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

Bank rules out funding Abbot Point development
Deutsche Bank announced at its annual general meeting overnight, that it will not finance the development without further assurances the expansion project will not damage the Great Barrier Reef.  In a statement, the company says it “observes that there is no consensus between UNESCO and the Australian government regarding the expansion of Abbot Point.   “Since our guidance requires such a consensus as a minimum, we would not consider a financing request”.

Climate angst rises with record temperatures
Sydney posted its longest warm spell in records going back to 1910, says Sarah Perkins, a leading heatwave expert at the University of NSW.  Sydney’s 25.1 degrees on Friday matched the previous longest heatwave – defined as at least three consecutive days in the warmest 10 per cent for each date – of seven days set in August 1995. Including Saturday, that burst could stretch to at least 14 days.  ”It’s actually quite scary, especially if it lasts for two weeks – that’s incredible,” Dr Perkins said.  ”That’s blitzing records.”  There may be political implications too, with signs that public worries about climate change are on the rise.  One of the stand-out results from this year’s Lowy Institute Poll is a further rise in demands for action on global warming ”even if this involves significant costs”.

Fracking compensation to be increased
The amount of compensation made available to communities affected by fracking is to be increased in an attempt to counter opposition, the government is to say. The news comes as a report is due to be published estimating that several billion barrels of oil lie in shale rocks beneath southern England.  Ministers will say an average of £800,000 in additional payments will be provided to communities affected by fracking. The announcement shows that the government accepts it must reach out to communities angered by its plan to deny homeowners the right to use trespass laws to contest fracking developments.

Graph of the Day: US plots a path to 6c/kWh solar
This graph is striking. It is the latest pathway mapped out by the US Department of Energy to bring down the cost of solar to 6c/kWh by 2020, part of its “Sunshot” initiative launched a couple of years ago.  Progress is well ahead of planned. The cost of modules is already just about there, so in the US they are now focusing on the “soft costs” and technology enablers – integration into the grid, storage, access to capital, local manufacturing and a well-trained workforce. If it makes 6c/kWh – some projects already are with the help of tax credits – then the game is pretty much over for fossil fuel generation.


The food system we choose affects biodiversity: do we want monocultures?
On today’s [Friday 23 May] United Nations biodiversity day, we are being asked to focus on small islands and their unique ecology and fragility in times of globally pervasive threats such as climate change.  But, the whole planet is a small island in the vast sea of space, capable of producing food for all as a consequence of rich biodiversity. That diversity is under threat, our actions can strengthen it or weaken it. Our agriculture systems can help mitigate climate change and feed us, or they can accelerate the change and contribute to hunger.

Marine reserves saved coral reefs from Queensland floods
Marine reserves are a hot topic in Australia, with federal and state governments debating whether to allow recreational fishers to take fish from within their boundaries. But new research demonstrates that reserves can have a real benefit for marine ecosystems — by protecting coral reefs from floods.  We enjoy fishing; but we also appreciate that marine reserves have many positives. Yes, they restrict fishing in certain areas, but they have been shown to increase the numbers of catchable fish outside reserves.  Our study shows that reserves can also improve the resilience of the habitats that fish rely on. Without them, there would be fewer fish for everyone.

See The Devastated Landscape Of The Alberta Tar Sands From 1,000 Feet Above
Driving down a certain stretch of a highway next to the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, you can’t see the huge crude oil fields you’re passing; a border of trees deliberately blocks the view. There’s no glimpse of the scarred, murky land where forests once stood, even though the clear-cut area stretches as far as the horizon.  Even when you round a certain bend and see some of the view, it’s hard to grasp the scale: This is a place where trucks are literally the size of houses, storage tanks are the size of football fields, and machines for processing the oil are the size of small office buildings. When the oil fields are fully developed, they’ll cover an area the size of the state of Florida.

Early start to northerly Humpback whale migration
The migration to warm water breeding grounds off Queensland and in the Cora Sea usually begins with small numbers of whales in late April.  John Fowler from the Port Macquarie based whale watching company Cruise Adventures said this year there have been larger numbers of whales early in the season.  He says there is probably because of very warm currents.

Counting the Gang-gang cockatoos (Video 1:48min)
Researchers are on the lookout for Gang-gang Cockatoos in Canberra’s suburbs as part of a census of the vulnerable bird species.

