Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Energy and Climate Change

EU’s energy union must overcome serious obstacles
Proposals to be unveiled on Wednesday by the European commission to bring together the energy systems of member states into a single “energy union” represent the most ambitious attempt to date at harmonising energy networks across borders. But the plans face serious obstacles, practical and political, and could take decades to come to fruition. The prospect of an energy union is a tantalising one, bringing potential benefits such as cost savings, greater energy efficiency, lower carbon dioxide emissions, and far greater resilience in the face of threats to energy supply, from weather and natural disasters to technology failings and the geopolitics affecting fuel imports from unstable or unfriendly regions.

US sea level north of New York City ‘jumped by 128mm’
Sea levels along the northeast coast of the US rose by record levels during 2009-2010, a study has found. Sea levels north of New York City rose by 128mm in two years, according to a report in the journal, Nature Communications. Coastal areas will need to prepare for short term and extreme sea level events, say US scientists. Climate models suggest extreme sea level rises will become more common this century. “The extreme sea level rise event during 2009-10 along the northeast coast of North America is unprecedented during the past century,” Prof Jianjun Yin of the University of Arizona told BBC News.  “Statistical analysis indicates that it is a 1-in-850 year event.”

Obama blocks Republicans’ Keystone pipeline bill in rare veto
Barack Obama has blocked a Republican bill that would allow a contentious extension of the Keystone oil pipeline, in a rare veto that arrived in low-key fashion but leaves open a long road to the end of his presidency. Though long expected and downplayed by the White House, the symbolic clash over a pipeline from Canadian tar sands to US refineries on the Gulf coast is the first time the president has refused to sign legislation in his second term, and only the third veto of his presidency.

RET negotiations set industry back 12 years: Clean Energy Finance Corporation
The Abbott government’s efforts to scale back the renewable energy target (RET) have set the industry back 12 years, a Senate estimates hearing has heard. And the government has told senators it will still pursue the abolition of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), despite accepting advice from the agency on achieving emissions reductions through its direct action policy. In a hearing on Wednesday, CEFC chief executive Oliver Yates said the agency was reassessing how much it could contribute to Australia’s 5 per cent emissions reduction target by 2020 because of uncertainty over the RET.

The quest for nuclear fusion – Future Tense
With its promise of virtually unlimited clean energy, nuclear fusion has long been a goal of physicists. With the enormous ITER experimental reactor under construction in the south of France, Antony Funnell takes a look at the feasibility of replicating the Sun here on Earth.

Environment and Biodiversity

Corals face ‘slow starvation’ from ingesting plastics pollution, experts find
Corals such as those found on the Great Barrier Reef are at risk from the estimated 5tn pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans because researchers have discovered they digest tiny fragments of plastic at a significant rate. A study led by the ARC centre of excellence for coral reef studies at James Cook University found that corals consumed “microplastics” – plastics measuring under 5mm – about the same rate as their normal food. These small plastics were found deep within the gut cavity tissue of analysed corals, showing that they weren’t able to expel the fragments.

Rats Remember Who’s Nice to Them—and Return the Favor
Rats can remember acts of kindness by other rats—and treat them accordingly, a new study says. In experiments, Norwegian rats were most helpful to individuals that had previously helped them—perhaps to try and secure their assistance again, scientists suggest. While rats are known to cooperate and assist one another, rewarding another rat for no immediate gain wasn’t thought to be common behavior.

Orcas return to Taranaki waters
It is orca spotting season in Taranaki [New Zealand].  There are a lot more sightings of orcas at this time of year, DOC ranger Callum Lilley said. But whether that was because there were more whales about in the summer or more people out in the water to see them he couldn’t say.  “We do encourage people to report their sightings.” There is an online form on the DOC website where people can enter sightings and put photos up, he said. Information DOC would like includes a description of the whales, photos of any distinctive fins or scars, the location they were seen, how many and in which direction they were swimming.

Tuatua boom could put toheroa at risk
NEW ZEALAND – People gathering the bountiful tuatua this season may accidentally be picking up the rare and treasured toheroa shellfish instead.  Ministry for Primary Industries honorary fisheries officers say tuatua have returned to Ripiro Beach in good numbers this summer, with more people gathering than in recent years.  However, they warn it’s illegal to gather, disturb or possess the similar-looking toheroa shellfish, with penalties ranging from $500 to court prosecution with a maximum fine of $20,000.  Marine conservationist Barry Searle, who has studied shellfish for more than 40 years, said people could mistakenly dig for toheroa instead of tuatua.  There are two visual differences between the shells, he said. The tuatua has a smoother shell and has more than one straight edge.

Lester Brown: ‘Vast dust bowls threaten tens of millions with hunger’
Vast tracts of Africa and of China are turning into dust bowls on a scale that dwarfs the one that devastated the US in the 1930s, one of the world’s pre-eminent environmental thinkers has warned. Over 50 years, the writer Lester Brown has gained a reputation for anticipating global trends. Now as Brown, 80, enters retirement, he fears the world may be on the verge of a greater hunger than he has ever seen in his professional lifetime.

Study predicts global warming will see Australian deserts grow bigger
A United States climate study says global warming will cause Australian deserts to get bigger and expand to the south. The study’s lead researcher William Lau, of the University of Maryland, said changes in atmospheric circulation was contributing to global dryness, in terms of a reduction of relative humidity in the sub tropics. Dr Lau said he believed the changes were directly related to prolonged droughts.

