Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Energy and Climate Change

Biggest polluters set to miss deadline for action on climate change
Less than a week before the United Nations deadline for countries to file greenhouse-gas pledges necessary to keep a global climate change deal on track, it looks like most of the world is missing in action. Ahead of the March 31 target, only the European Union and Switzerland have unveiled plans, representing about 10 per cent of global emissions. The United States has promised to hit the deadline. The rest of the world’s major economies, including China, India, Australia and Japan, are unlikely to complete submissions in time, according to environmental groups tracking U.N. climate talks.

Norway parliament approves new climate change law
Norway will have a new climate change law after lawmakers voted 84-19 in favour of proposals to draft legislation by 2017.All parties backed the plan bar the right wing Progress party, part of the ruling coalition and home to a number of politicians who class themselves as climate sceptics.As revealed by RTCC earlier this week, the law will create binding greenhouse gas emission targets for 2020, 2030 and 2050, and set a series of carbon budgets for the government.

Could California’s Drought Last 200 Years?
Two years into California’s drought, Donald Galleano’s grapevines are scorched shrubs, their charcoal-colored stems and gnarled roots displaying not a lick of life. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” says Galleano, 61, the third-generation owner of a 300-acre vineyard in Mira Loma, California, that bears his name. “It’s so dry … There’s been no measurable amount of rain.” California is experiencing its worst drought since record-keeping began in the mid 19th century, and scientists say this may be just the beginning. B. Lynn Ingram, a paleoclimatologist at the University of California at Berkeley, thinks that California needs to brace itself for a megadrought—one that could last for 200 years or more.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

The growing scope for ethical personal finance
Increasing awareness of how personal finances are invested and a rise in ethical options being offered are facilitating individual divestment from the fossil fuel industry. The global push to remove money from the fossil fuel industry – known as the divestment movement – has gathered astounding momentum over the past three years, having even been labelled “one of the fastest moving debates… I’ve seen in my 30 years in markets” by FTSE managing director Kevin Bourne.

Wellcome Trust rejects Guardian’s calls to divest from fossil fuels
The director of the Wellcome Trust has rejected calls from a Guardian campaign to shift the charitable foundation’s investments out of the fossil fuel industry, warning that such a move would mean less pressure on those companies to be green. However, Jeremy Farrar said that Wellcome shared considerable common ground with the Keep it in the Ground campaign and that fossil fuel producers had responsibilities to society, including protecting the environment. The public comments are the first by a senior figure at the health charity, the second largest non-governmental funder of medical research in the world, since more than 141,000 people signed a petition calling for Wellcome to divest from fossil fuels.

Environment and Biodiversity

Australia’s biggest national park to be created in WA’s Kimberley as mining companies relinquish tenement
A five million hectare slice of Western Australia’s Kimberley region will become the country’s largest national park after the State Government struck a deal forever banning mining in the iconic Mitchell Plateau. After extensive negotiations, a 45-year state agreement that gave Rio Tinto rights to mine bauxite and Alcoa the right to refine aluminium on the Mitchell Plateau has been cancelled. No further mining or exploration will be permitted in the 175,000 hectare area, which will be included in the new five million hectare Kimberley National Park which includes a network of land and marine parks.

Lewis Pugh: Swimmer has Ross Sea talks with Russia
After completing some record-breaking swims in Antarctica, Lewis Pugh flew to Moscow to discuss ocean conservation.  The UK athlete and campaigner wanted to meet the Russian Minster of Defence to discuss the creation of a new marine reserve around the Ross Sea. Sergey Shoygu is also the president of the Russian Geographical Society.  Despite international tensions, Mr Pugh believes that their conversation could help the world to reach an agreement on the proposed protected zone.  The Ross Sea covers that slice of Antarctica claimed by New Zealand, and from which teams associated with Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen all mounted polar forays. The sea is one of the last regions in Earth’s oceans still regarded as near-pristine and unaffected by human activities. But there is deadlock over giving it a special designation.

New platform tracks corporate deforestation commitments
A new platform has launched with the aims of giving decision makers, investors and consumers more information on how companies are tackling deforestation and living up to the pledges they have made on the issue. The platform follows the Forest 500 rankings, which identifies, ranks and tracks companies, investors, jurisdictions and other organisations that could work together to eliminate tropical deforestation. Those included in the list were ranked on deforestation commitments and policies. The latest report aims to assess how realistic these commitments are and if organisations are sticking to them.