Economy and Business

Urge to purge: millennial movement to dump coal and oil investments
The oil cleanse: it’s all the rage on campus and it may be coming to a portfolio near you.  It’s the disinvestment movement to pressure university endowments and other non-profit groups to purge their holdings of fossil fuel assets. Momentum is building so fast it looks like a whole new front to constrain the world’s oil, gas and coal companies. But how effective will it prove?

Walmart: the corporate empire’s big step for sustainability
…Those conversations came to fruition last month at Walmart’s first Sustainable Product Expo. CEOs of some of the world’s most powerful companies stood on a stage in Bentonville and made commitments to green their supply chains. In the process, they publicly acknowledged that what is good for humanity is also good for business.

McDonald’s to Let Restaurants Buy Their Own Sustainable Beef
McDonald’s plans to let restaurants in different international markets choose their own paths for achieving its recent pledge to purchase sustainable beef, one of the company’s sustainability officials told Bloomberg BNA May 21.  McDonald’s, which is the largest buyer of beef in the U.S., vowed in January to begin purchasing verified sustainable beef in 2016, with the goal of eventually buying all of its beef from sustainable sources.

Politics and Society

NASA unveils Earth Day ‘global selfie’ mosaic
US Space agency NASA unveiled a “global selfie” on Thursday, a mosaic of more than 36,000 pictures uploaded to social media showing people and places around the world in commemoration of Earth Day.  NASA asked people on April 22, a day celebrated in the US as Earth Day, to upload pictures tagged with #GlobalSelfie to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  Users on every continent and 113 countries or regions — including Antarctica, Yemen and Peru — joined in. After weeks of collecting and curating the more than 50,000 submissions, the so-called “global selfie” was released.

Accidents or bad regulation? Why Victoria’s coal mines keep failing
The fire that burned for more than 40 days at the Hazelwood coal mine in the Latrobe Valley earlier this year is the latest in a spate of mining failures over the past few years. It might seem like plain bad luck, but a recent report shows that Victoria’s coal mines have experienced a significant number of mine failures.  The Emergency Risks in Victoria report said both open-cut and subsurface mines, particularly coal mines, are highly susceptible to infrastructure, operational, environmental, and safety failures.  The report calculates the annual likelihood of a “medium-impact” mine failure in Victoria is almost 100% – making mines more of a threat than storms, bushfires, marine pollution or heatwaves.

US billionaire Tom Steyer to launch $100m campaign against climate deniers
Billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer has said he will target the campaigns of seven US senate and governors this year, in an attempt to make climate change a top priority in November’s elections. He is prepared to spend up to $100m in his quest.

Food Systems

The entrepreneurs turning their business savvy to food waste
As much as 40% of the food in the US is not consumed, according to a report from the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Much of it ends up in landfills as waste. In other words, Americans throw out about $165bn each year.  “That amount of money has to whet the appetite of a lot of creative entrepreneurs out there,” says Elise Golan, the director for sustainable development in the Office of the Chief Economist at the US Department of Agriculture.  Indeed it has.

Clean technology 

Scientists create bionic particles ‘inspired by Terminator’
In what might come to be seen as a moment of apocalyptic hubris, scientists at universities in Michigan and Pittsburgh in the US have pioneered bionic particles – a blend of organic matter with semiconductors – that they describe as being “inspired by fictional cyborgs like Terminator”.  The particles, currently microscopic but perhaps with the potential to scale up to nightmarish Austrian-accented machines, are a blend of cadmium telluride, which is used in solar panels to absorb sunlight, and cytochrome C, a plant protein that helps transports electrons during photosynthesis. Blended together, the new particles “recreate the heart of the process that allows plants to turn sunlight into fuel”. 

This Giant Tower In The Desert Could Generate As Much Power As The Hoover Dam
If the Solar Wind Downdraft Tower is ever built in the Arizona desert, it truly will be a wonder of the modern world. At 2,250 feet, it would be taller than the new Freedom Tower in New York (1,776 feet), and 1,000 feet higher than the Empire State Building. It would have 120 huge turbines at its base, and enough pumping capacity to keep more than 2.5 billion gallons of water circulating. And it would have colossal power output: the equivalent of wind turbines spread over 100,000 acres, or as big as the Hoover Dam.


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