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World Economic Forum, Davos

Businesses still aren’t feeling immediately threatened by climate change
Christiana Figueres, who heads up the global climate change talks, was visibly moved as she urged business leaders to take action to avoid runaway climate change at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos on Thursday. “This is the first generation that is becoming aware of what we have done, because the previous generation had no clue,” said the executive director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. “We can’t blame them, we can’t blame ourselves because we’ve been put in this situation, but we do have a responsibility to do something about it and not to pass it on to the next generation.” Looking at her daughter sitting nearby, Figueres’ eyes well up. Her desire to secure a meaningful climate deal later this year in Paris is clearly as much a personal concern as a global one.

Momentum Remains High for Forests’ Role in Sustainable Development and Tackling Climate Change (Blog – Helen Clark)
I will give the opening speech at the session on “Reducing Tropical Deforestation Related to Key Agricultural Commodities”. Invited panelists include President Humala of Peru; Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development of France; CEOs Marc Bolland of Marks and Spencer and David M. MacLennan of Cargill; and Jeremy Goon, Chief Sustainability Officer of Wilmar, and other prominent leaders. Conserving the world’s forests is critical to climate change mitigation. Forests absorb carbon dioxide and provide a range of other services. When cleared or degraded, however, they become a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Let’s face it: we have to choose between our economy and our future
Growth is the perennial buzzword of the World Economic Forum – and this year is no exception. Delegates keep assuring us that their own profitability is vital for safeguarding humanity, while we ordinary people go about our day-to-day lives: we happily drive our cars, book flights to our next holiday destination and raise our children as we’ve always done.  It seems that we are in collective denial about the threatening implications of reality. We still trust in the old narratives that growth and competition are good, that technology and experts will fix it and that capitalism is history’s ultimate victor. Not only ecological limits and growing social inequality, but also the increasing violence of fundamentalists of all sorts indicates that it is high time for a new economic and social narrative. An economy that is essentially based on competition will always perpetuate violence and hatred.

At Davos, leaders call for investments in the green economy
Climate change and poverty took center stage Friday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where leaders began campaigning in earnest for twin global accords aimed at cooling the planet and easing the suffering of multitudes. French President Francois Hollande, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon were among the power-brokers urgently seeking support for two long-sought deals.

Bold ideas for a better world from Davos and beyond
As the last day of the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, kicks off, we asked participants to share the ideas they are taking away about the real things they can do to help solve the world’s top challenges.  But Davos has also taken plenty of flack for its exclusivity, and we also want to democratize the discussion. Given the huge scope and scale of problems such as climate change, health and inequality, many big bold ideas are needed to really move the needle. We’re looking for strong commitments from business leaders; inspiring ideas from academics, nonprofits and readers; and personal pledges from consumers. fears AI learning is trumping group learning. ‘We are creating a whole new type of poverty, which is poverty in the mind,’ he says. Photograph: Richard Saker fears AI learning is trumping group learning. ‘We are creating a whole new type of poverty, which is poverty in the mind,’ he says. Photograph: Richard Saker

The music of life is defined by the silence between the notes
Standing in silence in the snow-clad forests of Davos on the last day of the World Economic Forum (WEF) I learned as much about life as from all the many meetings I attended. Caught up in the hectic schedule of events in the Swiss mountain resort, it is easy to forget what great musicians discover – that the music of life is defined by the silence between the notes. What I recognised as I breathed deeply among the alpine trees is just how little time delegates had to reflect on the volume of information and ideas they were fed during the week.

Energy and Climate Change

This chart of rising ocean temperatures is terrifying
This year’s biggest climate change news was that 2014 was hottest year on record. Turns out, there’s bigger news: It was also the hottest year in the oceans, which are warming so fast they’re literally breaking the NOAA’s charts. Don’t think you mind a little jacuzzification in your ocean? You’re wrong. Warmer oceans matter because “global warming” doesn’t just mean above average air temperatures over the course of a year — it actually refers to an increase in the total amount of heat energy contained in the Earth’s systems.

Climate Change Will Cause More Extreme La Ninas, Research Shows
Pacific Ocean La Nina events that trigger droughts in the U.S. Southwest, floods in China and raise the chances for tropical systems in the western part of the basin, as well as in the Atlantic, will likely occur twice as often due to greenhouse warming, according to a paper published in Nature Climate Change.  Research has shown that global warming has increased the numbers of extreme El Nino events, when the equatorial Pacific warms, as well as changes where those incidents occur, the paper published on Monday showed. Strong La Ninas will follow those warming episodes as the ocean reacts to the heating.