Clean-up at NZ’s ‘most toxic site’ begins
Work has started cleaning up the old Waiuta mine site – described as New Zealand’s most toxic contaminated site – in a joint $3 million operation. Arsenic levels at the Prohibition and Alexander mines at Waiuta, south of Reefton, are among the highest recorded anywhere in the world at 400,000 parts per million on land – 500 times safe levels. Department of Conservation acting conservation services director Roy Grose said the remediation work would start in April, with material from the nearby Alexander Mine site to be moved to the encapsulation pit at Waiuta.

Economy and Business

Report: The push to transform China’s financial system
Developing a green financing system for China is crucial to speed the transition to a green economy, according to a new report. And while the cost of such a move enters the hundreds of billions of dollars, the pay off in terms of increasing quality of life and future growth prospects for the country is well worth the effort. The synthesis report on Greening China’s Financial System was released by the Financial Research Institute of the Development Research Center and the International Institute for Sustainable Development at the recent China Development Forum in Beijing, which attracted high-profile guests including Henry Kissinger, Jeffrey Sachs and Joseph Stiglitz. In 2014, China’s gross economic output exceeded $10 trillion. However high levels of pollution are putting China’s continued growth in jeopardy, with pollution damage costs estimated at between 3-6 per cent of GDP.

Tough year for coal should be economic ‘wake-up call’ for Upper Hunter: HRF
The Hunter Research Foundation says the Upper Hunter economy needs to diversify to remain viable in the future. The foundation delivered its quarterly economic insight at a breakfast meeting in Muswellbrook on Wednesday. Senior researcher Jenny Williams said 2014 was a tough year and the fact that the heavily coal-dependant economy has stalled, should be a wake-up call.  Ms Williams said a low Australian dollar will give exports a boost, so it is a great time to diversify. “We’re not suggesting coal is going to go away anytime soon, particularly in the Upper Hunter, which both households and businesses are heavily reliant on it,” she said. “But therein lies the issue, so the downturn has been quite sharp and we are seeing the weakest economic figures there that we’ve seen since we have been tracking data over the last 14 years.”

Report: U.S. Coal Sector in ‘Terminal Decline’
The market for thermal coal is in structural decline in the United States, according to a new report by the Carbon Tracker Initiative. The US Coal Crash – Evidence for Structural Change (PDF) finds that, in the last few years, US coal markets have been pounded by a combination of cheaper renewables, energy efficiency measures, increasing construction costs and a rash of legal challenges, as well as the rise of shale gas. In the past five years the US coal industry lost 76 percent of its value, and at least 264 mines were closed between 2011 and 2013. The world’s largest private coal company, Peabody Energy, lost 80 percent of its share price. These declines came in spite of the Dow Jones industrial average increasing by 69 percent during the same period.

Insurers told to pull cover from coal companies
The world’s top insurance companies have it in their power to deal a hammer blow to the most polluting form of energy production in a stroke – if they refused to provide cover for the coal industry.That is the view of Jeremy Oppenheim, a director at consultants McKinsey and head of the New Climate Economy project, who said this would also protect insurers against future risks posed by climate change.“It is paradoxical to sell products that enable a set if activities that will cause immense costs,” he told a meeting of the Association of British Insurers on Tuesday.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Recycling centre in Adelaide switches on automated barcode scanning to boost efficiency
Automated technology is now being used with hopes of improving the efficiency and reach of South Australia’s recycling efforts. Environment Minister Ian Hunter has opened a new facility at Pooraka in Adelaide which scans the barcodes of recyclable containers. “This will improve efficiency through a process of scanning containers, helping the Scouts in South Australia process up to 15 per cent of the state’s recycling volume,” he said. The Scouts Association in SA now runs 10 recycling centres to raise funds for youth and volunteers programs. Mr Hunter said Scouts’ recycling efforts generated annual revenue of about $24 million and employed about 100 people.

To Recycle or Not to Recycle: The Economics of Garbage
What exactly makes a material recyclable or not? Two very different lenses are often used to determine this: science and economics. Which of these factors is more relevant in revealing a material’s chance of being recyclable? Or is it a combination of both? Before discussing these parameters, it is important to realize that what we consider waste does not even exist in the natural world, where nothing goes to waste. For example, a fox’s droppings help a berry bush grow, a bird will eat those berries, and eventually the bird may end up becoming a meal for the fox. Any “waste” generated in nature is simply a resource to be used by another organism – nature is a truly closed-loop system.

