Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
If you like what you see, you are welcome to sign up (on the right) for free sustainable development news delivered direct to your inbox each weekday morning. 

Top Story

China farming boom has left ecosystems in danger of total collapse
China’s push for more intense farming has kept its city dwellers well-fed and helped lift millions of rural workers out of poverty. But it has come at a cost. Ecosystems in what should be one of the country’s most fertile region have already been badly damaged – some beyond repair – and the consequences will be felt across the world.

This is part of a long-running trade-off between rising levels of food production and a deteriorating environment, revealed in recent research I conducted with colleagues from China and the UK. Yields of crops and fish have risen over the past 60 years at several locations we studied in Anhui, Jiangsu and Shanghai Provinces in eastern China. But these are parallelled by long-term trends in poorer air and water quality, and reduced soil stability.

You may ask if this a bad thing. After all, increasing agricultural productivity has been one of the factors responsible for lifting millions of rural Chinese out of poverty. Does it really matter that the natural environment has taken a bit of a hit? Well yes. For agriculture and aquaculture to be sustainable from one generation to the next, the natural processes that stabilise soils, purify water or store carbon have to be maintained in stable states. These natural processes represent benefits for society, known as ecosystem services.

Energy and Climate Change

Graph of the Day: The world’s biggest power markets
In Australia we are repeatedly told – by those who want to take little action on climate change, or want to slow down the push into renewable energy – that on the global scale, what happens in Australia doesn’t matter. That’s why this graph below is interesting. It is taken from the presentation this week by the world’s biggest wind and solar company, SunEdison, and features the top power markets in the world. Australia ranks No 14. Among its peer range Australia stands out because of its recent stance on renewables, where it threatens to become the first country in the world to reduce its renewable energy target, while others are increasing theirs.

AGL Energy becomes first big retailer to roll out solar PPA plan
AGL Energy has become the first of the major electricity retailers to formally launch a solar power purchase agreement (PPA) plan, as the major incumbents try to head off incursions into their retail market from the rush to solar and the emergence of rival leasing and PPA offerings and energy service companies. AGL has branded its product the Solar Smart Plan, and it is being managed by a new division, New Energy, headed up by Marc England, who says customers are looking for choice and access to new technologies.

Australia’s first above ground cow poo storage tank is part of a study aiming to reduce methane emissions
Australia’s first above-ground dairy effluent storage tank is part of a northern Tasmanian study aiming to reduce farm methane emissions. The two-megalitre tank is 40 metres in diameter, looks like a huge above ground swimming pool, and is suitable for high rainfall areas. The Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture’s (TIA) federally funded project is testing whether shorter effluent storage times will lower methane emissions.

Peak fossil fuel won’t stop climate change – but it could help
Fossil fuels are ultimately a finite resource – the definition of non-renewable energy. Burning of these fuels – coal, oil and gas – is the main driver of climate change. So could the peak of fossil fuels help mitigate warming? The short answer is maybe … but perhaps not how you might think. In a paper published this month in the journal Fuel, my colleagues and I suggest that limits to fossil fuel availability might take climate Armageddon off the table, although we will still need to keep some fossil fuels in the ground for the best chance of keeping warming below 2C. But more importantly, the peak of Chinese coal use is changing the face of global alternative energy industry development, and is soon likely to impact on international positioning for a low-emissions future.

China’s coal use fell 2.9% in 2014
China’s coal consumption fell by 2.9% between 2013 and 2014, the country’s National Bureau of Statistics said today. Energy use rose 2.2% with gas use up 8.6% and crude oil up 5.9%. Energy consumption per 10,000 yuan (US $1,598) worth of GDP fell 4.8%. Over the same time period the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by 7.4%, with industrial production rising 7%.

More Signs of Solar Energy’s Upside in India
A sea change is gathering in India as the country contemplates embracing the promise of solar-powered electricity. You can see it at the ballot box, through the prism of international diplomacy and in the capital markets. India, keep in mind, is among the top 10 economies in the world, is already the third largest electricity market globally and is second in population only to China. Its clean-energy growth potential is gigantic.

UK backs £315m renewable energy projects
More than a dozen new onshore wind farms are to receive financial backing through the coalition government’s reformed renewable incentive scheme, along with two offshore wind projects and five solar farms. But green campaigners and parts of the renewable energy industry were disappointed by the auction process used to award the contracts, arguing that some technologies and projects had lost out in the reforms. The support for onshore wind comes even as the Conservatives have promised to cut or abandon subsidies for the technology, with David Cameron saying people have been “fed up” with turbines on land. It is not clear how the projects could be affected if a Conservative government is re-elected in May.