India clean energy investments bounce back, set to breach the $10bn mark in 2015
Clean energy investments in India jumped to $7.9bn in 2014, helping the country maintain its position as the 7th largest clean energy investor in the world. The upswing was driven by the newly installed government elected in May 2014 which supports clean energy reforms. The numbers, just released by research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance, show that the government’s ambitious plan of 24/7 power for all Indians is gaining traction. Other major initiatives: 100GW of solar installations and investment of over $100bn in clean energy in the next five years are also building momentum. Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates that 2015 will be the second time ever that clean energy investments will pass $10bn. A record $13.1bn was deployed in 2011.

Obama-Modi promise to back strong UN climate pact
The leaders of India and the US will work together to ensure an ambitious global climate change agreement is reached in Paris later this year, they said in a joint press conference. Speaking after a meeting in New Delhi, US president Barack Obama and India’s prime minister Narendra Modi both committed to deepening cooperation between the two countries. “The President and I expressed hope for a successful Paris Conference on Climate Change this year,” Modi said. The US and India would “enhance” its partnerships on increasing clean and renewable energy in India, he revealed, adding he felt climate change placed a huge “pressure” on countries to act.

India Plans 100 GW Wind Energy Capacity By 2022
During the first meeting of the [Indian Prime Minister’s] Council on Climate Change, the impending national wind energy mission was discussed. The mission would see annual capacity addition of 10 GW capacity every year to add 70-80 GW capacity by 2022 adding to the currently operational capacity of 22.5 GW. The Indian government has already announced and started working on the revised national solar mission. As per the revised plan, a total of 100 GW of solar power capacity will be established by 2022, compared to the initial plan of 22 GW. To achieve this target the government is looking to attract significant foreign investment and provide low-cost finance through national agencies. The National wind energy mission will also be implemented through similar schemes.

There’s a sunny future ahead for rooftop solar power: here’s why
Over the past five years the world has seen a dramatic fall in the cost of solar energy, particularly rooftop solar panels or solar photovoltaic power. It is now a real alternative and considerable player in the power markets. In Australia more than 4 gigawatts (peak generation capacity) of solar panels are mounted on more than a million Australian roofs to date, adding up to about 7% of Australia’s electricity generation capacity. As solar panels do not always produce all the electricity they possibly can, rooftop solar today contributes around 2% of Australia’s total electricity generation. But in some states during the day, solar’s contribution already reaches double digits. You can watch solar generation live here. But what’s next for rooftop solar? It’s likely that costs will continue to fall, eventually making solar the dominant source of electricity in many parts of the world including Australia. Here’s the evidence.

EU paper calls for binding CCS targets by 2030
European countries should be given binding targets for installing technology to capture and store carbon emissions, according to a new report for the European commission.  The UN’s climate science panel says such technology could have to account for over a fifth of the world’s carbon cuts by 2050 and the new paper, produced by consultants for the EC, says there is a “genuine and urgent” need for it in Europe. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is an experimental technology that traps emissions produced at power plants to reduce their contribution to climate change.

Environment and Biodiversity

New Proposal to Protect Alaskan Wilderness Most Sweeping in Decades
No president in 35 years has made as sweeping a conservation proposal as President Barack Obama did today by urging Congress to transform the oil-laden coastal plain of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge into what would be the largest wilderness area in the nation’s history. The president’s move to designate 12.3 million acres of new wilderness would block decades of efforts to drill for oil on a 1.5-million-acre portion of the refuge. That coastal region is thought to contain up to 10.3-billion barrels of petroleum—roughly as much as the nation’s largest oil field, nearby Prudhoe Bay, has produced since 1968. It would also protect a stunning, diverse ecosystem that includes 36 types of fish, calving grounds and a migration corridor for a troubled caribou herd and nesting grounds for bird species that travel to the Arctic from all 50 states.

Mourn our lost mammals, while helping the survivors battle back
“There was a plague of them and one night I got approximately 300 which had been poisoned in the garden during night. This went on for two or three years.”
  Take a second and have a guess what animal species this quote might be referring to. Here’s a hint, the quote is from western Victoria, Australia, during the 1800s. What did you guess? A house mouse, or another introduced species like a rabbit? In fact, the quote refers to a native mammal species, the eastern quoll. A species that was “one of the commonest animals” in southeastern Australia, a species that would plague, is now officially extinct on the mainland. It has been more than 50 years since a confirmed sighting. Australia has the worst rate of mammal extinctions in the world. More than a third have become extinct since European settlement​, or are currently threatened with extinction. But what about the survivors? And what can we do to prevent further losses?

Can anything stop the rhino poaching crisis?
At the end of the 19th century, a group of 20-50 southern white rhinoceros were discovered in the Umfolozi-Hluhluwe region of South Africa. The species had been thought lost to the guns and trophy rooms of colonial hunters. Today their population is more than 20,000. The programme that brought the species back from the scrapheap of extinction is considered to be one of conservation’s great success stories. But a massive surge in poaching threatens to undo more than a century of careful protection and management.

