mortality and stress, and minimising and reversing habitat fragmentation”.

Concerns over impact deep sea mining for copper, gold off Papua New Guinea will have on sea life
A controversial mining project that involves ploughing the sea floor off Papua New Guinea (PNG) is set to begin amid concerns about its impact on the marine environment. Canadian company Nautilus Minerals plans to mine 1.6 million tonnes of copper and gold a year from the volcanic hot springs in the Solwara 1 deposit in the Bismarck Sea, in what is hailed as the first deep sea mining project in the world. The PNG government has a 15 per cent stake in the mine and is set to reap millions of dollars in royalties. Nautilus chief executive Mike Johnston said seafloor mining holds enormous economic potential for countries in the Pacific.

Norway whale catch reaches highest number since 1993
Fishermen in Norway have caught 729 whales this year, the highest number since it resumed the controversial practice in defiance of international pressure, industry sources said on Monday. “The season is more or less finished and it’s been very good,” said Svein Ove Haugland, deputy director of the Norwegian Fishermen’s Sales Organisation. The eventual figure may increase slightly before the season’s end but is already the highest since 1993, when Norway resumed whaling despite a worldwide moratorium, which Oslo officially rejected.

Economy and Business

Global Opportunity Network Seeking Sustainable Solutions to Most Pressing Business Risks
A new global initiative launching Wednesday by DNV GL and Scandinavian innovation think tank Monday Morning Global Institute aims to identify opportunities for sustainable responses to a range of global risks. A series of eight workshops beginning this week around the globe marks the start of the identification process — with the results to be published in the first Global Opportunity Report in January 2015. “Seeing sustainability challenges as opportunities rather than risks might seem a bit optimistic at first glance, but it is a necessary change of mindset,” says Bjørn K. Haugland, Chief Sustainability Officer at DNV GL. “We know that we need to act fast and in collaboration if we are to address the problems ahead of us. Looking only at the risks to lifestyles and business as we know it might cloud our vision. The greatest risk we are facing is not seeing the opportunities in the transition to a safe and sustainable future.”

Carbon-cutting policies could save billions in healthcare costs
Efforts launched to curb greenhouse gas emissions could pay for themselves, according to a new study investigating the potential healthcare savings of reductions in pollution. It is already widely accepted by scientists that carbon-cutting policies, introduced primarily to mitigate climate change, can have positive impacts on human health. Experts have suggested that a reduction in harmful air pollution would cut the rates of conditions such as asthma and other health problems, possibly including cancer and lung disease. Accordingly, a healthier population would ease pressure on medical care and boost economic output. In the new study – the most detailed of its kind to date – researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) suggest that some of these policies could be so beneficial that they save more money than their implementation would require.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Algae Powering World’s First Electric Grand Prix
The world soon will see its first electric Grand Prix series with cars powered with electricity derived from algae as part of an effort to showcase the best in new zero emission technologies, BusinessGreen reports. The racing organization, Formula E, has signed a deal with UK start-up Aquafuel to supply generators powered by glycerine, a byproduct of biodiesel that also can be produced from salt-water algae. The fuel is biodegradable, non-toxic and can be used in modified diesel generators to generate power. The compound comes from algae and has zero carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. When it burns, there is no smoke, smell, or even sound.

Politics and Society

5 sustainable boondoggles: greenwashing all the way to the bank
Painting a green veneer on consumer goods is far from a new marketing tactic. In 1992 the US Federal Trade Commission issued its first “Green Guide”, aimed at squelching greenwashing long before greenwashing was a household word. It’s hard to blame marketers – really. It’s not that hard to find low-hanging fruit: non-discerning, green-minded consumers eager to buy bright, shiny new products that will help them lighten their footprint on Mother Earth. Thankfully the volume of egregiously greenwashed boondoggles has decreased in recent years. But it has not – as we shall see below – been washed away. We’ve picked out some of our favorite dubious green products and rated them on a scale of “meh” to “100% boondoggle”.

New Jersey Is Testing Solar-Power Commuter Pods
The best way to describe JPods, a new form of public transit soon to be tested in New Jersey, is “something out of the Jetsons.” At least that’s how one city official described the solar-powered pods, which are a combination of light rail and self-driving car suspended above roads. Imagine something like a ski lift running above our existing streets and you’re getting close to the right mental image. But there’s one sticking point: The JPods are a private transit system. Will investors be willing to fund a network of pods that compete with light rail, buses, subways, and other current public transit options? And if the capital was there, would municipal governments let this happen?

You won’t help farmers in Africa by just throwing money at them
Governments and donors have tried hard to improve dairy farming in sub-Saharan Africa in recent years. Many recognise that it has much potential to boost the economic situation of poor farmers in the region. And unlike many other products such as cut flowers or mange tout, it tends to supply local consumers rather than people in other countries. This means that making it affordable has implications for local health, spending power and so forth. Yet so far, any notion of a “white revolution” in milk production remains far from reality. To understand what is holding it back, I undertook a three-year research project into dairy farming in Malawi. My findings suggest that those who want to improve the sector need to look more closely at how the produce gets from the farm to consumers’ kitchens.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.