Biobased Plastics: Fostering a Sustainable and Resource-Efficient Circular Economy
Bioplastics are not a single kind of plastic, but rather a family of materials that vary considerably from one another. There are three groups in the bioplastics family, each with its own individual characteristics: biobased, biodegradable, or both bio-based and biodegradable. Today, there is a bioplastic alternative to almost every conventional plastic material and application. Bioplastics have the same properties as conventional plastics and often offer additional advantages, such as compostability or natural breathability.

From Crab to Handbag: Tidal Vision’s Mission to Upcycle Fishery Waste
With two billion pounds of waste generated by the seafood industry in Alaska alone, finding creative ways to repurpose this waste represents an economic opportunity as well as an environmental imperative. We’ve seen shrimp shells turned into everything from bioplastic to solar cells … but upcycling seafood byproducts into clothing likely wouldn’t be a top-of-mind solution for most people. But Alaskan startup Tidal Vision has set about doing just that, and is working to combat this waste issue by purchasing the byproducts from sustainable fisheries and developing various textiles — such as salmon leather and a soft fabric made from chitosan, the main component of shrimp and crab shells — for use in apparel and accessories (and the company insists that you’d never smell the difference).

Politics and Society

The homeless workers taking on Greggs, Eat and Pret a Manger
Lunchtime in Edinburgh city centre, and Social Bite looks like any other busy high street sandwich bar. Wraps, rolls and soups and are eagerly devoured in neat wooden booths and window seats. Yet this fledgling fast-food chain is doing something most companies would write off as too risky: employing homeless people with little or no history of work. The not-for-profit business wants to take on Pret a Manger, Eat and Greggs, having opened four outlets in Scotland and formed plans to open another four across the UK in the near future.

Climate change is overwhelming – so should we focus on small steps?
The challenges of our time can feel overwhelming: climate change, economic inequality, water scarcity – even the most passionate campaigner might want to pull the covers over and look away. So can single-issue campaigns such as Buy Nothing New Month or Meat Free Week help us divide important causes into manageable chunks? Or do they only distract? Experts discuss.

Life in the Philippines: preparing for the next typhoon Haiyan
In 2013, the Philippines had so many typhoons that it ran out of letters to name them. For the first time, the country had got to the end of the alphabet for typhoon names and had to start at ‘a’ again. The letter ‘y’ proved most devastating. Typhoon Yolanda – known internationally as Haiyan – tore through a swathe of the Philippines on 8 November 2013, leaving more than 6,300 people dead. Nearly 2,000 are still listed as missing. The winds reached 196 miles per hour, the waves nearly 8m. Boulders the size of blue whales were dislodged. The unprecedented ferocity of Haiyan gouged wounds into the Filipino national psyche, causing apprehension about the future.

NSW State Election 2015: Native vegetation ‘to get the chop’ as Baird rolls backs protections, conservationists say
The NSW Liberals have been accused of caving into their Nationals coalition partners with their plans to scrap acts protecting native vegetation and threatened species if re-elected at this weekend’s poll. Fairfax Media understands Premier Mike Baird will announce on Thursday that a Liberal-National government would adopt all 43 recommendations of a panel that reviewed biodiversity legislation in NSW. The review panel report, released on December 18 last year, recommended repealing the Native Vegetation Act and Threatened Species Act, while “reconstituting elements of them in a new ‘Biodiversity Conservation Act”.

Built Environment

French Law Mandates Green Roofs, Solar Panels
In case you need a reason to say “vive la France,” the French parliament just gave you one. Last week, the governing body passed a law that requires new buildings in commercial zones to be partially covered in either plants or solar panels, Agence France-Presse reported. French environmental activists urged the government to pass a law requiring new buildings to cover their entire roofs with plants. However, the government managed to work with the activists, who support the new law.

Electric van scheme keeps on trucking
A government scheme to incentivise the use of electric vans has been extended “to meet continued demand”, the government announced today. The plug-in van grant offers buyers a 20 per cent discount off the upfront cost worth up to £8,000. Since its launch in 2012, the initiative has supported the purchase of over 1,250 vans, significantly less than the roughly 24,000 purchases made under the scheme for electric cars. The slow take-up may in part be due to the lack of models available – just nine vans are eligible for the van scheme compared to 26 cars. The government has teamed up with industry for a campaign promoting the benefits of all types of electric vehicles, such as low running costs, zero vehicle excise duty and no congestion charges in London.


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