Rare European duck doing twice as well in protected areas
A rare European duck whose habitat is changing because of global warming is doing twice as well in conservation areas protected by the EU, research has shown. But more needs to be done to safeguard the smew, a seldom seen but striking winter visitor to the UK, say experts. Smew drakes are instantly recognisable by their dramatic black and white plumage. The duck has been spreading northwards across Europe as temperatures rise. A study of wetland data shows that nearly a third of the birds now spend winter in north-east Europe, compared with just 6% two decades ago. In that region, smew populations have grown twice as fast within Special Protection Areas established under the EU Birds Directive.

A smew drake, a rare European duck, is doing twice as well in conservation areas protected by the EU, research has shown. Photograph: WWT/PA

A smew drake, a rare European duck, is doing twice as well in conservation areas protected by the EU, research has shown. Photograph: WWT/PA

Antarctica’s Totten Glacier, twice the size of Victoria, ‘melting from below’
Warm ocean water is melting one of the world’s biggest glaciers from below, potentially leading to a rise in sea levels, Australian scientists have discovered. Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis recently returned to Hobart from Antarctica, with a team of 23 scientists who had used new technology to collect the first water samples near the Totten Glacier. At 538,000 square kilometres, Totten is twice the size of Victoria and holds enough water to raise sea levels by six metres. Steve Rintoul from the Australian Climate and Environment Cooperative Research Centre said the results indicated the glacier was being melted by the sea water beneath it.

Dramatic photos: Fox Glacier’s retreat causes valley to rise by a metre
A series of photographs taken over 10 years has revealed the dramatic changes to one of New Zealand’s most famous glaciers. The Massey University scientists who took the pictures – at the same time each year during surveys – say the changes to Fox Glacier on the South Island’s West Coast are also having a major impact on the surrounding landscape, with the valley rising by more than a metre in the last two years.

Warmer, mostly drier future predicted with climate change
Sydney’s climate can be expected to warm across all seasons, with less rainfall in winter but more intense rain events, according to the latest projections by the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology. The first update of the agencies’ Natural Resource Management report since 2007 builds on improved modelling to project how the climate for the city and the country is likely to differ by 2030 and 2090. Since 2001, extreme heat records have exceeded cold records across Australia by three to one for maximum temperatures and five to one for minimums. Heatwaves have increased in duration, frequency and intensity across many parts of the country, the report said.

Tim Pankhurst: Cost of the Catch response
Sam Judd’s opinion piece Cost of the Catch paints a bleak picture of New Zealand’s fisheries, pressing hard on the public’s guilt button about eating and buying a great feed of fresh, healthy kaimoana. But a closer look at the article reveals a serious case of misinformation.

Economy and Business

Will Unilever become the second publicly traded B corp?
The movement to put purpose at the heart of business strategy has received a major boost with news that several multinationals, including consumer goods giant Unilever, are considering becoming “benefit corporations”– for-profit corporate entities that commit to positive social and environmental goals. Last month, Brazil’s top cosmetics, fragrance and toiletries maker, Natura, became the largest – and first publicly traded – company to attain B Corp sustainability certification. B Corp-certified companies differ from traditional corporations because triple bottom line accountability – measuring economic, social and environmental impacts – is a legally defined goal.

M&S, Unilever and London Stock Exchange among world’s most sustainable companies
The 2015 Global 100 Most Sustainable Companies in the World Index includes UK based companies Marks & Spencer, Unilever and London Stock Exchange. In total, 11 British companies make the list, up from eight last year. The 2015 index is the 11th annual list from Corporate Knights. The companies involved are the top sustainability performers in their respective sectors and are whittled down from a list of 4,609 listed companies with a market capitalisation greater than $2 billion (£1.3bn). The rankings are determined by 12 sustainability indicators, including amount of revenue companies generate per unit of energy consumed and the ratio of CEO pay to average worker pay.

Waste and the Circular Economy

How to deal with electronic waste? Make it a national security issue
Electronic waste (or e-waste) is the largest source of materials left in municipal dumps around the world. A high proportion of it is derived from the gadgets you are reading this article on: phones, tablets, and computers, which quickly move from being vital sources of everyday life to discarded garbage once an upgrade becomes available. Where did that old fat-screen analogue television go when it was replaced by the slim, flat-screen digital version? Where are those phones you threw out?