UK low carbon energy share climbs, as energy use keeps falling
The long-running trends that have seen UK energy consumption fall and the share of power provided from low carbon sources climb continued last year, according to new government data. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) today released its December 2014 energy statistics that provide a provisional assessment of energy trends during last year. The statistics show that primary energy consumption on a fuel input basis slumped by seven per cent, and still fell by 3.1 per cent when the fact it was the hottest year on record is taken into consideration.

Why rush to source alternatives to palm oil is problematic
The EU has agreed to put a cap on the amount of palm oil, soy, maize and other food crops to be used in biofuels. After a long-running dispute between industry and environmental groups, members of the European Parliament’s Environment Committee agreed this week to limit the use of food crops to 6% of the EU’s 10% renewable transport energy target for 2020. The committee also widened the scope of the cap to include energy crops that compete with food production for land, and ensured that member states cannot subsidise or mandate this type of biofuel after 2020.

Environment and Biodiversity

Great depths for silverfish study
Researchers on board the [New Zealand] Niwa ship Tangaroa have put an echosounder deep under the water off the coast of Antarctica to try to learn more about a key species in the area’s food chain. They want to find out more about the sardine-sized Antarctic silverfish, which is an important part of the diet of many animals, including seabirds, fish, whales and seals. Tangaroa has spent recent days in the 64km-long Terra Nova Bay, where large amounts of silverfish larvae and eggs – but not adults – are found each spring when the ice breaks up. “We don’t know if the adults move in during winter and lay their eggs there, or if the eggs drift in from somewhere else,” voyage leader and Niwa principal scientist Dr Richard O’Driscoll said.

World’s first all-female patrol protecting South Africa’s rhinos
The battle against the poaching that kills a rhino every seven hours in South Africa has acquired a new weapon: women. The Black Mambas are all young women from local communities, and they patrol inside the Greater Kruger national park unarmed. Billed as the first all-female unit of its kind in the world, they are not just challenging poachers, but the status quo. The Mambas are the brainchild of Craig Spencer, ecologist and head warden of Balule nature reserve, a private reserve within Kruger that borders hundreds of thousands of impoverished people.

Jamie Joseph: Pangolin are the new rhino
After seven weeks of assignments, I flew out of Zimbabwe on January 4 and landed in South Africa’s Limpopo wilderness. I’ve been spending about six hours a day in the bush, and I’ve asked several rangers if they’ve ever seen a pangolin, and the answer is always the same, “No, they’re so rare, but I wish I had.” Well I have, and until it happened, I had no idea how much it would mean to me. It was in the beautiful grounds of Tikki Hywood Trust’s private animal sanctuary, a trust founded more than two decades ago by Lisa Hywood. Lisa led me into the nursery and opened the door of Bambanani’s crib on the floor. A couple of minutes later, the 10-week-old pangolin orphan opened her dreamy eyes and took a few steps forward into the dimly lit room.

Extreme heat causing ginger syndrome in eucalypts
Extreme heat in northern Tasmania is transforming the look of the bush. From Smithton to Bridport, thousands of eucalypts (mainly white gums and blue gums) have died or are stressed and leaking sap from their bark. “Once you see this thing it’s everywhere,” Brett Glanville an electrician in the area said. Mr Glanville travels all over northern Tasmania and he has been worried by what he has seen.  “It’s through every forest, it’s through the plantations, it’s through old trees, it’s in parks,” he said.

Underwater Photographer of the Year 2015 winners – in pictures
Winner hopes his photograph of a short snouted seahorse – that beat thousands of entries from 40 countries – will raise awareness of the species’ dramatic decline.

Economy and Business

Investor coalition calls on companies to report human rights risks
Investors from across the globe, with $3.9 trillion (£2.5tn) of assets under management, have urged companies to use a new guide to help them report human rights risks. The investors point out that human rights abuses can be financially material, as well as an ethical issue. The call comes as the UN has published a new Principles Reporting Framework, which acts as a guidance for companies to report on human rights in line with UN Guiding Principles.

Carbon Tracker debuts Capex Tracker in latest bid to uncover carbon bubble risk
The Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI) has this week launched a service for investors, designed to provide them with up-to-date information on how fossil fuel companies are changing capital expenditure plans in response to the collapse in the oil price. The new tool, known as Capex Tracker, is intended to complement CTI’s series of reports highlighting how high cost oil, gas, and coal projects could be vulnerable to a “carbon bubble” whereby future demand slumps as climate change regulations are strengthened and clean technologies mature. The service will provide regular updates on changes in the capex plans of the leading oil and gas majors, and was launched yesterday with the publication of a survey of recent capex announcements from 19 companies, including Exxon Mobil, BP, Total, Chevron and Statoil.