Worst drought on record dries up São Paulo’s main water reserves – in pictures
Water shortage in Brazil’s largest city is forcing some to hoard and recycle water as levels in the Cantareira reservoir fall to 6% of its total capacity

Economy and Business

Turning RBS into local bank will protect us against next financial crisis
UK – As the general election draws closer, it’s hard to believe that it’s now seven years since the financial system brought the global economy to its knees. The shadow of those events looms large over this election as Europe continues to struggle with the economic fall-out of the crash, and both major UK parties promise five more years of austerity.  And yet, as the message is drummed into us that the crisis was caused by profligate public spending rather than irresponsible banking, financial reform has slipped quietly off the political agenda. If politicians talk about finance at all, it is to reassure us that everything has been fixed.  In fact, the reforms put in place since 2008 haven’t come close to addressing the root causes of the crisis.

adidas Group Exceeds 2014 Better Cotton Target
Today, the adidas Group announced that in 2014, it sourced more than 30 percent of all of its cotton as Better Cotton, exceeding the originally planned 25 percent target. This marks the sportswear giant’s highest volume of sustainable cotton use to date. The Better Cotton used in 2014 was predominantly sourced from farmers located in India, Pakistan and Brazil.

Driverless big rigs: new technologies aim for greener trucking
Pollution in the trucking industry has long been a public issue, and it’s one that certainly didn’t end when the first federal emission limits were introduced in 1974. For good reason: heavy- and medium-duty trucks, which include everything from ambulances and garbage trucks to cement mixers and semis, make up nearly a quarter of all US greenhouse-gas emissions from transportation, according to the US transportation department. Put another way, these trucks add 1.6bn metric tons of CO2 equivalent emissions into the atmosphere annually, accounting for 5.75% of emissions globally, according to a 2012 Carbon War Room report (pdf). In the US, trucking accounts for 18% of all oil combustion, or about 3.8m barrels daily, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit focused on efficient resource use. And the trucking market is only expected to grow.

#BusinessCase: Big Savings Through Waste Reduction Enables Rapanui to Drop Prices
As more and more brands begin to tout their sustainability credentials, increasingly savvy and conscientious shoppers are looking for companies that are walking their talk, with products and practices that reflect an authentic commitment to doing better business. Which might explain the success of UK fashion brand Rapanui: In 2009, brothers Rob and Mart Drake-Knight launched the company on the Isle of Wight with a mere £200 and a drive to make a difference and a career at the same time. The brothers built Rapanui’s business model around sustainability from day one, using only sustainable materials such as organic cotton and bamboo to create products in wind-powered factories that live up to ethical accreditation standards, while also helping address youth unemployment on the Isle of Wight.

Six clean tech innovations you need to know about
Businesses wanting to improve their low carbon credentials rely on highly creative people to come up with new ideas. But for those innovators wanting to share their ideas, it can be hard to get projects off the ground. It takes time and money to refine products and business plans – things startups often don’t have. So what help is there for innovators wanting to give up their day jobs and focus on their inventions? One option is Cleantech Innovate, a biannual event in London and Glasgow where low carbon innovators pitch for £20,000 and get to meet potential investors. Here are some of the exciting innovations that caught the eye at the most recent event this month.

Politics and Society

3 Leaders to Keep You Inspired Every Day
“I can teach anybody how to get what they want out of life. The problem is that I can’t find anybody who can tell me what they want.” ― Mark Twain.  The new year inevitably brings rumination about where we’ve been, contemplation about where we are going and predictions of future trends. This annual ritual can be overwhelming as our piles of prognostications and advice grows larger and the speed at which it accumulates accelerates.


Beyond Incremental: Sustainability Initiative at MIT Sloan Takes Innovation to Scale
Once companies tackle the low-hanging fruit of operational improvement — carbon footprints, energy-efficiency retrofits and waste reduction — they are ready to address deeper sustainability challenges. Professor John Sterman, faculty director of the MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative, says the next step is a shift towards sustainability-driven innovation. Operational efficiency plays an important part in solving the sustainability puzzle, he says, but enduring change lies beyond traditional cost-, quality- and productivity-improvement projects.

Built Environment

Costly WestConnex solution gold-plates outdated transport systems
The electricity industry, supported by federal and state governments of both parties, went on an investment spending spree, “gold-plating the network” just when fundamental shifts in consumer behaviour were leading to unprecedented falls in consumption. The world had changed but industry and governments were asleep at the wheel.  Electricity prices have now doubled and the power industry is in a death spiral of falling consumption and rising prices. Sydney’s WestConnex tollway project is a remarkably similar folly to that electricity industry goldplating. Here are a few similarities.

What’s the link between this great rail disaster and 2014’s floods? Killing trees
Teetering above one of the busiest railway lines in England is 350,000 tonnes of soil and rubble. Three weeks ago, the landslip at Harbury in Warwickshire shut the main link between Manchester, Birmingham and the south, and the route between Birmingham and London Marylebone. It’s unlikely to reopen before Easter. An act of God? Perhaps. But before you decide, take a look at the images on Google Earth. The Harbury cutting is one of the deepest and steepest in the UK. The satellite photographs show that in 2006 the slope was heavily forested. The next image, captured in 2010, reveals that the trees had been removed and it had been scraped from top to bottom. By 2012, when the most recent Google Earth image was taken, it remained bare and grey.

Food Systems

Past, Present and Future: The Road to a Sustainable Agricultural Sector
Significant air pollution, loss of biodiversity (especially threatening to the habitat of the orangutan), land grabbing, emission of greenhouse gases, degradation of peatlands and the poor position of smallholders are all connected to [the]  massive process of deforestation… A highly undesirable issue threatens the [agricultural] sector, actions are taken, certification is used as the main tool to reach sustainability in the sector, but at the end of the day the problem is not resolved… the ‘’tick-the-box’’ mentality that is ingrained in the standards and certification system does not lead to true sector sustainability. Adjusting elements within the system cannot fundamentally change its outcome – a complete revision of the system is needed, a focus on continuous improvement instead of ticking off a sustainability to-do list.


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