Politics and Society

Bill And Melinda Gates Are Betting Big On The Change They Can Make In 15 Years
Bill Gates , the world’s richest man, says the next decade will be the decade of the world’s poor. Since 2009, Bill and Melinda Gates  have written a letter every January discussing the work of their foundation (which is to receive the bulk of his wealth). Last year, they wrote about why they believed that people around the world are doing better today than ever, despite some people’s perceptions otherwise. This year, on the Gates Foundation’s 15-year anniversary, two of the world’s biggest optimists are predicting a better future, often through interventions that seem basic, but will drastically improve the lives of billions of people around the world.

Smog journeys: A short film about air pollution in China – video
Chinese director Jia Zhangke has a history of making films with a social message and has previously been censored by the Chinese government for his work. He was nominated for a Palme d’Or in 2013 at Cannes and won the Golden Lion at Venice in 2006 for past work. In this film he tackles the air quality crisis which has seen particulate pollution at levels 20 times WHO safety limits in Beijing and other cities. “The one thing that fascinated and shocked me the most was the fact that even on smoggy days, people still lived their lives as usual,” he said of the new short, made for Greenpeace

Volkswagen, BMW Join Forces to Create EV-Charging Corridor
At the 2015 Washington Auto Show, two top automakers announced an initiative to create express-charging corridors on the East and West coasts. Together with ChargePoint, the world’s largest electric vehicle charging network, the American divisions of Volkswagen and BMW hope that increased access to fast-charging stations will speed U.S. adoption of electric vehicles, the companies said in a press conference on Thursday. If this sounds familiar, that’s probably because it is. The ever-elusive “electric highway” has been in the making for years, and many companies have tried and failed to make it happen. But this latest endeavor, which will add to the growing ChargePoint network of more than 20,000 locations in North America, just may bring Americans closer to the dream of an electrified road trip.

Why Bill Nye Calls Evolution ‘Undeniable’ and Creationism ‘Inane’ (Book talk)
With a jaunty bow tie and boyish enthusiasm, Bill Nye the Science Guy has spent decades decoding scientific topics, from germs to volcanoes, for television audiences. Last February, the former engineer defended the theory of evolution in a televised debate with young-Earth creationist Ken Ham, a vocal member of a group that believes the Earth is only 6,000 years old. Nye’s decision to engage Ham kicked up plenty of criticism from scientists and creationists alike. The experience prompted the celebrity science educator to write a “primer” on the theory of evolution called Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation. In his new book, Nye delights in how this fundamental discovery helps to unlock the mysteries of everything from bumblebees to human origins to our place in the universe.

10 Trends for 2015
From historic climate change marches and bold advocacy by companies on the price of carbon to global economic volatility and heated debates on inequality, 2014 was a year of accelerated awareness and action for sustainable development. Our Ten Trends for 2015 distills SustainAbility’s thinking over the past year and forecasts the issues that will shape the sustainable development agenda in 2015.

Sustainable Packaging Boosts Sales
Sustainable packaging can help retailers and brand owners achieve an increase in net sales of 2-4 percent and an improvement in their EBIT-margin of 1-2.5 percent, according to a Viewpoint report from Stora Enso. The report says this will increase as millennials become a more dominant group of consumers. Fifty-nine percent of millennials, the generation born between 1980 and 2000, consider packaging sustainability to be important throughout the entire value chain.

Poll shows 90 per cent support for NSW Premier Mike Baird’s recycling scheme
Consumer support for the Baird government’s [NSW, Australia] decision to introduce cash-for-containers recycling has surged to 90 per cent, according to a Newspoll commissioned by the Total Environment Centre. A letter leaked to The Sun-Herald this month revealed Premier Mike Baird had written to the packaging industry to inform them the NSW government “favours the introduction” of a container deposit scheme. The scheme has been resisted by the beverages industry for two decades. Cabinet is expected to meet to consider the scheme in February.

Food Systems 

Can palm oil companies deliver on deforestation promises?
Let’s start with some good news. Wilmar International, the largest palm oil trader in the world, recently committed not to engage in deforestation. A year on from announcing the policy, the Singapore-based agribusiness was lauded in a report on deforestation-free supply chains (pdf) by the pro-transparency organisation CDP. On the face of it, the praise appears merited. Wilmar’s new policy (which also includes a ban on developing palm on peat areas) stands to save more than 1.5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide by 2020 – equivalent to the combined annual energy-related carbon emissions of Central and South America. That’s all supposing the company can deliver, of course. So can it?

Our Favorite Photos of the Food We Eat, From Plow to Plate
National Geographic is exploring our complex relationship with what we eat and how we’ll feed the world without harming the planet, in a Society-wide initiative called the Future of Food. To find out where our food comes from, we visited experimental farms that grow giant Japanese scallops off the coast of Canada’s Vancouver Island, tagged along with the world’s last full-time hunter-gatherers, and met scientists who are genetically engineering cassava plants to resist common viruses.


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