Book review: Frugal Innovation – How to do more with less
In Frugal Innovation, Navi Radjou and Jaideep Prabhu have created a book that deserves to be on the bookshelf of any manager, inventor, advisor or sustainability operative. It’s a powerful mix of insight, tools, case studies and fresh perspectives on how to transform the entire global economy into a sustainable enterprise.  The authors argue that there is no alternative to embracing sustainability and letting it change and improve a business. The drivers for this include the eco-conscious millennials, the rise of the sharing and circular economies, an absolute awareness of the need to reduce carbon emissions and conserve scare non-renewable resources, and the growing “hacker” movement. If more and more people would rather make their own stuff, or share stuff, or even do without if it will hurt the planet, they observe there’s an obvious gauntlet being thrown down for traditional firms.

EcoPlanet Bamboo receive US government Award for Corporate Excellence
Bamboo plantation specialist EcoPlanet Bamboo has won a US government Award for Corporate Excellence. The company has been recognised for its environmental and social commitment. EcoPlanet Bamboo works to makes bamboo a viable and environmentally attractive fibre for timber manufacturing industries. The company explains that bamboo can be grown on degraded land, providing positive restoration properties while at the same time reducing deforestation and degradation through providing a sustainable source of fibre.

Why Transparency and Collaboration Are Vital to the European Commission’s CSR Strategy
As the European Commission (EC) prepares its new five-year strategy for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), delegates at their Multi-Stakeholder Forum on CSR on 3rd and 4th February urged the EC to pick up the pace. Given that this 2015–2020 strategy is still in the making, they have a point. The forum attracted over 450 delegates interested in shaping the EC’s future CSR strategy, many of whom see the formulation of the strategy as a key mechanism to drive innovation, competitiveness and growth for Europe, whilst furthering sustainability goals. I was honoured to be invited to be speak on the panel, “Managing a Responsible Supply Chain.” Given the prominence of the event and how the future strategy will impact on businesses across Europe, I wanted to share some important insights.

Politics and Society

The Pacific Islands: tomorrow’s climate refugees struggle to access water today
Among the Pacific islands, Tuvalu is among the most dependent on rainwater harvesting. Rainfall hasn’t traditionally been a problem in the Pacific island state; the problem has been capturing it. Tuvalu is scattered across over 500,000 square kilometres, yet its nine low-lying islands only comprise 27km2 of land area. Tuvalu’s water problems are shared across Oceania, where – at one in four – fewer people have access to piped water than in sub-Saharan Africa. Over 3.2m of the region’s 10.3m population, meanwhile, has no access to surface water. According to the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), a regional intergovernmental organisation based in Fiji, the Pacific Islands’ 22 nations and territories are “significantly off track” to meet water improvement targets set under the Millennium Development Goals

Eat ‘Green,’ U.S. Dietary Panel Recommends – and That Doesn’t Mean Just Vegetables
A draft of the official new U.S. recommendations for Americans’ diets is out, and for the first time the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has advocated for strong consideration of environmental sustainability in our consumption patterns. Not surprisingly, the “green” aspects of their recommendations are controversial. The committee’s guidance will weigh heavily in the final guidelines issued later this year, after public comment, by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which will use them to guide spending on government food programs and to educate the American public on the latest thinking about nutrition.

Chemical in BPA-Free Products Linked to Irregular Heartbeats
Many consumers avoid products that contain bisphenol-A (BPA) because the estrogen-imitating chemical has been linked to an array of health effects in people and animals. But new research published Thursday suggests that an ingredient that has replaced BPA in many items may have a similar effect on the heart. BPA-free labels have been popping up on many plastic bottles, cash register receipts, food packaging, and other products. Although the label implies a sense of safety, “our research suggests that BPS and potentially other BPA substitutes aren’t necessarily free of health problems,” said Hong-Sheng Wang, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

Built Environment

UK steers electric car development with £43m funding pot
Electric car charge points will be installed at hospitals, train stations, and along A-roads as part of a £32m push to expand supporting infrastructure for the UK’s growing electric vehicle fleet through to 2020. Transport Minister Baroness Kramer unveiled the funding today alongside a further £11m pot to invest in 15 ultra-low emission vehicle (ULEV) projects spanning 50 organisations.


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.